“‘ARRY POTTER, COME ON UP HERE, YOU TIT!”
Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, blah blah, pulled a pig’s ear out of someone’s hand and took the stage.
“Thanks, David. Yea, got it,” he murmured as David Sutherland, an off-duty Auror, handed him the microphone. Then he cleared his throat.
“I’ve got a good one for you tonight, ladies and gents,” Potter shouted over the gathered crowd. “But first, where’s my Hogwarts alumni? Give me a good shout now, let me see where you are.”
The mob roared. A sorry fellow in a brown hat climbed onto a table and stomped his feet, as if overtaken by fever. Severus regrettably recognised him as Seamus Finnigan, and himself slunk deeper into the shadows.
“Alright, alright,” Potter said, waving his arm. “You made it through school, eh, but who among us made it through SEVERUS SNAPE’S POTIONS CLASS?”
Fewer voices now, but impossibly louder. Finnigan yelled something unintelligible before another patron pulled him off the table, and both disappeared in the crowd.
“That’s right! For years, you lot saw him haunt the halls of Hogwarts. Prowling the dungeons, spitting insults, taking points - bollocks if he didn’t give us all Trolls! AND NOW, for one night, let’s bring back some of that primordial terror with our second annual SEVERUS SNAPE SOUBRETTE!”
The bodies around Severus surged forward, taken in by this tirade. Drawn into some drunken fugue state, they raised their glasses and united in their depravity.
Potter, the windbag, was still going off. “All you Snapes out there, listen up. We want to see you STALK and SNARL!” he was shouting. “Taunt and torment!” Hollers from the audience. “There will be robe swirling! Potions accidents! DUELLING!”
At this point, the din was outrageous.
“AND LISTEN UP, YOU WANKERS! THE BEST SEVERUS SNAPE THIS EVENING -” Harry raised his glass - “WILL RECEIVE 10,000 GALLEONS! That’s right, 10,000! So put on your best boots and let’s give old Tom a show!”
The brat swallowed his pilfered drink in one go, and climbed off the platform. Tonight, the Leaky Cauldron was a madhouse.
A distant knock roused Harry. He opened his eyes and reached for his underwear.
“Harry, you in there?”
The man beside him woke, glamour long expired. Harry didn’t recognise the short blond hair or scruffy beard. “Who’s that, now?” the man asked aloud, his voice rusty. It was a higher pitch than Harry had expected.
“Old friend,” he answered shortly, grabbing his wand from the bedside table. He pointed it at his own mouth, stale with Firewhisky, and his hair, where he could feel a spot of dried cum. “Speaking of old, shouldn’t you be gone by now?”
Then Harry left the room, shutting the door unsteadily behind himself. The floor tilted and he leaned against the door frame.
“Easy, mate,” Ron exclaimed as Harry appeared at the end of the corridor. “What are you doing in Regulus’ room now? Whatever. Hermione’s downstairs, she’s making you a cuppa.” He looked Harry up and down. “That good, was it?” He led a muddled Harry down to the kitchen.
Harry slumped into a chair, and Hermione set a steaming cup of tea in front of him. “Still feeling like the best of Britain?” she asked cheerfully, too cheerfully.
Harry grunted and rubbed at his eyes. He’d forgotten his glasses upstairs and considered fetching them, but his headache quickly dismissed that idea.
Hermione handed over a Hangover Remedy with a sympathetic look. “That should help. Your friend upstairs can bring along your glasses now, can’t she?”
“He.” The words came out more defensively than he would have liked, and he closed his eyes.
“Making sure you were paying attention, is all,” Hermione teased. “So tell us how it all went! We’ve been dying to hear about it, you know. The Prophet only published a headline of the Ministry benefit, nothing else.”
“The Minister’s doing, no doubt,” Ron added helpfully. “Got the Prophet in his back pocket. And he does like to advertise his good deeds, charities, what have you. Can’t be outshone by the Boy Who Lived.”
“Don’t call me that.”
“It was a boring affair, really,” Hermione went on, but a shy smile betrayed her. “Ron dressed up for it, and we danced. The food was fine; the company, of course, so-so. Who would ever seat us with the Greengrasses?”
“And you know who the Greengrasses married into,” shot Ron.
Harry winced around a scalding sip of tea. “You sat with the Malfoys?” he asked, unable to hide his grimace.
“They’re quite fine people, you know,” Hermione said fairly. “Some might even say educated.”
“Some,” Ron added.
A scuffle sounded in the hallway, and they all quieted to listen. Vexed murmurs from the portraits followed, until a blond swain appeared in the kitchen doorway.
“You forgot your glasses upstairs, Potter,” he said, and held out a black blob.
Harry summoned them to himself and put them on. Then he looked at the stranger again. The man had found all his clothes, it seemed.
“Or do you prefer Harry? Sorry. I used your toilet, and I might have-”
“Do we need a recounting of your entire morning?” Harry asked.
“Is that so. Ahem. I really should be off then.” The man fumbled into his jacket, and then quickly disappeared. The front door opened and closed.
Two pairs of particularly judgmental eyes turned on him as Harry picked at a plate of biscuits. “Well?” he asked. “Go on. You were saying something about the Malfoys.”
Hermione gave Ron a look. “Sods, every one of them. Now tell us about last night, how did it go? What happened, exactly?”
“If you must know,” Harry said, picking up a biscuit and snapping it in half. “I thought it went brilliantly. Loads of people, loads of Snapes. You wouldn’t believe how mad people went for it. There was even a young Snape! They must have been in the same year at Hogwarts, I mean, the detail was spot on. Like looking through a Pensieve.”
Harry nodded at Ron. “Yea, really brilliant stuff. So I got massively drunk, crowned the winner -”
“Who was it?” Hermione asked. “Was it whoever did the young Snape?”
“No, no, it was -”
“Probably whoever did Headmaster Snape. You know, he’s quite the legend,” Ron guessed. “Killing Dumbledore then taking his title. Must be a crowd pleaser.”
“Yea, he did Headmaster Snape,” confirmed Harry. He could feel the Hangover Remedy working and, feeling refreshed, took another sip of tea. “Forgot the scar, though. Then again, how many people have seen Snape since the war?”
“Doubt anyone would even know to Glamour that scar on,” Ron affirmed. “The cat’s out of the bag on that other one, though.”
“Nevermind,” Harry waved him off. “So this bloke, he wins by a landslide! In the middle of an event, he turns on the other Snapes! He absolutely tears them apart. I couldn’t believe it. The tall Snape started crying. Crying!”
Hermione looked thoughtful. “Was Theodore Nott the winner?” she asked.
A laugh escaped him. “Theodore Nott? I haven’t heard that name in years.”
“Well, you certainly know him,” said Hermione. “Intimately.”
“Very intimately!” her husband guffawed.
Harry stared at them, his cheeks warming as it sunk in. “No, that wasn’t,” he started, looking at the vacant kitchen doorway. “That was just some bloke.”
“You didn’t even remember his name?” Ron’s face looked pained. “Mate, listen…”
When Harry saw Hermione’s face, he covered his eyes.
“Harry? Did you…” The words came out slowly, like peeling wallpaper. “Last night, did you shag Nott, or Snape?”
Harry’s throat was suddenly dry, and he reached for the kettle. However, the soft pouring of tea did not loosen his tongue.
“Guess that answers it,” Ron volunteered. “So, what? You want to shag Snape, is that it?” He laughed as if it were the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard. Harry frowned.
Behind the stage, Tom had transfigured a broom closet into a green room. It wasn’t the most professional of transfigurations - Severus had certainly seen better. Nevertheless, it served its purpose.
He sat in an armchair, unmoving, and surveyed the competition. It was quite disconcerting to see fourteen versions of himself staring into vanity mirrors, primping his flat hair, wand to the glass as they adjusted his large nose, thin lips, sallow cheekbones. Severus Snape Soubrette, indeed.
“Anthony, where are you? I need you to look at my back,” a woman’s voice said. “Tell me if I have it right.”
“When is the show starting?”
“Fifteen minutes! Don’t you listen to any of the announcements?” someone snapped across the room.
“Oi, Naveen! Save it for the stage, you prat!” One Snape punched another in the shoulder and headed for the toilets.
A familiar face seated himself next to Severus, and proffered a glass of - Severus sniffed it - Firewhisky. Severus handed it back to the stranger.
“No last minute adjustments?” this Snape asked conversationally as he drained both glasses. “Me neither. Can’t speak to unfair advantage, but got a bit of the bastard’s hair tucked away. I must have been planning a school prank, but this is much more profitable.”
Severus looked pointedly at a nearby banner which read: SEVERUS SNAPE IMPERSONATOR CONTEST! HOSTED BY HARRY POTTER! TONIGHT, 8P!
“An unequalable opportunity, to be sure,” Severus drolled.
The stranger smiled, though his eyes glittered with poorly hidden interest. “Ten thousand galleons is the real MacKay,” he pressed on, speaking more quietly now. “Even pure, I can’t scoff at that. Are you one of ours, then?”
The man had already transmuted his voice to suit Severus’ timber - for the contest, no doubt, but it was difficult to ascertain his identity. Severus glared at him. “Half,” he spat back.
The muscle in his own jaw twinged and Severus glanced to the doorway.
It was not yet time. He turned back. “A pity, yes, that so many of the Sacred families have sunk to peddler’s games to regain their fortunes. Meanwhile, Half-bloods like Mr Potter have galleons to burn.”
“Bread and games,” the stranger countered. “I don’t mind a little theatricality to get what I want. Did you know I won the first Snape Soubrette? And who bedded me that night...”
He was being provoked, Severus knew, and shuttered his expression. Still, the stranger leaned forward with a sneer. “Yes, that’s right. Potter was quite the roll in the hay. If that’s what you’re after, you can buy it much more cheaply than you bought your Polyjuice.”
“Careful, boy; he may be Minister one day,” Severus hissed.
“Two minutes to places!” someone shouted from the doorway. Severus looked up. Everyone began gathering at the entry.
Severus stood, but before he could escape a hand squeezed his shoulder. He vaguely recognised it as his own, albeit five years younger. Damned Polyjuice.
“Step aside,” the prig admonished. “A gentleman knows not to place a front-runner behind a gimp.”
An old feeling of cold reprisal washed over Severus. The man moved in front of him, flashing his teeth in the way James and Sirius once might have. Severus wanted to grind his bones into dust.
One pitying glance back. “No hard feelings, yeah?”
As Severus followed the git onstage, he made an imperceptible movement of his wrist. The tripping jinx found its target at the same time the spotlight did, clear and unforgiving. Severus watched on as the man staggered and fell.
Severus stood over him, unmoved. “All you have is my face,” he said. Then he stepped over the twit and into the lineup, facing the crowd.
“ -to our first event!”
Fourteen Snapes stretched across the stage, an earnest flock with Potter as their… Severus hesitated to use ‘lord,’ even in his mind. He scowled, assessing their puppeteer.
A massive scrim appeared behind them, lit with the word INTRODUCTIONS.
“Of our fourteen contestants, one of you is the genuine article,” continued Potter, waving his arms like a buffoon. “He will have the looks! The voice! The mettle! Let’s give a round of applause to the sorry louse that wins this contest.”
The crowd pitched in.
“That’s right, tonight one of you will Apparate home with 10,000 galleons! So.” Potter dragged an old standing microphone to center stage. “Which of you gits deserves the crown? Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth.”
Severus hung back, unwilling to make a fool of himself first. Another Snape stepped up.
“Ahem. Severus Snape here,” a nasally voice greeted, and Severus bared his teeth in alarm. “You lot came here tonight to get drunk, so that’ll be 50 points from Gryffindor!”
Against the spotty cheering, Severus closed his eyes in shame.
Another Snape stepped up. It was the brat, of course it was. He tossed his head back and sneered, “A charming introduction, truly. If this were for a hair plaiting competition. As it is, I need no re-introduction. Last year, you lot voted me as your Severus Snape of 2003. Let’s make that…” he winked at Severus, “…a recurring tradition.”
The boy was a crowd pleaser, of that there was no doubt. Severus listened to the deafening hollers and applause, then brushed past him to the microphone. It looked like remnants from the continental war and screeched as he stepped closer, the damned thing.
“Rich words,” Severus rumbled, his voice silencing the audience, “from a man with two left feet. Another round of applause for our recurring celebrity.”
No one clapped, so Severus did it himself.
“And what about you?” Potter said, as the spotlight blinded him. Severus squinted and held his hand over his eyes. “Who is this fine specimen?”
Severus cleared his throat. “Severus Snape,” he said slowly, enunciating each syllable.
Across the stage, Potter looked at him with confusion. “Right,” he said after a moment. “Alright. Next!”
“We’re here to end the terms of your house arrest,” a blustery Auror said. Severus reluctantly took the scroll she shoved into his chest. “Consider yourself served.”
The two Aurors hardly made better sitting room fixtures than door-to-door solicitors. Severus recognised the man as Mr Sutherland, a piss-poor student who had scraped through his N.E.W.T. class. Of the woman, he hadn’t the faintest.
The badge on her robes read DAVIES. “Have you been complying with the terms of your house arrest?” she said in a deadpan voice. Severus sneered but nodded. “We will now be removing the Ministry-invoked wards and searching your residence. You do not have to consent to this search and removal. Your solicitor has been notified of the events taking place today.”
“I don’t have an solicitor,” Severus cut in.
Davies rolled her eyes. “Sutherland, I’m going to search the house,” she said, ignoring him. “Take down the wards, but keep an eye on the daffy.”
When she was out of sight, Severus dropped the scroll on the desk and picked up his cup and saucer.
“I didn’t think you that inclined…” Sutherland muttered. He had caught sight of a Herculean sculpture, and was staring at it with mild distaste. “You’re not a w-woolie. Are you?”
Severus glanced at him - Hogwarts had clearly failed the man - and sipped his tea. “Pankration athletes were traditionally nude,” he dryly explained. “But I don’t believe the Ministry set my house arrest wards inside such a priceless artefact, Mr Sutherland.”
“Right,” Sutherland muttered distractedly. Then he gestured at the painting above the mantel. “What’s with the cock in the frock, though? Don’t tell me that’s what gets you off.”
“My great-grandmother,” Severus hissed, “is not a part of my rotation.” He could see Sutherland flush. “The wards, Auror.”
In answer, the buffoon hastily pulled out his wand and began disassembling the Ministry’s wards. Severus nodded, satisfied. They were not the newest wards on the house, but they had surely given him a headache.
Sutherland’s partner, Davies, reappeared. A Beauxbatons woman, perhaps. “Looks clean,” she said, peeking one last time around the sitting room. “Sutherland?”
“Quiet, ‘m concentrating,” he growled.
“Right.” Davies ignored him and held aloft a glass jar of dried silphium. Severus stared at it in horror. “Ahem. Found this dodgy bit in the cellar, though. Thought you could hide silphium from the Ministry, did you?”
Severus blinked at her. “I beg your pardon.”
Sutherland glanced at Severus, his spellwork wavering.
“That,” Severus lied vehemently, “is not silphium. Any half-wit could see by the flowering that this -” he jabbed a finger towards the jar - “is milkweed, and as such, has never touched coastal waters. Unless you’re implying that Libya is a prairie,” he scoffed.
Davies held up the jar to the window, examining it in the light.
“I used to work in the Department for the Regulation and Control of -”
“Oh, yes,” Severus went on, itching to take his jar back. “So long as you paper-pushed for Magical Flora, then by all means, steal common herbs from an old man.”
Sutherland dropped his wand. “Oh, come on, Davies,” he said, “just give the man his milkweed. What does it matter?” He plucked the jar out of Davies’ hand and shoved it into Severus’. “We’re not here for some damned plant.”
Davies set her jaw.
Half an hour later, the scrim read BREWING.
So far, he had botched his own introduction, and barely scraped through the robe swirling competition. In actuality, the event had been better suited for drag shows. His pride smarted at the thought of winning this ridiculous soubrette.
Severus glared into his cauldron, filled with simmering orange mediocrity. He had not brewed it, of course, but pity the sod who had.
“Try not to gussy up this time,” the sycophant whispered at him with a nasty smile, “or you’ll be joining the rest of the lumpies off-stage.” Severus stared at the strange expression, which twisted his younger self’s lips like a screwdriver. His own face remained placid.
“LISTEN UP!” Potter shouted at the audience. A bell rang. “Here’s the rules. Every Snape has been given a different potion. Next to your cauldron, you’ll find three ingredients. Only one of these belongs in your potion; the other two will give you a nasty shock should you use them.” At the threat of danger, the audience brightened.
“Each Snape has one try, one ingredient per potion, and ONE MINUTE at each potion. The bell will ring, you will move to your right, look at the potion, choose an ingredient. Drop it in.
“There are ten Snapes now, so you have ten tries to keep your face. Three strikes disqualifies you.”
“Wait, one minute?” a Snape down the line growled. “That’s hardly enough time!”
Potter scrutinized the man. “Severus Snape is a world-class Potions Master. He could brew and bottle all of these in a blink.”
From the far side, Severus rolled his eyes.
“Now, none of these are lethals,” Potter announced to the audience. “But expect some explosions here tonight!” Cheers. Potter spun around and pointed at the Snapes. “ROUND ONE!” he yelled. A bell rang, and Severus stepped to his right.
It was a Pepperup Potion. Without much burden of thought, Severus picked up the mandrake root and dropped it in. Then the bell rang, and the cauldron reset. “ROUND TWO!” He stepped to the right.
The next potion was an anti-paralytic, but Severus didn’t pay it much mind. He was more interested in the catastrophe two tables down, as someone cursed and stepped back. An explosion rocked the floorboards.
So it went.
“ROUND EIGHT! KEEP MOVING!” Potter encouraged, like some deluded organ grinder. Severus barely registered what his hands were doing, then the bell was ringing again.
Numbly, Severus stared down at the ninth potion - a Magi-Me-More - and picked up the lovage. If anyone could remove so thoroughly the beauty of brewing, damned if it was not Potter. Two explosions on either side of him raised Severus’ eyes, just as the bell tolled. He hurried back to his original position and threw in the Neem oil.
“AND THAT’S ALL!” Potter nodded as he looked at the scribbled results. “Alright, we’ve got six disqualified. Not the Sunday drive we were expecting, was it? Let’s give a round of applause, everyone.”
The Golden Boy, apple of Dumbledore’s eye, looked at the six crestfallen Snapes and laughed. “Looking a bit worse for wear there, Professor,” he said to a particularly harried contestant. “Anything to say?”
“Fuck off,” a woman’s voice responded.
“You gave it your best shot,” Potter said, patting her Snape-shaped shoulder. Then he turned to the audience. “Just not good enough! We are here tonight to see the best that Britain has on offer! Aren’t we?”
A whoop from the audience.
“This isn’t the Severus Snape Washout, is it? No, of course not. I want Snape himself to hear us tonight. This is the Severus Snape Soubrette! Come on, Britain! The Severus Snape what?”
“SOUBRETTE!” the audience bellowed, before they devolved into drunken yelling.
Severus heard them, of that there was no doubt.
“We’re taking a ten minute break, so get stocked up on your liquor!” Harry held up his glass. “Wouldn’t mind a refill myself. And in ten minutes, we’re coming back with DUELLING!”
With a trembling hand, Severus touched his wounded neck, covering it. It was oozing, infected black against the white collar, he noticed, before it disappeared under the bandage. His reflection stared back at him with antipathy.
Poppy closed her physician’s bag. “I wouldn’t recommend taking up herpetoculture,” she said mildly as she handed him a note. “The salve we talked about. You need to apply it three times daily. Are you able to brew it?”
“Of course I am,” he snapped. More quietly he added, “I’ll brew a surplus, and forward the rest to Hogwarts Infirmary.”
“There are many who could use it,” she replied measuredly.
He moved to put on his teaching robes, but set them down. A cup of tea found its way into his hands, rattling in its saucer. Poppy kept the other cup, politely sipping it. He knew that she did not have the time to, but she stayed.
“The trials start in two weeks,” she said. Severus clearly did not want to hear it, so she changed tactics. “I could use a Potions master. Perhaps after your trial. For now, I am making do with what little St Mungo’s sends me.”
“Dewan is the potions brewer there, a pity. I can brew better half-dead.” For a moment, he remembered many long nights in the Infirmary, sick children in beds, and Poppy handing him a steeling cup of tea.
Poppy nodded, unmoved. She was nearly finished with her tea, and already gathering her things.
“What’s happened with the boy?” The words were out before he could stop them, and Severus looked away.
Poppy re-pinned her cap. “Draco?” she sounded surprised. “You know as well as I, I haven’t seen hide nor hair -”
Severus waved his hand. “Potter,” he corrected, impatient now. “Did he…”
She frowned. “I know you’re fond of him but steer clear, Severus,” she advised. “He’s still a boy, let him be.”
“I’ve done nothing,” he growled. “Tell me he’s keeping his nose clean.”
With a sigh, she acquiesced. “Ay, he’s keeping his nose clean. The press is lauding him as nonpareil. He’s been asking about you, about your trial…” Poppy paused, starting again. “He’s well. As well as anyone can be. Can’t stay in bed, of course, but I need the help.”
Severus nodded, saying nothing.
“He says that he has something of yours,” admitted Poppy. “He wouldn’t let me bring it. He insists on returning it himself, this… item.”
The memories of Lily and James.
“I can do without.” Severus stood and walked to the fireplace. “You are a busy woman. I’ll see you out now,” he said, and uncapped the Floo powder.
Poppy took a discreet handful and, with a nod, left him alone.
The Snapes yet to be disqualified loitered around the green room, simple decorum long past. It reminded Severus of students after an underwhelming Hogsmeade weekend.
“Which one of you berks moved my stuff? I left it right here!”
“No one moved it, alright? Except you, you daft cow.”
Last year’s crowned Snape of the Year looked up, baring his teeth. He smelled of cigarettes and desperation. “Who moved my jacket? It’s a,” he scrambled for the right words, “black overcoat, it’s -”
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” someone else said as they re-applied their makeup. “We’ve got a lot of black overcoats around here.”
Severus remained in a nearby corner, unwilling to participate in their squabbles. Intermission was already half over, he noticed as he checked his pocket watch. A small silver flask with the initials T.N. clicked against the timepiece as he returned it.
“You,” the oaf accused, pointing at random. “I saw you outside! You took my potio- my coat!”
“Leave Geoff out of this,” someone hissed.
The longevity of Polyjuice potion depended, of course, on the quality of the brew. While Potter may have certified them as passable brewers, he himself had higher standards.
“Is that my overcoat?” Snape grabbed Geoff’s shoulder, trying to yank the coat off. A third Snape moved to intervene.
They had all passed the brewing competition. Still, Severus hoped that the stress of it would deteriorate the man long before his disguise did. He would so like to meet the best Severus Snape of 2003, face to face.
A spotlight fell on each Snape as Harry walked across the stage.
“One… Two… Three… Blimey, only four contestants left.” He glanced at Severus, then turned to the crowd. “Have we got a crowd favourite?”
Last year, the contest had been on for a larf. This year, Harry deliberated on which Snape he would take home. It wasn’t simple anymore.
Whoops from the audience. Harry walked back to the first Snape. “Let’s see, now. Number one looks like he just stepped off the schoolyard. Got in a fight there, did we? Let’s hear it for contestant number one!”
As he raised his hand the crowd grew minutely louder, as if he were raising the dial on a radio.
“Oi, now that was bloodless,” he growled, and moved on.
The second Snape glared at him, a proud figure with his head thrown back. His makeup was thick, eyes darkened like a raccoon’s. “Contestant number two… Bat-like, surely. Wouldn’t want to get on his broom at night, let me tell you. Let’s hear it for contestant number two!”
Not as loud as before, Harry noticed. He shrugged. “Those two aren’t winners,” he murmured into the microphone as if it were a secret. The Snape on the far side of the stage was a tall, dry thing with a bad sneer. Harry approached him, remembering how he had failed the robe swirling competition. Somehow, he had scraped into the top two.
“Contestant number four… This little firecracker is giving our defending champion a run for his money.” Without thinking, he licked his lips. “I respect that, I do. But does the audience? Let’s hear it for contestant number four!”
Like water trickling into a glass, the volume rose in small decimals.
“Everyone needs an underdog, I s’pose. Most of all…” He slid next to Theodore Nott, finding a familiar warm body. Nott looked back at him with hunger. An unwelcome chill ran down Harry’s spine as he seized Nott’s hand and lifted it.
The crowd was deafening.
The scrim read DUELLING. This, however, was not duelling.
Severus cut his wand downwards, blocking a woeful attempt at a Pepper Breath Hex. Opposite him, a very young version of himself panted and readied for another onslaught.
It came. The Pepper Breath Hex hit Severus’s shield and rebounded, catching Snape mid-motion. He crumpled into a coughing fit. Severus looked down at him, unimpressed.
Duelling was an imperative skill and respected sport. This was anything but. Less exciting, the previous duel had wasted ten minutes for Bat Bogey Hexes and Head Shrinking Spells, and only eliminated one duelist. Severus had seen more savagery from newborn pups.
“Titillando,” his opponent shouted. Severus side-stepped it, letting it hit another contestant. The Snape behind him fell in a heap of giggles.
“Pitiful, Ms Jorkins,” he snapped, whipping around. “A third-rate attempt at a second year spell.”
Snape - or Primrose, as he had recently deduced - looked at him, startled.
“Drop your shoulders,” he went on, louder now. “Elbow straight, wrist bent. Did you finish Hogwarts or didn’t you?”
There were no amplifying sound charms on them. From the audience’s perspective, the duel had simply ground to a halt. Someone shouted, “Get on with it, then!”
Severus glanced at Harry Potter, watching the duel from his perch. The boy looked bored.
He had not entered this contest for a chat with Primrose Jorkins, Severus reminded himself. With one motion, Jorkins’ wand flew into his waiting hand. She swore.
The crowd applauded, and Potter leapt up to declare him the winner. Still, Severus kept his eye on Jorkins as she came to fetch her wand. He held it out.
“How did you know who I am?” she demanded.
Many years had passed since Hogwarts, but not that many. Severus examined his younger face, thinking only of the cruel girl who mimicked his shuffling walk and long hair. In his ears, the crowd’s applause turned into raucous laughter.
“Always the pantomimist. Weren’t you, Primrose?” he sneered. “Not overwhelmingly good at it, of course.”
Then he dropped her wand on the ground, and watched her pick it up.
“Attention! We’ve got here a,” there was a weighted pause, “a found item. Silver flask, initials T.N., dropped on-stage in the previous round.”
Severus tore his attention away from Potions Quarterly and his blood ran cold. He would recognise that abhorrent woman’s voice anywhere. Davies.
Dressed down, Auror Davies could be mistaken for another barfly. She stood in the green room door, holding aloft a small, gaudily adorned flask. “Ahem. Would the owner please step forward.”
For a daft moment, he considered stealing the blasted thing twice. Well, perhaps this would work out.
Realising that the green room was unimpressed with her address, Davies knuckled down. “If it’s not claimed in the next minute,” she swore, “I’ll personally hand it over to the Department of Lost Artefacts - and good luck to the sorry knave who wants it back.”
The two eliminated Snapes glanced at her with minimal interest. Then they resumed peeling off their makeup and disguise charms.
“You!” Davies fixated on him. “That’s right, you, there. Is this little widget yours?”
“Absolutely not,” Severus said, affronted.
“Hey!” A small, rabbity fellow emerged from the washroom, halfway through a hair lengthening spell. His blond hair spilled over his shoulders, a strange addition to his oversized black teaching robes. “That’s mine. Give that back. I’ve been looking for it!”
Severus stared at him a moment. Theodore Nott, the charlatan.
Last year’s Soubrette champion grabbed it, missed, and drew his wand. Davies drew hers. “Kill it, dollymop,” she said, aiming at his chest. “I’ve got a barrelful of ripe disqualifications with your name on it. Or are you going to sell me that this isn’t Polyjuice Potion?”
“It’s not -”
“And that’s not a wand you’re holding at security? Sell that line to someone who’s buying. You knew the rules before you entered the Soubrette,” interrupted Davies. “You’re gone.”
Champion, indeed. For the first time that night, Severus’ lips curled into a smile.
“We’ve had a last minute disqualification,” Sutherland announced into the microphone for the second time. No one was listening, or even there at all. One man collected empty glasses from the tables.
“I said,” Sutherland tried again, “that we’ve got a last minute disqualification. Our new winner is…”
“I’ve got to cut him off, don’t I,” Tom muttered from the bar. The microphone warbled as Sutherland set it down and staggered off-stage.
Severus raised his eyebrow. “I find one pint is enough for any recent student.”
Someone slumped onto the stool next to his. “He’s 27, you know,” Potter casually told them both. “Hardly recent.” Tom laughed and passed him a pint.
“Filled my cash drawer tonight, Mr Potter,” he said. “Have one on the house.”
“Does that mean it was a success?” sulked Potter as he took it. Severus watched him drag the glass to his lips, swallowing some. “Ending the night like this, it doesn’t feel right.”
Tom laughed. “It’s not about feelin’ right, Mr Potter. In professional terms, we cleaned up.” He jerked a thumb at Severus. “Reckon he did, too.”
“Did I,” Severus replied.
With a shrug, Tom picked up a full bus pan. “Ten thousand galleons is nothing to scoff at,” he offered, and left for the kitchen.
“I didn’t come here for that,” Severus grumbled at the retreating form.
Perhaps the large swallow of beer was meant to calm his nerves. Instead, Potter was more woozy than ever as he leaned into Severus. “He’s right, you know,” Potter slurred. “And you can clean up tomorrow as well, at my place.”
A firm hand pushed Potter off and Severus stood, disappointed. “A charming invitation, but I must decline. You reek, Potter.”
Clumsy hands grabbed at his neck, trying to drag him down into a kiss. Instead, Potter stumbled and caught himself.
“I should not have come,” he muttered darkly as he fixed his collar.
“Wait!” The boy scrambled to his feet. “You can’t just leave!” He grabbed at Severus’ robes.
“Can’t I?” he snapped. “I didn’t come here for a quick shag.” His body said otherwise, and Potter moved to kiss him again. “Get off me.”
Still, Potter resisted. “I have a thing for… scars,” he said, wetting his lips. He moved to kiss it, but paused to rest on Severus’ shoulder. A moment later Severus realised he was a pillow. To say he was unimpressed would be a gross understatement, he thought as he disentangled himself.
The next morning, Severus sat in his kitchen reading the morning Prophet. His tea steeped beside him, and an irksome Ministry owl pecked at the window.
For a blissful moment, last night had never happened. Then the heaviest footsteps - an elephant’s, really - clobbered down the stairs. Potter poked his head in.
“Saved a cup for me?” he asked. His hair was sorted and the smell of soap followed him as he passed Severus.
Severus ignored him. Riffling through the cupboards was worse than the footfalls, and a long time later Potter found the cups. With slitted eyes, Severus glared at the headline he hadn’t finished reading.
“No,” he said. The fridge opened and closed.
“Biscuits?” probed Potter with futile hope, searching the cupboards again.
Severus sighed, still trying to read.
After a while: “Are we in Cokeworth?” The words sounded measured.
“Spinner’s End.” Severus waited for a reaction, but none came. Potter was pouring the tea now. “My childhood home.”
“You know,” Potter admitted, “I think I slept in your old room last night. Did I?” He leaned over to set a cup down, and a warm hand squeezed Severus’ shoulder. “After breakfast, take me back upstairs.”
The request was ridiculous. With a snarl, Severus yanked him closer. “Do you even know who I am?” he hissed, wanting to drag him into bed. His hand curled around Harry’s forearm.
Harry only smiled.