Title: Puzzled Together
Author: The Puzzle-Master
Word Count: 11, 315 (more or less)
Warnings: Epilogue Compliant, if that's to be warned for.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: At forty-two, Harry Potter finally felt it was safe to relax and enjoy his life, until his own life-long inability to resist a puzzle gets him into the sort of trouble only Severus Snape can fix.
Author's Notes: I'm not certain this is what you meant when you said
plotty, Meri, but it was most definitely inspired by your prompt: 42 year old
Harry must court/marry Snape for some very good reason. Hope you enjoy
it. Happy Snarry Holidays to you! Betas to be revealed, but you know who
you are and I thank you! So much love.
The sign above the shop door read 'Toil & Trouble, Custom Potions and Curse-Breaking,' and Harry Potter smiled as it swayed gently in the breeze. Apart from his children, this shop—and all that had gone into making it a reality—was the thing of which Harry was most proud.
He pushed through the door, the bell above it signaling his return.
"I'm back," he called out.
"We're in here, Dad."
Harry made his way through the curtain that separated the shop from the back rooms, and down the short corridor to the one used for brewing. The sight that greeted him wasn't so much a déjà vu as a glimpse into some odd parallel world. One in which a teenaged Malfoy and Potter, heads bent together, worked in complete harmony over a bubbling cauldron, patiently directed by the ever-stern Severus Snape.
A bizarre world in which one could hear, "Well done, Mr. Potter," in said same situation, as Harry had just done.
Snape continued, "It would seem that you've inherited your grandmother's skill in the art of potions. Perhaps it skips a generation?"
The snide comment helped to align Harry's worlds. Comfortably so, and he smiled.
"My gran is good at potions?" Al asked innocently. "She is rather a good cook ..."
"Your paternal grandmother," Snape responded testily, the dunderhead being implied.
"He's winding you up, Snape," Harry put in, then added, when his middle child gave an impish half-smile and Snape appeared inches away from a snit, "Just be thankful the other two decided to stay with their mother this summer—Al's the sensitive one."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Merlin help us all."
Harry winked in thanks for his son's support, then moved past the brewing room and headed for his own workroom.
"It's all right, Uncle Severus—Al didn't mean any harm, and he really is the best of the lot," Scorpius said, making an effort to simultaneously soothe his godfather and defend his best friend.
The only response Harry could discern as he moved further down the corridor was an irritated huff.
Chuckling as he dismantled the heavy wards and entered the room, Harry couldn't help thinking that Scorpius was right. Even though he knew he shouldn't have a favorite—and he truly loved his children in equal measure, would gladly die for any of them—Al had always been his. In the same way James, who was all Weasley and now very proudly taller than his father, had always been Ginny's. Lily, his other ginger child, tended to shift between the two of them with true Slytherin cunning, seeming to know from birth which of her parents would best suit the need of the moment.
It was a heady feeling, being a parent, knowing these entirely remarkable creatures were his to cherish and protect. And, at times, it was terrifying as well.
Harry sank into the comfy leather chair at his desk and that feeling of accomplishment stole over him once again as he logged the job he’d just finished and completed the paperwork.
If anyone had told him, even six short years ago, that this was what his life would be, so completely upside-down from what it had been, he’d have called them mad, possibly even referred them to St. Mungo’s for an evaluation. It was truly astounding where life could take a person. Even more remarkable that it had all begun with a simple conversation. One that he still recalled with perfect clarity.
"How did the shopping go? You never said. Was it odd, going alone?" Ginny had asked, placing a coffee on the kitchen table in front of him and patting his arm affectionately.
"A bit," he replied, because it had been. It'd always been a family outing. "But we got by. The kids didn't seem to mind."
Ginny sat in the chair opposite his and took a sip of her own coffee. "Our children are disgustingly sensible and well-adjusted. Aren't they supposed to be traumatized and throw fits or wheedle guilt gifts out of parents who're divorcing?"
Harry made an enormous effort to keep down the flush he felt threatening. He had no interest in confessing that Lily had very handily manipulated him into buying her a new broom—top of the line—arguing that it was necessary since, as a second year, she was determined to be Slytherin's Seeker, and it would, of course, go a long way towards making her feel better about the 'situation.'
Though Harry defied any man to stand up to big brown eyes and a plaintive, "Please, Daddy?"
"Nah, they're good kids," he replied, then tasted his coffee. She'd fixed it perfectly, as she had for years, and he wondered for the umpteenth time why they couldn't hold their marriage together. It'd died so quietly, not even one spectacular row to mark the occasion. "The boys went their own way, actually. Al spent a bit too much at Slug & Jiggers, but it won't go to waste on him."
She chuckled. "Who would've imagined a child of ours keen on potions?"
Harry smiled in return. "I think that's rather more Scropius's influence than ours."
"I'd best get back—I promised Mum I'd help her tidy up. As if the
place weren't sparkling already." She rolled her eyes. Living
with her parents was clearly wearing on her. "Bill's coming round tomorrow
before he heads back to
It was their family tradition to gather at the Burrow the evening before the train to school and though it might end up being somewhat awkward, all things considered, Harry certainly wasn't about to break with tradition. "Wouldn't miss it."
"Good." She smiled sincerely, then seemed to hesitate. "Listen, Bill wanted to talk to you about something tomorrow, but I know you, and I didn't want you to dismiss it out of hand just because you felt pressured to decide too quickly."
"All right. What's up?"
"His team is down a man, unexpectedly, this season. He asked me if I thought you'd be interested—I didn't know what to tell him, but I do think you seem happier since you left the Ministry, and I figured it couldn't hurt to ask."
He'd resigned as Head Auror, happily handing it over to Ron, in an eleventh-hour bid to save his marriage, and had given little to no thought about what he might do instead. "Me? I'm not a curse-breaker."
"Bill said your Auror training would make it a breeze to bring you up to speed." She squeezed his arm encouragingly. "I'm worried about you being at a loose end once the children are back at school. Just think about it, yeah?"
And so Harry had thought about it, which was how he'd found himself in
Curse-breaking, he'd discovered, was everything he had loved and missed about Auror fieldwork—the sometimes thrillingly complex puzzles to work out, along with an element of danger—and none of the rubbish. With a large added bonus in a complete lack of office politics. The fact that Harry seemed to have a knack for it only added to his satisfaction.
"I knew it—you're a natural," Bill had proclaimed, thumping him on the back after his first attempt. Then he'd smirked. "Good thing for you, too."
Harry was almost afraid to ask, but couldn't resist. "Er, why's that?"
"We usually throw the slow ones in with the cursed mummies—they either figure it out," Bill paused, grinning evilly, "or they piss themselves and cry like babies." Harry wiped his brow in mock relief and Bill laughed. "Only don't tell Aziz, yeah?"
Aziz Mahfouz, the Antiquities Liaison for the Egyptian Ministry, was tall, in his mid-thirties, quick-witted with an infectious laugh, and he and Harry had hit it off immediately. Harry didn't know if it was the kinship of life in government service that had them clicking so effortlessly, but there was most certainly something there. Something elusive, but tangible enough that Harry felt, if he tried hard enough, he could reach over his head and pluck it down to examine it properly.
Before he could puzzle it out on his own, however, it became at once abundantly clear and entirely confusing. Aziz, while giving him a tour of some of the tombs not open to the public, had pushed Harry up against a wall. Harry meant to protest, he was certain, but Aziz had kissed the words away, leaving Harry mindless and falling into the kiss as if he'd been standing on a precipice his entire life, needing only this sort of push into unimaginable pleasure.
"I've been desperate to get you alone for days," Aziz said into Harry's neck as he worked his way down. "Mmmm. You taste of basboosa—lemon and honey."
It took a moment for Harry's sluggish brain to recall the sweet cake he'd so enjoyed after lunch. "Ungh," he responded, as his mind disengaged once more.
At thirty-nine, Harry hadn't expected many more 'first times,' but this one, in the tomb of an unknown king, went far beyond anything he'd ever experienced, beyond any fantasy he'd ever even dreamt up on a lonely night. He'd simply had no idea that such feeling, such passion existed. Apart from the sand, which had managed to work its way into some unfortunate places, it was the single most erotic experience of Harry's life.
He'd taken to Aziz, and men in general, as he had to curse-breaking: with enthusiasm and a seeming natural ability. And it was as if Aziz had lifted a veil from Harry's eyes. Not unlike the moment Harry had become aware of the wizarding world, suddenly he could see it—see men—everywhere he looked, and even more astounding was the number of them that actually looked back. There was an entire new world full of possibilities, each more pleasurable than the last.
When he'd returned to
He'd chosen his words carefully and had even rehearsed in front of a mirror (which had critiqued his delivery but offered no suggestions on content). The children had listened attentively, and Harry felt incredibly proud when none of them seemed alarmed or at all troubled by the revelation. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Jamie stood when Harry had finished his speech. "That's great, Dad. I'm glad for you." He shook Harry's hand in a manly fashion. "Listen, could I borrow a few Galleons? Only I have to buy Gwen a Christmas present and I don't think I've enough."
Lily had looked up at him with her big brown eyes, a genuine smile on her face. "I'm very glad for you too, Daddy. You deserve to be happy." She rose up on her toes and kissed his cheek, then flounced up the stairs.
"Al?" Harry had asked, once they were alone. It was the anticipation of this child's opinion, his thoughtful Ravenclaw, that had weighed upon him the heaviest.
"I guess you found more than curses in
The talk with Ginny had been equally successful—once she'd stopped laughing.
"C'mon, Gin, it's not that funny."
She wiped at her eyes, still snorting. "Oh but it is."
Harry huffed, a bit indignantly, and Ginny sobered slightly. "I'm sorry. It's just ... god, Harry, only you could be that clueless for so long."
"Well, I was a bit preoccupied when I was a teenager, wasn't I? And after that I was focused on you, y'know."
"I do, I do. You're right. But it explains so much!" She hesitated, then added, "I've, uhm... I've had the opportunity to... compare."
"Oh." Harry ran his hand through his hair.
"It was... it was all right, then?"
"Yeah." She smiled somewhat dreamily. "Incredible, actually."
The urge to apologize was nearly overwhelming, but Ginny, likely seeing it in his eyes, cut him off. "Harry, don't—it was good between us, but you have to admit that there was always something—"
"Missing," Harry cut in. "Yeah." It was true—Harry had never understood what the big deal was about sex. Not until Aziz had pushed him up against that wall. "I really am an idiot."
"Nah, just a bit distracted. We had a good life together, great kids, but it's time now for something different, something more."
Something more was precisely what Harry was after.
Because curse-breaking often utilized potions, he'd thought it natural to combine the two. The challenge had been to convince Severus Snape—a man who'd only grudgingly tolerated Harry's persistent but well-intentioned intrusions into his post-war life.
Slammed doors were no deterrent to Harry, which Snape had certainly learnt from experience. Sheer determination was Harry's most useful weapon for gaining entrance: Snape usually gave in eventually, if only to be rid of him.
"Let me be certain I understand you, Potter. You wish to start a business. A shop with a presence in Diagon Alley, and you plan to be away from it often enough to require someone to man it for you, to be the face of this business, someone to welcome the idiot, incompetent masses with open arms, and naturally, you thought of me?"
Harry snorted. "No. Well, yes and no. Yes to the business, but no, I'm not insane, so I never imagined you'd work with the customers—we'll have a shop assistant for that."
"Don't you have some progeny to press into service? The one with the unfortunate moniker?"
"Hey! I like Albus Severus's name—it's a good strong name. Sounds Roman," Harry added before he could stop himself. He was really tired of getting crap about his son's name.
"Hmmm. Yes, perhaps you'll name your next child Caligula, then. But I was referring to the eldest boy."
"What—James?" Harry rolled his eyes. "Funny sod, aren't you. No, James has a mind for Quidditch. He's still at school anyway." He hesitated, then, hoping it was the right decision, broaching the subject of his sexuality, added, "And there won't be any more little Potters from me, thank you."
All right, perhaps that was more 'skirting' than 'broaching,' but it was out there now and that was what mattered.
Snape raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that what divorced men do, marry much younger women and insure their immortality by further procreation?"
Harry shrugged. "Some do, I reckon—but unless you've a potion for male pregnancy, my progeny-producing days are over." Harry kept his expression neutral, while his heart beat a nervous tattoo.
"Ah. I see." Snape took a sip of his tea, seemingly unfazed. After a not entirely uncomfortable silence, he said, "There are actually three that I can think of off the top of my head."
Snape smirked. "Male pregnancy potions. All highly illegal, as they require the sacrifice of a virginal female and the use of her... remains. But I'm certain you'd have some pull with the Ministry in that regard."
"That's sick, Snape. I think I'll pass," Harry said with a relieved snigger. "Getting back to the matter at hand, please? Can't you see the benefits of throwing in with me? You keep your mail-order business, gain a bigger lab and the opportunity to double your customer base, and I'm covering all the start-up costs. Fifty per cent ownership and no risk to you if it fails. Which it wo—"
"All right, Potter. I'll do it."
"You will? Just like that?" The thrill of victory that Harry felt was meshed with a flutter of anticipation. "Excellent! You won't regret it."
"Hmm. That remains to be seen." Snape took the hand Harry had extended across the table, then asked as they shook on their deal, "You do see the irony, do you not, in your ownership of a potions business, Potter?"
"I do, yeah." Harry grinned. "Funny old world."
That had been over two and half years ago. Two and a half years in which they'd built a successful business partnership, and even managed to get along fairly well while doing it—once they'd finally settled the argument over the name of the place. Friendship was surely not the right word for the prickly, sometimes slippery slope of their relationship, but it worked for them.
All things considered, Harry was a fairly contented man.
The 'thunk' of post dropping into his specially designed postbox brought Harry out of his musings and back into the present. He'd come up with the postbox system—which involved warded boxes and a spell that worked something like a Portkey to transport items from the box outside to the one in his workroom—in order to screen the incoming post before anyone handled it.
Harry lifted the lid to peek inside, finding one parcel and three letters glowing a bluish-white, indicating the ward field deemed them safe to touch. The letters he put aside, concentrating on the box, which he placed on his desk blotter; it was wrapped neatly in brown paper and heavier than he'd expect for its size.
Using his wand, he performed the standard (as well as several non-standard) diagnostics to determine its safety. Finding nothing sinister, or even mildly concerning, he forwent his dragon-hide gloves and opened the wrapping, revealing an ornately decorated cube.
There was also a letter, which read:
Dear Mr. Potter,
This was left to me by my great-grandmother, some seventy years ago. I have been unsuccessful in working the thing and thought you might like a crack at it. You may keep it, as I am moving to a much smaller home, and wish to be free of the detritus of my years in this one. I'm certain the curse rumored to be attached is more family lore than anything else, but I do advise caution; one can never be too careful!
Miss Violet Crumble
The name was familiar to Harry, though he couldn't place it. That she'd asked Harry to keep the thing wasn't at all out of the ordinary. He frequently received items such as this, objects that the owners wished to be rid of rather than pay to have decursed. There was actually a corner of the shop dedicated to the selling of these made-safe things: amongst them a lovely crystal aperitif set, complete with small, stemmed glasses which no longer bit the nose of the drinker; and a pretty enamel trinket box, which had been gifted to a man who'd shrunk nearly all of his worldly possessions and stuffed them inside before he'd realized there was a problem—he only called on Harry when the faint barking of his missing pet Crup had alerted him to the trouble.
From what Harry could tell just by looking at it, the cube seemed to be comprised primarily of wood. A check of all six sides determined there was no discernable hinge or seam, nothing that would hint it could in some way be opened. Ornate brass filigree adorned all but one side, on which there was a disc, possibly a dial of some sort, made of what might be ivory, although it, too, was surrounded by some of the intricate filigree. Testing his dial theory, he used a fingertip to move the disc both clockwise and counter-clockwise. Though the cube was not outwardly affected, Harry could definitely feel a mechanism of some sort under his finger.
"Dad?" Al poked his head in the door. "We're all cleaned up and ready to go." He stepped fully into the room and added, "Ooh, what's that?"
Scorpius shuffled in as well. "Oh! I know what that is—it's a puzzle box."
"Really? D'you know how to open it, then, Scorpius?" Harry asked, at once pleased to know what the thing was, and disappointed that the mystery of it might be solved so easily.
"No. Sorry, Mr. Potter—the one at the Manor belonged to my grandfather. Grandmother won't let me touch it, so there's a good chance there's something nasty inside."
"Your grandmother is a very wise woman, Scorpius, you would do well to trust her judgment," Snape put in from the doorway.
"I could ask Grandfather's portrait, if you'd like. Though sometimes it's hard to make sense of what he's saying."
Harry was trying to think of a tactful way to ask him to elaborate, but Scorpius must have seen the question in his eyes.
"Grandfather was very confident of Voldemort's victory when he commissioned the portrait, and just as certain future generations of Malfoys would revere him." Scorpius rolled his eyes. "Of course reality proved altogether different, with him dying in Azkaban. There's a bit of conflict in the paint." He looked up at Harry apologetically. "He's a nutter, really—Grandmother had to put a sticking charm on his frame because the other portraits were complaining about him. Dad won't go near that study—he made a new one for himself on another floor." Scorpius shrugged.
"Thank you for offering, Scorpius, but I'll work it out myself." Though he'd wanted to do it on his own anyway, Harry hadn't missed the protective hand Snape laid on the boy's shoulder—no sense sending the kid in to deal with a deranged portrait.
"We're going to head upstairs, Dad, and throw some supper together," Al said, impatiently tugging Scorpius by the sleeve.
"Yeah, I'll be up soon," Harry answered, waving absently, his mind already back on the object in front of him. He felt some give in what he decided was the bottom of the thing, and after a few minutes of tentative poking and prodding, he was able to twist the entire bottom portion (which was about half an inch in height), shifting it one side to the right. He heard a muted 'click,' then watched as the brass design changed slightly on all sides. "Huh."
"So, you are just going to charge in and manipulate that thing, without a moment's research, despite the warning that my godson just offered you."
Harry started and looked up; he hadn't realized Snape was still leaning on the doorframe, which was something of a novelty, considering he was normally hyper-aware of Snape's relative proximity. "I, er, thought to, yeah."
There was a look on Snape's face that, were it worn by anyone else, Harry might've defined as concern. It was fleeting though, and changed into something much less friendly when Harry, perplexed and a bit surprised, tried to reassure him that he knew was what he was doing, by adding, "All of my diagnostics read that it's safe."
Snape's face was now completely inscrutable. He opened his mouth as if to speak, but, seeming to change his mind, snapped his jaw shut and turned on his heel, black robes flaring dramatically as he stalked away. The "Goodnight, Potter," he threw over his shoulder was not so much a wish for a pleasant evening as a disgusted dismissal.
Perhaps Snape's concern, as boggling as it was, was not entirely misplaced: over the next few weeks, Harry became somewhat obsessed with the cube. He carried it with him wherever he went—twisting, turning, poking and prodding each newly discovered movable section, testing different combinations whenever he had a moment to spare. He didn't feel magically compelled to work the puzzle; though, he supposed if he were under a spell, he'd likely not know it. Harry might have worried more himself if he didn't know he had a life-long weakness for mysteries and puzzles.
Snape hadn't said another word about it after the day the puzzle box arrived, but he made his disapproval known loudly enough with telling looks and exasperated huffs.
None of which kept Harry from working on the cube.
After week three, his drive to solve the thing was fueled by sheer stubbornness. Until one rainy Saturday afternoon, four days before his birthday. The downpour had effectively killed any foot traffic into the shop, so Harry sent Tilda, the shop girl, home early and planted himself on a stool near the till.
He placed the puzzle box on the smooth wooden countertop in front of him, eyeing it with no small amount of frustration. At one point last week he'd resorted to using his wand and had regretted it immediately—the box had screeched, "Cheater! Cheater! Cheater!" and locked down tight, until Harry had put his wand away and picked the thing up with his hands.
The storm outside intensified; a low rumble of thunder was followed by a flash of lightning. As if that bolt of lightning had brought inspiration with it, Harry suddenly noticed something that had escaped him previously. On one side, the brass filigree had formed into the same flower motif that was carved into the ivory disc on top of the box. Trying to recall the last moves he'd made, Harry moved the disc one notch counter-clockwise, so that the top of the flower was pointing at the right side portion, to set it as the flower motif side had been.
He twisted that right-side portion once, counter-clockwise as well.
"Okay," Harry sighed. Unwilling to admit defeat, Harry twisted the right side portion counter-clockwise once more.
The brass changed smoothly into the same flower motif.
Excitement fluttering through him, Harry followed the same combination for the remaining sides, saving the top for last. With the final twist, Harry felt something inside slide into place and the top sprang open.
His moment of triumph was short lived, however.
An eerie voice filled the room, reciting:
"Aren't you so clever
And wasn't this fun?
But you've no idea
What you've just done.
One moon have you now,
My fine witty friend,
To save your own hide
From a horrible end.
A bond it will be
To win back your life,
A bond everlasting,
Be it husband or wife.
If after one moon
The deed is not done,
And the hand of your intended
Remains yet unwon,
For this great failure
You'll have to atone.
Pay dearly you will
By turning to stone."
The noise had brought Snape, Al and Scorpius into the shop area, and they stared at Harry in the ringing silence.
The box belched out a scrap of parchment with the poem on it in a curly, unfamiliar script, followed by an ornate little hourglass, the sand slowly ticking away, presumably a month's time. Harry didn't start to worry, however, until a jagged bolt shot out of the box and zapped his finger, causing him to drop it.
"Uh-oh." Harry held up his finger, which seemed to have turned to a nice alabaster, and grimaced—it was unbelievably cold and actually hurt where the stone met his knuckle.
"Yes, Potter, that covers it nicely. I hope you're satisfied," Snape sneered. "Of all the foolish, reckless, impulsive, thoughtless things you've done ... You haven't changed at all. I can't imagine why I thought you had. You have children, responsibilities—it's not just your idiotic life you're gambling with anymore." He turned his back on Harry and addressed the boys. "Scorpius, Albus, I trust you can finish the potion without incident, assuming you have more common sense than Potter. I have an urgent need to be," he looked over his shoulder at Harry, "elsewhere."
Harry watched Snape's retreating back, regret flaring through him: he'd lost Snape's good opinion of him, without knowing he'd ever gained it to begin with. He closed his eyes as the disappointment washed over him.
"Dad?" Al touched his arm. "Are you all right?"
Harry opened his eyes to see the concerned face of his son. Al wasn't the spitting image of him, exactly—for one thing, he didn't need the glasses that had been a distinct part of Harry's appearance for most of his life—but it was odd sometimes to see himself so clearly in another person. Though, what did it say when the boy looked most like him during times of stress? Wanting nothing more than to smooth the tension from Al's face, Harry pulled himself together and gathered his fierce determination. He would need it to fix this. Not just for himself, but for everyone counting on him.
"I will be, son," Harry said with confidence. The pain in his finger eased some and he watched as it the stone slowly changed back to flesh. He held up his hand, flexing his fingers. "See?"
"Why'd it hit just your finger like that, d'you reckon?" Ever inquisitive, Al took Harry's hand and examined the restored digit.
"A warning, perhaps?" Harry righted the puzzle box, and the hourglass moved along with it, continuing to hover three or four inches above the thing. He scooped it up and took it into his workroom with him—it was about time he did the research he should have done to begin with.
He began by owling Miss Crumble—perhaps she could shed some more light on the object and its history.
His next step was consulting some of the books he'd collected along the way, and several days into his search, he found a reference to a puzzle box in Curses: Foiled Again and Again.
An eighteenth century Marquis had commissioned a puzzle box for his wife, whom he was convinced had conceived a child by another man. Once solved, the puzzle box was designed to draw her inside and trap her in a never-ending labyrinth, chased endlessly by unseen but malicious threats biting at her heels.
The lady had been rescued, fifty-seven years later, but she was quite mad, and upon release, threw herself out a window, plummeting five storeys to her death.
Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. The description of the box was similar, if much more gruesome in the end. At least he now had a name: LeMarchand was the puzzle box maker.
A knock sounded at his door, and Al poked his head inside. "Dad, Cyril just brought this back."
The note he'd sent to the box's benefactor.
Not a good sign. Owl post was not completely infallible, but returned post was a very rare and troubling thing.
Harry pulled out his WebPad and flipped it open. "Call Ron."
The shop's logo spun gently on the two-by-four-inch screen while he waited. He laid the tiny computer on the desk next to the puzzle box, the hovering hourglass a constant reminder of the passage of time.
"Weasley." Ron's face appeared on the view screen. "Heya, Harry."
Like a vast majority of the wizarding world, Harry was still not keen on technology, but it was something he'd had to use as Head Auror with some regularity, thanks to Hermione and, of all people, Draco Malfoy, who was an Unspeakable and the Ministry's gadget man. Not to mention, Al was gadget-mad too, so he couldn't avoid it in any case. Although, he had to admit it was an enormous improvement over a head-spinning Floo call. "Ron, listen, I've a problem."
He filled Ron in on the puzzle box debacle and endured some well-deserved but good-natured piss-taking. Then Ron sobered a bit and offered, "Seriously Harry, d'you want a team on this? I can have Murphy and Wethington there in ten."
Harry sighed and shook his head. "Not unless they want to help me comb through books. But if you could check out the woman who sent it to me, I'd appreciate it." Harry used his wand and the view screen changed slightly, becoming more liquid in appearance. "I'm passing through the letter she sent."
Ron plucked it through on his end. "Violet Crumble... sounds familiar."
"I thought so too, but Cyril couldn't deliver my response."
"All right, I'll get someone on it straight away. D'you need anything else?"
"Not at the moment, no. But I've less than a month to either break this curse, or bond with someone."
"That's a weird curse, don't you think? Forcing someone to marry."
"Yeah, I do," Harry agreed. "Miss Crumble mentioned family lore in her letter; I'm hoping she can shed some light on it for us. Maybe there was a stubborn bachelor somewhere in the mix."
"Well, here's hoping you break the curse—I don't reckon the easier task would be convincing him to bond with you."
"Er, him who?"
Harry blinked, momentarily speechless. "How... Sorry, what?"
Ron leant back in his chair, looking smug. "C'mon, Harry—I've known you for what, thirty years? You're desperate to get into Snape's robes."
Knowing Ron for those same thirty years, Harry replied, "Hermione figured it out, and told you, then?"
"Yeah, 'course." Ron grinned, suddenly looking all of sixteen. "I'll let you know what we find out. You let me know if you need anything."
"Cheers, mate. See you."
Having Ron on the case helped boost Harry's spirits. At least for that day and the next, but he struggled to remain optimistic as the days passed without much, if any, progress.
Things weren't all bad, though. Snape, who'd been stiff and cold and had generally acted as if Harry didn't exist (which, strictly speaking, wasn't significantly different from any other day, but was frosty enough to be a bit depressing), seemed to be thawing towards him by the middle of the following week.
"Can I ask a stupid question?" Harry asked, walking into the brewing room on Wednesday of week two, knowing he was setting himself up even as the words slipped past his lips.
"Yes, Potter, you've proven many times in the past that you're fully capable of asking stupid questions."
"Hilarious. But that wasn't my question." Harry glared but he was secretly pleased—the jibe had been said without venom; it was very nearly a declaration of love as far as Harry was concerned. "Wouldn't Mandrake Draught reverse it, if I were turned to stone?"
"Ah, not an entirely stupid question after all." Snape turned to the boys. "Would either of you like to answer Potter's question?"
Al spoke up first. "Sorry, Dad, but no, Mandrake wouldn't help."
"People who've been Petrified are essentially still themselves, just... frozen, so to speak, but still human," Scorpius explained. "Turning to stone would change your chemical composition—no longer human, nothing to restore."
"There might be a way to reverse the curse with a spell, but, as you know, we'd have to know what the original curse is in order to find or create a counter for it," Al added.
With that ruled out, Harry's struggle to remain optimistic became a struggle not to panic. He slogged on with the research in any case. He still had just over two weeks; a lot could happen in that time.
And while he worked his way through his entire collection of curse books to no avail, he did have two healthy sized piles of books loaned to him by both Bill and Hermione, who each had rather sizable collections of their own. It was, in fact, Hermione's copy of The Big Book of Curses: A Guide to the Hideous, the Horrendous, and the Heinous through the Ages, in which he found LeMarchand, and then almost wished he hadn't.
He read through the passages twice, then took his glasses off and rubbed his face. LeMarchand was a mad man, no doubt about it. Grabbing his glasses and the book, Harry headed out of his workroom toward the brewing room, and then out to the shop when he found the lab empty.
"It is part and parcel of being an apprentice, Mr. Malfoy. If such a task is beneath you, then perhaps you should rethink your career options."
"I'm sorry, Uncle Severus. I wasn't complaining, just hungry." Scorpius continued as Harry pushed aside the curtain, "I really do appreciate you taking on both Al and me this summer, honest."
"All right, Dad?" Al asked when he spotted Harry.
"Yeah, just tired. I've found LeMarchand. Have a look."
Harry put the book on the counter. "In short, he's an eighteenth century Frenchman, an architect by trade, whose hobbies included puzzle box making, and a spot of mass murder," he said wryly.
The boys, being boys, were gleefully reading the gory bits aloud, reveling in the more colorful words: eviscerated, exsanguination, entrails, as well as your everyday ordinary bloodbath.
"Apparently, he made hundreds of these boxes, all of them containing some sort of gruesome surprise," Harry supplied for Snape, who couldn't see the book for the two teenaged heads in the way.
"Need I point out, Potter, that the Sorting Hat-inspired poem spat out by your puzzle box was neither written in French nor by an eighteenth century hand?"
"No, I got that, thanks. The method by which I'm to die seems a bit more humane than this lot too." Harry couldn't keep the disappointment out of his voice. "I'm back at square one."
"So it would seem."
The good news kept coming, as well, when Harry's WebPad buzzed in his pocket. He didn't miss Snape's disdainful look when he pulled it out to answer it, or the muttered, "Bloody Muggle contraption."
"Hi, Ron, what's up?"
"Nothing good. We couldn't find a Miss Crumble anywhere in the UK, so we broadened the search and still came up empty-handed. But, I was talking to Hermione about it and my brilliant girl figured it out." Ron's proud smile changed into a worried frown. "Harry, Violet Crumble is a Muggle sweet, remember in Australia? That brilliant, crunchy chocolate bar?"
"Right! Yeah. I knew it sounded familiar." Harry hadn't given a thought to the sweet in more than twenty years, but he remembered Ron had been particularly fond of them. Then the implications of this new information hit Harry. "I was the target, then."
"'Fraid so, mate. Sorry I don't have anything better to report." Ron gave Harry a significant look, then added, "Might be best to start considering the bond."
Once he'd said his goodbye and closed his WebPad, Harry looked up to find Al looking at him.
"Uncle Ron's been working on this with you?"
"Of course he has. In fact, if I were anyone else, that puzzle box would be in the hands of the Ministry right now. Ron's doing me a favor, letting me investigate on my own. Good thing, too, as it's the only lead I have left."
"Oh, that's good, then."
"Are you going to bond with someone, Mr. Potter?" Scorpius asked.
Harry quashed the urge to look at Snape. As much as he wanted the man, Harry thought it would be horrible to have it forced in that way. As it was, Ginny had very generously offered to marry him again. But he didn't want to do that to her either—even with a very open arrangement, if she found someone, she wouldn't be free to marry.
On the other hand, he didn't much fancy being a garden ornament either. "It looks like I might have to."
"What about Uncle Severus? He's single."
Harry looked at Snape then, and found the man staring in astonishment at his godson.
"Why on earth would you offer me up in that way? What about you—you're similarly unattached."
"Me?!" Scorpius squeaked. "I'm only sixteen. And anyway," he reached over and put his hand on Al's, which was lying on the book in front of them, "I'm not actually available."
Harry raised an eyebrow, though inwardly he wasn't surprised by the revelation. "Al?"
"I was going to tell you, Dad. I swear!" Albus turned his hand and laced their fingers together. "It's just sort of new... and we ... You're not angry are you? I mean, it's Scorp—"
Harry raised a hand to quiet his stammering son. "Of course I'm not angry." He smiled reassuringly, then added, "We will be reassessing the sleeping arrangements, however."
Both boys looked as if they wanted to protest but knew better, and Al nodded.
"Why don't you go on—I'll be up in a bit."
As the boys headed through the curtain and towards the staircase to Harry's flat above the shop, whispering furiously to one another, Snape said, "You do realize that won't stop them."
Harry shrugged, then smirked. "Probably not, but there's no reason to make it easy for them."
He watched silently while Snape counted and logged the day's receipts, looking satisfied and entirely too edible, with his long fingers running down the columns of numbers. Would he, Harry wondered? No, it was ridiculous to even entertain the notion of asking Snape—he didn't even know if Snape was gay. In fact, in the thirty-odd years he'd known the man, Harry had never once seen him in the company of a man or a woman. Perhaps he was some sort of asexual eunuch. Harry sighed. Merlin what a shame that would be. But if that were true, maybe Snape would be willing—
"Just spit it out, Potter. Whatever it is, it can't be worse than enduring your staring, I assure you," Snape said without looking away from his task.
Harry was startled out of his thoughts. Well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. "Would you, maybe, consider helping me?"
Snape looked up then, eyes narrowed, and Harry hurried on to explain, "With a bond, I meant. I know it's a huge commitment, and not to be entered into lightly. You can name your terms, whatever you want. I say that of course, operating under the assumption that you'd never involve my children, I'm sort of fond of my firstborn, all of them actually, so I guess that would be the only out of bounds item on the list." Harry realized he was babbling. And sweating a bit. And why the fuck had he even mentioned his children, as if Snape were some sort of fairy tale witch striking a bargain? Nice. He inwardly rolled his eyes—how could Snape resist such an appealing package, really?
It was Snape's turn to stare, and he did so for a full two minutes before asking, "Are you mad?"
That hurt far more than Harry had expected and it took him a moment to recover. "You're right. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked. I hoped ... It doesn't matter. Forget I said anything. Goodnight." Harry headed for the curtain, his mind already on the unopened bottle of Scotch he had upstairs. Surely, after the day he'd had, he'd earned the right to feel sorry for himself.
Alone. At the bottom of a bottle.
He was so busy gearing up to wallow that he nearly missed Snape's quiet response. "I shall ... think about it, Potter."
"Seriously? Thank you, Snape, I really appreciate it."
"Don't thank me yet. You might regret the 'my terms' business."
Harry sent him what he hoped was a flirtatious smile, it couldn't hurt, really, and said, "I highly doubt that. Goodnight, Snape."
It was true enough, anyway. Harry had left the shop vulnerable in his proposition and that would suck, but he could live with it. The only thing Harry would truly regret would be having Snape and still not having Snape, but he'd cross that bridge when he came to it. He scooped up the puzzle box on his way upstairs—if he could crack the mystery of this box, then maybe the bond wouldn't be necessary at all.
So once again, Harry was obsessed. And since he'd cancelled all of the jobs he had lined up for the next two weeks (though in a fit of optimism, he merely postponed the ones that came in over the following days), Harry was able to focus solely on the puzzle of the box itself.
Instead of making moves and looking for patterns and combinations, this time, he studied the spellwork on the box, as well as the little hourglass hovering above, its grains of sand falling almost lazily, belying the situation's increasing urgency for him.
Now that it was solved, the box didn't seem to mind his wand, so he used every diagnostic spell at his command, not only looking for hidden curses, but identifying specifically the materials used in the creation of the box, down to the tiniest detectable particle.
He studied the craftsmanship, the hardware, the brass-work on the outside, the crimson velvet lining on the inside and the embedded mechanisms.
He pored over old auction catalogues, art books and other various texts (both Muggle and wizard) about historical and contemporary objects d'art, anything he could get his hands on, searching for a clue that would tell him where the box might have originated, who the artist might have been, and how one might come by such a thing.
When only a week remained until the deadline, though, Harry was no further along, apart from a great respect for the artist and for the nifty charms that'd been used.
Harry slumped lower into his sofa, feeling a bit sorry for himself, once again contemplating that as yet unopened bottle of Scotch. He'd not heard a word from Snape about the bond, and despite the fact that Harry had just enjoyed a lovely, impromptu supper with his family, he was feeling very lonely. Ginny had reminded Harry of her offer, and Harry'd had to tell her it might actually be necessary. She'd seemed untroubled, but it was thoroughly depressing to Harry—it was so wrong to have to do that to Ginny.
Harry sighed loudly at the empty room. Al was spending the week with his mother and it was probably a good thing that he had forgotten his WebPad: Harry might have already been halfway to the bottom of that bottle if he hadn't had to take it to him. Merlin forbid the boy went more than a few days without his computer. His thirst for knowledge was such that Harry suspected his son was systematically making his way through all the information available on the...
Good grief, he was ridiculously thick sometimes. Of course, there was no reason to imagine Muggles might have any information on LeMarchand, but Harry had been surprised in the past by what could be found on the web. He really should have thought of it sooner.
Harry sat up straighter, now fully alert, and pulled out his own WebPad, flipping it open. He typed 'LeMarchand' in the search engine. Then he groaned.
Because his search had netted him 817,672 results.
Such an idiot, combing through books when everything he'd needed had been at his fingertips all along. Two hours later, Harry knew more than he'd ever wanted to know about LeMarchand, who'd managed to make over two hundred of the boxes and subsequently commit over two hundred macabre murders before he seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. His career in murder had been so prolific that even the Muggles had noticed, and eventually the story had inspired a Muggle author, with a keen interest in the occult, who had used LeMarchand in his books. The books had spawned films, and apparently, the films had developed a cult following and had enjoyed a resurgence of interest a couple of years ago, when the films had been rereleased.
Harry had that tingly feeling that happened to him whenever he knew he was on to something. The puzzle box replicas were available for purchase; he'd even found a picture of his one.
Using good old-fashioned detective's tools—motive, means and opportunity—Harry created a list of possible suspects and was stunned by the name at the top of the list. His not so old-fashioned but highly reliable gut instinct told him that he'd found his man, though he had no concrete evidence of it. For that, he needed only to cross the room to the large escritoire, and once there, he pulled out the appropriate paperwork and found that, yes, it seemed he was going to have to kill his middle child.
Harry's anger was short-lived though—Albus Severus had gone to a lot of trouble for him. However mad and ill advised the plan had been, clearly, there was genuine caring behind it.
A knock on his door interrupted his thoughts. It was the front door, the one that led to the staircase directly down to Diagon Alley, so it could be anyone. Still, it was unusual for him to have an unannounced visitor, as the door at the alley level was very inconspicuous. Harry did a quick charm that made the door transparent on his side and found Snape standing stiffly, hand raised and poised to knock again impatiently.
A mad fluttering moved through his chest, and Harry took a calming breath before ending the charm and opening the door.
"Snape? Is everything all right?" Harry asked as he let the man inside and turned to close the door.
"I've given your proposition considerable thought, Potter. I seem to have made a career out of saving your arse, and I see no reason why it shouldn't be so in this instance as well." Snape moved closer and Harry backed up a bit, uncertain what might be happening, until he felt the door at his back. "My terms are thus: I will not have a loveless, sexless marriage of convenience."
Harry had only a moment to utter a surprised, "Oh!" before Snape advanced once more, capturing Harry's lips in a hard, demanding kiss, and pressing him against the door.
And, oh, it was a thousand times better than Harry had ever imagined. He wrapped his arms around Snape's neck, pulling him impossibly closer, opening himself fully to Snape's probing tongue, letting it slide sensuously against his own. Snape rubbed against his hip and Harry gasped at the hard length he felt there, his increasingly interested cock firmed with the delicious friction.
Harry laid kisses down Snape's neck, murmuring, "So long. Wanted this, wanted you for so long."
Before he abandoned all reason, reality tugged at his conscience: Snape thought he was saving Harry's life and Harry now knew otherwise.
"Wait. Wait, Snape," Harry said between kisses and almost lost his resolve when Snape began nipping and licking a particularly sensitive spot behind his left ear. "Severus, wait."
Finally, Snape pulled back, his dark eyes were heavy-lidded with desire, his lips were red and plumped from the bruising kisses they'd shared, and Harry bit back a moan just to look at him. Harry kept hold of the man's shoulders to keep him from pulling away further, but Snape asked in a husky timbre, "Second thoughts, Potter?"
"Oh god no, but you might have, after I tell you what I've discovered."
Snape merely raised an eyebrow in question.
"The puzzle box was a hoax. There's no curse."
Snape stilled, though he didn't look angry, just thoughtful. Harry's heart pounded with anticipation, until Snape seemed to come to some internal decision. "I must admit that I recently considered that a very likely possibility."
"And you agreed to the bond and came here to ravish me anyway?"
"Don't get all misty-eyed on me, Potter. I wasn't about to get on bended knee—and I do not make flowery declarations." He leant closer to Harry ear. "And if indeed it were a hoax, then I'd've had my wicked way with you for one night."
Harry beamed at him. "Opportunist!"
"Absolutely." Snape began working his mouth along Harry's jaw, then asked, "Was that all?"
"Yeah, that's it." Harry sighed in delight. "My bedroom is that way."
Snape did one better and Apparated them to the foot of Harry's bed.
"Handy, that," Harry said, beginning to work the many buttons on Snape's robes. When he realized he could be at it all night, Harry impatiently spelled the robes away, and Snape stood before him, breathless, nude, his beautiful cock heavy with arousal.
Being a wizard, Snape was only just approaching middle age, and while Harry had never seen the man unclothed before, he knew that time and prosperity had filled in the gaunt places in his face. He discovered they'd been equally kind to his body. Snape was still slim, but solid in just the right way: utter perfection. Snape stood unselfconsciously, allowing Harry to look his fill.
Harry shimmied out of his jeans, his own aching cock bobbing with the sudden action, then he pushed Snape backwards onto the wine-colored counterpane that covered his large bed. He pulled his t-shirt off and scrambled up onto the bed himself, straddling Snape's legs, pushing forward until their cocks met and both men moaned softly.
"Perfect," Harry sighed, then leant forward to take Snape's mouth with his own, kissing him deeply and hungrily.
Snape grabbed hold of Harry's arse, and he must have cast a silent, wandless lubrication spell because suddenly, one of those long fingers was probing at the puckered entrance, then slipping inside. Another soon followed and after a moment, that was good enough for Harry.
"Inside me, Severus. Now. Can't wait. Please." Harry rose up onto his knees and Snape guided him until he could descend, moaning as the blunt head of Snape's cock breached him. Harry took his time, feeling every glorious inch until he was fully seated.
Harry set the pace, slow at first. He leant forward and kissed Snape again and the angle was just right and Snape thrust up, meeting Harry halfway, then increasing the pace. Harry sat up a bit to get at his own cock, but Snape brushed his hand away and stroked Harry in time with their thrusting and rocking, and Harry was crying out in what might have been, had Harry given it any thought, an embarrassingly short time, spending himself on Snape's stomach.
He lay on top of Snape somewhat bonelessly, fully aware of the hard shaft still inside him, thankful Snape was giving him a moment to come back to earth. He lifted his head so he could see Snape's face and gasped at the feral look he was wearing. Though Harry had already found his release, he felt something surge anew within him and he kissed Snape hard.
Snape broke away, giving him only a second's warning. "Hold on, Harry," he said, before Snape flipped them and began pounding into him.
"Yes!" Harry shouted, looking up into those black eyes. He continued to encourage the man, cheering him on, "Fuck me, Severus. Just like that. Mmmmm. Perfect. Perfect. Perfect," until it devolved into incoherent murmuring. Harry had never felt like this before: he was stimulated, fairly vibrating, from the top of his head to the tips of his toes.
Putting his hands behind his knees, he pulled his legs up higher, opening himself even more to Snape's thrusts and Snape grunted, his hips slapping against Harry's arse with each powerful stroke until, finally, Snape cried out, stilling his hips, pulsing heat into Harry, who cried out with him in the sheer pleasure of it all.
Harry lingered in a sated stupor, Snape's weight pressing him into the mattress. Despite the fact that Snape was heavier than he looked, Harry was loath to rouse him to move—he'd breathe shallowly for a while. He made soothing circles on Snape's back and ran a foot up and down Snape's leg. He wasn't certain what this had meant to Snape, but it had meant the world to Harry, and he wouldn't let Snape run out of there if he suddenly had a mind to.
His stroking garnered a delightful little purring noise, so Harry ventured, "That was fantastic, but next time, let's take it a little slower."
Snape lifted his head and came up on his elbows. "Next time, eh?"
He looked sleepy and sated, but also a bit wary, and Harry couldn't resist lifting a hand and running it down the side of Snape's... Severus's (all things considered, it might finally be time to let himself think of the man as Severus) craggy face, and then was surprised and delighted when Severus turned his head and planted a kiss on Harry's palm.
"Yes, next time. Many, many, many next times, if I have my way."
"Hmmm. It's been quite a while for me, but everything seems to be in working order—I think I shall be able to accommodate your demands."
"Demands? I don't suppose there's anything in it for you, then." Harry chuckled.
"Certainly not; I'm nothing, if not a charitable man. And since your arse is no longer in need saving, I shall just have to make use of it in other ways."
"Mmmm. I like the way you think."
Severus dipped his head, and Harry lifted up to meet him, their lips sliding together easily, a gentle reassurance, an agreement of intention for both of them, rather than the urgent, demanding kisses they'd shared earlier.
Harry sighed contentedly, but reality intruded for a second time that day. "As much as I'd love to stay tangled up this way forever, I have to think about what I'm going to do and I can't think clearly when you're naked—how about I make some tea?" Severus didn't seem inclined to move. Harry added, "It was the boys, Severus. Albus for certain, but I can't think of a thing he's done since first year that hasn't included Scorpius."
Severus frowned, and Harry, concerned the information would have an ill effect on Severus's relationship with Al, added, "I don't think it was mean spirited—those boys worship you."
"I cannot imagine why they would do such a thing."
Harry blushed as he hadn't in years, which was ridiculous, considering Severus was naked and lying on top of him. "I think I might not have been as good at hiding my interest in you as I thought I'd been." Diverting, he said, "Tea now. There's a dressing gown on the back of the bathroom door if you'd like."
They met back in the kitchen: Harry in his pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt, Severus in Harry's dark green dressing gown.
He should have known that Severus would not forget his last statement. "I believe we were discussing your poorly disguised interest."
Harry took a sip of tea before answering. Why should he be embarrassed? Severus was sitting there in his kitchen, nearly naked, looking properly debauched. "Yes. Two years' worth at least. Possibly more—I've wanted you in my life in any way possible since the end of the war, as you know." He shrugged. "I'm not certain exactly when it changed."
Severus actually looked pleased as he sipped his own tea. "It does seem rather an elaborate plot for two Ravenclaws, however." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I suspect they had assistance."
"Agreed—the box was just a simple Muggle device, but the spellwork on it was fairly advanced, though they might be up to it, the same with the hourglass. I'm not so certain about that stone finger business." Harry waggled the finger that had been affected, then sighed. "I don't know what to do. On the one hand, how can I punish him when it got you where I really wanted you? But when I think about all that could have gone wrong ...
"I could take away Al's computer, but he goes back to school in a week and he won't be able to use it anyway. I could restrict his privileges for the first few Hogsmeade weekends, but I'm certain Scorpius would stay behind, leaving them in their empty dorm—not much of a punishment there either."
Severus sat quietly drinking tea for a moment, then offered, "Perhaps rather than punished, they should be taught a lesson."
They spent the rest of the evening doing some plotting of their own, Severus reminding Harry why it was handy to have a Slytherin on your side.
And, of course, the tea service was easily Reparo'd after a rather vigorous break.
Over the next few days, they tightened up their plan, and if the boys suspected a change in their relationship, they didn't let on. Harry doubted it, though—Al had returned from his mother's, so the looks of longing that Harry was sending Severus's way were not at all feigned.
"Are you ready for this?" Harry asked Severus, the day before the deadline. The boys were involved with something in the brewing room, so Harry chanced a quick kiss, then took a stance that would allow him to remain upright. He smiled. "Okay, do it."
Severus silently cast Petrificus Totalus and then an excellent little Glamour that Severus had come up with for them to use.
"Oh for pity's sake," Severus shouted, once everything was set, then added a very convincing, "Potter, you idiot!"
Al, followed closely by Scorpius, came rushing through the curtain at the back of the shop and they skidded to a halt in front of Harry.
"Professor? What's happened?"
Harry was immediately glad he'd let Severus talk him into the Body-Bind—he would've caved the moment he saw fear replace confusion on Albus's face.
A stunned looking Scorpius sputtered, "But ... What?"
"Obviously, Potter has been turned to stone," Severus said dryly.
"Scorp?" Al anxiously looked to his friend for answers.
"This wasn't supposed to happen. I don't even know how it could've..." Scorpius pulled out his WebPad with shaking hands. "Call Dad."
Harry could hear but not see Draco Malfoy. "Scorpius? What's wrong, son?"
Frantic now that his father was on the line, Scorpius said, "Dad, you have to come quickly. The puzzle box—something's gone wrong. I don't understand. I need you."
Malfoy was in the shop less than five minutes later. "What on earth is going on here?"
"That's a very good question, Draco. I was hoping you could tell me."
"Dad, look at him—why's he like that?"
Malfoy snorted. "Looks like the Ministry will get its statue of Potter after all."
Harry felt a touch to his shoulder and did a little internal jig; it was precisely what they'd been hoping for. Severus silently cast the same spells on Malfoy as he had on Harry with his concealed wand.
"Dad, no!" Scorpius cried.
Malfoy was to one side of Harry, who couldn't move his eyes to look, and Harry felt confident by Scorpius's reaction that Malfoy was now in a similar state.
Al looked horrified as he grabbed Scorpius's arm, and Harry decided they'd had enough. Luckily, Severus seemed to feel the same, as he released Harry just as silently as he'd bound him, and said, "Gentlemen, explain."
The change from fright to confusion to relief was comical, and Harry would have laughed if the situation were different. He made certain his voice was stern when he said, "Yes, I think an explanation is definitely in order."
Al moved swiftly, hugging Harry. "Thank Merlin!"
Harry hugged him back but only for a moment; he pulled away and held Al by the shoulder at arm's length.
His son looked up at him sheepishly. "I guess you figured it out, then?"
"If you mean have I figured out you deliberately made me believe my life was in danger? That you nearly caused your mother and me to remarry? That you could very well have jeopardized my business partnership with Professor Snape? That you used your Gringotts card for something that was decidedly not an emergency? Then, yes, I have."
"You were going to remarry Mum?" Al asked, eyes wide. "We wouldn't have let it get that far, I swear!" He bowed his head, looking away. "I didn't think you ever looked at those credit card statements."
"I don't, normally, because I trusted you. How can I do that now?"
Al now looked miserable, so Harry squeezed his shoulder. The boy met his eyes, clearly contrite, and offered an explanation, "It's just, I could see how you look at Professor Snape when you think no one's looking, but I don't think you knew that he was looking at you, too. Me and Scorp both noticed it over the Easter hols and we thought we'd give you a nudge, except that neither one of you seemed to pick up on our hints," he said, sounding exasperated. "So we did something a bit more drastic."
"We meant no harm, Mr. Potter—we really just wanted to help," Scorpius added.
Severus muttered something about 'the road to hell,' while Harry said, "Al, you can't fiddle with people's lives like that, even if you feel you know what you're doing. Do you understand how horribly wrong this could have gone? How your mother would've felt? How it might've affected Professor Snape, and ultimately our business?"
Al's cheeks went crimson. "I'm sorry, Dad. I guess I didn't think it all the way through."
Harry smiled gently, knowing that Al's discomfiture was, in part, his injured Ravenclaw pride. "You might've just said something to me—I would've made a move on my own, had I known. You're just lucky that it happened to work out this time. Let's leave the plotting to Slytherins from now on though, yeah?"
Al hugged Harry again. "Yeah," he agreed, then grinned at Severus.
"Hmmm. Perhaps it is time we discover how Malfoy senior became involved in all of this," Severus cut in.
Once released, Malfoy smoothed his hair and robes, somewhat fussily, and said, "They asked for help with the puzzle box—they neglected to mention what it was intended for." He turned to his son. "So I'm to understand that you withheld information and manipulated the situation to your own benefit, Scorpius?"
Scorpius nodded and said, "Yeah, sorry, Dad."
"Thank Merlin!" Malfoy exclaimed, hugging the boy. "You have some Slytherin in you after all."
Harry felt Severus stand behind him and place his hands on his shoulders, so he turned slightly, looking up at Severus, who was just a bit taller, and smiled, leaning towards him so their lips met briefly.
"Well, I could have gone very happily my entire life without seeing that," Malfoy drawled.
"I can manage an Obliviation, if it's too traumatic for you, Draco," Severus offered with only a hint of sarcasm.
Malfoy sighed dramatically. "No. I imagine I'll have to become accustomed to such displays."
Standing apart from them, the boys were facing one another, speaking quietly with obvious affection.
"Welcome to the family, Malfoy." Harry smirked and leant up for another kiss from Severus.
Al looked over and grinned at his father, clearly understanding that he was forgiven.
"No sense in looking so very pleased with yourself, Mr. Potter: you and Mr. Malfoy shall be scrubbing cauldrons until the moment you board the train. Understood?"
"Yes, sir," Al responded, his smile not dimming.
Harry smiled back and gave his son a short nod of thanks, then turned toward Severus. "What happened to not punishing, just teaching them a lesson?"
"It was all getting a bit too 'happily ever after' for my taste," Severus grumbled.
Harry laughed and gave the man a loud smacking kiss.
He didn't know about happily ever after—knowing Severus Snape, it was bound
to be a bumpy road they'd be traveling together—but he was certainly happy