Title: The Riddle of the Grange
Author: Take a Bow
Word Count: ~18,800
Pairing: Severus Snape/Harry Potter,
Warnings: Character death (not Severus/Harry)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Sherlock Holmes and the plot of The Devil’s Foot (His Last Bow) aren’t mine either.
Summary: Non-magic AU set in the late Victorian era. Chief Inspector Severus Snape of Scotland Yard comes to Hogsmeade to investigate a most baffling murder at the Riddle house. Fortunately PC Potter is eager to assist him in all matters.
Author's Notes: Thank you, empathic_siren, for easing my fest wibbles with a very user-friendly prompt! I hope you like what I’ve done with it. *wishes you a happy Snarry Holidays*
Beta-read by two marvellous people who
shall remain nameless, for now.
Chief Inspector Severus
Snape of Scotland Yard sat at his breakfast table
His manservant slouched in and leered in a manner that was no doubt intended to be ingratiating. “Beggin’ yer pardon, sir, but they was off. That’s a loverly bit o’ bacon, though, I ‘ad some meself. Anyfing else, sir?”
Severus waved him away. “No, no. Wait – why is this ringed in red ink on my morning paper?”
“That’ll be Dr Lupin’s wedding announcement, sir. Dint think you’d want ter miss that, sir. Don’t know why yer dint go along, mind. You bein’ ‘is best friend, an’ all.”
Severus’ face darkened. “That will be all, Filch!” Angrily he folded the paper so as to obscure the offending announcement. Until recently, Remus Lupin had always shared his breakfast table; they had been roommates, and Severus had entertained the fond belief that they would be so until the day they died, bachelors together.
And then Lupin had to go and meet that
accursed harpy, Miss Tonks, and before you could say “in the family way” they
were wed, and Lupin had moved out, never to return. Apparently they planned to run a pig farm in
Police Constable Harry Potter strolled along the lane to the Hogsmeade Police Station, accompanied by his best friend, PC Ronald Weasley. Ron groaned as they turned the corner and saw the figure of the suffragette waiting for them.
“Bloody hell, she’s there again. Can’t you have a word with her, Harry?”
Harry grinned. “Sorry, mate, you’re on your own, there.”
Ron squared his shoulders and marched forthrightly up to the young woman. “Look, Hermione, this is getting a bit embarrassing, you chaining yourself to the police station railings all the time. Everyone knows you’re my fiancée. Couldn’t you, I dunno, go down the road to Hogchester to do it?”
Hermione’s chin was in the air. “Ronald Weasley! Do you really want the disgraceful disenfranchisement of half of humanity to be swept under the carpet?”
Ron shrugged. “Well, no, but does it have to stay in the front room all the time?”
“Until women are treated equally with men, yes, Ron, it does.” Hermione said firmly, handing them each a copy of a pamphlet written by Emmeline Pankhurst, which they each stuffed shamefacedly into a uniform pocket, Ron’s ears a vivid pink under his uniform helmet.
“I hope she realises I’ll never make Sergeant with her going on like that,” Ron muttered gloomily as they walked into the police station.
“There you two are! About bloody time.” Their superior, Sergeant Hopper, a large,
red-faced man prone to sweating profusely whose name appeared to be just one of
fate’s little jokes, glared at them as they walked in. “Take it you’ve seen the papers, about the
Riddle case? Well, you’re not the only
ones. I’ve ‘ad a telegram from
“Is Sherlock Holmes coming to solve it for us?” Ron burst out excitedly.
“No, Weasley, he is not. Chief Inspector Snape of Scotland Yard is who we’re getting.”
Ron’s face fell. “Might’ve known nobody famous would ever come up here,” he muttered. “S’pose Sherlock Holmes is too important to bother with the likes of us. So who’s this Snape bloke, Sarge, and why’s he interested in a couple of local murders?”
“Oh come on, Ron!” Harry rolled his eyes. “It’s a mystery, isn’t it? A locked room, two people found dead with expressions of abject horror on their faces, as if the very fiends of hell had come to collect their souls – “
“Very good, Potter. I see the report in the Daily Mail made an impression. Right, that settles it. Potter, when the Chief Inspector gets ‘ere, you’ll be assisting him, seeing as how you’re taking such an interest already. Better get yourself up to speed with the facts of the case, not that we’ve got a right lot.”
Flicking through the rather slender case file, Harry couldn’t believe his luck – he was going to be assisting a Chief Inspector from Scotland Yard! Careers were made out of this kind of thing! Not bad for a boy from Barnardos, he thought, wondering, as always, if his parents were still alive somewhere, and whether they’d be proud of him if they knew. He was sure that only desperation could have caused them to abandon him on the steps of the orphanage when he was a baby, with only a faded plaid blanket to his name. Not that he’d even had a name, actually – he’d been christened by one of the nurses after her home town, Potter’s Bar, and the local pub, the King Harry.
He’d got to know Ron when they were at school together – early on some of the other lads had bullied Harry about being a Barnardos boy, and Ron had stood up for him, and taken him home to be fussed over by his mum. They’d been firm friends ever since, and when Ron had announced he wanted to join the Police, it had seemed natural to Harry to follow suit. Although to tell the truth, Harry had been feeling a little left out since Ron had started courting Miss Granger, whose parents owned the grocer’s shop Ron’s mum shopped at. But Harry liked Hermione, although she had some funny opinions about women’s rights and the class system. Too much education, Ron always said, and he was probably right. Women weren’t supposed to know as much stuff as Hermione did, were they? They didn’t have the right sort of brain, or something. Not that he knew much about it.
Harry gave up wondering about women, and turned back to his file.
Chief Inspector Snape stepped off the train and cast his eye over the mostly deserted platform. A uniformed Constable stepped forward hesitantly. “Er, Chief Inspector?”
Severus nodded, and the boy – for he was hardly more than that – grinned nervously. “I’m PC Potter – I’m to assist you on the case.”
Severus raised an eyebrow at this. “Indeed? Tell me, Potter, do you have extensive experience of solving baffling murders?”
The youth flushed. “Er, no, but I did find old Mrs Figg’s ginger tom for her when it went missing. No one else even thought of looking down the well for it.”
Severus snorted. “I’m sure your input will be invaluable,” he muttered sardonically. Still, he would need someone to relay to him all the facts of the case, as opposed to the sensationalist details he had gleaned from the popular press. And if nothing else, the boy, although barely up to the minimum height requirement and skinny with it, looked as though he might possibly be up to the task of carrying Severus’ bag. Thrusting the valise into the boy’s doubtful grasp, Severus barked, “I trust a room has been secured for me at a local hostelry?”
Stumbling a little under the weight of Severus’ well-filled valise, the boy answered, “Er, yeah. You’re staying at the King Harry. They do a lovely steak and ale pie there, you’ll like it.”
Severus’ lips grew thin. “That, Potter, remains to be seen.”
Once they had conveyed Severus’ luggage to the inn, and Severus had grudgingly pronounced the accommodation to be adequate, he was impatient to be on the job. “You may now conduct me to the Riddle house – although I suppose I must first go through the formalities and meet your superior. Take me to the police station.”
“Right. Er, I’m afraid there’s only the Sarge there at the moment. Inspector Slughorn’s off sick – his gout’s been bothering him something chronic, he says.”
Severus sniffed derisively and was interested to notice a quickly concealed smile on the young constable’s face. Perhaps not quite as dim as he had at first seemed? Well, he would soon find out. “Well, then, Potter, take me to your Sarge.”
Severus’ first impression of Hopper was not a favourable one. Typical sleepy provincial type; probably wouldn’t recognise a clue if you shoved it up his remarkably capacious arse. In the interests of inter-departmental co-operation Severus tried not to let his feelings show too much as introductions were made and apparently necessary pleasantries exchanged, impatiently moving to business as soon as he was able.
“So, Hopper, tell me of this case. The facts, man, not the ridiculous sensationalism of the daily papers!”
“Well, sir, it’s like this,” Hopper began in his maddeningly slow North-country drawl. “Old Mr and Mrs Riddle, of the Grange, were found Thursday morning by the housekeeper, seated around the dining table, dead as doornails, and with looks o’ peculiar horror on their faces. The housekeeper, Mrs Pomfrey, fainted dead away when she found the poor souls.”
“And was there anyone else besides the two deceased in the house that night?”
“No, sir. Lady Dumbledore has given evidence that she was round there earlier in the evening, before the dreadful event occurred.”
“’Er Ladyship was invited round for bridge, with Sir Albus, but she only stayed a quarter of an hour, just to give apologies, like. Sir Albus couldn’t come round on account of ‘is trouble.”
“Yessir. ‘Is trouble. Anyroad, Lady Dumbledore says as how she saw something outside the window while she was there.”
“Well, what was it?” Severus asked impatiently.
“She couldn’t say, sir. Just a pale shape, that flitted across the window, like.”
“Hm. And who is this Lady Dumbledore?”
“She’s a very respectable lady, sir. Miss Minerva McGonagall as was. She’s the second Lady Dumbledore, o’ course. Married the baronet some fifteen year ago, and a great blessing to Hogsmeade ever since.”
“Indeed. Well, I shall need to speak with Lady Dumbledore, after I have visited the Riddle house. Potter, you shall conduct me there forthwith.”
The Riddle house, it transpired, was set somewhat apart from the town. Severus waited impatiently for the Hansom cab that was to convey them there. “Potter?” he asked, more to kill time than for any other reason. “What can you tell me about all this?”
“Um, well, sir. I’m not sure what you’re asking…”
Severus rolled his eyes. “Start with Sir Albus and Lady Dumbledore. What, precisely, is his trouble?”
“Er, I think the Sarge meant his younger brother, Aberforth. Bit of a black sheep of the family. He’s the landlord of the King Harry, actually. And he keeps goats on the side. You can get a cracking goat’s-cheese and apple sarnie down the pub too. Old Abe makes the cheese himself – milks the goats and everything.”
“And Lady Dumbledore?”
“Oh, she’s a real lady.” Potter’s voice was warm and enthusiastic. “Always giving to charity, and making sure the orphanage is run right.”
“And the first Lady Dumbledore?”
The boy coloured slightly. “Well, I don’t really know about that – before my time, really. I know there was a lot of talk about her, but I reckon it was just because she was a foreign lady. Swiss, I heard. Funny maiden name – Grindelwald, I think it was. But, um, I heard old Sluggie – I mean, Inspector Slughorn – talk about her once, and all he said was that she was no lady. Don’t know what he meant, though, sir. ‘Spose there’d been some scandal in her home town, or something.”
“Hmm. And tell me about the Riddle family, now.”
“Well, there’s old Mr Riddle – sorry, I mean
there was – and his wife, and their grandson Mr Thomas Riddle, who’s up
“What about young Mr Riddle’s parents?”
“Well, it was a bit tragic, really. His mum died in childbirth and his dad died a few years later.”
“So he is the only heir? Interesting.”
“So you think he did it, to get the money?” The boy’s puppyish enthusiasm was almost… endearing. Severus decided to stamp on that right away.
“I suspect everyone!” he snapped. “And no one,” he added more calmly.
“Oh. Right. So all we need to do is to eliminate the impossible, and whatever remains must be the truth?”
Severus ground his teeth. “I see you are acquainted with the writings of that imbecile Watson about his supercilious, posturing friend Sherlock Holmes.”
Potter responded with enthusiasm. “Oh, yeah! Me and Ron read all his cases. It’s incredible, how he manages to do all that stuff – recognise gravel, tell what people do for a living, and all that!”
“Incredible is right, Potter – I for one refuse to be taken in. Thanks to that charlatan and his parlour tricks, Scotland Yard is now expected to solve cases in the manner of some tuppeny-ha’penny music-hall prestidigitator pulling rabbits out of hats and pocket-handkerchiefs from every orifice, and is derided by the popular press as incompetent when she quite naturally fails to do so!”
“So, um, you’re not a fan, then?” Potter quailed under Severus’ furious glare, and looked mightily relieved to see the Hansom cab draw up in front of them.
The driver dropped them at the front door of The Grange, or the Riddle house, as it was more popularly known. It was a large, imposing building, showing some signs of modernisation. The door was opening by a ratlike butler to whom Severus took an instant dislike, who conducted them into an airy drawing-room. Mr Thomas Riddle, a tall, dark-haired, straight-backed young man, was standing with his hands clasped behind his back, staring out at the gardens behind the house. He turned, and gave them an earnest greeting. He appeared to be about twenty years old, Severus judged, and was blessed with engaging features and a grave natural charm most unusual in one so young. Severus reminded himself firmly he was here to investigate a murder, not to look for a dalliance amongst the suspects.
“So good of you to come so far to help us here in our time of trouble, Chief Inspector. May I offer you some refreshment?” At Severus’ curt nod, he turned gracefully to the cringing butler who had lingered on the threshold of the room. “Coffee, if you please, Pettigrew.”
“Yessir. At once sir,” the butler fawned, and scuttled off to perform his master’s wishes.
Riddle stared after him for a moment with an odd look in his eye, then turned and smiled briskly at Severus. “Well, now, how may I be of service, Chief Inspector? I take it you should like to examine the dining room?”
“Indeed, although I imagine any evidence has been completely destroyed by the bumbling fools of the local constabulary.” Severus tried hard to ignore Potter’s hurt look at this, as Riddle conducted them to the scene of the crime – if, of course, crime it was. The dining room was as dark and gloomy as the drawing-room had been cheerful and bright, with wood panelling and heavy drapery around the high, narrow windows. “Now, you were not in the house at the time?”
“No, Chief Inspector. I was summoned home as soon as the tragedy had been discovered – although as luck would have it, it was in any case the end of term and so I was already packed and ready to leave. It was Mrs Pomfrey, the housekeeper, who found my unfortunate relatives.”
“Then I should like to speak to Mrs Pomfrey, if I may.”
“Of course! Pettigrew,” he turned sharply to the fawning butler, who had returned with the coffee on a silver tray, “Tell Mrs Pomfrey her presence is required here, would you?”
Mrs Pomfrey turned out to be a sensible-looking woman of middle years. Severus pursed his lips in interest. Not at all the kind of person one would expect to be fainting at the drop of a hat, or even at the drop of her elderly employers.
“Mrs Pomfrey, I wish you to tell me precisely what happened when you found the late Mr and Mrs Riddle.”
She nodded briskly and began. “I arose at my usual time, having heard no disturbance in the night. I went directly to the dining room, thinking it would need airing before breakfast, for Mr Riddle had been smoking after dinner – indeed, he was still doing so when I went to bed. Upon entering the room, I saw my late employers sitting dead in their chairs, with expressions of horror on their faces.” She cleared her throat, seeming a little embarrassed. “I am afraid that upon that sight, I fainted. When I came to, Mr Pettigrew had thrown open the windows – I suppose I must have made some sound that led him to discover me. Revived by the fresh air, I left the room, and Mr Pettigrew telephoned the local constabulary.”
“I see. Tell me, Mrs Pomfrey, are you in the habit of falling into a faint upon receiving a sudden shock?”
She sniffed. “I am not.”
As he had suspected. “Thank you, Mrs Pomfrey. You may go now. Be so good as to send in Pettigrew.”
The butler arrived with a speed that suggested to Severus that he had been lurking in the hall, in all probability listening at the keyhole. He stood slightly hunched over, wringing his hands as Severus questioned him.
“Now, Pettigrew. What caused you to enter the dining room, the morning your late employers’ death was discovered?”
Sweat beaded upon the creature’s face as he answered. “I heard a noise, sir. When Mrs Pomfrey fell.”
“And you had not set foot in the dining room before, that morning?”
“No! No, sir. I ‘adn’t.”
“And the previous evening? What sort of mood were the Riddles in?”
The wretched man cast his eyes around nervously, as if searching for reassurance that he could not be overheard. Was it young Mr Riddle he feared? Severus wondered.
“They were – a little agitated, sir. But I couldn’t tell you why, sir.”
Severus seriously doubted the veracity of that. Any butler worth his salt would make it his business to know every detail of his master’s affairs – and certainly an eavesdropping little toady like this loathsome creature would have done so.
“I see. Tell me, were there any untoward occurrences, that evening.”
Pettigrew once more looked around nervously, but this time when he spoke his voice was eager. “It’s funny you should ask that, sir. When I was serving brandy to Mr Riddle, that was when Lady Dumbledore was here, and she saw a ghastly apparition flit across the window – but when we all looked, it was gone. There’s some strange tales, in these parts, about restless spirits – “
“Yes, yes,” Severus huffed impatiently. He had little use for second-hand accounts and hearsay. “And that is all you can tell us?”
The butler nodded, drops of sweat falling from his forehead to the carpet, Severus noticed with distaste. He sighed, and dismissed the creature.
“So what do you think, sir?” the boy asked him excitedly once they were alone. “I reckon the butler did it!” He had listened to Pettigrew’s testimony with eyes as round as saucers.
Severus curled his lip. “Potter, do you survive on an exclusive diet of sensationalist papers and penny dreadfuls? What possible reason could the butler, abhorrent though he undoubtedly is, have for killing his employers? After all, I should think it by no means certain that he will keep his place under their grandson – from the looks Riddle was giving him, I very much doubt there is any love lost there.”
“Wait! What if Riddle did it? He’s the heir, after all – plenty of motive there! Or – you don’t think it could actually have been a spirit, do you? Maybe the ghost of the late Mr Thomas Riddle, Mr Thomas Riddle’s father? I did hear that he didn’t get on too well with his dad, old Mr Riddle, and there was some mystery about his death – “
“If he liked his father so little, I fail to see why he should have wanted to hasten his journey to the afterlife, where they might be in danger of meeting again,” Severus muttered derisively. He was kneeling by the fireplace examining the ashes, a sample of which he sealed into an envelope. “In any case, I am not one of those credulous fools who assert the existence of spirits, or look for visitations from the departed. Dead is dead, Potter, and it would behove you to remember that. Now, outside. I wish to examine the flower-beds.”
“So, um, what are we looking for here, sir?” Potter asked, once they had rounded the house to the dining room window.
“Footprints, Potter. The night of the tragedy was a rainy one – for a figure in the garden to be seen from within, it must have passed very close to the window. If Pettigrew is not lying to us, we should find footprints in this flower-bed, perhaps concealed by the shrubbery.” Severus eyed the still-damp ground with misgivings. He had no wish to ruin his trousers; moreover he suffered from a slight rheumatism in one knee. “You will examine the ground.”
Obediently, Potter knelt down and started to fossick around the shrubs. Severus was treated to a rather fine view of his serge-clad arse as he did so, and congratulated himself anew on his foresight in having had his assistant do the donkey-work. He wondered a little wistfully if the boy was always so pleasingly eager to go down on his knees. “Anything, Potter?” he asked, before he could get too distracted by his fantasies.
“Nope, not a sausage,” Potter told him cheerfully, emerging rather red-faced and muddy-kneed from the rhododendrons.
“Interesting, is it not, Potter?”
The boy’s face fell as he considered the implications. “So, um, you reckon Lady Dumbledore did it?” Potter looked rather concerned about this. Severus recalled his enthusiastic description of her earlier.
“And what, Potter, gives you grounds for that assumption?”
“Well, it looks like she lied about the apparition, doesn’t it?”
“Potter, it is hardly without precedent for an overwrought woman to imagine all manner of things. You would know better than I whether Lady Dumbledore is prone to hysteria. Or perhaps, Potter, she was merely protecting someone.”
“But who? Oh my God, Chief Inspector, you don’t think Sir Albus did it?” The boy looked absolutely appalled at the possibility.
“At this moment, Potter, I cannot say.”
“But he’s – he’s Sir Albus! Everyone respects him, sir, even if he is a bit, well, eccentric. He’s done a lot for Hogsmeade, and he’s, well, really nice. Always got a bag of sweets for the kiddies, and he’ll always give you the time of day, no matter who you are. And he gives talks in the town hall about all his travels to exotic places, and it’s as good as the theatre any day.”
Harry paused for breath, and Snape took advantage, cutting in. “I regret to inform you, Potter, that respectability and affability are no proof of innocence. However, I shall make no judgement before I have seen the lady and gentleman in question.”
They climbed back into the Hansom cab, and Severus instructed the driver to take them to Sir Albus’ residence. Potter was mercifully quiet on the journey, having seemingly exhausted his supply of wild suppositions as to the identity of the murderer, and Severus took the opportunity to study his assistant at close quarters. He was an intriguing mix of youthful naïveté and unusual self-sufficiency. The appalling haircut and dreadful spectacles he wore suggested he had no one who cared overmuch about him at home; and there was something in his demeanour that suggested he had been accustomed to fend for himself from an early age. “Do you live with your parents, Potter?” Severus asked to test this theory.
“Who, me?” Potter glanced around him for a moment, as if expecting to discover some other Potter had hitched a ride with them in the cab. “Nah, I grew up in the orphanage. Got left there when I was a baby. I lodge at Mrs Figg’s now.”
“Indeed? Then I congratulate you upon overcoming a difficult start in life. I daresay there are few in your position who would have aspired to join the police force.” Most, Severus imagined, would tend to gravitate naturally to the other side of the law. He found he was surprisingly glad the young man had not followed the more predictable path – although admittedly, the thought of Potter in handcuffs held a certain appeal all of its own.
The boy blushed prettily – it seemed he was as unaccustomed to receiving praise as Severus was to giving it. “Thank you, sir.” After a moment, seeming to feel the need to make conversation, he asked, “Is there a Mrs Snape, sir?”
“No, Potter, there is not. Nor, I might add, is there likely to be,” Severus said firmly.
Potter grimaced sympathetically. “Never mind, sir. Lots of blokes have trouble getting a girlfriend.”
Fortunately for him, it was at that moment that they arrived at Phoenix Hall.
It might have been called a Hall, Severus thought sourly as they approached the incongruous edifice, but it showed definite signs of wanting to be a castle when it grew up. It looked rather like something Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria might have designed in his infancy, before the delusions really took hold, and gone back to later to add a half-hearted turret or two, before giving it all up as a bad job and going off to do the preliminary doodles for Neuschwanstein.
They were greeted at the door by a white-haired, bearded buffoon dressed in a faded and patched violet silk dressing gown who, Severus realised with a sinking feeling in his stomach, had to be the baronet as no servant could possibly get away with looking such a state.
“Ah! The great detective has come to Hogsmeade! Come in, Mr Holmes!” the old man twinkled.
Severus bristled. “My name is not Holmes! I am Chief Inspector Snape of Scotland Yard!”
“Really? Are you sure, dear boy?” the old buffer asked solicitously.
Severus forced himself to stop grinding his teeth. “Quite positive, thank you. And you would be Sir Albus, I presume?”
“Indeed, indeed. Ah! Harry – my dear boy, I didn’t see you there! Come in, come in.” He beamed moronically at the boy who, Severus was annoyed to see, beamed back.
“Hullo, Sir Albus! I’m just assisting the Chief Inspector.”
“Well, well! That is a turn-up for the books! A Chief Inspector! But come, we must go into the garden, on such a lovely day as this. Come along, come along!” He strode down the hall with a speed surprising in one so doddery, and Severus felt compelled to follow. After a bewilderingly twisty path through the labyrinthine Hall, after which Severus felt sure they must have been through every room in the damned place, they at length reached a set of French windows which Sir Albus unlatched to let them into the gardens. Here, Severus stopped and looked around. At one time, the gardens closest to the house had been laid out in a very formal manner, but they had been allowed to fall into decay (much like their owner, Severus thought sourly), lending them an oddly peaceful air. Sir Albus walked on to an enclosed courtyard, in which stood a stone table and chairs.
“Um, Chief Inspector,” the boy began to speak.
“Not now, Potter!” Severus told him irritably. If he didn’t get the bumbling baronet to stop and actually talk to him soon he suspected he never would.
“Now, Chief Inspector, do take a seat!” As he spoke, Sir Albus seated himself at the head of the table. Severus took one of the other seats, whilst Potter, he noted approvingly, remained standing respectfully, although he fidgeted about annoyingly from one foot to another. “Now, how can I help you? I do hope you haven’t come here to arrest me,” the barmy baronet added, eyes twinkling insanely.
“I merely wish to ask you some questions about the night of the Riddle tragedy,” Severus said cautiously. “I believe you were invited for bridge?”
“Oh, yes indeed! Minerva and I frequently visited the Grange to play cards, particularly when young Master Riddle was away at college. Such a sad business. It isn’t easy, you know, to find a really good couple to play bridge with – ”
Impatiently, Severus interrupted him. “But you did not go?”
“Alas, no! I’m afraid I had received another complaint about Aberforth’s goats, and I was compelled to remonstrate with him on the subject. Minerva went along to convey our regrets.”
“Then I believe it is with Lady Dumbledore that I should speak,” Severus told him, annoyed at the time-wasting.
“Ah! But first, a little refreshment, I think!” Severus barely had time to grow a little uneasy at the mad gleam in the baronet’s eye, before he was suddenly assaulted by a great gush of water shooting up from the middle of his seat and drenching his trousers, not to mention giving him a most unusual sensation in the region of the rectum. Further water-spouts had started in the centre of the table, and all around it, so that as Severus sprang up in outrage, he was soaked once more as he tried to escape. “I do find the trick-fountains so refreshing, don’t you, Chief Inspector?” the senile old idiot called after Severus happily, as he retreated to a safe distance, cursing.
“Um, sorry, sir, but I did try to warn you,” a bone-dry Potter told him, clearly trying not to laugh. Manfully resisting the urge to fling him head-first into the fountains, Severus merely glared and stomped back towards the house, where they were met by a long-suffering servant with a towel. Having dried himself off as best he could – in other words, wholly inadequately – Severus and his irritating assistant were shown into a drawing room to await Lady Dumbledore. Fortunately for the carpets onto which Severus was slowly dripping, she did not make them wait for long.
“Chief Inspector? I must apologise for Sir Albus’ behaviour. I’m afraid he finds it hard to resist showing off his toys.” Lady Dumbledore was a tall lady of uncertain age, handsome in a rather prim way, her hair piled rigidly upon her head and held in place with vicious-looking hairpins. She spoke with a refined Scottish accent. “Harry Potter, how you’ve grown!” She turned to Severus with a severe expression upon her face. “I do hope, Chief Inspector, that you are looking after this young man properly? Young Harry is at such an impressionable age.”
Severus had the uneasy feeling she could see right through him and had, in fact, discovered every half-formed plan and idle fantasy he had conceived regarding the boy, who seemed to be something of a protégé of this frankly disturbing couple. “Madam, he is merely assisting me for the duration of my stay. If you have any concerns regarding his welfare, I suggest you take them up with his superiors at the police station.”
“Of course, Chief Inspector. I did not mean to imply any negligence on your part. I am quite sure that you will take every opportunity to give young Harry the benefit of your experience.”
Severus cleared his throat, feeling a little hot under the collar. “If, madam, we might proceed to the case?”
“Of course, Chief Inspector, I understand you have some questions for me regarding our most unfortunate neighbours?”
“Indeed, Lady Dumbledore. Riddle’s butler, Pettigrew,” and here, Severus fixed her with a piercing stare of his own, “tells us that you saw something outside the window of the Grange, the night of the tragedy. Describe to me exactly, if you please, what it was that you observed.”
He felt a surge of triumph as two tiny spots of colour appeared on her cheeks.
“Really, Chief Inspector, I’m afraid I cannot say with any precision. It was, I suppose, more of an impression than anything else. A pale shape, accompanied by a feeling of great disquiet. I’m sorry I cannot be of more use to you, Chief Inspector.”
Severus questioned her a while longer, but without learning anything more. The lady seemed intent upon persuading him that what she had, supposedly, seen had been some kind of spirit or ghostly apparition – yet he was firmly convinced that she herself believed no such thing. It was with an air of deep frustration that he ordered the Hansom cab to take them back to town, where he dismissed his young assistant for the day and retired to his room to ponder upon the case.
It was traditional, on a Wednesday night, for Ron and Harry to pop into the King Harry for a midweek pint and a natter before heading home for tea – Harry to something cabbagey at Mrs Figg’s and Ron to something altogether more appetising at his mum’s, lucky bastard.
Ron was agog to hear how Harry’s day had gone, working with a Real Detective. “Did he get out his magnifying glass? And mutter to himself whilst looking at piles of dirt? And what about disguises? Did he dress up as an old coachman to throw the murderer off the scent?”
“Um, sorry, Ron, but no. He did put some ashes into an envelope, though,” Harry told him, feeling rather defensive of the Chief Inspector.
Ron failed to look convinced. “Well, I s’pose that’s something. Hey, what about drugs? Did he inject himself with a seventy per cent solution of cocaine?”
Harry frowned. “I think he’d be dead if he’d done that. Nah, no drugs. He had some coffee at the Riddle house, but that was all.”
Ron snorted. “Well, he doesn’t sound like a Great Detective to me. I knew we’d have been better off with Sherlock Holmes. This bloke hasn’t even got a Watson!”
Harry felt a little put out. “Hey, he doesn’t need one. He’s got me, remember?”
“Yeah, but Watson’s supposed to have a revolver. You’ll never get Sarge to let you have one of those.”
Harry frowned, playing nervously with his beer mat. “Do you really think it’s all that dangerous, being a detective?” He didn’t like to think about his Chief Inspector getting hurt – or worse.
“Look, mate, if you go investigating murderers, stands to reason some of them are going to get a bit miffed about it. And well, they’ve already killed once, haven’t they? Got nothing to lose now if they bump off a detective or two – you can’t hang ‘em twice, can you?” Ron sat back and burped loudly. “I’d watch your back if I were you, mate, while you’re hanging around with this Chief Inspector.”
Not liking this line of conversation at all, Harry was relieved to see Snape enter the bar room and order a double whisky. He nudged Ron. “Hey, no more talking about you-know-who, all right? He’s just walked in.”
Ron glanced up at the tall figure brooding at the bar, then turned back to Harry with a worried look. “You don’t think he heard us talking about him, do you? He’s got a face on him like the back end of one of old Abe’s goats.”
Harry risked a peep himself. Sure enough, Snape was scowling thunderously at the two of them. Harry raised his pint mug in a kind of half-embarrassed salute, at which Snape’s lip curled visibly and he turned back to his whisky. “Nah, he always looks like that. Anyway,” Harry asked, having taken a swig of his pint, “how’s things going with you and Hermione, then?”
Ron scowled. “She’s put the wedding off again. For three years! Says she wants to go to
Harry cringed slightly, wishing he hadn’t changed the subject. “Look, mate, I just don’t think it’s going to work, me and her. Couldn’t you have a word? I’m sure she can do loads better than me, anyway. What about Neville? You know he’s been sweet on her for years.”
“Nah, she’s got this thing about blokes in uniform, she says – an under-gardener just isn’t the same. But anyway, what’s wrong with her? She’s pretty enough, isn’t she? My baby sister not good enough for you now?”
Harry sighed. “Ron, you know it’s not that. She’s just not my type, OK? Look, I’ve got to get going. Mrs Figg’ll be cross if I’m late for tea.”
A little after nine that evening, the light of the sun had almost, but not quite, faded from the sky. Heart thumping, and Mrs Figg’s boiled tripe and cabbage churning excitedly in his stomach, Harry made his way to the Avenue, a tree-lined path that led down from the old churchyard of St Saviour’s. It was where they’d always met – what could be more natural than two old friends meeting by chance on a stroll after dinner? And once they were sure they were alone, they’d take a short detour to the scrubby woodland bordering the Diggory estate.
It had all started when Harry was fifteen,
three years ago. He’d been helping out
the Diggory’s gardener whilst his arthritis was playing him up, earning a few
shillings for his trouble. Cedric had
been down from
It had been a revelation. Seeing Cedric, as he casually stripped naked for his swim, Harry hadn’t thought he’d ever seen anything more perfect – only to have to revise that opinion moments later, as Cedric fearlessly plunged into the water and emerged, dripping wet, his torso gleaming in the sunlight and his nipples hard and erect from the chill of the water. Harry had had to wait until Cedric’s back was turned before he could even think of taking off his trousers – but of course, Cedric had just put that down to shyness, which must have seemed confirmed when after they had swum and larked about in the water to their hearts’ content, Harry insisted on getting dressed straight away rather than wait until he dried.
They’d sat there whilst the sun dipped towards the horizon, chatting and listening to the birds singing all around them, until Cedric had suddenly jumped to his feet, saying “Oh, Lord! I’ll be late for dinner!” After he’d made a hurried exit, Harry had sat by the river by himself until dark, trying to make sense of the seething current of his emotions.
He hadn’t dared hope the experience might be repeated – but it had. Jarvis’ indisposition had continued for a frankly unlikely time, and Cedric had kept inviting him to swim, or to stroll in the woodlands – until, one evening, Cedric had confessed that he’d been bribing the gardener to exaggerate his ailment, simply so that Harry could continue to work on the estate. And he’d put his arm around Harry, saying “I really enjoy spending time with you. You’re so different from all the chaps at school.” Harry had leant into Cedric’s embrace, feeling like he was in heaven.
Ever since then, they’d met up every time
Cedric was down from school and later, from
He’d known, of course, that he mustn’t tell anyone about it, even before Cedric had sternly warned him against it. Even more, when he’d joined the Police Force – technically, what they were doing was against the law. He could get thrown into jail for it. He’d be drummed out of the Force at the very least. But he couldn’t see how they were harming anyone, so although his conscience occasionally worried him slightly, it hadn’t stopped Harry feeling elated when he’d received Cedric’s message to meet him tonight.
When he arrived at their spot, halfway down the Avenue, Cedric was already there. Harry broke into a big grin as he saw him. “Cedric! Bloody hell, it’s been ages since I saw you!”
Cedric flashed him the easy smile Harry had always loved. “Term’s the same length as it’s always been, Harry. How are you, old man? Still keeping Hogsmeade safe for decent citizens to live in?”
Harry grinned again. “Well, you heard about the Riddle murders, right? You know there’s a big shot Chief Inspector down from Scotland Yard? Guess who’s his assistant for the duration!” All right, so he was blowing his own trumpet, but it wasn’t that often he had anything to brag about, and he wanted Cedric to be proud of him. Although it felt a bit odd, for some reason, talking to Cedric about his Chief Inspector. Which was daft, wasn’t it? After all, their relationship was purely professional.
Cedric clapped Harry heartily on the back. “Capital, Harry! This could really be a feather in your cap, you know, if you make a good show of it. I’m damned pleased for you!” He continued, “Actually, I’ve got some good news of my own to tell you. I wanted you to be the first to hear – apart from the family, of course. I’m engaged to be married! Lovely girl – Miss Chang, she’s the sister of one of the chaps at Balliol. Such an exotic beauty! Skin like porcelain, hair like a raven’s wings, and so tiny you wouldn’t believe it!”
Suddenly, Harry’s insides felt like the river on New Year’s Day. “But – but what about, you know, me?”
Cedric looked at him a little quizzically. “Well, you know I’d love to invite you to the wedding, old man, but you know how it is, family and all that.”
“I don’t want to go to your bloody wedding!” Harry knew he was shouting, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. “I just – I just want – “ Ashamed of the tears pricking at the corners of his eyes, Harry turned away from Cedric and thumped a handy tree trunk, cradling his fist in his hand afterwards. How could anything hurt so much?
He felt Cedric moving up behind him and flinched as an arm laid itself in comradely fashion – nothing more – around his shoulders. “But Harry, you must have known it couldn’t last. We’re two chaps. Chaps can’t, well, marry each other. It was just a bit of boyish tomfoolery, that’s all.” Cedric’s tone was calm, sensible, and matter-of-fact, and Harry felt so stupid, young, and horribly naïve that he couldn’t stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks. As soon as the arm left his shoulders he turned without looking at Cedric and ran into the woods to be alone.
Cedric stared after him for a moment, then, shrugging slightly, sighed, and strolled back towards his parents’ house.
Neither of them noticed the tall figure of Thomas Riddle lurking half-hidden in the shadows, watching them both intently.
Harry slept very badly that night, up in his attic room in the narrow terraced house he shared with old Mrs Figg and about twenty-seven cats, last count, and he woke up with a headache. He was actually pretty grateful to be working with the unfriendly Snape again, rather than walking the beat with Ron, who’d want to have a natter. Harry didn’t feel like talking to anyone, much less his best mate. He’d never told Ron about Cedric – he knew Ron was hoping that one day Harry would change his mind and marry Ginny, who’d been soft on him for years. And anyway, Ron was a great mate – but admitting he was queer? Harry didn’t want to find out how Ron’d react to that. So, to have to pretend everything was all right, and laugh at Ron’s awful jokes – no. He couldn’t do it.
Harry left for work half an hour early so he wouldn’t have to walk in with Ron as he usually did, asking Mrs Figg to tell his mate Snape had wanted him in early. When he got to the police station, he was surprised to find a message waiting for him. A thick, creamy envelope – expensive paper. Harry tore it open, barely daring to hope. Could it be from Cedric? Maybe he’d had time to think it over, and regretted – Harry almost groaned as he saw the signature. Snape. The letter instructed him to meet the Chief Inspector at the Grange as soon as possible. Harry sighed, and turned to the Sarge to ask if he could borrow his bicycle.
After rattling along on the old bone-shaker for several miles, Harry was glad to get off when he reached the Riddle house. Wheeling the bicycle round to the back of the house, Harry knocked on the back door. Mrs Pomfrey seemed a bit surprised to see him. “On your own today, are you, Constable?”
Harry stared. “Isn’t the Chief Inspector here already? I was supposed to meet him here.”
Mrs Pomfrey pursed her lips. “It seems he’s been delayed. I suppose you’ll be wanting a cup of tea while you wait?”
Harry barely had time to nod gratefully and sit down at the kitchen table before the door burst open and Pettigrew oozed in. “Constable Potter, the master wishes to see you. Follow me.” Feeling a little uncomfortable under the butler’s greedy gaze, Harry did as he was told.
He was shown once more into the cheery drawing room, where Riddle was waiting for him in a pose so similar to the previous day that for a moment Harry felt like he’d taken a trip on Mr Wells’ time machine. He jumped as Pettigrew closed the door behind him on his way out. Riddle turned, and gave Harry a slow smile that somehow reminded him of a snake about to strike. “Potter! So good of you to join me.”
“Um, I thought the Chief Inspector – “
“Ah, I’m afraid I resorted to a little subterfuge. After all, it would hardly do for you to be seen receiving messages from a suspect in a murder investigation. Because I am a suspect, aren’t I, Harry? I’m sure your Chief Inspector considers me one.” As he spoke, he moved closer and closer to Harry, until they were almost touching.
Harry swallowed. “So, er, what did you want to see me about, sir?”
That eerie smile grew a little wider. “You don’t suspect me, do you, Harry? You don’t believe me capable of murdering my grandparents in cold blood? You see, Harry, I trust you. I don’t think your Chief Inspector really understands the sort of man I am. But you understand me, don’t you, Harry?”
“I… um…” Harry found himself unexpectedly tongue-tied, mesmerised by that smile and those piercing eyes.
“I knew the moment I saw you that there was a connection between us – as if we were soul-mates. You believe in soul-mates, don’t you, Harry?”
Harry realised to his horror that one of Riddle’s hands had come up and was caressing his face. He wanted to move, but felt as if he’d been petrified – and the hand was soft, so soft, as soft as Riddle’s smile as he looked at him. Those lips looked soft, too – plump and red, glistening a little where Riddle had licked them absent-mindedly. Harry’s heart was pounding. Any closer and they’d be kissing – and then suddenly they were kissing, and he was caught in Riddle’s embrace, and it was wrong, so wrong, but it felt so good to be held, even if Riddle’s grip was as hard as iron and the warmth in his eyes had turned to ice…
Suddenly the door was flung open violently,
and Snape stormed in like an Old Testament prophet about to castigate the
“How dare you, Chief Inspector! This is my home – “
“And this is my Constable! I will not have you attempting to subvert him in this manner! Potter, we are leaving. Now!” Snape half-dragged Harry out of the house and threw him into the back of the Hansom-cab, which then took off at an alarming speed.
Harry’s mind felt as badly churned up as his stomach was from the rattling motion of the carriage down the Riddle driveway. This was his worst nightmare come true! He could lose his job over this! He probably should lose his job over this! Expecting to be taken back to the police station to be hauled over the coals in front of the Sarge – whose bicycle he’d left at the Riddle house, he remembered suddenly – Harry was confused when they drew up in front of the King Harry. Snape dragged him inside and took him straight up to his room, where he poured himself a stiff drink from a half-empty bottle of whiskey. Draining his glass at a gulp, Snape set it down upon the mantelpiece with a thump.
“Would you care to explain to me, Potter, precisely what you were doing with Riddle? Is that your usual manner of interrogating suspects? Or are you simply incapable of being alone with an attractive young man without succumbing to your baser urges?”
Harry quailed under his superior’s glare, but a tiny seedling of hope was beginning to sprout in his breast. Snape hadn’t said anything about it being unnatural, what Harry had been doing – in fact, he’d even described Riddle as attractive. Harry gave Snape a sharp look – was it possible he, too, was a confirmed bachelor, as the phrase went? Best not to chance relying on it, though. “I didn’t want to do it! He – well, he just sort of grabbed me and – you know.”
“I did not discern any particular struggle to escape on your part, Potter.” Snape’s voice was icy enough to cast serious doubt on hope surviving the frost.
Harry hung his head. “You don’t know what he’s like. He sent me a message to go to his house – pretending it was from you – and then he started going on about how we had a connection, said we were soul-mates, called me Harry…” Harry trailed off, certain his face was as red as Sarge’s after he’d cycled half a mile. Bugger. How on Earth was he going to explain leaving Sarge’s bicycle at the Grange…
Snape was talking again. “Potter.” Harry still couldn’t look at him. Snape harrumphed in exasperation. “Harry. Your naïveté is beyond belief. Surely a young man of your age cannot be wholly without experience in the ways of the world?”
Harry was mortified to feel tears pricking at his eyelids as he thought of Cedric. “’M not,” he mumbled. “He just – he just got me at a bad time, that’s all.”
Naturally, Snape wouldn’t let it go at that. “Indeed? Explain, Potter.”
Harry squared his shoulders and steeled himself to look Snape in the eye. “I’d rather not, sir,” he said with all the firmness he could muster.
Snape sighed. “Then let me guess. Your young swain has left you for another? If it’s that gangling red-headed idiot to whom you seem permanently attached at the hip when not under my supervision, I should strongly recommend you breathe a sigh of relief at a lucky escape.”
“What, Ron?” Harry squawked. “Er, no. Not him. Sir,” he added in a more normal tone.
“Thank Heaven for small mercies. I can think of no greater folly than for two of Her Majesty’s police force to be engaging in an illicit relationship with one another.” Snape’s tone was dry, but not by any means disgusted.
Harry spoke without thinking. “So you’d never go out with a bobby, then?” he asked, then wished he could cut out his tongue.
Snape’s glare was like ice – but oddly, still warmer than the look in Riddle’s eyes whilst he was kissing Harry. “Young man, if you are attempting to surprise me into an admission for the purposes of blackmail – “
Harry was horrified. “No! I mean – I’d never do something like that!” He coloured again. “But it’d be nice to know, um, that you like me. I mean, that you are like me!” Harry corrected himself, mortified by his slip of the tongue. Oddly enough, Snape didn’t look too annoyed about it.
“And if I were to admit such a thing, Potter, what then?” he asked in an entirely different tone.
Harry swallowed. He’d only had one boyfriend in his entire life, and now it seemed he was about to be propositioned by the second bloke in one morning. “Um, that’d be, um. Nice. Sir.”
“Nice, Potter?” Snape had stopped leaning on the mantelpiece and was approaching him, like a hunter stalking a deer. Harry wondered – if he ran, how far would he get before Snape was upon him? And why was his heart pounding so wildly at the thought? “Nice is a much-abused word, Potter. Indeed, it retains hardly a vestige of its original meaning. I think you are going to have to expand your vocabulary, Harry.” He was right in front of Harry now, so close that Harry could feel the warmth from his body, feel his breath upon his face. “I could help you, Harry,” Snape breathed. “I have a very extensive knowledge of the English language...”
Harry wished his knees would stop trying to impersonate Mrs Figg’s wobbly blancmange. Any more of this and –
There came a sharp knock upon the door. Harry almost wailed – whether in relief or frustration, he wasn’t quite sure. He sneaked a glance at Snape’s face. Oh, that was definitely frustration, as he stormed to the door and threw it open.
“Yes?” Snape demanded.
It was Sarge.
Severus seethed with suppressed fury at the wholly inauspicious timing of this visit from the Sergeant. “What is it, man?” he snapped.
Hopper wiped a handkerchief over his liberally sweaty brow before replying. “It’s Sir Albus, sir. ‘E’s reported a break-in at the ‘All.”
Severus’ rage grew exponentially. “I am here, Hopper, to investigate a murder, not to take over your entire workload! What next – will you be calling to consult me every time a bicycle goes missing?”
Behind him, Potter cleared his throat nervously. Severus ignored him. “Well, man? Speak up!”
Looking somewhat deflated, Hopper cringed
slightly, bringing Pettigrew to mind, and continued. “Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but it’s what were
stolen as might be of interest to you.
You see, sir, Sir Albus likes to go travelling in exotic climes and ‘e
brings things back as souvenirs, you might say.
Well, it ‘appens the last place ‘e went to was deep in the ‘eart of
“Which poison was it, Sarge?” Potter butted in excitedly. “Was it the curare, or the snake venom, or the Devil’s Foot – ”
“You seem remarkably well informed on the subject, Potter,” Severus commented, looking at the young man with suspicion. “I should take care in displaying such knowledge of obscure poisons or you may find yourself on the list of suspects.”
Hopper, inexplicably, beamed proudly at the boy, “Ah, young Potter ‘ere’s got an enquiring mind. Been to all of Sir Albus’ talks, ‘aven’t you, lad? ‘Course, that one were right well attended. ‘Alf the town were there. It were the Devil’s Foot, Potter. The one as what you put in the fire to cause ‘orrible visions, madness and death.”
The heat of Severus’ fury had cooled to leave an almost glacial rage. “So what you are in effect telling me is that our list of suspects with the knowledge to employ rare poisons has expanded to include the entire population of Hogsmeade, because that senile, bumbling nincompoop saw fit to give a talk on Obscure Poisons and How to Use Them?” he snarled dangerously.
Hopper looked nervously between Severus and his young assistant. “Right, then, sir, if that’s all, I’ll be off.” He disappeared with a sprightliness hitherto unsuspected by his subordinates. Severus, meanwhile, flung himself into a chair and began to massage his throbbing temples.
“Um, sir? Can I, er, get you anything?”
Severus looked up at the boy. Whilst the mood of before had been totally shattered, the look of concern on the young features was some comfort, at least. “I think, Potter, it is time to test our theory as to the murder weapon. Although, on the face of it, it all seems to fit – the death of the elderly couple, the fainting of an otherwise stalwart housekeeper upon entering the noxious atmosphere – yet until we have proven that the purloined poison – about which,” he added bitterly, “I appear to be the only one within ten miles not informed – was used, it remains pure conjecture. You will recall that I collected a portion of the ashes from the Riddle grate? I shall add a small quantity of the powder to the fire in this room, and we shall observe its effects, if any, upon ourselves.”
“Um,” Potter began, “isn’t that a bit, well, dangerous?”
Severus sneered. “We are two strong men in the prime of life, Potter, not a couple in their dotage. I am confident our constitutions are well able to cope with the onslaught. If, however, your courage is not equal to the task…”
“Hey! I never said I was scared!”
Severus smirked at the entirely predictable retort, and taking from his jacket-pocket the envelope containing the putative poison, shook out a quantity upon the fire smouldering in the room’s tiny grate. Almost at once he felt his vision cloud and a feeling of profound dread course through his very being. A glance at his companion showed him a pale face with wide, frightened eyes – but it was not enough to go on, yet. With an effort, Severus forced himself to remain seated and endure the trial. Strange shapes – monstrous faces – began to dance in front of him and he could hear the cackling of manic laughter. It sounded curiously like Sir Albus. Then young Riddle’s face appeared, grotesquely distorted in evil glee, his hands elongated into claws, and all at once Severus was seized with the conviction he would die here. He was powerless to move, as Riddle oozed closer, his mouth obscenely wide, a forked tongue protruding from those devilish lips…
Suddenly there was a great crash and a whoosh of steam, and Severus’ vision began to clear. Blinking, he realised that Potter had hurled a pitcher of water into the fire and had thrown open the window, beside which he was now crouched in a state of near collapse. “Potter,” Severus croaked. “Outside.” Stumbling, supporting each other, they made their escape from the poisoned atmosphere of the room and half-fell down the stairs in their hurry to reach the open air.
Upon reaching the stable-yard, Severus struggled to compose himself whilst Potter retched noisily onto the flagstones. Guilt stabbed at him like a rusty knife. Dammit, had it not been for the boy’s presence of mind they should both surely have been discovered lifeless on the morrow, a grisly double of the Riddles’ demise. To put himself to this risk had been reckless folly – to expose this trusting young man to similar peril had been unforgivable. By rights, Potter should have left him to his self-inflicted horror.
“Are you all right, sir?” Potter asked shakily, adding a twist to the knife in Severus’ guts. His greenish face set off those emerald eyes in macabre fashion.
“Perfectly fine, Potter!” Severus snapped, his stinging conscience making him, as always, unreasonable in his anger. “You took your time dousing the fire! We might both have been killed!”
The boy reeled back as if Severus had struck him. “Sorry, sir,” he muttered, his face turned away.
“Now where the hell am I supposed to work on the case?” Severus ranted to cover his shame. “The room will be uninhabitable for hours.”
“Er, well, I suppose we could go to my room at Mrs Figg’s?” Potter offered doubtfully.
Severus nodded curtly, hoping his acceptance of the offer might stand as an apology for his harsh words earlier. The boy led him on a short walk across town to a tumble-down terrace so far on the wrong side of the tracks it was practically at the next station. Mrs Figg’s, it transpired, was at the far end of the terrace. Severus noticed that the house next to it was boarded up. “They couldn’t stand the cats,” Potter explained, unasked.
Upon stepping through the door, Severus began to feel a great deal of sympathy for the neighbours, as his sensitive nose was assaulted by a pungent melee of cabbage, cats’ pee and old lady. Trying not to gag, Severus allowed himself to be led up a precipitous staircase that seemed to house a sleeping cat on every third stair – Potter, he noticed, stepping over them with practised ease – and into a tiny attic room, which held little more than a narrow bed and a battered, woodworm-infested old washstand.
“I’m afraid there’s only the bed to sit on,” Potter offered apologetically.
Severus sat down gingerly, afraid the rickety bedstead might collapse under his weight – indeed, it creaked so alarmingly that a black cat shot out from underneath it with a yowl and hurtled downstairs, rousing all its fellows to a cacophony of howling as it did so. Severus winced. “Have you lived here long?” he enquired abruptly, wondering grimly what it must be like to inhabit such depressing squalor.
“Oh – yeah. Ever since I left the orphanage.” Improbably, he smiled. “It’s been great, having a room to myself at last.” Severus found his evidently genuine satisfaction with his accommodation more pitiable than any unhappiness on the boy’s part could have been. Feeling, however, an uncharacteristic reluctance to burst the unworldly young man’s bubble, he forbore to comment and turned back to business.
“The case, then. We have a lethal poison, the knowledge of how to administer which is possessed by anyone who attended Sir Albus’ talk – when did this ill-advised lecture take place?”
“Hm. We have Sir Albus, who claims that the poison was stolen from him.”
“You don’t believe him?”
“Who, Potter, would know better than he how to employ the poison? And who already had said poison in his possession? To fabricate a theft to throw off suspicion would be elementary, Potter.”
“But he didn’t go to the Grange that night!”
“Or so his wife claims. And, of course, the butler.” Severus’ tone made clear his opinion of the latter.
“What, you think they’re all in league?” Potter’s eyes were as round as dinner plates.
“It is not beyond the realms of possibility. However, it is hard to discern their motive.”
“Well, yeah – who’d want to bump off the Riddles? That’s what I haven’t been able to get my head around since day one.”
Severus threw him a smug glance. “I heard an interesting piece of gossip in the bar of the King Harry last night, Potter, following your departure with your lanky friend. It seems old Mr Riddle was not at all happy with reports that had reached him of his grandson’s conduct in Cambridge – indeed, it was whispered that it had gone so far that the old man was considering disinheriting young Thomas in favour of a cousin!”
“Bloody hell! But he wasn’t there, was he? On the night of the murder, I mean. Term hadn’t finished yet. He didn’t come back to Hogsmeade until the day after they’d died.”
“The truth of that, Potter, has yet to be ascertained. However, it is possible he may have an accomplice – consider, Potter, how ideally placed the butler was to administer the poison to the fire? And living, as he does, so close to Phoenix Hall, he would have had numerous opportunities to purloin the poison.”
“See! I told you the butler did it!” Potter gave a triumphant grin.
“Or – yes: young Thomas may have equipped himself with the Devil’s Foot some time previously and coerced the butler into using it. I have no doubt young Mr Riddle was a more-or-less regular visitor to the Hall during the Christmas holidays.”
Potter bit his lip somewhat distractingly. “And that’d explain why he was all over me – he probably wanted to find out how much we knew. It looked to me like he didn’t trust Pettigrew not to give the game away.”
Severus nodded approvingly, pleasantly surprised that the boy had been observant enough to notice this.
“But… it doesn’t explain the bit about the break-in, or why Lady Dumbledore made up that story about seeing something at the window, does it?”
Severus thumped the bed in exasperation, causing it to creak worryingly and sag still further. “And if Riddle is the guilty party, why should she protect him? Damn it, Potter, we are still missing something.”
The boy grimaced sympathetically. “Bit of a bugger, really, isn’t it? Sir,” he appended hastily. “Um, do you fancy a cup of tea?”
Severus looked at him. If truth were told, there was something he fancied a damn sight more than a cup of whatever doubtful beverage might pass for tea in this house. Unfortunately, his outburst after the suicidal experiment with the poison had doubtless rendered any probability of getting it exceedingly remote. Still, it was far too early to think of returning to his own room. “Thank you, Potter.”
Whilst Potter descended to boil the kettle, Severus busied himself with an examination of the contents of the young man’s room. There was little enough to examine. A few books, a meagre selection of clothing, and a battered old biscuit-tin containing a bundle of insipid, flowery letters from someone called Cedric, to whom Severus took an instant dislike. Presumably this was the reprobate who had played fast and loose with young Potter’s affections. Severus hastily returned the letters to their hiding place under the bed as the sound of yowling heralded Potter’s return up the stairs.
The boy shut the door firmly against the feline following he had gathered. “Sorry about that, sir. They always try to go for the milk.” He poured out two cups of tea, which Severus was relieved to note appeared to be of sufficient strength for his taste, and not too milky either. “Sorry we’re out of biscuits,” Potter told Severus as he passed a cup over with a look Severus was at a loss to interpret.
The tea was surprisingly drinkable, Severus found. That had always been a bone of contention between him and Lupin – the man had always insisted on taking his tea so weak that the vast quantities of milk he added completely overpowered the flavour. He looked at his young host with approval, which occasioned a slight flush in the boy’s cheeks.
“Um, it’s a bit hot in here, isn’t it, sir? Would you mind if I took off my jacket?”
Something in the boy’s tone piqued Severus’ interest. “Not at all, Potter. After all, you are at home, here.”
Potter shrugged off his uniform jacket, placed it carefully on a hanger and hung it on a nail in the back of the door. “Um, you could, er, do the same, you know. If you wanted, that is.”
Severus raised an eyebrow. Was the boy actually flirting with him? Perhaps all was not lost, after all. Fixing Potter with a searching gaze, he slowly took off his Saville Row jacket and laid it on the bed for want of anywhere else to put it. Still keeping his eye upon the boy, he deliberately loosened his tie.
Potter swallowed. No, it seemed all was not lost. Severus smiled inwardly. The young man had, after all, loath as Severus was to admit it, saved his life. Giving him a damned good seeing to seemed to be the least he could do to show his gratitude. “I don’t believe we finished our conversation earlier, Potter. You may remember I was offering to give you some instruction.”
The boy bit his lip, which made Severus want to do it for him. “Um, yes, sir. You said I needed to improve my, er, vocabulary?” He was clearly nervous of committing himself.
“There are many ways, Potter, in which a young man may benefit from the tutelage of someone more experienced. Surely you would not wish to miss any opportunity to further your education?” The young man was teetering on the brink, Severus could sense it. “I hope, Harry, you are not hesitating on account of young Ce- whoever it was who treated you so shamefully. I can assure you he deserves no such consideration.”
Potter bit his lip once more. “It’s just – we were together a long time, well, sort of, anyway, and he’s the only boy I’ve ever – you know.” After struggling to the end of this painfully convoluted sentence, he fell silent.
Was it merely wishful thinking on Severus’ part, or could he discern a definite desire to be persuaded? “I think, Harry,” Severus told him deliberately, “it is time for you to leave behind all thoughts of boys.” He reached out a hand to stroke the boy’s cheek, and a sharp intake of breath encouraged him to move his fingers downwards, via that smooth young throat to the firm, linen-clad chest below. “Aren’t you interested in what a man can teach you?”
The young man hesitated, then seemed to come to a sudden decision and not only loosened his tie and tore it off, but started to undo his shirt as well. Another time, Severus might have preferred to do that himself – but on this occasion, he was too impatient to see what lay beneath that starched shirt-front, so he merely sat back and drank in the spectacle before him. Once all the buttons had been wrested free, Severus moved forward on the bed, trying to ignore the disconcerting complaints of the springs as he did so, and placed both hands on that beautiful, sparsely-haired young chest. Again, there was a hitch in the boy’s breathing and his eyes fluttered closed as Severus began to caress him, rubbing his thumbs over those teasingly fresh pink nipples. Hesitantly, hands came up to fumble at the buttons of Severus’ shirt, and throwing caution to the winds, Severus scooted forward once more, desperate to press his skin against that lithe young body.
It was too much for the rusty old bedstead and with an alarmingly loud crash the head end collapsed, bringing Severus into contact with his young lover a lot more quickly than he’d bargained for. There was a painful thump as Harry’s head connected with the wall, and then the ominous sound of footsteps coming up the stairs, followed by a slightly quavering voice calling, “Harry, love? You all right in there?”
Potter managed with admirable speed to collect his scrambled wits enough to answer, “I’m fine, Mrs Figg. I’ll get the bed fixed right away!”
“Right you are, dearie,” his landlady called back, and Severus breathed a sigh of relief – which was, however, short-lived, as she continued cheerily, “Now, will your young man be staying for supper?”
The expression on Severus’ face, coupled with the sight of him hastily rebuttoning his shirt, must have let Potter know what he thought of that idea. “Er, no, I don’t think so,” he told her in a slightly disappointed tone.
“Are you sure, love? It’s bubble and squeak!” the persistent old hag wheedled on.
“Er, no, I really don’t think so, thanks, Mrs Figg.”
“Ah, well – all the more for us, then!” she chirped, and stomped off downstairs, with the occasional screech from one of the cats when she, presumably, stood on its tail.
“I think, Potter, it is high time that I left,” Severus announced grimly. The last thing he needed was to become the subject of gossip amongst the old maids of Hogsmeade. Harry, however, looked so woebegone at his departure that Severus felt compelled to offer him some comfort. “I shall send for you when I have need of your assistance again, Potter. Have no fear, you will be in at the finish – should this infernal case ever come to one, that is!” He was rewarded with a blinding smile from the young constable as he took his leave.
Harry breathed a sigh of regret at Snape’s departure, although there might have been just a touch of relief in there somewhere too. Once the heat of the moment had cleared from his head, not to mention other areas, Harry still felt a bit confused as to how he actually felt about the Chief Inspector. He knew he wanted him – he shivered a little at the memory of those long-fingered, supple hands on his bare skin, teasing at his nipples – but it still felt like he was betraying Cedric.
Who’d treated him shamefully – at least, that was what Snape had said. Who’d expected him to be happy that he was getting married. Bastard. Like the last three years had meant nothing to him. Snape was right. Cedric didn’t deserve any consideration.
Harry sighed again, rolled up the sleeves on his hastily donned shirt, and crouched down to look at the damage to the bed. The legs at the head end were a write-off. Maybe he could prop it up on books? Yeah, right. Like he and Mrs Figg owned that many books between them. Harry smiled to himself. Hermione could probably lend him plenty, but he didn’t think she’d approve of the use to which they’d be put. Or the reason they were necessary, come to that. From the hints Ron had gloomily let slip, she was a firm believer in abstinence outside marriage. “Mrs Figg? I think I’m going to need a hacksaw here,” he called down the stairs.
“Come to that, has it, dearie? Ah, well.” She stomped up the stairs once more, a distinct lack of outraged yowls bearing witness to the fact that the cats had been roused to caution this time. “Here you go, Harry love. Seen a bit more action than it can handle, that bed, and no mistake!” She winked and handed a blushing Harry a vicious-looking hacksaw, whereupon he began the ear-splitting task of sawing off the remaining legs of the bed. At least this way if he had a bad dream and fell out of bed it’d hurt less.
By the time he’d finished and cleared up the mess, Harry barely had time for a splash with cold water before it was time for supper. “I’ve got a treat for you here, dearie!” Mrs Figg trilled happily from the kitchen. “Pigs’ trotters! Butcher had a special on them. Boiled up something lovely, they have.” As Harry sat down at the wobbly kitchen table, she served him a couple of the glutinous delicacies and then a large portion of bubble-and-squeak, which landed on the plate with a liquid splat. Harry waited until it had stopped moving before tucking in with gusto.
“He seems very nice, your new young man,” Mrs Figg commented around a mouthful of trotters. “Steady. Not like that young flibberty-gibbert Master Diggory.”
Harry choked on a particularly large lump of gristle. “You knew about me and Cedric?” he spluttered.
“Course I did, dearie. Wondered if I should have a word with you about it, but folks should mind their own beeswax, that’s what I’ve always said. But if I’ve told my darlings once,” she looked fondly at her cats, “I’ve told them a hundred times, mark my words, it’ll all end in tears. You shouldn’t go setting your sights on the likes of him, dearie, he’ll never make an honest woman of you. That Chief Inspector of yours is cut from a different cloth, I’d lay money on it.”
Harry looked at her. “Um, you do realise I’m a bloke, right?”
“Oh, go on with you, dearie! When you get to my age, Harry love, you realise it takes all sorts to make a world. And don’t you worry about me gossiping, I only ever talk to my cats.” She sat back and beamed at him. “Although if you’ll take the advice of an old lady, I wouldn’t let him be so forward with you. My mother, God rest her, always told me: You don’t let ‘em have so much as a glimpse of stocking until there’s a ring on your finger, and I know things are different these days, but what I say is: Men don’t change. You want him to be in it for the long term, you make him wait for what he’s after – although I know you young people get up to all sorts that we’d never have dared think of in my day!”
Harry sighed. “Do you really think he’d be interested in anything long-term? I mean, he’s only going to be here a short while, until he’s solved the Riddle case. He probably doesn’t mean anything serious.”
Mrs Figg smiled, and tenderly scooped another pig’s trotter onto his plate. “Oh, he’s serious about you, all right. Even if he doesn’t know it himself yet. Now, eat up – there’s semolina for afters!”
After his somewhat embarrassing departure from Potter’s lodgings, Severus ducked into a public house and ordered a pint to mull over the evidence at his leisure. He was unable to rid himself of the strong conviction of Riddle’s guilt – but was he blinded by jealousy over the young man’s attempt to seduce his Harry? Severus was brought up short by the sudden realisation of the way in which he had thought of his young constable. Was this, then, more than a passing dalliance? Taking a firm grip of his emotions, Severus forced himself to concentrate on the case. The greatest mystery concerned Lady Dumbledore’s prevarication – therefore, he would have to confront her and try to force a confession.
Again, though, he was confronted by the lack of any obvious motivation for her mendacity. He could discern no reason for either her or her husband to wish the Riddles dead. But why, then, would she lie? Whom else would she seek to protect? As he took the first sip from his pint, it came to him in a flash. Blackmail! Yes, that must be it. Riddle, assisted no doubt by that odious excrescence who served him, was blackmailing either Lady Dumbledore or her husband – over what, Severus couldn’t say, but he was willing to wager it had something to do with the mysterious and scandalous first Lady Dumbledore. Perhaps her barmy old husband had murdered her in order to marry the present Lady Dumbledore, and Riddle possessed evidence of this that was damning enough to persuade the lady to assist in covering up Riddles own homicidal endeavours.
Severus took a gulp from his pint glass, savouring the taste of the bitter ale. Yes, that was it. And Lady Dumbledore was the key: if he could induce her to confess that she had been coerced into perjury, Riddle would be his. To that end, he would gather the suspects together and confront them with the evidence. It was not yet four o’clock; there should be ample time to arrange matters for this evening. Severus smiled to himself, ignoring the worried glances other pub-goers sent his way. Yes: tonight was the night. And Harry would be there too.
It was nine o’clock that evening, and the company had assembled as Severus had requested. All of them sat around the drawing room at Phoenix Hall, saving of course Pettigrew who cringed by the door. Riddle had not looked pleased at Severus’ insistence that the butler be included in the party – but then, he would undoubtedly look even less pleased once he had been tricked into a confession of his fiendish crime, Severus thought with satisfaction.
Severus tapped on his brandy glass for silence, and cleared his throat. All eyes were upon him as he commenced his speech. “I have called you all here, as you are no doubt aware, for a most solemn purpose: the unmasking of the Murderer of The Grange!” He smirked inwardly at the frisson of excitement that ran through most of those present at his dramatic opening and raised a sardonic eyebrow at Tom Riddle’s outwardly bored demeanour. He hadn’t been born yesterday.
In clipped tones, Severus enumerated the facts of the case. As they were few, only Sir Albus’ eyes were beginning to glaze over by the time Severus had reached the first point upon which he wished to surprise a confession of the truth: “…and now to the mysterious apparition Lady Dumbledore claims to have witnessed – a claim which my young assistant and I have proven conclusively to be false!” There was a general murmuring, but the lady herself sat straight-backed and silent, waiting for Severus to continue.
“Why, I asked myself, should Lady Dumbledore make a false claim of this nature? Was it merely one of those hysterical imaginings to which the feminine mind is so prone? No, for Lady Dumbledore has shown herself to be a solid, sensible woman, not liable to overheating of the brain. We are faced, then, with the inescapable conclusion that she lied!”
As the company reeled in horror, Lady Dumbledore rose gracefully from her seat. “Indeed, Chief Inspector, you have discovered me. The game, as they say, is up. Yes, Chief Inspector: I lied. And as I am quite sure that your keen intellect has already drawn the only possible conclusion from that, I confess. It was I, Chief Inspector, who murdered the Riddles.”
There was a collective gasp, and Thomas Riddle even took a step back in his surprise at her words. Sir Albus merely twinkled dementedly.
Collecting himself swiftly, and striving to cover his own astonishment – he had been so certain Riddle was the guilty party, and he’d been planning to go on for hours before getting to the point where the malefactor confessed all – Severus was stern. “Might I beg your indulgence, madam, in explaining to us all just why you saw fit to commit such an atrocity?”
“Certainly, Chief Inspector.” The lady inclined her head gracefully. “It will come as some surprise to you all, no doubt – with the exception of dear Albus, who is fully acquainted with my past – that my marriage to him fifteen years ago was not the first occasion on which I was wed. I had been married some years previously – to the late Mr Thomas Riddle, father of our young guest!” She smiled at Riddle, who merely stared at her.
“Madam, continue!” Severus urged on behalf of them all.
“My first marriage, I am afraid to say, was
a hasty, ill-judged affair. It took
“Still are, Minerva my dear, still are!” Sir Albus broke in gallantly.
The lady inclined her head graciously to her husband and continued. “Wishing only to escape my situation, I found out too late what manner of man I had married – it pains me to tell you this about your father, Tom, but really, he was the worst sort of bore. Finding myself within a few months enceinte, I resolved upon a daring plan: I bribed the midwives who attended my confinement to tell my husband I had died in childbirth, whereupon I slipped away, leaving my son to the care of his father and a wet-nurse.”
Riddle stepped forward. “Then, Lady Dumbledore, you are my mother? But I was told her maiden name was Gaunt.”
Lady Dumbledore fixed him with a pained look. “My dear boy, if you had been so unfortunate as to be christened with the name Merope Gaunt, I am quite sure that you too would have changed it at the earliest opportunity. And in any case, I could hardly live under my own name, without alerting my husband to my continued existence.” She smiled fondly at the somewhat shell-shocked youth. “It has been my great pleasure, Tom, to watch you grow up these last fifteen years.”
Riddle turned to her husband. “Sir Albus, were you aware of this?”
“Oh, indeed, yes, dear boy.” He turned twinkling eyes upon his wife, seemingly unperturbed that she had just confessed to a double murder. “And now, my dear, I think you should tell young Tom about his brother, don’t you?”
All eyes snapped back to Lady Dumbledore, who had coloured slightly. “Indeed, Albus, you are right, as always. I’m afraid I must beg the indulgence of the company present for the loneliness of a young lady, recently escaped from an unhappy marriage, and her lover, still trapped in his own. You see, Tom, you are not my only child – and by happy chance, your brother is here.” The eyes of the company followed her gaze with disbelief as it settled on… Potter? “Harry, my dear. Can you ever forgive your mother?”
Severus wished the dratted boy would shut his mouth – he looked most unattractive with it hanging open like that.
“You’re – you’re my mum? So who’s my dad?”
It was Sir Albus who answered. “Why, I am, of course, dear boy! Naturally, we should have liked to keep you – but unhappily, I was still married to the first Lady Dumbledore at the time of your birth. And in any case, I must confess I’m not getting any younger! Small children can be so dreadfully exhausting, wouldn’t you agree?” He twinkled benignly at his son, and for once Severus couldn’t blame the poor boy for gaping at him gormlessly.
Lady Dumbledore smiled fondly at them both, and then continued. “And now, Chief Inspector – ”
Severus was alarmed. “Madam, before you make any startling
assertions about my parentage, I feel I should inform you that my mother
is alive and well and running a tea-shop in
“Ah, dear Eileen. How is she these days? We were at school together, you know. No, Chief Inspector, I have, I am glad to say, no more revelations to make. I simply wished to ask you to allow me a few moments alone to collect myself before you arrest me. I can assure you that if you grant me this indulgence I shall give you no further trouble.”
Severus, despite his misgivings, felt honour-bound to allow the lady to withdraw. Potter, meanwhile, was standing there with a dazed look upon his face. Severus felt the unwelcome stirring of sympathy within his breast. To finally discover his parents – only to learn that one of them would shortly be hanged for murder! Severus found himself almost inclined to curse the conventions of society that prohibited him from offering the boy any comfort. Sir Albus, however, was subject no such restriction and placed a paternal arm around the lad he had so callously abandoned to the trials of the orphanage. Severus would definitely have to have words with him afterwards.
Riddle, meanwhile, was pacing the room, looking remarkably cheerful. Severus snorted. No sign of any family feeling there. Suddenly, there was a loud bang, following which the door burst open and a panicking maidservant screamed “Fire!” Severus, who had half-expected to hear the report of a revolver as the lady took a course of action more commonly known as the gentleman’s way out, was nonplussed by this tale of a conflagration. Perhaps the maid was merely hysterical? He ran through the door to the hall, where he found smoke already billowing down the staircase. “It’s ‘er ladyship’s gas lamp – I always said they was dangerous!” the servant wailed.
Smoke was pouring out from under the door that led to Lady Dumbledore’s boudoir. Severus hesitated – then found himself thrust aside by Potter who flung open the door. Immediately a great wave of heat and flame threw him backwards; undeterred, he pressed a handkerchief to his mouth and hurtled into the burning room. Severus cursed, and picking himself up, ran after him. The idiot was trying to get through the anteroom to the bedchamber beyond, from where the conflagration had spread, and where the lady must be trapped – or most likely, had already burnt to death. But the room was ablaze – even as Severus entered, the curtains fell down from the window, setting the boy’s uniform jacket alight. Grabbing a throw from the sofa, which had as yet miraculously escaped the flames, Severus wrapped the heroic fool in it and wrestled him out of the room.
“No – let me back in there – she’s my mum!” the anguished young man protested.
“Harry, you cannot save her! And for what? Would you rather watch her hang? This was her choice, boy – do you think she would want you to throw your life away on one already forfeit?” Severus’ voice was hoarse from the smoke and from the unexpectedly acute pain he felt at the thought of Harry – his Harry – losing his life in that awful inferno.
“But I’ve got to – “ the young man protested, tears running down his soot-smirched face.
“No, Harry. There is nothing you can do,” Severus told him more softly this time, leading him down the stairs as swiftly, and as gently, as he could.
There had been nothing for it to evacuate Phoenix Hall and watch it burn with all the ferocity of its namesake. Sir Albus had confirmed Severus’ estimate of his senility by remaining remarkably chipper throughout, despite the loss of his wife and home – merely commenting cheerfully that dear Minerva had never really cared for the old pile. Riddle had bid them all a curt goodnight and returned to the Grange with his toadying servant scurrying along in his wake, apparently caring not a jot whether his mother’s widower had anywhere to sleep that night. Severus, who had always disliked the young man, now found himself positively seething that the arrogant young pup had not turned out to be the murderer after all. If there was ever a man Severus would rejoice to see hang, it was Thomas Bloody Riddle.
Harry, still wrapped in the throw Severus had used to save him, seemed dazed and somewhat shocked by it all. It was Sir Albus, in the end, who suggested blithely that they all repair to the King Harry pub, where he was sure his brother would be able to put them up. Severus readily concurred, feeling that whilst he couldn’t care less whether the senile old philanderer (or, for that matter, his servants) had a roof over their heads for the night, he was very definitely in need of a stiff drink.
Once arrived at the hostelry, upon seeing Harry’s pale face grow yet whiter at the sight of all the locals eager for gossip, Severus made a snap decision. “Come, Potter – I’ve a bottle of brandy in my room, and I doubt that being gawped at by these idiots is what you require right now.”
Harry didn’t resist as Severus led him gently up the stairs. Once they were in privacy, it occurred to Severus that he should ensure that the boy had not been hurt when essaying that reckless rescue. “Take off your jacket, Potter – I want to see if you’ve been burned.”
Harry gave a wan smile and complied. “I’m fine, I think – it was just my jacket that caught it.” And indeed, the fabric of his shirt was singed, but not burned. Severus told himself it was unforgivably selfish to be disappointed that the boy need not remove his shirt.
Severus slung his own jacket tiredly upon a chair and poured out two glasses of brandy, his own rather more generous than that he gave to the boy. Joining him sitting upon the bed, he sighed. “I suppose I shall have to get you home after this,” he muttered.
“Um, yeah. I suppose,” shrugged Harry, sounding intriguingly doubtful about the idea. “I don’t have to go right now, though, do I?” he asked, the hopeful note in his voice sending a thrill down Severus’ spine.
Again, Severus was forced to speak sternly to himself. To take advantage of a boy who had just lost his mother would be utterly reprehensible! Of course, a treacherous little voice seemed to whisper from the vicinity of his cock, they were hardly close – she abandoned him, after all.
“You know, it’s funny,” Harry began, “but I feel I should, well, feel more. I mean, she was my mum. But she killed two people and she dumped me in an orphanage – I mean, when we were back in Phoenix Hall, all I could think of was that I had to save her – but I s’pose you’re right, it wouldn’t really have done her any good.”
“I must commend you upon your mature attitude to these unfortunate events, Harry. This evening must have been quite a shock for you,” Severus commiserated, feeling hope beginning to blossom in his breast. And in places lower down, as well.
Harry grimaced. “Yeah. I mean – Thomas Riddle’s my brother? He snogged me!” He shuddered. “Still, I’m glad Sir Albus is my dad. He’s always been really nice to me, you know.”
Severus was quite certain he would not personally consider abandoning a baby to be brought up by total strangers as being really nice, but he forbore to comment. Harry had been through quite enough for one night. “Another drink?” he asked solicitously, topping up his own glass.
“Um, better not. I mean, I’ve got to get back across town to Mrs Figg’s, haven’t I?“
Severus almost purred at the questioning tone in the boy’s voice. “Perhaps, Harry, it might be better if you stayed here. After all, I should not wish anything untoward to happen to you.” Unless of course I’m the one making it happen, he appended silently.
Harry grinned and shuffled a little closer to Severus on the bed which, Severus was thankful to note, was of far sturdier construction than the one in Harry’s grim little garret. “Well, if you’re sure I won’t be in the way?”
Severus responded by snaking an arm around the boy’s slender waist, feeling the warmth of his body through the rough uniform shirt which he hoped to be removing in the very near future. “Hm, I think I may possibly be able to make room for you. I believe, by the way, it is time we got rid of those spectacles.” As he spoke, Severus suited the action to the words, and then leant in to kiss the boy softly on the lips. His kiss was returned with gratifying fervour and Severus gently but firmly pushed the boy down until he was lying on top of him. Finally, he was where he wanted to be! Harry’s kisses grew hungrier, and he pressed his hips up to grind a satisfyingly hard cock into Severus’ groin. Severus ground back, unable to suppress a moan, and he started to tug Harry’s shirt out of his trousers, aching to get at the bare skin underneath. It proved frustratingly difficult, so he rolled to one side to unbuckle Harry’s belt. Darkening green eyes watched him from beneath heavy lids, and Harry’s breath grew faster. At last those damnable trousers were unfastened, and Severus pushed up the boy’s shirt, revealing a flat belly with soft, dark hair forming an enticing trail downwards from his navel. As Severus feasted his eyes upon the delectable sight, Harry drew back a little, looking slightly uncertain. “Um, I haven’t actually done a lot of this sort of thing, you know,” he mumbled a little shamefacedly.
Severus’ heart sang. “All the better, Harry,” he growled.
“Really?” the boy persisted, with touching naïveté. “You’re not disappointed?”
Severus smirked. “Disappointed? I hardly think so. I have no wish to picture you in the arms of another man, Harry. But tell me, what is the extent of your experience?” Severus held his breath, hoping he wasn’t about to hear more than he wanted to.
“Um, just kissing and touching,” Harry admitted. “And that was only with Ce- one bloke.”
It was sweet music to Severus’ ears. “We shall be doing much more than that tonight, I can promise you,” he purred.
Whilst he was pleased to see a touch of maidenly trepidation flicker through the boy’s eyes, Severus was, in fact, in a bit of a quandary. What he wanted to do was to fuck the boy through the mattress – but he was quite aware that for the novice fuckee, there could be a not inconsiderable amount of pain involved in the process, and he was loath to do anything to scare Harry off now he had finally got him into his bed. “Do you trust me?” he asked, gazing into the boy’s eyes.
“Should I?” Harry retorted boldly.
Severus smiled. “With an attitude like that, Harry, I can see you’ll go far at Scotland Yard. I won’t lie to you; what I wish to do to you is likely to involve some discomfort at first. However, it is my firm belief that you will not regret having had the courage to go through with it.”
It was as he had hoped: any appeal to Harry’s bravery had his chin (and other things) pointing firmly skywards. “I’m not scared,” Harry announced resolutely, only the faint bobbing of his Adam’s apple as he swallowed giving the lie to his words.
“Excellent,” Severus purred. “Now, why don’t we get you a little more comfortable?” As he spoke, one hand snaked up to Harry’s shirt buttons, which he deftly unfastened, baring those fresh young nipples that had so delighted Severus before Mrs Figg’s untimely interruption. Damn, he’d missed those. He kissed them fondly, then added a gentle bite that had Harry writhing and gasping.
“Mm-mmm,” Harry murmured dazedly. “Y’know, I think we ought to get you more comfortable too, Chief Inspector. ‘S only proper.”
“Indeed, Harry?” Severus arched an eyebrow. “Then as my assistant, it is your duty to assist me.” Harry’s lazy grin did strange things to Severus’ insides as the boy obediently started to unbutton his superior’s shirt. Once he had opened it, Severus could wait no longer and tore it off entirely, pressing his naked chest to the boy’s soft skin. From Harry’s soft moan, Severus gathered that the skin-to-skin contact was having a similar effect on the boy to that which it had on him. “Look at me,” he ordered, and as the tousled head turned to face him, Severus seized those rosebud lips in a passionate kiss.
It was electrifying. Severus felt as though he were some monstrous creation of a gothic scientist, seared into life by the wild, almost preternatural energy of an ill-omened lightning bolt – and the boy beneath him some inexplicably fallen angel he now sullied with his plebeian touch. He felt unworthy to kiss the hem of Harry’s robe, let alone to take his sordid pleasure from the young beauty’s virgin body.
Still, needs must. Mentally shaking his head to clear it from the fog of unwonted (and indeed unwanted) humility, Severus broke the kiss and started nipping at that enticing, creamy throat, whilst one hand crept into the invitingly open trousers. As his hand closed around a very satisfyingly engorged length, Harry moaned once more and all thoughts of unworthiness flew out of Severus’ head with the velocity of a speeding carriage. He stroked once, twice – and then Harry was moaning, “Stop!” Reluctantly, Severus desisted, sending the boy a questioning glance. “Don’t want to come yet,” Harry panted.
Severus smirked. It seemed introducing the boy to the delights of having his cock sucked would have to wait for another day. “How about we take off these trousers, then?” he purred.
Harry grinned again. “I’ll take mine off if you take off yours,” he challenged.
Severus raised an eyebrow. “I think not. I will take off yours, and you may remove mine.” Harry eagerly started to undo Severus’ trousers, Severus responded by tugging down the boy’s clothing and after several minutes of frenzied fumbling they were finally, deliciously naked. At the first touch of their cocks together, Severus thought he was about to suffer a little death – but his iron force of will did not play him false, and after only a moment’s pause to collect himself, he was able to continue. Sliding a hand down, he began to toy with Harry’s balls, then slid a finger down to play at his entrance. “Has anyone ever touched you there, Harry?” he breathed into the boy’s ear.
“N – no.” Harry appeared to be having some difficulty speaking, Severus noted with satisfaction.
He rolled to the side for a moment, reaching into the bedside drawer for a jar of Vaseline that Filch had thoughtfully included in his luggage. Noting his companion’s nervousness as he coated his finger with the viscous stuff, Severus murmured “Relax, Harry,” and kissed him gently before returning his finger to Harry’s anus. “What I am doing is preparing you for intercourse. Your body is quite capable of accommodating me, but it needs to be stretched first. You may find the process quite pleasurable,” he added, crooking his finger inside Harry’s rectum and occasioning another gasp. Smirking in satisfaction, Severus added another finger and as he stretched his lover, resumed kissing him upon the neck and down to those tender pink nipples.
When he judged that Harry was adequately prepared, Severus removed his fingers. “Pull your legs up, and over my arms. That’s right, Harry. Now, try to relax,” he instructed, as he lined himself up and pushed in slowly. After initially resisting, Harry’s body seemed to suck him in, to want to consume him, and Severus had to force himself to go slowly, to allow Harry time to adjust.
Harry was breathing in short, harsh gasps. “Too much?” Severus asked, concerned.
“No – yeah – just, go slow, all right?” Slowly the boy’s expression cleared. “All – all right. You can move now,” he breathed.
Moving with an exquisite slowness he thought would very likely kill him, Severus pushed in until, at last, his balls pressed against Harry’s skin and he could go no further. “Harry,” he gasped, overcome with sensation and a heady feeling of jubilation as the boy seized his head and kissed him sloppily. But his cock was demanding that he move, so cautiously at first and then with rising abandon he began to thrust in and out, varying the angle until Harry cried out and then mercilessly punishing the boy’s prostate. Neither of them would last long at this pace, but he was powerless to slow down, and he hissed out an urgent “Touch yourself!” He was aware of the boy’s hand fisting his own cock, pumping a bare handful of times before that flushed young face went slack and hot spurts of spunk were pulsing between them. Severus could no more have stopped himself coming then than he could have flown and for a moment, he actually blacked out at the intensity of it all.
When he came to, it seemed that it had only been for a second or so, for Harry was still gasping underneath him, looking more beautiful than a foundling brat had any right to do. Regretfully extricating himself, Severus stretched out beside the boy and kissed his shoulder. Harry turned to him, eyes shining. “That was – bloody hell, that was amazing! Is it always like that?”
Severus caressed the boy’s face, his touch feather-light, feeling a strange trepidation mixed with a fierce sense of possession. “I hope it will be,” he told him gently.
The next morning, Harry woke up with a smile on his face – which quickly faded when he recalled that with the case solved, there was no reason for the Chief Inspector to remain in Hogsmeade. He lay there for a moment, studying the harsh profile of the man who slept beside him. He was nothing like Cedric, Harry knew. Older, more jaded – definitely less handsome.
None of which facts lessened the pain in Harry’s heart in the slightest. He’d thought he loved Cedric – but he’d never felt like this about him. Never felt this strange mix of protectiveness, and pride, and admiration – not just of the face and body, but of the man inside. Maybe it was just that Snape – Severus – had been the first to truly make love to him? Shivering slightly at the memory of last night, Harry refused to believe that was it. Perhaps it was just that if it hadn’t been for Snape he’d probably have died horribly in the flames of Phoenix Hall? Harry wished he had Hermione here to tell him the answer – then smiled at the thought of her reaction if she did happen to walk into the room and see him and Snape in bed together. Actually, come to think of it, she’d probably take it a damn sight better than Ron would. Probably, what with all those books she read, she thought seeing two blokes in bed together was completely normal and boring. Harry wondered if he ought to mention this to Ron, and then thought, best not.
He carried on gazing at his lover, trying to commit every idiosyncratic feature to memory for when he was once more alone in his attic room at Mrs Figg’s. Part of him hoped the man would never wake, so they would never have to have the awkward conversation Harry felt sure was in the offing. He had a crazy idea, for a moment, of slipping out of the room, so nothing could spoil the memory of a perfect night. But even as he thought this, Snape stirred, and those dark eyes opened and fixed their heavy gaze upon him.
“Morning,” Harry said, feeling he had to say something. Catlike, Snape stretched.
“Indeed it is a good morning, Harry.” He smiled, looking more content than Harry had ever seen him. “And the first of many more such, I trust.”
Harry blinked. “Um, I’m not sure I follow,” he said
uncertainly. “Aren’t you going to have
to go back to
“Naturally. However, I feel it would be remiss of me to return to Scotland Yard without taking with me a young police officer who has shown such sterling promise. I foresee a great career for you in Scotland Yard, Constable Potter.”
“But – can you just do that? Aren’t there procedures that need to be followed, and all that?” Harry tried not to get his hopes up too high, but it was a losing battle.
Snape smiled at him smugly. “Fortunately for us both, Harry, I happen to have the ear of the Chief Superintendent.”
“Really? And you think that’ll be enough?”
“Hm, possibly not. However,” Snape purred, leaning over to nibble at his young lover’s neck and thinking fondly of the incriminating material contained in his safety-deposit box, “I also have him by the bollocks.”
Harry gasped and then squirmed, trying to keep his mind on practicalities, which was particularly hard as the Chief Inspector now had him by the bollocks and was fondling them rather distractingly. “But where will I live? I can’t afford much, you know.”
“Happily for both of us, a room at my lodgings has recently become vacant and I feel sure it might be made available to you at a nominal rent. My manservant, Filch, will no doubt complain about having another mouth to feed, but the extra work will do him good. And I will then, Constable Potter, be in a position to pay particularly close attention to your education,” he breathed in Harry’s ear.
Harry surrendered happily. “Well, I reckon I’ve got a lot to learn. You might want to start right now,” he grinned, pressing himself up against his eager lover.
Snape smirked. “The things I do to safeguard the future of the nation.”
It was a typical English summer’s day:
overcast, with the threat of rain for later and a chilly breeze blowing in off
the sea. Sir Albus sat in the lounge of
the Grand Hotel,
“Albus, please. It is Margaret these days – or rather, since we have not been introduced, it would be more proper for you to address me as Mrs Grosvenor,” she replied primly.
“Mrs Grosvenor? Is there then a Mr Grosvenor?” Sir Albus asked teasingly, pouring her a cup of tea.
“I am afraid, Sir Albus, that he passed away some years ago,” the lady replied flirtatiously in a gentle Scottish brogue, as she delicately took a sip.
“Dear, dear! I am recently widowed myself, you know,” he
twinkled. “Do have some of this
shortbread, it’s really quite delicious.
So tell me, Mrs Grosvenor, shall you be staying in
“I really cannot say, Sir Albus. And your own plans?”
“Oh, I’ve decided to move down here. For my health, you know. The sea air is so delightfully bracing and
I’ve already spotted an intriguing little residence for sale near
“Of course! After all, Albus, those dreadful Riddles were about to disinherit my dear boy, just because they disapproved of his lifestyle! One can hardly blame him for anticipating nature in this way. I am quite convinced, Albus, that now that this threat to his fortune is gone, he will become an upstanding member of society.”
“Ah! Well, I’m sure you’re right, my dear. Now, let me tell you the news from Hogsmeade. Young Harry has gone to work for Scotland Yard – it appears the Chief Inspector was most impressed with our boy. Of course, we did wonder if we might see them again – in a professional capacity, no less – do you remember young Tom’s butler, Pettigrew? Well, he appears to have met with a most baffling accident…”
Note: Sir Albus was inspired to install his
trick fountains after paying a visit to the gardens of Schloss Hellbrunn (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schloss_Hellbrunn)