Serverus Snape had been up all night. Pottering about the potions laboratory, he couldn't bring himself to think of anything beyond the immediacy of his guilt. He'd hoped Draco would get a hard word from Dumbledore, maybe lose a couple of house points, or receive a detention but nothing on the scale of what had eventuated. Snape was in shock his entire body on edge, and insomniac and haunted, he could find no solace, not even amongst his experiments.
He'd tried to talk Dumbledore out of it. He'd brought up, calmly and rationally, the suggestion that the punishment didn't quite fit the crime. And Dumbledore had turned on him Snape hadn't seen Dumbledore truly angry for years. Who was Snape, to suggest that Malfoy had been treated unfairly? Dumbledore had demanded. And there'd even be a hint that Snape should look for employment elsewhere, if he was so adamant in his unlovely devotion to that particular student. Snape had staggered out of Dumbledore's office like a drunk, reeling with the potency of the wizard's wrath.
Something had happened Draco had done something, Snape was sure. Only he couldn't figure out what might have caused the headwizard or indeed all the members of the Hogwarts staff, to react in such a grim manner. He'd run into Trelwaney and McGonagall on the way to the laboratory. These were two women who'd never been close friends, but now they were chirping eagerly together over the things they'd like to do to a certain member of the Malfoy household. Snape, stunned, hadn't known what to do, and simply dashed off when they asked him if they thought holding a Draco's Expulsion party was a good idea.
He rested his head in the palm of his hands, trying to think of the worst thing a wizard could do. Beyond summoning Voldemort into the middle of the dinner hall which Snape was fairly sure he would have noticed there didn't seem to be anything he could call to mind which warranted such mass antipathy. He groaned, stretching, and was about to consider returning to his bedroom for another night of fitful and uneasy half-sleep, when the door to the laboratory opened.
Snape blinked, then reached for his wand. There was no one there but that was indefinately worse than if there was.
"Who's there," Snape asked sharply. "Show yourself."
There was a flutter of nothing in the centre of the room, which slowly became a something, and then Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter were revealed, Harry bundling something translucent over his forearm.
"Close the door, Draco," said Harry, and Draco shoved the door backwards with his elbow. After a second's consideration, he also fastened the lock.
"What on earth?" Snape began, relaxing only slightly from his combative stance.
"Listen, sir," Harry cut him off. "We can't explain much we don't want to get caught. But we need someone to help us someone's cast a spell on Draco."
"We need you to check this snitch," said Draco, pulling the golden ball out of the air about his head. "We think we're sure it's been cursed in some way, and we want to know how to destroy it. You were the only person we could think of who'd know what to do, sir."
Flattery had a warming effect on Snape of all the proffessors they could have gone to, he was intensely gratified they'd chosen him. He set aside the questions of rule breaking for the moment; he'd chastise them for that later. He reached out for the snitch.
"A curse, you say? What kind," he said, but stopped as he noticed the boy's changing expressions. Harry was staring at him as if he was fighting with a mixture of concern and outright hatred; and Draco had an inane and stupid smile spreading across his pale face, his head tilted almost coquettishly.
"It makes people feel towards you what you feel for them," Harry said, in a strained voice. "You stupid, meddling bastard," he added, emphaticly.
Draco smacked Harry smartly over the back of his head. "Sorry, sir," the youth grovelled. "He didn't mean it see. We're very very thankful you're here to help us. You know, you remind me so much of me when I was when I grow up, I mean. I think. Oh, good grief." Draco stared at the ground, and began to tug at his hair.
Snape blinked, mesmerised by their performances. If this was a hoax, the two boys were remarkable actors and they'd certainly constructed a completely unbelievable team. Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, together? Snape stared at the snitch in amazement, barely starting even when an empty test tube crashed into the wall a foot from his head. The pieces were all falling into place for Snape the strange actions of the other professors, the attacks by the pupils it made perfect sense.
The two boys fell to the ground, tussling with each other, as Snape weighted the ball in his hand.
"You know, the Dark Arts isn't really my speciality," he admitted.
"Excuse me?" shreiked Harry. "You worked for Voldemort, didn't you? Maybe that doesn't make it your speciality, but it's definately on your bloody menu, you imbecile."
"Shut up, you inconsiderate git," Draco squealed, banging Harry's head against the ground. "He's trying to help. You should appreciate and be thankful for his genius."
Snape ignored them. "Incredible," he murmured. "And how did you two manage to get your hands on this thing?"
"It was the snitch they used in the Quidditch match," Draco yelled, having gained the upperhand. He pressed his palm over Harry's mouth, to prevent the boy from saying anything more than might later incriminate him. "Someone swapped the snitches and I caught it. Since then everyone's been behaving strangely towards me."
"There is a spell I know of," said Snape slowly. "It can be cast on any object and it causes the person who possesses it to as you said reflect their emotions onto others. But it's very powerful magic. I don't know many wizards who'd be able to manage it." Snape let go of the snitch it fluttered against his cheek, before landing on his shoulder.
"They used to use it in you-know-who's day," he continued, "Which gives you some idea of how long it's been since I've encountered one of these things. As I recall, anyone who was suspected as a traitor amongst the Death-Eaters would be given one such charmed object. Usually it was an amulet, or an ankle chain. Then they'd be thrown into the middle of a room filled with Death-Eaters who'd go mad, sensing the hatred and attack the poor person with anything they could lay their hands on."
He tossed the ball through the air, toward Draco who lifted his hand and caught it instinctively.
"You're very lucky to be alive, Malfoy," said Snape. "But I'm afraid I'm not strong enough to diffuse such an item you'll have to go to Dumbledore."
"He'll kill me," Draco gasped.
"Give it to Harry, then," Snape suggested.
"No! Sir! You don't want to know how sick and twisted his mind is," Draco spluttered. "I'd kill him myself if I Harry!" Using the snitch, Draco hit Harry over the head, and then struggled away from the hopeful embrace of Harry's arms. "Get off me, you freak."
Harry pouted, and pulled himself to his feet. Snape observed, amused.
"Malfoy," he said. "I never knew you were that way inclined."
"It's a passing phase, sir, I assure you," Draco spat. "And passing quicker every bloody second."
Snape tilted his head towards Harry, who was now holding onto a rack of test tubes, and flushing helplessly.
"That doesn't seem to be what Potter thinks."
"Potter is an oversexed, horny fool," Draco grunted.
"Potter is in a very very awkward place, right now," said Harry, in a strangled voice.
Snape relented, and steepled his fingers on the top of his desk. "You'd better go, Malfoy," he said. "Loitering about the school would be a sure recipe for disaster. In the meantime, I'll see what I can do for you and you'll have to try and conjure up some nicer sentiments about your professors." He paused. "I can't do any better than that, I'm afraid. But I do suggest that you speak to your father about this, too."
"My father?" Draco asked, incredulously.
"Yes," said Snape. "As I remember it, your father was the man who made the amulets for the Death-Eaters. It was a long time ago, as I said but I'm sure if you asked Lucius he'd be able to recall Malfoy? Potter?"
For the two boys had sprinted from the room, leaving in their wake only a set of broken test tubes, the contents leaking their potent unguents into the chill air of the laboratory.
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