Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.

Rating: PG for now; probably NC17 eventually, if Snape and Harry have their way.

Notes: This is *extremely* AU. It's set in Harry and Company's seventh year, and it assumes that Voldemort has been defeated entirely at this point. An "Oh, brilliant, it only took half a year to kill him for good, so we've got the rest of the year off from Battling Utter Evil" sort of thing. Sirius has been exonerated, and he's the DADA teacher for the year.

Text appearing in single quotes ' ' within double quotes " " indicates dialogue quoted directly from the orignal play. Lines have been cut and/or edited for clarity or brevity in places, but otherwise, all dialogue is verbatim.

Too Wise To Woo Peaceably

Chapter Two

By JayKay


"Just what the bloody hell do you intend to do about this?" Harry demanded, brandishing his copy of the script under Hermione's nose.

The first read-through of the play had gone smoothly enough; it was a relatively short play, and although some of the students stumbled over the language in places, everyone had seemed to follow the action well enough to understand their parts. Harry had been surprised and impressed by the readings by the faculty members, including Snape, he admitted grudgingly. The Elizabethan English had come more easily to Dumbledore and Snape -- even Sirius had read a few lines with a bit of awkwardness -- and Snape especially seemed to do well with it.

The unusual words and sentence structure rolled off Snape's tongue like poetry, and, when he glanced around the table, Harry had noticed others in the cast seemed to be almost mesmerized by the pitch and cadence of Snape's mellifluous voice. Even Hermione had seemed enthralled during his delivery of one of Benedick's lengthier monologues.

Well, Harry had to admit, if there was anything one could call remotely nice about Snape, it was his voice, and the man did know how to use it effectively.

But that hadn't stopped Harry from interrupting the read-through when they reached the last scene, and he discovered his suspicions had indeed been correct. Harry had stood up so quickly, he almost knocked his chair over, and both Sirius and Ron had looked up at him in alarm.

Harry's hands had closed into fists, and he had felt his entire body going cold.

"Madam Director, I want a word."

"All right."

Hermione had responded with cool detachment, following him to one of the small dressing rooms backstage, where they could speak privately. He had whirled to face her, waving the script and demanding to know what she intended to do about it, as if she could somehow change what Shakespeare had written.

"What do I intend to do about what, exactly?" she asked, matching Harry scowl for scowl.


He pushed the script under her nose, pointing at the unaccceptable line: "Benedick: 'Peace! I will stop your mouth. [He kisses her]'."

"Snape is going to kiss me!" Harry fumed. "You said there wasn't going to be anything like that!"

"I said you weren't going to have to be swoony," she pointed out. "I didn't say anything about being able to avoid romance entirely."

"It'll just have to be cut out, that's all," he replied curtly, but before Hermione could utter a single word of protest, a new voice entered the conversation.

"What's the matter, Potter? Afraid?"

Harry looked toward to door, where Snape loomed, bat-like, on the threshold. His tone dripped with contempt, and his expression was more derisive than usual, if that was possible.

"You faced down Voldemort, yet one little snog for the sake of art makes you turn tail and run in fear? So much for your overly-vaunted courage," he sneered.

"It's not fear," Harry shot back, anger welling within him. "It's disgust."

But instead of being insulted, Snape only grew impatient. "Oh, for God's sake, stop being so missish, Potter. Theater is all about illusion. We can practice making it appear to the audience that we kiss, when in truth, your lips will never even come close to being sullied by mine."

Harry set his jaw, silently damning the man for being so... so... so reasonable about it! Since when was Snape ever reasonable about anything?

"What about you, then?" he demanded. "Surely you're not going to stand there and tell me the idea of having to kiss me makes you any more happy than it does me. You hate me -- you've always hated me -- everyone knows it, so why are you pretending being cast together doesn't bother you?"

He expected a sarcastic response, something Snapishly scathing, but instead, Snape fixed him with a level look as he answered the question.

"I've done a great deal of acting in my life, Potter, both onstage and off, and I happen to enjoy it. I also take it quite seriously, even in an amateur production, such as this. If I find myself in a distasteful position, such as being saddled with an acting partner who is a teenage prima donna prone to snit fits, I'll make the best of it for the sake of the play." He paused, smirking. "As they say, the show must go on."

"Damn you."

Snape scoffed. "Voldemort himself didn't manage to damn me, and neither will your empty bluster. Make up your mind, Potter. Are you in or out?"

It was a challenge. Snape was goading him, deliberately questioning his courage, and if he backed out of the play now, doubtless the man would take great delight in spreading the news of his cowardice. He could almost hear the gleeful gloating, and he knew he would spend the rest of the year being constantly reminded by Snape and many of the Slytherins that he'd fled in terror of nothing more than one stage kiss.

It was just a kiss, and Snape said it wouldn't even have to be real. They would just make it look real, that's all. So what did he really have to be afraid of? Why did the thought of this stage romance bother him so much? It didn't make any sense, and he was disgusted with himself for over-reacting in a way that made him appear the fool in Snape's eyes and gave Snape more ammunition to use against him.

"In." The word was ground out through gritted teeth, and he glared balefully at Snape even as he spoke.

Snape gave a little nod of acknowledgment, and Harry felt his stomach lurch. He had the inexplicable feeling that an invisible gauntlet had just been thrown down, but he was at a loss to know which of them had tossed it, or why. He only knew, on an instinctive level, that the reasons ran much deeper than Harry merely wanting to save face in front of the school, no matter his dislike of the play's end.

"Fine," Snape replied shortly. "Then I suggest you gather what little composure you possess and return to the stage. You've held up the read-through long enough."

With that, he swept away, his black robes billowing behind him -- and considering what he'd just said, Harry wondered if he was aware of the effect that move had. Probably, Harry growled silently. He probably liked making intimidating dramatic exits, the arrogant bastard.

"Harry?" Hermione's soft question brought him out of his reverie, and he blinked at her.


"Ready to go back?"

"No," he sighed. "But I don't have much of a choice at this point."




Two weeks later, when they had read through the play three times -- once to get a feel for it, once to discuss it practically line by line in terms of character interpretation and motivation, and once to apply those interpretations and motivations to the words -- and had blocked the first act, Harry was finally starting to relax and enjoy himself. Watching Ron stutter through declarations of love to Colin, who managed to blush every time, was worth the experience. Not to mention, he was quite fond of the first scene, since he got to insult Benedick mercilessly.

"I pray you," Harry smiled sweetly at Martin, a fourth year Ravenclaw who had been cast as the generic Messenger of the play, "how many hath Benedick killed in these wars? For I promised to eat all of his killing',"

Even as he spoke the lines, he thought once more that it had to be more than mere ironic chance that Dumbledore had suggested performing a play which began with its heros returning triumphantly from a war, and he wondered if the Headmaster intended it as some sort of morale-building celebration for all of the survivors at Hogwarts.

It was also ironic that he was speaking these words about Snape's character, when there was a time he would have said something similar about Snape himself. He had remained sceptical of Snape's loyalty for a long time, and it had taken hard, visual evidence to convince him that the former Death Eater really was on their side and didn't plan on defecting back to Voldemort. He shivered, remembering the moment when, with a desperate cry, Peter Pettigrew had launched himself at Harry; his wand had been taken away by the group of wizards -- Remus Lupin, Snape, Sirius and Harry -- who had captured him, but he had a dagger concealed in his robes, which he pulled out as he made his final attempt to murder his master's enemy.

A voice behind Harry had roared, "CRUCIO!" and Pettigrew had dropped, writhing and screaming in agony. Harry had whirled around, certain that either Remus or Sirius had saved him, but his words of thanks died on his lips when he saw Snape pointing his wand at Pettigrew, saw the grim intensity on Snape's face as he made Voldemort's servant suffer.

He could have been reported for that, and certainly, of all of them, Sirius had enough motivation to send him to Azkaban for using an Unforgivable Curse. But once Pettigrew was in custody and the incident was over, no mention of Snape's use of the Curse during the capture was ever made to anyone, not even each other. After that, Harry didn't like Snape any more than he had before, but he no longer doubted whose side the man was on.

Dumbledore laughed and pinched Harry's chin, his expression one of paternal indulgence. "'Faith, niece, you tax Benedick too much, but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not'." His eyes were twinkling with genuine mirth, and Harry could easily guess he was thinking of all the quarrels between Harry and Snape he had had to referee or break off over the years.

"'He hath done good service, lady, in these wars'," Martin replied, dividing a bewildered look between Harry and Dumbledore. "'And a good soldier, too, lady'."

"'Oh, a good soldier to a lady, but what is he to a lord'?" Harry asked teasingly, grinning at the confused messenger.

Martin made himself look even more bewildered. "'A lord to a lord','" he explained, as if to a small child. "'A man to a man, stuffed with all honorable virtues'."

Harry laughed outright. "'It is so indeed'!" he exclaimed with gleeful mischief in his voice. "'He is no less than a stuffed man'!"

Dumbledore shook his head and rested his hand on Martin's shoulder, giving the poor messenger a sympathetic look. "'You must not, sir, mistake my niece. There is a kind of merry war betwixt Benedick and her. They never meet but there's a skirmish of wit between them'."

"Alas'!" Harry pressed the back of his hand to his forehead and struck a mock-dramatic pose. "'He gets nothing by that. In our last conflict, four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one'."

A smattering of laughter greeted this delivery, and Harry noticed a few students cutting surreptitious looks at Snape, who was sitting in the first row, appearing to be engrossed in studying the script and ignoring everyone else.

"'Who is his companion now? He hath every month a new sworn brother'," Harry continued, and Martin grinned at him.

"'I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books'."

More laughter, louder this time, and Snape spared them all an irritated scowl before returning to his study of the script.

"'No'," Harry agreed firmly. "'If he were, I would burn my study. But I pray you, who is his companion'?"

"'He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio'," came the reply, and Harry darted over to Colin, flinging one arm around the boy's thin shoulders and giving him a look of exaggerated horror.

"'O Lord! He will hang upon him like a disease! God help the noble Claudio'!" he exclaimed, and Colin affected an air of bashful modesty at the mere mention of Claudio's name. "'If he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pounds ere he be cured'."

Martin laughed and held up his hands. "'I will hold friends with you, lady'."

Harry smiled and winked. "'Do, good friend'."

Tutting and shaking his head, Dumbledore began to steer Martin away. "'You will never run mad, niece'."

"'No, not til a hot January'."

Suddenly, Martin pointed off-stage, growing excited. "Don Pedro approaches!"

Sauntering from the wings, Sirius approached Dumbledore with his arms held open, and he was smiling broadly. "'Good Leonato, are you come to meet your trouble? The fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it'."

As Dumbledore moved to embrace Sirius, Harry suppressed a smile at the thought of how many times Dumbledore himself had gone to meet trouble in the form of all the strays he collected: Hagrid, Remus, Snape, and now Sirius, and even Harry himself. The old wizard seemed to have a habit of taking in those who had nowhere else to go or to whom no one else would give a second chance.

He cupped Sirius' cheek in his palm, smiling fondly at the younger man. "'Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of Your Grace'," he replied, with the same benevolence with which he greeted all his wayward charges when they returned to his fold, as they usually did.

"You embrace your charge too willingly'," Sirius replied, but he leaned into Dumbledore's touch as he said it. "'I think this is your daughter'?" He stepped back from Dumbledore, and gestured to Colin, who ducked his head and clasped his hands behind his back, as if in maidenly modesty.

"'Her mother hath many times told me so'," Dumbledore said, beckoning for Colin to stand beside him.

"'Were you in doubt, sir, that you asked her'?" Snape's question was an insinuating, snide drawl as he pushed himself out of his front row seat and strolled at his leisure onto the stage, and Dumbledore turned to him with a merry, teasing look.

"'No, Benedick, for then you were a child,'" he said, and there were a couple of quiet snorts from the on-lookers.

"'Be happy, lady," Sirius addressed Colin, who peeked up at him through his lashes. "'For you are like your honorable father'."

"If Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is'," Snape added, but Sirius had already linked Colin's arm through his and was, along with Dumbledore, heading to the side of the stage as if in private conversation.

That was Harry's cue, and he strolled forward, giving Snape a scornful look. "'I wonder that you will be talking, Benedick. Nobody marks you'."

Snape turned to him with a look of mock-surprise. "What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?"

Harry drew himself up and braced his hands on his hips as he squared off with Snape. "'Is it possible disdain should die while she had such meet food to feed it as Benedick'?" It wasn't at all difficult to inject a believable amount of scorn into his voice, considering he felt exactly that way about Snape himself. "'Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence'."

"'Then is courtesy a turncoat'." Snape shrugged and gave an elegant dismissive gesture. "'But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted'." He moved closer to Harry, and his mouth was smiling, but his eyes were narrowed as he ran one long finger down Harry's cheek, leaving it to rest on his chin. "'And I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none'." He pushed Harry's chin with his forefinger, knocking his face away.

"'A dear happiness to women'!" Harry shot back, his green eyes shooting sparks as they locked and held with Snape's own dark eyes. "'They would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood I am of your humor for that. I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me'."

Snape gave a mocking bow. "'God keep your ladyship still in that mind! So some gentleman or other shall escape a scratched face'."

"'Scratching could not make it worse, if 'twere such a face as yours'," he replied coldly.

As he drew back, Snape's mouth thinned into a dangerous line. "'Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher'."

"'A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours'."

"I wish my horse had the speed of your tongue'," Snape spat, then turned away, giving Harry his back. "'But keep your way. I have done'."

With that, he walked away to join Dumbledore and Sirius, leaving Harry to glare at his retreat.

"'You always end with a jade's trick'," he muttered. "'I know you of old'."

Suddenly, he broke character, incensed by the implications of the scene they had just played out. "Oh, now that's unfair!" he cried. "Trust Shakespeare to write it so a bloody stupid man gets the last word and just walks off. That's sexist, that's what!"

He glanced around to see if anyone else agreed with his critical commentary, only to find everyone staring at him as if he'd grown a second head. He stared back blankly.


Hermione shook her head and called an end to rehearsal for the night.




Propping his feet on the seat in front him, Harry slouched comfortably in one of the plush seats in the middle of the fourth row. For once, he wasn't in the scene being rehearsed, and he was alone. Hermione was hovering onstage, since the scene involved both Snape and Sirius, which was a potentially explosive combination. Ron was also in the scene, which left Harry able to sit back and watch for a change, which he did, wishing he had a bag of popcorn.

"'Thou wast ever an obstinate heretic in the face of beauty'," Sirius was saying, referring to Benedick's refusal to admit that Hero was a lovely young girl and an excellent match for Claudio.

"'That a woman conceived me, I thank her,'" Snape drawled. "'That she brought me up, I likewise give her most humble thanks. But that I will hang my... bugle in an invisible baldrick, all women shall pardon me'."

Sirius gave a derisive snort. "'I shall see thee, ere I die, look pale with love'."

Snape's response was a scornful sneer. "'With anger, with sickness, or with hunger, my lord, but not with love'."

Harry could easily believe that of Snape himself, unlike Sirius, who had had a string of girlfriends prior to his imprisonment. Now that his name had been cleared and he no longer looked like an emaciated vagabond, Sirius drew admiring looks, not only from among the giggling female student populace, but whenever he walked the streets of Hogsmeade as well. Madam Rosmerta never failed to flirt with him, and she wasn't the only one, only the one most obvious about it.

But Harry had never heard so much as a stray rumor about Snape's personal life, and he assumed the Potions Master didn't have one. He certainly couldn't imagine anyone finding Snape attractive, much less flirting with him, and even if they did, he couldn't imagine Snape flirting back. He was too stuffy, too serious, too... Snapish for anything as mundane as that.

Idly, he wondered what Snape would be like if he ever were to fall in love. Somehow, he just couldn't see the man sending flowers or candy, or writing love poetry. Snape's idea of a romantic evening probably involved brewing potions together, and as for intimacy...

Harry shook his head, not wanting to pursue that line of thought any further; he was amazed at himself for coming so close to putting Snape and sex in the same thought.

Turning his attention back to the play, he watched as Sirius and Ron teamed up to pick on Snape, laughing at his assertions that he would never, ever fall in love. Benedick was, of course, dead wrong about that, as the end of the play attested, but Snape himself... Well, one had to posseimself... Well, one had to possed contempt in order to fall in love, and Harry rather thought all those had been burnt out of Snape long ago.

Movement along the aisle caught his eye, and he glanced over to see Colin approaching. The younger boy paused on the end of the row and darted a hesitant, questioning look at Harry, who waved for him to have a seat.

"Hullo." Colin smiled as he settled in next to Harry. "Enjoying it?" he asked, gesturing toward the stage.

"Yeah." Harry nodded. "This is the closest I'll get to actually seeing it myself, so I thought I'd take the chance while I had it."

"Yeah..." Colin agreed softly, watching as Hermione gave Ron some instructions about his line delivery, then had them start the scene over. "They're good."

"I'm surprised," Harry admitted. "I didn't think they had it in them... especially Snape."

"I expect he's had a lot of practice."

Harry glanced at him, startled at the unexpected insight; he'd never thought about Colin as being observant or perceptive, only as an overly-enthusiastic hanger-on, but that casual remark showed he had been paying more attention than Harry had given him credit for.

"Yeah, all things considered, I guess he has," he agreed, albeit grudgingly.

"You're good, too, Harry." Colin turned to him. "But that doesn't really surprise me. I've always thought you could do anything."

"Colin..." He fought the urge to squirm, but he could do nothing to stop the heat from rising in his face.

"I know, I shouldn't embarrass you by saying things like that, but it's true. You seem to be enjoying yourself, and that's coming through."

"It's fun," he replied, grinning. "I didn't think it would be at first, especially after I found out about Snape's involvement. I've never done anything like this before, but it's fun pretending to be someone else and live their life for a while, especially when you know everything's going to work out all right in the end."

"Especially for us, eh?" Colin nudged him and winked, and Harry laughed.

"Yeah, we get our men."

"And maybe your life will imitate art, eh?"

"What?" He stared at Colin, unable to work out the meaning of that cryptic remark.

Colin stared back for a moment, then shook his head. "In for a penny, in for a pound. Look, Harry, it's no secret I've had you up on a pedastal for years, but the truth is... it was a little more than just hero worship, but I didn't think you were... Well, that way." His expression turned regretful. "And now when I see I could have had a chance after all, it's too late. You care for someone else."

"What?" Harry sat up straight, staring at him. "Look, Colin, I'm not going to deny that I tend to swing both ways, but there's no one... I mean, if you think Ron and I are... Well, we're not!"

Colin tilted his head to one side, regarding him with a smile that managed to be both knowing and a little sad. "No, I didn't mean you and Ron."

"Then who...?"

He patted Harry's arm, then rose to his feet. "Nevermind. You'll figure it out. I hope you do, anyway. I like you, Harry. I've always liked and admired you, and I'd like very much to know you're happy."

His mind whirling in confusion, Harry was able to do nothing at first except watch Colin walk away, and then his brain switched back on, and he regained his voice.


Colin turned and looked another question at him.

"I..." Harry faltered, not sure what he really wanted to say. In the end, he followed the same pattern he usually did, and spoke straight from his heart. "Thanks. I want the same thing for you, Colin. You deserve it."

The only answer he got was a huge, bright, beaming smile, but that was more than enough.




The next night, Harry found himself in the position of spectator again, and, after so many nights of intense practice since rehearsals had begun, he was grateful for the break. Still, he felt like he had a good, solid handle on his first big scene. Playing off of Snape in an antagonistic way was easy, and Hermione was turning out to be adept at directing her cast members, creating an easy flow to the blocking, and helping the less experienced actors understand their lines so they could deliver them more believably.

But Harry didn't have to be onstage again until they were finished with Act One, and now he lounged on a prop bench with Ron, watching Draco Malfoy chew the scenery in his first major scene.

"'I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace'," Draco snarled to Kurt, a Slytherin playing Malfoy's sidekick Conrade, referring to his character's brother, Don Pedro.

It was fitting, Harry thought, that Don John had two thugs following him around, much like Crabbe and Goyle had once followed Malfoy. But they were dead now. When they realized Malfoy had refuted Voldemort, they had turned on him, and he had killed them. It had been self-defense, and no one could question that, not even Harry.

He'd been there, after all.

Crabbe and Goyle had taken it upon themselves to try to kill Harry in order to prove their loyalty and worth to Voldemort, thinking that his dead body would be their ticket into the inner circle. They had assumed Malfoy would help them. They had learned differently.

Afterward, Malfoy had gazed down at the corpses of the only two people who could have been called his friends, his expression utterly blank, and then he had drawn himself up.

"I'll inform the Headmaster there's refuse to be cleaned up," he said, his voice like brittle ice.

Harry had tried to thank him, but Malfoy had cut him off.

"I didn't do this for you, Potter. I did it for myself."

And with that, he had swept away. Harry had been summoned to Dumbledore's office to confirm Malfoy's version of what had happened, of course, but Malfoy was already gone when he got there, and they had never spoken of it since.

Adam, the Hufflepuff who was playing Malfoy's other sidekick Borachio, entered from the wings and gleefully informed Malfoy that Claudio intended to marry Hero as soon as possible, and the group of conspirators began plotting to cause problems for the happy couple. All three of them seemed to be enjoying playing scheming villains, and Harry almost wished he'd been cast as one of them. It might have been fun to play against type, for once.

A bustle of movement from backstage got his attention, and he glanced over just in time to see Professor McGonagall beckoning to him. He nudged Ron and pointed to show where he was going, and Ron nodded and waved, probably not wanting to break Hermione's rule about not talking while others were acting again. Harry imagined having had little green tentacles sprout out of his face once had been quite enough.

Once he was backstage, Professor McGonagall led Harry aside, far enough away from the stage that they wouldn't interrupt.

"It's time to take your measurements for your costume," she told him. "Come along."

The costume department, which consisted of Parvati, a Hufflepuff girl named Anne, and a Ravenclaw named Patricia, had taken over the dressing rooms. As he walked by, Harry caught a glimpse of a dressmaker's dummy and bolts of fabric in one, but it was otherwise empty.

Anne stood outside the door of the next one, as if waiting. As he walked by, Harry spotted someone inside, pulling a white shirt over his head, and he caught a glimpse of a firm, flat stomach that sported an intriguing line of dark hair.

Harry froze in mid-step, a curl of desire forming low in his belly at the sight, and he felt his mouth go dry as images of himself tracing that teasing, tempting line filled his mind.

And then the shirt fell into place, not only hiding the delicious sight, but also revealing to whom it belonged.

Oh, God.

Oh, no.


Harry turned away quickly, almost running to catch up with Professor McGonagall, his mind going fuzzy with static as he fought to process the shattering concept that he'd just had lustful thoughts about Snape.

Damn the man! Why couldn't he have been flabby and paunchy?

It was no big deal, Harry insisted to himself. He hadn't known it was Snape, after all. It could have been anyone. That it turned out to be Snape was unfortunate, but there was no way he could have known, so really, he didn't find Snape -- or his stomach -- attractive. It was a mistake, that's all, and now that he *did* know who it was, well, he would just forget about it.

Yes. That's what he would do. He would forget all about the hint of smooth, pale skin at Snape's waist that looked like it was just waiting to be marked with a possessive love bite. He'd forget about the way that thin line of hair seemed to lead into the waistband of his trousers. He'd forget about wanting to follow it down, and...


He ground the heels of his palms against his eyes, trying to force the images out of his mind. Drawing in several deep breaths, he steadied himself, then walked into the last dressing room in the row, where Parvati was waiting for him, Professor McGonagall having excused herself to meet with the lighting crew.

He stood obediently in the middle of the room while Parvati circled him, hhmming and tutting under her breath.

"These will have to go," she said at last, lightly tapping the side of his glasses. "They're anachronistic, and they'll reflect the spotlights something awful. Can you see without them?"

"Ehm... not very well," he replied.

"Have you thought about contacts?"

Harry turned to follow the sound of Hermione's voice and saw her standing in the doorway.

"We're on a break, so I came to watch," she said with a mischievous smile.

"You just wanted to see if I'll squirm over being put in a dress," he countered mildly.

"Will you?"

"Of course not. It's just a costume, and as long as I don't look like a hag, I'll be all right with it."

"I think you'll make a very pretty girl," Hermione said, and Parvati nodded, much to his discomfiture. "You've got the bone structure for it. But she's right, the glasses will have to go, at least for the performance."

"Uncle Vernon would never spare the money for contacts," he said, able to speak of his Muggle relatives without bitterness for once. He was, after all, within months of being free from them forever, and after all he'd been through, their petty attitudes and casual cruelties didn't seem quite so important, in the grand scheme of things.

"Well, you've got money, haven't you?"

"Wizard money, yes. It won't do me any good in the Muggle world."

"Let me handle that," Hermione replied with a decisive nod. "I'll get an appointment for you, shall I?"

"You don't have to--"

"I want to," she interrupted gently. "Please, Harry, let me do this for you. Just put yourself in my hands for a time, and I'll arrange everything, all right?"

They gazed at one another for a long moment, and at last, Harry nodded mutely. She was his true friend and steadfast companion, and they had relied on each other more times than he could count during the last seven years. There was no concept of debt between them, only caring, and in the end, he knew he had no qualms about letting her manage his life in this small way.

"Yeah, all right," he said aloud.

"Brilliant," was her quiet response, and Harry relaxed, feeling as if they were about to undertake one last adventure together... and this time, there wouldn't be Possible Agonizing and Nasty Death waiting for them at the end of it all.

Meanwhile, he would not think about Snape's stomach.

Not at all.

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