Potter's interruption was most unwelcome, but probably for the best. Pendragon was still coherent enough to flash him a welcoming smile, which, mercifully, stunned him into silence. When she said, "Hi, Harry," his eyes filled immediately with tears, but the potion's effects had waned too much for her to withstain such a show of emotion. She collapsed back into herself with an almost physical snap. Her smile transformed into a scowl and her eyes narrowed with confusion and distrust.
Snape watched her regression with clinical detachment, having expected it at any minute. When he glanced back up at Potter, however, he felt an uncomfortable twinge in his stomach. Potter looked so bloody wounded, having caught a glimpse of the Pendragon he once knew, only to vanish before his very eyes. That his joy was so fully turned to grief made Snape wince; he wondered if this was compassion. And if so, it certainly isn't as warm and fuzzy as it is reputed to be.
Potter glanced back and forth between Pendragon and Snape, trying to make sense of what just happened. Snape recognized the futility of this endeavor, but still felt rankled by the tone of Potter's question, so he merely folded his arms and waited. If you would presume the worst of me, Potter, then I am only too happy to oblige. It soon became obvious, however, that Potter's distress was agitating Pendragon, and it was pointless to make her suffer. "Sit now, Pendragon, and play your piano," Snape ordered in a firm but emotionless voice, then, rolling his eyes disdainfully, he motioned to Potter to follow him out of the room.
They had barely cleared the doorway when Potter grabbed his shoulder and yanked him around. "What happened in there? She knew me!"
"Calm yourself, Potter," Snape said coldly, before resuming his descent to the Charms classroom. "I gave her the first potion today. It had a good result but wore off fairly quickly--a process you accelerated by introducing tension. Had you exercised a modicum of discretion, you might have seen more than a few seconds of her improved state." He had reached the landing at that point and glanced back at Potter; the younger wizard had stopped in the middle of the staircase, his face a tormented grimace.
Serves you right, you faithless prat.
"Your office, Potter?" Snape asked drily when they both reached the classroom. He really should have forced Potter to extend an olive branch, but Snape was eager to get this inevitable discussion over with and return to his laboratory. Potter nodded and led the way to the second floor.
Snape coughed in order to hide his surprised chuckle at his first sight of Potter's territory. It looked more like the office of a Quidditch coach than a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Five broomsticks hung on one wall, each a top-notch make and model, and there were two additional empty hooks within the arrangement that undoubtedly held regular occupants as well. A grindylow tank that had once belonged to Remus Lupin stood in the corner, its occupant sullenly gnawing on a crawfish. There was also a small hutch that Snape recognized from the old Order Headquarters at Grimmauld Place; it had been in the drawing room on the mantel. The original collection of Dark objects remained within it, although the top shelf had been cleared off to make room for a small gold cup, a damaged book, a larger red book with beautiful runes on the cover, a silver locket, the signet ring of Salazar Slytherin, and a single long braid of black hair. Snape caught his breath as a sharp pain stabbed through his stomach; he had never seen all of the Horcruxes together before, and the signet ring alone was enough to give him nightmares.
Potter sat in an armchair before the fire and stared at him, but Snape's generosity had run out. He settled into the other chair, interlocking his fingers over his belly as though they had just come from a heavy meal. A raised brow was his only concession.
"Don't give me that look," said Potter coolly. "You know damn well that she'd normally be helpless and vulnerable in that type of situation. I didn't know you'd given her a treatment; what was I supposed to think when I heard your proposition?"
"Do I detect a certain resentment that I would presume to treat her without notifying you?"
Potter's eyes grew even colder. "We'll take that up later in the discussion. I'm not going to argue this point, Snape. What 'price' were you going to ask of her?"
At times, Potter was so easy to aggravate that there was practically no enjoyment in it. "I told you, Potter, that is a matter between Pendragon and myself."
"The hell it is! Not if you wait until the very end to begin negotiations--when she's becoming addled and confused again. For that matter, I don't know that she was capable of making any decisions before that point. Make no mistake, Professor," he added, leaning forward and speaking very softly, "we are all very grateful that you're trying to help our Pen, but gratitude has its limits."
Snape stared at him for some time, trying not to smirk, before replying. "This is an interesting insight into your character, Potter. It's quite obvious that you have assumed my price would be unreasonable. What did you imagine I would demand of 'your' Pen? Don't be shy, Potter; I'm most curious about your perceptions of my dark desires. An exhorbitant number of Galleons? Her firstborn child, that I might drink its blood? Some perverse act of sexual debauchery?"
Potter blanched at his final suggestion. "I'm no gambler," Snape continued, his voice silken but poisonous, "but I'd wager you envisioned the latter, didn't you? It's been over fifty years, after all. What fantasies do you suppose one can dream up in that length of time, sequestered in the nurturing confines of Azkaban? Particularly a Legilimens surrounded by every sort of twisted deviant imaginable. Have you pictured her being forced into some unspeakable act, stoic and miserable as she waits for me to complete it and let her go?" Snape smiled viciously and lowered his voice even further. "Or worse, perhaps, begging me to continue?"
Potter's wand was at his throat in the blink of an eye, but Snape didn't flinch. This was even more amusing than toying with Charlie Weasley (not to mention much more warm and comfortable).
"I swear by the blood of Merlin, Snape, if you even--"
"Watch your mouth, Potter!" he hissed. "I would hate to lose interest in this project entirely!"
Potter inhaled deeply and slowly settled back in his chair, calming his features and setting his wand casually on the tea table beside him. "I've let you rattle my chains too much, Professor Snape. Strange, isn't it, how certain people can erase fifty years of history and send you spiraling back into adolescence? But not forever, Professor. Not forever. I concede defeat in that round. Now we move on."
For the first time since Lucius Malfoy's death, Snape smiled with genuine camaraderie. "What do you know," he said. "I am relieved to see that Slytherin House has been left in capable hands."
He sat up and crossed his legs, then continued in a brisk tone. "I had no idea whether the dragon matter would produce a relevant effect. There seemed no point in making a to-do about the first test; in fact, a group of anxious onlookers might have created enough stress to mask any slight improvements. I underestimated the effectiveness of this first brew, which was, admittedly, a pleasant surprise, and I appreciate your... disappointment at being excluded from her first coherent period in years. Had I thought for a moment, Potter, that the potion would restore so much of her sanity, I would have invited you to witness it, perhaps under the cover of your Invisibility cloak."
"How did you know I--"
Snape waved brusquely. "Albus told me, the day he gave it to you. He suspected you would eventually use it to spy on me, though the stolen Boomslang skin came as a surprise to all of us." He scowled at the younger wizard as a warning against further interruption. "There were a few side effects I did not anticipate. I will need to make many adjustments, to titrate it to her unique constitution. I also hope to prolong the effects, though I doubt I can make them permanent. She may end up dependent on very expensive potions, but at least her uncle can ease the burden of that addiction."
"Expense will not be an issue," said Potter flatly.
"An interesting statement, considering the way this entire discussion was initiated. Are you offering to compensate me yourself, Potter? Perhaps I will have to rethink my asking price." Snape fingered the collar of his robe in a deliberately sensual way, and the look on Potter's face was worth ten years' salary. He knew he was being spiteful, but such opportunities are so rare, it would be a crime not to exploit them.
"Get on your knees, Mr. Potter." Neither man moved, save for Snape narrowing his eyes and smirking. "What, now--have you changed your mind again? Or shall we revert to the original plan, whereby Pendragon compensates me herself for services rendered?" Potter said nothing, his expression hardening into a furious mask as his knuckles turned white on the arms of his chair. "I told you to kneel!" Snape hissed, planting both feet firmly on the floor and shifting himself to the front of the seat.
Potter slowly leaned forward in his chair as though to rise, then with a look of pure loathing, slid to his knees before Snape's chair.
"You'd do anything for her, wouldn't you, Potter?" he asked with an unconcealed smirk, placing his hand under the younger man's chin and raising it, forcing their eyes to meet. "She's not just your godchild anymore, is she? You fell in love with her, and then she was taken from you, by Peter Pettigrew of all people. He killed your parents, locked away your godfather, and now he's devastated the woman who restored your will to live. How ironic, that such a pathetic little specimin of humanity could exert so much power over one of the strongest wizards alive. But do you know what is even more ironic, Potter?" he asked, bringing his face so close to the other man's that they nearly touched. To his credit, Potter didn't flinch, not even to bat an eyelash.
"That despite all this time, and all that you have learned, your suspicion... and your hatred, remain focused upon me."
Snape stared into Potter's broken eye for a final moment, then rose and returned to the dungeon without another word.