Autumn 1983; post-Godric’s Hollow, pre-Philosopher’s Stone
If you wish to read the story including sexually explicit material, welcome to the original version.
“The Gryphon Centre of Reproductive Health”, read the small brass sign on the green-painted door of the large, elegant old villa. The black-clad young man approached it on a tiled path across a meticulously groomed lawn.
The lion’s head in the middle of the door enounced clearly, in spite of the brass knocker between its jaws: “Good afternoon, Sir. Whom did you wish to see?”
“I have an appointment with Mistress Achrya.”
After a brief moment, the lion’s head said: “Yes, Sir. Please come in.”
The door opened on a small entrance hall containing a Regency desk serving as a reception counter, an Oriental rug, a combined coat hanger and umbrella stand in brass, and little else: visitors were obviously not kept waiting, at least not in each other’s sight.
The reception desk was empty.
The man walked without hesitation to the stairs on the opposite side of the hall, and up two flights. He knocked on a door lettered “Sir Alexander Hughes, M.H.”
“Come in, Severus,” said a woman’s voice, and the door opened.
He walked through an elegantly furnished office through another door, into a spacious, meticulously neat Healer’s surgery.
The stocky short-haired woman in pale blue Mediwitch robes welcomed him with a casual nod that he returned.
“You look fit. So, how’s our experiment going?”
“You ought to know, Catrin – you’ve taken the potion yourself.”
“No adverse effects so far. And you, no dizziness, nausea, headache?”
“Not since yesterday noon.”
“Sounds good.” She opened another door with a mock curtsey. “Please proceed into the lab and do your business.”
He replied with a somewhat tentative grin: “And you?”
“Well, I won’t keep you company,” she snorted in mock indignation. “My samples are ready,” she added in earnest. “I’ll be with you in a moment, we’ll start the analyses now and have the results ready after dinner.”
The analysis spells that they had activated around the blood and urine samples were stabilized and contained by a glass cover, and there was nothing to do but wait.
“Sir Alex must be happy with his intern, to give you free run of his private lab after working hours,” remarked the black-haired young man.
“In fact, yes, he may take me on as his apprentice for my specialisation.”
“Catrin, you’re joking. Would you become an andrologist?!”
“Severus, I couldn’t be more serious. Wizards’ reproductive health is fascinating. There’s so much still to learn about the interaction of hormonal activity and magical powers. And it relates directly to the mind-body problem.”
“Well, yes, there’s the research. But the clinical practice? Would you really want to poke people’s cocks and balls for a living?”
The vulgarity from his lips sounded innocently naughty as he purposefully imitated her usual relaxed attitude. Catrin decided to tease a little further.
“Not to mention sticking fingers up their arses,” she said, with barely contained mirth at his shocked and baffled face.
“The regular procedure for examining the prostate. – You do remember some anatomy, I presume?” she said in her best ‘exacting professor’ voice.
“I remember that much, thank you.”
“I’ve been doing it for eight months now, including the full-time summer internship, so any disgust on my part would have manifested itself by now.”
“I was just wondering... You obviously don’t mind, but how about the patients?”
“Considering how many male gynaecologists there are, why should the other way around be a problem?” she inquired, seeing him blush. “Anyway, you’d be surprised. People know I’m gay, so men tend to consider me safe.”
“I’m not another male, so there’s no feeling of competition, and I’m not a potential sex partner, so they have no appearances to keep up.”
“That makes sense, really, once you look at it that way,” Severus said.
“Well, that’s it for now, I suppose,” he added after a moment.
“Yes, I’ll be back in a couple of hours to record the results, and we’ll evaluate them in the morning.”
Still, Severus paced the floor, seemingly reluctant to leave.
Catrin knew his moods well. She let him collect his thoughts for several minutes before giving him a verbal nudge.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“Yes. Well, no... there’s something... someone... I need to talk to you.”
“Do you want to talk here, or would you rather go somewhere and have a drink?”
“If I relied on bottled courage for this one, I’d have to drink so much I wouldn’t be able to talk at all. Let’s stay here.”
He resumed pacing the floor. Catrin knew better than to push. He stopped, looking out of the window, pinching the bridge of his nose.
“Merlin, I don’t know how to say it,” he murmured as if to himself.
Suddenly he swivelled to face her: “Catrin, would you examine me?”
She opted for a bit of shock treatment.
“Of course,” she said, waving breezily towards the examination couch. “Take off your clothes and lie down.”
His hands reached the top button of his robes before the shock registered on his face and he went completely stiff.
“Please,” he managed to bring out, “it's no joke.”
She crossed the room in three strides and clasped his hands in hers.
“I’m sorry, Severus,” she said. “We’re friends. You know I’ll do everything within reason for you. I just don’t see why you’d want to ask for this particular thing. You’re young and healthy, there is no reason for you to have this kind of check-up.”
His eyes met hers, then looked away, then fixed on her face again.
“I need to know if I am normal,” he said, haltingly, in a very low voice.
“How? And why? And what is ‘normal’?”
“Physically. I have to know if I’ll make a woman laugh, or make her sick from disgust.”
“You’ve met someone, Severus! That’s wonderful!”
“She’s here in graduate school. Second year. She understands that ‘happily ever after’ doesn’t apply to me, and, incredibly, she accepts it. She will return home to a dynastic marriage after graduation, and she wants us to be together as long as we’re here.”
“Congratulations! What’s keeping you? You should be having dinner with her tonight.”
she wants to take me to bed. Not just yet, but soon.”
There was panic in his voice and in his face.
“Don’t you want to? Anyone has the right to say ‘no’, man or woman.”
Catrin directed him to a pair of comfortable chairs in front of another window, and they sat down.
“You don’t understand. I want it so much! But I don’t know... anything. Oh, I’ve read up on sex, I know the anatomy, the mechanics, the protective charms and potions, the cognitive and emotional implications, but it’s never really been about me.”
His silence was not an unwillingness to speak, but a pause to gather his thoughts. Catrin simply nodded and waited.
Shortly, Severus continued: “I’ve done a lot of reading, but I’ve never had anyone give me ‘the talk’, to me, personally. I’ve had no giggling sisters, no gutter-mouthed brothers, no changing-room talk with my mates; I’ve always avoided or been made to avoid the common showers.”
“Yes, you’ve told me you were bullied at school.”
“And then I studied. I learned about potions, about herbs, about the mind and the body, about the foundations of magic, what it is that turns it dark, and how to fight that. It’s been the only really enjoyable part of my life. I understood that ‘those things’ were not for me, so I simply stopped myself thinking about them.”
“I see,” she said.
“Do you? Catrin, no-one has ever seen my adult body!”
“And comparing yourself to the pictures in the books is not enough.”
“Do you suspect any functional problem?”
“How should I... ” He looked away and said quietly: “No.”
“Still, you think you need an assessment, is that it? A professional opinion?”
He swallowed hard, and replied barely audibly: “Yes.”
“I can do that for you.”
“Would you, really? What do I do, make an appointment?”
“Your appointment is for right now.”
“Look, Severus, this obviously bothers you a lot. So get it over with. You’ll sleep better.”
“You’re right. That’s what I’d say to anyone else,” he almost managed an ironical smile.
“Good,” she replied. “Here’s what I suggest.”
He forced himself to look at her, black eyes wide open.
“There’s a standard procedure,” Catrin went on, “that we use to assess wizards complaining of diffuse andrological problems. I know, that isn’t your trouble, but it’s a handy way of checking that the equipment is in good working order, and to put to rest any suspicions of anything really sinister.”
“That’s what I had in mind, I suppose.”
“One thing. If we do this, I want to put you through the whole procedure. Parts of it are unpleasant, but I don’t intend to miss anything important to save you discomfort.”
“Fair enough.” His posture was tense, but his voice almost matter-of-fact.
“Apart from a blood sample, I’ll only use my wand and my hands. No strange implements. And you know I’ll do my best to make it as little uncomfortable as possible.”
“Thank you, Catrin.”
“Don’t thank me yet. You’ll want to say other things before we’re through,” she commented wryly.
“Well, then, thanks for the warning,” he made an attempt at levity.
She stood up, went to the examination couch and pulled up an instrument trolley.
“Come and sit over here. I’ll want a few drops of your blood. Shall I draw the sample, or do you prefer to do it yourself?”
your lancet is the least of my worries right now. Just help yourself.”
He held out his hand to her. His mind seemed to be on other things, and his musing face never shifted, while she deftly pricked his finger and placed several drops of his blood on a glass slide.
“I’ll go put these through the analysis spells in the lab,” Catrin said. “While I do that, why don’t you make yourself as comfortable as you can on the couch. You have to remove all your clothes, but we don’t want you to die of exposure. Here’s a blanket to cover yourself with.”
The blanket was a soft, light but thick cotton weave, moss green in colour. Catrin found Severus stretched out under it when she returned to the couch. Only his head resting on a thin pillow was showing, and his eyes were shut. They snapped open when he heard her come back.
“So far so good,” she said. “The blood analysis says that everything is fine. – Let’s see how to make you a bit less uncomfortable.”
She felt his legs through the blanket, and slipped a rolled-up towel under his knees to help relax his back. Then she pulled up a stool and settled down by his head. She felt the tense muscles in his neck and shoulders and, instead of massaging them vigorously, she warmed them with her hands and nudged them here and there to suggest a more relaxed position. The lines around his mouth grew less deep, and his eyes closed again, lightly.
Unobtrusively she moved her hands to probe gently below his jaw and in front of his ears. Her touch was steady, matter-of-fact, professional, not cold or unkind, but without tenderness. Severus sensed it and realised that he found it deeply reassuring.
“You know as well as I do what I’m about, palpating your lymph nodes,” she commented, standing up and moving to his side. “Those loci and conduits of thaumic energy are central to what distinguishes your physiology from that of a Muggle. - Well let me fold down the blanket a bit.”
She did so, uncovering his chest with a scattering of curly black hairs. He shivered a little, but let her move his arms slightly away from his body to feel his armpits. She was careful to touch him firmly enough not to tickle.
“All right,” she continued, picking up her wand. “Normally you wouldn’t feel anything when I scan you with my wand. But you have used this one together with me, so it is partly attuned to you. That means that you may feel a tingle of energy while I scan you, and some stronger twinges at the major magical foci. It’s normal if you do, but nothing is wrong if you don’t. Just a natural variation in sensitivity.”
She directed the wand slowly along the contours of his head and chest down to his waist. Then she swept the flat of it, not quite touching the skin, in a few lines across his face. She touched the tip to several points on his head and throat; the first touch made him flinch, but then he lay perfectly still. Another series of broad sideways sweeps across his chest concluded the scan.
“Next, I’m going to palpate your abdomen. I have to move the blanket a little more for that.”
She uncovered his flat, firm abdomen with a line of black hair extending from his navel and growing wider and thicker to where it disappeared under the blanket covering his groin. Quietly she rested her hands left and right from it.
“You have excellent muscles here. I need you to focus on relaxing them, otherwise I won’t be able to feel much.”
He gave a shuddering sigh.
“Very good,” she said. “None of this should hurt, so don’t play the hero. Let me know at once if it’s painful.”
Slowly, thoroughly, her hands travelled down his abdomen from the waist to the hip bones, pressing here and there. Again, he held himself perfectly still, until her fingers slipped underneath the blanket to where the abdomen met the thighs. He flinched then, and his muscles tensed.
“Inguinal nodes tender?” she asked.
“No, not at all. It’s...” he fell silent, breathing raggedly.
“Strange and uncomfortable? Yes. Just let it happen. It’ll pass.”
Again she followed the procedure with a scan of her wand, sweeping across his abdomen and touching the tip to various points. Then she put down the wand, and he looked at her intently.
“Everything looks and feels fine, so far,” she said, unsmiling, respecting his discomfort. “No sign whatsoever of any physiological problem. But then, we weren’t expecting any, were we?”
Dry-mouthed, unable to speak, Severus moved his head from side to side.
“All right, then, let me have a proper look at you,” Catrin said, reaching for the blanket.
“No!” he gasped and reached out as if to grab the blanket that she was folding back.
He did not complete the movement, though, and she draped the blanket across his feet and the end of the couch.
When she turned to face him again, he lay shivering, his eyes squeezed shut, his lips tight, both his hands clutching at his genitals.
“Severus,” she touched his shoulder lightly.
“Hmm.” The noise in his throat showed that he heard her.
“You’ve asked me to examine you. I won’t force you. Tell me if you’ve changed your mind and want to stop now. It’s all right. But if not, you must show yourself to me.”
“I know. I’m... It’s... Please go on. Please.” His voice was almost a sob.
“All right,” she said in a matter-of-fact voice. “Let me see you. Place your arms along your body. Do it now.”
With a jerk his hands left his groin, and he placed his arms at his sides with a determined effort, the muscles tense, the fists clenched.
“Good,” she went on calmly. “I’m looking at you. Your body is whole, healthy-looking and well-proportined. I see no reason for anyone to find it strange, repulsive or ridiculous.”
Tears were leaking out of the corners of Severus’ eyes and he was close to hyperventilating.
Catrin placed a hand on his chest and the other one on his abdomen.
“Easy. Don’t overdo it. Find your normal breathing and focus on it.”
His ragged breath calmed somewhat.
Catrin continued: “That’s right, focus on your breathing. In a moment I’m going to touch you. You may react to my touch, or you may not. There is no right or wrong. Again, none of this should hurt, so please, let me know if it does.”
At her touch a moan escaped him, both his hands flew up to cover his face, his torso arched and his legs contracted.
“Sssh,” she soothed him. “Relax. Your arms along your sides. Focus on your breathing.”
She kept still while he complied and calmed down. Then, gently and thoroughly, she continued the examination.
Some time later she straightened her back, banished the protective charm from her fingers, and looked at his bare, slightly shivering form.
“There, that does it,” she murmured. “Make yourself as comfortable as you can, and rest for a while.”
She spread the blanket from his chest over his abdomen and legs, taking care to cover his feet well, tucking folds of the blanket between his body and his arms.
He opened his eyes: there was fear in them, a query.
“Everything is perfectly all right,” she said gently. “You have a fine body, in good working order. There’s nothing about your body to frighten a woman or make her laugh at you. I’ll give you all the details you want anytime you like, but, to put it simply, you’re ready to go.”
She finished with a smile that he returned, tired, overwhelmed with new sensations, but relieved.
Catrin took the time to wash her hands very thoroughly in the laboratory, mainly to give Severus a chance to remedy his state of undress. But when she returned into the surgery, she found him still lying on the couch, curled up on his side with his back to the room, clutching the blanket under his chin. He was still shivering.
She propped herself up against the edge of the couch and laid a calming hand on his shoulder.
“It’s all right, Severus,” she said. “You’ll be fine. You’re just reacting to a strong and very uncomfortable experience. Take your time. I’ll stay with you.”
“I’m afraid,” he whimpered. “I’m so terribly afraid.”
“What is there to be afraid of? Who wants to hurt you?”
She reached across him and found his hand with hers. He clung to it.
“I’m afraid of myself,” he said more clearly. “I may hurt someone.”
“Why’s that? Do you want to?”
“No. But it’s what I know. What I’ve seen of sex. Rape. Torture. I was very young myself, so I didn’t have to… do things… but I was there. And did nothing to stop it.”
With an effort, Catrin kept her voice clinically detached:
“You don’t have to force yourself to talk about it, but you might tell me a little more, if you can. I may be able to help you. This place is safe. The rooms are warded, and I’m under a strong geas not to disclose what patients tell me. If it’s told in confidence, not even Sir Alex has the right to question me.”
“It’s my life. My past, my memories. How could you help?”
“It’s your life, yes. But sometimes a different view can make things easier to handle. And if it doesn’t work, well, what do you have to lose?”
He visibly decided to take the plunge.
“What do you want to know? Where should I start?”
“Was that some sort of gang that you joined?”
”Call it that. Yes. To get back at people. To feel powerful. Dangerous.”
”You wanted to get back at your bullies. And did you?”
”No. Yes. Not the way I thought,” his voice rasped. “It was terrible. I tried to save her, but they killed her!”
“Was that someone you cared about?”
“Loved her,” he murmured into the pillow under his head.
“And the gang abused her?”
Severus rolled onto his back to face her.
“No, no, no, thank Merlin, no. They did that to others. But she died. The leader murdered her in cold blood.”
“And then? Where’s the gang now? The leader?”
“They’re in prison, mostly. And people say he’s dead. I don’t believe it. He’ll be back someday. I intend to fight him.”
“And for that you have to stand alone, so as not make yourself vulnerable. You’ve chosen a very difficult path.”
“He’s killed her already. So that can’t happen again.”
“And earlier, were you and … she… together?”
“In my dreams. In real life I was a horrible person. I destroyed it all. I called her… an awful name. She never spoke to me again. Married … someone else. Had his child. And then she was dead. She is dead. Dead. Dead.”
Catrin paused and left him to his grief for a moment.
Then she continued, in a clinical tone:
“You have no good mental images of sex at all, only what you experienced with the gang. No affection, no pleasure, no joy, only destruction and suffering. Is that so?”
Severus only nodded.
Catrin went on: “You know how the mind works. You understand that you need good experiences to compensate for that. Otherwise you’ll always be afraid of yourself, of how you may react in an intimate situation. “
“So the lady in second year may be just the right cure for you,” Catrin concluded.
Severus turned onto his side again, away from her. “Perhaps,” he said. “But… “
The rest of his words was mumbled into the pillow.
“I’m sorry, Severus – I can’t hear you,” Catrin said softly.
“It can’t happen. So there’s no point talking about it,” he objected.
“Yes, there is. Put a name to your wishes as well as your fears. It makes them more manageable.“
“Catrin, if I say it, you may think... it could... I don’t want to harm… us.”
“You won’t harm us, Severus. You have my word on it. We are friends. Let me be the judge if this thing is so terrible. If it is, I promise to remove the memory and return it to you.”
Severus curled up harder on his side, clutched the blanket and, with his eyes screwed shut, brought out between gritted teeth: “I. Wish. You. Could. Be. My. First.”
Catrin bit her lips and seemed to be working towards a decision. Then she said gently, stroking his hair: “Is that a daydream, a fantasy, or something you’d really accept if you could have it?”
“For real. You wouldn’t laugh at me. You wouldn’t be afraid. You wouldn’t let me hurt you. The first time. If I lose control. You’re strong and you know me.”
“Look at me, Severus.“
He relaxed a little and turned his head towards her.
“Would you feel better about wooing your new lady friend after the experience?”
“Yes, very much better. But I’ve no right to ask you. I know you aren’t… interested in men.”
gays experiment with the opposite sex,” Catrin explained. “I’m not
inexperienced, and I don’t find men repulsive. In fact it’s what
Severus had stretched out on his back again and listened intently.
Now he sat up abruptly and swept the blanket about him with a yank.
“Well, that includes me out, anyway,” he growled.
“Drop it, Severus,” she said sharply. “Self-hatred is very unbecoming. Especially vacuous self-hatred.”
“Catrin, don’t coddle me. I’m ugly and I know it. I’ve learned to live with it.”
“Do you know the saying about the eye of the beholder?”
“Yes. I can face myself without a baby soother, thank you,” he answered coldly.
“Hmm.” Catrin paused to think.
“Let’s put it this way: you’ve asked me to go to bed with you.“
Blushing, Severus whispered: “Yes.”
“What does that mean: that you find me attractive, or not? Or am I just someone to help you deal with an annoying obstacle? An experienced prostitute would fit that bill.“
“Please don’t speak like that. You’re very, very attractive. I asked you because… because it’s you.”
“Well, you’ll never see me on the cover of ‘Playwizard’. I’m ugly by their standards. My tits are too small, my butt is too big, my hair is too short, my grooming is deficient, and, besides, I’m too old. So what does that tell you?”
“Hmm… that it’s my mind that finds you attractive?”
Lightening the mood, Catrin put on her best schoolteacher demeanour: “Very good, ten bonus points to Master Snape, sit down.”
Then she cocked her eyebrow at Severus: “And kindly grant my mind the same privilege.”
He could not suppress a grin: “If you insist.”
“I do. – So, what are we looking at: one night, no strings, no kiss-and-tell, and we’re friends?”
“You sound very business-like. But, yes, that covers it. Do you think it’s possible?”
“I, for one, intend to give it my best shot. And I’m sorry if I sound callous. I just don’t want you to get hurt if we don’t talk clearly.”
“Thank you,” he smiled. “I never imagined a woman could think that way.”
“So, did you have anything planned for the next twenty-four hours?”
“Arithmantic Logic lecture at nine.”
“If I say screw the lecture, we’ll catch up on our own?” suggested Catrin with a cat-got-the-cream grin.
“I say nothing else planned.”
”Well… Your flat or mine? Personally I’d suggest neutral ground.”
“What’s neutral ground?”
“I’ll tell you in a while. Put your clothes on; I have to make a Muggle phone call in the outer office.“
– Warren House, Elisabeth Drew speaking. How can I help you?
– Elisabeth? This is Catrin Achrya. The Mediwitch from last summer, when the young lady with the film crew needed help.
– Catrin! How are you? What can I do for you?
– Well, well! I take it the summer’s events ended to everyone’s satisfaction?
– You can say that again. It seems the starlet’s attacks didn’t come back, so she’s told the tabloids that the whirlpool at our Freesia Suite has healing powers.
– Not too bad for business, then. Well, do you still think that you owe me?
– I owe you. Anything I can do for you.
– To the tune of twenty-four hours in the Cedar Suite? Starting just about now?
– With all the trimmings, fully warded, your own house elf, and all you’d care to eat and drink. Are you sure you don’t want anything more romantic than the Cedars?
– I have a queer reputation to uphold, so don’t tell anyone, but I’m bringing a man. He doesn’t do roses and curlicues.
– I’ll take up the iced champagne personally. Welcome to Apparate in whenever you’re ready.
“We have our neutral ground,” Catrin said to Severus, who was buttoning up the collar of his black robes.
“Will you let me surprise you?” she asked. “I know you don’t like surprises, and I’ve just put you through almost an hour of torture, but I promise this one is a good surprise.”
“Well... if that’s all you’ll tell me, I just have to trust you.”
“Trust me, Master Severus Snape. You are about to get laid in grand style.”
She snickered at his sheepish, blushing face.
“By the way,” she added, “aren’t we forgetting something?”
His face went blank and she could almost hear him think.
She opened a desk drawer and took out a small blue vial.
“Here,” she said, handing it to him: “You’re the potions master.”
He opened the vial and smelled the contents, poured out a small drop on his fingertip, rubbed it between his fingers and tasted it.
“Oh, he said. “The Capotus potion. Contraceptive, prevents infections. Did you brew it?”
“With my own not-so-milk-white hands,” she laughed.
“Somehow I’d imagined you to prefer charms.”
“You seem to have given the matter a lot of thought,” she teased. “No, seriously, charms are too easy to forget or go wrong with. The Capotus is effective for at least twenty-four hours, so you can take it before matters become too… um… hectic. – Speaking of which, I’m thinking about your young lady. You do know how to brew this stuff, don’t you?”
“Oh, yes, no problem. Except…”
“It takes almost two weeks to complete and mature.”
“In a hurry, are we?” she teased again, feeling very pleased with his progress. “Half an hour ago you were gibbering with panic at the mention of sex. Oh, the resilience of youth!”
He shrugged his shoulders with another sheepish look on his face.
“The normal dose is three drops, so this should last you and your lady friend a while, even if we do use some of it now.”
She brought two small cups of water and motioned to him to add the potion. He did, but handed the vial back to her.
“Catrin, I couldn’t accept. Just the ingredients are awfully expensive, and then there’s the time you spent brewing it.”
“Oh, stop it, you dolt. Of course you can accept it. Take it as my way of wishing you good luck with your sex life. – Well, here’s looking at you, as they say.”
She toasted him with the cup of potion-laced water and drank it down in one gulp. He followed suit.
Catrin changed from her pale blue work robes to the graduate student’s brown and, automatically, picked up her Mediwitch bag. Then she stood next to Severus.
“Let’s move on to neutral ground, then,” she said. “Put your arm around my shoulders and I’ll take us there.”
He complied. She put her free arm around his waist, and they Disapparated.
--- --- ---
“Oh,” was all he could say when he looked around the room.
“Your Lordship approves, I take it,” she said with mock noblesse.
“What is this – a palace?”
“It used to be. A country house, anyway. Now it’s a hotel, of the really nice kind. Both Muggle and discrete wizarding clientele. Flashy spells get you banned for life.”
“We can’t afford this!”
“No, we couldn’t if we had to pay for it. The proprietor owed me a favour. This is what you might call a really classy love nest, and it’s ours until tomorrow lunchtime.”
The suite had a sitting room and a bedroom, both sparsely furnished in a reddish wood that matched the wide, polished planks of the floor. The walls were ivory in colour, with a Chinese ink painting decorating each room. The furniture had straight lines, right angles, and was upholstered in a subdued moss green. The modern Tibetan rugs on the floor picked up the green, and the dark brownish red of the wood. The bed was a four-poster, but built out of straight, smooth, thick boards with no other decoration than their natural lines and knots, the frame a perfect seven-foot cube. Its drapes of thick, loosely woven raw silk replicated the moss green of the upholstery.
As promised, on the coffee table a closely contained cooling charm surrounded a bottle of Bollinger Grande Ann�e, swept in a white linen napkin. Between the two champagne goblets next to it there was a note on thick ivory paper:
‘Welcome, Mistress Catrin and guest. Your house elf’s name is Ceddie.
Enjoy your stay at Warren House.
“Well.” Severus stood in the middle of the room, looking rather lost. “I’ll admit I’m completely out of my depth now.”
“You could start by doing the honours,” Catrin said, gesturing towards the champagne bottle. “Alcohol is a relaxant, as you know.”
“I know that much. I just don’t know how…” and he gripped the neck of the bottle.
“The bottle is under pressure,” she explained. “That’s why the cork has all the metal on it. You start by removing that.”
She showed him how to untwist the wire and remove the metal cap. The bare cork remained.
“This is what the cloth napkin is for,” she went on. “You use it to get a steady grip on the bottle and the cork. Contrary to popular misconception, you don’t pop the cork and shoot it into the air – that’s vulgar, and a waste of good drink. You ease the cork out gently, so that all the wine stays in the bottle.”
His slender, strong hands, used to the meticulous potions work, had no trouble dealing with the cork. He filled the two goblets and handed one to Catrin. The rims of the goblets touched with a gentle ‘clink’. Catrin took a few sips, savouring the wine that was far, far out of her usual more affordable class. Severus sipped first, then emptied his goblet in a single gulp.
“Traditionally,” Catrin advised, “the next move would be a passionate kiss.”
“My mother kissed my forehead when I was leaving for Hogwarts,” Severus stated dryly: “That doesn’t qualify as passionate by any standards.”
Catrin looked at his mouth and licked her own lips.
“Your lips look extremely tasty,” she said.
“Um…” he swallowed hard. “So do yours.”
“Well, then, come here and do something about it,” she cocked her eyebrow provocatively.
He stood facing her indecisively. She reached out, buried her fingers in his hair and pulled his head down to hers. Their lips met; hers parted, inviting him to explore further. He turned out to be a very quick learner.
When they came up for air, she removed her eyeglasses.
“Another one, please,” she said with a radiant smile. She took some more champagne in her mouth, inviting him to share it. When they broke apart, his eyes were slightly glazed and there were droplets of sweat on his forehead.
“All right?” she asked.
“All right?” he repeated. “That’s the understatement of the year. Pinch me so I know I’m awake.”
--- --- ---
Later that night they lay among rumpled silk sheets in the big bed.
“Congratulations, Severus,” Catrin said with a contented smile, “you have been truly and properly deflowered. How does it feel?”
“I can’t begin to tell you,” he answered quietly. “It feels... so much. I never imagined...”
“You don’t have to – I was teasing a bit.”
“Catrin, I may I ask you something? Please don’t be offended...”
“Ask away. If it’s none of your business, I’ll simply tell you that, no offence.”
“After... what just happened...” he began haltingly.
“How can you say that you are... you know, not attracted to men?”
“But I’m not. I’m not attracted to a gender. It’s about persons.”
everyone is capable of understanding that, or even wiling to try, but to me
gender is incidental.
“Don’t call me that!”
“Yes, I willl call you beautiful, and you will listen to me. You’ve chosen a difficult path in life: you will be forced to hide your best sides from almost everyone. You must remember that they exist, that they are real, no matter how deep you’re forced to bury them. And I intend to remember it with you and for you.”
Her kiss prevented him from answering back.
Severus’ stomach growled, and he blushed.
“Sorry. How mundane of me,” he grinned.
“No worries, I’m absolutely starving. Good sex tends to do that to people.”
“The classics say that every animal is sad after intercourse. Personally, I get exhilarated, but hungry enough to eat a hippogryph.”
“Is that usual in women?”
“Usual enough for you to plan for in your future conquests,” she advised, and went on:
“Do you like shellfish?”
“It wasn’t really standard fare at Hogwarts, so I’m not sure.”
“Care to try?”
“Order of the day, isn’t it. Yes, why not.”
Catrin summoned the house elf, and a short while later she and Severus were sitting at a table in the outer room, jointly attacking a large seafood platter.
Accompanied by more of the excellent champagne, the seafood was a success. Severus’ dexterous hands were soon shelling shrimps, dismembering a lobster and picking out meat from its claws at a speed that matched Catrin’s.
Eventually only shells, a few toast crumbs and a smear of aioli remained.
Severus sat leaning both his elbows on the table, nibbling musingly at his third slice of "piel de sapo" melon. Catrin tossed a piece of melon rind onto her plate, grabbed another slice, devoured it in two bites and leaned back in her chair.
“I’m sticky,” she licked her fingers. “And I smell like a fishwife. – Shower?”
“I’ll race you,” he said, rising and peeling off his bathrobe.
Their urgent desires appeased earlier, the shower was a pleasant, companionable affair. They explored the planes and curves of each other’s bodies with hands slippery with soap, tasted kisses diluted with water, played with the shampoo foam in each other’s hair, and finally Severus dared Catrin to shower as cold as he did.
She took on the dare, and emerged spitting, shivering and swearing.
“Wh…wh… what the hell are you, a damned polar bear?” her teeth chattered.
Severus stood ready with a huge, soft bath towel. He embraced her with it and began rubbing her.
“Just my natural sneakiness,” he grinned. “A pretext to hold you close and warm you.”
“As if you needed one, you sneaky sneak,” she grinned back, and leaned into the caress.
Clean and dry, they discovered that the silk sheets on the bed had been changed. They lay down, naked, sharing a single big, light, eiderdown duvet. Severus turned the lights out with a sweep of his hand, and they fell asleep, touching casually, with smiles on their faces.
Sometime in the very early dawn Catrin slipped out of bed and padded into the bathroom. She returned to bed, next to Severus. He lay on his back, fast asleep, his breathing occasionally turning into light snores. In the dim, grey light she could discern his profile, the distinctive nose, the shapely lips slightly open in relaxation. Deep inside her she felt a warmth that had nothing to do with the luxurious eiderdown covering them.
In the morning she heard Severus visit the bathroom and return. He leaned over her and touched her cheek and the corner of her mouth with his lips.
“Ouch,” she mock-yelped. “Get out of here. You scratch.”
He snuggled under the duvet, on his back, eyes closed.
“Not going. You Figaro me.”
“Should I spell your beard? Are you serious?”
“I’d have to use my wand.”
Considering his uncomfortable encounter with her wand in the surgery the previous day, she expected him to show reluctance.
“Go ahead and use it. I won’t spend the rest of my life cringing from your wand.”
“All right,” she Accioed her wand. “Keep still, so I don’t give you a spotty stubble.”
Propped up on her elbow, she ran the wand smoothly over his cheeks and chin, murmuring the shaving spell.
“Mmmm, nice,” he murmured. Then he tipped his chin up to give her access to his throat.
She finished the shaving spell, put away the wand and took advantage of his exposed position to kiss and nibble his throat. He murmured approvingly, then tilted his head down to her for a proper kiss. She obliged, thoroughly.
“Good morning,” she commented. “Now you’re fit for female company.”
“It makes sense for you not to like beards,” he quipped.
“Prejudice, prejudice. I do like proper beards. Long soft ones. What I don’t like is prickles. I’m queer, not a hedgehog.”
“You’re the queerest queer I know.”
“And your experience in the matter would be… extensive? – Anyway, being flexible has its rewards. It doubles my chances,” she gave him a mockingly lewd grin.
She sat up cross-legged next to him.
“I really do want my tea now,” she said. “How about you?”
“Tea would be nice.”
“I drink Chinese. And you? Indian, English, or perhaps Russian?”
“Isn’t it still my day for trying new things? I’ll join you.”
“Black, red, oolong, flower, green?”
“Not a clue, I don’t know what those mean. Pick whatever suits you.”
Catrin summoned the house elf and had a brief discussion with her. In the end she chose a mild but distinctive oolong with a grassy tang, as far removed as she dared from English tea habits.
They only had time to exchange a few kisses before the house elf re-appeared with the tea tray. Catrin spoke a spell to hold the tray steady in the middle of the bed, and they sat down cross-legged on each side of it.
Catrin surveyed the equipment approvingly, Severus questioningly. In a small, round, cast-iron kettle, a spell kept the water hot. The jug for surplus water was plain brown ceramics, glazed only on the inside. An unadorned jar in greenish glass held large, tightly rolled pieces of tea leaves. The tea set proper was made of translucently thin white china, its outside hand-painted with a design of bamboo and crickets that complemented the painted scrolls on the walls of the suite. The set consisted of a bowl resting on a saucer and covered with a lid, and two small earless cups.
Severus watched with keen interest as Catrin began preparing the tea. She poured some hot water into the lidded bowl, swirled it about and poured it out into the brown ceramic jug. Then she opened the glass jar and tipped a little of the tea leaves into the white bowl. Severus reached out for the glass jar.
Catrin handed the jar to him with a smile. He smelled the contents, shook a piece of the dried leaf onto his palm, felt it, crushed it between his fingers and thumb, and smelled it once more. His face remained neutral, but interested.
Catrin poured a little water over the tea leaves, put the lid on the bowl and swirled it again. Then she divided the water into the two small cups, rinsed them with it, and discarded the water. She poured more hot water over the leaves, covered them with the lid and waited. After only a short while she cupped her hand over the bowl, tilted the lid to one side, held it down with her index finger and filled the two cups, the lid separating the leaves from the pale yellow liquid. When she put the bowl down, Severus lifted the lid to look at the tea leaves. They were large, very close to their size and shape when fresh. After just this brief time in hot water, they filled half the bowl.
Catrin raised her cup as if to toast Severus with it. He picked up his own cup and returned the greeting, then smelled the contents with a puzzled frown. The liquid was rather hot. Catrin took a few small sips and set her cup down to cool. Severus followed suit.
“Good Chinese tea is supposed to be steeped more than once – up to four or five times, depending on the quality. The first cup is said to be the most fragrant one, the second the most flavourful,” she explained.
She felt, smelled and tasted her tea again, and emptied the cup quickly.
Severus did the same, and his smile changed from puzzled to pleased.
“Fairly subtle, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes, you’re the only Brit I’ve ever dared offer it to.”
“It isn’t exactly Earl Grey,” he grinned. “Milk and sugar would murder it. – Are we about ready for the next cup?”
“Do I see you acquire exotic tastes?” she mused as she poured more water into the bowl.
“Your tea has a lot more complex aroma than the usual English brew,” he explained.
“I think so, but it takes a potions master to discern it. You have the skill and the focus.”
Gravely, he bowed from the waist, thanking her for the compliment.
Then they looked at each other, two naked people maintaining a semblance of modesty by means of silk sheets, pontificating over a cup of tea. All gravity was gone. They smiled, snickered, burst into a spell of loud, liberating laughter. The tea tray kept its balance only thanks to the efficient spell.
“Why don’t you pour the second cup,” Catrin suggested when they had calmed down. She showed Severus how to handle the bowl and its lid with one hand, and he took to it as if it were a new potions implement. Not a fraction of a leaf escaped into the cups.
The colour of the brew was deeper now, a golden yellow, and its aroma more focused in the liquid than in the scented steam. They sipped in silence, savouring the drink, their eyes meeting over the rims of the cups from time to time.
The looks became longer, more urgent. Catrin’s lips curved in an equivocal smile; Severus replied in kind.
With a quick, smooth wandless spell he transferred the tea tray in perfect balance from the bed to the floor.
--- --- ---
Severus swept a cleaning charm over both of them. Then
he touched Catrin’s
“Is the animal hungry?”
“Hmmrrraarrr,” she growled and gave his finger a light bite. “Ravenous. The degree of my ensuing hunger seems to be directly proportional to the quality of the intercourse.”
His contented grin acknowledged the compliment.
“What would you like for brunch?” she asked.
“Oh... something not too strange, if you don’t mind. Apart from that, I’m an omnivore.”
When the house elf had left to fill their brunch order, Catrin noticed that Severus lay quite still on the bed, his face blank, his eyes distant.
“Brooding?” she asked, sitting cross-legged next to him.
“Well... it’s finished now, isn’t it,” he replied reluctantly.
She stretched out on her side and propped herself up on her elbow. She began stroking his hair gently.
“Not like that, Severus, not like that,” she said. “It will never leave you, not unless you want it to. The experience is a part of you now. A part of your mind, of your body’s memory. Of your soul, if you want to call it that.”
“I never want to forget,” he pleaded. “I know what a hostile Legilimens can do, or a Dementor: invade the mind, rip out memories...”
“Encapsulate it,” she suggested. “Create an object in your mind and enclose the memory in it. Only your mind can access it there, only your free will can release and share it. An intruder, however strong, will only perceive the object.”
She thought for a moment.
“In fact, let’s do it together, if you like. In rapport.”
“Are you willing, Catrin? The connection would be very deep.”
she said. “Like
an old, old rock on the bottom of the deepest pool.”
“Yes,” she added, “I should like that very much. – Come here.”
She motioned him to turn onto his side and rest his head on her shoulder. Her embrace enclosed him, grounded him. Her mind reached out to him, and there was the shared awareness, familiar and safe by now.
‘What should it be: a rock, a jewel?’ she suggested mentally.
‘Something living,’ he objected. ‘I know: amber. It’s a gem that has been alive.’
She created the image of a lump of Baltic amber, irregular, about an inch big, clear, polished, pale gold in colour.
He reached in and changed the colour, making it somewhat darker, like dark, reddish honey. She added little star-shaped golden enclosures throughout the whole gem, and sensed his approval.
Together, they duplicated the amber image. And, still joined in their minds, they each poured their memory of the past day and night into the gem. The silvery threads entered the amber, made it flare up once with an inner fire, and disappeared. Only the amber’s own glow remained.
The spell was complete.
--- --- ---
The throng of graduate students jostled through the exit of the lecture hall. Only very few of them were discussing the recent lecture; the most minds, stomachs and words were focused on lunch.
Severus and Catrin made their way down the stairs, in the direction of the canteen.
“Severus,” a woman’s clear voice said.
His face lit up in a smile.
“Lucia, good to see you,” he answered, and turned towards Catrin. “Catrin, meet Lucia Salvi. Lucia, this is Catrin Achrya.”
The two women shook hands.
Lucia was as tall as Catrin, but much more feminine in build: not even the bulky academic robes could disguise her round breasts. Her hair fell like spun honey down to the middle of her back; her skin had a slight golden tan. Her friendly, intelligent eyes were a deep sapphire, her eyebrows startlingly black over an aristocratic nose. With shapely lips and a perfectly oval face, she resembled a Venetian Renaissance painting.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Catrin. I have heard much about you.”
Catrin mock-glared at Severus: “Do I want to know what?”
And to Lucia she said: “I’m happy to meet you too, Lucia. Severus has been mentioning you a lot lately. – You specialise in Arithmancy Theory, don’t you?”
“Yes, I’m looking into applications of higher-order magic squares in the classical Agrippan method.”
“That’s a handful. I have a lot of respect for Arithmancy, but not the patience.”
“I understand that you are a Healer,” Lucia said.
“Mediwitch,” Catrin corrected. “I hope to qualify as a Healer after my thesis and special training.”
“What is your speciality?”
“Wizards’ reproductive health. Their sex life, if you prefer. My thesis will be on the interaction of magical and hormonal activity in males. Severus is helping me to develop some potions to make the interaction less erratic and more predictable.”
“I am impressed,” Lucia replied. “For myself, I’m not even sure that I can pass my compulsory Basic Healing.”
“You have to be joking. I’ve never heard of anyone failing that.”
“You don’t know how impossible I am with anything biological. Give me a scroll full of formulas, and if there’s any sense to it, I’ll find it. But I can barely heal a paper cut,” Lucia explained with a sheepish grin.
Catrin changed the subject.
“Oh – are you and Severus having lunch?”
“Yes,” said Severus, and “No,” said Lucia, simultaneously.
“I simply have to review Healing,” Lucia explained, seeing Severus’ disappointed face.
“Tell you what,” Catrin suggested. “Severus and I have to run some tests at the Gryphon clinic later this afternoon. Why don’t you two have lunch, and, Lucia, you come along to the lab. We’ll let the man do the dirty work, and you’ll tell me where you’re stuck in Healing. I may be able to help you along.”
“That would be wonderful – but I can’t impose on you.”
“Lucia,” Severus interrupted, “there’s one thing you should remember about Catrin. She doesn’t do ‘polite’. If she offers something, she means it. And you couldn’t have a better teacher.”
“Listen to the expert,” Catrin said with a hint of irony.
“So that’s settled,” she went on. “Go off to your lunch. I have some patients this afternoon, and the surgery closes at three-thirty. I’ll see you two then.”
She turned with a wave of her hand and left, her brown robes billowing after her.
Severus put his arms about Lucia and kissed her gently on the lips.
She looked at him musingly.
“Your sister can be rather formidable,” she said. “A good thing that she approves of us. Or does she?”
“My sister?” Severus asked, momentarily confused. He found his bearings quickly.
“Oh, yes, Catrin approves,” he assured Lucia. “She approves thoroughly.”
If you want to move on fourteen years,
and learn how Severus spent some of his time after Dumbledore’s death,
read the next story.