The blasted whelp was late. Of course he was; Severus had half-expected it, but he wouldn't put up with such demonstrations of rebellion on a regular basis. Potter had to be to be disciplined and disciplined soon--a job that fell, unhappily, to Severus' reluctant hands.
Scowling, Severus strode to the Great Hall and threw open the nearest door--finding, as he expected, Potter eating breakfast with all the ease of royalty, his friends perched on either side of him like an attending court.
Arrogant, self-righteous brat. The scene was an exact replica of another holiday years ago: James Potter smirking at Severus over a slice of toast, scheming, with Black and Pettigrew sniggering in his ear.
Except that Potter wasn't smirking, and Granger looked rather worried.
'Mr Potter,' Severus called across the hall, and saw the boy's back stiffen. 'Enjoying yourself?'
'I was.' Such impudence in a single word. 'I overslept, all right? I was just about to come down there.' A pause, disrespectful enough despite the honorific that followed. 'Sir.'
Sir. Potter might as well have spat it out. Severus felt the coil of his anger tighten, tensing for a strike--but then Potter stood and faced him properly, and Severus was struck silent again.
Just as he had been last night.
There was nothing... appealing about Potter. A perfectly ordinary runt, awkward and thin--and yet, somehow, the light arcing from the Hall's false sun cast him in a favourable light. Potter's hair was still sleep-tousled, the shadow of a delicate collarbone just visible under his skewed jumper. He was exhausted, and yet that very exhaustion made Potter fragile, made him waif-like. It made him look like one of the young whores that haunted Knockturn's alleyways, underfed and selling fucks for a handful of Knuts--except that Potter was innocent, and that damnable innocence was obvious even now, despite... despite... everything.
--Then Severus noticed Weasley's suspicious glare, and Granger's rather more reflective one--and he jerked the door open, clearing his throat. 'Well?' he asked an overly tense Potter, who'd obviously been expecting to be caught out on his lie. The boy clearly hadn't slept last night, let alone overslept.
Normally, Severus would have taken pleasure in questioning Potter on the spot. But Severus was, for the moment, rather busy castigating himself.
He took silent note of Potter's sullen face, the frail bones shifting in his wrist as he lifted his bag.
'See you at lunch,' Potter muttered to his friends--and Severus realised, too late, that Potter wasn't the only one who needed discipline.
There had been ample time to gather himself by the time they reached his office, and by then, Potter's growing anger was once again becoming a source of entertainment. It was obvious in Potter's childish, straight-legged march, in the way he didn't once look back at Severus; it was obvious in how Potter hauled open the office's heavy door, stomping inside with the air of an undersized dictator.
Severus watched in bemusement as his office was treated as a student's territory; Potter simply stalked over to Severus' old, scroll-stacked armchair and emptied it, sitting down and crossing his legs as if he owned the damned thing.
Severus grit his teeth.
Manners. Perhaps manners were what Potter needed to be taught first. A little dose of humility to counteract the arrogance in his blood.
Standing at his desk, Severus placed his hand on Uncommon Poisons and their Antidotes, its thick, leather-bound copy warm under his palm.
Severus narrowed his eyes speculatively at Potter, who had taken up a book. 'What do you think you're doing?'
Potter didn't even deign to look up. 'What's it look like I'm doing, sir? I'm reading. You're not allowed to give me detention during holidays, so I can do what I want.'
What he wants. The sheer nerve-- But Severus knew exactly what Potter wanted, didn't he? More than even Potter did.
That thought, alone, kept Severus from reaching for his wand and binding the brat, keeping him immobile and helpless until lunch.
There were better ways of teaching the boy his place.
'And what book has you so engrossed that you're willing to spend your holidays reading it?' Severus kept his tone deliberately casual.
'The History of Heroic Hippogriffs,' Potter answered, and Severus felt his eyebrows rise. A most unlikely field of study--unless, of course, Potter was wasting his time trying to save Hagrid's little pet. A pet that had not only attacked a student, but a Slytherin under Severus' charge.
'I think not, Mr Potter. You'll put aside that book.'
'What? Why?' Potter slammed the book closed with rather more violence than necessary. 'I'm reading. What's wrong with reading, Professor?'
'Do not question me again.' Severus felt his blood heat, his face harden. Despite his best efforts, Potter managed to test the limits of his patience. 'You will. Put aside. That book.' He took a step forward, and Potter--gratifyingly--flinched back. 'Now, Potter.'
'... Sorry, sir.' A feeble sham of an apology. 'I just--I thought it would be okay. To read. You only said you wanted to keep an eye on me. And this isn't a detention.'
'No, I suppose it's not,' Severus said, letting his mouth curl in a sneer. 'But it most certainly is a punishment.' He finally did what he'd been planning to do since touching Uncommon Poisons and their Antidotes. He gestured at Potter's jumper, making it very obvious what he meant. 'Take that off.'
Potter froze, book halfway to the floor. His face went blank, then hot. 'What.' He watched Severus as a mouse might watch a snake. '--What?'
So much for warnings not to question him. 'You heard me, Potter. Take. That jumper. Off.'
Potter's flush spread to his ears, which burned a bright red. Severus could guess at the possibilities--all equally unlikely and equally sordid--flashing through Potter's mind. 'I-- Um. Wh-why...?'
'There will be considerable time to study, Potter, if that is indeed what you wish to do. But I have a potion to test this afternoon, and I don't do my brewing in an unclean dungeon. Thus, your morning task is to clean it. By hand. If I catch you using a spell, you'll have to clean it twice.' Severus swept a finger across his desk, rubbing it with his thumb as if to check for dust. 'I recommend that you take off your jumper, or you might feel rather...' He flicked the imaginary dust away, casting a sly glance at Potter's blush. 'Hot.'
Potter, oblivious, let his face slacken in relief--only to have it tighten with indignation a moment later. 'Clean your office by hand? But that'll take all day!'
'No, not all day--not if you work industriously. I did say this was your morning task, Potter. You may resume your--' he shot a sceptical glance at Potter's book '--studies after lunch.'
The mention of lunch seemed to bolster the boy--but his eyes still glittered angrily. 'All right, sir. But what am I supposed to clean with?'
'This.' Severus transfigured a blank piece of parchment on his desk into a rag, tossing it at Potter. Who, predictably, caught it with Seeker-swift hands. 'You'll find a pail in the deep basin by the wall. Fill it.'
Fill it, came a mocking echo in Severus' mind, and he started when realised that it was Potter's voice. He'd been looking into Potter's eyes too long, apparently.
The little imp. What other silent jibes did he mutter to himself?
Keeping his expression deliberately impassive, Severus seated himself at his desk--reaching for his unmarked essays with gentle hands. 'Are you quite sure you won't feel hot?' he asked, almost politely--and Potter should have learned to be wary of that tone, but instead he simply glared.
'No. I'll keep my jumper, thanks.'
'Very well,' Severus said calmly. He lifted his wand and pointed it at the fireplace. 'Incendio.'
Potter whipped around to stare at him, rag clutched tightly one hand. 'What was that for?'
'The potion I plan to test.' Severus nodded at the largest cauldron he had, the one that currently hung over the fire, empty and balanced by two long hooks. 'The cauldron must be heated to a precise temperature, and must be kept uniformly warm for several hours prior to brewing.' He looked back at the essays, laying down his wand and picking up his quill instead. 'I did warn you, Potter.'
'Warn--' Potter sounded incredulous.
Severus didn't need to look up to see Potter seething. He could feel it, as surely as if Potter had cast an Incendio on Severus himself--and were it not for the self-regulating charms that kept Severus' robes cool, the heat in Potter's gaze might have set those on fire as well.
The sound of water filled the silence, soon followed by the pail's heavy clunk as it was set down--and Severus chanced to catch sight of Potter's hands out of the corner of his eye, dipping the rag and wringing it. Potter's sleeves were rolled up, his veins a pale blue under white skin--skin that beaded with water on Potter's thin fingers, on the now-known softness of his wrists.
'The floor,' said Severus' voice, almost without his permission. 'Clean the floor first.'
Potter might have glowered, but Severus didn't know; he could only watch Potter sink to his knees, unwilling, those wet hands leaving streaks where they balanced on stone.