Title: Too many stirring rods (and not enough cauldrons)
Category: Five (41- to 50-years-old and beyond)
Beta Reader: scatteredlogic
Word Count: 5097
Summary: Severus has been in a threesome for years with guilt and bitterness. Can he move on with new partners?
The knock at the door came approximately fourteen hours, twelve minutes, and thirty seconds since the moment Severus had left Malfoy Manor in what Lucius would call a tantrum, Hermione would call a huff, and he would call righteous indignation.
Not that he was counting.
It was not Hermione. He knew it would not be Lucius. It was Minerva.
"Don't look at me like that, young Severus. I know I'm neither Hermione nor Lucius, but I am the one who is here. Now let me in," she said.
"I wasn't expecting Lucius." Severus took a step back, allowing her to cross the threshold, reacting automatically to the voice that had told Mr Snape to wash behind his ears, stop hexing Marauders, and to do his Transfig homework on time.
"But you were expecting Hermione."
He'd expected her four hours ago, but nothing short of Veritaserum was going to drag that admission out of him.
"She's at Hogwarts, with Lucius, making some arrangements. Which gives us a chance to have a little chat."
Severus went to make some tea. He had the feeling he would need it, and he had no wish to rush into the conversation.
"So what did you want to chat about?" he asked, settling back on the chair, tea cup in hand. "I'm accustomed to the disapproval of my domestic affairs, so if that's what you've come about you can save your breath. Lucius, Hermione and I are in a relationship, and I have no intention of terminating it whatever you might say."
"Good." Minerva stirred her tea forcefully, the brown liquid swirling up to the rim of the cup.
"You approve then?" Severus raised an eyebrow. "This was not my previous impression."
"I most certainly do not approve of the way you're behaving, my lad. Running off here when there's the slightest hint of conflict, rather than facing up to things."
Severus sipped his tea, the old Headmaster persona settling round him like a cloak. There's nothing to see, nothing to hear. No reaction. No leverage.
"It's not fair to her, and it's not fair to you." Minerva's lips twisted into something between smile and grimace. "It isn't even, Merlin help me, fair to Malfoy, though I'll deny I ever said that if you repeat it."
"I'm sure he'd be gratified to know of your concern," Severus said flatly.
"I should think he'd rather move in with Hagrid, but there we are. I'm sure you know him better than I." Minerva's face froze as she realised just how much better that would be. "But that's beside the point."
Minerva was not someone who was easily dissuaded from a course of action when she thought it was her moral imperative to do something.
Severus smiled at the memory of Albus scuttling out of Staff Meetings to avoid confrontation with Minerva. If Voldemort had run scared of Albus, Albus had found his formidable deputy rather too formidable.
She took the smile as a sign he was mellowing to her interference and pounced. "Severus, I know that things have not always been easy for you in the past, but you shouldn't allow that past to colour your present."
Severus took another sip of tea, determined not to invite further analysis and yet curious as to her meaning. Silence would tempt her into talking without the indignity of asking for an explanation. In that, she and Hermione were the same. Lucius would not fall into such a trap, which was why Hermione was so very necessary to the pair of them. He hoped she would never learn the habit of reticence.
"Disagreement is a part of a relationship. What matters is how you manage it. Running away every time isn't the answer," Minerva said, her bright eyes fixed on him.
"What did Hermione tell you?"
"Nothing. You know she would not betray a trust."
Severus nodded slowly. That was true. "But she is easy to read."
"She is that. I imagine that's a part of the charm."
"The very least part."
"Lucius dotes on her, which is heartwarming if more than a little peculiar. They make a powerful couple."
"We make a more powerful triad."
Minerva started. "Oh, I didn't mean that they didn't need you, or want you. You should never doubt that."
"Your better self doesn't. It's not what Hermione told me, you know, that brings me here. It's what I know of you. Your ability to push away friendship when it's offered, to assume the worst in everything people say."
"Because so much friendship has been offered to me over the years," he said eventually, when he could control his voice.
"Not so much, but some, my dear, dear friend and it takes so long to work through all those layers. So brave in so many ways...."
Severus shot to his feet, but Minerva patted his hand and talked over him, before he had a chance to protest.
"It's not that you lack courage, Severus. Not that. But you don't trust the world to treat you well. It's a reasonable, rational assumption, but the end result is that you find yourself holed up here in this house on the eve of your birthday when you should be home with Hermione and Lucius. I saw her face today, when I asked after you. She said nothing more than that you were here, but her eyes were shadowed. Lucius reached for her arm, squeezed it, and she smiled at him. Something was clearly up."
"Touching," Severus said, falling short of his usual sneer. "You mean to tell me, of course, that one day she will not come for me."
"No, she will always come for you. I think they both would, even that shifty bigoted b...blond. You should just ask yourself whether it is fair to expect them to."
It had been nearly ten years since Lucius had last been in the Head's office at Hogwarts, and that visit had not ended well. He had lost his house-elf, been disarmed by a mere child, and begun the long, slow slide to failure. Yet now he returned in something close to triumph.
Ahead of the game, at least, and for once he was going to be let off the leash. Reformation suited him. He slept well, ate well, fucked well, and had his way in most things that didn't matter, and some that did. He was, above all, happy, but occasionally he yearned for the days when a swift assassination could solve your problems.
The biggest surprise about taking up with people who were 'good' had been finding out that they too contemplated a swift Avada from time to time. They just felt guilty about it afterwards instead of wondering where to secure an alibi.
"Do you think he'll be all right?" Hermione said.
"He'll be fine," he replied.
"It's just... we've never left it this long before."
"He'll be fine." Seeing her anxious look, he added, "I'm sure Minerva has gone to keep him company. That will take his mind off things. He can't brood when she's there. She won't let him. She has this very irritating quality that prevents a man from brooding. Usually because he's contemplating slipping her some Silencing Potion."
Hermione nudged him – hard – with her shoulder. "Leave off, or you'll be sleeping alone tonight."
"Ah, my dear, why would you choose to punish yourself like that?"
"I do wonder why I put up with you sometimes," she said.
"I could remind you, but we're supposed to be keeping our mind on higher things. We are about to deal with the most dangerous Wizard our world has seen since Grindelwald."
"Second most dangerous, surely." Hermione slanted a glance at him through her lashes. "If not third."
"The Dark Lord lost, and with that he lost any claim to be the most anything, other than most foolish. To be defeated by a mere boy." Lucius shook his head. "Fourth or fifth dangerous, at best. Potter ranks ahead of him."
"You sound as if you play Wizarding Top Trumps in your head."
"That would be a fair representation of my life. And the first category is being alive at the end of the game. Alive and not in prison, I should add. Extra points for having all limbs intact." Lucius had not approved of the surviving Weasley Twin bringing in some Muggle game to compete with Chocolate Frog Cards until he'd seen his and Severus' scores.
"On that basis, surely you and Severus rate more highly?" Hermione smiled up at him, eyes warm and trusting.
He took her hand, and kissed her fingertips. "My dear, we rate very highly indeed, and more than merely by reason of living, but in the bastardry stakes... ah we're outclassed. Dumbledore may be dead, but he made the whole world dance to his tune for many, many years. Potter still does even now, and Severus.....Which is why we're going to be very, very careful, aren't we?"
"Yes, dear," she said. "Very careful. And successful, of course."
"Of course." He drew his wand from his sleeve, and grasped it firmly. "Now, Albus Dumbledore, we have come to demand repayment of a debt. So you can stop pretending to sleep and start talking."
Minerva had left, which was good because he didn't think he could maintain his usual facade a moment longer.
His thoughts swirled in a toxic mixture of anger at her presumption to talk to him about his life, the sense that she might be right, and the gnawing sensation in the pit of his stomach that something had changed the rules.
They worked. It worked. There had been five years of this working, a fixed, finite, predictable pattern to his life.
First an argument, then Hermione chased after him once he'd had a chance to calm down, Lucius arrived later to take advantage of the reconciliation once he was sure there would be no need to apologise for something, and a return to the Manor for the next couple of weeks.
And they were happy, mostly. Weren't they?
His fingers itched to be busy brewing, something that would require his absolute concentration and leave him unable to fret, but he sat in the room as it darkened and did not move, not even to turn on the lights.
Dumbledore's eyes opened, with none of the kindly twinkle Hermione was accustomed to. "I owe you nothing, Lucius."
"Indeed." Lucius inclined his head. "I claim payment for wrongs you did to others."
"You'll notice he didn't ask what wrongs, dearest," Lucius said to Hermione. "Do you think that's because he knows. Or because he's lost count."
"Or doesn't care," Hermione muttered.
"It is a little unexpected to be cast as conscience at this stage of my life, but I shall adapt." Lucius flicked his long hair back, and there was something of his old demeanour about him: an icy coldness that made Hermione shudder because all that power consented to shelter Severus and herself. "The price we demand is nothing less than the Philosopher's Stone."
It was fortunate that shock couldn't kill a portrait.
Albus spluttered, and had to take several deep breaths before he could say, "There is nothing that could persuade me to pass that information to you, Lucius Malfoy. And I'm surprised to find Miss Granger accompanying you in this delusion."
"We are here to try persuasion," Hermione replied. "And if persuasion fails, then we will compel."
"The Dead cannot be compelled," Albus said.
"Other than by Dark means," Lucius added. "For those who believe that there is a difference between Dark and Light, anyway. There is only power, and how it is used."
"You see Miss Granger, he hasn't changed at all," Albus protested. "All that talk of turning over a new leaf was just that – you can't gild a turd."
"Would you say that you were on the side of Light, then, Albus?" Hermione put her bag on the desk and started laying out the packets contained within it, setting them in an orderly line in increasing size.
Albus watched her carefully. "In as much as one man can ever make that claim. Lucius is certainly not on the side of the angels, whatever lies he is feeding you."
"Tomorrow is Severus' birthday. His fiftieth. And even after five years or so of happiness, he still doesn't trust it. It may take many more years for him to come to that realisation, and he may not have that time." Hermione unwrapped the first bundle: a cauldron, small, silver, and etched with runes.
"And Lucius even less so," Albus said waspishly.
"Just so," Lucius said, with even more edge.
"And we hold you responsible. You failed in your duty as Teacher when he was your Pupil, in your duty as Headmaster when he was your Employee, in your duty as General to his Soldier, Friend to Friend and Wizard to Wizard." Hermione flicked back her sleeve, and took out her wand. "We stand here to call you to account for all those failings, and to demand payment on behalf of our Love."
"He doesn't know you're here," Albus said, looking to convince people he had a royal flush. "Only he can claim that debt against me."
"He doesn't need to." Lucius smiled like a man who knew he held all the cards and three aces from another pack up his sleeve. "Anyone can call on the Kindly Ones."
Albus drew himself up his chair. "You dare that, here!"
"All that, and more," Hermione said softly. "Now, ask yourself whether you have something to answer for, because we will do this, and if we are right then your soul will know no peace for eternity. Do you really want to find out how much you have to answer for? We can name other names – Harry, Neville, Charity, Sirius, Grindelwald even, Ariana."
Albus stiffened, face ashen. He said nothing for a long time, and Hermione continued to lay out the ingredients for the casting they intended under his coldly watchful eyes. Eventually, as the last element of the ritual was brought out, he gave in. "Very well. I shall give you directions to find my alchemical notes. On one condition."
"You are not really in the position to made conditions," Lucius said. "Still, tell us what it is."
"That you three and only you three will make use of the information. You will not pass it on to anyone else, nor ask anyone else to make the Stone. It can only be you three that make the attempt."
"Very well," Hermione said slowly.
"You know there's a catch," Lucius said to her quietly.
"I'm sure there is. I just think that we can overcome it, whatever it is." Her smile was no less assured and dangerous than his. "Trust me."
That he did trust her was not the strangest thing that had happened to Lucius, but it certainly made it into the top ten.
It was ten before Severus stirred. The house was cold beyond the ability of warming charms to ward off shivers. It was time to light the fire, or go home.
That thought percolated through the chaos: home. Spinner's End was no longer home.
He rose, swiftly put the place in order, covering the furniture with dust sheets, emptying the grate of ashes, putting stasis charms on the kitchen, and then closing the door behind him and warding it thoroughly.
He stood on the path, looking up at the dark building he had spent half his life in, then turned on his heels and Apparated away to Malfoy Manor.
It was typical of his life that when he arrived neither Hermione nor Lucius were there to witness his grand gesture, but there were house elves, and a nice glass of wine by the fire and an interesting book to read. Somehow, it felt more real that there should be no fanfare for his return, that it should be treated as normal and usual, because it ought to be.
Hermione wasn't allowed to enter Gringotts to collect the papers, because goblins held a grudge for a very long time. She grinned as she waited outside the bank, and wondered whether she'd ever see the day she'd be allowed to cross the threshold even if they did manage to make the Philosopher's Stone
She was feeling the cold and shuffling from one foot to another by the time Lucius returned with a heavy parcel under his arm. "I've got the papers," he said. "I cast a quick eye over them, and they seem genuine, so I ask you – what is the catch? He gave in far too easily."
"What do you know about Flamel and his wife?" she asked.
"Only the basics. They were very secretive." They walked towards the Leaky Cauldron and the Floo, loath to risk the delicate book to Apparition.
"I'm only guessing, but.... I think that the Stone requires a triad."
"You think that the third member was Albus, at least in later years?" Lucius paused, and turned to her. "But that doesn't make any sense. We are a triad; surely that makes us more likely to succeed?"
"For a while, perhaps. Clearly there was some sort of falling out between him and the Flamels. I think he expects us to do the same. He'll have missed nothing of our exchange this morning, and drawn his own conclusions."
"But he's wrong," Lucius said without hesitation.
"He is. I should warn you though; we're in for several months of jokes in very poor taste about fiery cauldrons and stirring rods." Hermione grinned. "And it is a dirty as it sounds. Those Medieval Potions Masters really thought they were being subtle with their coded references to stirring the pot."
"Potions Masters are rarely subtle," Lucius replied. "I think it's all the fumes they sniff. Alchemists are worse."
It turned out that Lucius was right, at least as far as Severus was concerned. Not for him the delicate probing questions, the subtle snare of hints, but the full frontal: "Where have you been? Minerva said you were at Hogwarts. What were you doing there?"
"You see, dear. I did say. No subtlety, and he hasn't even been sniffing fumes recently. I think you're rubbing off on him," Lucius murmured in Hermione's ear. "Corrupting perfectly devious Slytherins."
"Well?" Severus scowled.
"We were collecting your birthday present." Hermione peeled off her gloves, hat and coat and threw them onto a chair for the house elves to deal with, thus demonstrating that the corruption was a two-way street.
Lucius held out the book. "We haven't wrapped it, and it's a little early, but here."
Severus held the book as if it were a child, afraid to move suddenly in case it woke or he might drop it and break it. "How did you get this?"
"Bribery and corruption," Hermione said cheerfully, sitting next to him on the sofa. She kissed his cheek, and then his mouth as he turned to look at her.
"But mostly threats," Lucius said, and leaned down to claim his kiss. "It was quite like old times. Now shift over, so there's room for all three of us on here. I want to see what these notes say."
"It's not much of a birthday present if I have to share it," Severus grumbled but shifted as requested.
"I don't know. My birthday involved a lot of sharing," Hermione said. "And I enjoyed it immensely."
"Shush," said Severus. "I'm reading."
But he allowed Hermione's head to rest on his shoulder, and for her hand to clasp Lucius' across him, even though it hindered his perusal of his precious gift.
Severus returned to reading the notes over the next month. They were complex, detailed, and written by the sort of person who thought that no day was complete without sniggering at ley lines. Albus, a man very well aware of his own importance, would have found the whole thing intolerable.
He inked out careful diagrams of the charms, altering them to take into account modern advances. He considered the fine balance of the ingredients for the potions, and corrected them for the misconception about horny goat weed, and the arum, and then ran some crude arithmantic equations to come up with suggested dates for the proceedings.
"I suggest that we should make the first attempt on the spring equinox," he said over the breakfast table, as if continuing a conversation that had been running for some time.
"Please tell me it isn't going to involve outdoors," Lucius replied, and despatched his egg with flair. "It's cold and it's miserable even in midsummer, and I'm never quite sure what it is that you're rolling in, and that's mildly off-putting."
"What about all that Pure blood singing in your veins? The call of wild magic? The sap of the world rising in time with your own desires, and all that?" Hermione asked.
"It's this thing called civilisation." Lucius eased the top off his egg and began probing its mysteries with a silver spoon inlaid with the Malfoy crest. "We've been practising it for years. I like it. It's warm, and there are cushions."
"I should tell you we have to be at the cusp of two ley lines that happen to intersect in the Forbidden Forest," Severus said. "Just for the sheer pleasure of seeing your expression."
"It's too cold," Lucius said with an air of finality. "It's definitely too cold. Your cock might drop off, and then where would we be?"
"Warming charms?" Hermione said.
"And lose your concentration at the critical moment? I think not." Lucius shook his head. "If you want to fornicate al fresco you'll have to wait until our summer holidays, somewhere really warm."
"Mmmm," Hermione said, and spread jam on her toast with loving thoroughness. "Tuscany?"
Severus coughed. "Mind on higher things, if we could?"
"Equinox," said Hermione.
"Indoors," said Lucius.
"I thought you might like to hear about the ... mechanics of things." Severus pushed a piece of paper across the table to each of them.
"Doable," said Lucius.
Hermione touched the paper with jam-smeared fingers. "But wrong, I think."
Severus took a sharp breath, then snapped his teeth shut on whatever he had intended to say. "Why?"
"I see I have been cast in the role of cauldron to your two stirring rods, isn't that thinking a little simplistically? Surely the point is that anyone can be the cauldron or the stirring rod, as it were, regardless of gender?" Hermione said.
"Strap on," Lucius said, succinctly.
"That's the problem with this relationship," Severus said, already amending his own diagrams, a thin trail of arithmantic workings down the side of the copulating figures. "Too many stirring rods, and not enough cauldrons."
Lucius gave a sharp bark of laughter.
Hermione said primly, "That's the beauty of this relationship. I can't think of anything duller than being bound to one role all the time. We take turns."
They chose the Green Bedroom for the ritual. The bed was made of oak, for strength and endurance, and had a massive bedpost at each corner. The wallpaper was covered with wreathing vines, terminating in wildly unfeasible blossom of all sorts, and exotic birds that chirped from the shadowed branches.
It was as close as one could get to a Grove indoors, and with silk cushions.
Severus stood by the bed, breathing slowly to control his nerves, dressed as he had done as Potions Master – stock, high collar, frock coat, robes, and heavy boots. He hadn't worn the clothes for years, but Hermione had insisted it would be fitting, and Lucius had agreed.
Lucius and Hermione wore nothing more than a simple hand-woven unbleached linen shift which veiled rather than obscured their bodies.
"I shall go first," Lucius said. He shifted to his knees in a fluid, elegant motion, and unlaced Severus' boots pulling them free, rolling his socks down and off without making him stumble. "Only for either of you would I kneel."
Severus' gasped, the memory of kneeling at Voldemort's feet transfigured and overlaid with erotic potential.
"With us you need no armour," Hermione said, working the buttons on his coat. "You can be who you want to be, who you are." The constricting cloth at his neck was freed next, and his Adam's apple bobbed nervously. She kissed the scars on his neck, and he sighed.
Lucius' fingers were plucking at the buttons on his trousers, sliding them down his hips, whilst Hermione teased him free of his shirt. He shivered, not cold, but feeling more naked than he had ever done before, exposed to their consideration.
He shivered in earnest when Lucius took a cloth, steeped in rose water in a silver basin, and stroked along Severus' skin, cleansing him.
"That's the past gone," Hermione murmured.
Together, they eased him onto the bed, laying him down with gentle hands and warm kisses, then binding him to the posts with the finest of threads. There was no compulsion here, no binding that he could not break, only his will and theirs.
Hands, whose he could not say, dipped into the water again, and wrote runes on his skin. Runes for protection, for healing, for lust, and for love, each one setting his senses burning until he felt as if he was melting into the bed. His hair turned to water, running off the sheets in a waterfall; his legs stretched on to infinity, his toes reaching the stars.
Whilst Lucius worked on his cock with eager mouth and hands, his blond hair matched each caress, reaching along to tickle his thighs and balls. Hermione's hair mated with Severus', whilst she kissed him.
He couldn't breathe, but he didn't need to. Hermione and Lucius were breathing for him, and then Lucius traced the last of the runes on Severus' cock.
"Now," Severus said. "It ... now. Pleeeease." He didn't care how needy he sounded.
Hermione shifted round to straddle him, still kissing him, and Lucius moved between his thighs and the world stopped spinning for an instant. He breathed in air and light and shrank down into a hard pulse of energy that flexed, grew, expanded out and changed all in its path.
The sunlight tickled Severus' eyes. There were two heavy weights on either side of him, a leg here, an arm there, and hair like live animals wreathed around him.
"Mmph?" said Hermione, and snuggled closer.
"Mmm," Lucius said.
"Do you think it worked?" Severus asked.
"I hope so." Lucius kissed a shoulder. "I'm not sure I can do that again in a hurry."
"Or move," said Hermione.
"Or move," Lucius agreed.
"No need to move for the next week is there?" Severus opened an eye, decided life was too bright, and closed it again. "Lucius has no social engagements. I never do. And Hermione is always three weeks ahead of her work."
There were sleepy noises of agreement and the decision to get up was postponed indefinitely.
It had worked, of course, in all the expected ways, and some unexpected. There were still quarrels, but they didn't generate the same clawing sense of panic in Severus as before. It was hard to argue with the physical manifestation of their love when it was embodied in a large, red jewel.
And yet there was a sense of unfinished business, some part of the past that had yet to be dealt with or washed away.
It was Midsummer before he ventured to Hogwarts. Minerva greeted him warmly, admired how well he was looking, and then asked him to excuse her for a moment as she had something to do.
"Why don't you wait in my office?" she said, then whisked out of the door, leaving him to wonder when she had acquired tact.
The only sounds were those of dozing portraits, interposed with the crackle of the fire, and the occasional groan of old furniture shifting in its sleep. It was oppressive.
After a time, just long enough to convey to a Slytherin that a portrait didn't have to talk to a visitor if it didn't want to, Albus opened his eyes. "You succeeded then?"
"Thought as much. If you hadn't, they'd have been back with threats of turpentine and fire." Albus smiled thinly. "Not that it would have done them any good. If you couldn't make it with those notes, then you never would be able to."
"How closely did you work with Flamel?" Severus asked.
"I helped with some of the theory." Albus smoothed the sleeve of his robe carefully. "No more than that. The basics were already there, of course."
"I see." Severus nodded. "I have to wonder whether you weren't invited to take part in a practical demonstration."
"I was not."
"Because I've always wondered about Potter's first year, when Flamel so conveniently agreed to give up the Stone, quite why you didn't notice the Dark Lord under your very nose?" Severus smiled thinly, leaving the implication hanging. The other portraits ceased their pretence of sleep, and opened watchful eyes.
"There would have been no point in making such an invitation," Albus replied.
Severus considered the point, head tilted to one side. "You still loved Grindelwald then?"
"I could not have summoned up the necessary commitment to either of them." Albus composed himself for sleep again, dismissing Severus.
"For years I thought you hated me because of Lily," Severus said.
Albus' eyes flew open, horrified.
"But that wasn't it at all. You hated me because I reminded you of your youth. How you yearned to forget your own mistakes."
"I...." Albus stared at him.
"A greedy child, reaching for power and fame, and killing the one they loved. You could not forgive me because you could not forgive yourself. I know the feeling."
Albus' mouth opened and closed several times. "Severus, my dear boy, I.... I know I asked too much of you, but I never intended that you should feel that way."
For an instant, furious words rose in his throat, but as he met those anxious, painted eyes, the old anger faded away. It was unimportant now. He was a different man with a different life, and Lucius and Hermione were waiting. "It's all right, Albus. It doesn't matter now. I've forgiven myself."
Severus turned on his heel, and moved to the door.
"Severus... I... can you forgive me?"
He looked over his shoulder, and nodded. "Yes, Albus, I forgive you."
He closed the door firmly behind him, and Apparated home.