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An Issue Of Trust by She Who Must Not Be Named

Format: Novel
Chapters: 26
Word Count: 152,156
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Mild Language, Strong Violence, Substance Use or Abuse, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme,

Genres: Drama, Action/Adventure, Angst
Characters: Harry, Dumbledore, Snape, Tonks, Voldemort, Draco
Pairings:

First Published: 01/24/2005
Last Chapter: 09/24/2009
Last Updated: 09/24/2009

Summary:


Waking up one morning Harry finds his familiar surroundings eerily altered. Sent to a Dark future shaped under the rule of Voldemort, in which all knowledge of his existence has been forgotten, Harry is forced to rely on one of the few people who remembers his name, Severus Snape. 6th Year AU. Banner by the gifted Violet


Chapter 1: A Reason To Doubt
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An Issue Of Trust

I was amazed at how many people had spoken these words. Hell, they’d even left my lips on occasions: ‘Dumbledore trusts him.’ They stood for a lot, validated your existence and lifted your status. Got you out of a fair amount of trouble too, away from that metaphorical creek we have all navigated without that much needed paddle. And most people forget the names of some of those others who could fall into that category; Quirrell, Fudge, Mad-Eye…well, not exactly Mad-Eye, but the point is still valid. But sometimes they remember, sometimes they look back with disbelief at how often Albus can get it wrong. And sometimes they find themselves losing trust in him too, and the same words become twisted into a condemnation and accusation.

They are the words a man must learn to hide behind.



Chapter 1: A Reason To Doubt.


‘You have proven yourself loyal in the past, but the past is not now. Do not give me reason to doubt you, Severus.’

Do not give me reason, a phrase that contained so many hidden meanings. And threats. There were always a fair few of them to be found in any sentence that fell from his lips. To ignore the potential threat was to all but hand yourself over, which was never pleasant. Any other man might have shuddered at the thought, but this was Snape and only the faintest of flashes passed behind his eyes to indicate his discomfort.

Casting such thoughts from his mind, Snape picked up his pace, the stones ringing sharply beneath his boots as the words refused to be banished, tickling at the back of his mind. Some people had no right knowing so much, had no right assuming so much, especially when the assumption involved him, and even more so when it hit so close to the truth. The truth was useful, you would never hear him say otherwise. There was nothing better for hiding behind, no better guise for the words he wrapped so easily in it. But it was not to be used as a weapon, to be brandished so bluntly, so honestly and with no disguise and no hidden depths. The real truth was something to be guarded, not thrown disregarding into the world for anyone to see.

The mask fit snugly over his face. It wasn’t uncomfortable anymore; he had grown somewhat attached to it over time, wearing it as a second skin. And with a whiteness so close to that of his own it blended perfectly, becoming more than just a mask and almost a part of him, smoothing his face and his features into something that was only a semblance of who he was. It wasn’t just a mask you could hide behind, it was a mask you could live behind, and thinking of it as such made wearing it all the easier.

The room was dark, which was no surprise, all in the name of an impossible anonymity. No follower was to know the name of the one who stood beside him. And in theory it all worked seamlessly, until reality appeared and twisted its arm behind its back before giving it a sharp kick. Some people couldn’t be hidden by a mask, couldn’t be concealed by the darkness and the robes. They knew each other, some more than others and not always everyone, but they knew enough. Enough so that when you met outside this room, unprotected and defenceless, you held the others hand slightly longer than the handshake necessarily required and the gaze went deeper than was strictly necessary. And with that person you would forever associate the screams you had heard, a whole variety in pitch and intensity for the connoisseur to appreciate and the weak to shy from. You were known amongst each other by your victim’s last breath.

But still you behaved as though it were otherwise, you maintained the façade of ignorance out of tradition, and stored everything you knew for future reference, for future bargaining. It was an endless struggle for superiority, to gain the upper hand through bribery and blackmail and simply knowing more than the other.

Do not give me reason to doubt you.

Well there was always at least one person with something to hold over him, who knew so much more about him when he struggled to find enough pieces about the other to form even a portion of his lifetime. It was hardly surprising given the choices he had made though: they demanded mistrust at least in private, no matter how unshakeable it appeared in public, for it would do no good for your followers to know you ever wavered, ever doubted.

‘Kneel.’

It was a voice you believed should be cold and merciless, but instead it rang richly from the walls, making it that much easier to obey as he sank subserviently down, all other thoughts leaving. He had been dwelling on them for too long, long enough to cause suspicion if the Dark Lord were to realise how they plagued him and tormented him.

Reason to doubt.

When there could be no reason. His position relied upon the utmost trust, the utmost belief of where his loyalties lay. He would not betray them.

‘Another family falls, another potential enemy is struck down.’ Snape could feel the figure next to him relax with a loud sigh as the Dark Lord surveyed the room, scarlet eyes bright in the darkness. ‘And yet I have achieved nothing.’ The same sickly sweet tones, but with an edge that spoke of blood and death and unimaginable pain. ‘Every day you kill, every day the Mudbloods and the Muggle-lovers fall to my power, yet I have achieved nothing. The Dark Mark hangs in the sky, but it is not enough. It will not hand me the world.’ Voldemort smiled, his thin lips curling slightly at the corners as he slowly paced through the ranks, his ranks. ‘You waste your time on the small and insignificant when they will not remain so for much longer, when they are not the ones who will provide the ultimate threat.’ It was true; in the thousands they had slaughtered not one carried a name worth remembering, had held a status worth dying for. They were picking off the weak whilst the strong grew stronger. ‘You will bring down the Order, you will destroy the Ministry.’ The voice filled with passion, with loathing as his eyes flashed gleefully. ‘You will strike at the very heart of their resistance and watch as it crumbles.’

‘But My Lord!’ The voice was hesitant, and with good reason, feeble in the silence that engulfed the room. ‘Surely there is only one we need bring down?’ Snape smiled mercilessly to himself that such a pathetic voice could make such an astute statement, that the fury pulsing from his Master was not aimed at him.

‘You would bring me Harry Potter?’ Such lightness, such deceit in a voice so hypnotising. ‘You would place his lifeless body before me in the knowledge that someone so insignificant, so eternally,’ he spat the words hatefully, ‘lucky could never be my equal, my adversary.’

‘It would be my greatest honour.’ Still pathetic, but with a coat of grease that allowed it to slide ingratiatingly.

‘And then the world would slowly crumble; without its protector it would have no other choice, and we shall remain to pick up the pieces, to rebuild the way it was always intended.’

‘Yes, My Lord.’

‘No.’ A couple jumped, those who could not yet read the subtle signs and were not expecting it. ‘I will not inherit a broken world, I will not have handed to me something I should be able to take for myself. History will not record me that way.’ The arrogance of someone who had failed to grasp one simple point: It didn’t matter how he took the world, once it was his so became the history that surrounded it. The truth can be found in the man in power, and history would be his to write however he saw fit. Snape would have smiled had those eyes not turned to rest on him, sifting through his mind. Anyone with basic knowledge of Legilimens could have stopped that attack, but it would not have been the wisest course of action. The trick was to hide only that which needed to remain so, and that was the challenge, to separate your memories, your entire life into two distinct places. ‘He trusts you?’

‘Implicitly, My Lord.’

‘Then you shall be the means by which that old fool will fall.’

‘I will not fail you.’

‘Of that you had better hope.’

-oOOo-


The fire spat and flared in the hearth, sparks landing on the heavy carpet nearby and dying instantly with a small hiss and wisp of smoke as Snape stepped through, mask clutched to point of destruction in an iron grip. It was his only concession to the anger he felt, his face impassive as the fire continued to flare behind him, casting a soft glow across the walls.

‘Severus, I know you have returned.’

Of course the Headmaster knew; when was there anything he did not know? Severus turned slowly to greet the ghostly face hovering in his fireplace. ‘I trust all went well.’

‘All went…. as expected. I will join you in your office shortly.’ He turned away from the fireplace sharply, not waiting for a response or acknowledgement. He was not in the mood for riddles or incessant hinting, vague comments or any of the other annoying habits of speech the Headmaster possessed in abundance. Nor could he stomach tea, or a single one of the thousands of lemon flavoured sweets and snacks Dumbledore thrived upon. Were he any other man, Snape would swear that his sweet tooth would be his ultimate undoing, as he chuckled emptily; Dumbledore, the greatest Wizard known to the Wizarding World felled by a Lemon Sherbet. An obviously most evil and malevolent Lemon Sherbet, but a Lemon Sherbet nonetheless. Reluctantly he moved away from the heat of the fire. He never realised how cold the other place was until he returned and remembered what it was to feel warmth, but wearing these robes in the castle felt wrong, as though the building itself were emanating its disapproval. Despite the almost complete lack of difference, he always felt more comfortable once he was wearing his teaching robes, more able to deal with whatever might be thrown at him. A different weapon for a different place.

-oOOo-


‘Boy,’ Vernon bellowed through the locked door. ‘You’d better be up already. I will not have you making us late.’

He was up, and dressed in a dark blue sweater that almost hung to his knees. He was still short, there was no escaping it, and the only thing that gave him cause to hate it was when his cousin looked down on him with those little piggy eyes.

‘I’m up, I’ll be out in a minute,’ he replied tiredly through the door, for once locked only from his side. The array of padlocks still hung down the outside of the door, and his uncle was not above waving the keys threateningly in front of his face whenever he was displeased, which was often. And Harry never pushed it too far, keenly aware that such freedom was not something to be squandered.

‘And stop moping,’ Vernon finished for good measure as his heavy footsteps could be heard on the staircase. Harry sighed as he thrust his wand into the waistband of his jeans with complete disregard for the safety of his buttocks. He filled Hedwig’s bowl generously as he stroked her soft feathers, smiling when she nipped his fingers and stretched her wings. ‘Did you write to your friends?’ Vernon asked from the bottom of the stairs as Harry closed the door behind him. That one man could put such venom into such a simple statement was impressive, even rivalling on Snape who always managed to pronounce even just his name as though the words themselves were poisoning him. Harry turned to meet his angry gaze.

‘Yes, Hedwig only just returned. She’s in her cage.’ Vernon bristled with annoyance, as though deprived of a golden opportunity to berate him.

‘Good,’ he managed to reply. ‘I won’t have that creature destroying the house whilst we’re out.’ Harry opened his mouth to point out the only creature in the house likely to do that was Dudley in one of his tantrums, but thought the better of it. Besides, he had a favour to ask. He followed his uncle dutifully to the car where his aunt and Dudley were waiting impatiently, Dudley throwing him a look of pure contempt as he slid into the seat next to him.

‘I still don’t see why he has to come,’ he whined, shifting his incredible bulk slightly and trying to loosen the seat belt that stretched around his large stomach. Harry pulled a disgusted face as Dudley glared at him.

‘Because I said he does,’ Vernon grunted as Petunia fished in her handbag, producing a large paper bag that filled the car with a sickly sweet smell as she proffered it to her son.

‘Don’t get upset Diddikins,’ she crooned. ‘He won’t ruin your day, I promise.’

‘Then lock him back in his room,’ Dudley demanded as the car backed out the driveway and Vernon hit the brakes a touch too hard, jerking the car to the stop.

‘How about another present, will that make up for it?’ he bribed tersely, grinding the car into first gear as the road moved slowly past them.

‘No,’ Dudley started to shout, looking desperately out the back window at the hastily retreating house. ‘I don’t want him or his freakishness anywhere near me.’ Harry smiled to himself as Dudley worked himself up. ‘What if he does it again?’ Harry rolled his eyes at his cousin, wishing he had been the cause of his new found irrational fear. But there was never a Dementor around when you needed one.

‘He won’t do anything, will you boy?’ Vernon said threateningly, his knuckles white against the steering wheel.

‘No,’ Harry replied with all the false sincerity he could muster, grinning at Dudley so no one else could see. Dudley emitted a petrified little squeak before hollering at the top of his lungs.

‘I want to go home!’

‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ Vernon said shortly. ‘We were lucky to get tickets at such short notice, and you’ve been dying to go.’

‘I want to go home, now!’ Dudley screamed, throwing off his seat belt and fumbling with the door handle as Petunia shrieked with fear for the life of her precious son. A minute later the car had turned round and was heading at a leisurely pace back towards Privet Drive. Vernon pulled into the driveway in stony silence as Petunia helped a sobbing Dudley from his seat, a motherly arm placed gently over his enormous shaking shoulder.

‘I hope you’re happy, boy,’ Vernon growled as Harry slammed the door behind him. ‘You ruined the day, and after all the trouble we went too so you could come along.’ Harry didn’t bother to catch him out on the obvious lie; Vernon was turning a very pretty shade of red.

‘S’not my fault,’ he said sullenly.

‘Yes it is, you and your freakishness.’ His uncle was continuing on autopilot now, taken over by weeks of pent up rage. ‘We should never have allowed you back in the house.’

‘I didn’t do anything to Dudley,’ Harry said indignantly. ‘And you didn’t have to take me back, it’s not like this is the only place I can go.’

‘Yes it is,’ Vernon announced triumphantly. ‘Else you wouldn’t be here. Or perhaps you’re not as well loved as you thought. So, what did you do to make even the freaks abandon you, kill someone?’

Harry saw red.

-oOOo-


‘Severus, how good of you to join me,’ Dumbledore gestured to an empty seat, a pot of gently steaming tea appearing on his desktop much to Snape’s disappointment. He found himself entranced as he watched the Headmaster pour two full cups, adding enough sugar for five to his own before gesturing to Snape for the other. He took it reluctantly, sipping the weak brown liquid as Dumbledore settled himself behind his desk. ‘What news do you have?’

‘Nothing you did not expect,’ Snape said smoothly. ‘The Dark Lord is quite determined, and it is not just Potter he has set his sights upon.’ Dumbledore smiled faintly, like a small child who got the attention of his parents by breaking something very valuable.

‘You can use his name Severus,’ he commented absently. ‘The world will not fall apart simply because you use the word Voldemort.’

‘Of course,’ Snape said flatly. ‘Voldemort is determined, but has not yet given any indication of his plans or intentions. Beyond for certain individuals to find themselves slightly less alive than they currently appear to be.’ Dumbledore raised his eyebrows at the increasing sarcasm as Snape found himself hiding behind his cup of tea.

‘Then perhaps, in light of this, there is something you could do for me,’ Dumbledore watched as Snape struggled to swallow his mouthful and regain his composure. ‘I would like for you to collect Harry from his relatives and take him to Grimmauld Place.’

Snape nearly spat out his tea.

‘What?’

‘He cannot travel alone.’

‘But surely there is a more sensible choice,’ Snape tried to reason. ‘Someone less likely to attract attention.’

‘You are by far the most…qualified. And there is no one else I can spare.’

‘The Dark Lord -’ Snape paused and corrected himself. ‘Voldemort watches the house, he will know if it is I who collects the boy.’

‘Yet no doubt he would realise how foolish it would be to expect you to take Harry from under my very nose.’ It was true, but the Dark Lord was not necessarily known for his reasonable nature. But then again, neither was Dumbledore. Snape would be the one going, it was final. ‘Cheer up, my dear boy.’ Dumbledore’s eyes twinkled as Snape glowered in gracious defeat. ‘All will turn out for the best, you’ll see.’ Snape forced a grimace of agreement as he sipped at the last of his tea.

‘When is he to be collected?’

‘This afternoon, and do try to be nice to the Muggles.’

‘Naturally.’ Snape replaced the now empty cup onto the tray, which disappeared seconds later. ‘I take it there will be someone at Grimmauld Place waiting for him?’

‘I believe Remus will be present tonight,’ Snape couldn’t stop his eyes from flickering to the sky outside. ‘You must admit, with your potion there will be no safer protector. The Weasleys will arrive in the morning.’

‘I have work of my own to attend to this evening.’

‘There will be no need for you to remain,’ Dumbledore assured the Potions Master. ‘I simply require Harry to be delivered safely.’

‘How would you suggest I reach the boy, the house is extremely well warded,’ especially against people like me, Snape thought to himself. No matter how he looked at it, the Dark Mark he bore separated him and added all sorts of little extra difficulties.

‘It will not be a problem,’ Dumbledore reassured him. ‘Although you might do well to Apparate somewhere out of sight and away from the house.’

‘Surely his relatives are aware of the existence of magic?’ Snape said incredulously. ‘I would not have thought any Muggle could be that oblivious, and it is Potter we are talking about here.’

‘They are indeed aware,’ the Headmaster said gravely, steepling his fingers. ‘However they are not the most understanding of people.’ Snape nodded; he had met plenty of frightened Muggles before. ‘Be careful,’ Dumbledore added as Snape reached for the door. He nodded grimly, robes swishing behind him as he descended the stone staircase.

-oOOo-


‘I want that garden perfect,’ Vernon roared from the open doorway to where Harry was knelt on the grass. ‘Don’t think you’re coming inside until it is.’ Harry sighed deeply. It had been his own fault for losing his temper, and he hadn’t seriously expected the threat of Alastor Moody would allow him to get away with anything. His uncle had limits, and Harry had done his best not to push them too far, to get through the summer as quickly and painlessly as was possible.

The sun was too hot on the back of his neck, which was already painfully red, the back of his scratchy t-shirt not helping his discomfort. And without gloves his hands were sore, marked from the occasional stinging nettle he had to pull out that was now lying in a small pile next to him. Muttering to himself had helped at first, but there were only so many curses he knew and eventually the anger towards his uncle had petered out. He could have had the job finished in a few minutes with magic, but the potential wrath of Vernon was only beaten by the every increasing threat of the Ministry. He was not liked within its walls, even the return of Voldemort being brought to light was not enough to undo the damage of the previous year. Bad feelings hung around and the rumours were not about to be dispelled.

Pulling a particularly stubborn weed viciously from the ground, Harry sat back on his legs, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the sleeve of his discarded sweater. He had wanted to watch the news tonight, and possibly even make a phone call, but there was no chance of that now. He’d be lucky if his dinner had just gone cold. Glancing nervously at the window from which he knew his uncle would be sure to check on him regularly he leant back towards the flowerbed. He’d have to get the hose out too, with no rain in weeks the soil was dry and the plants starting to wilt, yet something else for which he would be blamed. But the sun was too high at the moment, which left just him and the weeds, most of which God had been good enough to bless with a sting.

He barely noticed the shadow that spread slowly across his, engrossed in his own thoughts as his hands worked of their own accord, but there was no missing the voice.

-oOOo-


Snape had been in many Muggle towns and villages, but rarely one that seemed so uniform. It took a special kind of person to live in this sort of environment and repetitiveness, where every house was identical to the one next door and each driveway supported a car that if not the same to every other, was at least doing a pretty good job of imitation. He knew that Arabella Figg lived in one of them, and wondered how she could bear it. Perhaps the Squib in her found a way to cope, but he had at least expected something small that would set her house apart from all the others. No such luck though, he was greeted simply by rows and rows or perfect lawns and spotless automobiles that seemed to challenge him for being new.

The only concession that there was a difference was a small number of each door, as he glared at the small number two in front of him. Logic dictated that four would not be far away, but Muggles seemed to have put a whole lot more thought and variety into numbering their streets than he would have thought possible. Only someone completely ignorant could be inventive enough to make the smallest thing so complicated. However, after a couple of paces up the road he soon realised the numbers were unnecessary. There was no mistaking the head of hair across the road, and no one else would be stupid enough to leave their wand sticking so obviously from the back of their trousers. Adjusting his robes he stepped across the street, until his shadow stretched across most of the garden. He wondered briefly about the terrible sunburn he could all ready see on the boy, but dismissed the thought just as quickly by dint of not particularly caring. And since Potter seemed oblivious to his presence he cleared his throat.

‘Need I tell you how many things you are doing wrong at this very moment, Potter?’

The boy jumped, which was always a good start, before wiping his dusty hands on the faded and oversized jeans he was wearing. He opened his mouth to say something undoubtedly insolent when a short, fat man burst through the front door, his face a deep shade of red.

‘No, get off. I will not have another one of you freaks on my property.’

It was not what he had expected, and certainly not the kind of comment he expected from a scared Muggle. Once again, Snape got the impression that Dumbledore hadn’t told him the whole story, but was momentarily distracted by the fact that the man seemed to be looking down on him. It was not a situation he was willing to allow to continue. Pulling himself up to his full and impressive height Snape turned the full force of his personality on Vernon. He had to give the man credit: he was stupid enough not to back down.

‘If you would kindly repeat what you just called me.’ His voice was icy.

‘You heard me!’ Vernon roared. ‘I will not have you freaks thinking you can just turn up whenever you like. It’s bad enough you leaving the boy here.’ Snape turned to where Harry had turned a shade of red almost equivalent to that of his uncle, although it was based more on embarrassment than anger, raising one eyebrow questioningly as the smallest smirk played on his lips.


Chapter 2: No Safer Protector
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Chapter 2: No Safer Protector.


‘I said get off my property,’ Vernon spluttered again, although it was with slightly less vehemence than he had managed in the previous attempt. ‘Or are you deaf as well as stupid?’ It was a mark to the fact that Gryffindors were not as eternally ignorant as Snape believed when he felt Harry take a couple of smart steps backwards.

‘Potter will be coming with me.’ Harry didn’t look any happier with this than his overweight excuse for a relation did, obviously torn between which of the two he wanted to win the stand off. In the end he settled for crossing his arms with the air of someone who was willing to wait and see. ‘You have five minutes to collect your belongings,’ Snape snarled in Harry’s vague direction. Evidently his presence inspired greater obedience than the relatives managed to achieve, since Harry immediately sidled towards the door, sliding past the impressive bulk blocking the entrance. His uncle was too engrossed with the professor to pay him much heed, so Harry took the stairs to his room two at a time, throwing the door open so that it crashed against the far wall, causing Hedwig to jump.

‘Looks like we’re going, girl,’ he muttered apprehensively, pulling his heavy trunk out the cupboard and wincing when it dropped the couple of inches to the floor with a loud and reverberating thud. Haphazardly throwing back the few books he had removed, he then gathered the letters that were scattered across his desk. On the most part, they consisted of Ron’s scratchy scribble, not made any more legible by the speed and excitement with which his friend normally wrote. Most didn’t even contain more than a few lines, and the more thoughtful might have waited to at least fill a piece of parchment before sending it. But Ron, it seemed, had taken to the habit of writing anything and everything of any remote interest that happened and reaching for the nearest owl. Fortunately, it was normally Pig who got the honour of the long journey, and the excitable owl had quickly become as frequent a resident as Hedwig. The few times Errol had attempted the flight he had taken up lodgings and refused to move for a week, his head stuck pathetically under his wing. Harry had prodded him a few times with a pencil to make sure he was still alive, and then let him be.

After kicking the hefty trunk towards the door, Harry opened Hedwig’s cage. ‘It might be easier if you met me there,’ he said appreciatively, running a finger down the soft feathers on her chest. ‘I don’t think we’ll have the best company for the trip.’ Hedwig just hooted softly in agreement, spreading her wings and leaving an empty cage behind her. Jamming it under his arm, Harry proceeded to drag the trunk towards the stairs.

‘…This coming from a lowly Muggle.’ Harry heard the words floating up to the landing before he had even left his room. He pulled more frantically at his trunk, but it refused to slide across the vulgar floral carpet at any speed greater than agonisingly slowly.

‘…You’re all good for nothing…’ The trunk finally pivoted over the top step, and Harry felt his grip slipping on the handle in his hurry, the insults continuing to pass between the two standing below him. In any other circumstance it might have been amusing, but Harry was painfully aware that, no matter the outcome, he was now destined to spend time in the company of someone who not only hated him, but was also in a stinking bad mood because of him. They had to be separated, preferably before either his uncle got cursed, or Snape received a detailed description of everything that was wrong with his kind. Harry attempted to glare his rebellious trunk into submission, since he was sure he had been able to lift the stupid thing, just about, in previous years. He mentally blamed Hermione for its increase in weight. It wouldn’t surprise him to discover she had secretly been slipping in extra books. Gritting his teeth, he braced it against his back to get a better hold, the sharp corner digging painfully between his shoulder blades.

‘…Impure, nothing but a waste of air…’ Reaching gingerly for his wand with one hand, and slowing the progress of his now eagerly sliding trunk with the other, Harry heard a familiar snort of anger from his uncle. Risking a glance over his shoulder, he saw Vernon’s hand curling round the side of the door, obviously making to slam it in the Potion Master’s face. And he did - or at least he tried to - the door coming to a bone jarring halt midway through its arc as a flash of red stopped it in its tracks. ‘How dare you!’ Snape roared, wand hovering in the air between the two. Harry dropped all pretences of saving his trunk and earning, if not his aunt’s approval, then at least not her outright scorn. He leapt down the stairs so that it slid down behind him uncontrolled, almost taking out his feet.

‘Sir, no!’ Harry jumped in front of the aimed wand as Vernon almost fell backwards in fear, shying away as Snape looked at Harry with detestation.

‘Finally ready, are we then, Potter?’ he managed to growl.

‘Yes, sir,’ Harry answered sullenly, gesturing to where his trunk had landed at the bottom of the stairs, taking a sizeable chunk out of the banister. Snape snorted with indifference, turning on his heel and stalking past the garden as Harry stepped around his cowering uncle to retrieve it, heaving it through the doorway and down the path to where Snape had finally stopped, tapping his foot with impatience.

‘I would have thought you’d be slightly more excited to be leaving,’ Snape muttered with all the patience of an irate hippogriff, barely waiting for Harry to catch up before pacing down the street again. ‘What is keeping you so long?’ he snapped intolerantly when Harry immediately lagged behind again, fixing him with a patented I’m-better-than-you-why-must-I-waste-my-precious-time-in-your-presence? glare.

‘It’s heavy,’ Harry muttered, biting his tongue on the many additional comments he wanted to make. Snape sighed heavily and wearily, no doubt at the immense aggravation of all things Potter, pointing his wand and firing a shrinking charm at the dropped object. When it was no more than the size of a fist he stopped, eyebrows raised as he looked expectantly at Harry.

‘I will have no further excuses,’ he snarled, sweeping round as Harry bent down to retrieve the tiny trunk before running to catch up. Even then, he struggled to keep up with the professor’s long stride, breaking into sporadic moments of a half-running, half-jumping movement to prevent getting left behind. He scowled to himself, an act that mirrored Snape, who was concentrating furiously on the road ahead of him.

‘How are we getting back?’ he finally asked, but there was no response. Chewing over the idea of repeating himself, Harry instead asked the only other question that had been plaguing him. ‘You wouldn’t have cursed my uncle, would you?’

‘And if I had?’ Snape’s tone was short. ‘You are in no position to question my actions, Potter. Or need I remind you of some of yours?’ Harry glowered to himself, face heating up slightly again as he stared at his feet. ‘Besides,’ Snape continued with rather more malice in his voice, ‘I would not be the first to curse a member of that terrible family.’ Snape looked down on Harry’s worried face, his own twisting as he realised exactly what Potter was thinking. ‘I would not have hurt them,’ he snapped angrily, furious that the boy could even think such a thing.

‘You did say he was unworthy of the very air he breathed,’ Harry pointed out with a hastily added, ‘sir.’

‘I never said I particularly liked Muggles,’ Snape sighed with exasperation. ‘But, for the most part, I don’t want to see them all killed either.’ He paused for a moment considering what he had just said as his lips curled upwards slightly. ‘Although there are always exceptions.’ Harry didn’t comment.

‘How are we getting back, sir?’ Harry changed the subject quickly. He didn’t particularly want this trip to wind up as some sort of insight into the workings of Snape’s mind: mainly he just wanted to get through it alive and, if at all possible, unscathed.

‘Floo Network.’ Harry waited to see if any further information would be offered. It quickly became apparent that it would not.

‘I didn’t think there was a connected fireplace near here.’ Snape rolled his eyes, crossing the street without warning.

‘Normally there is not, nor would there ever be, but for the purposes of today, there is one fireplace that will do.’ Harry cheered slightly when he approached the familiar garden of Arabella Figg. The permeating smell of cats actually seemed quite appealing if it would get him away from Privet Drive while spending the shortest amount of time in Snape’s company that was possible. He would have bathed in it. The doorbell rang cheerfully inside the house as Harry waited, Snape’s scowl deepening as he heard the lock sliding behind the door. Apparently his distaste spread to Squibs, as Harry could see his eyebrows rising distastefully at the woman who greeted them.

‘Harry!’ she exclaimed, pulling him bodily into the house as Snape followed, carefully positioning himself as far away from anything solid as was possible. If he could have floated, Harry was sure he would be doing so right now. ‘How have you been?’

‘Fine,’ Harry started to reply, just to find himself cut off by an impatient snort.

‘This is not the time for pleasantries.’ Snape’s voice cut smoothly through the conversation. ‘The Floo Network is only accessible for a short period of time, and anything we can do to further shorten it is only prudent.’ He looked meaningfully at Arabella, who nodded dismissively.

‘Yes yes, we all know…death, destruction, Death Eaters and approaching doom. Don’t you ever get tired of expecting the worst?’ She chuckled to Harry as Snape seethed, her fingers grasping his arm with remarkable strength for her seeming frailness and steering him inarguably down the hallway.

‘It is only sensible to prepare for the worst, to ensure there are no nasty surprises.’ The last part of the comment was aimed more specifically at Harry, who found himself still being dragged towards to kitchen despite Snape’s protests.

‘There is always time for a cup of tea.’ Harry couldn’t be sure if Arabella actually heard Snape’s groan of despair, or if she just ignored it. She released Harry’s arm, nodding towards a stool that he perched himself on warily, unsure if it was naturally such a revolting colour or actually made out of the cat hairs it resembled. ‘After all, a cup of tea never hurt anyone.’ Judging by the noises coming from Snape, he heartily disagreed with that comment.

‘We must be leaving,’ he instructed as Arabella lifted a dainty china teapot covered in daisies. ‘Now.’ He folded his arms imperiously, glaring at her, daring her to argue.

‘Tch tch.’ Arabella shook her head, placing the teapot carefully back on the tray. ‘Far be it from me to keep you from your obviously most important duties.’ She smiled at Harry as Snape swept, uninvited, towards the living room. That Harry hung behind and took a moment to help her, after she was inexplicably overcome by a bout of unexpected weakness, only served to incense the Potions Master further. ‘I take it you brought your own Floo Powder? Never had the need to keep any myself.’ Snape nodded curtly at the woman’s increasingly cheery voice, pulling a small bag from his robes and gesturing for Harry. Emptying a handful he cleared his throat impatiently as Harry stepped into the fireplace.

‘It was nice to see you again, Mrs. Figg,’ he said politely, ignoring Snape’s continuing pointed coughs before raising his hand and throwing the powder with a shouted ‘Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place!’

-oOOo-


The kitchen was empty as Harry fell through the flames, hand reaching out to grab a nearby chair and stop himself from falling on his rear end. Fortunately for what was left of his pride, he had regained his sense of balance before Snape appeared behind him.

‘Give me your trunk,’ he commanded. Harry quickly pulled the small object from his pocket and placed it on the floor. It had barely reached full size again before the Potions Master was stalking across the room. ‘Professor Lupin will watch over you tonight,’ he said dismissively.

‘Professor Lupin is here?’ Harry brightened again instantly, looking round the abandoned kitchen. The Order had obviously been busy, as the table was littered with plates and glasses. If someone hadn’t even enchanted them clean, then they must have left in a rush, and since Kreacher insisted on being as useless as always, there was no one else to do so. Snape noticed his wandering attention, treating him to a snide smile.

‘Feel free to clean up, although should you have more pressing things to do, I’m sure it can wait until Mrs Weasley arrives in the morning,’ he commented sarcastically.

‘Will Ron be coming too?’ Harry’s constant noise was really beginning to wear on Snape.

‘Unfortunately,’ he grimaced. ‘After all, we’re already sheltering one out of control teenager, why not another?’ Harry frowned at the comment but said nothing. ‘I trust you know where your room is?’

‘Can I speak to Professor Lupin?’

‘It would not be advisable.’ Snape nodded in the direction of the window as Harry stepped closer, twitching the curtain a side and looking up into the cloudless sky where the full moon hung eerily. ‘He will know you have arrived, but I suggest you stay away from the Master Bedroom.’

‘But I thought, with the potion…’ Harry looked round the empty room dejectedly. The prospect of an evening to himself was not as appealing as it had first sounded. He could hear the taunts of approaching boredom already. Cleaning was almost sounding like fun.

‘He is still a werewolf,’ Snape commented with no hidden amount of distaste. ‘Not some family pet you can throw a ball for.’ Apparently the thought amused him, as the corners of his lips curled slightly in a smirk. ‘He will not appreciate the company.’ Harry crossed his arms sullenly, not mentioning the fact that it had been the company of Sirius and his father that had kept him sane for all those years. ‘Do not even think about it.’ Harry looked up in faint surprise, creasing his forehead as Snape glowered down at him. ‘Not only were your father and Black exceedingly reckless, but they were Animagi. Illegal Animagi.’ Snape couldn’t resist the extra dig. ‘You are not. To a werewolf, there is a great deal of difference.’ Harry shrugged.

‘I won’t go there, sir.’ Snape doubted the truth in the statement. After all, Harry had happily gone chasing after a troll without a second thought, and then he had gallivanted off looking for the Chamber of Secrets. He had searched for a convicted murderer without batting an eyelid, and to top it all off he had broken into the Ministry. Snape could only be thankful that he had no friends to drag along with him this time, although he wasn’t so sure thankful was the right word. Accidents would befall reckless Gryffindors, and they always seemed to involve more effort to clear up on his part than he was comfortable with. The world wouldn’t miss another Potter-loving hero worshipper, but he could do without the extra paperwork.

‘See that you don’t.’ He made to leave. Too much time spent in the company of the boy gave him itchy fingers. Be they to curse or strangle he wasn’t sure, but he settled on the fact that either would do.

‘Is there anything to eat?’ Harry questioned before Snape could even have the door open, with a little more hope than he guessed the boy had intended.

‘Don’t tell me those Muggles don’t even feed you.’ Were Snape a bitter man, he might have taken considerable joy in the realisation it was true, Harry’s angry glare telling him all he needed to know.

‘You didn’t exactly give me a chance to grab something before we left,’ Harry lied, meeting Snape’s mirthless smirk with a challenging stare of his own.

‘You will find plenty to eat in the cupboards,’ Snape informed him shortly. ‘If you could refrain from burning down the house, I am sure it would be appreciated by all.’ He made for the door once again, this time managing to wrap his hand around the handle and turn it a full rotation before that annoying voice stopped him once again.

‘How am I supposed to cook it?’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Cook it,’ Harry repeated. ‘I doubt Mrs. Black had time for anything so Muggle as electricity, and I can’t use magic outside Hogwarts.’ The last comment was made with the kind of know-it-all tone Snape expected more from Granger. Clearly too much time with the girl was rubbing off on Potter in the wrong ways. He still refused to study, but picked up on her more irritating character traits. The grin was all his though, watching as Snape made his way towards the ancient oven, muttering to himself about house elves and work that was beneath him. The pot hit the stove with a loud clang that caused Harry to wince as Snape muttered an incantation he would rather no one else knew that he knew. Thick soup poured from the end of his wand; the portion not exactly generous but enough to shut Harry up, which was all Snape was really concerned with at this point. The bowl hit the table with enough force to crack it, but that did not happen, much to Harry’s surprise.

‘Now, if you have finished wasting my time,’ Snape’s voice clipped icily, ‘I have other places to be.’

‘Thank you, sir.’ Harry tried to hide the snicker but failed as Snape’s eyes narrowed and glinted.

‘Be grateful we are not at school.’ Snape reached for the door handle one final time, relieved to finally have the door open and no more inane questions and requests to further annoy him. ‘But as it is, I do not have the time to deal with your consistent insolence.’ Harry engrossed himself in the contents of his bowl, tearing a chunk of bread as though it were the most interesting experience in the world. Only when the door slammed shut did he risk a quick glance up, eyes flickering beneath the thick fringe that obscured most of his vision.

The soup was gone too quickly, and as he had feared boredom soon followed. The house had changed very little since he last visited. Sure the rooms seemed a little cleaner, but it was only so long he could spend admiring the grime free state of the walls. He counted the stairs, but apparently they had fixed themselves at fourteen and seemed reluctant to grow any new ones, so he counted the floorboards. He then compared the count in each room, only to find them depressingly similar and certainly not different enough to warrant any hidden rooms or passageways. It seemed the Black family was remarkably dull when it came to dungeons or secret chambers, and Harry could feel his faith in pureblood traditions slipping. With the house lacking in shrines to Muggle torture, he resorted to a tried and true method of entertainment: seeing how long he could balance on one leg. Hermione would have been proud, what with the pile of unread books he still had sitting in his trunk. Nevertheless he was taking the time to finish what was sure to be a valuable endeavour. Imagine if Voldemort captured him tomorrow and he didn’t know how long he could balance for…the idea was unthinkable.

When his right leg ached from all the hopping round the room, he shifted to his left, only to be rewarded with significantly less success and a bruised shin. It was whilst he was sat uncomfortably on the floor rubbing some life back into his legs that the thought struck.

Buckbeak.

He wasn’t the best company, but given his severe lack of choices, Harry was willing to accept the conversational ability of a Blast-Ended Skrewt. Jumping to his feet, he took the stairs two at a time, skidding to a halt at the top as he threw open the first door. It was empty, but at least he was being momentarily entertained through looking. He didn’t dwell on the thought that the house only boasted a total of four bedrooms, and he had reduced the list of possible hideouts to two.

Well, one. Buckbeak may have resided in the Master bedroom last year, but he doubted even a hippogriff would be willing to spend a night in the same room as a werewolf. But when the third door opened to yet another disappointing array of nothingness, he began to question that assumption. After all, Snape himself had said that whilst a werewolf didn’t appreciate the company of a person, other animals were normally fine. Okay, so they hadn’t been his exact words, but the meaning was clear enough. And it wasn’t fair for Buckbeak to be cooped up all the time.

Harry made his decision and reached for the door handle.

The room was shrouded in darkness, a damp smell hanging in the air as Harry gingerly pushed the door open, trying to draw as little sound from the worn hinges as was possible. He paused, running a hand down the length of his arm to try and stop the tiny hairs that had risen from itching. The smell had hit him full force by now, musty in a way that reminded him of the Forbidden Forest, but all he could make out were vague shadows, occasionally lengthened by the headlights of a car driving past outside. He stepped carefully through the gap, eyes squinting as he looked around the room. He could just about make out the frame of the large four poster bed as he moved hesitantly forward, hand outstretched in front of him for fear of hitting something unexpected. He stopped only when he felt the smooth wood beneath his fingers, his night vision having finally asserted itself as he took another glance around the room. There was no Buckbeak. However, there appeared to be no wolf either. He mused for a moment on the possibility that Snape had gotten it wrong. After all, Remus normally preferred the Shrieking Shack during the full moon. But that would mean he, Harry, was alone in the house, and he doubted Dumbledore would allow even the chance of that to occur.

He suddenly realised the sheets on the bed were rustling slightly, his hand jumping from where it had been resting as though unexpectedly bitten. The bed itself was a mass of shadows, the dark bed sheets making it almost impossible to distinguish whether there was something there or not until the dimness shifted. Harry had always thought Sirius had been almost ridiculously large for a dog, but he had been a puppy compared to the thing that sprawled across the duvet in front of him. And Sirius had somehow managed to help control it? Harry froze as the oversized head lifted slightly, eyes glinting amidst the dark fur that surrounded them, and he was suddenly acutely aware of the shirt that clung uncomfortably to his back, feet sticking slightly to the rough wood floor. Hesitantly, he took a single step backwards, eyes locked as the beast followed his every move. It was Remus, he reminded himself forcefully, and Harry repeated the name over and over in his head even as he swallowed loudly, his throat dry as his feet shuffled beneath him. Remus, Remus, Remus. Still the wolf gave no signs of moving, head turning slowly and lethargically as Harry continued to back away, not breaking the gaze as he fumbled behind him for the door handle, pulling the door open desperately and all but falling through.

Feeling as though he hadn’t taken a breath in an eternity, Harry shakily cursed himself. It had been yet another stupid, stupid idea he had run into head first. Shame battled briefly for dominance over his fear, winning easily as his stomach clenched at the thought of having to face his professor in the morning. Lupin would not have wanted Harry to see him like that, and he only hoped he hadn’t completely destroyed their friendship. His heart pounded painfully in his chest as he stood in silence for a moment, contemplating what would happen now. He didn’t want to move, as though the act of moving itself would make everything that had just happened unchangeable. Moving would mean accepting that time was continuing to pass, whereas whilst he was frozen to the spot he could almost believe time too had frozen with him, and he really, really wanted that to be true.

Taking a deep breath, he shook his head. What was done was done, there was no changing it. He just had to hope his apology would be enough come the morning. The floorboards creaked beneath his feet as he made towards the stairs, his legs at least having stopped trembling. He still felt sick with guilt though, guilt that stuck to the back of his throat as he cringed at his own stupidity, tasting bile.

His room was painfully silent as he slipped into his most disgusting pair of brown pyjamas, placing his glasses carefully on the small bedside table. Sliding under the sheets, he shivered at the surprising chill that had settled on the room, pulling the duvet under his chin and wrapping it tightly round his body. He stared unblinking at the ceiling for some time, the room so much larger with him as its only occupant, and not helped by the blur through which he had to view it. And sleep seemed a long way away as he shifted uncomfortably, punching his pillow a couple of times in an attempt to make it more comfortable. Still his body refused to drop off as he swung violently from side to side, clenching his teeth at his rising annoyance. Screwing his eyes closed he made a conscious effort to slow his breathing, listening carefully to the sound that accompanied the slow rise and fall of his chest. Slowly the rest of him seemed to take the hint and relax, the lines leaving his face as his head slumped gradually to the side.

The house remained silent, the shallow sounds of Harry’s gentle breathing lost amidst all the empty rooms. And when the front door swung slowly open, that sound too was swallowed, the faintest of breezes filtering out before they reached the end of the hallway. The door clicked shut quietly as soft footsteps made their way up the stairs, each one carefully placed so as to make as little noise as possible, robes brushing past the wooden banister with a soothing swish. The bedroom door swung inwards as the footsteps entered, still quiet yet purposeful. Harry did not so much as twitch as hands reached into the recesses of robes and pulled out a long, thin chain with a tiny grating noise. And when the cold chain was placed skilfully around his neck, he flinched only slightly, lost in his dreams as the figure slowly retreated.


Chapter 3: His Own Personal Teddy Bear
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Chapter 3: His Own Personal Teddy Bear.


‘He’s gone.’ Remus looked tired, dark circles lining his eyes, a splash of colour on his otherwise ashen face. He winced, shifting his position awkwardly on the seat he had fallen into mere seconds previously. Anxiety compounded the exhaustion he had battled to get here, and his hands clenched the chair’s arms with seemingly more force than the small movement should have necessitated. He was used to it though, being barely good for nothing for the first few hours after the change, and he quickly subsided again with muffled groan of both discomfort and distress. ‘The house is empty.’

‘And you didn’t hear him?’ Dumbledore looked fearful, almost confused. It was not a pleasant expression to have to witness on the Headmaster.

Remus glanced up guiltily at the question, grateful there was no disbelief or accusation in Dumbledore’s tone, since he felt fully capable of supplying himself with adequate amounts of either emotion. He had known the second he awoke - fully human and oddly distanced from sensation - that Harry was not in the house. It hurt deeply that it had taken almost an hour for him to care. His hands knotted together for a moment before resting with forced casualness on his lap. ‘I was drugged.’ If the statement shocked him, Dumbledore did not show it, stepping away from Remus and turning towards the fireplace, throwing in a handful of powder so that the fire spat and flared green.

‘Severus,’ he commanded as a face appeared in the flames, scowling at the interruption. Even the distance of the Floo was not enough to curb the hostility contained within the expression upon spotting the werewolf. Snape wasn’t given the opportunity to speak, however, as Dumbledore sharply continued with uncharacteristic curtness. ‘If you could join us for a moment, please, it is quite urgent.’ The flash of surprise, what was almost unease at the abrupt demand, was brushed from his face instantly as though it had never been there. Snape just disappeared again, mere seconds passing before he finally stepped fully through the fire, dusting the ash from his robes and greeting Lupin with barely a nod.

‘I trust this is important,’ he said effortlessly and without bothering to conceal his annoyance, knowing it would be ignored anyway. ‘I am reaching a very delicate stage in my brewing, and would hate to see an entire month’s work destroyed.’ He looked pointedly at Lupin, ensuring the nature of his work was known, if not specifically stated. He also managed to convey that there was a list of various things he could be doing that were of significantly more importance than preventing, what he considered to be, nothing more that a little lunar discomfort, but it was hardly surprising. No one could manage to get an entire life story into a single look quite as effectively as Severus Snape.

‘I fear it is already too late for such worries,’ Dumbledore said smoothly, his expression one of complete neutrality as he sank down into his seat, hands splayed on his desk as he regarded Snape over the rims of his glasses. Snape, for his part, managed to bite his tongue against a defensive retort. In all his years, Remus had never before met someone so consistently and unfalteringly vicious in the face of displeasure, and even distrust. Not that Dumbledore had ever shown himself to be distrustful of Severus, since his approval of the man had been widely vocalised, but that point seemed neither here nor there. Snape responded to the smallest of nuances, be they self perceived or not, with a contemptuous challenge no one else would have dared. It was as if he grew tired of waiting for the world to condemn him and was instead helping to prove it right, encouraging everyone to get on with it. Remus found himself wondering, briefly, how the Potions Master had managed to survive so long in the presence of Voldemort. He doubted the Dark Lord spoke fluent Snape. ‘Tell me, does anyone else, beyond yourself, have access to your work whilst it is in preparation?’ His gaze was calm as he watched Snape unfalteringly.

‘My private labs are sealed, as you well know,’ Snape replied flatly, crossing his arms across his chest and meeting the stare with an equal one of his own. ‘I doubt even the most determined of students could find their way through. However, a member of staff, should they feel the need to visit my rooms whilst I myself am not present -’ his voice had taken on a deeply menacing quality at the prospect that this situation would ever have need to arise ‘- would probably not find it beyond their skills. As always, there are exceptions.’ Dumbledore nodded slowly, some of his usual warmth seeping back into his posture in a way that helped Snape uncoil from his stiff bearing. At the very least, common sense prevailed long enough to permit him to continue with a little less scorn. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘The last batch of Wolfsbane you brewed was tainted.’

The comment bought the full force of Snape’s impressively limitless disparagement back into play. ‘Impossible,’ he declared resolutely, sniffing with distaste at the accusation, his head held high and entire body so stiff it appeared immovable. ‘I have made it so many times I could do so in my sleep, and still produce a more effective and worthwhile concoction than most self-proclaimed ‘Potions Masters’ in the country.’

Dumbledore nodded in tired understanding. ‘Yet, nevertheless, the dose Remus took last night had an unfortunate, and most unwelcome, side effect of being a rather potent tranquilliser.’ Plainly Snape had tired of trying to drag a reaction from beneath the depths of the Headmaster’s serene appearance. Instead he snorted in disbelief, head snapping round violently to glare down at the werewolf with unrestrained resentment. Remus met the hatred with all the composed disinterest he could muster in his fatigue, and resisted the urge to curl in on himself, knowing that at least half of what was coming was probably going to be true. Severus was good at cutting to the quick.

‘I hardly see how you can blame me for his inability to follow the simple instructions I gave him on the use of the potion. It would not be the first time a brainless and selfish oversight on his part placed a student in potential danger.’ Snape smirked cruelly at Remus’ palpable guilt. ‘Tell me, Albus, how many children must nearly die before you will admit he is more of a liability than an asset?’

‘Oh yes,’ Remus countered with a vehemence that surprised even himself, unable to remain quiet. He was playing into Snape’s hands, he knew, by rising to the bait, but he couldn’t seem to stop himself. Whatever the potion had done to him had yet to shake clear of his head, and he had to mentally remind himself that Harry was probably somewhere in trouble whilst he was bickering like a five year old. ‘Because I would have struggled to get ‘make sure you swallow the lot’ right.’

Snape visibly bristled. ‘There was nothing wrong with the potion,’ he reiterated forcefully. ‘I would have known if there was.’ It was almost as if they were playing a game of pass the blame, with Harry’s life at stake. Groaning to himself, Remus placed his head in his hands and screwed his eyes shut, momentarily channelling all his limited energy into overcoming the horribly remote sensation he still felt swathed in. When he looked up again, Dumbledore was watching him with concern.

‘I do not believe a single member of the faculty would poison another…’ Dumbledore had barely managed to finish the sentence before Snape rounded back on him, eyes flashing.

‘No, you do not appear to have heard me,’ he ground out from between teeth clenched almost as tightly as his hands. Remus felt a momentary stab of pity for the man, who walked such a dangerous line between light and dark on the wisps of shadows, the man who somehow saw the personal defence of himself as a weakness, who would sooner be condemned by the truth of his words than he would risk being doubted. ‘It would not have mattered had someone managed to get past the wards on my rooms. I handed the potion to Lupin myself. I watched him swallow the damn thing. Were anything wrong with it, I would have known instantly!’

‘Of course, Severus,’ Dumbledore’s tone was far from placating, and Snape frowned angrily at having his vocation and skill doubted. Something in the words appeared to calm him though, as he lost some of the tenseness from around his eyes. ‘I would have believed no less. However the question still remains as to how.’

‘Perhaps something he ate.’ Snape glared back down at Remus, who shrugged in the indication that that could well be true.

‘Molly prepared a meal before she left, perhaps you would like to speak to her also?’ He suggested it with a worn smile, since Snape had reached quickly and without preamble to grab a handful of Floo powder before Remus had even given him the idea. He threw it unceremoniously into the flames, and his lips formed halfway around the instruction ‘Grimmauld Place’.

‘You might have more success with the Burrow,’ Dumbledore intervened solemnly, as Snape snarled.

‘Typical,’ he muttered, powder slipping between his fingers and onto the floor, grains skittering around his feet in a pattern of waves and swirls. ‘What Potter wants Potter gets. The Weasleys are fully aware that their wards are not strong enough to provide adequate protection. She should have known better than to take him back there, no matter how much the little brat whined.’

It was probably the quietness of the declaration that stopped Severus’ rant more completely than anything else could have managed. ‘Harry is not with them,’ Dumbledore said gravely, his eyes blank as he met the now livid gaze.

‘You left him alone?’ Snape gasped incredulously, almost hopefully, as though he couldn’t really believe it himself. Dumbledore wasn’t perfect, but he certainly wasn’t a fool.

‘Not exactly.’ Remus was glad the Headmaster was the one to have to speak and explain. He wasn’t sure when Snape became someone he dreaded giving bad news too, especially news involving Harry, but he had. Enlightening Sirius of everything that had happened to his godson had been hell enough, but not once had Remus ever conceived he would get anything but chilling, vengeful glee from the Potions Master at the prospect of disaster befalling a Potter. If recounting the horrors of Harry’s school years so far had taught him anything, however, it was that Harry was still alive, in large part, thanks to the repeated intervention of Severus Snape. He doubted the man put his life on the line so frequently for someone he hated so passionately, just to see it thrown back in his face by carelessness and ignorance on the part of his colleagues. ‘Remus woke this morning to find the house empty.’

Remus buckled slightly under the force of the glower Snape swung back to fix upon him. ‘I think I may have scared him somewhat,’ he admitted guiltily, lifting his eyes from the floor and smiling nervously. ‘He came into my room last night…’ Remus realised his mistake a second too late, having momentarily forgotten the infinite propensity of the man to pin the blame for everything and anything that happened on a Potter as soon as was physically possible.

‘Bloody typical,’ Snape had interrupted furiously, gesturing wildly with a wide, sweeping movement that had the remains of the clutched Floo powder flying from his hand. ‘I knew it was a terrible idea from the very start.’ A number of portraits muttered vague objections at the light rain of dust that assaulted them, to which Snape was oblivious. His finger jabbed accusingly towards the Headmaster, punctuating his every word. ‘The boy has no discipline and no self-control. I most expressly forbade him from doing such a thing…’ He trailed off as Dumbledore smiled ever so slightly, before the worry returned and the years once again piled upon his face. Snape was no more used to seeing the expression on the old man than Remus himself. If anything he looked even more disconcerted by it.

‘Severus, you really do have something to learn about children.’ Snape scowled, but there was little heart left in it. ‘Do you think this is why he has disappeared?’

Lupin shrugged in response, instantly regretting it as his shoulder muscles clenched painfully, but still finding himself reluctant to use anything as final as words. ‘Harry has never struck me as the sort to run away simply because he is scared,’ he managed to offer, despite the fact that the admission left few alternatives. Snape just snorted derisively at the statement, rolling his eyes at the obviousness of what the werewolf had just, in his infinite wisdom, declared.

‘I’m surprised he didn’t try to cuddle up next to you. His own personal teddy bear.’

‘Not that I would have caused him any harm, your potion saw to that,’ Remus riled immediately, reawakening Snape’s own irritation.

‘I would like to think it would have seen to that anyway, given the entire point of its existence!’

With some effort, Remus managed to bite down on his overwhelming need to say something, anything, in return. They didn’t need to fight and squabble: they needed to glean even the remotest idea of what had happened. They needed to summon the Order - they needed to find Harry!

‘Did you hear anyone enter the house?’ Dumbledore asked softly, giving Remus a moment of silence as he wracked his memory. Did he remember hearing anyone?

‘No, I was completely out of it.’ No matter how much he probed and concentrated, he recalled very little beyond the feeling of heaviness that was somehow, at the same time, incredibly soft and pleasant. He hadn’t wanted to lose the sensation, which was why it had taken such an unforgivable time for him to report the disappearance, and probably the whole point of it. He didn’t take much consolation in the fact that it would most likely have held him down if he had tried. ‘Barely even heard Harry until he was pretty much right on top of me.’

‘And you didn’t think to call for help?’ Snape sneered, still itching for the argument it was taking Remus every bit of his willpower to avoid.

‘Naturally, because as an unconscious werewolf, my means of communication were innumerable.’

Remus hadn’t meant for it to sound as an accusation, but he had the horrible suspicion that it had. He knew, with no doubt, that Snape had not drugged him, be it intentionally or by mistake. The former even felt the less likely of the two, and Snape never brewed with anything but absolute precision. Snape seemed at a loss for how to reply though, his expression cold and unforgiving. ‘You should never have been left alone to look after him,’ he snarled after a second, in a way that left Remus uneasy with the notion he had just lost something important.

‘It is too late for what should have been done,’ Dumbledore said sadly.

The comment didn’t appease Snape. If anything it made him angrier. ‘Surely you must have some means of locating the boy?’ He sounded sceptical, and it was hardly surprising. Remus remembered all too well the panic and sheer dread he had felt when Harry disappeared at the end of the Tri-wizard Tournament. Regardless of his own opinions on personal space and privacy, he would have quite happily slapped any number of charms and wards on Harry, with or without his consent, simply so he, Remus, never had to feel that way again. ‘I find it hard to believe he isn’t crawling with tracking spells, considering some of the escapades he has pulled in the past.’

‘Indeed he is,’ Dumbledore said with a confirming nod. ‘And I have checked each and every one repeatedly. He is not to be found.’

‘Could the Dark Lord be blocking them?’

‘It is possible,’ Dumbledore conceded after some thought, ‘but unlikely he could have identified each and every one, if any.’ It would have been arrogance in anyone else. ‘They are keyed directly to myself so that only I may be aware of their presence.’

‘They are obviously malfunctioning then,’ Snape stated hotly.

‘They are not.’

‘Then perhaps you have a better idea as to what happened to the boy, and why it is that the greatest wizard known to the world cannot accomplish even a simple tracking spell?’ Snape’s eyebrows rose challengingly, and even Remus was sitting forward more attentively in anticipation of the answer.

‘I do not have one.’

-oOOo-


Harry awoke with a jump, the air in the room unbearably hot and stifling as he gasped for a breath that felt as though it was burning his throat and lungs. The taste of the stale air left his tongue feeling gritty as he kicked the sheets to the bottom of the bed and swung his legs over the side. He wiped his sleeve across his forehead, which was damp with perspiration, grimacing in mild disgust. It wasn’t that he never woke sweaty, sticky and smelling, quite frankly, like he hadn’t bathed in a week. Normally, however, it followed a particularly bad nightmare, and Voldemort had been wonderfully quiet on that front for a while. Reaching for his glasses, he fumbled on the empty nightstand, finally opening his eyes properly and blearily looking down. His feet had landed in a thin layer of dust and grime that caused him to cough as it tickled the back of his throat from where he had disturbed it. The table was in no better condition, and his glasses remained stubbornly and absolutely not there.

Standing gingerly, Harry moved carefully across the room, shivering at the feeling of dust gathering between his toes and clinging to his pyjamas. He pulled on the door, muttering obscenities under his breath when it refused to move. Once again grabbing the handle, which was now slippery from his clammy hands, he braced his foot against the wall and pulled harder, feeling it stick for a second before giving way to the dark hallway beyond.

Leaning round the frame, he felt something cold slide against his chest, causing him to jump at the unfamiliar sensation. Reaching beneath his pyjama top, Harry pulled on a thin gold chain he didn’t recognize. It certainly wasn’t his; the Dursleys would never have allowed something like that to fall or stay in his possession. He hadn’t left Hogwarts with it either. There was something familiar about it too, as he flicked the small pendant that hung from a simple hoop, and watched it spin gently. It was cracked; no doubt he had rolled onto it during his sleep, which had never been particularly peaceful at the best of times. His sleep-fogged brain hoped the owner would understand. Tucking it back beneath his shirt he made a mental note to ask the first Order member he came across about it.

Making his way tentatively towards the Master bedroom, Harry knocked nervously on the door, the hollow rapping sound seeming far too loud in the stillness of the wide hallway. It was early morning now, and though not completely light, he guessed it was light enough.

‘Professor Lupin?’ he called carefully through the dark wood, his hand hovering above the handle for a second. After the night before, the thought of barging straight in was rather unappealing. Still, he knew the change was painful. He had been told about it enough times. And the professor was probably tired, he reasoned, and it wouldn’t be fair to disturb him if he hadn’t already woken. He could just peek in and have a quick look, for his own peace of mind, to make sure Lupin was still here and not in need of urgent medical attention.

The door offered more resistance than the one to his room had, as he pushed against it. It refused to budge an inch until he put his shoulder to it and heaved, and even then it only opened a crack. Still, a crack was enough for him to see that the room beyond was empty and had been for quite some time. It looked in even worse condition than his had.

Harry couldn’t help the wave of anger, as the first thought his drowsy mind could conjure struck him. ‘Bloody House-Elf,’ he muttered to himself, since no one looked to be around to comment on his use of language. ‘Years of not cleaning a thing, he probably thinks it’s just hilarious.’ He pitched his voice high and mocking. ‘Look at all the idiots running round cleaning up after me, snap.’ Harry snapped his fingers in time with his rambling, his feet purposely kicking up a new cloud of dust in his frustration. Everyone had spent so much time turning the place into something that could almost pass for a home, even in Sirius’ eyes - and he had hated the damn place! But now Sirius was dead, and the evil little snot of an Elf had probably charmed the whole lot back to how it was out of spite. To make it feel as if Sirius had never even come back, as the creature no doubt wished he hadn’t. ‘I’ll kill the ungrateful little bugger.’ Grimacing in disgust at the grime that now streaked across his hands Harry tried to wipe them on the cotton of his trousers, wishing he hadn’t left his shoes downstairs as his feet dragged on the stained floorboards.

The stairs creaked ominously beneath him, and Harry was reduced to clutching the rickety banister for all the limited support it had to offer. Gritting his teeth, he reminded himself that if he plummeted to his death there would be no one around to exact proper vengeance on Kreacher. He didn’t bother to hide his relief when he reached the bottom unscathed. Whilst technically Harry knew the Elf couldn’t harm him, he didn’t doubt that if Kreacher could get his slimy little brain round that problem his own life expectancy would be significantly reduced.

The kitchen was empty, cobwebs hanging from the corners as a Doxy soared past his ear and out the now open door. Drawing his wand at the memory of some of the more unpleasant things that had been removed from the house, Harry called for the House-Elf, his voice echoing unpleasantly around him.

‘Kreacher!’

Nothing.

He gave it a few moments before shouting again, louder and more aggressively, regardless of how Hermione would have chastised him had she heard, as he glared at the place in front of him where the Elf should have appeared.

‘Kreacher, get out here and fix this stupid mess now before I iron your hands for you!’

Still nothing, but at least it offered a potential explanation as to where Remus had disappeared too. Since everything that had happened, the stupid creature wasn’t supposed to be able to leave the house. If someone had broken him out, then Remus was probably the best bet to find him again. Sniff the traitorous little worm out and drag him back by his ears.

It didn’t explain why Harry was alone though, and the lack of company was quickly becoming uncomfortably oppressive. Surely Dumbledore would never have been so distracted by something as to forget to send a replacement babysitter along? Not that Harry felt he still needed a babysitter - and he was unwaveringly adamant - in any way, shape or form conceivable. In fact he found the whole concept quite insulting. But Dumbledore had always insisted, and a small and traitorous part of Harry’s mind commented that perhaps the Headmaster was right on this issue, given exactly what he was considering at that moment. There was still a pot of Floo powder on the mantelpiece, despite the fact it looked as though it hadn’t been used in a very long time.

Picking up the heavy and poorly made pot, he weighed the powder in his hands for a moment, thinking to himself, his fingers absently tracing the cracks in the clay. Surely the sensible thing to do would be to stay here? It was obvious really. After all, Dumbledore would never leave him in a situation like this willingly, and certainly not for long. And Snape had even told him that the Weasleys were expected that morning. He couldn’t really justify barging in on the Burrow early, uninvited and unexpected. Besides, it would be incredibly rude of him to interrupt their morning just because he felt a little uncomfortable and apprehensive about being left alone. They would just fuss over him excessively and worry more about him when he wasn’t with them. Not that they particularly needed a reason to worry more.

That, and there was also the fact that Dumbledore would probably never let him out again if he ever discovered that Harry had just up and gone off somewhere, especially after being so frequently told to stay put. He would find himself locked in the deepest cellar of Hogwarts before the day was out. Reaching out slowly, he placed the pot back in the ring of dust it had left behind, his fingers lingering on the rim. Leaving was not something he should be considering, even if it did feel wrong here, although Harry couldn’t quite put a finger on why.

But then again, Dumbledore would probably be able to find out exactly what it was that was so off about the place, beyond the sudden reappearance of several years worth of dirt. And Dumbledore had always encouraged him to trust his gut feelings, which were screaming at him to get away.

He made up his mind. Besides, Dumbledore couldn’t exactly complain about his leaving if Harry was planning on going to his very side - nor could Snape, for that matter, although he would probably try anyway.

The fire wasn’t lit though, and the hearth was stone cold, belying the fact that a fire had ever managed to lie there. Fortunately a few logs lay in the nearby wood box, discarded and disintegrating slightly around the grey and mouldy edges. Harry guessed he probably wasn’t the first person who had wanted to make a call and didn’t know how to either transfigure something or just zap the stuff out of thin air. He had thought he would wind up reduced to destroying furniture. He was still left with the problem of lighting it though, as nothing so Muggle as matches was to be found anywhere he dared to look. One of the nearest drawers had rattled alarmingly when he reached out towards it, and he didn’t fancy disturbing the nest of Doxies his previous errant encounter had no doubt come from. But then again, he had been left alone and unguarded for the first time in what felt like several years. If that didn’t warrant a minor breakage of the restriction of underage magic he couldn’t think of anything that did. Risking a muttered ‘Incendio’, the flames leapt to life, stirring up a rather foul smell as the dust surrounding it started to curl and crisp.

Throwing a handful of powder into the roaring flames he stepped carefully into them, glancing once again around the deserted kitchen before shouting ‘Hogwarts, Headmasters Office.’

He barely managed to jump out of the hearth in time, as the green spluttered for a moment before returning to its previous orange. Falling to the floor and wincing at his scorched foot, Harry stared at the fire in shock, unsure of what to do next. The Floo Network had never failed him before, and he doubted Dumbledore had warded his fireplace against the Boy-Who-Bloody-Lived.

Suddenly he felt painfully edgy and surprisingly vulnerable. The house no longer felt safe, no longer felt like it had ever belonged to his godfather. The walls crept up around him and closed in on him, and he grabbed another handful of powder without thinking, throwing it desperately into the flames and barely taking a moment to consider his destination. He wanted, no, he needed to be around people. It seemed the next logical place he would be likely to run into at least one member of the Order, too, or at least someone he knew. Hesitantly, he stepped back into the flames, wincing at the pain in his foot as he clutched his wand and shouted, his voice shaking only slightly, ‘Diagon Alley.’


Chapter 4: The Greatest Present
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Chapter 4: The Greatest Present.


Harry was vaguely certain it was Flourish and Blotts in which he had just landed, with absolutely no grace or even a smidgeon of style as was becoming his custom. At least he had managed, with an assortment of wild, windmill-like arm movements, not to wind up flat on his rear end. He had hated the stupid Floo ever since his first disastrous attempt to navigate the overwhelming system had left him in less than desirable surroundings. He could feel the same unease creeping into his gut even now, as the shop seemed to bear a strikingly familiar quality to that of his brief, yet informative, visit to Knockturn Alley. Gone were the brightly packed shelves surrounded by the bustle of customers, the cheerful chatter of the storeowner as people queued up. It was only the familiar view outside the far window that gave any indication Harry had ever set foot in the place before.

Nevertheless, it was undoubtedly still a bookshop, despite the fact that its reputable status was being called heavily into question. The bookshelves towered above him, dustier almost than he was, what with the grime of the fireplace still clinging to the pyjamas he had forgotten to change out of and barely even realised what he was wearing. Cold and foreboding, the walkway between each was obscured by deep shadows, and a bell above the door jingling loudly at the other end of the aisle, as it was pulled open and two elderly women entered.

Ducking back into the shadows, Harry sat carefully on the edge of the fireplace, making sure he was out of the way enough not to find himself trampled should anyone else arrive. The rustling of pages above him was oddly disconcerting, and he drew his wand and held it uncertainly, unsure of exactly what he should do now. There was always the prospect of just Flooing straight back to Grimmauld Place, before anyone wandered over in his general direction and noticed him. All that awaited him there, though, was an awful lot of mess and absolutely no answers. And he was dying for answers now, answers to the innumerable questions that were passing through his head, each one fighting for attention and dominance.

Picking himself up, Harry dusted himself off as best as possible. His scorched foot still tingled unpleasantly, but he could not make out any serious injuries, even under the layer of filth currently serving as a fairly effective shoe. He was going to have to shower for years, and even then he still didn’t think he’d be truly clean. He thanked Merlin for small mercies at the sight of the sun streaming through the windows. At least he wasn’t going to freeze, although after the stifling air of the house, he felt a slight chill whenever a draft filtered past.

But then again, walking around barefooted in his most ghastly pyjamas, in the middle of Diagon Alley, wasn’t exactly the most inconspicuous of things he had ever considered doing. He could almost see Rita Skeeter’s damning headline already. At any rate, wandering around Grimmauld Place had left his face so streaked with dirt he doubted his scar could be seen. There was nothing he could do about the hair though.

‘Oh, you poor dear!’

Harry turned around too quickly, losing his already tentative footing and wincing as his burnt skin scraped across the soiled carpet. Hobbling slightly, he raised his wand in what he hoped was a threatening manner.

It wasn’t.

‘Ethel, will you come see this,’ evidently not Ethel shouted over her shoulder, her voice travelling between the bookshelves towards a mass of grey muttering to itself, before turning back to look at him. She bore an expression Harry most frequently associated with Molly Weasley, when he had once again risked his life in unnecessarily dangerous circumstances and lived to tell about it. Oddly enough, it also reminded him of the way Arabella Figg tended to look at her cats. ‘You can put that down, love, I’m not about to curse you.’

Harry didn’t though. Somehow the thought of what he could see coming was no more appealing than the prospect of being cursed. There was a definite grandmotherly glint behind the eyes that were staring at him.

‘What have you found now then, Audrey?’ the second witch mumbled as she shuffled over, leaning on a gnarled walking stick, her face just as grey as the robes she was swathed in. Ignoring Harry’s wide-eyed expression, she looked him up and down, barely sparing his wand a second glance. ‘Well, you’d better come with us then,’ she said, sighing expansively and turning slowly to make her way towards the front desk, as though she didn’t believe the thought of running or disobeying would even occur to him.

It was occurring to Harry though, repeatedly and anxiously. He was turning the possibility over and over in his head, but every time he was coming up blank. Audrey now even had her arm in his, as if he were the one leading her. He felt a bit stupid as he realised his wand was still pointed at her face, and he lowered it slightly as a blush rose on his neck.

Before he knew it, he had been steered forcefully into a large armchair, which had seen better days. Several hundred of them. A cloud of dust enveloped him as he landed with a soft thud and the creaking of worn springs, a number of which were sticking through the cover and poking him unpleasantly every time he moved…or breathed. It must be a new form of torture, Harry decided with a grimace. Uncomfortable chair and unpleasant, unwashed old people smell. Not that he probably smelt much better. At least they weren’t trying to hug him, although it looked very much like it was only a matter of time as far as Audrey was concerned.

He had barely taken in his surroundings when Ethel was back in front of him, leaning over him, since he was now sitting down, and surveying him calculatingly. With a grunt she shrugged off one of her long cloaks, whisking it over her shoulders with surprising ease for someone who moved so slowly, and throwing it across his lap. ‘You ought to be more careful,’ she said softly. ‘But then again, you young do seem to think yourselves immortal. Just wait until you catch a cold though, and don’t come running to me for sympathy because it’ll be all your own fault, young man.’ Harry could only nod apologetically in reply, words failing him as Audrey reappeared from behind the counter, a steaming cup in her frail hands.

‘Poor lad.’ Harry winced at the familiarity with which she referred to him. ‘You look half starved. Get some of this in you.’ The mug was thrust forcefully into his hands, almost hot enough to burn as he lifted it to his nose and took a cautious sniff. Tomato, he thought to himself, even as above him, Audrey burst into peels of laughter. ‘Look at him; he thinks we’re going to poison him.’ The blush was back again full force as Ethel muttered something about ungrateful youth, and Harry took a hasty gulp before he caused more offence. After all, he mused, they certainly didn’t seem threatening. At least, not in a ‘hand-you-over-to-the-Dark-Lord-for-certain-death’ sort of way. ‘Let’s get you cleaned up a bit then, shall we?’

The comment was enough to finally loosen Harry’s tongue, since Audrey had pulled her wand and cast a warming charm over a bowl of water he hadn’t previously noticed. A coarse looking sponge floated menacingly on the surface, as Harry clutched the half empty mug of soup closer to his chest, like a shield. ‘No, really,’ he managed to splutter. ‘Thank you so much for this, but you needn’t worry yourselves on my account.’ He scooted backwards, regretting it as a particularly vicious spring embedded itself in his ribs. He yelped and jumped forward again, almost spilling the remains of his meal.

‘Nonsense,’ Ethel commanded scathingly from where she now sat behind the counter, small eyes fixed on him as she nursed her own cup, which Harry doubted contained soup. ‘You cannot go out looking like such a ragamuffin. Your parents would be horrified if they saw you.’ Harry opened his mouth to comment, but found himself cut off by a wet sponge being dragged across his face. He spluttered slightly, rubbing the soap from his eyes with the back of his hand.

‘Well, will you look,’ Audrey said with a grin. ‘We do have skin under here.’ Harry glowered, and tried to glare, but found himself once again stopped as his forehead was swiped. The water in the bowl was already turning a sickly brown as she wringed out the sponge, offering him another smile that quickly morphed into a look of horror. ‘Ethel,’ she gasped as Harry screwed his eyes shut in anticipation of what was to come. ‘Will you look at this?’ Harry risked a glance, opening one eye enough to make out Ethel, limping once again towards him. He could smell her breath, peppermints with a decidedly alcoholic background, as she leant across him and wiped the area around his scar clean with her thumb. ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’

Ethel shook her head, and Audrey once again started fussing around him, comments such as poor boy and must have been terrible reaching his ears. He met Ethel’s gaze curiously, at a complete loss for words as to what to say to her. No one had ever failed to recognize his scar before, and whilst it was oddly refreshing that his name wasn’t already being shouted from the doorway, Harry was also left a little unsure as to how to explain it. Somehow, having to use the phrase ‘Saviour of the Wizarding World’ wasn’t overly alluring.

‘Are you going to explain it then?’ Harry just shrugged, feeling a little guilty for being so rude when they had both been so nice to him, if a little intimidating. ‘Are you sure?’ Ethel continued. ‘If you don’t, then I’m afraid you will leave me with no choice but to draw my own conclusions.’ A raised eyebrow had Harry reconsidering his answer, as he took a sip of his now cold soup to stall for time.

‘Could be a curse scar,’ Audrey called from where she was rummaging behind the counter. ‘Seen a fair few these last years, although nothing like that.’ Ethel looked questioningly to Harry, who shook his head emphatically and paid extra attention to the cloak across his legs. ‘None of them were so uniform though,’ Audrey continued, obviously oblivious to his answer. ‘I mean, remember old Robert when he came in a couple of months ago? Completely covered his back they did. Failed Shielding Charm my arse, I said.’ She straightened up with a slight clicking of her back, book tucked under her arm. ‘Excuse my language, love. But no, Robert got himself on the receiving end of a nasty curse there. He was just lucky it was some incompetent throwing it, instead of someone in power.’ Harry glanced inquisitively at her before lowering his gaze back to his lap. ‘Still, he returned the book, even though it was no use to him. Told him it wouldn’t be, but he insisted.’

‘S’not a curse scar,’ Harry mumbled.

‘What was that, dear? You’ll have to speak up. Hearing’s not what it used to be.’ Audrey was already deeply engrossed in the book.

‘He said it’s not a curse scar,’ Ethel repeated.

‘Really?’ Audrey looked rather crestfallen. ‘Oh well, I suppose you’d be the one to know if you’d avoided any life threatening curses recently. How did you get it then?’

Harry kept his gaze lowered and pulled the cloak more tightly round his shoulders. Then he resorted to old excuses. ‘Car accident.’

‘Car?’

‘Yeah,’ Harry replied nervously.

‘Funny, never heard of a car before.’ Audrey looked puzzled, summoning a large book from a nearby shelf.

‘Don’t worry yourself,’ Ethel interrupted her, a steely glint in her eyes as she straightened up, casting Harry an odd look. ‘It’s a Muggle thing.’

Audrey dropped the book she had been pouring through as if shocked. ‘Muggle!’ she exclaimed, looking warily to where Harry was sitting. ‘That must mean…’ The same hardness that was in her friends eyes had reached hers. ‘Were your parents Muggles, boy?’

‘My mum was Muggle-born,’ Harry offered helpfully as Audrey shrieked.

‘Mudblood!’ she shouted, pointing a shaking finger at him. ‘Spawn of Mudblood! I cannot believe we let you into our shop.’

‘Hey.’ Harry jumped up indignantly, feeling a little disoriented by the sudden turn the conversation had taken. ‘There was never any rule about this before, and even if there was, it’s a stupid rule. What’s wrong with Muggle-borns?’ Ethel’s gaze had become even stauncher as she spoke, in cool contrast to Audrey’s near hysterics.

‘I recommend you leave,’ she said coldly. ‘Now.’ Harry glared silently, dropping his empty mug onto the floor and pulling the loaned cloak from around his shoulders. ‘Keep it,’ Ethel said as the garment was held out to her.

Audrey was quivering slightly to one side now, as she pointed her wand at the door, causing it to throw itself open and hit the wall with a bang and a shudder. ‘Take it with you,’ she affirmed, as Harry stared at the cloak he was still holding out. ‘Tainted that it is now, we don’t want it here.’ She stared at the open door for a moment, chewing on the inside of her cheek in deliberation. ‘Perhaps we should call the authorities?’ she asked, almost nervously, as Harry wrapped the offending article back round his shoulders, the weight comforting.

‘No,’ Ethel stated. ‘They would ask questions, and we helped him.’

‘We didn’t know.’ It was a desperate whine.

‘It wouldn’t matter, and you know it. Let him go.’ She cast Harry another look, not as cold as the last one, but still far from friendly. ‘Someone else will find him, I’m sure.’ She raised a pointed eyebrow in his direction, and Harry sidled carefully past them both, the door within his reach as he turned and mumbled a hasty ‘thank you,’ before running into the street beyond.

The door slammed forcefully behind him, almost clipping the back of his heel as he leapt out of its way. Pulling his fringe down to cover his now clean scar, Harry wrapped himself up tightly in spite of the heat from the sun. He felt chilled to the bone after the presence of those two. Glancing up at the sign, he pondered over the faded lettering of the shop name, wondering if there was some kind of irony going on that he just wasn’t getting. It was nothing like the shop he had visited last summer, and the whole thing was becoming far too confusing. Stepping carefully across the street, he glanced in the window of the Owl Emporium. It looked a little tattier than he remembered, but otherwise exactly the same. Certainly no strange old woman came barrelling out the door after his apparently unclean blood. Cages of owls hooted happily at him at he passed by, and he stopped to stroke their soft feathers absently while his gaze followed the rest of the street.

Gringotts still dominated the place, the building tall and impressive, staring down at him in the same manner it had always done. Its stark white front looked a little out of place in comparison to the shabby shop fronts though. Harry realised, with some annoyance, that he was definitely thinking of going there, and that he didn’t have his key. He had left it in his trunk with all his other possessions, which he assumed were still in his room. Not that he remembered seeing them. But then again, he had been in too much of a rush to find Remus to really bother looking. Surely Gringotts had some other form of identification he could use. At the end of the day, if they didn’t accept this wretched scar as proof that he was the one entitled to the Potter vault, he doubted anything would work. And he desperately wanted something to wear, something other than hand-me-down pyjamas and the cloak of someone too disgusted by him to claim it back.

Despite his jumbled thoughts as he made his way slowly down the street, Harry couldn’t help but notice that Madam Malkins seemed to have inexorably disappeared. So had Florean Fortesques, the once cheery tables, with their coloured umbrellas, replaced by a large window that still managed to look grubby, regardless of its apparent newness and the garish display of robes inside. His instincts were telling him that to stop and inquire about places where he could purchase jeans and a t-shirt or two was a bad idea. Not that he had anything against wearing robes, but he had only ever worn them at school. The idea that he would wear them casually was a little odd, and even the thought of it made him feel overdressed.

No, he’d stick out like a sore thumb in jeans, but possibly not as much as he would have done in his rotten oversized night wear. Since he had taken the time to look around, he had noticed that even the low number of small children he had seen were wearing robes. It was something that left him suddenly and incredibly thankful for the cloak. It was too long, with the hem trailing awkwardly on the ground, and the extra weight was a burden in the still air, but it felt like the greatest present he had ever been given.

That was probably the onset of panic talking.

The paving slabs were gritty beneath his bare feet, and he had to be very careful walking through the throngs of people to avoid getting his toes accidentally stamped on. His heart beat painfully against his chest, his breathing gasping and erratic as he remembered the last words of the witch.

‘Someone else will find him.’

Had she known who he was all along? Had she been trying to lull him into a false sense of security? Harry didn’t think so; she had seemed just as shocked as her friend to discover who he was. Not who, but what he was.

Since when had having Muggle relatives meant anything to anyone beyond Voldemort and his stupid, idiotic, always-out-to-ruin-everything believers?

That thought almost had Harry slapping his own forehead. God, but he was stupid. There was no rule saying that nice old ladies, who fed him soup and insisted he clean himself up before going out, couldn’t be followers of Voldemort. Obviously not the kneeling, grovelling, bending to his every will kind of follower. They’d probably insist Voldemort washed his hands after a day’s hard slaughter before allowing him to sit at his throne, and even then, they’d be adamant that he show them to prove it.

But then again, he found it hard to believe that anyone who followed Voldemort, even if not as a direct servant, would not manage to recognize him, Harry Potter, upon sight and from at least fifty paces.

‘Someone else will find him.’

Harry had a horrible suspicion he did not want to be running into whoever this someone else was.

Picking up his pace, he dodged haphazardly between the growing crowds of people, keeping his head down and his eyes fixed firmly on the ground at his feet, unwilling to make eye contact for even a moment, even accidentally. He shivered slightly as a light breeze swept round his bare feet and tickled the back of his leg. His foot was starting to throb again, insistently and repeatedly as he ducked into a nearby alleyway, leaning against the wall and letting the edges of the cloak fall from his fingers. Lifting his foot into his hands he winced at the inflamed redness he saw, running a finger gently across it and hissing at the pain. Bloody typical, and he hadn’t a single healing charm in his repertoire. Hermione probably knew a handful already, and Harry vowed they would be the first things he would learn when he next saw her.

Leaning back against the wall, he stared at the slither of sky for a few moments, catching his breath and calming his thoughts. Things change, he scolded himself, and there was absolutely no reason for him to be getting himself so worked up because a measly store changed hands, even if the hands into which it had changed were horrible old women with stupid ideals hands.

What he should be getting worked up about was the fact that he’d been in Diagon Alley, unescorted, for over half an hour, with no owls demanding he return instantly and stop being so impulsive, and no Order members appearing to drag him back. Either Dumbledore’s wards were failing, or he was too distracted to realise that Harry was here. Neither one boded overly well for his immediate well-being.

It was a point well proven, as he felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle uncomfortably, causing him to rub them harshly, unable to suppress the shiver that trickled down his spine.

Harry recognized this feeling, unfortunately.

The alley seemed to fade around him in a way that was all too familiar, the shadows disappearing into the walls as he shivered again, cold, clammy hands tightening on his wand. The air thickened around him, pressing in on him as he struggled for breath, eyes darting behind him briefly to where the sounds of the street beyond still trickled unknowingly through, leaving only one conclusion.

They were after him.

Bugger.

The pair drifted in sight, cloaks swirling around them in spite of the deathly stillness surrounding him. Harry bit his tongue hard. Whilst the feeling didn’t exactly help to inspire happy memories, it did help to distract him from the echoes of a woman’s screaming.

Boy did his foot hurt.

Pushing it to the back of his mind Harry thought desperately of Ron and Hermione. He thought of Quidditch and Chocolate Frogs and racing brooms and Hedwig and all the things he loved, before pointing his wand with dramatic flair and shouting, ‘Expecto Patronum!’

The stag emerged from the tip of his wand in a blazing trail of light, hooves sparking on the stones as it leapt towards the creatures, antlers down and eyes glowing. It trotted victoriously back to Harry a few seconds later, pawing the ground with legs that flickered and shimmered before fading slowly.

Too soon.

Two more robes suddenly emerged, their rasping breathing filling the space around him as Harry jumped backwards, stumbling on the cloak and aiming the wand again, shouting even louder, the charm echoing round him in the narrow confines. He didn’t stay to watch this time, as the stag materialised again eagerly, instead scrabbling to find his feet and running back towards the familiar shops.

Harry almost barrelled into the first person he saw, spinning round and shouting a hasty apology before tearing onwards, ignoring the shocked and curious gazes that followed his desperate flight. He knew he couldn’t use the fireplace in the bookshop. Those ladies would probably invite the Dementors in after him, and then raise a toast to his death. But he didn’t know where else had one, apart from the odd shop in Knockturn Alley. He was already heading the wrong way for that too, and didn’t think turning back was the greatest of ideas, which just left him with the Leaky Cauldron.

Ducking around a young family, he limped onwards, the pain in his foot flaring as he saw the wall in the distance. Hopefully it didn’t require a password both ways, as Harry had no idea of the order of bricks you were supposed to tap, it having been years since he’d seen Hagrid last use them. He hadn’t even been paying attention at the time, what with everything else being so overwhelming and all.

Risking a glance over his shoulder, all he could make out was the backs of shoppers, seemingly unperturbed by his quick and unexpected sprint through the Alley, and the nature of the creatures chasing after him. They were still following him; he could feel them, like a dull throbbing in the back of his mind. What he didn’t understand, however, was why the rest of the street wasn’t also running away screaming.

Taking his eyes of the path ahead had been a bad idea.

He hit the person full speed, rebounding with a dull oof, and finding himself sprawled painfully on the pavement, cloak dropping from his shoulders and revealing the monstrosities he wore beneath. Trying to grab the corners with shaking fingers and drag it round his thin frame, Harry glanced shakily over his shoulder. His wand was still aimed through the folds of the gathered fabric as he struggled to his feet, mumbling to a pair of black buttoned boots that he was very sorry as his gaze trailed up slowly to see exactly who he had just run into.


Chapter 5: An Explanation
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Chapter 5: An Explanation.


It was Snape.

But then again, it wasn’t. Harry would never mistake the nose, for one thing; it was the single most distinctive part of the notorious profile. The robes were also instantly recognizable, billowing around the man as though charmed, and the hair was still as lank and greasy as Harry had always remembered it being. He didn’t remember it being so streaked with grey though, nor the eyes being so lined.

Snape, at least, had the courtesy to look just as stunned as he did.

‘Potter?’

It was barely a whisper, and Harry found a hand clenching painfully round the top of his arm, hauling him to his feet as he staggered. When he looked up again, the familiar glare was firmly back in place, as if daring him to suggest it had ever been anything else. ‘I should have figured,’ Snape sneered as Harry craned his neck to look fearfully over his shoulder at the approaching Dementors. ‘You always did insist on shouting your spells at the top of your lungs. You do realise volume has absolutely no effect on power, don’t you?’

Harry nodded absently, trying to worm out of the professor’s grip and wincing when the fingers tightened and pinched at his skin. ‘Dementors,’ he managed to gasp out, fumbling with his wand as Snape cast him a furious look.

‘Really, Potter? I never would have noticed. Thank you so very much for pointing them out.’ The creatures were practically on top of them now, as Harry stopped struggling for freedom and instead tried to make himself as small and unnoticeable as possible, clinging weakly and not without a twinge of embarrassment to the professor’s robes. Snape cast Harry a look of vague disgust as the Dementors glided to a halt mere feet from where they stood. ‘Leave him,’ Snape commanded imperiously, raising his eyebrows and his own wand when the creatures made no move to leave. ‘He is mine.’ The words were hissed, and Snape placed a protective hand on the boy’s shoulder to emphasise the point, dismissing the creatures. They finally took notice of his instructions and glided back down the street.

The hand was removed swiftly, as though it had been burnt.

‘Get up, Potter,’ Snape commanded, as he pried Harry’s fingers loose.

Harry, for his part, just looked panicky and alarmed. He no more noticed Snape’s firm disentanglement than he did either the small puddle that had turned his cloak sodden, or the brief brush of another presence against his mind. ‘How come they listened to you?’

Snape whisked his liberated robes sharply out of reach. ‘This is neither the time nor place.’

‘Looks good enough to me.’ Harry backed off slightly as the face of the Potions Master descended and stopped inches from his own, black eyes glinting dangerously. He swallowed against the lump that had lodged in the back of his throat, the sound the instinctive motion provided rattling loud and hollow in his ears. If his flinching away hadn’t caused the slight smirk that now graced Snape’s features, hearing that noise of discomfort certainly had.

‘You will remember to whom you are speaking.’ Harry glowered, but made no move to argue as Snape straightened himself up, nodding his head towards the wall that marked the end of the alley and its only link to the Muggle world. ‘Follow me.’

Harry did so, shocked out of his daze by the coldness of the damp hem of his cloak when it slid down the back of his leg. His movements were hobbled slightly from his first step, as his foot continued to smart and send shooting flashes of pain up his leg, the ache emphasised by every dip and crevice in the paving stones. Fortunately, Snape had adopted an unhurried pace somewhat different to his usual sweeping stalk. He didn’t grace Harry with so much as a second glance, however, as they moved through the rapidly emptying street. And being adamantly and resolutely not stared at, Harry was quickly learning, was even worse to the usual sideways glances and outright gawking he suffered. Not that Harry felt everyone was avoiding him. No, there was no doubt it was the possibility of drawing Snape’s attention that people were doggedly steering clear of. Proximity just had the misfortune of dragging him along for the ride. He watched silently when they finally reached the end of the alley, and Snape raised his wand, tapping the tip against an incomprehensible order of bricks, before the wall parted slowly.

The Leaky Cauldron, at least, felt almost exactly the same as it always had, even if its appearance had subtly altered. Tables and chairs filled the warm room, and an elderly man bustled behind the bar, casting a nod of acknowledgement in Snape’s direction as he led Harry to a small nook concealed against the back wall. The only real difference Harry had been able to spot, in his brief glimpse around the place, was in the far corner, where the entrance to Muggle London had once resided. The entrance was still there. There could be no missing it, what with painfully poor job that had been done to bar it closed. Whoever had been responsible had apparently done the bare minimum to ensure no one could get in or out, and then had been reluctant to even step near it again. ‘Sit,’ Snape instructed, jolting Harry from his musings and gesturing to a hard wooden chair that Harry sunk into gratefully. ‘Do not move from this spot, I will be back shortly.’ Harry had absolutely no inclination to move anyway, despite the short demand. He slumped forwards, apathetically watching first the retreating pair of boots, and then those around him through his fringe.

Snape returned minutes later, extending his hand with a snarl. Somewhat unfocusedly, Harry reached out to take what turned out to be a small chunk of chocolate. He stared at it for several seconds, unable to process exactly what he was supposed to do with chocolate from Snape. ‘I doubt you respond any better to Dementors now than you did before,’ he clarified. If the weight of his stare alone hadn’t been enough to make Harry fidget uncomfortably, the wary edge to his voice would have done it. Snape still managed to make it sound as though Harry’s unease was the single greatest weakness you could find in a person, and Harry wasn’t in the mood to argue. He seized the brown lump gratefully and crammed it into his mouth, sighing contently at the warmth that spread. ‘Let me see your foot.’

‘Huh?’

‘You hurt yourself,’ Snape sighed irritably, and Harry once again heard the pressing wrongness in the tone that he couldn’t quite place. ‘I will heal it for you. Unless, of course, you are planning to martyr yourself further and refuse?’ The disdain and contempt were still there, and as abundant ever. They clearly identified the man before him as Severus Snape, inconsistencies in appearance aside. If he didn’t know any better, Harry might almost have almost thought Snape was pleased to see him. He shook his head at that idea, lifting the burnt foot and trying to ignore the look of disgust that filled Snape’s face. ‘A bath is in order too, I feel, as well as a change of clothes.’ Harry regarded him suspiciously.

‘I’ll be fine. I can change back at Grimmauld Place.’ Snape cocked an eyebrow, standing and pulling out the opposite seat in a single, fluid motion. He didn’t sit, instead just resting his hand on the cracked and splintered wood, watching Harry curiously.

‘Perhaps you can enlighten me as to why, exactly, you left?’

‘I was looking for Remus.’ Harry swallowed his mouthful reluctantly. The chocolate didn’t slide down easily any longer; instead it coated his throat thickly. He also got the impression he wasn’t answering quite the right question. ‘He wasn’t there when I woke up. I tried to get to Dumbledore, but the Floo wouldn’t let me. That’s how I burnt my foot.’ Snape crossed his arms, his expression unusually blank.

‘You were in Grimmauld Place?’

‘Yes, sir,’ Harry replied apprehensively.

‘And it was undamaged?’ Harry didn’t miss the undertones to that question.

‘For the most part.’

‘You woke up there?’

Harry swallowed again, hoping to ease the clogged feeling the sweet had left behind. ‘Where else would I wake up?’ He half hoped Snape would hear more than just ignorance in his reply, and actually offer him an answer in return. Contrary to Snape’s overwhelmingly obvious opinion, Harry was capable of adding two and two together. He was starting to frantically hope that this time he had come up with five.

‘There was nothing unusual?’

‘Well...’ Harry fished beneath his pyjamas, pulling on the golden chain, shivering at the feel of the slick links against his skin. ‘There was this.’ He pulled it over his neck, holding it out stiffly as Snape reached out slowly to claim it. He couldn’t help but fiddle nervously with the edge of his cloak as Snape held the offending item carefully between two fingers, his expression darkening as he gave the cracked glass a gentle flick. ‘What is it, sir?’ Snape regarded the item for another moment before turning back to Harry.

‘A Time-Turner, it would appear.’

Harry had had his suspicions. The damn thing had looked vaguely familiar; he just hadn’t been able to place it straight away. Hearing it verified didn’t make him feel much better. ‘But it looks different to the one Hermione had.’

‘Ah, yes, the illustrious Miss Granger,’ Snape sneered. ‘It is no surprise that you knew about that disaster just waiting to happen.’ Snape was staring at the Time-Turner again, his brow furrowed in confusion. ‘The reason it looks different, Potter, is because it is indeed so. Very different from your standard issue.’

‘How?’

Snape cast the object a look of awe tinged with apprehension. ‘Well, for one thing, it seems capable of breaking the laws of both magic and physics.’

Harry knew he had missed something fundamental. Hermione would probably have known. He wondered if he would even recognise her if she walked past. ‘You can tell that just by looking at it?’

‘Your presence here was also something of an immediate giveaway.’ It was Harry’s turn to look confused as Snape rolled his eyes in exasperation, clenching the thing carefully in his hand with no apparent intention of returning it. ‘It is gratifying to know it wasn’t only my lessons in which you refused to pay attention,’ he started derisively, earning himself a tired glare. ‘Look, Potter, I don’t claim to be an expert on the subject, but there are various rules all Time-Turners must obey.’

‘And what are they?’

‘Sir,’ Snape corrected with a sigh of defeat and annoyance, seeming to realise that there was no way he was going to get away from the subject without at least a half understood explanation. ‘Your friend used a Time-Turner throughout her third year, did she not?’

‘Yes.’ Harry looked wary at the shift of conversation. ‘Hermione used it so she could attend more than one lesson.’

‘Exactly. She would attend one lesson, and then use the Time-Turner and find herself once again at the beginning of said lesson.’

‘I guess so.’ Harry shrugged insolently and, if the way Snape’s hand twitched was any indication, almost earned himself a smack to the back of the head. But Snape did seem to be trying to explain what was going on, even if he wasn’t exactly making an attempt to hide his scathing contempt, so Harry figured the least he could do was have the decency to listen. ‘I never really asked her for the details.’

‘And yet you knew of its existence.’

‘Well, when Sirius…’ Harry clamped his hand over his mouth as Snape sneered.

‘Of course, I should have known Black came into it somehow,’ he said disdainfully. ‘Illegality aside though, I’m sure even your failing intellect has managed to spot the common denominator in all these experiences.’ Harry looked momentarily dumbfounded, an angry blush rising as Snape sighed in irritation. ‘Useless as ever, I see. Well, since we do not have the time for your brain to catch up with the rest of the world I shall enlighten you. The Time-Turner can only be used to travel backwards in time.’

‘What? Why?’

‘Think about it for a second.’ Snape was starting to sound a little angry. ‘The past already exists and is somewhere you have already been. You know it is there, and thusly travelling to it is no great task. But the future…’ He was staring once again at the necklace still hanging from his fingers, the charm at the end glinting in the candlelight. ‘The future is uncertain. There is nothing definite about it, and no certainty that it even exists. In fact, as far as the present is concerned, there is no future. Not yet. Do you understand?’

‘I think so.’

Snape looked doubtful. ‘Well, whether or not that is true is irrelevant. You are here, so obviously the theory has been somewhat disproved.’

‘Sir, what has happened?

Snape glared at him, as though trying to prove he wasn’t actually real. What he expected of him Harry was a little unsure of, though. Possibly it was for him to melt through the floor. ‘What has happened,’ he said slowly and carefully, ‘is that you disappeared almost twenty three years ago.’ Harry opened his mouth to automatically disagree, but was pinned back into silence as the glare increased in fury. ‘However I would hazard a guess that this is not where you were intended to be.’

‘Because it was cracked.’

‘There is that,’ Snape agreed reluctantly to the observation, and Harry abruptly realised exactly what he had been missing in the man’s voice. He had heard it many times before in Dumbledore and so many others. It was the tone people used when they had to tell him something they knew he wouldn’t like, or want, to hear. ‘Along with the fact that I was not expecting you.’ There was a tense silence as Harry paused, seeming to weigh the comment before becoming ready to reply.

‘Expecting me? Why on earth would you be expecting me?’

-o00o-


Snape resisted the urge to close his eyes in the hope that the partial deprivation would lessen his growing headache. Or possibly just muffle the unease that was growing in light of the fact that something had, obviously, gone very wrong. He kept his gaze steadfastly on the boy before him, however, showing nothing of the trepidation that was raging as he kept his voice level. ‘Because I am one of only three people who remains aware that you ever existed.’

‘Pardon?’

It was, at least, a slightly more eloquent and controlled response than the one Snape had been expecting. He had envisioned temper tantrums and outraged explosions. It was these very expectations that had turned his intended frank admission into a mere allegation, in the hope the extra few seconds Harry took to understand what Snape was implying muted his reaction. ‘Do not worry yourself, Potter. Your sudden anonymity is only the consequence of years of hard work.’ Hard work, Snape silently considered, that would no doubt prove to hold somewhat flimsily in the face of what was sitting before him. He quickly calculated the odds of his surviving to the afternoon, and allowed the snide edge to his tone to remain for what little pleasure it gave him in the face of the answer. ‘You will be pleased to know that the Boy-Who-Lived was not so easily forgotten.’

‘Hard work?’ Harry swallowed heavily, and Snape could see the flash of fury lying just beneath the surface of his apparently calm demeanour. True fear seemed to be the only thing keeping it at bay, a solid and almost unbending resolve to deny the truth. ‘What did you do, kill everyone who had the misfortune to hear my name?’ Harry let out a choked chuckle. ‘Obviously not, since the streets seemed rather full for that to be true.’

Snape nodded in confirmation, his eyes hard as he regarded the boy; smaller than he remembered, as though the years had subconsciously stretched the boy’s otherwise diminutive proportions in his memory. ‘The majority of the population was simply Obliviated,’ he affirmed.

‘Majority?’ Snape could hardly have blamed Harry for allowing the fear to bleed through into his voice.

‘Yes.’ There was no emotion in his own as he continued. ‘However, those who knew you personally were killed.’ A heavy silence engulfed them both, Snape’s brief brush of Harry’s mind revealing nothing more than a half-hysterical realisation that Granger wasn’t about to walk past, so Harry needn’t worry about not recognising her. The sheer inanity of the thought annoyed Snape immensely. The unnerved laughter that followed only added to the surge of irritation, but it was quickly overruled as the green eyes once again focused on him with accusation and sudden understanding. But then again, you could always trust a Potter to ignore the wider and infinitely more important problems in face of those that were personal, but effectively futile in the great scheme of things.

You knew me personally.’

Tears would probably have been better than that flat statement, although Snape doubted it would have been by much. ‘It is my responsibility to ensure this state of affairs continues.’ Perhaps blunt honesty would have been the best course. His dithering around the point seemed to have done no more than to add a fuse to an already volatile situation. Snape could hear a faint rumbling in the background, as the heat from the nearby fireplace increased, flames licking at the edge of the wall surrounding it. Across the room a set of candles burst spontaneously into flames that burnt too hot, the wax melting and dripping onto the floor in steady rivulets that fell clear onto the wood beneath before cooling to a dirty brown. The window by his shoulder was rattling steadily in its frame, metal grating against metal. ‘Potter,’ Snape hissed, his eyes glinting as the boy glared at him with outright hostility. ‘I would recommend you exercise some control. You are not three years old any longer, so act your age.’ A slight wind was picking up around him, nudging his hair as the remains of the destroyed candles exploded in a flash of blinding light. The walls almost seemed to be flexing outwards, trying to escape the thickening air of the room.

‘You work for him, don’t you?’ Harry spat the question, eyes bright, the unnatural light of the candles reflecting to make then appear almost inhuman. ‘His loyal servant, right?’ Snape merely raised an eyebrow and nodded, amending that his previous calculations regarding his survival may have been somewhat on the generous side. ‘How lucky that out of everyone I ever knew, you were the only one fortunate enough to survive.’

Years evidently hadn’t managed to blunt the extreme displeasure Snape felt at being judged so self-righteously by a Potter, as though their view and their opinions were the only ones of any importance or, more infuriatingly, any worth. ‘Do not condemn me for what you do not understand, boy,’ he snarled, baring his teeth in the dim light cast by the few remaining candles. ‘Did I not serve, you would be dead already.’

‘Right, because you are doing this to save my skin and not your own.’ The boy had the affront to scoff.

‘You ignorant little brat,’ Snape’s voice rose furiously, the shadows playing menacingly around him. The very thought of justifying himself turned his stomach, but until he figured how best to deal with the sudden shift in circumstances there was no choice. It was either that or have the insolent whelp topple everything in a fit of pique. ‘I did it at the bequest of Albus.’

‘I don’t know why Dumbledore ever trusted you then.’ Harry was on his feet now, glaring challengingly at his former professor. The room had at least stopped shaking, although Snape doubted it had less to do with control than it did sheer exhaustion. The boy was visibly trembling with the effort of remaining upright, hands jerking so that oversized sleeves of his cloak rippled spasmodically.

‘I see no reason why I should explain the actions of either myself, or the late Headmaster, to you.’ Snape tried to calm himself; shouting excessively at the boy would not help, no matter how much Potter deserved, or needed it. Sinking back into his seat Snape waited in vain for Harry to do the same, before it occurred to him that Harry had taken the words as the literal refusal they appeared to be. ‘However it is fairly obvious I will not get a moment’s peace until I do so,’ he reluctantly amended, quirking an eyebrow at the sullen boy, who remained silent and fuming. ‘I will take your shining disrespect as an indication you will listen.’

‘Is Dumbledore dead too?’ The voice was quiet now and oddly timid, and Snape could do nothing but incline is head in affirmation. Thinking back on it, even with the shield of all the years that had since passed, was still difficult.

‘He was struck down less than a year after you disappeared.’

‘How?’

‘Death Eaters found their way into the school.’ Harry’s eyes widened in alarm, and he hit the poorly stuffed cushion of the ancient seat behind him with a thud. ‘No one else was killed that night. Albus gave his life to protect the students.’ Snape wondered why he felt compelled to soften the story, and it felt odd that he should be able to summarise such an ominous evening so effectively in so few words. It certainly hadn’t seemed so simple at the time. Harry appeared to sink even deeper into the chair, his mouth pursed in a thin line.

‘The Order?’

‘Fell shortly after.’

‘And you’ve been working for Voldemort ever since?’ Snape gritted his teeth, refraining for further admonishing the boy for the use of the name. In this time and this place, it had more power than could be comprehended.

‘I was already deeply entrenched in his ranks at the time. I had not seen a member of the Order for many months.’ Harry opened his mouth to question, but closed it again, turning his head away from the man to stare unflinchingly at the panelled wall. What he had wanted to say would have been painfully obvious to anyone, with or without the added benefit of Legilimency. Snape bit back on his pride even further, in a way he had become painfully accustomed to over the years, in order to answer what the boy had not had the nerve to ask. He could have left it, he supposed, but had little doubt he would not come to regret doing so. ‘It was not a matter of choice. Albus was unwilling to believe you were truly dead. It was his last request to me, as he was certain no one else stood as great a chance of survival.’

‘He knew this would happen?’

‘He suspected. With you gone, it presented the Dark Lord with an unrivalled opportunity, one he leapt upon.’

‘So you’ve been waiting for me?’ A look of unguarded and unfounded hope passed across Harry’s face, and it spoke volumes to the poorly hidden distress that it should be aimed solely at him. Snape found himself shying from the sudden realisation that Harry was now keeping his considerable unease at bay with the unfounded belief that Snape held the immediate solution to the problem.

‘In a fashion. However, I was not so enamoured with the ideas Dumbledore clung to.’

‘You thought I was dead, too.’

‘At the time, there appeared no other plausible explanation.’

‘Yet you did it anyway? Joined the Dark Lord?’

‘I owed Albus a great deal, none of which is your concern, especially not in light of this event.’ Harry tried to stifle a yawn behind his hand and shivered in the confines of the cloak. ‘We still do not know how it is you came to be here.’ Snape prompted.

‘Apparently the impossible Time-Turner,’ Harry offered unhelpfully with a shrug as Snape narrowed his eyes at him.

‘Idiot boy, have you given absolutely no thought as to how the thing came to be around your neck in the first place?’ Harry at least had the decency to look startled. Musings on the past, however, kept his mind from dwelling on the present

‘Grimmauld Place was supposed to be safe!’ he exclaimed angrily.

‘Indeed, yet a follower managed to infiltrate.’

‘Dumbledore was Secret-Keeper though. No one would have dared tried to get it out of him.’

‘How incredibly insightful of you,’ Snape sneered habitually. He had left the confines of his chair and was pacing the small room in an attempt to vent his frustration and uncertainty on how to proceed. With so many possibilities, there was no way to know what future potential he would close off with an ill-thought action now.

‘A member of the Order wouldn’t have done this.’ Harry’s tone was defensive, his green eyes sparking as though daring Snape to challenge his statement. He had no desire to do so. The longer Potter wallowed in what had happened, the longer it would be before he started demanding to know what was going to happen.

‘Perhaps not willingly…’

‘The Imperius Curse?’ Harry suggested. Snape sighed in response, pulling the chair out once again and leaning back into it.

‘I do not know, Potter. It is yet another mystery, and a worrying one. That I would not be informed of such a plan is disturbing at best. That only luck brought you here now offers little comfort.’

‘Luck?’ Harry voiced indignantly. ‘How is this lucky? I didn’t stand a hope in hell of defeating Voldemort twenty odd years ago with Dumbledore and an army of Aurors to back me up. Now he’s had all that time to grow stronger and I have nothing.’

‘Yet in that annoyingly infallible way of yours, you have apparently managed to disrupt his plans anyway,’ Snape commented pointedly. ‘No doubt he is not expecting to have to face you for many years to come.’

‘Great, so I’ll have time to practise dying. Perhaps he’ll let me pick my favourite.’ Harry had curled up again, another yawn engulfing him as his head dropped to the side. The draught Snape had subtly interwoven into the chocolate had been mild, the amount almost non-existent. He hadn’t wanted Harry to notice the effect as anything beyond natural fatigue. For this reason its effect had been slow, and it had been further held off by the turbulent emotions of the boy. Snape had almost feared it would be negated completely, but it held even as he hooked his hands under the boy’s thin knees and hoisted him into his arms. He needed time to think and to consider, and quiet in which to do it.


Chapter 6: Only Three
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Chapter 6: Only Three.


Harry shifted slightly on the bed, squinting against the glaring sunlight that had pulled him reluctantly from his sleep. Rubbing blearily at his eyes, he reached blindly towards the side of the bed, hand groping for the bedside table and his glasses. Leaning forward, his outstretched hand met nothing but thin air where he expected solid wood to be, tipping him off balance as the mattress shifted unexpectedly and he slid from the cool sheets with a yelp.

‘Had I known entertainment was to be provided, I would have woken you sooner,’ Snape commented dryly from a chair in the shadowed corner of the room, the thin frames of the glasses resting between his long fingers, as Harry glared from his undignified position on the floor, rubbing his bruised back.

‘Were you sitting there all night?’ Harry pushed himself to his feet, snatching his glasses from the offering hand as Snape leant slowly backwards again, regarding him appraisingly and with no small degree of distaste, his lips pulled back in revulsion.

‘It was not my first choice, of that I can assure you. However, I was unwilling to risk having left and returning to find you gone and running loose. Especially given your penchant for attracting trouble.’ He gestured to the only other chair in the sparse room, over which a faded black robe was slung. ‘It would be more appropriate for you to wear that today, unless you feel those hideous garments are considered fashionable. I took the initiative and burnt that foul monstrosity of a cloak you must have picked up from somewhere.’

‘An old lady gave it to me.’ Harry scowled, feeling less than generous about Ethel’s reluctant act of assistance. ‘She worked in the book shop,’ he added as Snape cocked an eyebrow, evidently surprised at the venom behind his admission. ‘Refused to have it back once she discovered a half-blood had touched it.’

‘It is good to see such fine traditions being upheld.’ Harry didn’t think it was possible for Snape to have sneered any more, but he did, apparently taking great satisfaction in it. The approval in his tone also seemed to be covering for something else Harry couldn’t quite place, but which made him distinctly uneasy. ‘The bathroom is through the door.’ Snape gestured absently to the far corner of the room, the slight wrinkling of his nose letting Harry know that the information was to be taken as a suggestion, not a mere courtesy. ‘Please do try to be quick, we have much to do today.’ He did no more than look thoughtful and thoroughly unaffected as Harry stomped across the room, snatching the robes with a fair degree of muttering and making sure to slam the door for maximum effect, so that it shuddered momentarily in its rotting frame.

The shower was refreshing, although Harry spent longer than was strictly necessary under the warm spray, trying to rid himself of the damp and greasy odour that clung to his skin. The fact he hadn’t theoretically washed in a good twenty odd years meant he was a little more vigorous with the soap than normal, and his skin was scrubbed a dark and tender pink by the time he emerged. The robes hung well enough, although they were slightly too long and threatened to trip him at any moment. He was getting used to ill-fitting clothes now though, and at least he looked a little less like a bedraggled outcast. Rubbing his hair with a spare towel until it was no longer dripping water down his back, Harry took a deep breath and prepared himself once again to face the world.

He had barely opened the door when something landed heavily by his feet, making him jump back automatically and frown. Looking down he saw a pair of dark, fur lined boots lying haphazardly in front of him, beguilingly innocent. He regarded them suspiciously until Snape rolled his eyes.

‘I Transfigured them, Potter. Wear them…unless you would rather continue bare foot?’

‘What from?’ Harry picked them up cautiously, holding them up for closer scrutiny.

‘A couple of rats I heard scurrying behind the skirting board.’ Snape sighed with annoyance as Harry dropped the items with a thud and a look of pure disgust. ‘Really, I would never have thought you so squeamish.’ Harry looked queasy at the thought, and seemed no closer to wearing the creations. ‘I Transfigured the pillows,’ Snape divulged impatiently, gesturing to the bed, which was now decidedly lacking in bedding. Harry still looked mistrustful. ‘Much as I am loath to admit it, but I do not possess the same skill as Minerva once did, so was forced to use something already closely related and potentially wearable. Were they once rats I have no doubt you would realise the second the tried to bite you, tempting though the prospect is.’ Harry, with evident reluctance, caved to the evidence that pointed to the unlikely fact that Snape was telling the truth. He sat heavily in the chair, pulling the boots over his feet and slowly looping the laces, his brow furrowed in concentration.

‘What happened to her?’ he eventually asked, with no doubt that Snape would know exactly whom he was referring to, the question having eaten at him until he could no longer not ask, but still dreaded hearing the answer all the same.

‘She was murdered.’ Snape was busy spelling the bed made, an activity that seemed slightly absurd for him. ‘As a well known member of the Order, it was not overly surprising.’

‘I guessed that,’ Harry continued, licking his lips nervously as his foot dropped to the floor and his hands wound around themselves convulsively. ‘But…how?’

‘Do you really want to know?’ Snape inquired lightly, focusing his attention as Harry nodded slowly. There was a brief silence in which Harry was certain the man was going to refuse to tell him, before a small smile slowly formed at the corner of Snape’s mouth and he spoke. ‘As it turns out, a cat does not, in fact, have nine lives. Barely even one.’ Harry was out of his seat in an instant, wand forgotten as he raised his hand, his clenched fist soaring towards the professor’s hooked nose. Long fingers encircled his thin wrist before he could connect, jarring as his momentum was suddenly halted. His other wrist was grasped before he had a chance to raise it, fingers pinching the soft skin painfully as he struggled against the taller man.

‘How dare you!’ he shouted, trying to pull himself free, his foot colliding with the hard bone of Snape’s shin, drawing not so much as a wince from the man. ‘She’s dead, and you’re laughing…’

‘Be quiet, you fool boy,’ Snape hissed, yanking Harry painfully by his arms so that he stumbled.

‘Don’t insult them!’

‘They are dead, and I doubt my words can cause them offence now,’ Snape said silkily, casting a furtive glance around the room. ‘However the walls have ears, and they are nearly always listening.’

‘You’re just a coward.’ He had stopped shouting, but still struggled desperately against the grip that showed no inclination of weakening.

‘And you are foolishly misguided by your refusal to see beyond your archaic Gryffindor nobilities.’ Harry was too blinded by overwhelming rage to listen.

‘What about Ron, what about Hermione?’ he spat accusingly, eyes flashing angrily as tiny drops of water flew from his still damp hair. He tried to summon the same rage that had threatened to spill downstairs the night before; tried to concentrate and throw it all in Snape’s ugly, greasy, taunting face, but it adamantly refused to even tingle, only serving to further infuriate him. ‘What horrible names are you willing to use on them now they can’t defend themselves?’

‘Blood traitors and Mudbloods,’ Snape snarled, renewing his grip as Harry howled and clawed again in rage, almost lifting him off his feet. ‘Are you so stubborn you will not even attempt to learn a lesson that could well save your life?’

‘Hermione is not a Mudblood!’

‘Was not, Potter, and you are mistaken.’ Snape narrowly avoided Harry’s flailing foot. ‘She lived a Mudblood, she died a Mudblood, and it is all history will remember her as. You would do well to think of her the same way, otherwise you will not survive to walk down the street.’ Harry snorted sceptically, trying to twist his wrists free as nails dug into the soft flesh on the underside.

‘Let me guess, not only do the walls have ears, but Legilimency is a required skill so not even my innermost thoughts are safe.’

‘Legilimency is all but a forgotten art,’ he said with an air of vague bitterness.

‘Then, if you don’t mind, I won’t think negatively of the best friends I have ever had and, as far as I am concerned, last heard from a couple of days ago.’ Harry glowered through narrowed eyes. Snape growled in the back of his throat at the defiance.

‘Since you are apparently unwilling to listen to anything I have to say, should I just deposit you in front of the Dark Lord now?’ He made a motion as though to throw Harry away from him, never actually releasing his hold so that Harry was forced to allow the violent shaking lest he wind up flat on his face. ‘No doubt you will find yourself there within minutes unless you actually shut up and listen to what I am trying to say.’ His black hair had fallen across his face, leaving his eyes hooded in shadows that only served to make them more intense in their annoyance. Harry felt a momentary stab of fear at the thought that Snape would Apparate them away that very instant.

‘The only thing I hear you saying is insults.’ Harry’s breath was fast and shallow as he glared challengingly.

‘Yes, and if you react this badly to a comment made by a stranger walking past you in the street, what exactly do you think will happen?’ Harry looked sullen as he ceased to struggle, his arms going lax as Snape continued to scowl at him meaningfully. ‘What do you think will happen the next time you encounter a Dementor?’

‘I’ll at least have some happy memories to focus on,’ Harry grouched as Snape released him, pushing him backwards slightly so that Harry rocked precariously on his heels for a moment as Snape rubbed his temples in frustration.

‘Are you incapable of figuring out anything? Do you have even the tiniest flicker of an instinct for survival?’

‘I don’t trust you,’ Harry replied flippantly, trying to massage some life back into his sore arms. ‘And I’d like to think you’d Obliviate anyone involved in any scene.’

‘Good,’ Snape exhaled in response to the first comment, some of the frustration fleeing the room, leaving behind a tentative layer of apprehension that was somehow even more constricting. ‘But you are mistaken. You may have no concept of self-preservation, but it is something with which I am acutely familiar, and I cannot afford to Obliviate every passer-by you happen to encounter, as it will not go unnoticed.’ He shouldn’t have expected any better from the man, really. Of course Snape believed him no better than some sort of delinquent, and incapable of walking down a street without causing a riot. ‘Just because it has fallen to me to protect your worthless life, it does not mean I am willing to sacrifice mine in the process.’ Harry gaped wordlessly at Snape’s emotionless response. ‘Now, do you know why the Dementors came after you?’

‘You know I don’t know,’ Harry sniped after regaining the use of his voice. His hands still throbbed miserably and his feelings towards the Potions Master were less than charitable, his fury having peaked to something beyond shouting and raving. ‘So why you don’t you stop asking stupid questions just to make yourself feel big, skip telling me how stupid I am, and explain the blatantly obvious thing I should have realised by now. In small words, if it makes you feel better.’

‘They know what you are.’ Harry looked panicked as Snape continued flatly, straightening the furniture their fight had disturbed and unmoved by his growing anxiety. He almost sounded as though he were reciting potions ingredients. ‘And I don’t mean something so complicated as the Boy-Who-Lived, defeater of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, or anything of that nature. They know what you are on a much more basic level.’

‘A wizard who isn’t Dark?’ Harry offered with a nervous yet hopeful shrug.

‘A Half-blood.’ Snape needn’t have accompanied that with the look he did. Harry was only too aware of how much of a danger that was.

‘How do they know that?’

Snape straightened up and readjusted his robes as he spoke, smoothing them back down and brushing away the creases that had formed. ‘It is a Dementor’s most basic instinct to harvest the memories of a victim. The Dark Lord merely applied that skill into something much more useful, and much more specific. He taught them what to look for, and now they ensure the standards he spent so long achieving are maintained.’ If Harry didn’t know any better he’d have thought Snape looked pleased by it.

‘That sounds bloody nice, knowing that any moment now one of those things could start randomly sifting through your thoughts. Why aren’t the streets lit with Patronuses?’

‘The Patronus Charm is forbidden. It is generally established that if you have nothing to fear, you have no need to cast it. Its use is considered an admission of guilt.’ It was just the sort of thing he should have expected from Voldemort really. Another excuse to torment and subtly torture people, leaving them no choice but to submit completely and never fight back. ‘Have you calmed down sufficiently now?’ Harry nodded dourly at Snape’s dismissive tone. ‘Good; I had hoped you would be gracious enough to give me the opportunity to continue with my day at some point.’

He strode towards the door, holding it open and gesturing for Harry to leave ahead of him, obviously reluctant to allow him out of sight for a second. Once downstairs, Snape merely nodded to the man behind the bar, exchanging a few gold coins in tense silence before delving into a pocket of his robes and extracted a handful of extra silver, no doubt in compensation for the items that now adorned Harry’s feet. Looking once again towards the boarded door that had once led to Muggle London, Harry opened his mouth, a question hovering on the tip of his tongue before he bit down on it as he met Snape’s hard gaze and realised he should remain silent. He felt suddenly uncomfortably aware of the number of eyes following them across the room, and breathed a sigh of relief once they were out in the courtyard, as the bricks once again formed their familiar arch.

‘So everyone follows him now, do they?’ Harry peered down the street. Everyone looked normal enough, much the same as people had before his life had apparently been turned upside down. There was a certain shabbiness about everything though, a fact that seemed more important than it had the last time he noticed, all the colours having faded to a dull and lifeless mockery of what they had once been. Even the air felt old and musty, overused and stinking of Dementors.

‘Devoutly.’

‘No resistance, no questions?’

‘There are rumours,’ Snape commented.

‘Of?’

‘I suppose you could call it a resistance, of sorts.’ Snape looked thoughtful again, his gaze flickering sceptically down the street. ‘There is nothing so obvious as to outright defy the Dark Lord’s absolute rule. But there are those who have courage enough to speak against him in private.’ He glanced at Harry as though reading his mind. ‘You should not think so poorly of them for submitting so easily. You forget that they no longer have their figurehead-’ he flicked a finger towards Harry’s scar ‘-they no longer have the hope of an unlikely saviour.’ Harry shrugged in a way that indicated he believed they should have fought more; that they should have found their own things to fight for.

‘You don’t know who?’

‘I have my suspicions,’ Snape said with curious flatness.

‘I thought that was all that was needed now,’ Harry countered sarcastically. ‘Why haven’t you just started randomly torturing people until they confess?’

‘So that those orchestrating the whole thing can hear of it and move into even deeper hiding? They are not such a threat as to warrant such extreme measures. And besides, such behaviour could only indicate that the Dark Lord is less than secure on his throne.’

‘Ah, couldn’t have people thinking the almighty was worried now, could we?’ Snape didn’t deign to answer, instead increasing his pace and walking ahead stiffly with a practised blank look fixed, blocking all emotion from his expression. Harry scowled to himself before running to catch up.

‘When are you going to send me back?’ Snape looked as though Harry had just requested they share life stories over a mug of butterbeer, as his stomach clenched with sudden fear and nausea crept through his body, chilling and debilitating. ‘You are going to send me back, right?’ He was not yet willing to accept that everyone being dead meant he had no hope of ever seeing them again. Someone was damn well going to send him back.

‘That may not be possible,’ Snape ground out reluctantly, clearly expecting a scene.

‘I thought getting me here in the first place had the difficult part over and done with,’ he attempted to say with a light hearted joviality he certainly didn’t feel. Evidently Snape had tired of insulting him, since the reply was short and not huddled protectively amidst a range of colourful abuse.

‘Time-Turners are not that easy to acquire.’

‘Fix the old one,’ Harry suggested.

‘I have no doubt its purpose has been too completely warped for it to be of any further use.’

‘Can I have it back then?’ He suddenly felt painfully unprotected without it.

‘No.’ Harry looked surly, but refrained from commenting that since someone had put the blasted thing around his neck it was, by all rights, now his. Unless, of course, the actual owner fancied stepping forwards and laying claim to the ruddy thing.

‘There must be somewhere you can get one, though.’ He hated the desperate edge that threatened to crack his voice. He fought to make it accusatory instead. ‘I thought you were powerful here.’ Snape gave a weary sigh.

‘Potter, the people of this time are bloody grateful they are still permitted to carry wands.’ Snape sounded both bitter and thankful at the statement. Harry couldn’t imagine needing permission to carry, or even just possess, his own. It was just his. The idea of having it given to him, as a gift, as something he had to earn in such a way, twisted against his pride. ‘The Dark Lord is no fool, he knows his is accepted only grudgingly and under threat of torture and death, and has therefore banned most anything that could potentially be used against him. Time-Turners were one of the more obvious threats, and one of the first to go. Those that remain are closely guarded. My Master would know within minutes were one removed.’

‘I thought you were supposed to help me,’ Harry challenged. The Master comment had stung and left an unpleasant taste in his mouth. Besides, anger was definitely a more comfortable and familiar feeling that the overwhelming sense of things slipping out of control.

‘I am.’

‘You’re not leaving many options open for defeating him.’

‘Currently my primary concern is making sure you live through to this afternoon,’ Snape snapped. ‘You would do well to concern yourself with only that for the minute.’ He stared at Harry meaningfully for a moment, as though turning over an idea in his head that he was hesitant to share. ‘Tell me, has your scar hurt at all since you awoke?’ Harry rubbed it curiously.

‘No.’

‘I am pleased, although I was reluctant to draw your attention to it. Try not to concentrate on it too much until we have established just how strong the connection remains.’ Abruptly Harry found his every thought centred solely on the fear that Voldemort could somehow feel him, could somehow sense a thread of life twining destructively around his perfectly created world. Swallowing heavily, he sought for the first distraction he could think of.

‘Who are they then?’

‘Must all your questions be this abstract?’

‘The three, the ones who remember me,’ Harry clarified.

‘Myself, and I am sure the Dark Lord made an obvious second even for you.’ Snape scanned to crowded street, noting the averted glances and hurried pace of those he passed. Harry couldn’t help but feel that he was overacting rather horribly about the walls having ears and all that tripe. From what he could see no one would be stupid enough to even attempt to overhear a conversation of his. ‘The third is Malfoy.’

‘Lucius?’ Harry didn’t sound surprised, more resigned.

‘Lucius Malfoy is still rotting in Azkaban, although I believe his mind is rather more fractured than you remember.’

‘Not Draco?’ he said in utter, horrified disbelief.

‘His father failed the Dark Lord on one too many occasions. You should feel ecstatic, Potter, since one of your last acts of heroism was to see him carted away to the island.’

‘He’s been there since the Ministry?’ Harry was amazed. ‘I figured Volde…’ he trailed off under Snape’s glare. ‘The Dark Lord would have freed him before the end of the holiday.’

‘If you believe the Dark Lord is above punishing even his closest followers for their continued failure then you are sorely mistaken.’ Harry had seen enough first hand to know that. ‘Besides, he had no need when Draco was more than willing to fill his father’s role.’

‘What?’ Snape would have been hard pushed not to hear the incredulity in his tone, and his smirk of amusement indicated that he had not only heard it, but considered Harry woefully ignorant as a result of it. Harry found it hard to believe that even Snape could have thought Malfoy anything more than a pathetic, snobbish coward.

Loftily, Snape took great pleasure in proving him wrong. ‘Draco took the Mark that summer. Before you disappeared, if it is of any interest to you.’

‘He was not even out of school. What use could he be?’

‘He was of much use,’ Snape sounded reluctant to continue, so Harry didn’t bother to even ask. ‘You of all people should know not to judge a person’s importance purely on his age.’ His comment was met with vague mumbling.

‘So where is he now?’

‘Do not worry yourself, we are not about to be running into him.’

‘I still want to know where he is.’

‘Then perhaps I should rephrase my previous statement.’ Snape halted his long strides to better lean over Harry. ‘We are not about to be running into him because I am not naïve or stupid enough to tell you where he is.’

‘The day I can’t handle a Malfoy…’

‘You could barely ‘handle’ his father,’ Snape jeered, pacing away again without warning. ‘How you didn’t wind up dead is beyond me. His son is no less proficient. You forget he is not the same boy you last saw a couple of months ago.’

‘Fine,’ Harry’s response was churlish as he stopped in the middle of the street and crossed his arms in a childish display of insolence. He had to raise his voice, as Snape was already a distance away. ‘Will you at least tell me where we’re going?’

Snape stalked back, his face thunderous. ‘You are going to take me to Grimmauld Place.’ There was no choice in the angry demand.

‘Take yourself.’

‘Remember your manners, Potter!’ Snape all but roared in the busy street, reaching the end of his admittedly short fuse. Still Harry just stared fiercely at him, adamantly refusing to budge an inch, even when fixed with the most hateful of glares.

‘Sorry, sir,’ he said without a trace of apology and a most infuriating smirk. ‘Why don’t you just take yourself?’ It was all the more mocking for the innocence with which he asked.

‘It became inaccessible to me quite some time ago, after Albus’ death.’ Snape hated admitting to any failure on his part, and Harry couldn’t help but wonder how one old house could remain so important for him to even hint at the possibility there was something he didn’t know. ‘I never did discover the identity of the replacement Secret-Keeper, and even if I had, communication would have been impossible.’

‘What makes you think I can still get there, then? Dumbledore was the last person to tell me.’

‘And you were the last person to set foot in the house.’ Snape clenched his teeth and refrained from slapping some sense into the annoying brat. ‘Humour an old man.’

‘Tell me where Malfoy is.’

Snape looked ready to curse. ‘Your life isn’t the only one on the line now, boy. There is no room for petty vendettas.’

‘Tell me.’

Snape lowered his voice to the threatening rumble. ‘Do not think anyone would dare question me were I to cast a certain Unforgivable on you here and now.’ He was sorely tempted.

‘Go for it then, and we’ll see how much nearer that gets you.’ Harry folded his arms defiantly, holding his head high. Snape glared at him for a moment, black eyes boring mercilessly through his head before he scowled, lowering his wand in defeat.

‘He is at Hogwarts.’


Chapter 7: Burnt Bridges
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Chapter 7: Burnt Bridges


‘Why can’t I just Floo back?’

‘Because I will not risk attempting to travel somewhere I may or may not be permitted to enter.’ Snape was definitely reaching the end of his patience, his tone clipped and icy as he resorted to grabbing Harry round the top of his arm and dragging him bodily down the street, his feet stumbling beneath him as he fought to regain his balance.

‘What then?’

‘I will Apparate us to the street outside, and then we shall see.’ The remark was as dismissive as ever, a habit that was becoming increasingly irritating. Harry was fairly sure that at this point it would be less effort for Snape just to answer his questions straight away, instead of replying with the least possible number of syllables.

‘Where are we going now, then?’ Harry pressed, gesturing to the severe lack of Apparition. Even Snape’s glare was becoming drained in the face of his constant harassment.

‘Do you ever tire of asking that inane question? If you need to know what I am doing, I will tell you.’ Snape closed his eyes tiredly for a moment, no doubt anticipating the next round of questioning. He didn’t query his good fortune when none came, and continued as though Harry had caused him equal inconvenience with his silence. ‘It is a criminal offence to be caught Apparating into a Muggle area. There are, however, for those who know where to look, certain places less well protected from which we will be able to leave without detection.’ He pulled Harry into a narrow alley, stepping lightly over the rubbish that lined the ground beneath them before stalking ahead. When they reached a wall with no noticeable way of passing he stopped and held out his hand, prepared for Harry’s reaction to the gesture. ‘Rest assured this brings me no joy either. However, the more physical contact you allow, the less unpleasant the effects of this will be.’ Harry consented to the hand wrapping round his own, and the arm that pushed against the length of his. It didn’t prepare him for the feeling of being squashed down into a small ball of nothingness, or the sensation that his insides were trying to crawl out of his skin, as the world stretched and twisted around him. He staggered when they landed, automatically clinging for support until his equilibrium reasserted itself and he pulled away, blushing ferociously.

To his relief, the doorway to number twelve still stood exactly where he remembered it, as he stepped onto the overgrown path.

‘Potter.’ Snape’s sneer halted his steps. ‘Before you continue, would you be so good as to inform me?’

‘Huh?’

‘The house, Potter,’ Snape said unnecessarily slowly. ‘I assume you can see it, but I cannot. I would rather you enabled me to follow you before you disappear from my sight.’

‘It’s right there.’ Harry gestured widely, the sweep of his arm encompassing the two houses next door and a fairly wide patch of sky. It was apparently enough though, as Snape pushed impatiently ahead of him and opened the door, wand pointed down the musty hallway.

‘Fortunately for you, eloquence does not appear to be a requirement,’ he said with disdain, stepping across the threshold as Harry followed. He turned on him seconds after, barely giving Harry enough time to close the door, the small click of the lock lost to the Potion Master’s abrupt demands. ‘Did you search the house at all before leaving?’ Harry shook his head silently. ‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes!’ he declared hotly. ‘I just looked for Remus in his bedroom, then came straight down to the kitchen.’ Snape regarded him through narrowed eyes, obviously determined he was lying. Harry refused to meet his gaze though, leaving him with no choice but to reluctantly believe him.

‘You will stay in this very spot. You will not move and you will not speak. You will not do a single blessed thing until I tell you it is safe to do so.’ Snape stared unblinkingly at him, causing Harry to squirm slightly. ‘We do not know if the place has been compromised.’

‘Fine.’ Harry leant mulishly against the bare wall as Snape cast one final, disapproving look in his direction, before scaling the staircase. He heard a door open, footsteps above him circling rapidly and a muffled spell he couldn’t quite make out, before they moved away again. A second door opened as Harry sunk to the floor, fingers picking at the splintered floorboard in boredom and annoyance. He almost didn’t hear the faint click of the door closing again, as his eyes drifted up the stairs and tried vainly to see round corners. He wished Fred and George had gone out of their way to make some Extendable Eyes, even if the thought was kind of disgusting. Even a set of Extendable Ears would have done, since he could just about make out soft voices, muffled by the closed door. Moving slowly to his feet, Harry crossed the couple of paces to the foot of the stairs. The voices were still indiscernible, but there was no mistaking the angry tones of an argument. Lifting one foot, he gingerly tried the first step, lowering his weight slowly and relaxing at the silence that remained. Steadying himself with one hand on the railings, Harry stepped up again, the creaking wood making occasional protests beneath him. Half way up, he froze as the wood groaned ominously beneath him, but there was no break in the flow of heated words drifting down the staircase, so he let out the breath he had been holding and continued upwards.

The door to his room was ajar, no doubt the way he had left it. Harry didn’t recall seeing anything potentially threatening in it, but then again, he hadn’t really been paying very much attention. The door to the room Snape had already searched was also swinging open, as Harry edged past it, willing Snape not to come storming out into the corridor at that moment. The words were much clearer now as he approached the closed door, and it suddenly occurred to him with dismay that Snape could very well have charmed the thing to be inaccessible. Why he didn’t bother with a silencing charm whilst he was at it made Harry think it unlikely the thought had even crossed his professor’s mind. His hand closed round the cold door handle and he twisted.

‘You are a fool, old man,’ Snape’s voice was low as he raised his wand. ‘Incendio!

Harry threw the door open, bursting through as it hit the wall behind with a loud bang, and staring aghast at Snape’s extended wand as the portrait burst into hungry flames. He spotted a flash of white disappearing off the edge of the crumbling canvas, the heat of the flames making his eyes water from the dry air as Snape rounded on him angrily. ‘Potter! I told you quite specifically to stay downstairs.’

‘Who was it?’ he asked desperately, voice frantic with worry. Snape paused for a second before answering.

‘Phineas Nigellus,’ he eventually replied, crossing his arms as Harry continued to stare at the dying flames.

‘But…why?’

‘He could not be trusted, especially given that he still has a portrait in Hogwarts.’ Harry’s eyes widened as he remembered the use to which Dumbledore had put the portrait, and at the thought of who now sat in his old Headmaster’s chair. ‘I could not risk him passing on information.’

Harry swallowed, his throat now parched and painful, seemingly made more so at the prospect of what he had to admit he had seen. ‘I think he ran away, just before your spell got him.’

‘What?’ Snape roared angrily.

‘I saw something running off the edge of the frame,’ Harry said nervously as Snape strode towards him.

‘Did he see you?’ Snape grabbed his shoulders, fingers pinching hard as Harry shook his head.

‘I don’t think so.’

Pushing Harry distastefully away, Snape snarled, ‘You are an idiot. Stay here, and I mean really stay here this time.’ He stalked past Harry, slamming the door behind him and muttering a few words before his footsteps retreated again. A couple of half hearted turns of the doorknob verified the locking charm Snape had used, not wanting to be caught unprepared a second time, and Harry fought back the uncomfortable mixture of helpless anger and shame. It was a couple of minutes before Snape returned and the door was opened. The man didn’t bother with niceties, his thin frame blocking the doorway as he glared imperiously down at Harry. ‘Will you finally listen to what I tell you?’ he demanded as Harry nodded resentfully. ‘Will you?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘We shall have to wait and see if that is actually true, I suppose.’ Snape stepped out of the only exit, allowing Harry back out into the hallway. He kept his head down as he moved, his pride throbbing in tandem every step. ‘But rest assured, you will find yourself locked back in that damn room if I even suspect you of disobeying.’ Harry nodded mutely again, coughing reluctantly even as the action burnt his sore throat. He got no more than a jerk of the head for further instructions, and he trailed morosely back down the stairs as Snape stormed ahead and entered the kitchen. A glass of water was thrust tersely into his hands when he finally entered.

‘Thanks,’ he muttered, taking a couple of sips. A gentle tapping at the window caught him off guard as he jumped, slopping the cold liquid down the front of his robes. Snape merely rolled his eyes before opening the window, a large owl soaring in and perching itself on the back of a chair as Snape detached the large roll of paper from its leg.

‘It’s just my owl.’ Harry scowled as Snape smirked at his discomfort.

‘You’re still getting a newspaper?’ he questioned to cover his embarrassment at overreacting, as the large bird flew off into the bright sky and the window was slammed back into place with a crash.

‘Of course, although the idea of free press has become somewhat outdated.’ Snape stared at Harry’s perplexed expression, misreading the nature of the confusion. Harry had been worried purely about the appearance of the magical animal at a place supposed to be hidden. Harry wondered how bad things had been for Snape to automatically assume his question had been so much larger. ‘Life goes on Potter, what did you expect? A world devoted to endless torture and gesticulation? Enslaved millions spending their every waking minute grovelling and worshipping? Tithes and tributes, perhaps?’ It all sounded so ridiculous, made even more so by the fact that, yes, it was exactly what he had expected. ‘People still need food, and homes. They still need to be clothed. They still get ill or hurt and require medical attention. Children still need to learn, although the curriculum is naturally somewhat different to what you remember. The very basis of life has not changed; we would fall apart without it.’ A moment of silence followed, Snape’s voice becoming no more than a bitter undertone. ‘We very nearly did.’

‘Nearly did?’

Snape recovered himself admirably, sneer back in place as he looked down his nose at the table before him, apparently reluctant to look directly at Harry. ‘Power goes to ones head, and absolute power reduces all reason for anything beyond the most basic of instincts. People were starving and dying needlessly…well, more needlessly. The Dark Lord almost found himself with nothing and no one left to rule.’ Harry said nothing, simply gazed at the folded newspaper with blinkered eyes, moving slowly towards the door even as Snape pulled out a chair and banished the worst of the dust.

‘What are you going to do now then, sir?’ he asked with careful neutrality. Snape barely looked up.

‘I am going to sit in some well deserved peace and quiet for the first time in too long and think, since evidently I now need to be doing it for two.’

‘I’ll leave you alone, then.’ Harry got nothing more than a dismissive grunt in reply, as he closed the door quietly behind him.

-o00o-


The house hadn’t changed much since he’d last been in it. Even his usual chair still sat at its proper place around the table, although he supposed it had become someone else’s after time. It didn’t offer many clues as to what had happened in it though. It was too clean, once one looked past the accumulation of so many years’ dust and dirt, to have been abandoned in desperation. The beds were made and the sink empty. Even the chairs surrounding the table at which he now sat were ordered perfectly. Someone had taken the time to tidy before they left.

Thinking about it, it seemed logical to assume that the house had served less as a base of operations and more as a prison to those it was trying to protect in its last moments of use. And someone had definitely been the last to leave, and had left in the knowledge they would not be coming back.

Snape doubted the Fidelus Charm was still responsible for protecting the place, despite the initial similarities. For one thing, Potter’s pathetic attempt to inform him of its existence had been far from satisfactory to fulfilling the charm. More importantly though was the simple fact that Potter had most assuredly not been around when the last remaining resident fled, and therefore the passing on of the responsibility of the charm would have been impossible. The whole thing positively reeked of Albus’ influence. Elements of the Fidelus Charm amalgamated with your basic property protection wards, which allowed access only to the rightful owner, seemed the most likely conclusion, from what he could gather from the limited evidence. Not that it particularly mattered, since Snape doubted they would find the place stormed any time in the near future. Curiosity was an unpleasant thing, however, when there was little chance of a satisfactory answer.

A small fire in the littered hearth provided a source of warmth and an escape from the damp and musky smell that engulfed the house after being empty for so long. Rooting around in the drawers revealed a serviceable kettle, restored to all its former glory with a harsh cleaning spell. He had to use a spell to create water, since the plumbing gave an unholy wail when the tap was turned. Whilst he was quite capable of summoning tea, too many discussions with Albus over such a creation had led to an appreciation of the real thing. Hanging the kettle carefully over the flames he sank back into his seat again in quiet contemplation.

It had been only three days since the unaccountable disappearance of the Boy Who Lived, and Snape had never had the misfortune of seeing the Headmaster so truly frantic. Owls streamed through his window in and endless flurry of hope, the fireplace barely finding the time to cool before another would rush through, scarcely exchanging more than a couple of words before leaving once again to continue the fruitless search.

‘There is nothing, no trace of him whatsoever?’ Lupin shook his head, not finding it in himself to use anything as final as words in answer as Dumbledore turned his eyes to Snape, the pale blue for once faded and dull. ‘Severus, please tell me you have news?’

‘The Dark Lord does not have him.’ Albus sagged with relief into his chair, his entire body slumping forwards as he held his face in his hands. The man was defeated, his weakness exploited to its full potential.

‘How could we have failed him?’

‘He is not looking for him either.’ Dumbledore stiffened again at Snape’s flat words, exhaling heavily. ‘Lucius offered to lead the hunt upon discovering he was missing. He was rejected. Apparently Potter is ‘nowhere we are yet capable of going.’’

‘So he knows where Harry is, but can’t get to him?’ Lupin’s brow furrowed in deliberation before he thumped the desk in an uncharacteristic display of anger, tiny glass charms from unnamed objects rattling gently as Fawkes ruffled his feathers and crooned from his perch. ‘It doesn’t make any bloody sense!’ Dumbledore shook his head, whether in disagreement or complete and utter despair was anybody’s guess.

‘And Voldemort will tell you no more?’ The Headmaster met Snape’s flat gaze and held it for a couple of uncomfortable seconds, leaving Snape with a disquieting feeling of guilt he felt compelled to dispel.

‘He is not telling any of his servants any more than that. Apparently the joke is his, and his alone. At least for the time being.’ Dumbledore sat in contemplative silence for what seemed an eternity before speaking again, his words slow and weighted.

‘It causes me great distress to ask any more of you, Severus, but there is so much more than just your own life at risk.’ Snape refrained from pointing out that his life had been at risk for quite some time. ‘You must get closer. Whilst your information thus far has been invaluable, and instrumental in saving any number of lives, I’m afraid the occasional advanced warning of times and dates are no longer enough. We need to know what he is thinking.’ Snape nodded, his expression blank as he rose from his seat.

‘You understand it may be some time before I am able to return.’ Dumbledore at least refrained from the injustice of giving him the opportunity to back out.


It wasn’t as though he hadn’t expected it. The Dark Lord was no fool when he accepted Snape back into his fold. Excuses had been given and listened too with a disturbing attentiveness, punishments had been doled out and the benefit of the doubt had been given to an extent. But the Dark Lord would not be taken for an idiot simply because he had been too free with his trust.

Therefore the information Snape had been given was always vague, to say the very least. He was given enough by the Dark Lord to satisfy Dumbledore that his position was secure, and he was given enough information by Dumbledore to ensure the Dark Lord believed he was gathering all the information he could. And all either one had ever ended up with was exactly what the other wanted them to know. Lives were saved, sometimes by sheer fluke alone, and sometimes through a misplaced dropped comment. But his usefulness was limited by both sides reluctance to risk more than they felt they could afford.

Whilst he was still actively working for Dumbledore, the information he supplied was effectively worth less than nothing. Whilst he was still working for Dumbledore, his life was apparently worth even less.

He still felt a wave of bitterness. Albus had only asked of him what needed to be done, but a part of him insisted that the old man had had no right to request he sacrifice his own safety, and eventually his whole future so completely. He had turned away from the Dark Lord, had sacrificed every shred of dignity he possessed and begged the old man for sanctuary, for safety. And it had been given. But nevertheless it remained true: Albus Dumbledore giveth, and Albus Dumbledore taketh away. He had gone because he knew he had too, but sometimes he felt that Albus had not completely understood all he had been requested to give up.

‘Severus,’ Dumbledore greeted warmly in spite of the cold air that spilt around them. ‘You are looking well. Much more so than your last visit.’ Snape merely nodded in reply. He did not need reminding of the circumstances of their last meeting

‘I have not much time. To cause any suspicion at this delicate stage would prove disastrous.’

‘I know, my boy.’ Snape winced at the familiarity, as a cold gust swept around them, the scent of the trees that gathered threateningly around them thick and cloying. ‘Which is why I fear this may be our last meeting, although I admit I will not miss this location.’ Snape barely spared the clearing a glance. The Forbidden Forest was unpleasant at the best of times, and this deep it boasted any number of concealed dangers.

‘It is not the most ideal of places, nevertheless it has sufficed.’

‘I have asked so much of you, more than I ever had any right to ask.’ It wasn’t going to stop him from asking more though, Snape realised with cold indifference. ‘You have repaid your debt ten times over.’ He placed a gentle hand on Snape’s stiff shoulder that did nothing to ease the tension. ‘But now I fear it is only a matter of time.’ He looked so very old and frail in the moonlight as he sighed, his head falling to stare sightlessly at the grass beneath his feet. ‘I had always believed we would find him. At the last minute if need be, but it appears the last minute is here and Harry is still not to be found.’ He waved Snape into silence before the tirade could launch itself free. ‘But I will not believe he is dead.’

‘Nowhere we are yet capable of going,’ Snape quoted with only a trace of his familiar sneer. ‘The afterlife, Albus, somewhere we cannot go. So much effort has been wasted searching for a boy who is dead when it could have been put too much better use. No wonder the Dark Lord is laughing!’

‘I understand your anger, but I will not believe it. I merely ask that you trust my judgement one last time. He will return.’

‘At this rate, he will have nothing left to return to!’

‘He will have something,’ Dumbledore said softly, his gaze piercing Snape meaningfully. He scowled not so much at the comment, but at the unspoken insinuation behind it. ‘You must not let Voldemort know of your treachery. There is no room left for moral objections or personal preferences. Harry will return, and I ask you to do what you must to ensure you are alive and well when he does so.’ Snape bit back on the sarcastic retort. He had already done what he must in order to remain standing to that day. And Albus had said it himself, the debt had been repaid several times over.

‘Very well.’ Snape tilted his head in acquiescence. It was the only option. ‘I wish you luck and good fortune, for I have no doubt you are going to need it.’

‘No more so than you.’


Sometimes Snape wondered if the old man had any idea what he asked of him, what he would be required to do to fulfil the wishes of a fool blind to the true nature of serving such darkness. He was fairly sure that had he know, he would have realised he was asking for far too much.

‘Let her speak.’ His Master’s voice rang in the still air of the room, the silencing charm lifted as Minerva looked hatefully across the room to where he stood, no longer masked but face to face and somehow all the more personal for it.

‘For what reason?’ Her voice was thick, blurred with heavy accent. ‘I have nothing to say to either you or the traitor.’ The Dark Lord merely smiled, drawing his wand with aching slowness.

‘Have it your way.’ The lazy blue line of the spell struck her in the chest, which started to shrink, her whole body forced into the transformation until a matted tabby crouched defensively in the circle. ‘Severus, the honour is yours.’ A glint of pleasure lit behind his eyes as he advanced on her, and his Master hissed in approval. He seized her matted fur from behind her neck, lifting her struggling form with ease and raising his wand.

‘What would you prefer, My Lord?’ His lips quirked slightly in anticipation.

‘You are always so inventive, Severus,’ the tones almost hissed. ‘So let us find out exactly how many ways there are to skin a cat.’


He had been caught up in his own thoughts for too long; had not noticed the eerie quiet that filled the House. Swearing to himself he pushed the chair back with a scrape, stalking towards the door and flinging it open.

‘Potter!’

It wouldn’t surprise him if the brat had taken the opportunity to disappear on some foolish act of stupidity or another. He had, after all, only endeavoured to drum the lesson into his abnormally thick skull three or four times. A quick charm revealed the front door had not been opened, though. Snape was about to check upstairs, in the unfounded hope that the boy had simply gone to sleep, when he noticed a small door under the stairs hanging ajar. Curling his fingers into the gap he pulled it fully open, the faint light of a wand creeping up the stairs as he ducked through the opening.

‘Potter?’ He was crouched on the dirty floor, wand held in a shaking hand and legs crossed, the space around him littered with innumerable old papers, some faded to a dull yellow and the edges curled with damp, some completely unreadable. His eyes were red, but his face blessedly dry, as he lifted the newspaper from his lap and held it up in the light so that the front page stood out clearly.

‘Albus Dumbledore Dead.’

‘It doesn’t say much,’ Harry offered as Snape quickly surveyed the cellar, resting it back in his lap as his finger trailed down the smudged and faded lines of text. ‘Death Eaters got into the school, but it doesn’t say how. Some sort of fight at the top of the Astronomy Tower, but with no witnesses…or at least none willing to talk to the Prophet, most of it seems to be a guess.’ He didn’t look up.

‘Draco,’ Snape offered, casting a quick Scourgify on the lowest step and sitting carefully so as not to disrupt the tense and unspoken truce momentarily in effect. ‘He got them into the school.’ Harry still didn’t look up from the page, but his eyes ceased their rapid scanning and were still behind his thick glasses. ‘No one was expecting it. It was his initiation, so to speak. His final act to prove his unwavering loyalty.’

‘Malfoy killed Dumbledore?’

‘Yes.’

‘Wouldn’t have thought he had it in him.’ Harry wiped at his nose with the sleeve of his robe and sniffed.

‘It was something of a surprise to all of us, Albus most of all, I believe. But you were no doubt aware of his ability to see the good in anyone.’ Harry smiled faintly before his forehead creased in thought.

‘You were there?’ Snape nodded tentatively. ‘Why didn’t you stop him?’

‘I didn’t realise either his intention, or his commitment. He had not shared his orders with me.’

‘His own Head of House?’

‘I was no longer a member of the faculty,’ Snape explained. ‘Albus believed I was more likely to earn the trust of the Dark Lord were I not so obviously torn between two Masters.’ Harry chuckled hollowly to himself. ‘It was the first time I had seen Draco in many months.’ It was the first time he had seen Albus since his final request.

‘Do you think it would have made much of a difference, if you had been around more?’ Harry said softly, as though unaware he was airing his thoughts aloud. ‘Could you have talked him out of it?’

‘Doubtful.’

‘He was always an evil little git. I take it that is how he managed to get his filthy little hands on Hogwarts.’

‘It was one of the reasons,’ Snape confirmed. ‘He had done much more by the time the school was conquered though.’ He seemed to sense Harry’s continuing disbelief. ‘Albus would have died anyway. I was sent to watch Draco, but others were sent to watch us.’

‘It must have been hard for you.’ Harry looked up and watched Snape intently as he spoke, voice laced with false concern that was as transparent as his motives. ‘Watching him murder Dumbledore? After all he did for you for all those years.’

‘I did only what he wanted of me,’ Snape replied flatly, refusing to rise to the bait as Harry shrugged, turning back to the paper.

‘Haven’t found anything ‘bout Ron or Hermione yet.’ He changed the subject with evident ease. ‘Haven’t actually found anything on any of the Weasleys.’

‘You won’t. I believe the paper stopped printing some time before they were caught.’

‘Did you?’ The anger flared again for a moment as Snape shook his head. ‘Good, because I wouldn’t forgive you for that, not ever…no matter what Dumbledore said.’ They sat in terse silence for several minutes, with only the rustle of crackling newspaper until Snape stood.

‘Is there anything else you wish to know?’ Harry shook his head steadfastly.

‘I’ve gotten enough of an idea from these, thanks.’

‘Very well. You may have another hour, but then we have places to be.’ Harry looked curious.

‘Where?’

‘To see if my suspicions are correct,’ Snape said thoughtfully as he made his way carefully back up the tiny, narrow stairs. ‘And perhaps find you another ally or two.’





Chapter 8: Forgotten Friends
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Chapter 8: Forgotten Friends


The heavy cloak felt reassuring across his shoulders in spite of the musty smell that encased it. He had been surprised to find it, amidst the piles of boxes that lined the cellar wall, but someone had kept his old school trunk and seen to it that it remained safe. Safe from other people, that is, as they had been unable to protect it against the damp and mildew that permeated the long room. The soft wood had now warped, jamming the lid so tightly shut that Harry had to strain to force it open. His books had all pretty much disintegrated, the pages crumbling beneath his fingers, and a couple of cloudy vials littered the bottom, their contents having long since evaporated. His cloak had been the only thing he had found whole, and even it looked decidedly worse for wear. But it was his, and he was not about to let it go.

Snape wrinkled his nose as Harry entered the kitchen, but refrained from making a comment beyond casting several harsh cleansing charms on the cloak one after the other. The charms got rid of the smell, at least, but now the worn patches stood out even more prominently against the faded black. Pulling it tightly round himself and breathing deeply, Harry could almost imagine it smelt of the tower…of burning fires, butterbeer and slowly melting chocolate frogs. A small part of him knew he was being ridiculously stupid, but the bigger part overruled him, taking comfort in the one familiar thing in such a foreign world.

‘I will have to get rid of that,’ Snape said flatly as Harry looked up at him in bleary eyed confusion. ‘The House crest,’ Snape clarified, pointing with his wand to where a threadbare red lion pranced regally on his chest.

‘Hogwarts doesn’t have Houses any more?’

‘It does,’ Snape contradicted. ‘However it is not wise, for you especially, to advertise that one.’

Harry regarded him with suspicion. ‘You’re not turning it into a snake,’ he declared challengingly, crossing his arms and shifting his whole body slightly, moving the crest out of sight.

‘I will merely hide it.’ Snape waited patiently for Harry to consent, a quick charm blocking the roaring lion from view. If he squinted, though, Harry was sure he could still just about see it, finding it somewhat reassuring. ‘If you were cold, you could have asked,’ Snape interrupted his musings in a decidedly bored tone, regarding Harry with condescending amusement. ‘One can still acquire a basic cloak with the bare minimum of hassle.’

‘You sure about that?’ Harry bit back sarcastically, glaring through his fringe. ‘Voldemort isn’t worried that someone somewhere will overthrow him with the much feared cloak of doom. Or did he ban the sock instead?’ Snape quirked an eyebrow as Harry glowered. ‘It’s mine, all right. I mean really mine. I found it.’

‘Well, that at least would explain the foul smell if it has been down in that disgusting cellar for all this time.’

‘You aren’t going to demand I hand it over?’ Harry snapped, further infuriated when Snape did no more than shrug.

‘If it makes you feel better to wear it, then wear the damn thing.’ He strode across the room, thrusting a small bag into Harry’s unsuspecting hands as he passed him. ‘And keep this with you at all times.’

‘What is it?’ He turned the pouch over, feeling the contents shift smoothly as his fingers brushed the soft leather.

‘Floo Powder,’ came the sharp reply, accompanied with a metallic ringing as the kettle was snatched from the fireplace and tossed into the sink. Harry loosened the cord and peered inside. ‘Should anything happen, or at a word from me, you will come back here.’

‘You’re expecting something to happen?’

‘With you around I always expect something to happen.’ Snape rolled his eyes, turning and lighting the fire with a swish of his wand, the flames crackling in the dry air. ‘In this instance, however, the risk is greater. We are looking for people who will not wish to be found, especially not by me.’ Harry swallowed, nodding as he placed the bag carefully in one of the few pockets he had not littered with holes and tears.

‘You said something about allies,’ Harry prompted as Snape stepped towards the large fireplace, throwing in a handful of powder that made the walls glow eerily green, reflecting the light.

‘Indeed I did; however, it is purely conjecture on my part. I may be wrong.’

‘That’s a bit rash of you, isn’t it then?’ Harry asked hastily. He had no idea where Snape planned to take him, and the tiny shred of trust he had managed to spare was quickly smothered by Snape’s own lack of confidence. Besides, after having his own foolhardy behaviour thrown in his face so painfully so many times, he felt it worth mentioning. Personally he didn’t care if Snape decided he needed to single-handedly track down every member of this so called resistance whilst wearing a big flashing sign. At that moment, all Harry really wanted to do was return to the damp basement, the only place he had been that didn’t scream about how much he didn’t belong here. ‘Running off to confront them? Don’t you want to find out a bit more about them first?’

‘How very insightful of you,’ Snape sneered, not rising to Harry’s antagonism. ‘Although I never said we were running off to confront anyone.’ Harry considered both the Floo powder and the roaring green flames with scepticism. ‘However, in this instance, you are correct.’ Harry cast the professor an unfounded smirk. ‘And whilst I would much rather not be forced into running headlong into unknown situations, time is something of an issue at the moment. Therefore…’ He reached out and dragged Harry into the fireplace. He was almost getting used to being hauled everywhere by his arms or robe and barely put up a show of resistance. Throwing another handful of powder into the flames, Snape shouted, ‘Flourish and Blotts!’

The shop was crowded as Harry stumbled out of the fireplace, coughing as Snape stepped out gracefully beside him, whispering in Harry’s ear for him to remain silent. The shop was a lot busier than it had been on his previous visit, bustling and crowded so that Harry felt uncomfortably small as he was jostled and knocked. He hit the shoulder of a richly and heavily robed figure so hard he had to spin around the avoid losing his balance, meeting a set of intensely familiar eyes before the person disappearing into the throng. He stumbled backwards, reaching out for Snape and turning carefully when he realised the Potions Master had moved on.

Two horribly familiar sets of eyes were swivelling round to focus on him before he could move.

‘You! We warned you!’ one of them screeched, her sharp voice piercing the crowd as Harry fumbled for his wand, wondering where Snape had gone and biting down harshly on the momentary fear that he had been deserted. ‘We warned you not to come back here!’ Audrey stepped out from behind the counter with surprising ease, her movements still stiff but focused as she advanced down the shop towards him, her own wand firmly in hand. A couple of jerky steps backwards and Harry’s back hit solid matter, the corner of a shelf prodding forebodingly into his spine. Forgoing the curses he knew, that would no doubt at least slow the woman, if nothing else, Harry readied the Patronus Charm in his mind. Snape had told him enough to figure out the fate that awaited most half-bloods, and even if everything else had been a lie, Harry still had faith that that particular fact had been nasty enough to be true.

A shadow moved out of the corner of his eye, and in his panic Harry almost mistook the billowing robes for those of the Dementors. Mere paces from him now, Audrey had also halted with a gasp upon noticing the presence of Snape, hand flying to her mouth as he stepped directly into her path. ‘You,’ she whispered with a breathless mix of awe and dread, leaning back on a bookshelf for support in a way reminiscent of Harry’s own defensive posture.

‘Quite.’ Snape sounded distinctly bored as he snapped his fingers. All around him quietly watching customers sprang to life, skirting warily around him as the store emptied until the door finally shut, the chimes of the rusty bell fading in the engulfing stillness.

‘You brought him back here?’ Ethel asked flatly from the background, not having moved from her seat, her gaze still scanning the book held open in her lap with uninterested indifference. Snape nodded, not that the woman noticed. Her entire bearing reeked of despondent defeat. ‘What for?’

‘You allowed him to leave this store with the full knowledge of what he is.’

Audrey’s hitched breathing was a harsh contrast to her colleagues’ grim acceptance, and Harry found he dearly preferred the former. The near sobs and pitiful exclamations of apology crawled beneath his skin, but still bothered him less than the thought of what the other woman clearly believed. She had been prejudiced and biased, and as hateful as her snivelling friend, but she seemed to accept she had done wrong without as much as a flicker of rebellion. ‘I wanted to find you!’ Audrey’s interruption was near hysterical, and she was still clutching the rotting wooden shelf behind her as she lowered her head out of fearful respect, but at least she recognised the unfairness of it all.

‘Yet you did not.’ Snape stared critically at the still silent figure of Ethel sitting tall behind her desk. In comparison to her friend she merely glanced at him and shrugged dismissively. She looked sad.

Without warning Snape raised his wand in an unavoidable, fluid movement, pointing it at the shaking Audrey as the spell shot wordlessly from the tip of his wand. The frenzied sounds of her breathing, which had since been reduced to muffled hitches and the occasional fearful gasp for air, stopped abruptly, a vaguely blank expression crossing Audrey’s face as she gazed around the store in confusion.

‘Audrey, dear,’ Ethel said slowly, not once taking her eyes from Snape, who seemed disinclined to offer any instructions or explanations himself. ‘Would you be so kind as to fetch our esteemed guest some tea? You may as well get something for the boy too.’

‘Of course,’ Audrey mumbled, pulling herself upright and turning stiffly before making her way down the aisles until she was out of sight. She had wiped her face and seemed unable to comprehend the dampness of her sleeve as a result. Ethel just sighed, shifting on her stool and looking Snape up and down distastefully.

Obliviate, was it?’ It wasn’t so much of a question as a statement made to verify undeniable facts. ‘Not quite what I was expecting. Not what Audrey was expecting either, I would imagine.’ There was a calculating look in her hard gaze as she considered him, as though some previous assumption had been proven erroneous and she was now searching for an alternative. ‘So what is it you want then, Severus Snape, Protector of the noble Lord Voldemort and enforcer of his laws?’ She raised her eyebrows to accompany her scornful address of his full title.

‘I wish to discuss your attempt to save the life of a half-blood.’

‘Him?’ Ethel said with a dismissive wave of her hand in Harry’s vague direction. ‘I sent him out so the Dementors could find him. Surely one as important as yourself has far more pressing needs to be seeing to than the occasional defenceless half-blood.’ Despite the content of the sentence, every word she spoke indicated the unwavering belief that Snape’s importance was marginal compared to her own.

‘Defenceless half-bloods are my speciality,’ Snape continued with a nasty sneer. ‘And I do not appreciate it when one is permitted to almost slip through my fingers. You know the rules.’

‘I did not want his foul presence in my store any longer than was strictly necessary.’ It was not an excuse, but there was something to her words that made Harry feel uncomfortable, something that was being carefully hidden.

‘My Lord will not be pleased to hear of your transgression.’

‘Oh, stuff your Lord,’ Ethel snorted impatiently, the book slamming shut with an impatient snap as she tired of the stand off. ‘Say what it is you mean to say and get on with it, or are you truly the coward the rumours say you are?’

If the insult hit its mark, Snape didn’t let it show. ‘You helped him,’ he challenged.

‘What?’ Harry sounded indignant, shrugging Snape’ hand from where it had come to rest protectively, yet heavily, on his shoulder, Snape obviously still of the impression that Harry was liable to bolt into the great unknown at any second. It refused to be dislodged though, and tightened its grip even though his outburst was ignored.

‘You gave him your cloak.’

Harry was not about to be so easily dismissed, his annoyance bubbling beneath the surface with exasperating familiarity. ‘If she wanted to help me I can think of a fair few damn sight more useful thing she could have done.’

‘Shut up, Potter,’ Snape snarled, acknowledging his existence but not bothering to look down at him. ‘Considering what you were wearing she did you a great favour. You would have been spotted and killed within seconds without it. She also warned you. Warned you, it would appear, against me.’

‘No, she bloody well didn’t!’

‘Language!’

‘I think I’d bloody well remember bloody instructions to bloody avoid you!’ Harry took immense amounts of childish pleasure in ignoring Snape’s instructions as much as he felt he himself was being ignored. The Potions Master still didn’t pass him so much as a glance.

‘“Someone else will find him.” I believe those were your very words?’ Ethel just shrugged again as Harry spluttered with outrage, struggling against the painful grip of the fingers and pulling himself free. He backed away from the man sullenly, focusing resolutely on a spot a couple of inches above Snape’s left shoulder.

‘I never told you that. You used Legilimency on me!’

‘Many times. Now, if you have quite finished.’

Harry looked sulky. ‘And I wouldn’t exactly call that a warning.’

‘It had you on your guard didn’t it?’ Snape asked smoothly. ‘Much better to be wandering the streets knowing there is a danger, than to just be wandering.’

‘Since you have apparently determined my guilt all by yourself, why don’t you just get on with it?’ Ethel interrupted impatiently. Harry didn’t think she saw the flash of intrigue that flickered in Snape’s eyes at the comment, and it was gone a moment later. ‘Allow an old woman at least a little dignity in death.’ She stood, knocking over her stool as she moved to stand in front of him, looking up to meet Snape’s gaze fearlessly even as his wand trained on her. They stood in battling silence for several seconds, neither even blinking until Snape broke contact, his eyes widening as his wand hand dropped in shock from which he quickly recovered.

‘Nymphadora,’ he finally said with a sneer, and Harry’s immediate thought was that there had to have been some mistake. He gaped as the face before him shifted, the lines smoothing and disappearing until the familiar features stood before him again. Only a few creases remained to give any indication she had aged at all, as beyond that she looked almost identical to the last time he had seen her. And with her standing next to Snape Harry felt a brief sputter of hope that this whole thing was some elaborate mistake, some intricate ploy. But despite initial appearances there was no doubting that Tonks was indeed older; the occasional sign that the Metamorphmagus could probably cover with thought, but didn’t naturally bother to do so. ‘How on earth did a half-blood such as you manage to survive so long?’

‘Get over yourself, Snape,’ Tonks retorted with unexpected nastiness. ‘I may not be able to keep you out any longer, but you’re not the only one capable of Occlumency. And at least I’m only keeping my dirty little secret from the Dementors.’ Snape growled in the back of his throat. ‘I see you caught up with him.’ She gestured in Harry’s direction. ‘Yes, I helped him; as much as a person can help another in this day and age.’

‘Yet you still sent him out onto the streets,’ Snape commented lightly, smirking in a way that set Harry’s teeth on edge. ‘Didn’t manage to escape the Obliviators, did you?’ he continued with a knowing sneer. It was true though, Harry knew. There was no way Tonks would have sent him away had she known who he was. She would have battled hell and high water to see him safe. He tried to bury the niggling hurt at the knowledge that she hadn’t.

‘I’d ask what Obliviators, but I guess that would be a fairly stupid question.’ Tonks folded her arms defiantly. ‘Get it over with then. Make the world a better place. You won’t be getting any more from me than what you already have.’ Snape raised his wand in pleased response to her request, the spell leaving his lips before Harry could even find the words of protest he needed. Tonks just looked down at herself before glaring back at Snape. ‘I’m not dead then, and I certainly do not suddenly recall anything life-shatteringly important.’

‘Not yet.’ Snape pulled Harry roughly forwards by the collar of his robes as Tonks once again focused on him, recognition lighting her eyes before it was replaced with full-blown panic.

‘Bloody hell,’ she whispered as Snape curled his lips.

‘Quite, you can imagine my reaction.’

‘Actually, no,’ Tonks reached out and grasped Harry’s wrist, pulling him bodily away from the Potions Master as she raised her wand and placed herself defensively between the two. ‘Won’t your Master be displeased that you waited so long before presenting him?’

‘I have no intention of him ever finding out,’ Snape said flatly.

‘He could have handed me over any number of times by now,’ Harry added reluctantly as Tonks looked at him, her eyes wide and expression soft. She ruffled his hair as though expecting her hand to pass straight through it, scowling slightly although it was not aimed at him.

‘I’m so sorry,’ she offered with a small, guilty smile. ‘I forgot about you, and then I turned you away. I just left you to wander the streets knowing full well what was out there.’ She didn’t seem to be able to stop gaping at him, as Harry fidgeted under her stare. ‘God, you look so young.’

‘Snape got to me before the Dementors,’ Harry offered helpfully in an attempt to make her feel better, as Tonks scowled again.

‘You don’t trust him, do you?’ Harry shrugged. ‘You do know what he did, what he has done?’

‘He told me about Professor Dumbledore.’

‘Albus was merely the tip of the iceberg.’ Tonks turned back to Snape, her eyes full of accusation. ‘You didn’t tell him about Minerva though, did you?’

‘What, Professor McGonagall?’

‘And I highly doubt you shared the fate of Remus.’ There was real bitter hatred in her voice at the comment, uncontained anger and loathing burning in her eyes.

‘What happened to Remus?’

‘Listen.’ It was more of a threat than a request, as Snape towered threateningly over Tonks, eyes narrowed and dark. ‘Some of us didn’t have your talent to hide in the shadows and just fade from existence in order to survive.’

‘I would sooner have faced that monster you follow and spit in his face than I would have lowered myself to your methods of survival.’

‘This was a mistake,’ Snape frowned, reaching out for Harry at the same time Tonks pushed him protectively behind her, so his fingers closed on thin air and he was forced to retreat empty handed. ‘I came looking for those who could help, I did not come to justify my past to the dead.’

‘It seems to me there is only one person you need to be worried about justifying yourself too.’

‘I am painfully aware of that, thank you very much.’ Tonks anger was fading, but was being just as quickly replaced with desperation and disbelief.

‘What are you going to do?’

‘Unfortunately Albus’ last instructions did not come with a complete step-by-step plan to cover every eventuality.’ Snape sighed, his whole posture relaxing slightly although still not particularly at ease in the dim room. Clattering sounds could be heard from beyond the shelves, reminding them that they were not alone. Tonks screwed her eyes shut as her face shifted again, aging as she hunched over and slid back into her stool. ‘For the meantime, however, I am going to report to the Dark Lord as always, and hope that nothing I do gives cause for suspicion.’

‘You are insane-’ Tonks head snapped up at hearing his intention ‘-if you think I am letting you leave here so you can report all your little discoveries to your Lord.’

‘You can sit there,’ Snape queried incredulously, ‘with Harry Potter within your grasp, and honestly think I came here for you?’ She had though, Harry now realised. She had seemed so defeated earlier having complete faith that Snape had discovered her true identity.

Tonks herself conceded that exact point, even if reluctantly. ‘At first, yes.’ Snape snorted as if mocking her for every believing she could have been that important. ‘There is only one other thing I can imagine Severus Snape having to look for, however, and I have no desire to see you find it.’

‘Of course,’ Snape’s lips twisted in distaste. ‘The little resistance of which you are, no doubt, a prominent member.’

Tonks glowered darkly. ‘Don’t insult me by acting as though this is the first time the thought has crossed your mind.’

‘It isn’t,’ Snape scoffed, pulling haughtiness around him, ‘but you can rest assured that, having found you, I have no need to search any further.’

Tonks drew her wand defensively. Snape appeared markedly unconcerned at facing the tip of one belonging to an old Auror. ‘So you were looking for it?’

Snape lifted his chin. ‘I believe I made that clear already.’

‘And you dragged Harry with you on what basis?’ Tonks demanded. ‘I find it hard to believe you didn’t plan to just use him as a last ditch effort to hunt us all down. You-Know-Who must find your repeated failure very tiresome.’ The thought obviously gave her a moment malicious glee that passed quickly. ‘And if by some miracle what you say is actually true, then you can’t have had any more than a suspicion, and if you had been wrong…’

‘I wasn’t.’

‘But if you had been!’

Snape stepped threateningly closer. ‘You forget, dearest Nymphadora, that my wand is one of the few still remaining that is permitted to cast an Obliviating spell.’ He had constructed an icy veneer of cold disdain that didn’t just suggest, but forcefully listed all the other spells he was also permitted to cast. Harry shuddered. ‘I could have defended myself, and Potter both, against any misunderstanding. This is more than I credit to you, with your righteous air and empty threats.’ He slapped the tip of her wand aside with a careless gesture.

‘Then explain it.’ Tonks demanded again.

Snape cast Harry an irritated glower. ‘Since being here Potter has shown, time and time again, that he cannot be trusted unattended.’

Harry’s objections were swallowed by Tonk’s spiteful reply. ‘Unattended whilst you need see to you precious Master’s wishes, correct?’

‘You believe it a better plan if I just sit and wait for the Dark Lord to come looking for me?’ Snape matched her, looking at her questioningly, inviting an alternative.

‘There are more important things than your life now, Snape.’

‘No, there are not.’

‘If you go you risk exposing Harry.’

‘If I don’t go the risk is much higher,’ Tonks looked doubtful, but didn’t argue, fussing over Harry although she seemed almost fearful to even look at him. ‘I can evade the Dark Lord’s presence in my mind, but only provided he believes he has nothing to look for. If he ever decided I was hiding something he would rip my mind to shreds in order to discover the secret. Then, if I was lucky, he would kill me.’

‘So you’re just going to walk willingly into his presence?’

‘Yes.’ Snape pulled himself upright, the action appearing to bolster him into actually leaving, drawn as he was between the call of the Dark Lord and the confrontation. He took a deep breath, apparently not finding the words he wanted with it and taking another. ‘I should not be gone for more than an hour. Any longer and I suggest you take Potter and hide.’

‘You’re really leaving him with me?’ Something approaching admiration flickered behind Tonks eyes, although it was still tainted with scepticism and uncertainty. ‘What’s the catch?’

‘You must be out of practise if it took you this long to ask, but there is none,’ Snape didn’t seem to want to trouble himself with sounding sincere, which was fine since Tonks apparently felt looking as though she believed him was an inconvenience. ‘You would not normally, or ever, be my first choice. However up until a moment ago, there was still the possibility I would have to leave him to fend for himself. Were it not for the mitigating circumstances I would not have even considered approaching you until I was sure I had reason to trust you.’ Tonks snorted at the idea that the trust had to come from Snape. ‘The issue of who you turned out to be is irrelevant.’ Snape’s tone descended into boredom. ‘Please do try to ensure he doesn’t run into trouble.’

‘That’s it?’ Tonks sounded distinctly unimpressed. ‘What about my trusting you?’

‘I really am not fussed either way,’ Snape said with heartless honesty. ‘And it isn’t a matter worth much consideration. So before you think of using this as an opportunity to save Potter from my evil clutches, remember that I am the one with all the power and all the influence. It would not take much effort on my part to find you again, and I would likely be most displeased when I did.’

‘Reduced to threats are we now,’ Tonks chuckled emptily as Snape frowned. ‘Don’t worry; Harry will be safe and sound when you return. And don’t you think that you’ll be getting rid of me that easily when you do.’ Harry glowered, feeling as though he were being used as some sort of barter by each of them to gain the upper hand and have the final dig.

‘I don’t need a babysitter,’ he said firmly.

‘It is that or I shall lock you back in that cellar you seem so attached to until I am ready to return,’ Snape smiled coldly as he said it and Harry almost invited him to go ahead.

‘Look, just go.’ Tonks gestured for the door. ‘If what you say is true, then your being late isn’t a good idea either, and Audrey will be returning any second. I’ll deal with her, and we will all be waiting for your return like a happy family.’ Her voice had dipped once again into contempt and Snape grimaced, but nevertheless made for the door, pulling it open sharply before pausing in consideration before he spoke, his words grave and weighted.

‘Should Draco Malfoy enter the store, or should you even notice him walking the streets, I recommend you and Potter both hide. Return to Grimmauld Place if you must, but do not let him see you.’ Tonks nodded in reply and her expression was serious and lacking the previous hatred it had contained.

‘You should know he was in here earlier then, not long before you both arrived.’ Snape frowned at her words. ‘The shop is normally his last port of call before he returns to the school, as he likes to use our Floo connection.’

‘Then it is highly doubtful he will visit again,’ Snape didn’t seem to even be able to comfort himself with the words. ‘But still, do not let your guard down.’ The door slammed closed, the bell tinkling again in the awkward silence as Tonks just stared at Harry. He smiled nervously, holding himself back from throwing himself at her just to verify that she was still real and was still here with him, one person who would not only look out for him, but would do so without hating him for being there. Tonks suddenly let out her breath with a whoosh as she smiled in return and patted his hand in reaffirmation.

‘I seem to be a bit behind the times,’ she said in light mocking, earning herself a forced laugh in reply. ‘You should probably pull up a stool yourself then, since no doubt it will be a long story. Hopefully Audrey will remember herself and bring that ruddy tea before we both die of thirst.’

‘I don’t know much myself,’ Harry said apologetically as the first of the customers started to filter warily back into the shop.

‘Then perhaps if we tell each other what we know, the picture will start to look a bit clearer for both of us.’

-o00o-


‘He is here, my Lord.’ The large room soaked the words up eagerly, demanding more in the silence that followed. Heavy curtains hung across the high windows, blocking the few straggling rays of sunlight that managed to pierce through the dark clouds. A tiny pattering sound filtered through occasionally in warning of the heavy rainfall that was to come.

‘You are certain?’

‘Most definitely.’ The speaker bowed again, lower and slower to rise so that the rest of the sentence was delivered deferentially to the cold stone floor below. ‘He ran into me in Diagon Alley.’

‘He is early then. I assume that would be your fault.’

‘I am unsure as to exactly what happened. The principle behind the transference was a mere theory at best, and not one that was even fully explained to me; there may have been outside influence. The chain went around his neck though; everything beyond that was uncontrollable.’ The feeble excuse was rewarded as the pale green light of the Cruciatus Curse sped towards him, leaving him panting desperately on the ground, his failed legs buckling beneath him. ‘Do you wish for me to bring him to you?’

‘Not yet.’ Voldemort sat back thoughtfully, translucent skin standing starkly against the rich hangings of the ornate throne in which he sat. ‘There is still much he could uncover for us. Let him believe, for the moment, that he is safe from me.’

‘As you wish, My Lord.’ He pulled his shaking body to its feet, staggering only slightly before he was dismissed to leave.

‘Our plans have not changed, however,’ Voldemort called as the figure reached the door, his trembling hand closing around the handle which sprung to life under his grasp, long ago charmed to turn for those who may not have the strength to do it for themselves. ‘They will merely have to be pushed forward. I trust you remember what I expect of you?’

‘Every detail, my Lord,’ he bowed his head again as he turned back to his Master. ‘I am honoured that you still consider me worthy for the task.’

‘You have always been loyal,’ Voldemort said softly. ‘And for that I would not deny you the reward of seeing everything I have worked so hard for come to fruition.’ The voice was victorious in anticipation. ‘I shall quash this last remaining thread of rebellion, and you will help me. And then, when they are dead and the world is finally pure, finally the way it was intended to be, I shall build an empire more magnificent than anything you could dream. The traitors will be found.’ The words seemed to light the very room with determination as they declared that this was the way things were going to be, and that nothing would stand in Voldemort’s way.

‘Thank you, Master. I will not fail you.’ The figure bowed again before slipping silently away.


Chapter 9: And Forgotten Enemies
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Chapter 9: And Forgotten Enemies



‘Draco, what a pleasant surprise,’ Snape said scornfully as a thick hood was pulled back to reveal a head of white blond hair that shone in the candlelight. The rising aggravation he always felt in the presence of the younger man was kept valiantly from his voice, and he inclined his head slightly in greeting. ‘It has been some time.’

‘Come now, Severus, you can hardly blame me for that.’ As Draco had grown so the likeness to his father had gradually diminished, something for which Snape was infinitely grateful. He had more of his mother in his face now, his lines softer, although more attractive for it. He lacked the impressive stature of Lucius too, without the broad shoulders and towering height. Draco Malfoy was someone whose authority you could easily dismiss, and then live to regret doing so. ‘You have become so difficult to find of late, the rare occasions you do deign to appear spent hiding away in that potions lab of yours. I barely see you but as another masked face.’

‘I have been busy.’

There was a well-placed flicker of practised emotion, the smallest sigh as Draco shook his head in false sympathy and agreement, his movements easy and fluid as he matched Snape’s long strides down the empty hallway. ‘As have we all.’ The casual remark promised of any number of captivating and whimsical stories, available for the telling at the mere price of a question. It was a cost Snape considered far too high.

Transparent though Draco’s motives were, Snape saw little choice but to play into his hands regardless. Lucius had always extolled the virtues of subtle manipulation, but without his father’s guidance, Draco had developed a disquieting appreciation for palpable scheming, taking pleasure in the knowledge that people knew they were being manoeuvred, but were unable to stop it. ‘And how is the school?’ The topic would be raised sooner or later anyway, as Snape reclaimed at least a little footing in the discussion, steering the conversation towards the most expedient conclusion and carefully Occluding his mind. There were days when he regretted teaching the art of Legilimency to someone he had always known would not hesitate to use it as a weapon straight back against him, in smug thanks and appreciation for the gift. But Snape had spent most of his life in the company of one Malfoy or another, and had learnt to read their intentions through what they did not say and do.

‘Thriving.’ Draco looked pleased and excessively proud, with what Snape considered to be little reason. The school functioned smoothly enough, thanks to the strict rules and regulations enforced, and the Headmaster was now no more than a figurehead. The Dark Lord had stripped the position of any real power, and all that remained was whatever had been engrained into it simply by holding the same title once held by Dumbledore. Snape was fairly sure that once that name had faded into history, the position would be as meaningless as that held by any other vaunted ministry official. ‘Although it would be much more so if you were to consider returning.’

Snape’s back stiffened, regardless of the expected nature of the request. It was made frequently and loudly, seeming to lack only the stomped foot and tantrums that would not make a wholly startling accompaniment. Draco had jumped at the opportunity, when Hogwarts had been offered to him, realising early on that he had been mistaken and misled. The school had always been a fundamental symbol of prestige to him, but the Dark Lord did not share status any more than he did control. Dragging Snape down with him had since turned into an obsession. ‘Finding a Potions Master equal to your skill is proving impossible. Say you will not reduce me to suffering through another year of incompetence?’ The look of haughty self-assurance caused Snape to bite back a snarl as Draco smiled beseechingly, hopefulness etched across his elegant features.

‘I will not return to Hogwarts, Draco, no matter how much you beg and plead.’ His doorway was thankfully fast approaching, although Draco gave no indication of leaving. If Snape had thought the boy’s ego could use a little reducing whilst he was still at school, it was nothing compared to what it needed now. Faced with domination over so much more than just his fellow housemates, the younger Malfoy had risen to unfathomable heights within the circle of Death Eaters. His confidence was surprisingly easy to dent though, rising magnificently to combat anything that reminded him of what he did not yet have, and was unlikely to ever achieve. ‘However, if you are that desperate, you could always crawl to our Lord again. Beseech for me to be ordered into your service. I am sure he will once again deny you.’ Snape’s comment did not have the intended result. Malfoys hid their anger well, but not so well as it appeared Draco managed, a lazy grin spreading across his lips.

‘I would not be so sure.’ Draco’s words were tinged with a hint of expected victory to come, snide and obviously pleased for it. ‘Our Master is in surprisingly good spirits today.’

‘Then there must have been some fortuitous news indeed.’

‘You sound surprised; the news was not of your giving?’ His tone was far too innocent. Draco knew exactly what had improved the Dark Lords notoriously temperamental mood, or he at least wanted Snape to believe he did. Actual knowledge was probably not strictly necessary, given Draco’s increasingly complicated outlook. Often he simply wanted to know whether or not Snape himself was privy to every last word the Dark Lord spoke, and every last action the Dark Lord made, and it was not always for reasons of suspicion or doubt. No, sometimes Draco just wanted to further bolster his claims to importance, wanted to find out if there was something he could hold above Snape. He wanted to make sure there was nothing Snape knew that had been kept from him. Snape wondered if Draco realised how painfully obvious his fanaticism had made him. ‘I assumed, with your prolonged absence, that when you finally returned it would be with something of note.’ He simply couldn’t miss out on the final comment either, couldn’t resist not only inserting the knife, but also twisting it with vicious glee.

‘I have not been gone that long.’ Snape’s door towered before him, now feeling more like the entrance to a tomb than his sanctuary. It opened beneath his fingers and he entered, Draco following without invitation, as Snape had known he would. The elaborate cloak was removed, swishing through the still air as it swung across Draco’s shoulders and onto the largely unused stand. Against the faded and rotting wood it looked slightly larger than life, richer than should be possible. Or perhaps the extravagant tastes bequeathed from Lucius simply made Snape’s rooms look that bit shabbier.

‘It used to be that barely a day would go by where you wouldn’t be found stalking these very halls.’ Manners, along with finding themselves in second place, were unacceptable to a Malfoy, as Draco cast a disapproving look around the small room. Disgust was one of the few emotions the boy never bothered to try to hide. ‘We were of the impression that you had nowhere else to go.’

Snape almost closed his eyes in dismay, dreading the answer to the following question. ‘We?’

‘My mother has expressed the occasional enquiry as to your health.’ Snape openly rolled his eyes. Narcissa Malfoy was more of a curse these days than anything else, and he deeply regretted every moment his ability to avoid her proved inadequate. She blamed him for something, although Snape had never been absolutely certain as to what, and seemed intent on claiming back something equally intangible. Snape had his suspicions that he knew exactly what it was she wanted, however, and that he was shying away from the sheer enormity of what the woman had hoped to get from him. ‘It will be nice to finally have an answer for her.’

Snape’s reply was short and clipped, accompanied by the gentle clinking of glass as he poured himself a drink. ‘Tell her that her concern is misplaced, but appreciated.’ Draco smirked at the response before reclining onto the musty sofa, treating Snape to a dry chuckle that made his blood boil.

‘That disgusting stuff will be the death of you.’ There was a little too much hope in the sentence to maintain the façade of humour, or to allow even the smallest inkling of sincerity to remain in Draco’s following offer: ‘You are always most welcome at the manor.’ Snape wouldn’t have set one foot within the outermost wards of the manor at any cost.

‘Contrary to what is apparently popular opinion, I do have my own accommodation.’ Draco sniffed dismissively, managing to indicate that if the room in which he was forced to sit was any indication he pitied Snape for having so little. It was a gesture that pushed Snape into continuing. ‘Which is, as always, sufficient for my needs.’ He grimaced at how much it rang in his own ears like justification.

‘The school was your home for so long, though, and you should see it now.’ Snape didn’t want to see it now though, and besides, how much could stone walls and small children change? He certainly didn’t want to walk its halls again in some ridiculous parody of a time that should have been long forgotten. ‘It is all you remember and more.’

‘I will not go back.’ It was definitive, an absolute statement of complete irrefutability delivered in a tone that should have closed the discussion from all further debate.

‘You should not fear the past, Severus.’ The purposefully disrespectful use of his first name had Snape itching for his wand. But words seldom failed the Potions Master, and to curse now would mean victory of a sort for Draco, if something of a hollow one.

‘I fear nothing, you impudent brat.’ Draco visibly glowered at the mild insult, a remnant of his childhood. To be called such a thing as an adolescent had infuriated him no end, and to call him it as an adult had an equally desirable effect. It took the respect he craved and demanded, and slapped him round the face with it. It at least managed to shut him up. ‘I merely have no desire to return to a place whose walls I was forced to suffer within for untold years.’

‘I did not realise I was so unbearable in my youth,’ the younger Malfoy smirked.

‘You were, of course, the one small ray of hope in what was an otherwise dismal time.’ Snape looked derisively down his hooked nose at the figure still lounging on his furniture. ‘Do not try my patience.’

‘Your patience is the very essence of legends.’ Draco dismissed the warning with a regal wave of his hand, the gesture dissipating the mild threat as though it were no more than wisps of smoke hanging in the air. ‘If I did not try it to breakage simply by greeting you, then I would worry something was truly wrong.’

‘Get to the point, Draco, and get to it quickly.’ There was only so long Snape could stomach to play the game, despite the fact that Draco seemed willing to keep it up indefinitely. But sometimes the blunt approach was favourable. Sometimes one could fool a Malfoy into believing he was getting his own way. ‘The meeting with our Lord took longer than I anticipated, and I have other places I need to be.’ Draco raised a curious eyebrow, as though mentally traversing a very short list of all the places he believed Snape would likely frequent, and dismissing them all on the grounds that none required he keep to any sort of schedule. He opened his mouth, smiling slightly, as if delaying the Potions Master for as long as possible were an interesting challenge, but apparently decided against it. Crossing his arms he regarded his former professor with a calculating gaze.

‘I am not the only one to find your reluctance to return to the school odd.’ It was delivered as a jibe, but there was no mistaking the hints of warning. It was not the one Snape had been expecting. He didn’t doubt that it was something that had only been considered odd with a little encouragement and a carefully dropped remark or two. ‘Not so much as a visit since it was reopened? Our Master may have indulged you up until now, but his amusement is wearing thin.’ Draco sat forward slightly as he spoke, suspicion now evident, but masking something else. There was something far too hungry in the way Draco was staring. ‘Why does the place cause you such grief?’

‘It is none of your concern.’ That didn’t stop Draco from guessing though.

‘Barely a trace of that old fool Dumbledore remains to indicate he was ever there.’ To his benefit, Draco didn’t flinch as Severus spun angrily on him, eyes lit furiously as he hissed between gritted teeth.

‘Do not mention his name!’

‘Dumbledore?’ The grin was back again, only far more predatory in nature. ‘My, my, what has aggrieved you so? Tell me you do not regret his death, for that would be some secret to be keeping.’ Snape allowed a snort of disbelief at the accusations.

‘His death could not have come soon enough.’

‘Still cannot take a joke, can you? Rest assured your hatred of the man is well known, although the reason not.’ Snape could feel Draco pushing gently against the walls of his mind, searching for the answer only the Dark Lord had ever had the privilege of hearing. ‘You hate him more than our Master ever managed.’ Hate was an easy emotion though, one that often proved a lot easier to manifest and maintain than mere indifference.

Snape managed to force a reply despite his clenched jaw. ‘He betrayed me.’

‘Betrayed you?’ The sentence was accompanied with a low chuckle. ‘You forget yourself, Severus. You were the spy; it was you who betrayed him.’

‘It was no more than he deserved.’

‘How you do nurture your grudges.’

Trembling with rage, all thoughts and worries of appearances forgotten, Snape took a single step forwards. ‘Listen to me, you ignorant little whelp.’ Draco found himself staring down the end of a shaking wand, black eyes boring mercilessly into him. He fingered his own wand lightly, the gesture all the more menacing for its obvious innocuousness. It had Snape breathing harshly through his nose and reigning in his temper with the thought of how much he stood to lose with a single misplaced word spoken in anger. Draco had proven time and time again that he considered outright blackmail a valuable tool, and that Snape’s subservience to him would not be marred if it could only be achieved with its use. ‘I do not answer to you,’ he said softly, ‘and you would do well to desist in acting as though I should.’

‘It was merely friendly concern.’ The long fingers continued to hover over the light wood as though Snape’s own wand was a measly figment of Draco’s imagination. ‘Surely you cannot be that unfamiliar with it, despite your years of self imposed seclusion.’

‘Friendly concern?’ Severus couldn’t help the bark of laughter. ‘Why Draco, you must be losing your touch. Your true motives are far too obvious.’

‘As is your paranoia.’

‘You should be honoured by all our Lord gave you.’ Draco frowned wrathfully at the sudden sentiment, not daring to voice his disagreement whilst they remained within the walls of the Dark Lord’s domain. ‘Or did you have your mind set on something other than Hogwarts? Higher aspirations perhaps? Or does a Malfoy simply not like to ever feel as though he is being outdone?’ Draco scowled at Snape’s words.

‘I am hardly outdone,’ he scoffed, eyes darkening with contemplation, drifting from Snape to stare intently at the wooden arm of the seat. ‘Still, I am curious as to why the Dark Lord would value your contributions to the cause over mine.’

‘Managing to kill Dumbledore was hardly the accomplishment you would claim given that he appeared near death anyway,’ Snape tossed out casually. Draco did not take well to having his prime triumph so easily belittled.

‘And it would be uncharacteristically foolish of you to think that was all I have done.’

Snape raised a single eyebrow, challenging the blonde to name one other thing whilst saying, with feigned concern, as if trying to calm the boy, ‘second choice was no insult, Draco.’ Yes, it was still possible to disarm a Malfoy and throw their impeccable control off balance, as Draco growled in the back of his throat.

‘Your position should have been mine. I earned it, and I will have it yet.’

It wasn’t a surprising admission, but Snape still felt a pang of regret that he had taught Draco so poorly that he still didn’t realise they were fighting over mere scraps. ‘You really are a spoiled little brat.’

‘I’m not scared of you any more, and your contributions have been no less vaunted than mine.’

‘The Dark Lord will not assign me to Hogwarts,’ Snape declared with absolutely no doubt. ‘Neither to replace you, nor to work for you, as I am sure you would prefer. He does not rate the importance of the potions capabilities of the younger generation quite as highly as you.’ Snape lowered his wand, letting it hang loosely at his side. ‘This childish habit of yours to be the best is really rather tiresome, and you can endeavour to ram your non-existent authority down my throat as much as you like, it will not change things.’

‘You take too much for granted.’ Draco stood. With his casual aloofness lost, sitting on the low seat made him visibly uncomfortable. Snape fought not to step backwards and away from the sudden closeness the movement created. ‘Things change, Severus, the world moves on. There is always an opportunity to further oneself if one happens to know where to look.’

‘And then what?’ Snape scorned. ‘Say you do manage to remove me, what will there be left for you to achieve?’ Draco snarled to match Snape’s own, but did not say anything. ‘It seems you did manage to inherit a few things from your father. I’m sure he would be proud. He always did have a nose for sniffing out power. It was his weakness too; for once he found it he could never have enough.’ Snape let his voice drop. ‘So tell me, Draco Malfoy, what it is you truly want?’ He paused for effect, letting the question hang unanswered in the stale air. ‘Do you want to be the Dark Lord’s right hand man, at the very top of the ladder, with the entire world beneath you? Because we all know that no matter how you dress it up, the only thing you will ever be is a servant, because that is exactly what we are. For there will always be someone higher than you, always someone you have to bow before and obey unless you truly are idiotic enough to attempt to claim His position for yourself.’

‘I just need to be better than you.’ Said with such vengeful honesty that Snape felt a momentary stab of concern that was horribly unfamiliar. Draco continued to glare at him, the belief that he had suffered a terrible injustice radiating from his cold eyes. Snape didn’t doubt that the only reason the Killing Curse had not yet been thrown in his face was because Draco did still, for all his lauding, fear the Dark Lord’s wrath.

‘For now, perhaps you have managed to convince yourself it would be enough, but our Master knows you better even than I. He will not hesitate to remind you of your place.’ Fear flashed again behind the grey eyes, the ingrained fear stemming from attributed impossible powers that allowed the Dark Lord to see and hear everything. But no Malfoy feared for long, as a cruel smile once again twisted Draco’s deceivingly angelic appearance.

‘And what about you, Severus?’ Draco was mocking now, his voice soft and lilting in the quiet of the room. ‘The Dark Lord may know me better than you, but does he know you better than I?’

‘He knows my loyalty, which is all that matters.’ Draco didn’t look convinced, and Snape could hardly blame him. He was simply clutching at straws now. ‘He knows I am devoted to him, as opposed to simply being devoted to the position.’

‘You cannot lie to yourself forever,’ Draco smirked, stepping back elegantly and brushing his robes down with sharp jerks of his hands, as if shabbiness was a contamination he needed to free himself from. The blonde was in the much more familiar waters of blackmail now - a place Snape had hoped never to have to confront him - and that bit more comfortable for it. ‘But don’t worry, I won’t tell him your little secret. It’ll be much more fun when he finds out for himself. And he will.’ Snape’s knuckles were white around his wand. ‘He won’t forgive you quite so quickly a second time when he discovers he is being laughed at for being so easily deceived by a half-blood.’ Snape exhaled heavily, all the air leaving his lungs in one great rush. ‘Yes, Severus, I know all about that. The Snape family history isn’t as well hidden as you would like.’ Draco smiled again, bowing low with exaggeration as Snape narrowed his eyes. ‘I look forward to seeing you kept on your toes, and I won’t keep you from your oh-so-important engagements any longer.’

The door swung open again as the young Malfoy grasped his cloak, still chuckling to himself in amusement. And when the door slammed closed, with only the softly retreating footsteps to be heard, Snape felt none of the relief he had expected upon the eventual departure.


Chapter 10: I Want To Go Home
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Chapter 10: I Want To Go Home



It took Harry a while. He started the question several times, then chickened out and asked something else instead. It was a downright creepy thought, truth be told, that he couldn’t shift, and couldn’t stop thinking about. It was on its way to slowly driving him nuts with apprehension, until he just garbled it out and had done with it. ‘Was there a funeral?’

Tonks’ bluntly ended sentence, sidelong glance and incredulous tone indicated she thought he was pretty nuts too. ‘For Umbridge?’ Although Harry was willing to admit that the timing of his interruption might have indicated he was referring to that odious woman, he liked to think it was still pretty obvious that he didn’t give a damn what happened to her after her death. She could have been left to the rats for all he cared. ‘You-Know-Who didn’t just kill her, Harry. He made an example of her, to show all of us what happens when you pretend to be pure.’ That Tonks had taken his question in the wrong way didn’t help much. ‘She was the first one the Dementors found. Stupid bint didn’t help herself much either; turns out she’d gotten her hands on something of You-Know-Who’s and was using it as proof of her great and mighty heritage.’

‘Not Umbridge.’ Harry swallowed, wondering whether his distinct lack of caring towards the fate of the late undersecretary made him as awful as she had been herself. Tonks didn’t seem to care much either, if her rant was anything to go by, but then again, she had nearly fallen foul of the woman’s maniacal scheme herself. ‘I mean, was there one for me?’

Tonks’ eyes shot open in surprise. Her tea sloshed to the rim of the chipped mug as she placed it hastily on the desk. ‘For you?’

He knew that Tonks didn’t mean to make the idea sound utterly absurd, but he still found himself unpleasantly stung. ‘That’ll be a no, then. Dumb idea, really, since everyone forgot me.’ Harry didn’t know if he was pleased or upset. The idea of Ron and Hermione crying over an empty coffin was disturbing at best. The thought that he had just vanished from their minds wasn’t much better.

‘No!’ Harry pulled his hand abruptly away from where hers had reached across the table to grasp his own, in apology and reassurance. ‘That’s not it at all! I mean, you have to understand,’ Tonks fumbled to explain, pulling his hand forcibly from where he had placed it in his lap and squeezing his fingers. ‘It wasn’t like that. You weren’t just gone and forgotten in a day.’

‘I know that,’ Harry mumbled bitterly. ‘Snape said it took years.’

‘He would.’ Tonks shook her head of her own distaste. Harry had once again pulled away from her, this time wrapping his palms solidly round his now lukewarm mug of stale tea. It was the second serving Audrey had provided, and half empty cups had started to litter the table even as she retreated back to the kitchen, no doubt to make more. Harry was glad that Tonks didn’t try to retrieve his hand again, and was instead fiddling guiltily with the spilt drops of her own drink that had splattered the table, smearing them with the tip of her little finger. ‘Look, it’s hard to explain.’ The absolute misery on her face eased a little of Harry’s own. ‘No-one actually knew where you were or what had happened to you…’

‘Snape said I was dead,’ Harry interrupted agitatedly.

‘Snape has apparently been saying many things,’ Tonks replied coolly. ‘Dumbledore, however, said quite differently, and we listened to him.’

‘Until he died.’

‘And after,’ Tonks verified, before softly adding, ‘And for what it’s worth, none of your friends ever forgot you. You-Know-Who…the Obliviation; it didn’t happen until much, much later.’

‘And they died before that. I get it, okay?’ Harry argued resentfully, wishing he had never asked in the first place. His morbid curiosity had been much easier to deal with than the glaring awkwardness that now sat between them. ‘It was a stupid question.’

‘It wasn’t.’ Tonks tried to smile and failed, the movement fading into a guilty grimace. ‘Y’know, you’d be amazed at how much more sense everything makes now,’ she said with a twinge of sourness that did a poor job of hiding the seeping self-loathing that was slowly leaking into her voice. ‘I know you’re upset with me - you have every right to be - I’m just glad you can still ask me stuff.’ Her words sped up as she fought to get them all out before Harry could stop her. ‘You could have been killed because of me, and I’m really sorry…’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Harry interrupted again, not annoyed at Tonks specifically, but at the whole mess. He shrugged, gesturing aimlessly with his hand, wanting to dislodge his own guilt as much as hers. ‘I’m just surprised Voldemort didn’t declare me dead himself. Paint everyone some horrific scene of torture or something. Figured he would have jumped at the chance.’

‘That would just have martyred you. His way worked better.’

The whole conversation had gone like this, with Tonks saying as little as she thought she could get away with, and Harry having to push and pry for whatever details he could force from her. ‘Which was?’

‘To say nothing,’ Tonks sighed regretfully, her head hanging with defeat. ‘Sure, we believed you were still alive, but some people…’

‘Thought I’d run away, or something,’ Harry finished with horrible realisation, not wanting to know exactly who had fallen into that some people category. ‘And just hated me for it.’ He felt a wave of bitterness that inspired him to continue with open hostility, aimed nowhere and everywhere at once. ‘Bet they were really upset to forget about me.’ He took a deep breath. He had always wanted to be unknown, but it still rattled that people’s last thought of him had been as some sort of coward. He had thought, or had at least hoped, that people were better than that.

As he heard more, he began to think maybe not.

And he found himself constantly reminding himself that it was all true, that it had all happened, even if it hadn’t happened to him and felt as distant and remote as another life altogether. Dolores Umbridge, it turned out, had been the Dementor’s first victim. More than that, even, hers had been the first life reduced to nothing more than a bargaining chip and a reward, given to the creatures by Voldemort as a treat for a job well done. It was, as Tonks eloquently described it, the moment the world went even more arse up than it already had. Harry found himself agreeing rather emphatically.

The Dementors had worked their way through the Ministry first, testing and honing their newfound skills with the incentive that for every lying, thieving Mudblood they uncovered, that life would be theirs. It had been a bad idea from the beginning, almost leading to the decimation of the entirety of wizarding Britain. Harry found that notion difficult to comprehend, especially given the recollections he had of a similar comments made by Snape. The man had mentioned something - something about needless death, but it hadn’t sounded anything like what Tonks was suggesting. He had given Harry a vague notion of death caused by the neglect of someone more intent on ruling than true leadership. From Tonks, though, it sounded like simple genocide that had gone out of control.

It was.

It started with the Muggleborns. Dementors, it turned out, were uniquely suited to the task of rooting out even the cleverest of them. They fed on happy memories of warm sunlit days when children pranced obliviously through life with no concerns or worries beyond the grass beneath their feet and the sky above them. And Voldemort taught the Dementors exactly what to look for in these reminiscences; the subtle signs betrayed by childish innocence that would bring a swift sentence of death. Voldemort taught them exceedingly well, but not as well as it appeared they then went on to teach themselves.

This disturbed Harry greatly, causing an involuntary shiver to pass up his spine. Dementors were just things, evil things, with barely a mind of their own, beyond that for feeding. He liked that thought. It was oddly comforting in face of the prospect that they were actually so much more.

Intelligence makes something that much harder to control.

One of the first things the Dementors learned for themselves was that there simply were not as many Muggleborns and half-bloods as they had been led to believe. If they had just taken retribution for that deceit, things might have been very different. But they were led by their hunger. Instead they discovered that the lack in the perpetual feast owed them lessened greatly depending on exactly how they approached it. And with the combined knowledge of a hundred different wizards, each with his own view on purity and a different opinion on what made a Mudblood, they had no shortage of meanings and interpretations to choose from.

Harry was amazed to realise exactly how flawed the principle a war was being fought over actually was. By the strictest of definitions, a pureblood was simply someone whose parents were both magical; strictly true, yes, in a world where numbers and logic could be replaced with an exact replication in words. Instead, however, it seemed that Muggle blood did more damage than a pureblood could ever make up for, even when it was Tonks’ mighty Black blood in question. The damage was irreparable.

So the Dementors got hungry, and made their own rules - rules which were, in theory, based on the combined prejudice and paranoia of the wizarding world, but were in practise based on an insatiable appetite. They stopped just hunting for memories of parents, and looked for grandparents, and even great-grandparents, aunts and uncles, the slightest sign that perhaps, somewhere, there was a non-magical relative for a person to answer for. Voldemort did no more than laugh upon hearing of it, encouraged them even. Propaganda spouted about how a family that had stolen the magic in the first place was merely continuing the theft by passing it onto their offspring. Protecting a loved one and concealing the truth were treasonous. Guilty by proximity, that was the dictum, and their soul was claimed as remuneration. And whilst Voldemort may have laughed, and a few of his closest followers may have laughed right along with him, others were starting to catch on to a few well hidden truths.

‘D’you know how many wizarding families can track back through as few as four generations and not find some Muggle contamination, somewhere?’ Tonks questioned harshly. ‘It’s not many. He never realised he was on his way to killing off the country as we knew it. Idiot,’ she added with a snarl.

Harry thought of Ron, with his accountant uncle, and Hermione, who never stood a chance. ‘He stopped them, in the end, right?’

‘Nope, his Death Eaters had to do it for him. Never thought I’d have something to be grateful to them for, either. A fair few of them even died for it.’ It was the nearest to a worthy death Harry could imagine for any of them. ‘There was a bit of an outcry, you see, when the Dementors went for one of his own.’ Of course, the Death of a Death Eater was a suitably ironic vehicle for a saviour.

‘Who?’

‘Someone called Yaxley.’ The name meant nothing to Harry, and Tonks picked up easily on his ignorance. ‘Old family. Not as old as the Malfoys, or the Blacks, but old enough at that. You-Know-Who claimed he only marked purebloods, but when you look at his ridiculously strict rules for pure, there just weren’t enough people alive to account for all his followers. Pretending, most of them.’ Hermione had said suggested that once, as if it were blindingly obvious. Harry had figured Voldemort was smarter than that. ‘He was furious when he found out. Tracked down and killed almost every single one of them personally, he did. And after that, those who were left were no longer off limits as far as the Dementors were concerned. He didn’t trust them anymore. Yaxley was either too smart for his own good, or too stupid. Everyone knew the Dementors were branching out. Turns out Yaxley’s great-grandfather eloped with a Muggle girl from the nearby village. It’s an old family joke that, in his madness, he had later swapped an illegitimate son for the rightful heir he left behind. Can’t blame the man for fretting about it, even if he practically invited the Dementor to him in doing so.’

It was deeply terrifying that people could fear a man so much they would allow mere speculation to end a life before daring to speak. ‘What happened after that?’

Tonks’ scoff was infused with a sinister, dark wash of humour. ‘Well, as it turns out, you’d be amazed at exactly how many secrets the old pureblood families are keeping. I think pretty much everyone had realised at that point that if someone didn’t stop You-Know-Who, he was quickly going to be the only damn wizard left.’

Harry tried and failed to imagine anyone stopping Voldemort from doing anything. ‘How did they manage? I can’t imagine a nice little chat doing the job.’

‘Auntie Bella.’ Tonks wielded what should have been an affectionate endearment as a weapon.

‘Lestrange?’

‘Yep. She was the only person who had the guts to stand up to him.’ There was the smallest trace of familial pride in the sentiment, almost drowned though it was by hatred. ‘Probably the only person who had even the slightest chance of surviving it too. It wasn’t like she didn’t have enough to worry about herself, the way things were going.’

‘Like what?’

‘Like me, for one thing.’ Tonks’ smile was predatory now, as though joyful in the knowledge that she could have caused her Aunt’s death by mere existence, where her wand had failed before. ‘Her own sister ran off with a Muggle-born and had me. The Muggle taint was as close to her as it was possible to get. She did it for Narcissa too. Bella might have hunted down Mum for betraying her, but you can’t say that family means absolutely nothing to her.’

Harry picked up on the seemingly impossible idea that Tonks had suggested. ‘What do the Malfoys have to hide?’

‘Her son, my dear little cousin Draco.’ Harry snorted at the idea that fanatical Draco Malfoy had ever had anything to fear. ‘He inherited not only the Black family secrets, but the Malfoy’s too, and that meant Lucius’ somewhat eccentric Uncle Erasmus. Double the shame on his poor, aristocratic little shoulders. Narcissa was worried her son would be one of the next ones, so Bella did it for her too.’

Harry was morbidly hopeful. ‘Did she..?’

‘She didn’t die,’ Tonks saved him from having to ask. ‘Got tortured even further into insanity, but there was no killing curse for her. Those that backed her up died, for the most part. But it got the point across and the Dementors were reigned in.’ Tonks ran a hand through her greying hair, before counting off on her fingers. ‘There are rules now. At least two direct generations of magical parentage. And if any one parent was Muggleborn, you had better hope that the other wasn’t. Have to prove that the magic comes from somewhere legitimate.’

‘And people just let it happen?’ The accusation was clear in his voice; that he had expected every Order member, at the very least, to fight for as long as they could.

Tonks shook her head with profound regret. ‘At that point, people were bloody grateful for it. All but paved the way for getting rid of you. I don’t know what Snape told you about the Obliviation itself?’

‘Just that it took a long time.’ This was the bit he wasn’t so sure he wanted to know about.

‘Made it sound like an effort, no doubt, like he was chasing people down in the streets.’

Unease kept Harry’s voice low. ‘I guess…’ Where she had been reluctant before, now Tonks displayed only determination to say everything she could.

‘You-Know-Who made a deal. Not that we couldn’t see right through it. Said he would call off the Dementors on a couple of conditions.’ She set her shoulders.

Harry couldn’t manage much more than wretched comprehension. ‘The Memory Charm was one of them.’

‘Yep. By that point, though, I think people were happy to forget you. You were a tiny flicker of hope.’ She held up her thumb and forefinger, spread minutely apart. ‘Even for the people who thought you had run off and deserted them. I guess there comes a time when hope does more harm than good.’ Harry was about to ask if anyone at all had objected. ‘Then there was the second condition, you see, and that was the big one.’ Tonks sighed heavily, and Harry no longer needed to ask. ‘He wanted our wands.’

There was a pause. ‘He what?

‘Our wands and our memories for our lives,’ said as though it was the most reasonable of requests. ‘Oh, some people snapped theirs and ran – god only knows if they survived. I considered it myself, briefly, but at the end of the day I figured I could do more good crippled and here, than I could on the run.’ Harry found himself filled with overwhelming pity for the choice she had been forced to make. ‘It was a farce anyway,’ Tonks continued with the dejection of someone who had known it would be all along. ‘He gave the wands back, out of his sheer benevolence, and no one complained even when they discovered they couldn’t cast half the charms they used too.’ She lifted her wand, pointed it towards a stack of paper, and muttered Incendio. Nothing happened. ‘The damn thing is so covered in dark magic I can hardly stand to hold it sometimes, and I can’t cast anything that could be considered even remotely threatening. Made Floo travel a right pain, for a while. But you get on with things, and the world was a lot quieter after that. Can’t blame a girl for being a little grateful.’ She sounded horribly guilty.

He didn’t want to stack onto that remorse. He wanted to just sit in shared silence together, not make her feel even worse with his incessant questions. But he had to know. ‘How many more went through that? Of the Order?’

Tonks looked at him nervously. ‘I was the last one left that I know of. If the Dementors didn’t get them, the Death Eaters did, and most of them were long gone quite some time before that. I’m sorry, Harry.’

It was the apology that confirmed the horrible suspicion he had. ‘You’re lying,’ Harry challenged. ‘Who else is left?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You do, you just don’t want to tell me!’ Childishly pounding on the table, as he was seconds from doing, wasn’t exactly going to help that matter, though. Harry gulped down a mouthful of air and fought for the reasonable tone he had had no problems sustaining minutes ago to continue with. ‘Snape told me about the Weasleys, and Hermione, and Remus. I saw most of the other names in the newspapers. So who is it, who’s lying?’

Tonks looked down at her hands, then out the window, following the progress of a young girl who kicked at the cobblestones and tugged at her mother’s robes. She looked briefly at Harry, then looked away again, her mouth opening silently several times before she finally spoke. ‘Remus isn’t dead, Harry.’ It wasn’t good news, and Harry fought back the instinctive urge to relish in the words, biting back mercilessly on his hope. It still etched itself through him as he perched hungrily on the edge of the stool, the now familiar sound of clinking ceramic closing in from behind.

‘Or at least, I don’t believe he is,’ Tonks continued cautiously. Audrey had appeared for the third time, this time with a steaming teapot clutched so close to her chest Tonks was sure it must have been burning her. She took it carefully, helping the woman unfurl her fingers from the smooth handle. No matter her beliefs, Audrey had been her closest friend for years, and it was upsetting to see her so bewildered. Tonks hoped it was only an Obliviate Snape had cast, but she doubted it. ‘Why don’t you go home?’ she offered, patting the hands that were trembling without something to hold onto. ‘You’ll feel better in the morning.’

Harry watched silently as Audrey spun round slowly on the spot, her eyes darting frantically for some sort of direction. It was a miserable sight to watch, as Tonks steered her towards the fireplace, distorted green shadows playing on Audrey’s pinched face until she vanished in a swirl of smoke and ash. Sighing miserably and hitching up her heavy robes from where they trailed round her ankles, Tonks sat heavily back down, folding them across her lap. ‘If someone has had the nerve to kill him, I tell you, I would consider it a blessing for him.’

It took Harry a second to realise she was talking about Remus again. ‘Where is he then?’

‘I don’t know.’ It was a lie, and an incredibly poor one at that.

‘You must know something, or why would you say anything?’ Harry didn’t care how guiltily Tonks fidgeted, or how she wrung her hands together with such force that the wrinkles returned less and less after every pass.

‘I shouldn’t be the one to tell you.’ Harry wondered exactly who else she thought would step up to the role. ‘I was angry and rash and should never have even mentioned it.’ He refrained from pointing out that she had not been angry, rash and not thinking about what she said in his presence, so much as she had been angry, rash and forgetful to the fact that he had even been there, so caught up had she been in her fight with Snape. ‘I don’t know enough. I’ve got rumours and guesses that will probably leave you more worried than you already are.’

‘Let me guess, I should talk to Snape?’ Snape had already proven that, when it came down to the thousands of questions Harry had about his friends, he would be getting about as much information in that regard as he would sympathy.

‘You have no idea how much I would rather you never had to exchange two words with him again,’ Tonks’ tone was bitter and clipped at mention of the Potions Master, and she stiffened defensively in her chair. ‘Unfortunately, the man had a point. This is his world now. No matter how much I don’t like it, we won’t get very far without him. And even if we could I doubt I could truly get you away from his influence. Better not to waste the time trying.’ She flashed him a weak smile, which did nothing to alleviate Harry’s diminishing mood.

‘You could tell me what you do know,’ he suggested.

‘There are some things no child should ever have to hear.’ Tonks replied flatly.

‘I’m not a bloody child.’

Tonks leant over the desk and gave Harry’s hand a comforting squeeze, eyes watching him sympathetically. ‘You’re barely even sixteen.’

‘It’s not like I’ve never seen death before.’

‘Exactly. Can’t you see why people would want to keep as much of it from you as possible? You have seen more than anyone should have to witness.’

‘And still no one will tell me anything.’ The cup hit the table almost hard enough to crack it. ‘Dumbledore kept stuff from me for years, and all it did was get people killed. And now, when there are only three of us left, you’re still trying to keep secrets from me.’

‘If it had anything to do with your safety, I would tell you,’ Tonks tried to reason.

‘What gave you the right to decide that?’

‘The fact that I care about you.’ Harry made a mocking sound in the back of his throat. ‘And I don’t want to see you get yourself hurt.’

‘So what, instead you’re just going to leave me to imagine all the terrible things he could have suffered, or could still be suffering. How could telling me be worse than that?’

Tonks shook her head, still reluctant to concede to his point and rolling her eyes at her own big mouth. ‘I really should have thought before I spoke, but seeing you again just had me so rattled.’ She leant forwards swiftly and enveloped Harry in another bone breaking hug. ‘It may not feel like it, but you are still just a little kid. I wish you hadn’t suffered so much that you can’t see it.’ Harry cringed slightly at the excessive affection and the blatant attempt to distract his attention, not sure what to do with himself until Tonks released him again with a heavy sigh. ‘Still, I can’t see you reclaiming that lost youth here.’

Harry’s fury ebbed slightly. ‘So you’ll tell me?’

‘Remember that I could be wrong,’ Tonks said urgently. ‘If anything else you must remember that this is all based on rumour with no definite reliability.’

‘Where is Remus?’ Harry demanded desperately.

‘The Dark Lord has him.’ Living in the wild, homeless amongst Muggles, forced to flee abroad; any of these would have made more sense as to Remus’ current situation, since any life granted in the presence of the Dark Lord should have been measured in days or weeks, not years.

‘What? Why?’ Tonks replied to his question with a sympathetic look, one that screamed of soft-hearted tolerance towards Harry’s apparent ignorance of the obvious as she spoke with careful evenness.

‘He is a werewolf, Harry.’

‘So?’

Tonks stared at him for a moment, although she seemed to be staring more through him than anything else, mind not quite with them. ‘I have seen him once, since You-Know-Who started his attacks in full force. They were popular in the beginning, a couple of nights a month of sport, as the Death Eaters called it; when the half-bloods and Muggleborns still lived in large enough numbers to justify it.’

‘He didn’t?’ Harry was aghast at the insinuation, mouth open in disbelief as Tonks nodded morosely.

‘There is one werewolf, although he is much more wolf than man, who is notorious for his cruelty, to say the very least. Fenrir Greyback. I had never seen Remus so focused then when he heard that name, and I didn’t think he had one violent bone in his body until that creature turned up again. Walked right into Hogwarts, so close to all those children.’ Tonks look of sadness mingled with remembered fondness. ‘Remus wouldn’t stand for it, said enough people had suffered at his hands and that something needed to be done. The Ministry didn’t know what they were dealing with, but Remus claimed he did. At first I thought it was his personal crusade; to do something against those of his kind that made it impossible for those like him, kind and gentle, to have any kind of life worth living.’ Tonks seemed to remember herself, the lost look leaving her eyes as she smiled wistfully. ‘If you had ever met Greyback you would perhaps understand more about why werewolves are so feared and regulated. It turned out I was wrong. It was personal, but it was no crusade; it was revenge. You see Greyback was the one who turned Remus. Had a thing for small children, and Remus’ father had owed him something, something he felt it was worth claiming the future of a five-year-old boy over.’

Harry all ready knew the answer, but asked anyway. ‘What did Remus do?’

‘Greyback was recruiting werewolves for the Dark Lord’s cause. He had a lot of influence and could instil fear quite effectively where said influence failed to reach. Remus tried to stop him, tried to get to others before Greyback could manage and convince them to join Albus instead. It’s incredibly difficult to kill a werewolf, you see. They are impervious to the Killing Curse and most other techniques the Ministry employs for dealing with dangerous people or animals, which makes them an asset if you are depraved enough to use them.’ Tonks shivered slightly in spite of the warmth and stuffiness. ‘And the Dark Lord was. Remus gathered himself quite an army though. Greyback left a lot of good people to suffer needlessly.’

‘What happened?’

‘It wasn’t enough,’ Tonks sighed miserably. ‘They were tracked down by the Ministry themselves, although whether or not the Ministry had managed to remain out of the control of the Dark Lord at that time is uncertain. Still, werewolves congregating was not something they were willing to let slip past, especially given the attacks made in the name of the Dark Lord. The Ministry found them, but it was Death Eaters who were dispatched to take care of them. I thought Remus had been killed.’

‘Why did they take him?’

Tonks shrugged. ‘Who knows? To make an example of him. Greyback may have even requested it. I have no desire to even try to work out how their minds work. All I know is that the next full moon Remus was still alive. I know because it was the village where I lived that was attacked.’

‘But why?’ Harry’s voice was becoming irate as he sought to understand. ‘No one can control who a werewolf attacks! Voldemort was risking purebloods along with everyone else.’

‘But you forget something, Harry, something crucial to all of this. Because werewolves are no longer the mindless creatures they once were, are they?’

Harry gasped. ‘Wolfsbane.’

‘Exactly,’ Tonks nodded. ‘And with a Potions Master at his disposal it was not exactly something in difficult demand.’

‘Snape made it for them?’ He didn’t know why it was such a surprise, or why he struggled to believe it, but there suddenly seemed a world of difference between casting the Killing Curse when there was no other option and the foresight and premeditation that must have gone into such a thing.

‘I can imagine no other having the skill, and it was certainly not bought. There were few capable of brewing it before the rise, and even fewer after.’

‘Then why did Remus go?’ Harry had missed so much, and it was starting to dawn on him how very different everything was. People didn’t even seem to think right anymore. ‘Why did he not just run away that night?’

‘I couldn’t tell you. Imperius Curse perhaps. My betting is on that damn potion though.’ A fire had lit behind her eyes. ‘Snape did something to it, made Remus more pliable, more open to suggestion and leadership. It’s not like the potion wasn’t originally designed to affect a persons mind. The whole night was some sort of test.’

‘What makes you so sure?’

‘It was the last night it was permitted to continue. My betting is because whatever it was they did to Remus, they finally had the proof they needed that it worked.’

‘A werewolf they could control, completely.’

‘Nice idea, huh?’

Harry looked up hopefully. ‘They could have killed Remus after that night though.’

‘I suppose,’ Tonks radiated reluctance to cause him further grief. ‘If he was just a test subject, I see no reason why they wouldn’t have. They don’t strike me as being that kind though, nor that compassionate.’ A thoughtful silence followed the statement, as Harry stared into the dregs of liquid sitting at the bottom of the abandoned cup.

‘Still,’ he started carefully, considering every word. ‘Once I get back none of this will have happened.’

‘Harry…’

‘And now I know about it!’ He was finding purpose as he spoke. ‘I can stop it from happening again.’

‘Harry.’ Tonks’ eyes flashed upwards, glancing briefly over his shoulder although Harry remained completely oblivious.

‘What? It’s true, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, if you could get back you could perhaps change the future.’ Harry hadn’t even heard the door open, or the approaching footsteps as he jumped in his seat and glared up at Snape’s towering form. ‘But as we have all ready discussed, it is not a likely situation.’

‘Where’s Remus?’ Harry demanded, previous conversation instantly forgotten.

‘You told him then,’ Snape sneered towards Tonks. ‘Not afraid of upsetting the golden boy’s prized sensibilities?’

‘He deserved to know what happened to his friends.’

‘Why did you do it to him?’ Harry challenged.

‘Excuse me?’ Snape looked down at him insignificantly.

‘The Wolfsbane. Couldn’t you have tested it on someone else? Why Remus?’

‘It appears that the rumours of the Dark Lords activities have become somewhat closer to the truth than I realised,’ Snape looked suspiciously at Tonks, narrowing his eyes. ‘Where did you hear this?’

‘Nowhere I would be likely to tell you. So are you going to answer his question or not?’ Tonks gestured to where Harry was glaring angrily.

‘I did not have a choice in the matter.’

‘There is always a choice, Snape.’ Tonks seemed angrier than Harry at the reply, moving from behind the desk with ease unnatural to the disguise she wore, unable to hold back her questions any longer. It hadn’t occurred to Harry until that moment that Tonks would have been just as upset over the news as he was, and that she had had years now to nurture that resentment and to ask these same questions over and over, not believing she would ever have a reply. She was determined to get one now, though.

‘Death was not one I considered feasible at the time.’ Snape remained calm, his voice flat and level and not without its usual condescending undertone.

‘You could have done something.’

Snape peered down at her in disbelief, his scorn for her ignorance manifested in his bearing. ‘I did everything I could to ensure his suffering was minimal.’

‘You forced him to kill!’ Tonks was shouting furiously now. ‘And you made him live with it. He could not have suffered more.’

‘I did not make him live with it.’ Snape’s voice was soft as he inclined his head with a small, victorious smile. Gleeful, that’s what he was, revelling in the news simply because it was something he knew that others did not. Tonks looked ready to slap him, her hand twitching at her side.

‘What?’ Harry asked sharply, his silence abandoned.

‘Lupin is dead.’

‘How?’

‘A slight modification to the potion I was testing. Not completely necessary, but I felt it would have produced results the Dark Lord would have been pleased with. It was, unfortunately, fatal.’ Snape turned to meet Harry’s glare with a challenging smirk of his own. ‘Does this count as something for which you could never forgive me?’

Harry answered the question with one of his own. ‘Why didn’t you do it sooner?’ Snape practically chuckled.

‘Actively encouraging the murder of one of your friends are you now, Potter?’

‘You could have done that straight away. The first test you ever forced down his throat could have contained that exact same mistake. Why wait?’

‘Because I was much more willing to undergo punishment for killing a test subject who had outlived his usefulness than I was to invite certain death by making a mistake at a crucial stage for which there would have been no forgiveness. Lupin understood this, I would like to think you would not insult his memory by refusing to do so yourself.’

‘Don’t you dare, Snape,’ Tonks interrupted angrily. ‘Don’t make him feel guilty for being angry with you when he has every right to be.’

‘I will not justify my every decision over the past quarter of a century to him, Nymphadora.’

‘I am not asking you to.’ Tonks bristled at the use of her first name. ‘Just show a little understanding.’

‘When I get none in return?’

‘You are the elder here, so why don’t you act like it?’

‘I want to go home,’ Harry said quietly, glaring again at Snape, although with more defeat than anger as his shoulders slumped.

‘We have spoken on this, and I already said it is most likely impossible.’

‘But not completely impossible,’ Harry commented sullenly.

‘No, not completely,’ Snape admitted disdainfully, inhaling offensively through his hooked nose. ‘However, as previously ascertained, I cannot bring a Time-Turner to you. They are too heavily warded. Therefore my only hope would be to take you to a Time-Turner, and despite your obvious preconceptions, I am not willing to lead you into the Dark Lord’s inner sanctum.’

‘I want to go home,’ he said with more force, as Harry wrapped his cloak more tightly around him, blinking back against the stinging in his eyes. ‘And I certainly don’t want to spend another minute with you.’

‘Then by all means, go. You know where the door is.’ Snape gestured dismissively across the room, and Harry didn’t pause, jumping to his feet and stalking towards the closed door. He heard a clatter behind him, Tonks toppling her chair as she forced it backwards and skirted the table. She elbowed Snape fiercely in the ribs as she passed him, muttering something under her breath.

‘Harry, no.’ He paused at Tonks words, and the hand that rested on his shoulder, not wanting to turn around. ‘I can’t let you go now. I’d be killing you if I did.’ If possible, Harry felt even more torn. It wasn’t like had a clue where he could go or what he could do if he left. Returning to Grimmauld Place was the only option, and once there, then what? He couldn’t spend his life holed up in the dusty old place, and he didn’t even want to consider it. He wanted his friends, his life and his bloody time back. He’d have to avoid Dementors, find himself wary of every single person, all the while hoping that some miraculous solution would just drop into his lap. ‘Whilst sending you back is unlikely at the moment.’ She ignored Snape’s snort in the background, which reminded Harry of exactly why he couldn’t damn well stay here either. ‘It will be impossible if you are dead.’

He couldn’t survive like this either though. ‘I won’t stay here and listen to him lie all the time.’ Harry jerked his head towards Snape, whose retort was no more than a brief and somewhat habitual snarl.

‘I haven’t lied to you, Potter,’ the man sneered from where he had moved behind the desk vacated by Tonks, and was even now prodding various chance items with the end of his wand. ‘I wouldn’t waste the breath.’

The hand clenched his shoulder even tighter, and Harry found it hard to breathe through the hammering of rage in his head. ‘Shut up, Snape, you really aren’t helping.’ Tonks voice was weighted with exasperation as she closed her eyes for a moment and took a deep breath that Harry mechanically mirrored.

‘I won’t forgive him,’ he said bluntly.

‘And you shouldn’t. He did some terrible things.’

‘All of which enabled me to be here now, risking my life for a jumped up brat with absolutely no appreciation,’ Snape cut in again, a musty book now open in his hands, which he was scanning disinterestedly. ‘Let him go.’ He engrossed himself in his reading again, righting the chair with an easy flick of his wand and waving his hand absently towards the window and the street outside. ‘I’m sure Draco would be absolutely overjoyed to see him again.’

‘What does Malfoy have to do with it?’ Harry asked heatedly. ‘I thought you said he was stuck up at the school?’

Snape seemed to spend an obscene amount of time seating himself comfortably, adjusting his robes carefully and doing nothing to hide his smirk. ‘He knows you are here,’ he eventually offered, reclining slightly as though to better enjoy their reaction.

‘What?’ Both Harry and Tonks exclaimed together.

‘I suspect he knows you are here,’ Snape corrected reluctantly, since he had earned their unwavering attention, snapping the book shut and sliding it back into the drawer he had been searching. ‘He certainly dropped enough hints for me to at least be suspicious.’ Harry tried to believe that Snape was making it up, the way he seemed quite happy to make up whatever he thought it would take to manipulate Harry into do as he wanted. ‘However, he did not seem aware that I was with you, which does give me the faintest glimmer of hope that he is exaggerating his knowledge, or simply just trying to rattle me.’

‘I wish you weren’t with me.’ Harry glowered to himself.

‘The feeling is more than mutual.’ Snape evidently took great pleasure in ignoring the rhetoric, as he stood and leant across the desk, hands splayed on the surface. ‘Perhaps now I can finally get it through your thick skull that it is more than just your life at risk.’

‘Don’t think you can handle Malfoy?’ Harry couldn’t stop himself from throwing it out maliciously. ‘That scared of someone half your age?’

‘The only thing keeping him from killing me is my obvious importance to the Dark Lord, and the displeasure he would face was he to try,’ Snape quirked an eyebrow, his tone neither conciliatory nor justifying. ‘He is just looking for an excuse, Potter, and you may well prove to be it.’

More than anything, Harry hated how different what he considered the most predictable of things had become. ‘I thought he looked up to you.’

‘He did, once, until he discovered something that changed his mind.’ Snape’s accompanying laugh was humourless.

Harry narrowed his eyes and gestured rudely, needing some outlet for his anger and finding the act wonderfully liberating. ‘Well, if you will display that noble streak of yours for all to see.’ Snape’s hand twitched at his side.

‘Will you two please give it a rest?’ Tonks’ exasperated snap was aimed mostly at Snape, although it was Harry she stepped in front of, kneeling so that he found himself looking uncomfortably down on her pleading features. ‘You don’t have to like him,’ she said beseechingly. ‘You don’t have to forgive him. But you do have to trust him, apparently more than ever now.’

It was hard, when Tonks was obviously so desperate to make him stay, but Harry was not about to give Snape an inch, even if the bastard only used it to hang himself. ‘I wouldn’t trust the git to do anything expect possibly poison me when I’m not looking.’

‘He’s the only one who can help you,’ Tonks tried to reason, casting Snape a meaningful look, asking – practically begging - him to help diffuse the situation, instead of continuing to antagonise it further.

Harry accompanied her look with a glare of his own. ‘Fat lot of help he’s been so far.’

‘You are still alive, are you not, although given your stunning intellect I admit it can sometimes be difficult to tell.’ Harry yelled something furiously insulting, but Snape just rolled his eyes at Harry’s outrage and Tonks despairing sigh. He slammed his wand down on the desk, so it rested just beneath his palm, the dull sound reverberating through the air. ‘Listen, Potter, because I will only say this once. Just because the most obvious option seems impossible, that does not mean a solution cannot be found. I will do everything in my power to see you returned. Merlin knows it’s not as if my future doesn’t rest upon this too.’

‘Because you only joined Voldemort at Dumbledore’s request?’ Harry mocked, unwilling to let anything drop. ‘I’m sure that if you sent me back you’d really struggle to find another convenient excuse for your betrayal.’

‘Do not say his name, Potter,’ was Snape’s only reply, his voice now flat and emotionless as he stared unblinking at Harry. It wasn’t enough. Harry wanted the man to do something other than just stand there and look as though the world owed him one huge favour.

The only thing Harry believe owed to Snape was one equally huge comeuppance. ‘What would you rather I called him, then, because I’m not sure I can say ‘the Dark Lord’ that many times and keep a straight face.’

‘I do not care, figure it out for yourself.’ Snape seemed beyond caring now, gesturing glibly as he turned his back on the pair, Tonks pushing herself stiffly to her feet. ‘You obviously believe you have all the answers you need.’

Harry found himself shouting as the man returned to his haphazard search of the shop. ‘I have enough to know you are a scheming, back stabbing bastard who would probably as soon sell me out to Volde…You-Know-Who as you would look at me!’

Snape’s reply was calm and simple. ‘If I were to turn you over now, I would be killed for not doing it sooner.’

‘Oh, so that’s supposed to change my mind, is it?’ Harry raved. ‘Convince me that you’re not out for blood?’

Snape didn’t even bother to look up this time, tapping his wand methodically along the shelves, looking and probing and all but ignoring Harry beyond his indifferent words. ‘You don’t have to trust me, Potter, but you’ll find things would be a lot easier if you did.’

‘Do you agree with him?’ Harry asked Tonks suddenly, staring at her accusingly, needing some sort of understanding. She regarded the Potions Master with contempt, but the longer she thought on it, the more Harry knew what her answer was going to be, and the more he no longer wanted her to say anything.

‘Much as it pains me to say it, yes.’ Harry frowned at her in betrayal.

‘You trust him?’

‘To a point.’

‘You said you didn’t earlier.’

Tonks just shook her head. ‘I said I would rather it didn’t have to be him. But it is, and there is nothing we can do to change that at the moment.’ She shrugged apologetically as Snape rammed a final book back into place, the stand wobbling precariously.

‘Your faith in me is heart-warming, really,’ he sneered, looking contemptuously around him. ‘And you have absolutely nothing of use in this place.’

‘What did you expect? It’s your laws that get us searched every other day,’ Tonks retorted. ‘And you came back alone. I didn’t really think you would.’

‘I live to surprise,’ Snape’s tone was curt. He looked more tired when he turned back to Harry, though, steeling himself to holding his tongue against another barrage of insults. ‘So, Potter, have you made up your mind yet?’ Harry scowled, but made no further move to leave. ‘Shall I take your resounding ability to articulate a response of some sort to mean you aren’t about to disappear, and thereby selfishly sentence us all to this future?’

‘I still don’t forgive you.’ Harry bit back.

‘Heaven forbid I should forget!’

‘But I trust you’ll at least try to get me back.’ The words left an unpleasant lump in his throat, one that he couldn’t swallow away.

‘Finally,’ Snape declared with a sweeping gesture, sitting down heavily on the nearest chair. He slumped back ungracefully, holding up his hand to stall either question or comment. ‘If you would be so good as to shut up for a minute and stop with such melodramatic scenes, perhaps we can decide upon what to do with you now.’ He glanced up through his thin hair, adding quickly - ‘something upon which we can all agree,’ - as Harry looked prepared to launch into another tirade. ‘We apparently have even less time than I had hoped for.’

‘That may not be necessary,’ Tonks offered quietly.

‘Pardon?’

‘There may be another way to find Harry what he needs.’

His posture became marginally more attentive, but Snape still looked doubtful. ‘That is unlikely, unless you have somehow managed to secrete an illegal and heavily hunted item about your person for the last twenty years.’ He gave her a leering, if half-hearted, sweep with his eyes. ‘I know you have not.’

‘Not exactly,’ Tonks said with a grin that looked almost malevolent on her wrinkled face. ‘You weren’t the only one to receive a last request from Albus, though.’

Snape fell back again with a sigh, running a hand down his face. ‘I highly doubt even Albus’ astounding foresight could have predicted exactly what Potter now needs, nor found a way to ensure one has remained accessible.’

‘No, but he may have left a few ideas floating around.’ Tonks said it enticingly, smiling as Snape looked up in slow comprehension, his face once again a mask of determination.

‘Show me.’


Chapter 11: Traitor
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Chapter 11: Traitor



‘My Lord.’

‘You return so soon?’ The Dark Lord looked up through slitted eyes at the bowed head of the figure at his feet. ‘I am surprised.’ There was a gentle taunting behind the softness of his words that spoke of hidden menace, his relaxed posture still intimidating.

‘I have news, Master.’ The figure remained hunched over as the Dark Lord regarded him with unwavering scrutiny, the corners of his lips quirking in a dangerous smile. ‘Suspicions regarding the traitor you seek, regarding one you believed loyal.’ A silence engulfed the empty room, as the kneeling, shadowed shape remained in perfect stillness, waiting, as the Dark Lord leant forward slightly, robes whispering on the gilded arms of the throne, voice dropping to a deep rumble.

‘And you doubt I have entertained these same suspicions myself?’ The robed shoulders flinched at the words murmured in his ear, swallowing audibly as his mouth dried and throat constricted. ‘You believe me to be perhaps too gullible or too trusting?’

‘No, My Lord.’ The sentence was cut off with a muted scream as his head snapped backwards viciously, body falling away as his face was thrown in the light and his eyes flew shut reflexively, screwed together in a grimace of unrivalled agony.

‘Speak of these suspicions you hold.’ he demanded, as the wand was lowered and the Dark Lord reclined leisurely back into his chair.

‘He is not loyal to you, Master.’ It was a desperate warning as the figure fell to his knees and fought not to fall further, coughing painfully and wincing at the burning in his lungs and the fire that trailed under his skin. ‘He entertains ideas, however fleeting or misguided, of challenging you.’

Voldemort swept smoothly to his feet, voice rising as his robes billowed away from him and he strode towards his fallen servant. ‘No one can challenge me.’

‘There is one, my Lord.’ Voldemort threw his answering curse with a furious roar that echoed from the high ceiling, the jet of light blasting from the tip of his wand with near shattering force.

‘Tell me now why I should not kill you for your insolence!’

‘I live only to serve.’ It was intended to sound merely as a statement of fact, not as the plea that leapt from his panting mouth.

‘Do you doubt your ability to bring me the boy?’ The figure shook his head silently, glancing through the strands of hair that clung to his damp forehead towards his questioning Master. ‘The plans I have spent years preparing, do they no longer satisfy you?’

‘There have been unexpected developments.’ There was no curse this time, but the threat of one waiting, hovering patiently in the immediate future sent an involuntary shiver down his spine.

‘Unexpected?’ The Dark Lord sounded sceptical, although that wasn’t all the rich voice contained. No, amusement lurked there too, tempering a sea of indescribable malevolence. Absolute power had not been required to corrupt a mind born and nurtured beyond repair. ‘You hide your own failure behind feeble excuses.’

‘I cannot follow them into hiding.’ The curse flew again, the bitter taste of blood flooding his mouth as he writhed on the cold floor, the smell assaulting his nostrils as they flared. ‘They must be drawn out.’

‘You dare to tell me what needs to be done?’

‘No, my Lord.’ The figure begged desperately, voice hoarse and cracking. ‘But you have power over him no other could comprehend. There is no other who can force them into the arms of those we seek.’ Quiet again, thoughtful and interspersed by the rasping breaths of the collapsed figure as he regarded his Master warily.

‘Perhaps I asked too much of you,’ Voldemort considered cruelly, leaving the figure too weak to argue or claim otherwise. ‘Perhaps all the power I have given is too much for you to bear. Bring me the boy alone, if that is all you can manage. I shall assign the extermination of this pathetic excuse for a rebellion to another.’ With those final words the Dark Lord turned away dismissively, waving a single hand towards the door to indicate his wish for the follower to leave.

‘But I can bring you so much more than just Potter,’ the voice begged, pushing himself onto hands which shook beneath him, arms trembling as every word grated painfully past his throat. ‘But not whilst he remains in relative safety. It would require just the smallest of threats.’ The Dark Lord paused in his retreat, his expression hidden as the figure waited, breath shallow and eyes bright.

‘You have not let me down before,’ Voldemort considered carefully, turning his head to glance imperiously over his shoulder before stalking into the far shadows, voice echoing behind his retreating figure. ‘I will draw Potter into the open for you, I shall do what you could not, but do not disappoint me.’

-o00o-


‘You must sleep like the dead,’ Tonks commented as Snape entered the kitchen with a scowl, robes rumpled and hair a tangled, oily mess that hung limply round his face. ‘I called you several times last night, but I guess you didn’t hear me.’

‘Hardly surprising,’ Snape sneered as he crossed the room, refilling the kettle from the previous morning and setting it in the fireplace. The flames crackled beneath it as he paused by the grimy window and leant on the frame, staring distractedly outside. ‘I have not had the chance to rest properly in a few days.’ Tonks made a small noise of understanding, staring curiously at Snape as the sound of gently boiling water slowly grew.

‘So tell me then,’ she finally asked. ‘Does the Malfoy brat really know Harry is here, or is that just something you said to stop him leaving?’ Snape looked away from the window, insulted at the words as Tonks glared silently up at him from her seat at the table, their voices low in the dim kitchen, the early morning sun yet to have driven the shadows away.

‘I assure you, had I felt any inclination to stop Potter from leaving, I would simply have Stunned him.’ He ignored her look of outraged shock, turning his attention back to the grey sky outside, scanning the distant horizon.

‘So he does know?’ Tonks just looked defeated, clasping her hands in her lap in a way that Snape found remarkably annoying, the fingers lacing in and out of each other, clenching and unclenching randomly as nails scraped against calloused skin, occasionally snagging a wisp of fabric from her robes. The kettle distracted him, however, a small whistle building shrilly in the fireplace as he levitated it onto the table with a sharp flick of his wand.

‘It is more likely than not.’ Two cups appeared next, popping into existence, the reflection of the window the only mark on their black surface. Tonks watched apprehensively as the thin, brown liquid swirled slowly to fill them, the whiteness of the milk forming a fading white spiral into the centre.

‘Which means You-Know-Who…’ She trailed off as the kettle hit the table with a thud, her hands shaking only slightly as she reached for the mug, fingers grasping round it thankfully as she pulled it closer, ceramic grinding against the wooden grain.

‘Also knows, yes, it would be a fair assumption,’ Snape sounded quiet as he spoke, his voice still strong and purposeful but lacking its usual determination. He sipped at his tea, grimacing slightly at the taste and the burning trail it left as he swallowed.

‘Then why - ?’

‘He does not know where to look,’ Snape cut her off impatiently, inhaling the warm steam rising from the hot drink. ‘His greatest achievement is no doubt proving to present the biggest obstacle now.’

‘He probably has the whole country looking for him.’

‘You forget that in the whole country, only four people know who he is,’ Snape sighed, draining the dregs from his cup and pouring himself another with methodical slowness. ‘Potter is a ghost, a spectre in this era. A forgotten memory the Dark Lord will not be willing to allow back.’

‘So Harry’s safe?’ Tonks said with a relieved sigh, wrapping her arms round herself and rubbing her arms vigorously in spite of the rising heat from the fire.

‘Unlikely. There is still the scar.’

‘It’s not as though the damn thing is a homing beacon.’ She spoke with more certainty than Snape felt the topic justified. There was no knowing what the scar was and was not, despite the fact that in this instance she was most likely correct. The scar Harry shared with the Dark Lord was freer and far less controlling than the Mark he himself bore, whilst at the same time being much more personal.

‘We should not dismiss it out of hand, though.’ Snape pulled out the chair opposite and they sat in almost companionable silence for several minutes, immersed in their own thoughts and preoccupations.

‘So, what happened to the portrait?’ Tonks unexpectedly asked, her tone casual although she didn’t miss the hard look that froze Snape’s expression.

‘Portrait?’

‘I assume it was once a portrait,’ she continued with a smile as Snape stood, a scowl fixed firmly to his face as he dumped his mug in the empty sink, the kettle joining it with the harsh ringing of metal on ceramic. ‘Oh, no need to look so insulted,’ Tonks commented with amusement. ‘I was hardly searching the place for incriminating evidence.’

‘I would not be surprised if you were,’ Snape sneered, what little passed for civility on his part lost to the insinuated accusation he was not hearing for the first time. ‘Especially given your reluctance to share anything more than inane hints about some miraculous item which, according to you, promises ultimate victory against the Dark Lord. It must be so tiresome basing your assumptions on mere speculation.’

Obviously Tonks had been expecting him to bring it up sooner, as neither had mentioned the topic since the evening before, and even then only in the briefest of ways. In fact Tonks had purposely avoided it, her regret at mentioning it so flippantly obvious. She had refused to answer any number of his questions, treating him to a worn smile, as Snape grew more and more irate. Yes, it existed, but no, she couldn’t tell him what it was. Not yet, at least. Really, he knew about the resistance? She would never have guessed. Nevertheless, that didn’t change the fact the she wasn’t about to lead him there, no matter how much he ranted or, at the height of his annoyance, partook in a pitiful attempt to cajole. And no, she didn’t trust him, not enough for this. There were the lives of others at stake; their consideration was needed before he was permitted to just barge in. Was he really that surprised? ‘So, did you find what you were looking for?’

‘I hardly said it could do all that,’ Tonks chastised, choosing to ignore his angry ramblings and venting. Snape could vaunt and posture all he wanted, it wasn’t about to get him any closer. ‘I merely indicated I might have access to something that may prove useful.’

‘Something which you then adamantly refused me access too.’ Snape seemed to snatch himself away from thumping the table in annoyance, pacing the room instead. ‘Or even any further information on.’

Tonks arched an eyebrow meaningfully at Snape’s sudden display of outrage, her voice slow and pointed as she assured herself of his full and undivided attention. ‘Your little speech may have worked on Harry - in fact I am glad it worked on him - however I have yet to be convinced.’ She shot Snape a look to convey that she was becoming further from convinced with every exasperated huff he issued.

‘Perhaps you would like me to overthrow the Dark Lord myself,’ Snape snorted mockingly. ‘Single-handed, even. Would that finally be enough to persuade you of my loyalties?’

‘Just tell me about the portrait.’ She leant back in her seat as Snape threw himself back into his, outrage still twisting his features as she attempted to lighten the conversation. ‘Must have been quite the fire, the room still stinks.’ Snape’s lips curled upwards in disgust, her laid-back comment coming across as patronising and belittling.

‘I was not willing to risk the occupant discovering Potter here,’ he managed to grind out evenly enough, every word accompanied by a faint screaming in his head, his pulse racing with fury. ‘My own presence was much more easily excused.’

‘Four people, Snape,’ Tonks observed. ‘You said it yourself.’ The blood was roaring heatedly in his ears now, his jaw throbbing slightly as he unclenched it only with effort.

‘You cannot Obliviate a portrait, my dear Auror.’ Some of the rage subsided as Tonks pursed her lips at his snide reply, and Snape smiled maliciously. ‘Your clumsiness has spread to your thinking.’

‘Who was it?’ she asked sharply.

‘Phineas Nigellus.’

Tonks looked disbelieving, mouth open and rendered momentarily speechless as though she had the response to a completely different answer prepared and had to fight from blurting it out anyway. ‘What? Why on earth would he still be here?’

‘You were expecting someone else?’ Snape’s anger had warped quickly into a sort of self-satisfied smugness, black eyes glinting as he regarded her with wide-eyed innocence.

‘Quite frankly, yes.’

The scream sliced through the morning air, shrill and urgent.

‘Harry!’ Tonks gasped, leaping from her seat, a dusty vase crashing to the floor from a shuddering sideboard, its long since dried occupants crumbling to dust as she ignored her bruised side and threw open the heavy door. The steps creaked ominously beneath her as she hauled on the banister, taking the stairs two at a time, soft shoes slapping on the rotting wood as Snape swept quickly behind her. The screams still swirled around her; harsh and piercing with barely a pause for breath as she heaved open the door to the bedroom, rushing to the side of the bed. ‘Help me do something!’ She flailed ineffectually at Harry’s legs, earning herself a swift kick to her all ready aching side as she battled with the sleeping boy. ‘Damn, he’s bleeding.’ She swiped at his forehead with the edge of the sweat soaked sheet, leaving a pale red stain across his glistening skin. ‘His bloody scar has split.’ She turned back to the doorway, looking for help from the Potions Master, just to find it empty as she cursed to herself, returning her attention to Harry. ‘Come on, wake up. It’s just a dream.’

‘It’s no dream,’ Snape said flatly as he re-entered, a bottle clenched tightly in a fist that threatened to crack it. Tonks continued pulling at the sheets that had wrapped themselves restrictively round Harry’s entire body and were now damp with perspiration. ‘It would appear our question has been answered.’

‘He’s been told,’ Tonks muttered despairingly as another scream caused her to wince. ‘Can’t you do anything, at least stop the pain?’ Snape opened his mouth to reply cuttingly, his words overwhelmed as Harry arched on the bed, springs creaking beneath him as his voice cracked under the strain, leaving nothing but a hoarse wheezing in its place.

‘I have no idea if it will work,’ Snape explained quickly, pushing Tonks less than gently out of the way and flipping the small cork stopper to the floor. His vision snapped round abruptly as Harry suddenly sat bolt upright on the bed, eyes wide and staring straight at Snape. Lit with an inhuman glow he could do nothing but stare straight back as a single word hissed quietly in the musty room.

‘Traitor.’

Harry slumped backwards, breath coming in harsh, rasping pants as Tonks just stared.

‘You have to go,’ Snape said coldly.

‘What?’ Tonks snapped out of her stupor, advancing on him violently in confrontation. Snape just stared at her blankly, features pallid as he breathed in slowly through his nose, exhaling with a long hiss through his teeth.

‘You must leave this place, now.’

‘But Harry, he’s in no state to be moved.’

‘It does not matter.’ Snape aimed a spell at the sheets that had been thrown to the floor, thickening and drying them before he bent down and snatched them up, proffering them to Tonks and thrusting them at her when she made no move to take them. ‘Wrap him up warm, and be sure he does not wake.’ He tipped the contents of the glass he was holding down the boy’s throat.

‘I will do no such thing.’

‘Did you not hear what just happened?’ Snape’s voice shook slightly as he spoke, his hands also shaking almost imperceptibly as he encouraged Harry to swallow, tilting his head forward and wiping away a trail that dribbled down his chin.

‘You’re overreacting to the nightmare of a teenage boy.’

‘That was not Potter.’ Snape rested the head gently back onto the pillows. ‘It was the Dark Lord.’

‘How?’ At least Tonks didn’t bother arguing with him. It was a small mercy, in Snape’s opinion, although a greater one would be if he didn’t have to keep answering the questions of people who really should know better, especially when he had other things to see too.

‘The scar is a connection.’ There was still no argument forthcoming, although Tonks did look rather more dubious as she blocked his path from the room. ‘Surely you remember what happened in the Ministry, no matter how long ago it was.’

‘Of course.’ Her defensive reply lost its edge, as she still looked plagued by questions she either didn’t dare or felt it was an inappropriate time to ask. One managed to battle its way through though, as she stared at the now silent figure of Harry lying with deceptive peacefulness on the bed. ‘But we knew You-Know-Who knows he is here; we planned for the worst. And we agreed this was the safest place.’

‘Exactly, was,’ Snape said carefully, trying to side step around her. ‘When Potter was all the Dark Lord was looking for.’

‘But…’

‘Did you not hear a word of what just happened?’ Snape suddenly roared, his face pale against the darkness of the room as Tonks shrank back momentarily before regaining her poise, the drawn curtains blocking all light apart from a single slither that sliced through a gap and scoured a bright path across the floorboards. ‘Traitor! The Dark Lord knows I am here, he knows I have betrayed him. Potter’s scar may not be capable of giving away his location, but I guarantee to you that this bloody thing is.’ He gestured to the spot under his heavy robes where the Mark lay on his arm. ‘You have to leave. The wards here will not hold, not without Albus, and especially not after years of neglect.’

Tonks listened silently as he spoke, her face slowly setting with resolve. ‘You’re coming too,’ she said firmly, fingers finally grasping round the blanket that had lain forlornly in her arms as she wrapped it carefully round Harry, tucking it round his shoulders before hoisting his slight frame into her arms.

‘Are you out of your mind?’ Snape gasped with incredulity, offering no assistance as Tonks started to sag under the extra weight. ‘He will be able to track you both through me the entire time I remain.’

Snape finally saw the tiniest glimmer of fear as Tonks looked up at him. ‘We need you.’ He heard the slight tremble in her voice that belied her forceful commands as she tried to shift Harry into a more comfortable position before walking once again towards the doorway.

‘Great, two bloody martyrs,’ Snape muttered loudly, gesturing wildly before sweeping out after her and catching her on the top step. ‘Where do you propose we go then?’

‘I have an idea.’ The lack of conviction in her voice failed to make Snape feel any better about her foolhardy insistence. ‘But they will not be pleased to see us.’ There were few people who were ever pleased to see Snape anymore though, and at least the direness of the situation had forced her hand and mellowed her stubborn streak. The secret was not worth risking the lives of all three of them to keep, especially when all the act of keeping it achieved was more wasted time and increased risk.

Snape nodded in agreement. ‘Our options are remarkable limited at the moment.’

‘It’s Muggle.’

‘Muggle?’ Snape stopped suddenly, hand resting on the banister as he regarded her with disbelief. ‘You’ve recruited Muggles into the resistance? We will stand out like a like a black cloud in a clear sky. No wizard can hide amongst the Muggles, the Dark Lord has seen to that!’

Tonks paused in her descent, staring penetratingly and emotionlessly at Snape, her voice calm and level and yet remarkably menacing, each word paced and weighed for emphasis. We will not be said again, they told him, so take heed. ‘I’m not taking you to the resistance, Snape, not now and not unless there is absolutely no other choice.’ Snape looked ready to shout, his lips pursed into a thin line as Tonks glared at him unfalteringly. ‘I do believe I have made that perfectly clear.’

‘Your loyalty to your friends is touching, but misplaced.’ Tonks shrugged, a difficult gesture given the burden in her arms. ‘Rest assured that I could have wiped out this little rebellion in a moment had I felt the desire.’ He was shouting down the stairs after her by the time he finished, as Tonks walked away, leaving Snape no choice but to chase after her, his hand grasping her shoulder to get her attention. He would be damned if he would continue to argue with her retreating back. ‘But we are on the same side, and it really is time you started acting like it. All your refusal is doing is inviting the unavoidable that much closer. There are not many who would be willing to help us as it is, yet you insist of further isolating the few who might.’

Tonks eyes narrowed. ‘We haven’t been on the same side in over twenty years,’ she hissed as Harry stirred restlessly, moaning incomprehensibly under his breath. ‘Besides, it is less warded there than this damn place. We wouldn’t last two minutes.’

‘Then there is nowhere we can go,’ Snape snarled, following as Tonks moved away again and back into the kitchen, stepping carefully over the broken shards of the vase. ‘We may as well just stay here and accept the inevitable.’

‘There is one place we might be able to go, provided the occupants are still there, and it is very well warded. Albus saw to that.’

‘No,’ Snape said flatly as realisation hit. Some ideas were not worth even considering.

‘As you said yourself, we do not have much choice.’

‘They must be dead.’

‘Why?’ Harry’s eyes fluttered open as he struggled weakly at Tonks raised voice, and she shushed reassuringly, gently stroking his hair until he settled back quietly, placing his limp body carefully in the nearest chair. ‘So far the Dark Lord hasn’t made a single move against the Muggles. Besides, he didn’t even try to touch them in the six years Harry was there. Either he couldn’t, or he didn’t realise how important they were. I doubt that is a lesson he has yet learnt.’

‘He has been biding his time. Why lose what little he has out of impatience to have everything?’ The years prior to his final conquest had, if anything, taught the Dark Lord the virtue of patience. He had sequestered the wizarding world with an iron fist, removed from it every Muggle influence he could find. He had been ruthlessly methodical and unfeeling in his extermination, but he had not outreached himself. After all, he was immortal, which meant he had several lifetimes and more to create the Eden he so sought. The Muggles would fall, it was inevitable, and it would be all the more painful for their ignorance of what was coming. ‘He has ignored them for the time being, but not forgotten them. But these ones he would have killed. He must have done.’

‘Are you certain?’ Tonks asked compellingly, gathering Harry in her arms as she wrapped the covers round more tightly round his trembling body, looking desperately at Snape as she waited for an answer. Her resolve was waning, as the first threads of panic gnawed insistently at the fraying edges of her tight control. ‘You must be certain.’ Her voice was shrill with the tendrils of fear.

‘I did not do it myself,’ Snape admitted reluctantly, unsure if it was welcomed news or not. Certainly it didn’t make their choice any easier or seem any more right, any less likely to prove itself the deadly pitfall it threatened to be. ‘So I cannot be.’

‘Then we must at least look.’ If she was waiting for Snape to convince her otherwise, perhaps even bully her onto a different path, she would remain sorely disappointed, as Snape merely inclined his head in acceptance of her lead. ‘Even if the son is the only one still there, it could prove to be enough.’


Chapter 12: Safe Haven, Part I
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Chapter 12: Safe Haven, Part I


‘We have to go now Snape,’ Tonks shouted urgently through the open door, dragging her own cloak round her shoulders and checking once again on Harry, who had remained blissfully asleep. It was normal sleep this time though, his breathing light and shallow, his whole body drooping forward in the wooden chair. Assuring herself he was not about to wake she slipped from the kitchen, heading back towards the staircase as she tried to peer into the gloom above. She called for Snape again, starting upwards when she received no response. A small line of light from a pale Lumos charm could be seen under the door to the bathroom as she reached the top of the stairs, flickering slightly as though the hand holding the wand was struggling to keep it steady. She approached the closed door without a sound; footfalls soft even in the heavy boots she had opted to wear, listening carefully for any noise as she pressed her ear against the rough wood.

‘If you are going to skulk around out there you may as well be of some help,’ Snape snapped irritably from the other side, causing her to jump backwards guiltily, hand inches from the doorknob. Reaching out quickly she grasped it and turned, pulling open the door.

‘We have to go,’ she said plainly and with no remorse for having been caught spying, even as she looked round the tiny room in an attempt to discover what was keeping Snape. The sink was blocked from her view though, Snape’s hunched back all she could see, framed by the shaking light from his wand.

‘We have a minute.’

‘For what?’

Snape turned slowly, thrusting a small yet sharp knife towards Tonks, who took it with confusion. Slowly he unbuttoned the cuff of his robe, rolling the heavy fabric above his elbow so the Dark Mark stood out, burning black against his pallid white skin. ‘Cut it off.’ He ground out

‘Are you nuts?’

Snape quirked an eyebrow, looking vaguely amused by her disgust at the notion. ‘You were the one who wanted to drag me along with you,’ he said, pitching his voice with an accusing air and accompanying it with a knowing tilt of his head. ‘Cut the blasted thing off. I guarantee it will hurt no more than it is at the moment.’

Tonks looked surprised at the admission. ‘He’s calling for you?’

‘Has been for the last ten minutes,’ Snape replied with forced blitheness, as Tonks examined the brand that almost seemed to pulse, its very presence suggesting burning heat even though it remained quite cool to the touch, the tips of her fingers brushing it lightly. ‘I think it safe to assume he has realised I am not coming.’

Tonks didn’t lift her gaze, her hand trailing down from his arm as she just stared at the bare skin, nausea churning her stomach. ‘I can’t.’

‘You have too,’ Snape said flatly, lowering himself to sit uncomfortably on the rim of the bathtub and holding his arm over the sink, ‘or do you not have the courage to act on your conviction? Removing the damn thing will prevent him from following us, at least for a short time.’ Tonks looked ill. ‘I am still willing to remain here whilst you leave, if you would rather,’ Snape offered with a snide snarl, causing Tonks to steady herself purposefully with a glare, lifting the knife to press its cold blade against his skin.

‘How much?’

‘Be sure to remove the whole thing,’ Snape tensed, his fingers curling into a fist before he forced them to relax, letting his arm rest limply against the chipped ceramic, its cold surface drawing a trail of goose bumps along his flesh. ‘It will slow its regeneration. You may need to cut quite deep.’ Tonks nodded slightly, her breath shallow as she steadied her hands and pushed, ignoring Snape’s hiss of pain as the skin dipped slightly before yielding. A stream of blood poured steadily across his arm, dripping down the curved white surface towards the drain in rivulets and coating the handle as she fought to stop her fingers from slipping, glancing upwards to Snape, whose eyes were screwed shut.

‘What do you want me to do with it?’

‘Leave it,’ Snape replied, his voice trembling slightly as he awkwardly tore a length of heavy fabric from his robes, wrapping it tightly round the wound.

‘Will you be all right?’

‘It will heal quickly. The Mark will see to it.’ He secured the temporary bandage with a spell, flexing his fingers gingerly. ‘We have to go,’ said as if nothing had just happened. ‘Have you everything you need, as we will not be able to return.’ He pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, swaying slightly and turning a ghostly white as his hand reached out to the wall for balance. Tonks looked away, knowing Snape better than to either comment or stare with unnecessary concern at his weakness.

‘Harry is ready.’

‘Can you apparate the both of you?’ Tonks nodded, not mentioning the fact that Snape looked barely able to apparate himself.

‘Will You-Know-Who not be able to track us?’

‘No,’ Snape said simply and with complete surety. ‘He will know we have left, but the spell residue will be here, not at the destination.’ He turned on the tap, cold water splashing into the sink and mingling with thick, red drops that remained as he cupped his hand under the flow, dashing his face before gently cleaning his damaged arm, carefully rolling his sleeve back down to cover it. ‘Just in case we will apparate somewhere within walking distance, but not too close.’

Tonks nodded, opening the door and making back out into the hallway. Her stomach seemed to have settled again, but she still felt unnerved and faintly light-headed. ‘Thank you,’ she said softly, pausing in the frame and smiling weakly, running a hand nervously through her hair as though expecting Snape to cut her down for the gesture. ‘Really, you have done so much. Albus would be proud.’

Snape grunted dismissively. ‘Thank me later.’

Tonks slipped away quietly, leaving the door ajar as she disappeared down the stairs, Harry’s sleeping form resting against her when Snape joined them back in the kitchen, his arm slung over her shoulder in an attempt to keep him upright. She cast Snape a quick look up and down, as though to verify he were still actually alive and not taking his time in catching on, grinning sheepishly at his exasperated expression.

‘There is a small park near the house,’ she offered quickly, directing the conversation back towards urgency. ‘It will no doubt be deserted at this time, and is the safest place I can think of.’

‘It is a little near, but it will suffice,’ Snape agreed, casting Harry a cursory glance of his own, sighing with displeasure before sweeping hurriedly from the room with the look of someone who has forgotten something important. He returned a few minutes later, as Tonks shifted her weight nervously from foot to foot, anxious to leave. ‘This belongs to Potter,’ he said with a grimace, throwing the tatty cloak across the boy’s shoulders. ‘No doubt it will help keep him warm, and prevent him from either losing his temper or risking his life to retrieve it were he to wake to find it left behind.’

‘Didn’t know you cared,’ Tonks said with a grin. Snape merely scowled again, casting the room one last perfunctory look before apparating with a loud crack as Tonks increased her hold on Harry, her arm tightening round his waist before following.

The park was deserted, the ground still damp with early morning dew, the air humid under the rising sun whose heat was far from reaching its peak and was instead content to slowly dry any stray errant of moisture that had managed to accumulate in its absence. The creak of metal had Tonks jumping round fretfully as a nearby swing swayed under a stiff breeze, its hinges brown and peeling with rust. Sheltered by trees and protected from sight she once again hoisted Harry, groaning as the blood started to return to the arm she hadn’t even noticed had gone dead, pins and needles stabbing relentlessly under the skin as she gritted her teeth and waited for it to pass. Struggling under his weight she drew her wand, glancing around the immediate vicinity to ensure there were no witnesses, with the intention of lightening him.

‘No,’ Snape whispered softly, pushing the wand downwards until Tonks lowered it of her own accord, staring up at him questioningly. ‘We mustn’t use magic, not here.’

‘He can’t possibly watch the entirety of the Muggles every minute.’ Tonks tried to reason incredulously, letting out a small, fraught chuckle.

‘Why not?’ Snape said enquiringly, cocking his head as Tonks searched for an answer she was sure should have existed. No one should have been able possess that much power and influence, but she struggled to put her finger on exactly why. ‘Besides, he doesn’t need to,’ Snape offered to appease her growing dissatisfaction at her own inability to formulate a suitable response. ‘Despite desires to the contrary, the Dark Lord is not quite yet omnipotent. He took the device for detecting underage magic and copied the basic principal for his own purposes. It will light like a beacon to the smallest charm cast outside the borders to our World.’ Tonks looked inexplicably comforted at the rational explanation. The Dark Lord had been terrifying in prospect from the second he had risen again and she had been in a position to fight him. He was even more so now she was in a position expected to serve, and years in the pretence of bowing and scraping to his name had left its irremovable mark. The genuine fear of His servants and His subjects had rubbed off on her more than Tonks cared to think, and occasionally she found threads of the fanaticism embedded in her own doubts and uncertainties, no matter how far fetched they appeared to her logical mind.

‘We should have changed into something less conspicuous then,’ she said lightly to disperse the tenseness, nodding at Snape’s black robes, definitely unsteady on her feet as her arms strained to support Harry.

‘It is too late for that now.’

‘The muggles will notice.’

‘They’ll brush it off as eccentric,’ Snape dismissed, stepping out from the thin cover the overgrowth provided, boots sinking slightly beneath him, leaving indentations in the thick grass that remained even after he moved on, cushioning against the hard and cracked earth beneath. A slight drizzle had started to fall, barely noticeable apart from the dampness on his face as a lone, dark cloud scuttled hurriedly across the sky. Covered from head to toe in thick, black fabric, Snape would have drawn disbelieving gazes even if it were not tailored into a robe. Despite the freshness that lingered from the previous night the day promised to turn sweltering in an instant. No muggle would wear anything more than the bare minimum required for decency in this heat, and even in the prim and proper district of Little Whinging they would consider reassessing these standards for the sake of comfort.

‘Never spent much time in this neighbourhood, did you?’ Tonks offered.

‘It’s still early,’ Snape replied, glancing towards the low sun and across the small open space to the concrete path that stood grey in the distance, the hum of a car following the line of trees behind them and fading away. ‘We must hurry. If we’re lucky most will still be in bed.’ He paused as Tonks moved slowly forwards with great effort, Harry’s feet dragging uselessly into the grass as her free arm curled under his knees to lift them also. ‘Can you manage him?’

‘Better than you could,’ she nodded in the direction of the arm he was cradling protectively to his chest, the familiar scowl once again returning to Snape who let it drop back to his side, his face set rigidly expressionless without a trace of pain or discomfort. He kept his pace slow and unhurried though, stumbling occasionally on the uneven ground until they reached the path.

The streets were fortuitously empty as they moved hastily through them, earning a couple of strange glances from the early risers, those out walking dogs or delivering papers, who stared and frowned at their odd attire and looked away quickly whenever either of them glanced round. They eventually reached Privet Drive without incident though, as they considered the street carefully. ‘Doesn’t look any different,’ Tonks commented hopefully, taking the brief moment to lean tiredly against a nearby fence.

‘It strikes me that even in one hundred years it would struggle to do so,’ There was something horribly indestructible about the monotony the street embodied, a monotony that resisted not only outsiders but also the effects of time itself. Snape stalked ahead, towards the familiar garden he vaguely recalled from his past, pausing to let Tonks go first less out of politeness than realisation that, out of the two of them, she was by far the less threatening.

They both felt it in the air as Tonks stepped on the path that sliced cleanly through the immaculate garden. The awakening of something old, something powerful that wrapped itself round Harry as though an old friend. It surged through him, latching onto his existence whilst leaving him totally oblivious to its presence, weaving its way silently through his blood. Tonks felt it though as a faint prickle against her skin, a questioning intrusion seeking her intent as she spun round to gape unbelievably at Snape.

‘I guess that answers the question,’ she said with a sigh of relief as the feeling subsided, releasing the breath she didn’t realise she had been holding, sagging with relief as if most of her burden had all ready been lifted.

‘I doubt it went unnoticed.’ Tonks looked alarmed at Snape’s words, her respite brought to an end as she dug down for her last reserves of energy, her legs weak and tired beneath her as she stumbled back round, off balance as the body in her arms tried to pull her over. ‘You must get in the house.’ Tonks was all ready running forward as fast as she could regardless of the warning, hitting the door with her side to stop her momentum, her free hand rapping loudly on the wood as she looked behind her to where Snape wasn’t standing but should have been.

He was still at the border of the path, flinching against an invisible force, his entire body rigid even as he still seemed to be fighting to push through.

‘Snape,’ Tonks cried in alarm, placing Harry carefully on the doorstep before sprinting back to the property line, reaching out to grasp Snape’s shoulders and push him backwards. She found herself fighting against a force that seemed to want to hold him in place, certainly not allowing him any further forward, and reluctant to release him to the outside either. ‘What the hell?’

‘The wards,’ he ground out, words gasping as a tremor racked through him, almost buckling his legs. ‘They won’t let me pass. Get back in.’ He managed to step backwards with difficulty, Tonks helping him to force himself free, relief flooding his face as he did so before being schooled back to objective detachment, daring the World or anyone in it to remind him of the devastating predicament he now faced.

He made no move to attempt to approach again.

‘Damn,’ Tonks exclaimed, looking round frantically with no real purpose, hoping for an unlikely solution, a miraculous way out. ‘Can we bring them down?’

‘That would be catastrophically stupid,’ Snape commented.

‘Do you know how they work?’ It was a ridiculous question, as Snape doubted Albus had explained them fully to anyone, let alone him. It was depressingly likely that Albus had never even been completely sure himself. They existed on a premise as flimsy as love; no doubt they were controlled by something equally insubstantial.

‘It’s blood magic,’ he shrugged unhelpfully, hissing at the pain the slight movement caused, ‘which is known for being notoriously uncontrollable.’ He didn’t particularly care if Tonks appreciated his short tone or not, her look of frustration telling him all he needed to know about that. It occurred to him that in all his years he had never even wondered what effects the wards of the house would have on anyone they deemed unworthy, but then again he had never expected to be subjected to them.

‘Harry!’ Tonks declared all of a sudden, her eyes lighting up as she clung with hopeful desperation to her first thought of a potential resolution. ‘They are tuned to him, so he must have some control over them.’

‘He won’t be able to help you.’ Snape tried to dissuade her from wasting valuable time.

‘Why?’ He certainly didn’t expect the suspicious question, hurled at him like a whip as Tonks regarding him distrustfully. ‘What else do you know that you aren’t saying?’ He would have laughed at the hypocrisy did his lungs not feel empty and useless, incapable of supplying enough air to breath let alone speak.

‘Nothing,’ he said scornfully, ‘except that I just fed him a rather potent sleeping potion. Having had to drag him halfway across the country I would have thought you’d remember. Even if you do manage to wake him, he will be even less coherent than normal.’

Tonks didn’t look sorry for what she said, paying no heed to Snape’s resentment of her comment or his reasoning as she ran back to the sleeping figure, shaking him fiercely as his head lolled to the side. ‘You have to wake up. Come on Harry,’ she encouraged as his eyes fluttered open, although didn’t seem to focus on anything. ‘You have to let Snape in.’

‘Huh.’ Harry gazed blearily up at her face, squinting against the sunlight that reflected from his glasses, recognition barely even registering in his fogged mind.

‘The wards at your Aunts,’ Tonks said slowly, grasping his arm to pivot him round slightly and pointing to where Snape stood on the far street. ‘They won’t let him pass. Change them.’

Harry’s forehead creased in concentration and bemusement, his voice thick and slurred as he forced his tongue into motion. ‘How?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘What do you expect me to do then?’ he yawned and twisted back to the side, head resting on his arms as sleep once again battled to claim him.

‘Look,’ Tonks said gently, shaking him back awake and ignoring his mumbled protestations. ‘Albus may have created them, but they belong to you, they protect you. You must have at least some measure of control over them. Concentrate.’

‘What if they’re not letting him in for a reason?’ It was a remark made less out of concern than simply to get rid of Tonks so the potion that still flooded his system could pull him wonderfully back to sleep, where none of this was real.

‘They keep out followers of the Dark Lord,’ Harry tried to brush her away again, his arm gesturing weakly as Tonks grasped it, pulling Harry back round so he had no choice but to look straight at her through hooded eyes, the uncomfortable pressure of being held in such an awkward position the only thing keeping him conscious. ‘Snape has effectively been following him for quite a while now. You can’t blame them for being a bit confused.’ The words seemed to sink in slowly, as Harry frowned deeply and with intent consideration, churning them over as if to analyse them from every possible angle so he could find what they were hiding from him.

‘No,’ he tried to push himself up feebly, an urgent message spurring him into semi wakefulness as Tonks pushed him firmly back down. ‘They keep out people who mean me harm.’

‘Snape doesn’t mean you harm,’ Tonks argued, infuriation at the same old argument tainting her retort and making it less credible even to her own ears.

Harry’s response was sulky and childish as he pouted. ‘The wards say different.’

‘You have to trust him.’

Harry glowered angrily. ‘You keep saying that.’

‘Because it’s true,’ Tonks sounded tired, wishing not for the first time that she had the words to convince Harry, or that he would be slightly more forgiving and accepting of the man he had every right, but no real reason to hate. ‘You said you trusted him to get you home at least.’

‘But…’

‘I know you don’t like him,’ Tonks continued emphatically, each word heavy with emotion and understanding, ‘and I know you don’t want him here, but you have to let him in.’ Harry stared into the street with confusion, mind still numb with sleep as he closed his eyes again.

‘Fine,’ he muttered, curling up on himself, ‘Snape can come in.’ Tonks look round to where Snape moved forward tentatively, the wards striking him down again, stronger this time if his reaction was any indication.

‘That isn’t enough,’ she said desperately, not thinking the wards would let him go a second time.

‘I’m trying.’

‘Try harder,’ Tonks demanded forcefully. ‘Before the Dark Lord finds him or the wards kill him, because then we really will be in trouble,’ she paused, her voice dropping to a low and almost menacing tone laced with a barely noticeable trace of guilt at what she was about to say. ‘Unless, of course, you want him to die because of you.’ Harry’s eyes slammed open instantly, haunted and horrified. ‘Unless you want to be responsible for another death.’ Harry winced at the harsh words at the same instant Snape tumbled onto the front lawn, wheezing loudly in between bursts of chesty coughs. Remorse wasn’t enough to keep Harry awake though, as he started to drift slowly back to a sleep much more fitful than before. Mumbling an apology Tonks left him once again, running to Snape’s side and easing him carefully on his back, trying to ignore the splatters of blood that stood out vividly against the green of the grass even though no trace of the source was evident on his dark robes.

‘Nice to know his propensity for guilt has some function,’ Snape finally observed dryly, pushing himself shakily to his feet and disengaging himself forcefully from Tonks support and help, even as the door to the house opened revealing a bulky figure who stepped onto the front steps, almost tripping over Harry but somehow failing to see him. The man rubbed his eyes and yawned.

‘Who is making so much noise at this ungodly hour,’ he grumbled, glaring at the scene on his front lawn with growing agitation. His nose curled in disgust as he took in Snape, who would have stood out as different even without the robes. The gaze hardened when it fell on the wand he was still clutching, quickly shifting to Tonks and verifying that there was one in her hand also. ‘No,’ he said firmly, retreating back into the house. ‘Not likely.’

‘Mr. Dursley,’ Snape stepped forward, earning himself a glare from the man who bristled as he fumbled for the latch, face darkening to a furious red.

‘Go away, I thought we’d seen the last of you freaks. Potter isn’t here, thankfully, and he hasn’t been for years. You’re wasting your bloody time.’ The roaring of his voice in the early morning stillness had roused Harry again, who blinked as he tried to follow the noise, head tilting backwards so he could look up at the man above him.

‘Uncle Vernon?’ Harry stared drowsily from his seat on the hard steps, eyes unfocused as the massive head turned wordlessly towards him, mouth open and agape yet speechless as Harry tried again, his initial statement seeming somehow wrong. ‘Dudley?’

‘Bloody hell.’



Chapter 13: Safe Haven, Part II
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Chapter 13: Safe Haven, Part II


‘Harry?’ Dudley swayed slightly, hand grasping the doorframe for support and fingers curling round it with deadly force that turned his knuckles white. A thin layer of sweat appeared on his forehead as he absentmindedly wiped it away with the sleeve of his dressing gown, his slippers scuffing the carpet as though too heavy to lift properly in spite of his apparent desperation to be far away from the figure huddled on his doorstep.

‘We really need to come in,’ Tonks said gently, taking a cautious step forward as Dudley jumped nervously, drawing a hurried breath as his gaze flickered between her and Harry Wand once again stashed away, Tonks held both hands up in front of her, trying to reassure the frightened man he was in no danger.

‘But, how did he...’

‘We will explain it all inside,’ Snape interrupted impatiently, casting Tonks a disdainful and intolerant glance before stalking towards the open door, head held high and with a look of unquestionable authority that left Dudley little choice but to jump aside to allow him entrance, and too shocked to do anything else. Casting her own glare at his withdrawing figure Tonks stormed after him, bending down once again to lift Harry, who was drifting in and out of sleep, now fighting against the effects of the potion. Dudley’s back was pressed protectively and fearfully against the wall as she stepped through the door, although the generous years meant his attempt still maintained only a small distance between the two of them as she cast a quick look round for somewhere Harry could rest.

The hallway, adorned with family photos that hung from the wall and covered the top of a long table, was far from wide enough for her passage to be easy or comfortable. Harry’s legs smacked lightly against the wall as Tonks sidestepped his cowering cousin, who’s large, round eyes were almost bulging from his pink face. He was spurred into movement though as she approached the open door to the living room, moving forwards with an unstoppable drive to deny her access, his eyes flickering towards the far end of the hallway, his brain providing instructions that had been long since engrained into his behaviour. As far as he was concerned there was only one place Potter had ever belonged in his house, and he would not be intimidated into acting as though it were otherwise. He had always thought his dad had been too weak, caving at the first indication the freaks were watching him. Dudley would show them though, show them that for all their tricks and deception he would not be cowed. Not when he was so much better than them.

‘I would reconsider before you voice that thought,’ Snape said silkily, as Dudley’s firm command stuck in the back of his throat, only the smallest of noises escaping in acknowledgement it had ever even existed, pathetically weak as his legs moved him out of the way whilst his mind yelled obscenities at himself for being so weak and so fearful. What could they possibly do to him, in his own house when it was his help they needed? They should be begging him for assistance, he reflected bitterly, banishing memories of a pig’s tail that hinted at why they shouldn’t.

Tonks stepped past carefully, as Dudley’s hand moved of its own accord to clutch at his backside, as if seeking affirmation of something. ‘There really was no need for that,’ she whispered gruffly as she passed by Snape, flashing him a contemptuous look. ‘We want their help, not to bully them into submission.’

‘They’re muggles,’ Snape declared scornfully, distaste rearing itself in an ugly expression that twisted his mouth as he surveyed the room, from its false fire to the ugly plastic box that dominated the corner, overshadowing everything around it, it’s curved surface reflecting the scene with eerie distortion.

‘You’re not with the Dark Lord anymore Snape,’ Tonks reminded forcefully. ‘Try to remember that if you can.’

‘You can put him on the sofa,’ Dudley’s loud interruption cut her off, delivered with all the grace he could manage whilst trying to maintain a façade of control, even as Tonks lowered Harry onto the soft cushions. He cast Harry a furtive glance out of the corner of his eye as he said it though, looking deeply and profoundly bothered by his presence.

‘Where are your parents?’ Tonks manner indicated it was not the first time she had asked the question, that she had been trying to pull Dudley’s concentration from Harry for a few moments even though he was sure his look had been no more than fleeting. His head snapped up to meet her gaze, arrogance causing him to pull himself upright stiffly, overruling his fear and battering it to surrender, his tone drowned in superiority.

‘How should I know?’

‘They don’t live here?’ Snape interjected shortly.

‘No,’ Dudley sounded dangerous as he spoke now, his self-control wavering precariously on the borders of violence, an angry red flush creeping up his neck. ‘Haven’t done for years. They retired early, went to some cottage in the country. Left me this place.’ The last comment was prideful as he gestured vaguely to indicate the house but was ignored, Snape approaching Tonks and leaning down to whisper in her ear. Indignant at being actively and purposely excluded in his own home Dudley sidled closer, ears straining to pick up their soft comments over his pounding blood.

‘They are alive though.’ Tonks asked suddenly, causing Dudley to almost yelp with surprise as his neck muscles worked of their own accord and nodded stiffly. She turned away again, leaving Dudley to abandon all hope of eavesdropping. Instead he inched his way towards Harry, peering cautiously at his dozing face huddled amidst the cushions. It was always Harry’s fault, whenever anything went wrong, and Dudley refused to believe some sort of accident had brought him back to further ruin Dudley’s life. Rather it was probably some scheme he had concocted in an attempt to get one up on him. Never mind that Harry had set some foul creature on him all those years ago, now he was back for more. Tonks watched him carefully, eyes narrowed as Dudley scowled menacingly down at his cousin whilst she spoke quietly to Snape. ‘I thought proximity was an issue,’ she didn’t really blame Snape for his obvious dislike of the man; she was having a hard time finding a single redeeming aspect of Dudley herself. ‘His aunt was the key, but they seem to be working fine without her.’

‘No doubt Lily’s blood has not been too watered down,’ he too was watching as Dudley examined his cousin, hovering over him with barely concealed malicious intent and poking Harry none to gently in the ribs, getting nothing more than a muffled grunt in response. ‘Nephew is not that distant a relative, they must have passed to him.’ The last word was spoken with venom and unrivalled revulsion, although whether it was borne from dislike of the muggle or the fact that he was the effective owner and keeper of some fairly powerful and impressive magic Tonks refused to guess. Still, Snape’s stare was turning almost predatory in nature as she sought to distract him.

‘So the wards are still up and strong. That doesn’t explain why we aren’t swarmed with your old friends though,’ Tonks itched to throw open the curtains blocking their view to the street outside, her mind conjuring images of the massed ranks of the Dark Lord congregated, unable to enter but nevertheless waiting, silently and with the patience of Gods. Knowing there was nothing out there was not as reassuring as seeing there was nothing out there. Snape looked thoughtful, running his hand gently up the length of his injured arm in an attempt to quiet the itching that consumed it, a sign of the swift healing the mark promoted. He could almost feel it reforming, tendrils of black weaving through his flesh and latching on even deeper than before.

‘This is not your normal magic,’ he answered vaguely. ‘It is based on blood and may well only be detected by blood.’

‘The Dark Lord is blood,’ Tonks reminded, just to have it rejected by Snape without consideration.

‘They are bound only by the scar.’

Tonks shook her head. ‘He took Harry’s blood; he used it to rise again. It runs in his veins now too.’ It was unnerving as apprehension rose in Snape’s eyes, stemmed only by his unwillingness to accept the knowledge of another over his own. ‘He still can’t gain access, but that doesn’t explain why he isn’t here, trying.’

‘Potter can’t feel the wards himself, therefore the Dark Lord cannot either,’ Snape reasoned flatly, exhaling heavily in a way that made him appear to deflate along with it. ‘Besides, we haven’t long until my Mark leads him here anyway. What difference does it make what draws him here and whether it is now or in a few hours time?’ It wasn’t quite defeat in his voice, but there was a definite level of acceptance that there was only path to walk, only one future that waited. ‘We should count our blessings, not worry needlessly over pointless trivialities borne from over anxiety’

Outrage paused her response for a moment, as Tonks stared with astonishment. ‘Over anxiety?’

‘It really isn’t like you to be so pessimistic,’ Snape continued.

‘This coming from you,’ her retort was angry and loud, any and all patience destroyed by the fatigue and despair on which she was functioning so that the comment struck far deeper than was intended, if there was any intent at all, leaving her feeling open and vulnerable and desperate to stop it.

‘Listen,’ Dudley interrupted haughtily, tapping Tonks on the shoulder to get her attention, although the brief contact was obviously abhorrent to him. Her anger faded as she turned to face him, dwindling away impotently. ‘You have to be quiet. If you wake Claire then Emily will have my guts.’

‘Emily?’ Tonks questioned tiredly as Snape stepped forward, his expression harsh.

‘You have a daughter?’ he barked.

‘Yes,’ Dudley suddenly puffed his chest up, glaring down at his cousin for a moment before turning back to Snape. ‘I won’t let you hurt her.’ He declared threateningly.

‘I’m not going to hurt anyone, you imbecile,’ Snape snorted derisively, habit leading him into crossing his arms, an act he quickly stopped with a grimace as Dudley stared expectantly at him.

‘I thought you were going to explain,’ he was refusing to look at Harry now, the confusion it caused being quickly warped into something much more manageable; anger. Something he had never been very good at controlling and that had been steadily building inside him. It washed over him now, leaving his hands trembling and his head pounding against the pressure of reining it in. His voice rose with the fury too, loud and booming in the small room as his only outlet, surging through it wildly and quickly becoming impossible to stop. ‘You barge into my home with your damn freakishness, with no thought or concern for the danger that follows you. You put my life at risk and bring him back, swanning around like you own the damn place, thinking you’re better than me with your magic and your abnormality. And you know it isn’t true, you know it else you wouldn’t be here asking for my help. But you don’t ask, you demand and think that I should be scared of you, like the whole world owes you. Well I’m not and it doesn’t. God only knows what the neighbours will think.’

Snape looked ready to kill, with his bare hands if necessary, as Tonks dragged him backwards, putting herself between the two livid men in the knowledge that Dudley would not have had the sense to back down, and Snape was too furious to care about the consequences. ‘The life of your cousin is at stake,’ she said soothingly, trying to placate a turbulent Dudley as he paced backwards and forwards in front of them.

‘He is not my cousin,’ Dudley snapped angrily, his face hovering close to hers as he said it so his breath grazed her skin before he strode away again as far as the confines of the room would allow. ‘He is some fake you brought here as part of your sick games.’ Snape growled over her shoulder

‘He is Harry,’ Tonks confirmed with indisputable gentleness, as Dudley swung round to point a trembling finger at the body sleeping on his couch.

‘Potter would be over thirty years old by now,’ his voice was shaking too, lit with a hint of hysteria as Dudley gave a distressed laugh. ‘He looks no different to the last time I saw him.’

‘Because he is no different to the last time you saw him,’ Snape ground out, his voice a menacing rumble. ‘I believe the last time he had that misfortune was, in his mind, about three days ago.’

Horrified dawning crept across Dudley’s face, as the terror that had hidden behind his shield of white fury grabbed a foothold and launched itself back into his immediate thought process. ‘I remember you,’ he suddenly exclaimed loudly, eyes widening as he took a step backwards, the heel of his foot hitting the couch as his hand shot out and he steadied himself on its arm, unconsciously putting the solid piece of furniture between him and the Potions Master. ‘You did something to my dad, just before Harry left for good.’ Snape shrugged as Tonks cast him a questioning look at Dudley’s admission. ‘You pointed that wand of yours at him and tried to kill him.’ His face was turning a deeper shade of red now, his breathing deep and shuddering as his conflicting emotions grappled and fought for dominance. ‘Get out,’ he hollered. ‘I don’t want your kind here.’

Snape didn’t move, staring at the enraged man with displeasure. ‘Mr. Dursley, I don’t think you are quite comprehending the gravity of the situation,’ he said flatly.

‘Get out.’

‘Your cousins life is at risk,’ Tonks pleaded before Snape could speak again, ‘he will be killed if we leave.’

‘Better somewhere else than here,’ Dudley pointed out hysterically. ‘Typically selfish of your kind though. Lumbered mum and dad with his useless carcass for years, now you put my family at risk by bringing him back.’

‘Neither he, nor your family, can be harmed whilst we remain.’ Tonks offered reassuringly.

‘I don’t want you here.’ Dudley’s voice dropped sullenly as he found himself once again furtively staring at Harry, expression filled with hatred. He jerked upright seconds later, startled as he heard a door close upstairs, as all eyes in the room followed his to the ceiling, falling silent as Dudley listened with dread for anything further, holding his breath and flashing Tonks with an accusing look.

‘If you do anything…’ the threat started desperately, wavering slightly as Dudley moved slowly towards the door. It didn’t get to finish though, a voice calling anxiously down the stairs.

‘Dudley?’ It was followed by footsteps on the carpet as a pair of furry slippers came into view behind the banisters, the stairs creaking quietly under the weight. The woman walked with more controlled grace than Dudley ever managed, despite the fact that any difference in their sizes was probably negligible. Whilst Dudley was no longer pushing the limits of obesity, he was by no definition slim. Her face was gentle though, more motherly than attractive as she chewed nervously on her bottom lip

‘Em’s,’ Dudley looked flustered as his wife entered the room, dressing gown tied round her ample waist as she surveyed the guests, freeing her long, faded brown ponytail from where it had snagged down her back. She didn’t move, despite Dudley’s uneasy attempts to steer her gently from the room. Shrugging his hands from her shoulders she pushed him firmly away, brushing off his protective embrace.

‘Who are you?’ she questioned curiously as Tonks put a hand on Snape’s arm before he could reply. ‘Is he all right?’ she nodded to Harry, who was trying to shift his position sluggishly, his arms too heavy to offer any support or help as he fought to keep his eyes open.

‘Perhaps I had better talk to her,’ Tonks said softly to both Snape and Dudley. ‘Explain a few things whilst you two sort yourselves out.’

Dudley looked appalled. ‘I will not permit you to speak to my wife,’ he fumed, earning himself a sharp look. ‘Especially not about this unnaturalness.’

‘Well, someone had better tell me something?’ Emily looked round the room again, her expression hard and determined before a tiny wail echoed down the stairs. ‘Oh damn, you woke her,’ she headed hurriedly back towards the staircase. Glaring disapprovingly at Dudley, Tonks ran out the room after her

‘Emily, wait.’

Emily paused in her ascent, looking harassed, an expression that was emphasised by her tired timbre. ‘Yes.’

‘There are things I think you need to hear.’

‘I cannot leave Claire.’

‘Can you not bring her down?’ Tonks implored. ‘I guarantee that neither myself of my friend mean you or any of your family any harm.’

‘What about the boy on the sofa,’ the cries were growing loudly, Emily’s hands twisting urgently in her dressing gown.

‘He is your husbands cousin,’ Tonks explained quickly.

‘Dudley has no cousins.’

‘I’m afraid you are mistaken, Harry is undoubtedly related to him, from his mother’s side.’

‘What, Petunia? She was an only child, she told me so herself.’

‘She lied.’

Emily turned to her husband, who was fretting at the foot of the stairs, fiddling aimlessly and unsure of what to do. ‘Is this true?’ Dudley scowled and nodded. ‘You lied to me?’

‘I didn’t have much choice,’ he declared in retort, staring with absolute loathing at Tonks. ‘You’ll understand when she tells you. Good for nothing, the whole lot of them. Potter there even got himself sent to a school for the criminally insane. Tried to kill me twice he did too.’

‘Criminally insane?’ Tonks looked disbelieving. ‘You may not like what we are, but that is no excuse for saying such a foul thing.’

Impatience tainted the following question rudely, the growing cries of a small baby adding to the tension as Emily commanded shortly. ‘And what are you?’

Silence fell, even the noise from upstairs calming to a muted sniffling as Tonks cast Snape a despairing look, unsure of how to answer.

‘This may be a matter best discussed sitting down,’ Snape offered. ‘See to your daughter, we would not want to cause her any more unnecessary stress. Rest assured we will answer any and all of your questions after.’ Emily regarded him carefully, as though trying to assess his intent through his words alone.

She nodded after pausing for thought. ‘I will bring her down. She needs to be fed anyway, and I suppose I may as well bring her to the bottle.’ Dudley looked furious, but was quieted when his wife regarded him fiercely before turning back to Tonks. ‘Could you put the kettle on for me?’

‘Of course,’ Tonks looked grateful, her shoulders sagging in relief. Thank you,’ said with an emphatic smile as Emily nodded curtly, continuing in her ascent.

A door opened upstairs, the crying scaling loudly again for a brief moment before quieting, as Dudley rounded heatedly on the witch. ‘Can’t you leave her out of this?’ he demanded, Tonks quirking an eyebrow as her only response before stalking away and into the kitchen, closing the door behind her to muffle his continued insults.

‘The benefits of marriage is supposed to be having someone with which to share your problems,’ Snape said snidely as Dudley wound down, having exhausted the limits of his vocabulary. Glowering, Dudley gestured brusquely towards the body curled on his couch.

‘Is that really Harry then?’ Snape nodded. ‘What happened, why isn’t he any older?’

With some effort Snape refrained from his usual sarcasm, instead opting for a fairly neutral tone, although he had no desire and therefore made no attempt to cover his repulsion towards the muggle. ‘Potter has enemies who want him dead,’ Dudley looked faintly pleased by the news. ‘They attempted to kill him many times in his youth and failed, so he was sent to a time that would give them a greater advantage.’

‘Time travel too, huh,’ Dudley snorted incredulously despite the evidence. ‘So who is this they?’

‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Dark Lord,’ Snape said unhelpfully. ‘He has no title that any muggle would recognise, and he would be loathe to provide one.’ Dudley looked distinctly unimpressed. It all sounded far too much like science fiction, and bad science fiction at that. ‘His followers, his Death Eaters, have been seeking to kill Potter for quite some time now.’ Snape frowned as Dudley bit back on a jeering laugh at the title. It was cut short anyway though, as Dudley’s forehead creased in concentration.

‘You mean,’ he started. ‘They wanted him dead all those years ago?’

‘Yes.’ Snape considered that asking pointless questions he had all ready effectively answered must be a genetic trait.

‘When he was living with us?’ Snape nodded again. ‘And no one told us?’

‘I can assure you your mother was quite aware.’ Snape replied loftily.

Dudley looked appalled at the thought. ‘She never wanted Harry here,’ he corrected definitely. ‘And she certainly wouldn’t have taken him in if she had known my life would be at risk.’

‘But she did,’ Snape revelled in the irony, drawing immense amounts of personal satisfaction in using it to slap the jumped up, spoiled brat round the face and cause his believed position in the universe to wobble. ‘Else the protections guarding the house would have failed. She took him in willingly.’

‘He made her life miserable.’ Dudley argued.

‘Well, Potter does have a way with people.’

‘Always causing trouble. He set a snake on me once, you know.’

Snape sounded bored. ‘Really?’

‘Yes. Didn’t even get punished for it, not really. Got himself a bedroom instead.’

‘Excuse me?’ Dudley seemed to snap out of whatever daydream he was moping dejectedly in, as he met Snape’s questioning gaze with his own infuriated one, refusing to back down and be the first to look away, determined to achieve even this smallest of victories. It was a look he struggled to keep though, as it left him with the feeling that his mind was being slowly unravelled from the inside, that the tiny strands were being individually subjected to delicate scrutiny before tossed casually aside. Snape’s lips pursed when he finally looked away, leaving Dudley crowing triumphantly on the inside. ‘I am assuming it is the stress of the situation that has caused your manners to become so atrocious, so I am going to assume that in any other situation I would have been offered something to drink by now. Tea will be fine, and perhaps a glass of water for when Potter wakes.’

‘What!’ Dudley looked outraged, but faltered as Snape stared at him, expression unreadable. ‘Oh, yes. Tea.’ He left the room somewhat dazedly, his footsteps heavy even on the carpeted floor. Once satisfied he was out of hearing range Snape turned to Harry, who was once again asleep, sprawled out in a rather undignified position, his arm trailing to the floor and his legs tangled impossibly around his cloak. ‘Potter,’ he hissed in his ear.

‘Wha’.’ He sounded slightly more awake now, which was fortunate, although Snape hoped there was still enough of the potion in his system to make him slightly less guarded and rather more honest than his usual self. He helped prop the boy up, sliding a pillow behind his head and unclasping the cloak still tied around his neck, the extra warmth it was providing no doubt unbearable. Harry rubbed his head blearily, wincing at the contact.

‘Does it still hurt?’

‘Just a little tender,’ Snape leant over to examine the scar, which scored a thin red line vividly across Harry’s pale skin, swollen slightly and inflamed. Harry flinched backwards as Snape reached out to touch it, causing him to drop his hand with an unrepentant look.

‘I’m afraid there is nothing I can do about it.’

‘Didn’t expect there was.’ Ah, the Gryffindor nobility and art of self-sacrifice. Snape held back from contemptuousness at the sentiment, but only just, regarding the small boy intently.

‘Why did you not mention the abysmal treatment you suffered from your family?’ he demanded instead, as he moved away, perusing the room methodically and keeping his appearance disinterested, hoping the tone would further inspire Harry to answer before he dwelled on it and realised who he was talking too.

‘Huh?’

‘Your family,’ Snape reiterated neutrally. ‘You had been at Hogwarts for five years. Why did you not mention to anyone, least of all the Headmaster, the way you were treated.’

‘It wasn’t that bad,’ Harry mumbled, clearly embarrassed as he wrapped his arms around his stomach, pulling his knees up until he was huddled at one end of the sofa. Snape sat carefully at the other end, his features blank as he continued.

‘They locked you in that cupboard under the stairs.’

‘You really shouldn’t pry into people’s thoughts just because you can you know.’ Harry mumbled into his knees, still at least drowsy from the potion if his disrespectful reply was any judge.

‘They starved you.’

‘I said it was nothing,’ definitely defensive, as even half asleep it was clear Harry did not like to be pressed on the issue. ‘And you never cared before. In fact, you found it quite amusing. Besides, Dumbledore knew. If there was anywhere else I could have gone I have no doubt he would have sent me.’

‘Of course Albus didn’t know!’ Snape looked shocked. One thing had been true though, as he remembered the glimpse into Harry’s home life he had seen for himself. And it had been gratifying to know Potter wasn’t heralded as a boy hero by all who breathed, wasn’t coddled in a life of luxury he didn’t deserve. Regardless of his personal feelings for the boy though Harry was still a Wizard, and no Wizard, even one as annoying and insufferable as him, should be treated that way. Especially not by muggles.

‘My first letter was addressed to that cupboard,’ Harry argued tiredly, removing his glasses to rub his eyes.

‘He was a very busy man,’ Snape defended reluctantly, ‘and I can guarantee he did not have the time to handwrite the letters every year. Besides, he would have sooner died than submit his precious Golden Boy to a moments discomfort.’

‘They all returned to him though, he must have read at least one of them then.’ Snape didn’t have an argument for that.

‘Nevertheless, it was stupid of you not to mention it to anyone.’

‘S’not like they hit me or anything,’ Harry shrugged. ‘Well, Dudley did, and Petunia smacked me a couple of times,’ he was rambling aimlessly now, racked by a huge yawn that interrupted his train of thought.

The door opened without warning, slamming against the wall with a bang as Tonks threw it open, haste making her clumsier and even less prone to forethought than usual. ‘Snape, I think you should take a look,’ she interrupted them as an anxious looking Emily trailed behind her, peering nervously into the room as though afraid of intruding in her own house. The small child cradled in her arm was making tiny noises that threatened to spill noisily at the slightest provocation as Dudley followed, spitting in blind rage.

Snape stood. ‘For what?’

‘Just hold her for a moment, see if you feel any specific…traits,’ Tonks said meaningfully. ‘Do you mind?’ she turned back to Emily, who held out her daughter to the Potions Master.

‘No, I won’t having you touching her,’ Dudley pushed past his wife, shouting furiously as Snape held the child stiffly, his movements awkward as he shifted his wand to the unfamiliar hand of his injured arm. ‘Or waving that stupid stick at her and tainting her with your disgusting ways.’

‘The child is magic,’ Snape interrupted Dudley’s rant with surprise. ‘Powerfully so, for us to be able to feel it all ready.’

‘You lie,’ Dudley hissed menacingly.

‘I guarantee I do not,’ Snape said flatly, handing the infant back to its mother, who looked stunned.

‘No child of mine will ever be so abnormal,’ Dudley was going red again.

‘She is no more abnormal than you,’ Snape said categorically. ‘You carry the magical gene yourself, from your mothers side, no doubt. Your wife must do too.’ Emily looked taken aback, clutching her child close to her chest. ‘Admittedly the chances of your family producing another Magical child so close to Potter was unlikely, given that the gene is recessive and fairly uncommon amongst muggles.’

‘Don’t you dare insult my mum,’ Dudley yelled. ‘She was no freak, she was a good person.’

‘Is that what you are going to call our daughter next?’ Emily seemed to snap out of her trance, turning on Dudley with a determined glint in her eye.

‘Our daughter is perfectly normal,’ Dudley repeated.

‘And if not, will you lock her in a cupboard until she is of age in an attempt to make her more so?’ Snape voice was silky as Dudley’s gaze flickered to the cupboard under the stairs, his expression darkening as he looked to his daughter.

‘I want you to leave,’ he said softly.

‘It will not change the truth. Can you honestly say you love this child any less for what I have told you?’ Snape questioned harshly as Dudley remained silent under the disappointed scrutiny of his wife. ‘If I were you I would figure it out quickly, as there are those who have no qualms over what she is.’

‘What do you mean?’ Emily asked harshly.

‘A Wizarding child born to muggle parents is an abomination in our World now,’ Snape said slowly. ‘You have at the most another year, if you are fortunate. But no amount of insults or abuse will alter the fact that she is magic, and it will show. And when it does she will be killed, heartlessly slaughtered for the good and continued purity of our way of life.’ Emily gasped as Snape swept across the room back towards Harry without another word, leaving Tonks to place a comforting arm across her shoulder.

‘Is it true?’ Emily’s voice shook as she spoke, stifling a sob as Tonks nodded.

‘You must love her, and love her well,’ she offered carefully, looking forlornly at Dudley, here eyes clouded with sadness. ‘Both of you. Give her at least hope in her future, if you can manage to give her no more.’

Dudley didn’t want to listen though. ‘Leave,’ he said venomously. Emily turned angrily on him, but was stopped as Tonks suddenly gasped, looking terrified as she clutched the nearby mantlepiece.

‘Snape!’

‘You cannot throw us out, Mr. Dursley,’ Snape said simply.

‘Actually, he can,’ Tonks spoke fearfully. ‘Can’t you feel it?’ Snape scowled as he fell silent, closing his eyes to concentrate better.

‘The wards are dropping!’ he whispered in astonishment.

‘Can you stop them?’

‘No one can,’ Snape turned murderously to Dudley. ‘He has turned Potter out. Petunia may not have wanted him here, but she took him in willingly. It was required of the wards. He is the reason they are falling now; the house belongs to him, the wards were transferred.’ Snape bore down on the man with the full fire of his wrath. ‘You hate your cousin that much you would be the cause of his death?’

Dudley stood his ground. ‘I will not have you putting my family at risk,’ gone was the uncontrollable rage, replaced with a cool resolve that would not be wavered. ‘She told me to love my daughter, and I am doing that as best as I know how, by protecting her from your kind.’

‘She is our kind.’

‘Your kind would kill her,’ Dudley roared. ‘My mum was right all along, you’re all good for nothing. Claire will never belong to your World, I will see to it.’ He stormed into the hallway and flung open the door. ‘Now leave, before I throw you out.’ Snape looked ready to refuse on sheer principal, but there was no point.

‘Can you walk?’ he questioned Harry, who was staring in shocked surprise at his cousin, unable to find words as he swiped against the burning building in the back of his eyes. Turning his head away he tried to push himself shakily to his feet, but his legs refused to co-operate, as though someone had filled them with lead. Tonks reached out to offer him support, as he rested against her shoulder, refusing to look at Dudley.

‘I’m sorry,’ Emily said softly as he passed her, as Harry looked at the tiny body cradled in her arms for the first time, smiling at the wisps of red hair that covered her head like a downy blanket.

‘I understand. She’s beautiful.’ Emily nodded in thanks as Harry stumbled his way awkwardly towards to door, gaining strength with every step he took as Snape hung back slightly, standing imperiously in the doorway and regarding the couple with dark eyes, from Dudley’s protective posture to his wife’s sad expression at doing something she didn’t want to do, but knew had to be done. She may not have liked the harsh words and insults of her husband, but she could see for herself that the sentiment was right. Wizards were dangerous to them, the Magical World a threat to their existence, even more so now. She didn’t hate them, far from. A part of her sincerely wanted to help as best she could. But for the sake of her daughter she would not allow them to remain.

‘Remember everything we have said.’

‘What you have said is nothing but lies,’ Dudley’s final passionate remark as the door slammed in Snape’s face. He stared at it as the seconds passed inevitably, face blank as he swept around and moved silently to the edge of the property.

‘Where now then,’ he asked without emotion, the mid day sun warm against his back as they surveyed the street. ‘We won’t get far without magic, which we cannot use because it will lead the Dark Lord straight too us.’

‘How long before he can find you again?’

Snape refrained from scratching at the itch that had slowly spread across his arm and buried itself to the bone, taunting him mercilessly. ‘Not long.’

‘Then it seems you are finally going to get your way.’ Harry clutched to her arm as she drew her wand again, sighing defeatedly. ‘Can we get back to Diagon Alley?’

‘There are certain areas where our arrival will not be noticed.’ There was an edge to his voice that reeked of smugness; that delicately wiped Tonks face in her prior reluctance to take him exactly where he had wanted to go and was now being forced. Tonks didn’t seem to care.

‘Is there one near the shop?’

‘Near enough,’ Snape said adamantly.

‘We will have to floo in from there so I can fire call ahead.’ She looked to Harry, who nodded although looked a little queasy at the prospect.

‘Once we arrive we will have to be quick,’ Snape directed them forcefully. ‘The Dark Lord has no doubt declared me traitor to the community by now, and I need not remind you that I am not popular.’ Harry grinned spitefully at the comment, memory of his last apparition causing him to rest more heavily against Tonks, bunching the back of her robes in his hand as he gripped.

‘It won’t take them a minute to grant us access,’ Tonks verified. ‘Where is this spot?’

‘The end of a small alley. A large wall blocks it at one end as it runs behind Eeylops.’ There was no point looking for cover from which to disappear, as Snape raised his wand. ‘We must go together, the street will be swarming within mere moments after we leave.’

‘I know where it is,’ Tonks confirmed. ‘Meet you there,’ and with that she disappeared with a loud pop, Snape disapparating a fraction of a second later, but late enough so that the cracks of apparition circling around him still rang in his ears.




Chapter 14: Mistaken
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Chapter 14: Mistaken

Understand procedure
Understand war
Understand rules, regulations
I don't understand sorry

-Paradise Lost, Forever Failure



‘What are you just standing there for?’ Snape roared as he landed, swinging round to confront Tonks who had barely moved, Harry still hanging limply from one of her arms, frustration evident in his features as he tried to move on his own. What little strength he had managed to regain since waking was useless though since his body refused to obey even the simplest of commands, either attempting sluggishly to fulfil some vague imitation of what he wanted them to do, or refusing to even acknowledge the request. ‘This will be one of the first places they look now they know we’ve left, we have to move quickly.’

‘We can’t be sure they know,’ Tonks didn’t have time for his melodramatics, his seemingly endless ability to jump to the worst possible conclusions; not with Harry all ready worked up to a state of agitation potentially devastating and only suppressed by the remnants of the potion, her own nerves stretched to near breakage. She allowed his scolding words to slide painlessly off her back, refusing to play into his flaring and unpredictable temper. ‘They might have missed it. Apparition doesn’t require that much magic.’

‘They know,’ Snape said levelly

‘Why must you always be right?’ Harry looked annoyed, swivelling round lethargically to stare with as much insolence as he could manage.

Snape merely cast Harry a brief, knowing look that seemed to transport his very opinion of filth, muck and grime and Harry’s place alongside them as an undertone. ‘Death Eaters arrived at Privet Drive. I heard them as I left.’

‘What!’ Harry looked scared, clawing weakly against Tonks in an attempt to pull himself free. His arms felt somehow detached from him though, only the sight of them moving providing any confirmation they even existed or were a part of him. Tonks held on resolutely and he was no match for her as he looked to her pleadingly. ‘We have to go back.’

‘Are you terminally stupid?’ Snape exclaimed, drawing Harry’s attention back.

‘What about Dudley, and Claire? What if they spot her?’

‘She will be just another muggle child for the moment. I doubt a single Death Eater is in the habit of cuddling random small children, which it what would be required for them to notice anything remiss.’

‘She’s not random though,’ Harry struggled against Tonks with renewed vigour, falling to his knees as soon as she stepped back, palms displayed in defeat, her support lost. He looked up through his wild fringe towards Snape, eyes wide and beseeching. ‘Take me back.’

‘Your cousin abandoned you Potter,’ Snape bent down gracefully, Harry’s eyes following his fluid movement with desperation until they were level. There was a certain taunting element to his voice though which made it horribly lilting, unpleasantly out of place next to his cruel smile; mocking even, as Snape spoke with unshakeable righteousness. ‘I don’t see why you are so anxious to return. He deserves all that is coming to him.’

Harry shook his head, clearly upset by the words even as Snape waited for a reply, for some sign that Harry at least realised they could do nothing. He didn’t have to accept it; no Gryffindor could ever tell the difference between a heroic rescue and simply delivering oneself gift wrapped into the hands of the enemy, but he had to know it. ‘He’s family, not that I’d expect you to understand.’

Snape rose again, brushing down his robes casually. ‘It would be a pointless endeavour.’ No one had ever managed to give even the time of day with less feeling. ‘It is most likely the Death Eaters will have no interest in any of them. And if not then there really is nothing we could do to stop them.’ His logic was met with angry muttering, as various insults flew past Harry’s lips, under his breath as he glared.

‘We should never have gone there.’

‘A sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly,’ Snape said pointedly. ‘It was a complete waste of time given that you now have no choice but to take me to the resistance, the very place you were trying to keep me from with that little visit.’ He cast Tonks a superior look. ‘I do hope the extra few hours of secrecy was worth the potential loss of life.’ Tonks pulled Harry back to his feet, glaring angrily at the cool words and heartless, slightly smug tone in which they were delivered.

‘It was the safest place, the only safe place there was,’ she defended, dragging Harry down the filthy alleyway and onto the street, not giving Snape an opportunity to argue any further as she headed for the shop. Unease crept up on her as she stepped onto the busy road however, as curious shoppers paused to watch her struggle, staring with unabashed shock and terrified recognition where people normally kept their gaze fixed firmly on the ground beneath them. Something had made them less wary and less scared, so pure prying nosiness was revelling in a brief moment of freedom. Their gazes left Tonks feeling small and surrounded as she looked steadfastly at the destination, stumbling occasionally as Harry caught a foot on a loose stone or raised slab. The passers by hurried on their way as Snape stalked into the open though, leaving him to watch them retreat with suspicious inquisitiveness, his pace quickening as he followed after Tonks.

‘If the Dark Lord has declared me traitor they won’t take me on themselves,’ he said quietly as if to calm the tenseness that was mounting from the hushed whispers and pointing from those who passed. The danger was not immediate, but it was close. ‘However they will run for others.’ A tiny bell jingled as Tonks opened the door to the store, nodding in understanding; the front desk empty although soft footsteps and the occasional rustle of paper indicated they were not completely alone. Casting a last check up and down the emptying street Snape followed, expression grave. ‘I cannot hold off even a small number of his followers on my own for long.’

‘Lock the door then,’ Tonks said desperately as it slammed shut behind them, shuddering in its wooden frame. ‘It doesn’t have to be fancy, just slow them down.’ Snape did so, sealing the door as powerfully as he knew how before following Tonks through the shelves, past the glances of customers unknowingly trapped with them until they reached a small door set in the back wall. Carefully placed it seemed almost hidden in the corner, out of sight and barely noticeable from a distance as it faded into the background, it’s edges mingling with the wall surrounding it. Stepping through and closing it behind them Tonks left Harry leaning on a unstable table that wobbled under his weight and ran for the fireplace, throwing in a handful of floo powder as Snape aimed a number of jinxes at what proved to be the only way in or out. Easily defended yes, but it made the room essentially a prison, or possibly even a tomb.

‘How long?’ Snape asked, finding no solace in the silence that lingered from the other side of the door.

‘Give me a second,’ Tonks reply was irritated as the fire sparked green but remained unbearably empty, connecting to nothing and with absolutely no response. Rocking anxiously on the balls of her feet she muttered meaningless encouragement under her breath, jumping with shock when a face finally appeared in the flames. ‘Thomas!’ she exclaimed loudly, her surprise making it high and piercing, ‘I need to come through quickly.’

The face barely moved, unruffled by Tonks frantic demands as it gazed impassively towards her before requesting, in a level voice. ‘Password?’

‘Fawkes,’ Tonks blurted out hastily, dropping to her knees in front of the fire, looking apprehensive for a moment before continuing to speak, her tone hesitant. ‘I’m not alone Thomas, I’m bringing Severus Snape with me.’

The figure lost its indifference, forehead furrowing angrily, mouth open in stunned disbelief. ‘Like hell you are!’ The furious words echoed in the room as Tonks flinched back slightly, casting Snape a tiny, apologetic smile accompanied with a shrug of her shoulders as if asking exactly what else he had expected.

‘I don’t have time to explain,’ she excused hurriedly, tripping over her words in her haste, the soot from the fire making her eyes sting and water as she swiped them with the back of her hand. ‘I also have a young boy with me and Death Eaters on our heel.’

‘But this is Snape woman,’ the head shook disbelievingly as Tonks clasped her hands together in despair; cupping her face desolately as she sought for something, anything that would convince him, her heart hammering painfully and far too quickly in her chest, every thump sounding like a final countdown to their fate. ‘How could you even think of bringing him here?’

‘I would be dead if it wasn’t for him,’ her voice was shrill as dread clawed its way back at the imminent rejection she could see coming. ‘As would the boy.’

‘You’ve been confunded then.’ Blunt and simple, the answer left Tonks with an almost overwhelming desire to scream, a desire she could feel building steadily in the back of her mind, pressing against her sanity, feeding on her despair.

‘We don’t have time for this,’ Snape emphasised harshly.

‘You have to trust me Thomas,’ Tonks begged, leaning forwards onto her hands, nails digging into the carpet fibres beneath her. ‘Please.’ There was no answer beyond vague and indistinct angry mutterings as the head pulled back from the flames, which flared back to a bright and burning orange. The sudden wash of heat was almost calming, as Tonks bathed in it for a moment before rising from her knees, grasping Harry and pulling him upright before he all but fell into her arms.

‘What the hell was in that potion?’ he cried out with frustration, his legs once again caving uselessly beneath him as he clung with weak arms round Tonks neck, his irritation rising exponentially in line with his complete inability to vent it. Even his words were slow and lazy as he pushed away from Tonks, determination proving itself inadequate to overcome the numbness that had spread through his limbs.

‘It was your basic sleeping potion Potter,’ Snape sneered. His wand was still aimed at the entrance, the words to the final defence hovering ready on the tip of his tongue. ‘What you are experiencing is a perfectly normal side effect from your consistent attempts to fight against it. You may have convinced your mind to wake up, but your body is still rather heavily doused and will not be so easily persuaded.’

Harry looked vaguely alarmed. ‘How long until it wears off?’

‘That depends,’ Snape finally looked away from the charmed and warded door to regard Harry with annoyance. ‘It would have been quicker if you had just slept it off.’

‘He can rest when Thomas lets us in,’ Tonks affirmed, glancing at the fireplace that still burnt strongly, the smallest trace of doubt marring her expression as she refused to meet Snape’s condemning gaze.

‘That is assuming your so called friends don’t sentence us to death right here.’

Tonks merely shook her head in disagreement. ‘You can’t blame them,’ she said with understanding she did not particularly feel. ‘They only know you as the right hand man of the Dark Lord.’ Snape snorted with annoyance as Tonks head snapped up to frown at him, her voice sharp. ‘I never claimed I would be able to persuade them. It is one of the reasons I was reluctant to bring you here.’

‘Well, we certainly don’t have time for you to convince them now.’ Snape pointed out viciously as the fire flared again, the face returning and staring out into the room with obvious hesitance.

‘Don’t make me regret this,’ the only words, delivered gruffly before it disappeared again. The fire sparked briefly only moments later as Tonks supported Harry and gestured for Snape.

‘I’ll go first and you follow. Just say the password, and for heaven’s sake don’t do anything stupid.’ She disappeared in a rush of flames as Snape stepped into the empty grate, green fire curling round his feet as he dropped the powder and said the password.

The rushing wind of the floo spun round him violently, accompanied with the subtle and obscured indication that he was being redirected, thrown around unnecessarily, passed from point to point in an untraceable maze of unnamed fireplaces. It was sickening but left him with no choice but to wrap his arms tightly round himself and bare it out until he landed gracefully, with no idea of how far he’d actually travelled, in a large, open hearth. The hallway beyond was bright and airy, clean but well used with high windows that caught the sun effortlessly, herding it into dark corners and warming the dusty air. It was obvious from the first glance though; the comfortable room to one side, the pictures and paintings that hung from the walls. This was not worthy of being titled a resistance; this was someone’s home.

Snape snarled under his breath at the various wands that were pointed at his chest.

‘You better be right about him Tonks,’ said an elderly man who Snape recognised from the fire, the lines of his face hardened with resolve and furrowed with doubt and hatred. But then again they all seemed old, those surrounding him. Old and determined although there was an occasional show of youth to be found at the end of a wand that quivered slightly more than the others, leading to an expression of aghast awe. People either too old or too young to have been taught by him, whose only knowledge of him came from news and rumour. They encircled him defiantly, their stature threatening enough, but they were still scared of him. He could see it in their eyes and feel in hovering on the edges of their minds.

‘I wouldn’t have brought him here if I wasn’t sure,’ Tonks sounded certain even if Snape knew it was a lie. He had all ready resigned himself to never seeing this place, spending his last moments trapped amidst muggles; a sentence dictated by her limitless stubbornness.

Thomas tilted his head in consideration. ‘You’ll forgive me if I am not so easily convinced.’

‘Show them Snape,’ Tonks said flatly.

He rolled up his sleeve, the buttons coming loose one at a time and with aching slowness, wincing as the rough fabric snagged against itself and constricted tightly round the swollen flesh, pulling it insistently and refusing to relinquish. The bandage that wrapped itself securely round his arm was stiff and damp, staining his fingers as they closed around it and sought for purchase, fumbling for the end as he unwound it with care, displaying the mutilated flesh that lay beneath.

‘Is this enough for you?’ He couldn’t help but sneer, standing there as several sets of eyes fell onto the skin on which the Mark had once rested and was trying, with no concept of what it meant to fail, to do so again. Black threads had woven themselves through his arm, growing and multiply as they buried themselves deeper and reformed themselves stronger and more vivid than before. The image of what they wanted to be seem to glow around them, a ghost of the mark it promised to once again become.

‘For the moment,’ the voice was slightly queasy as Thomas nodded his head towards those around him, who had to fight to pull their gaze away in fascinated horror. The wands were removed, their bearers disappearing into various rooms and corridors but not one of them going too far or leaving the immediate area. The old man didn’t lower his own wand however, his leathery, wrinkled fingers clutching it all the tighter. ‘We heard the news; the Dark Lord is after your head, or so he says.’ Snape just stared impassively. ‘I’m not inclined to trust either him or you on face value however. He’s your responsibility Tonks.’ As just as quickly Snape found himself removed from the mans train of thought, forgotten almost, treated in the same fashion as one would a piece of furniture. There, but merely part of the background. Unimportant.

‘We’ll only be here as long as that mark stays gone,’ Tonks confirmed. ‘A couple of hours at the most. Harry here needs to rest though, is there a bed he can use?’

Thomas smiled at Harry, who endeavoured to return it weakly. ‘He can borrow mine.’

‘Snape will also need to take a look at you-know-what,’ Thomas raised an eyebrow at the request, but shrugged in a way to indicate the choice was hers even if he himself felt it to be an ill-advised one. ‘I’m hoping it will be able to offer us a few ideas.’

‘I doubt it’ll be much help,’ Thomas remarked. ‘They aren’t normally.’

‘And normally I’d agree with you, but this one belongs to Albus, and I always suspected he left some little trick to it.’ Tonks glanced towards Snape, who gave every impression of being deeply engrossed in a spot on the wall just behind and above her head. ‘It seems somewhat more reasoned than the others, like he put something of himself into it.’

‘I’d ask what ideas you expect then, but I fear I don’t want to know.

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,’ Tonks chuckled hollowly as they moved down the hallway, Snape marching stiffly behind them, his eyes flickering to take in every detail he past. Each door was carefully mapped and stored, the frivolous decoration and furnishings regarded distastefully yet remembered as his boots rapped noisily on the wooden boards, a constant sneer curling his lips. ‘Sufficed to say You-Know-Who has been busier than we ever anticipated.’

‘I take it the boy has something to do with it.’ Harry snorted faintly at the comment.

Tonks smiled slyly, nudging Harry gently in the side before speaking with sincere and absolute innocence. ‘He’s the one who can defeat the Dark Lord.’

‘There’s no need for stories now love,’ Thomas laughed half-heartedly, sinking into himself as he did so. Gone was the determination that had held him upright, the strength of confrontation, and without it he seemed all the more frail and fragile, all the older. ‘It’s not fair, getting an old mans hopes up like that.’

Tonks just shook her head, winking privately at Harry who smiled grimly, any and all humour that may have been found lost. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate what Tonks was trying to do, but all it did was drum in the uselessness and the complete and inarguable impossibility of what he faced. It was ironic, given that the old man had probably believed deeply in the power of the Boy-Who-Lived just days ago. Years ago, really, although Harry’s mind still reeled at the mere thought of that. But now he was just another boy, with nothing special and nothing amazing to separate him from every other boy the man had ever seen. Standing here and facing such sudden anonymity it was refreshing to know that someone other than Harry could see, and see clearly, that he was no defeater of evil. He was probably further from it than he had ever been before. ‘He’s a half-blood,’ Tonks explained at Harry’s dismal expression. ‘He wandered into my store and I couldn’t just leave him to die.’

Thomas looked Harry up and down critically. ‘Must be pretty lucky to have survived this long.’

‘Lucky isn’t the word I’d use,’ Harry mumbled bitterly.

‘Still, you know we can’t take in every waif and stray who crosses our path.’ Thomas wouldn’t have hesitated to help for even a second were it not for the obliviation. Harry wasn’t sure if being a burden was better or worse than being an honoured and revered supposed saviour.

‘He’s important,’ Tonks clarified.

‘Must be, if you’ve gotten Severus Snape of all the Death Eaters helping you.’ Thomas leant closer, his voice dropping low enough to give Snape at the least the appearance that he wasn’t supposed to hear it, but remaining loud enough for him to catch every word all the same. ‘I’m letting you stay; just know that this is against my better judgement. But I’ve known you a long time and you’ve yet to let me down. Besides, you’re practically falling over with exhaustion and he looks close to collapse himself. But I want him out of here, and by floo. I’ve all ready taken the liberty of destroying the password you used, so it won’t work again. He is not to know where we are or have even a clue of where to find us.’

‘When we leave there is every chance we won’t be coming back.’

‘I know he’s an old friend of yours,’ Tonks snorted at Thomas’ words. ‘Well, perhaps friend is pushing it a little then. But please, Nymphadora, do not sacrifice your future, however dismal it may seem, for a moments familiarity from you past.’

She couldn’t help herself, knew it was unwise to give even the smallest hint of what was happening, of what they hoped to do even if though they had no idea of how to do it. Possibly having no idea, no plan, not even a vague direction made it even more unwise. But Thomas had helped them, and she couldn’t dispel the feeling that he deserved something, however small it was, in return. And hope was the best and only thing she had to offer. ‘If we’re very lucky we may not have to suffer this future for much longer at all.’

‘Now I am intrigued,’ Thomas looked brighter, but didn’t press for further details, seeming to draw enough strength simply from the possibility of something. ‘Very well, take the boy upstairs for a nap and I’ll see what I can do about seeing you fed before you have to run off again,’ said as if they were popping out on some random chore, light and easy in a way that calmed Tonks and deceived her into almost believing it were true, giving her a moment of peace. ‘I assume you have time to eat?’

‘Thank you,’ Tonks said appreciatively in confirmation. She could have hugged Thomas, as he bustled away down the hall, leaving them in apparent solitude. Snape watched him go coolly, not a muscle twitching to give away his thoughts until he was out of sight.

‘This is the resistance?’ Snape turned on her with incredulous disbelief, the calm dissipating under the force of his incredulity. ‘A couple of old men on deaths doorstep and boys trying to be men but finding themselves a little short on actually believing in or doing anything?’ He hadn’t expected any more. He hadn’t really expected anything except something. But this, this was no more than people playing and pretending with no real heart behind it, no real dedication.

‘I did try to tell you,’ Tonks said with grim self-satisfaction. ‘These are just ordinary people with no experience in fighting a war. There is no protection, only minimal warding, and certainly no secret forces just waiting for the day of ultimate Victory,’ she looked upset, as if she had dreamed it would one day manage to be so much more, just to find her dreams irrevocably shattered. ‘It is a place to meet in secret, a place to remember that this is not how things always were or always have to be,’ her voice grew stronger with rebellion. ‘It is another World which Voldemort can never touch and never contaminate because in here we will never believe in him and never follow him, no matter what we may be forced into when we leave.’ It was gone just as quickly though as she sighed. ‘It is all these things, but it is no army, it is no hiding place.’

Snape remained unimpressed. ‘A couple of hours may be somewhat on the generous side as far as the Mark is concerned,’ he commented. ‘And even if we do have that much, it is far from enough to concoct a plan that will keep us alive for more than five minutes after we leave. We should stay here as long as possible. This may not be much, but it is better than nothing.’ His tone indicated it was a close call though.

‘Until your mark returns is as long as possible.’

‘We cannot run forever.’

‘I do not intend to,’ Tonks said with determination, inhaling deeply and standing tall. ‘I’m going to put Harry to bed, hopefully he’ll be able to get at least a little sleep and some of this ruddy potion out his system before all hell breaks loose.’ She inclined her head towards a doorway across the corridor. ‘You can wait in there.’

‘Without your impressive guard watching me?’ Snape sneered. ‘Why, I’m honoured. So do I finally get to find out what this mysterious item is then, the one with the power to solve all our problems? Because we could certainly do with one right about now.’

‘It is in the room waiting for you,’ Tonks said softly as Snape regarded her suspiciously at his easy access, looking for the catch or the alternative, the reason why now should become later. Picking up on his apprehension Tonks made to leave, to show him he was not about to be dragged away now he was inches from finding out, that she was not dangling temptation in front of his nose with no intention of satisfying his boundless, if well controlled, curiosity. ‘Time is short,’ she said over her shoulder, ‘as you have been saying so repeatedly. It may offer you some enlightenment on how we should proceed from here.’ Snape nodded stiffly as Tonks helped Harry up the staircase, before moving to stand resolutely in front of the doorway, expression set grimly as he reached out and turned the handle.

The door slid open soundlessly, skimming with a faint whisper across the threadbare carpet as the shifted air spread gently, cobwebs fluttering almost imperceptibly with the faintest of shudders before settling again. The torches that had been lit cast a faint glow across the grimy walls but dared to do no more as their heat added to that which all ready hazed the windowless room. Edging round a faded leather armchair Snape squinted, adjusting slowly to the gloom after the brightness outside, making his way purposefully to the far corner where a large frame hung amidst the cracked and peeling paper that covered the wall, the occupant of the canvas within watching him with solemn sadness.

‘Albus.’

The portrait smiled gently as Snape stood predatorily in front of it, regarding it with unsurprised annoyance through narrowed eyes.

‘It is good to see you again, my dear boy.’

Snape snorted incredulously, his bitter laugh choked as he considered the former Headmaster with displeasure, brushing his hair from his face as he lifted his chin in confrontation. ‘I should have known you’d have somewhere else to go.’

‘Of course,’ the expansive chair that dominated the background rocked slightly as Dumbledore lowered himself gently into it, surveying the painted scene around him with fondness. ‘Fortunately that was my old Ministry portrait that you burnt, and I was never particularly attached to it. It always felt somewhat pretentious.’

Snape sneered. ‘I would hate to think I had caused you unnecessary anguish.’

The portrait nodded despondently, eyes closed and sighing loudly before Albus looked up to regard the Potions Master with sympathy. ‘You have every right to be angry with me Severus,’ Snape’s exclamation was callous and indignant as he turned on his heel, cloak whipping round behind him as he stormed for the door, Dumbledore’s words chasing ruefully after him. ‘I have asked far too much from you.’

‘No,’ Snape spun back round angrily, expression thunderous as his voice cut cold and unforgiving across the room. ‘What you asked for goes far beyond that.’

Dumbledore merely shook his head, his gaze dropped as Snape waited for the excuse, the justification. The words the Headmaster always had, never failing to defend his actions as for the greater good. ‘I did not think it would be this long.’

‘And had you known, would you still have asked me?’ Snape questioned, all ready knowing the answer even before Dumbledore nodded regretfully. He would never apologise though, would never see that he had reason too which didn’t matter since Snape could never believe in any sincerity behind it any more. Apparently you could do anything in the right name, with no guilt for those who suffered along the way.

‘It was the only way.’ No, it had been the only way he had seen at the time and once he had seen it in doing so Albus had made himself blind to all other options. Snape hadn’t expected any less however, it had merely been the final nail driven deep into his coffin as he had been all but banished to a life to which he had yielded everything to escape.

‘You sacrificed my life to save that of a dead boy.’

Albus looked pained. ‘I never believed he was dead.’

‘Which makes it right does it?’ Questioned with a tense, disbelieving laugh as Snape paced angrily, unable to keep still, unable to stop because stopping would mean thinking, remembering all he had undergone whilst moving meant that all he needed to concentrate on was making sure one foot fell in front of the other. Left, right, left, right, turn and start back again but never look at Albus, because he’ll just look disappointed; disappointed that Snape didn’t understand why the months of relentless torture and constant testing of his loyalty to a Lord he had believed forsaken were necessary. Disappointed that Snape wasn’t stronger, wasn’t better; wasn’t less seeped in darkness and more understanding that asking him to endure so much for a future Albus never expected him to enjoy was actually an honour. ‘Because the great and magnificent Albus Dumbledore is never wrong.’ He had been wrong about Quirrell, and Snape had had to pick up the pieces. He had been blind to the werewolf, and Snape had nearly died twice. And finally he had been so sure about the Boy-Who-Lived that Snape had once again walked towards the very brink of death for the unfounded belief of a man riddled with poor judgement. ‘So what is your plan now? I assume you have one; in fact I’d be amazed if you didn’t. Meddled in life and ensured you left yourself a way to meddle in death.’

‘If that is how you feel then burn me now,’ Dumbledore stood again stiffly, his hand appearing to rest against an invisible wall in front of him, as if any second it would fall through into reality, as real and solid as any other person. ‘If anyone has the right you do.’

‘You threw me to the wolves, old man,’ Snape hissed menacingly, finally meeting the portraits tired gaze. ‘You tossed me aside to protect your Golden Boy. What right did you have to value his life above mine?’

‘I did not have the right, but I did have the need.’ The need to act for the rest of the World whilst at no time actually considering those in it, the need to make decisions for thousands without heeding their will. As Albus placed himself outside the law; a vigilante who never doubted that he knew better than everyone else, who held the War as all but lost without himself. ‘You heard the prophecy, I had hoped you would understand.’

‘I tried to understand,’ Snape exclaimed with agitation. ‘I spent years trying to understand you.’

‘I was never the enigma you seemed to view me as.’ Dumbledore said softly, but Snape didn’t hear, turning back on him angrily, his eyes burning with accusation and loathing.

‘Did I not do enough, is that it?’ Asked almost desperately as though Snape expected the answer to bring with it satisfaction and therefore peace, of a sort. ‘I swore my life to you and your cause, but it was never enough.’

‘It was more than enough,’ Albus said emphatically, looking meaningfully at Snape as though the truth behind this statement could be verified with his eyes. ‘You never had to prove yourself to me Severus, although I understood why you felt you had too.’

The last words, delivered softly left Snape feeling insulted, cheated even as he scowled. ‘I had to prove myself every damn day,’ he corrected flatly. ‘You were the only thing keeping me out of Azkaban, and you made sure I knew it, made sure I remembered there was always the threat of you sending me back,’ his emotions got the better of him again as he continued, his voice rising loudly as though daring Albus to tell him he was wrong. ‘You never believed in me, never trusted me.’

‘I trusted you explicitly.’

‘Do not give me reason to doubt you,’ Snape roared, clenching his hands into tight fists, the pain it sent shooting up his arm acting as further fuel to his rage, causing it to burn more ferociously and with all consuming intent. ‘Those were your very words when the Dark Lord rose again, when you had to send me back. Do not give you reason,’ he was panting slightly now, his breaths short and shallow, his face cast in shadow. ‘For months those words plagued me as I looked and searched but never found. So tell me Albus, what reason did I ever give you?’

Albus regarded him sympathetically, expression full of pity for Snape, pity that made him nauseous, that made his stomach churn. ‘I had to be sure.’

‘I did everything I could to protect the brat,’ an incensed statement of fact as Snape’s gestures grew more wild, more frantic. ‘I must have saved his worthless hide several times over, at considerable danger to myself. And I did it for you; to prove myself worthy of the second chance you had given me.’ Snape was pacing again, his voice choked with anguish but powered by blame. ‘But there was no point, was there, since you never truly believed the darkness left me. You never believed I could be anything but a Death Eater, so what was the point in my pretending to be otherwise.’

‘I had to be sure it was not just the debt that kept you by my side.’ Snape looked aghast that the Headmaster would dare bring his debt, long since paid, forwards as justification. All arguments died before they reached his lips, shattered by the sheer insignificance of the comment. He had proved his dedication in the years since it had been fulfilled, yet it still tethered him, still reared its ugly head to attack his intentions and blacken them.

‘You were no better than the Dark Lord,’ a deep and ominous growl as Snape prowled closer. ‘At least I have never doubted where I stand with him.’

‘You rarely stand with him as I recall,’ Dumbledore said sadly. ‘Crawl yes, and frequently, but never stand.’

‘Better to grovel before someone and know it than to crawl beside someone who would claim you were their equal.’

Dumbledore shook his head wretchedly, blue eyes dull, almost grey behind his thin glasses. ‘I never meant to wrong you so unforgivably.’

It was unforgivable though, and if Albus expected forgiveness, if he expected absolution then he would be damned if he would find it here. ‘You never meant a lot of things, I’ll wager.’

‘I am dead, Severus, a mere shadow of what I once was. The anger you feel towards me is of little relevance now.’ But it was relevant. It burned inside him, threatening to burst through its flimsy container at any moment. Anger that could never be dispelled, that could never be satisfied since its cause was beyond reach. It was anger that would follow him to his grave and beyond, anger that would breach the realms of life to exact its revenge, to seek justice for all he had suffered.

A soft noise issued behind Snape, the faintest of clicks that boomed unwanted in his ears, violating the small sanctuary he had created to house his fury as he swung round violently to confront it, blind and unfettered rage still pulsing through him as the door swung inwards.

‘Potter,’ Snape snarled, as Harry flinched at the venom behind the words, his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth with the fear it instilled as his body, framed in the light from the hallway beyond as he took an involuntary step backwards, legs barely supporting him. ‘Can never do what your told, can you; even when the instruction is something as simple as to sleep.’

‘Like anyone could sleep with the racket you’re making,’ Harry retorted sharply, his own temper rising in response to the tension that swirled palpably in the room as he looked round. It was swept away as his gaze fell on the portrait though, eyes widening with disbelief that mingled with the faintest slither of hope. ‘Professor Dumbledore?’ his voice thin with shock.

‘He’s here?’ Dumbledore said sharply, looking back to Snape who glared with barely contained fury.

‘Oh yes,’ his face shifted into a feral smile, a malicious light glinting behind his eyes. ‘I waited for him, just as you requested. I had no choice, you made sure of that. It was either wait or condemn myself to a long and painful death. But then again, you could say I have been dying that way for twenty three years now.’ Dumbledore’s gaze flickered helplessly between the two of them, blunted with pity and the weight of his own failure as he looked pleadingly to Snape.

‘You know this isn’t right,’ he implored.

‘Apparently I don’t,’ Snape sneered wrathfully. ‘All I know that I am no longer willing to die for a lie poorly told; and if time has taught me anything it is that there is no point in my pretending to be something you have taught me I so obviously cannot be.’ He spat the words bitterly, all his hurt and hatred reaching a peak as the memories of a lifetime of nurtured betrayal spread before him. ‘Enlighten me finally then Albus,’ his voice cold and flat in the stillness that had engulfed the room, intense with anticipation. ‘Since you were so determined to see reason, is this reason enough?’ He drew his wand with a flourish, head bowed as he regarded it as though doubting something so small and simple could ever be enough, his eyes flickering upwards to watch the old Headmaster. Dumbledore didn’t move though, standing tall and sad as the final lingering trace of his soul was crushed with regret.

‘Harry,’ he said affectionately, his voice soft yet punctuated with despairing urgency, his eyes never leaving Snape as the man dragged his wand through the air in a slow arc until the tip pointed inevitably at the portrait. ‘Run.’



Chapter 15: Halo Of Green
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Chapter 15: Halo Of Green

What, after all, is a halo?
It’s only one more thing to keep clean.

--Christopher Fry, The Lady’s Not For Burning



‘Run.’

And suddenly the room was awash with flames, tall and bright as they lapped hungrily at the ceiling and danced along dry walls, consuming quickly and moving on. Smoke billowed behind them, thick and black it engulfed Snape before bounding forwards again to pounce on the prone figure of Harry, swirling round him playfully as he coughed weakly. A shadow moved amidst the blackness though, a shape that grew as it approached soundlessly and Harry stumbled backwards, falling hard on his rear and scrabbling back into the hallway.

‘Tonks,’ he shouted hoarsely, his voice cracked and feeble against the high ceiling, eyes squinting against the bright light that streamed in from outside. Tendrils of smoke followed him, wrapping themselves round his arms and ankles as he rolled over and pushed himself to his knees before shouting again. ‘Tonks!’

Gentle hands looped under his arms, pulling Harry upright as he tried to clear his lungs, the smoke having left the back of his throat gritty and painful and tasting absolutely foul. ‘What happened here son?’ Harry looked up through watering eyes to the concerned face of Thomas, relief mingling itself with blind panic.

‘Snape,’ he choked out, falling forward into the old mans embrace and resting his head lethargically against his shoulder. It was pathetic, he knew, but his head felt too heavy for anything else. ‘He burnt Professor Dumbledore.’

‘Where is he now?’ There was no doubt that he believed Harry, no questioning of the accusation as Harry pointed a trembling finger back to the open doorway, the room beyond obscured by the black cloud.

‘The flames were so big and the smoke just kind of surrounded him,’ Harry’s voice was starting to shake, his eyes wide and fearful as he sucked in a shuddering breath, burying his face back into the robes in an attempt to hide the dampness on his cheeks. He could hear others in the distance, closing in and moving round him with hushed comments. It all seemed surreal though, like a dream. Perhaps it was a dream, he considered. It certainly seemed a much nicer option than the only other one, in which his single hope of returning home, of even surviving, had just betrayed him. He started when a voice sounded by his ear, looking up into the face of a young man whose lips were moving in urgent conversation with Thomas, although Harry couldn’t make out the words.

It wasn’t a dream though. He knew it. He was here now and he was going to die.

Reality jolted back ruthlessly, the mans frantic words coming into sharp focus as Harry tried to pry himself loose of the arms that held him, wanting nothing more than to find somewhere small and dark to hide, to follow the last instructions given to him and run until he was far, far away. ‘Go find Tonks,’ Thomas instructed the man, his grip remaining firm as Simon nodded. ‘And take Harry with you. Make sure he gets somewhere safe.’

‘What about Snape?’ Harry demanded as he was handed over, swatting at the hands that held him.

‘I’ll deal with him,’ Thomas said firmly.

‘But…’

‘Go!’ With a renewed grip that pinched his skin unpleasantly Harry found himself hauled backwards along the corridor, feet dragging on the floorboards as he was moved away from the commotion and the noise. The first step hit the back of his heel, leaving an insistent throb as he threw himself towards the banisters and away from the constricting presence with a small noise of frustration, hanging limply across the railings. He couldn’t find the strength to move again though, as he stared helplessly at the grain of the wood, following the pattern with his eyes as he waited. He didn’t have to wait long as a gentle hand on his shoulder made him jump, pulling him back round with a sympathetic look.

‘Let’s go.’ Harry allowed himself to fall back into the mans arms, although the grip was much more gentle this time as his arm was swung over the narrow shoulders and Simon made unsteady progress up the stairs, not once looking behind him even when he reached the landing at the top.

‘Tonks,’ Simon shouted loudly, pushing open the nearest door with his foot to peer into the empty room beyond. ‘Where is she?’ he asked to no one in particular as Harry glared at the person he was quickly coming to view as his captor, sounding irate before shouting again. ‘Tonks!’

‘What?’ She appeared in a doorway at the other end of the hall, looking sleepy and tousled as Simon heaved Harry down the narrow corridor, Tonks stepping aside to allow his entrance into the room. Harry winced as his arm grazed the splintered doorframe as Simon lurched through, and he all but fell onto the small bed with him as Harry was dropped ungracefully onto the worn mattress, Simon looking mildly apologetic over the rough handling before looking to Tonks.

There was no greeting, no exchange of pleasantries. Not even a nod of acknowledgment. Simon’s gaze turned reproving in an instant as he regarded her with open hostility. ‘Snape destroyed the portrait,’ he said flatly, crossing his arms, his whole stance accusing as he looked expectantly to Tonks to fix the mess he felt she had created.

‘Why?’

Simon looked confused and a touch suspicious at the question, delivered with no hint of apology for bringing someone so dangerous into their midst and no guilt or even a sense of responsibility for the loss. ‘What does it matter?’ He blurted out incredulously. ‘He almost burnt the whole damn place down!’

‘With himself in the room?’ Tonks looked unimpressed, sitting down on the springy bed next to Harry and carefully wiping some of the soot from his face with a small smile. ‘That really doesn’t sound like the Snape I know.’

‘Pointless destruction sounds very much like the Snape I know though,’ Simon continued heatedly, pacing away with a snort of anger when Tonks’ failed to respond.

‘I saw something moving in there still,’ Harry interrupted tiredly. ‘I don’t think he’s dead.’

‘Of course he isn’t,’ Simon scoffed from across the room. ‘The man is no idiot.’

Harry’s forehead creased as he tried to decipher the hidden meaning behind the comment and failed, tiredness fogging his mind. ‘Then why stay in there?’

‘To make sure,’ Tonks said softly, her hand stilling on Harry’s cheek as she stared blankly through him with sudden comprehension. Simon stepped forward, bending down before her and placing a hand on her knee to get her attention as Tonks head snapped round to look at him, expression aghast.

‘Sure of what?’

‘That Albus had nowhere else to go this time.’ She looked back to Harry. ‘I made a mistake, we have to get out of here.’

‘Where will we go?’ Harry didn’t really care anymore. Oddly enough an image of the Dursley’s sprang to mind, and he found himself longing for the small cupboard under the stairs. Not that he could hide there from Snape now, not since Snape had found out about it. A small, hysterical laugh escaped his lips at the increasingly likely prospect that the house wasn’t even standing anymore.

‘For the minute just away will do.’ Tonks cast Harry a worried glance, looking from him to Simon. ‘I don’t ask you to come with us. In fact, if you do, it may well prove to be all but signing your death warrant.’ She cast a weak lightening charm on Harry, running across the room to retrieve his cloak which she wrapped carefully round his shoulders, helping him back to his feet. ‘But I’m giving you the choice. If you want to come I won’t say it wouldn’t be of help.’

Simon looked unsure, chewing his bottom lip nervously. ‘Oh, stuff it,’ he eventually declared. ‘The Dark Lords most senior servant is currently running round loose downstairs. Exactly how much more dangerous can it be?’

‘The Dark Lord himself will be after us,’ Tonks offered with blunt honesty she instantly regretted as Simon’s eyes widened in disbelief and fear.

‘For a boy?’

‘If I find the time, I’ll explain it.’ She drew her wand with her free hand, adjusting Harry into a position where she could more easily defend him and looking to Simon for his final decision, watching as he swallowed loudly, his answer written clearly on his expression. ‘You can still back out, I won’t hold it against you,’ she offered as Simon glanced guiltily at Harry.

‘I’ll help you out of here at least,’ he said, although his heart wasn’t in it. ‘I don’t know that I’d be any use to you against Him though.’ Tonks nodded in understanding, keeping her disappointment well hidden.

‘We have to be quick,’ she moved across the room, scanning the hallway outside before gesturing for Simon to follow. ‘You can follow us to Diagon Alley, where you go from there is up to you.’ They ran as quickly as they could with Harry towards the stairs, footsteps light as they strained for any sound below. There was nothing though, just an eerie and compressive silence. There was no one and nothing in sight too, as they paused warily at the top of the stairs, descending slowly whilst trying to watch every corner.

‘Is that?’ Tonks pointed with the tip of her wand to the body that lay crumpled on a grimy rug, approaching cautiously.

‘It’s Thomas,’ Simon said flatly, looking round the nearby hallway as Tonks helped Harry to sit on the bottom step before kneeling down next to the body to press a finger lightly against where his pulse should have been. She grasped his hand, which was cold and stiff as Simon hovered uncertainly over her shoulder. ‘Dead?’

‘Killing Curse,’ Tonks confirmed, pushing herself upright and swiping at her burning eyes with the back of her hand.

‘Why?’ The question hung unanswered between them as Tonks could do nothing more than shrug. ‘We were never any threat, not really.’

Snape stepped out of the shadows, face streaked with soot, robes singed and burnt and still steaming slightly, crackling as he moved and crossed his arms, sneering disdainfully.

‘I couldn’t agree with you more.’

***


Thomas watched silently, waiting as Harry disappeared out of sight then waiting a little longer to ensure he was also out of earshot. Tonks didn’t need the boy to be any more panicked than he all ready was, and he couldn’t get her light hearted declaration of Harry’s importance out of his head. The one who could defeat the Dark Lord, she had called him, and even now it still seemed ridiculously implausible. But no more so than having Severus Snape hiding amidst the smoky and destroyed ruins of the place he had come to call home.

And all around him those he had come to consider his family were milling desperately, some aiming water charms through the doorway into the blackened room, which hit with a loud hissing and a cloud of burning steam. Grabbing one by the shoulder he spun them round to face him. He knew their names, of course, but he actually knew very few of them. He feared he would never now have the chance.

‘Get everyone out of here.’

‘We still have to put the fire out,’ it was argued desperately, by one who had failed to grasp the overwhelming danger and instead chosen to focus on one much smaller and potentially conquerable. ‘It’ll spread to the rest of the house.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Thomas shook the person hard. ‘You must all leave whilst you still can. Don’t worry about taking anything,’ Thomas added upon seeing the intention of the other. ‘Objects can be replaced, you cannot.’ He waited with wide eyes for a response, some indication that the command had sunk in as the man nodded once sharply, spinning round to bellow at those around at the top of his voice.

‘Get to the nearest fireplace!’ The shout was obeyed in a way only known by the truly terrified, as people hurried past anxiously, their footsteps retreating down the hallway as Thomas edged towards the open door, squinting in an attempt to make out anything amidst the smoke and steam.

‘I know you’re still in there Snape,’ he shouted through the doorway, the dust swirling itself into invisible shapes. A mild dispelling charm cleared it slightly though, enough so that he could make out the figure stalking towards him, rising swiftly out of the ashes. ‘Didn’t like what the old man had to say, I take it.’ Snape stepped out into the hallway, face carefully blank with the calmness of one who has traversed the seas of rage and emerged not unscathed, but whole, onto the serene waters beyond.

‘More fool me for believing him finally dead when I destroyed his other one.’ Snape looked casually down the hallway towards the muffled voices and exclamations of the others, quirking an eyebrow with amusement. ‘They cannot leave, I sealed the floo,’ he offered, his tone mocking with helpfulness.

‘And Dumbledore is gone for good?’ Snape just nodded. ‘I take it that all of us here are next,’ Snape inclined his head in silent affirmation as Thomas sighed. ‘So ends the resistance.’

‘If you can call it that,’ Snape sniffed dismissively. ‘Hardly seems worth the effort though.’

‘I spoke with Albus a couple of times,’ Thomas seemed to be talking to himself. ‘Never had the chance to meet him before, when he was actually alive. He spoke very highly of you though,’ Snape’s lip twitched with annoyance almost imperceptibly as Thomas tilted his head in consideration. ‘It strikes me as fortunate that the dead do not suffer disappointment.’ Fire lit itself behind Snape’s black eyes as they glittered menacingly.

‘Do not speak of what you could never hope to understand.’

‘Tonks likes to think she has me wrapped round her little finger,’ the tangent seemed to quell Snape momentarily, diluting his anger with age-old irritation. ‘And she does, to a degree.’ He looked up to Snape, straightening his hunched shoulders purposefully. ‘But I would never risk the lives of all those here purely on her word alone.’

‘Then I suppose I do owe Albus at least some thanks,’ Snape crossed him arms grudgingly, wand hanging loosely from his fingers. It was all Thomas could do not to reach out and snatch the deadly temptation it was no doubt meant to be. ‘For it seems he managed to convince you to let me in.’

Thomas tore his gaze away from the wand, flashing Snape a look of condemnation. ‘And you betrayed him.’

‘I am merely repaying the favour.’ Snape commented flatly, seemingly unaffected by the look of pity Thomas gave him.

‘Dumbledore did more for you than you ever realised.’

‘He did more for me than he ever realised himself,’ Snape corrected.

‘Were it not for him your future would have been very different,’ he jabbed a finger towards Snape, who looked at it with amused incredulity. ‘Were it not for him you may not have had a future at all.’ Snape’s hand shot out like a snake, his fingers curling round Thomas’ neck with horrifying finality.

‘That may well be true,’ Snape snarled angrily.

‘He kept you from the Dementors. He vouched for you,’ Thomas’ words were spluttered with condemnation. ‘He saved you from a sentence in Azkaban.’

‘Only to sentence me somewhere far worse himself.’


‘Severus.’

‘My Lord,’ Snape bowed low, his teaching robes brushing the floor, face unprotected without the mask to hide behind any longer. It had been left at the school, along with every other possession he owned. No doubt the next Potions Master would inherit the rooms and do with them as they saw fit, but Snape was certain they would never be seen by him again. They were, at the end of the day, merely possessions though. Books could be replaced, and home could be found in the darkest of places. What he had lost was something far more valuable, and infinitely more indefinable.

‘I did not call for you.’ A statement weighted with curiosity that rang uncomfortably close to concern.

‘No, My Lord. I have come of my own accord, seeking sanctuary.’

‘Sanctuary?’ A vague tickle of amusement played at the words. ‘With me?’

‘Yes, My Lord.’

‘From what would you have me hide you?’

‘From Dumbledore; he suspects me.’ Snape paused, the pressing silence demanding he continue. ‘I seek to rejoin the fold, no longer under hiding and pretences, no longer as a potential spy. I wish to do your work with honour, for people to forever know my name as belonging to you.’

‘A noble sentiment.’ Voldemort said lightly. ‘But I all ready have many followers willing to act in my name. I have no other so well hidden in the ranks of the enemy, however.’

‘A position that is no longer necessary. Potter has disappeared, there is little more I can do there now.’ It wasn’t Cruciatus. That would have been too simple, too easy. That would have been expected. And whilst one can never become accustomed to the pain of the curse, one can become accustomed to its use; one can glean an inkling of sanity in knowing when to expect it. And as his body had tensed in anticipation of it, so the pain of the true punishment had hit him even harder. His all ready tense muscled constricted even further, so that the slightest movement felt as though they might snap as a burning trail sliced down his chest, the gnash from the curse of his own invention pulled open as his body continued to tighten mercilessly, leaving him unable to breath, unable to scream.

‘You presume to tell me what I no longer need?’ Snape could not respond. ‘You presume to think you know better than myself where my loyal servants may best be used.’ The curse that had restricted his body was released, as Snape pushed himself to his knees so as to better fill his burning lungs. Another curse shattered the bones in his wrist though, as he toppled back to the ground. ‘I do not recall giving you permission to rise.’

‘Forgive me, My Lord,’ gasped through clenched teeth as Snape fought the rising giddiness, the room swimming before his eyes. ‘I merely wish to serve.’

‘So you have said, even though you have never said before.’

‘But My Lord, I thought…’ It was the Cruciatus this time, pure and powerful as Snape writhed with pain, unconsciously cradling his broken hand as best he could.

‘You thought you could come seeking information?’ Voldemort challenged angrily, leaning forwards in accusing confrontation. ‘Dumbledore is blind and dumb, so he sent you to give him light. Look at me’

‘No, My Lord.’ Barely a whisper as turned his head and felt a presence plunge into his mind, with no finesse or grace, just reckless and indifferent determination to know what was within.

‘You protect your thoughts well, it would seem,’ Snape grimaced as the Dark Lord gave a threatening push against the walls of his sanity, the warning shot across his bow. ‘How much more have you hidden from me?’

‘I hide nothing!’ He could feel the presence still sifting, searching for the walls Snape kept so well hidden. He would not search for long though, sooner destroying everything than risking a potential lie remain intact and unfound.

‘Always walked the line, haven’t you Severus,’ the Dark Lord said softly. ‘Between light and dark, never quite in the shadows yet not quite illuminated.’ Another slice appeared down Snape’s arm as his head pounded, focus wavering again and blurred until it was snapped back to reality with a muttered Enervate. ‘Spies are always useful, but one learns not to trust them explicitly. Duplicity is, after all, in their very nature.’

‘I have always been loyal to you,’ he was begging, words choked and desperate, and for once it was not because the act required it. He was begging because he knew his very life was stumbling precariously along a narrow ledge; he was begging because he did not want to die. ‘He has doubted me for some time now, and with the disappearance of the boy I have become no more than a liability, a risk he is not willing to take.’ Snape allowed a memory to float to the surface, tinged with hatred and sadness that gave him little difficulty to manifest, on his hands and knees as he sacrificed his very dignity for an old man. Do not give me reason to doubt.

‘And what reason did you give him?’ Where the Dark Lord did not suspect betrayal, there was failure waiting in its place. The punishment for the latter, however, would not be death. He would merely wish it were.

‘I do not know.’

‘Then you shall have all the time you need to find the answer.’



The curse left the tip of his wand with barely a whisper, the green light reflecting from the walls as he released the crumpled body, a line of faint bruises littering the neck as Thomas fell to the floor with a dull and empty thud and Snape stormed purposefully towards the frantic voices in the distance.

***


‘Why didn’t you just kill Harry when you found him?’ Tonks demanded, Snape’s surprised look at the question warping into a patronising smile as he shook his head with slow condescension.

‘Would you have brought me here without him?’

Tonks looked aghast, positioning herself between Harry and the advancing figure as she flourished her wand threateningly. ‘You went through all of this,’ she had to ask; needed to confirm the reasoning behind the extremes he had gone too. ‘You sliced up your own damn arm just to get here?’

‘The resistance must be crushed, and it must be done so silently, as if it never existed.’ Snape replied simply. ‘Your deaths will not act as kindling. We wouldn’t want to give people ideas now, would we?’ With a light smile Snape effortlessly stunned Simon, who had been slowly sidling behind him, advancing on Tonks with sudden purpose as she held her wand with stiff determination.

‘Avada,’ she was cut off with a heated silencing charm as Snape blocked the wordless binding curse she immediately sent his way, closing the last of the gap that separated them. She stumbled backwards, her back hitting the post of the banisters, Snape so close she could feel the hotness of his breath on her face, could smell the singed ends of his lank hair.

‘Now, that wasn’t very charitable of you,’ he said softly next to her ear, grasping her wrist and wrenching it backwards cruelly even as Tonks opened her mouth in silent pain, fingers weakening round her wand as she twisted her body in an attempt to relieve the burning pressure on her arm. Her free hand clawed desperately at thin air until it found purchase, as she elongated her nails with a grunt of concentration and scoured them mercilessly down the underside of his bandaged arm, feeling them rip through the fabric and dig into the flesh beneath. Snape hissed loudly, jerking it away protectively as he redoubled his grip, fingers turning white until her wand fell to the floor with a clatter. ‘Out of practise, aren’t you?’ he jeered furiously, the pain from his mark sending shooting sparks prickling under his skin.

‘Leave her alone,’ Harry demanded, his hand sliding its way up the rail to drag himself to his feet, his own wand drawn and pointing at Snape who merely considered him with vague boredom.

‘I would be more careful if I were you Potter, since it appears your usefulness has run out.’

Harry didn’t back down. ‘Let her go.’

‘No.’ Snape had been expecting the stunner Harry threw, the incantation hovering at the front of the boys mind for a moment before it was fired, as Snape disarmed him in quick retaliation, the wand rattling on the floor before lying still between the two of them as Snape winced, Tonks foot connecting with his shin. Yanking her ungraciously and almost off her feet Tonks cried silently, fighting desperately against him.

In times like these hope can be drawn from only one place; that the person who holds your life in their hands has even an inkling of self-doubt, a cause for hesitation. For they will hold from killing you, and when death hovers seconds away every second is truly a gift in and of itself. For with every moment you live comes with it the thought that you could continue to live until the moment after.

Snape did not doubt as the air tinged green. He did not doubt as he turned towards Harry.

Harry was not there. Nor was his wand.

The staircase was empty, the hallway deathly silent as Snape surveyed his surroundings with narrowed eyes.

‘Potter,’ he said cautiously, taking a careful step forwards. ‘This behaviour is foolish and altogether pointless,’ Snape peered under a nearby table before looking round for any other immediate and obvious hiding place. ‘I have warded the exits, so no one can leave, and there is no one left to help you, not to mention that you are barely capable of protecting yourself.’ Still nothing, the silence seemed to ridicule him as Snape’s anger grew once again and he clenched his teeth in annoyance, stalking forwards until he reached the bottom of the staircase, wand held protectively in front of him.

The tiniest of sounds, a soft thud on carpet and his head snapped upwards, glaring towards the floor above as Snape leapt forwards, all but running up the staircase, robes trailing behind him in a cloud of dust.

‘Stupefy.’

The curse shot weakly through the half open door as Snape deflected it with a casual flick of his wand, striding forwards, eyes filled with hatred.

‘It won’t work, Potter,’ he offered with a smirk as the disarming charm came hurtling towards him. ‘If schoolyard spells could defeat a Death Eater the War would have been over a very long time ago.’ There was no response, which served only to enrage Snape further as he blew the door from its hinges with a powerful Reducto, stepping over the splinters and casting a superior gaze around the room. Harry stood in the corner, leaning heavily against he wall, wand aimed threateningly in front of him.

‘Don’t come near me.’

‘Or what?’ Snape quirked an eyebrow mockingly.

‘I’m not afraid to hurt you,’ Harry’s voice quivered only slightly as he said it, his head held high with determination.

‘Perhaps not, but you are incapable.’ Snape barely moved his wand, redirecting the stunner that flew towards him. ‘Not to mention painfully predictable.’ Harry ducked as a Blasting Hex tore a chunk out of the wall by his shoulder. ‘If you don’t lower your wand now, the next one will be aimed at your head.’ Harry looked up from his crouched position, breathing heavily as he glared, pushing himself back to his feet as one hand reached out to the wall for support, the other extending his wand back out.

‘Avada,’ Harry started, his voice deep and menacing as Snape chuckled quietly.

‘How typically Gryffindor of you,’ he said with mirth. ‘Go ahead, finish it if you want. I doubt even the Boy Wonder could manage to inflict anything more than a mild headache.’ He stood absolutely still for a moment as if waiting as Harry swallowed nervously. ‘Didn’t think so, somehow,’ Snape snarled, tired of the game as he swept forwards, closing the gap between them. Harry jumped violently at the swift movement, flourishing his wand once again, fear and fury fuelling his determination.

‘Avada Kedavra.’

Brief surprise crossed Snape’s face, stopping him in his tracks as the pale light hit him squarely in the chest, although it was nothing to the look of horror that flashed across Harry’s. His wand dropped, his mouth hanging open aghast as he stepped gingerly forward, his voice a hushed and anxious whisper. ‘Snape?’

‘Not dead, if that is your concern,’ Snape ground out against the pounding of his head as his thoughts swam nauseatingly, opening his eyes which had momentarily screwed themselves shut to glare at the boy. ‘It was stupid of you not to run.’

Harry darted forwards, stumbling as he lost the support of the wall and almost falling to his knees, backing warily away as Snape cornered him, panic rising in his chest in a series of gasping breaths. ‘You really are an idiot,’ Snape admonished, more to himself than anything as Harry raised his wand one final time, a different spell briefly flashing through his mind as Snape stared at him in disbelief. ‘Quite the thing you seem to have for Unforgivables too.’

The figure barrelled into Snape from behind and they hit the floor with a thud, rolling over on the wooden floor as both scrambled for control, leaving Harry frozen against the far wall. Snape managed to lift his wand, aiming in his rough direction before Simon slammed the hand back down to the floor with all his strength, the sound of breaking bones reverberating around them, drawing a grimaced and muttered curse from Snape, who bucked desperately in an attempt to dislodge the figure holding him down.

‘For gods sake Harry,’ Simon yelled, snapping him from his stunned stupor as he stared at the unfolding scene. ‘Get out of here,’ Harry swallowed, nodding nervously as he skirted round the edge of the room, all too aware of Snape’s eyes following his every move and even more aware of how small and slight Simon seemed in comparison, struggling with all his weight to prevent the man from rising for as long as he could. The door seemed so far away now though, and Harry didn’t feel any stronger, his legs almost numb beneath him so he had to look down to verify they were still a part of him. He all but hung from the wardrobe as he passed it, cursing his body for being so weak as he forced himself back onto feet that no longer felt even a part of him.

‘He won’t get very far,’ Snape’s voice floated towards him, cold and taunting as Harry turned back to the scene, Simon wrestling to stay on top. He realised it too late though, all his energy going into keeping Snape’s wand hand down and out of commission, too tired to attempt any more and unable to reach for his own wand. Harry opened his mouth to warn him as Snape managed to work his other hand free from where Simon had trapped it beneath his leg, pushing himself upright and dislodging the slender figure.

‘No!’ Simon yelled as a fist connected with his jaw, sending him sprawling to the side and spotting his vision as he pushed himself to his knees and lurched blindly back towards Snape, feeling the brush of fabric against his fingers and grasping it tightly before hauling with all his strength so that Snape found himself collapsed back on the floor, a foot connecting painfully with his ribs and taking away his breath. If he couldn’t breath then he couldn’t incant, at least not anything deadly. Snape didn’t need to though, as he glanced towards Harry as though checking for something, smiling lightly and victorious as he raised his wand and gasped painfully.

‘Portus.’



Chapter 16: Based In Blood
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Chapter 16: Based In Blood

I'll take you down to a hole where you will always be alone
I'll turn you out on a world that doesn't care if you belong
I'll push you off of the throne that you erected for yourself
You will be tossed on a pile of all the filth that you created.

-Godhead, The Reckoning

His cloak glowed a faint and peaceful blue at the same instant the familiar hook lodged itself behind his navel and pulled, as Harry screwed his eyes shut and his body lurched precariously off balance. He willed back the nausea and the traitorous voice that repeated over and over in the back of his head the same mantra acknowledging that he was probably going to die very, very soon. No Portkey ever took him anywhere good.

The floor appeared beneath him with a jarring thud, his legs shaking weakly for a moment before collapsing beneath him completely, leaving him sprawled on a cold stone floor. In a moment of brief, uncontrollable panic he squirmed his way out of the cloak, clawing as the sleeve caught round his arm and trapped him until it was finally free. He threw it as far from him as was possible, balling it up tightly and shying away as it landed draped over a dusty coffee table, the hem trailing on the ground. A Portkey. Of all the things he had expected that had been pretty far down on the list. And when had Snape even managed that? Harry had been clinging to the stupid thing ever since he found it; though looking back it was hardly surprising that Snape had chosen it, of all things, to act as some sort of backup to bring him here, wherever here was, in the event that everything got completely screwed up. He had a horrible sinking feeling, exacerbated by the dull throbbing in his scar, that whilst he wasn’t sure exactly where he was he could take a pretty good guess as to who was here with him though, nearby but probably not overly so. Forcing himself to take a couple of deep breaths Harry edged his way towards the door on the far wall.

A soft rustle from behind him had him rolling onto his back, wand drawn and pointed shaking at the corner of the room. Snape couldn’t have gotten away from Simon that quickly though, and he hadn’t, as Harry’s eyes widened at the sight of the man standing tall and arrogant, looking down on him with an expression of mixed surprise, horror and undeniable glee.

There were no words, but Harry’s wand was ripped from his grasp and sent sailing into an outstretched hand even as the man opened his mouth to whisper quietly in disbelief, as though his breath could somehow break the tentative spell that had settled on them. ‘Potter!’

‘Malfoy?’ Harry scooted quickly backwards as Draco stalked towards him, all hesitance having left, his pale robes bright in the shadows that shrouded the room.

‘I knew Snape was hiding something,’ he crowed triumphantly, the space between them closing too quickly, as Harry glanced in either direction for a possible escape, for anything that would give him even something as small as another minute, another second of delusional, although still comforting, freedom. There was nothing though, the room oddly homey for its dim lighting and neglect and the mess that was strewn into every corner. The nearby sofa was too low, and would have made a pretty pathetic hiding place at any rate, and Harry felt a strange revulsion at the thought of touching the dark wood that shaped into a tall and imposing desk. ‘If I had known that bloody something was you I wouldn’t have spent the last hour hunting through his rooms.’ Fingers grasped his hair, tangling irremovably in it and pulling him upwards and onto feet that could barely hold him as Harry struggled, clawing weakly at the hand that held him. His head swam with pain and humiliation as Draco Malfoy dragged him uncaringly towards the doorway he had been so eager to reach only moments before, but that now seemed an opening to Hell itself. With a flick of his wand the room cleared itself, paper fluttering through the air as the tipped contents of hastily emptied drawers righted themselves and Draco slammed the door behind them, his long strides carrying him easily down the narrow hallway with Harry in tow.

The floor beneath him was old and uneven, worn down with the years of passing footsteps so that the occasional crack or dip became an invitation to a painful fall. Harry could barely lift his feet to walk, a fact to which Draco seemed oblivious in the same way he appeared totally ignorant that he was not so much leading Harry as he was carrying him, dragging his almost dead weight through the maze of corridors by the roots of his hair. ‘Should have damn well guessed,’ he was muttering to himself, ignoring Harry’s occasional wince of pain or desperate bid to tear himself free. ‘Sealed his rooms up so tight I figured it was to stop people getting in.’ He took a moment to flash Harry a knowing smile, one that instantly made him wish he could once again become a forgotten passenger to this trip. ‘Never occurred to me it might be to stop someone getting out.’ Harry glared, trying to suppress the shiver that ran up his spine at the sheer spite that lit Draco’s gaze. But then they were moving again, as Harry stumbled, crying out in pain as he once again desperately tried to relieve the burning sensation that prickled along his scalp. He didn’t even hear the figure approach, as Draco halted to sneer contemptuously at the advancing woman.

‘What have you got there, young Draco?’ He recognised the voice. Harry didn’t think he would ever be able to forget it, that it would haunt his dreams, his nightmares, for years to come, bringing with it the onrush of anger that slammed into him and thrummed through his veins in her presence. She was the one who had taught Harry what it truly meant to hate someone, to despise them with every fibre of his being. Bellatrix’ voice lilted with insane malice, as a single dry and calloused finger trailed its way slowly down his cheek and Harry barely refrained from snapping at it to make it stop.

‘Nothing that concerns you,’ Draco gave a meaningful tug on Harry’s hair, his all ready stinging scalp protesting so that the pinpricks of pain seemed to band together in a mocking chant that taunted his helplessness. ‘He simply needs to be taught a lesson,’ Draco said with annoyed sincerity as Harry once again battled against the hand that held him, twisting in spite of the soreness as Bella watched him with interest.

‘Perhaps, when you are finished, I could teach him a little something of my own.’ She was still watching Harry hungrily, and the feel of her eyes on his skin made his flesh crawl. ‘He has such pretty eyes.’ Draco scowled at the comment, pushing his way past the woman with a muffled dismissal as Harry ranted incoherently.

‘Potter, shut up.’ Harry tried to kick him, but barely managed to brush his leg, falling to his knees as Draco stumbled, pulled downwards by the collapsed and unexpected weight. ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ The hand released him finally, leaving Harry feeling wonderfully lightheaded as he rolled onto his side, the coldness of the ground beneath him sinking through his thin clothes and chilling him, goose bumps rising down the length of his arm as he shivered.

‘Sleeping Potion.’ Harry ground out, not bothering to move. He could still see Bellatrix’ smile hovering in front of his face, and no matter the horrors he imagined inflicting on her; the skin melting away or the eyes bulging inhumanely, he could still hear the laughter that came with it. Draco couldn’t stop the snort of mirth, as Harry glared at the floor beneath him.

‘Sleeping Potion?’

‘Snape gave it to me,’ even as he said it Harry realised how stupid he sounded, sighing in defeat as he rolled on his back to look up at the figure standing over him smirking with amusement. ‘What is it?’

Draco smiled. ‘Oh, I don’t doubt at least some of it was a sleeping draught. Personally I’d much rather deal with you away in the land of fairies,’ the chill seemed to have reached his bones, which ached in protest as Draco bent down next to him. ‘Mixed with a paralysing potion, most probably, if I know our beloved Potions Master.’

Harry felt another surge of hate at hearing Snape referred to so blithely and so personally by Malfoy, further drumming home that Snape was one of them, a Death Eater. He almost would have laughed at the surprising affirmation that he had, at least to some degree regardless of all his badmouthing and insistence to the contrary, not believed Snape was a true follower in the past. And it was the past now, feeling as far away and as disconnected from his as it actually was. ‘Why?’

‘To cure you of that annoying habit you have of running away.’ Draco wrapped a hand round the top of his arm, gripping hard enough to bruise as he dragged Harry upright again. ‘I take it you haven’t had much sleep though.’

‘Why do you say that?’ Draco was unaffected by the biting sarcasm, his grip remaining firm as Harry tried to shake it off.

‘Because you can still move, you fool. Had you fallen asleep for any length of time I can guarantee you would not be able to twitch so much as a finger.’ A noise had Harry glancing over his shoulder, peering down the hallway as Draco dragged him forward impatiently, his pace no slower than before as Harry started to speak, cut off after the first syllable. ‘Yes, Aunt Bella is probably following us. She has something of a limited attention span, but when she sees something she likes she can rarely think of anything else.’

‘I hate her.’ More than Snape? Less than Snape? It didn’t really seem to matter now; he felt the same loathing towards all of them as they coalesced and condensed into one single, overwhelming abhorrence. Suddenly Draco’s hand was removed with a small yelp and a muttered curse, as Malfoy stuck his fingers in his mouth in a ridiculous pose and Harry felt an uncontrollable bubbling of giggles rising to escape.

‘You know Potter,’ Malfoy said with disgust, flexing his fingers and wincing before reaching out, almost tentatively, to grab Harry by the neck of his robes. ‘You are about the only Wizard I have ever known not to outgrow his accidental magic.’ Ah, so that explained it. Somehow he must have shocked Malfoy or something. Harry just wished it had been harder. ‘Most people manage to attain a modicum of control by the time they finish their first year. It really is rather pathetic.’

‘It only happens when I get angry,’ Harry had no idea why he was defending himself, to Malfoy of all people. Draco merely cast him a critical glare though, yanking him back forwards again, towards the only door Harry could recall seeing since they left Snape’s rooms.

‘She doesn’t remember you Potter, but I wouldn’t push it if I were you.’ The smile was back, light and frightening with its frank friendliness. ‘She was very reluctant to let go of the memory of you. It took me several attempts, and even now I’m not sure the charm would necessarily hold if you reminded her a little too much of what she’s forgotten.’

‘Let her remember,’ Harry spat ferociously. ‘I’d like for her to know why I killed her, else what’s the point?’ The door flew open at Draco’s approach and he all but threw Harry into the room beyond. He was released without warning and Harry found himself once again on the floor, hands scraping on the rough carpet and barely able to crawl as Draco slammed the door behind them. Anger gave way rapidly to anxiety; the sudden shift in mood that grasped Draco completely unpredictably.

‘Why are you here?’ Harry blinked at the force of the question, delivered without preamble. This was not the Malfoy he remembered as he had certainly never feared the Malfoy he had known. But they were no longer equals, no longer schoolyard rivals. Snape had been right, although the thought gave Harry no joy. There was no way he could handle Draco now. Whatever he had possessed in his youth that had stunted his ability to intimidate was gone now and Malfoy had achieved the apparently impossible. He had grown up.

Lifting his head to meet the demanding gaze Harry scowled. ‘I’m not answering your questions.’ He yelped as the Cruciatus curse hit him for less than a second, gone almost as quickly as it had begun but still leaving his nerves alight and dancing.

‘Prolonged exposure to the curse, in your current condition, will have you drooling in the corner in minutes,’ Draco said calmly, his demeanour unnerving. His shoes scuffed on the carpet with a whisper as he stepped gracefully over Harry, the robes tickling his arm as it brushed past. ‘Which is fortunate, since that is all the time I have to get from you what I need. Why are you here?’

‘I don’t bloody know,’ Harry answered as Draco sat carefully on a nearby seat, the springs subsiding with a soft creak as he tapped his wand idly against his fingertips, drumming some repetitive rhythm, his eyes never leaving Harry.

‘You’re lying.’ He said flatly as Harry glared.

‘Get out of my head, Malfoy,’ he couldn’t corner off his thoughts though, didn’t even know where to begin. He couldn’t even feel Malfoy in with them. He had a horrible feeling he had been deceived about the nature of Legilimency, that you never needed to know it was even happening, unlike the outright attacks he had experienced. ‘Did Snape teach you that?’

‘Yes.’ And Malfoy knew, he knew that Harry had failed where his own lessons had been such an apparent success. ‘Now, why are you here?’

‘There was a timeturner. It was cracked.’ Harry said sullenly, turning his head to the side so he didn’t have to look at the man, instead absently counting the fibres of the carpet, pinching them between his filthy fingernails, snagging the thick strands as Draco quirked an eyebrow.

‘Do you still have it?’ Harry shook his head. ‘Shame, I would have rather liked to have seen it again. It was one of my greater achievements.’

‘You made it?’ It was Draco’s turn to nod. ‘But how did you get into Grimmauld Place?’

‘I did not.’

‘Then…’

‘What about Severus? How did you meet him?’ He could feel Malfoy’s grin prickling the hairs on the back of his neck. He all ready knew the answer, damn it. He just wanted to make Harry say it, make him answer the questions he so obviously didn’t want too whilst blatantly ignoring anything sent back. But that was the Malfoy way, making themselves feel big by belittling all those around them. Harry’s hand to rose to scrub at his neck, to try and dispel the feeling that Malfoy was somehow branding him just by staring as he swallowed his pride with difficulty. He could answer of his own free will, or he could have them dragged from him. He had no doubt the latter would give Draco that bit more satisfaction.

‘I ran into him in Diagon Alley,’ his jaw was starting to ache from gritting his teeth, his ears ringing in sympathetic harmony as he tried to relax, exhaling deeply but still refusing to look round. ‘He was surprised, said there had been a mistake, that he wasn’t expecting me.’

‘No doubt it was a surprise,’ his breathing quickened angrily at Draco’s chuckled response and he jerked in shock as a soft chime rang from across the room, as Harry glanced towards the small clock that hung on the bare wall. It reminded him of Molly’s, containing too many hands for merely telling the time, although the details were blurred and indefinable. ‘You should not have arrived for another ten years.’

‘He said I shouldn’t have arrived in his lifetime,’ Harry snarled bitterly, ‘that he thought I was dead.’

‘Hoped you were, more like, and I’m sure he said a lot of things. Did he mention the Dark Lord?’

Harry opened his mouth and then paused, glaring angrily as his scar twinged. ‘You may as well kill me,’ he declared resolutely. ‘I’m not answering any more of your stupid questions. Either you do it or I’m certain Voldemort will shortly. Personally I’d rather not have to wait.’ Draco sighed, rising slowly and stepping away from the chair, the thick cushions rising slowly back into shape, and away from Harry.

‘Don’t think your getting off that easily,’ he commented. ‘You will face the Dark Lord, I just need to make sure of a few things first.’

Harry stared at the fine hair on the back of his head, his thoughts whirring madly as an occurrence, a subtle inconsistency Draco had so carefully avoided struck him. ‘Why didn’t you know I was here?’ Draco paused mid movement, his fingers wrapped round a glass as his face stiffening angrily before he replied, his words straining to sound casual.

‘It was not deemed necessary for me to know.’

‘Not as popular as you thought, huh?’ Draco whirled round, stepping forward as he raised his hand and Harry flinched back, but the blow never fell. Draco straightened himself back up, smoothing down some invisible crease in his robes before turning back on his heel, moving towards the open counter and claiming a bottle within, pouring the sparkling liquid with care.

‘I believe Severus has been spreading lies about me, sullying my name to the Dark Lord himself, giving him cause to doubt my loyalties.’ He raised the glass to his lips, swallowing slowly in a way that reminded Harry of just how thirsty he was. And hungry, now he remembered his stomach. ‘It is irrelevant now though, since I have you and he does not.’ He drained the last of the water from the glass, placing it back down with a gentle clink as the clock behind him chimed once again, a slightly different tune as Draco’s eyes lit up expectantly. ‘And I do believe it is now time for the Dark Lord to discover one or two truths about his right hand man to which he has remained oblivious for far to long. Severus has finally returned, no doubt he will be on his way here shortly. Looks like your little visit is over.’ Harry swallowed, panic gripping him as Draco prepared to leave, prepared to take Harry to his Lord and Master.

‘This is all some sort of stupid power battle?’ He questioned as a desperate stall. Draco just shook his head with pity at Harry’s lack of understanding.

‘No, Potter. This is about Severus stealing from me. You will be the means by which I take it back.’

‘But, I thought…’ Harry was stunned at the venom in the gaze Draco spun round to fix him with, and the seething and indomitable loathing that bubbled and pulsated underneath. He flinched under its weight, shifting nervously from his uncomfortable position on the cold floor. ‘You always seemed to admire and look up to him, and now you hate him instead?’

‘Things change, Potter,’ Draco snarled in response, looking down haughtily. ‘I grew up enough to realise he is not the man I once thought he was. Not that it matters,’ his voice picked up a cruel and sadistic quality, ringing with spiteful glee as Draco all but vibrated with anticipation. ‘I will have the rightful place that he kept from me, and that filthy, deceitful half-blood will get what he deserves. The Dark Lord will not be happy with him,’ Draco grinned maliciously in perverse pleasure at what he believed the future held, as Harry regarded him with disbelief.

‘You’re mad because Snape’s a half blood?’

Draco scowled at the comment, the few words that sounded to dismiss and belittle the grudge that had grown into a firmly rooted resentment and need for retribution. ‘I doubt even your fate will be as unpleasant as what will await our beloved Potions Master when my Lord hears this for himself,’ Draco leant forwards, the soft words brushing lightly across Harry’s face which felt all the more forceful for the gentleness with which they were delivered. ‘And your fate will be worse than you could possibly deign to imagine.’ Harry’s fingers clenched, his nails scouring on the coarse fabric beneath him as he fought to stop the tremors that ran up his spine. Draco straightened up with a smile, brushing down his robes and shaking his head with amusement as he turned back to the fireplace, Harry trying to swallow away the lump that had lodged itself in the back of his throat, his voice thin as he spoke.

‘Voldemort’s a half-blood too.’

The statement was greeted with a tense silence as Draco visibly stiffened, his hand pausing against the cool marble of the mantelpiece, Harry holding his breath as the man turned slowly to face him. ‘You had better be able to prove that, Potter,’ there was no expression beyond a blank and unforgiving coldness that froze Harry as Draco towered above him, monstrous and terrifying. ‘Or you will find yourself before Him having all ready visited the very brink of death at my hand.’

‘He told me himself.’ Draco’s fingers clenched around the fabric of his robes as he dragged Harry to his feet, reminding him of a time when he had shared the same information with the father of the man who now stood before him, both very much the same yet also so different. And as he stared rebelliously into the grey eyes he suddenly felt a wave of understanding as to exactly why Hermione had been so averse to him ever letting them know. There was something in the look; a glint of madness, nothing like that which plagued Bella, but a self created madness borne from his own mind, a madness that kept him sane whilst he served, that promised blood would be shed in payment for such forced service. And with it there was the smallest creeping wisp of fear, of shame that he could possibly have been so terribly deceived. No, he would not believe it, because if he believed it then everything he done was a lie, everything he had believed was as insubstantial as a soft morning mist.

‘And you are in the habit of sharing childhood stories now, are you?’ And Draco didn’t believe him that much was clear, but the undertones were there, wrapping themselves round his words. Make me wrong. Harry finally understood then, realised that Draco truly was nothing like his father. Lucius would never have even wanted to believe him, but Draco did. Lucius had joined the Dark Lord because it was what he had wanted, whereas Draco had been raised to the role.

He had also been raised with the knowledge that he was beneath no one, second to not a single soul.

‘In the second year,’ Harry hung limply in Draco’s grasp now, fabric bunched constrictively round his shoulders and digging into his arms. ‘When your father gave that diary to Ginny.’

‘Are you talking about the Horcrux?’ Draco shook him roughly.

‘The what?’

‘Never mind, Potter,’ obviously wishing he had never mentioned it, as much as a Malfoy would lower himself to wishing for anything. It had been a slip of the tongue though. ‘I would worry more about getting to your point if I were you.’

‘Voldemort appeared, except I didn’t know it was him,’ he must have been getting heavy, as Draco’s strength ebbed away with the initial fury of his anger, his arm sagging as Harry felt solid ground beneath his feet, for all the use it was under his numb legs. ‘He was a student and his name was Tom Marvolo Riddle.’

Draco looked confused, the family unfamiliar. ‘Riddle?’

‘His fathers name,’ Harry emphasised desperately, ‘his muggle father.’ There was a brief internal battle, as Draco regarded Harry through narrowed eyes.

‘Lord Voldemort is the heir of Salazar Slytherin,’ he hissed menacingly.

‘I know,’ Harry insisted. ‘He is also the son of a muggle.’

‘No,’ Draco wasn’t convinced as he shook his head in disbelief, trying to dispel the last of the hope Harry knew was there. Draco wanted it to be true though, because once it was true then there was no one greater than him. ‘This is nothing more than a far fetched story.’

‘Rearrange the letters,’ Harry urged frantically.

‘What are you talking about?’

‘Of his name,’ Harry found himself thrown back down violently, his arm catching the side of the sofa with a dull throb as Draco drew his wand with a snarl, the faint red words hovering in the air as he snapped his wand around the jagged letters. Reaching into his robes he pulled out Harry’s own wand, looking fiercely at the boy before thrusting it forwards.

‘Show me,’ he said dangerously, his grip tightening as Harry moved to pull it from his hand. ‘And be assured you will regret trying anything else.’ Swallowing as the grasp was released and he slid his wand from between Draco’s fingers, Harry turned back to the name that still swam in the middle of the room in sharp contrast to the surroundings. With a flick of his wand the letters swirled and moved almost sheepishly under Draco’s penetrating gaze, dancing round each other, slotting firmly into place as Harry turned away, not wanting to once again read the simple message he could see hovering at the edge of his vision.

I Am Lord Voldemort.

‘To think,’ his voice was a wrathful whisper, ‘that I bowed before him.’ It was rising though, Draco seemingly mesmerised by the words before him, unable to tear himself away. ‘That I took his mark, the brand of slavery to a disgusting half-blood who was and is not fit to kneel before me,’ there was a terrifying light behind his eyes as he spoke, a fanatical need. Hermione had been right, Harry realised bitterly; trying to tell had been a bad idea then and remained a bad idea now. So much of Voldemort’s power came from his followers, but that didn’t mean his followers didn’t have power themselves. ‘He taints the World that I built for him. My World. My dream!’ Harry backed away as much as he could, until his back hit the leg of a table, the sharp corners digging between his shoulder blades. ‘And he would look down on me, a Malfoy, as though I were insignificant, as though I were the one who was unworthy.’ Draco moved forwards suddenly, causing Harry to jump and gasp with surprise, a nearby cupboard slamming open violently as he approached so that the wall behind it shuddered as he disappeared within, only the sound of clinking bottles filtering back until he re-emerged, stalking over to Harry and thrusting a small vial under his nose.

‘Drink this,’ he demanded, the acrid smell that wafted from the uncorked lid making Harry cringe away.

‘What is it?’ he questioned suspiciously.

‘The antidote.’ Harry looked up sharply, searching for the deception in Draco’s smooth face and unreadable expression as he rolled his eyes in annoyance. ‘Paralysis will set in eventually without it.’

‘Like I’d drink anything you handed me.’

Draco knelt down gracefully, speaking with soft menace. ‘Look at it this way then, Potter. I am going to hand you over the Him,’ there had been a brief pause, as though Draco was unsure of what title to give to his Master now. ‘I can do that with you on your knees, unable to move, or I can allow you at least the dignity of being able to stand and face him.’

‘Why would you care?’

‘Oh, I expect something in return,’ Draco said smoothly, offering the vial once again, ‘do not doubt that.’

‘What?’

‘You are going to help me kill him,’ Draco smiled again, brightly, as a knot of dread wormed its may into Harry’s stomach and crawled up the back of his throat. ‘You will destroy him, and you will put me in his place.’




Chapter 17: The Easy Way Out
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Chapter 17: The Easy Way Out

I am silent, invisible to you
while I count the days gone by.
I am silent, invisible to you
while I shape the things to come.

-Covenant, Invisible and Silent


Snape landed in the fireplace, wand drawn and ready to defend against whatever was sent hurtling towards him. There was nothing though, no shouted spells, no angry retaliation. The room was bare and completely uninhabited; and the wards were down.

Snarling angrily Snape grabbed a nearby chair, fingers curling round the thin wooden frame as he hurled it at the opposite wall, finding little satisfaction in the splintered cracking that resulted. There was only one person who would have the audacity to break into his rooms, and ironically enough it was the one person he least wanted Harry Potter to fall into the hands of. Draco Malfoy all ready had more than enough to hold against him, and had concocted several hurts and slights over the years to give him reason to use it. Not that he needed any reason beyond the potential of his own personal gain.

He threw the door open so it hit the wall with a crash, a nearby torch shuddering in its holder as a wisp of ash drifted to the floor below. Draco Malfoy knew the truth, and now he had Potter. That Snape had found the boy in the beginning would be irrelevant. That he had earned his trust and that of the metamorphmagus, that he had mutilated his own flesh to do it would have little if any value. That he had successfully used the Boy Who Lived and the devotion of those who cared for him and protected him to manipulate and worm his way in to destroy the last thread of resistance in an otherwise perfect World would be forgotten. All he had achieved, all he done would be obliterated if he failed to hand over the key to the Dark Lord’s ultimate rule at the end of it. It didn’t matter what Draco had said before either, in fact Snape would have been an idiot to believe a word the brat said. Draco had no code of conduct, no standards of fairness he expected himself to play by. When he said he wouldn’t tell the Dark Lord of his secret, what he meant was he wouldn’t tell until it promised maximum benefit to himself. That time was now.

Snape briefly debated storming Malfoy’s rooms to reclaim what had been stolen. But with that damn clock it would be pointless, Draco having no doubt fled the second it chimed Snape’s arrival. Draco would not be so foolish as to challenge Snape directly anyway. One thing was certain though, Draco would reveal nothing until Snape himself was present. Draco would want to see the look in Snape’s eyes as his shameful heritage was revealed. He would want to see Snape cower with fear before death, as he assumed Snape would die.

Snape, however, had no such intentions. He was no fool, and had spent the last several years preparing for this eventuality. He had proven himself capable and he had proven himself devoted. He had suffered for his Master as was required, and had thusly risen. So it was with a small smile that he left his rooms, closing the door softly with his new found calm and his unshakeable faith before striding to the Hall in which his Master resided, knowing deep in his soul that there was nothing for him to fear, burying the traitorous memories of a time warped with confusion that could ever cause him to think otherwise.


The room, which he refrained from calling a cell despite the overwhelming similarities it displayed to one, was black. There were no shadows, as shadows would have indicated at least a dull greyness, that somewhere the edge of darkness was infiltrated by the smallest glow. It was simply black, the sort of emptiness that sucked at the back of his eyes as they tried to pick out a shape or form in the space with him. He could barely make out his own hand waving just before his nose though; there were no windows, only the occasional slither of light under the door from the passing of a Lumos. After a while that became enough, however, as though the gloom itself hungered after the brief infiltration and clung onto it, engulfing it into the very air so that the blackness could take shape. Snape hadn’t minded the dark at first; being surrounded by its perpetual presence had at least seemed preferable to a room filled with the constant glare of light. His eyes had adjusted slowly, and whilst anything beyond the vaguest tinge of colour was impossible, the outlines of his new abode were now as clear and sharp as they would have been in the highest tower of Hogwarts at midday. But as time dragged onwards it had taken on a malicious edge that couldn’t be satisfied. It brushed the back of his neck whilst he slept as the hairs prickled unnervingly, his eyes snapping open as his hand rose to protect against a hidden enemy. It crawled under his skin, tiny fingers pinching and stroking even as he tried to claw them off and rip them out. And the blackness slowly closed around him, trapping him, squeezing against him, pushing out the air and holding it ransom to his growing unease.

This was what he had given up Hogwarts for.

He was fed, most probably by a House Elf, as the portions were too generous and too pleasant, as far as the word could be stretched in these circumstances, to have been produced by anything but a creature to whom the idea of intentionally inflicting substandard service of any sort was horrifying. It had been disconcerting in the first few days, the muffled pop as the food appeared before him, stifling the whispers of his newly released imagination as he blindly forced himself to swallow what he couldn’t see and identify. He had expected poison, hideously aware of those he himself had created, or something noxiously inedible. But the water was clean and fresh, if a little sparse, and the bland meals nourishing enough to keep the worst of the hunger at bay.

The only thing he couldn’t tolerate was the cold. It was numbing and all invasive, trickling down his spine and freezing his muscles, which seemed to constantly twitch painfully in the after effects of the Cruciatus he found himself so frequently writhing under. His hand, bones still shattered from the meeting, had never been healed, although nature and time were doing the best they could. And even if he couldn’t examine it himself, he could feel the damage every time he flexed, he could feel the itch as the bones knitted themselves together just to be torn apart again as he gasped and flailed on the tip of a nameless wand. Sleep was a rare blessing in which he wrapped the tattered remains of his teachers robes tightly round his aching ribs, cradling his hand gently. The light drowses he occasionally and unwillingly stumbled into were far from restful though, filled with troubled dreams that made the monotonous nothingness of his waking hours all the more appealing.

He didn’t know how long he had been here. The days had all merged into a single blurred tunnel. At first he had relied on his own internal sense of time to mark the passing, but that had soon failed. For a while he had measured his imprisonment through the regular visitations, when the size of the room was briefly allowed to extend into the hallway beyond, before it was once again returned with the closing of the door and then shrunk to tiny pinpricks of nothing under the curses that followed. It wasn’t long before all concept of time fled him completely, his existence reduced to the ebb and flow of the painful humiliations he suffered; that served to tear his treasured pride to shreds. He wondered, occasionally, if it would prove itself less painful were he to just let go of the destroyed remnants that could barely even be classed as pride any more, but he couldn’t bear to do it, even though he knew the madness of Cruciatus was slowly creeping up on him. He could feel it giggling pitifully in the corners of his mind.

The door opened, the light that had been so long forbidden sweeping in unheeded to claim back its victory. He shrank away from it, shoulder blades digging into the hard wall behind him as he shielded his eyes, spots of light dancing beneath his eyelids. Rough hands pulled him to his feet, legs cramping stiffly as a thin piece of wood was thrust into his shaking palm, his hand forcibly curled round it as his fingers refused to obey his instructions. They were giving him back his wand?

‘Come on Snape,’ he tried to not flinch from Bella’s cruel fingers as she poked and prodded none to caringly, each touch sending shooting waves of pain straight to his heart, which seemed to judder under each shock. ‘He’s fine,’ she eventually declared, and he couldn’t help the raucous laughter that filled his head at the announcement, booming inside his ears and almost drowning out everything around him. ‘Just needs a bit of a rest and he’ll be right back to his usual, cheery self.’

‘Think he needs a medi-witch?’ Bella glared at the owner of the voice that supported him from the left, although she seemed to be considering the possibility.

‘No,’ she eventually replied slowly. ‘He’s suffered worse in the past.’ That was true, but never for so long and without pause. And he had always come away from it knowing he had managed to hold onto who he was, if nothing else.

‘The Dark Lord will be pretty peeved if he dies.’

‘Then you two had better stop blathering about like a pair of prats and move him,’ Bella’s voice was cold and unforgiving as Snape found himself hauled uncomfortably into motion, his unresponsive body dragged through a maze of halls, his feet gradually placing themselves one in front of the other as the concept of walking returned to them, although the hands supporting him never wavered as he stumbled frequently.

Another door opened and he instinctively flinched from it, but the insides were well lit and the walls didn’t crowd around him, so he stepped blearily in. ‘These are your rooms now,’ he heard Bella say unenthusiastically. Something was upsetting her, but he couldn’t bring himself to think on what. ‘Are you even listening to me?’ He found his focus snapped back at the harshness of the question, forcing himself to nod. ‘I don’t know why our Lord has decided to forgive you, but he has,’ and she was gone, with a flurry of robes, her two accomplices in tow as the door slammed shut behind him and the walls slowly started to close in.

He stood, wavering slightly in the middle of the floor and gazing with bewilderment around him. This was his home, right down to the tidy bookshelf that stood imperiously against the pale walls. The low sofa with its plush cushions looked mercifully like heaven itself to his tired and weary body. This is what you get for being good, the whole room told him firmly; and if you’re bad it’s back to the other place with you.

And he couldn’t do it.

The thought hit him like a battering ram, taking his breath away with the force behind it. He couldn’t do it, Albus had asked too much of him and he was going to fail, this was what failure felt like; what it meant to doubt, to be insecure. The years stretched before him, serving an uncaring Master. This wasn’t service anymore though; this was enslavement. No matter how it was dressed up, no matter how prettily it was titled, he would forever be beneath someone, and he would forever know it. And this time there would be no place to run, no place to recover. He would be here, under the watchful gaze of his Master for as long as he dared to contemplate.

He clenched his wand tightly, his thoughts frantic and desperate. There had to be another way. Albus would never willingly subject an associate, a friend even to a lifetime of subtle torture and degradation. Albus would never weigh the importance of one life against another in such a brutal fashion.

He disapparated, half expecting to splinch himself instantly, half expecting to find himself thrust painfully back into the small room he had only just left. When he felt the wet grass beneath his feet he could barely bring himself to believe it, the damp air filling his lungs wetly and causing him to cough in great hacking bouts. But the castle towers looming above the tree line were undeniable, the tiny lights flickering innocently in the windows that gave way to a World no evil could hope to conquer. He was free. And Albus would know he was here, would come to his aid with a gentle smile and genial humour that somehow made him feel less weak, less helpless. It was their meeting place, their small sanctuary in a forest of dangers. And Snape was not disappointed.

‘Severus!’ the anxious tones as gentle hands helped him to sit.

‘How long,’ he managed to croak out feebly, forcing his neck to lift his head to stare into the Headmasters sad eyes. ‘How long since I left.’

‘It has been a little less than four months.’ Four months in that tiny room, four months feeling he would never be warm again. Four months with only his own jumbled thoughts for company. ‘Do you need help?’ Severus managed to shake his head; although he feared at moment it would simply slide off his neck. ‘Will you be able to return safely?’

Return? The words built inside his head, pressing against the insides of his skull as his blood pounded in his ears. Return to the place he had just fled? But the Headmaster was looking at him with such concern, and there really was no other choice. This was what had to be done, to protect the future of a scrawny boy who was destined to be their saviour, whose worth thusly outshone that of all those around him. What was right didn’t get a mention.

‘Yes,’ he said finally, knowing there was no longer any place for him here.



His boots rang sharply on the stone floor as he easily negotiated the maze of hallways, as Death Eaters stepped respectfully out of his path with either a nod or small bow, Snape too lost in his own thoughts to notice or discern their faces. That night the Dark Lord had known Snape would leave, and had known he would return. He had been waiting when Snape apparated back into the room, considerably weakened by his trip, vision blurred as he looked with empty eyes. He had fallen to his knees, and there had been no point in continuing the façade that he had any pride left, expecting the worst, unsure if he would even be capable of feeling it any more. But the curse had never struck; the Dark Lord had merely risen gracefully from his reclined position, looking down on his servant with interest.

You were a good spy for me, Severus.

And Snape was good. He maintained the Dark Lords rule, kept the world perfect almost perfect and pure almost pure. He meant something here, was valued even, in a way he had so obviously never been in Dumbledore’s eyes. And at least now he was someone important, important enough to have proven himself.

And you never gave him a reason to doubt you.

Draco could rant and rave onto his deathbed, but Snape had done more for the cause than the young Malfoy ever managed. He had earned his position, through blood, death and betrayal, and that would not be forgotten, it would not be overlooked.

If anything, the doubt should be yours. Let tonight be proof of that.

Voldemort had lifted his damaged hand carefully, his light touch still agony against his skin. Snape remembered the rush of fear the action that created, further fed by the fact that the Dark Lord knew. He saw in Snape fear that he had never seen in him before, and the shame that Snape felt that he should experience such a thing so openly mingled with his terror and coalesced into a mind numbing panic. He would suffer for this, he would be forced back into that cell and left to rot.

The Dark Lord had healed him.

He had left without a word, leaving Snape to stare with incomprehension at his slender fingers, the skin still blotched with blood and coloured with bruises. But the Dark Lord had provided where Albus has refused, and it meant something. It had taken Snape months to understand exactly what that that meaning was.


The corridors were painfully familiar as he stalked through them in a way reminiscent of so many late night wanderings, patrolling the corridors for rule breakers. He was the rule breaker this time though, he was the invading force that had stepped out of the cabinet to be greeted by a nervously shaking Draco Malfoy, who had glared at Snape’s presence as though it were an affront to his abilities, as though Snape himself were the enemy, the threat to all Draco hoped to achieve.

There was no threat; Snape hadn’t wanted to be here, not since the hypocrisy of the last meeting he had shared with Albus and their final conversation deep in the Forbidden Forest. It was a meeting he had gone to not out of loyalty, which was fast waning, but in the hopes he could reclaim that which he had lost, the part of himself he knew he had mislaid in those first torturous months. He had needed the answer to so many of the doubts he couldn’t face, had needed to know where he stood. He had wanted to know that all he was doing meant something still. He had quickly learnt that it did not.

Dumbledore had had one last favour to request of him, one last injustice to lay on a man who could not refuse. His debt had been paid tens times over, the Headmaster had declared, yet still he insisted on collecting payment.

‘You must not let Voldemort know of your treachery.’

Anyone would have thought the old fool was blind. If anything his last visit had made such knowledge on the part of the Dark Lord painfully obvious. He had almost died and then been turned away from his only sanctuary, and still the old man had the gall to ask for more when Snape had no more left to give. He had listened though and accepted the fond farewell of an old and forgotten friend he could no longer bring himself to admire. He had said his goodbyes and attempted to close the book on those torn and crumpled pages of his life.

The book refused to be closed though, and the Dark Lord had instructed him to enter the school on this night, had told him to watch and listen and that all would be revealed and he would finally see the truth, would finally have all the answers he needed.

He had ended up in the Astronomy Tower, the air crisp as Dumbledore lay collapsed against the parapet, shoulders rising slowly with the effort of breathing, a single broom leaning innocuously against the wall a mere few feet away. His eyes flashed briefly to Severus, who crossed his arms and scowled, but they moved on just as quickly with no recognition or acknowledgement, his black and shrivelled hand resting, blending in almost with the dark stones beneath it.

‘Kill him then Draco,’ the younger Malfoy stepped forward, nudged by Greyback so he stumbled, swallowing heavily as he faced the Headmaster, wand shaking only slightly. Watch him, the Dark Lord had instructed, and so Snape had gone.

‘You don’t have to do this,’ the words were spoken softly, carrying on the late evening wind as Snape cocked an eyebrow. Watch him and listen. And then Dumbledore looked up through hooded eyes, which still sparkled earnestly. ‘I can protect you, and your mother. This is not your only choice.’ Anger like he had never felt before surged forwards in Snape. This was not what he wanted to hear. The old man could protect Draco, but not himself. He would remove the willing participant from the lion’s den whilst sentencing his own pawn to near death.

‘Shut up.’ Draco roared desperately, voice high and quivering against the night sky.

And Dumbledore did, but he never lowered his gaze, even as Draco shuddered angrily, determined as he raised his wand and shouted. ‘Avada Kedavra.’

Draco Malfoy never told him what had passed between them on that night, what words the Headmaster had spoken silently to him and that had angered him so. Draco claimed there had been no such thing, but Snape knew. He had seen it in Dumbledore’s eyes as he took the last few seconds of his life and used them to make one final offer to a boy who would never have listened to him instead of using them to apologise to the man to whom he owed so much and who wanted, needed to hear nothing else more.

Dumbledore died. Somehow it felt like he had taken the easy way out.



Snape had returned that night different. The Dark Lord had seen it in him. And he had been forgiven his transgressions, forgiven his lies. He had returned the year before and he had attempted to deceive his Master with false promises and insincere declarations of a love he had not felt. He had learnt, though the lesson had been painful and he had been reluctant at first. But the truth had been undeniable, and his Master was capable of forgiveness where forgiveness was deserved.

He had been forgiven for that lie then, and he would be forgiven for this lie now.

A few months later he had been handed a Timeturner, which Snape had regarded with incomprehension as Draco Malfoy was summoned to the room, tired and bedraggled and suddenly far too young. But he had fixed the Vanishing cupboard where everyone had thought he would fail and he had done it on his own, with no guidance and no one to turn too. So he had been handed his final test, to create the impossible. And it had taken its toll on the small boy, but beneath the tiredness and the wavering fear there was something else; a hardness that had grown and would not be destroyed. He had killed and it showed on him, it would do so forever more.

A long chain hung from his pale hand, as the item was handed over with a bow.

‘You will take this,’ the small weight had been dropped into his palm, similar to the one he all ready possessed, yet weighed heavily with unfamiliar magic. The feel of it had surprised him, a jolt he had felt again when Potter had handed it innocently back to him some days before. ‘And you will place it around the neck of Harry Potter.’ Then suddenly he had understood, he had seen with clarity everything that had happened, everything that was left to happen still. ‘The young Malfoy really has excelled himself this time, so it is now time for your part.’

He, Severus Snape, was the reason Harry Potter had gone missing. Or not so much missing as simply sent somewhere else. Somewhere they were not yet capable of going. The future. Harry Potter had disappeared by his hand; he had sentenced himself to this cruel fate.

‘No,’ the Dark Lord had interrupted his thoughts as he had stared mindlessly at the tiny object, trying to comprehend what he had done, what he was about to do. How it didn’t have to happen the same way again. ‘You are not sentencing yourself, but setting yourself free.’ And Snape had understood that he had to do this, that in a way he all ready had. If he didn’t he would forever find himself under Dumbledore’s thumb. Otherwise he would forever be trapped within the stone walls of Hogwarts, the freedom he had always believed he had been given tainted by the fact that he could now see the leash that had kept him bound, the leash the Dark Lord had lit up in all its glory and exposed for what it really was. It would be a mockery of independence, it always had been, and if he could not have the real thing he would rather have none at all.

His Lord had given him all he wanted, the peace he so desired as he whiled away his days in his Potions lab, the walls of his rooms slowly receding away from him again as the chill left him and he remembered the simple pleasure of warmth. He had come when he was summoned, and he had done what was demanded, and always he had known where he stood. He had known when he suffered for his failure, he had known as his Master taught him with pain and intolerance what was required to rise to the heights he had now obtained. The control had never been hidden from him, the freedom to do as he wished never granted. And with time he had found he no longer missed it, no longer believed it to be the necessity he had once fought so hard for. He was sure; no he was adamant he had never been more content. His Master gave him no reason to be anything else.

No, he had done far too much for the Dark Lord to toss him aside so easily. He had given his all, and for that he would be rewarded regardless of blood, regardless of parentage. Draco could say all he wanted, it would make no difference. This was where he belonged, this was where he was someone important.

***


‘Like hell I will!’ Harry shouted, voice slightly slurred as he finally found the use of his tongue again, Draco smirking infuriatingly. It made Harry itch to hurt him, to break his stupid Malfoy nose with his fist or foot just to make him stop bloody smiling in that knowing way, a way that reeked of false sympathy and consideration. He didn’t dwell on the futility of the argument; if Malfoy wanted him to swallow the bloody potion there was probably very little Harry could do to prevent it. It wouldn’t even be fight; it’d be a complete and utter walkover.

Draco rocked back on his heels, idly tapping the side of the vial with his little finger as he regarded Harry with interested, as though waiting to see what absurd yet fascinating thing he would attempt to argue next. ‘I don’t recall giving you a choice in the matter.’ There was still no fight forthcoming though, no matter what tone the comment adopted, as Harry broke the fixed stare and turned his head to the side as though proving a point.

‘You can’t make me!’ he declared in direct contradiction to the bloody obvious fact that Malfoy could. In fact he half expected Malfoy to just grab his jaw, prise open his mouth and force the stuff down his throat, the danger of him drowning on the most probably vile concoction be damned. At least that way it wouldn’t feel like Harry was being helped, like Harry owed the git a favour.

‘Snape lied to you,’ Draco said softly.

‘I know,’ Harry raved, fighting the automatic urge to turn back to face the man. His neck was starting to cramp from being held in such an awkward position, straining to look over his slumped shoulder. He wouldn’t do it though, wouldn’t give Malfoy the pleasure of being acknowledged. Instead he focused resolutely on the far wall, it’s blank surface marred only by the shadow of the opposite leg of the very table he was forced to lean so weakly against. It flickered across the wall as the flames of the torches danced in their holders, its soft pattern almost hypnotising. Harry really didn’t recall Malfoy having so much patience..

‘No, I mean more importantly. He lied to you about the Werewolf.’ Harry swallowed with difficulty, lines creasing his forehead as he frowned with annoyance, dismissing the comment with blitheness he did not feel.

‘What about him, he’s dead?’

‘No, very much alive actually,’ Draco smirked as Harry’s head snapped back round to glare daggers at him. Were it possible Draco was sure Harry would have had his fingers wrapped round his throat, ‘much to his discomfort.’

‘You’re lying,’ Harry hissed venomously, teeth clenched as he searched Malfoy’s features urgently for any such indication. Draco merely looked bored though, quirking an eyebrow at the possibility, appearing to weigh it’s merit.

‘That is always a possibility,’ the smugness was back, the unfailingly Malfoy smirk that seemed to hone straight in on Harry’s anger and stoke the fires beneath it into a frenzy. ‘But let me put it this way; you can continue to say no and I can kill you now,’ Harry opened his mouth to shout the definitive go ahead Malfoy continued to refuse to hear, ‘and you can risk sentencing yet another friend of yours to a gruesome future.’ Harry pursed his mouth closed again, refusing to look at the smile that was no doubt splitting Malfoy’s face at his victory, his lungs clenched with useless anger as he dragged a difficult breath in through his nose. ‘Or, alternatively, you can agree to help me and in return I shall promise that both you and the Werewolf will receive a quick and painless death.’

‘I want to see him,’ Harry demanded. He had to know.

‘After.’

It wasn’t good enough. ‘Give me your word.’

Draco looked amused and mildly insulted. ‘A Gryffindor would trust the word of a Slytherin?’

Harry glared up through his wild fringe. ‘Give it,’ he ground out, his voice no more than an ominous rumble in the back of his throat.

‘Fine, you have my word.’

‘Then lets get this over with,’ Harry snatched the vial from Draco’s unresisting fingers, gulping it down without pausing before wiping his mouth on the back of his hand and grimacing, fighting the impulse to bring it all straight back up. It sat uncomfortably in his stomach; he could feel its weight even as a mild tingling returned to his fingers and the numbness receded from his legs with a maddening prickling. ‘I hope you have a plan, because I have nothing.’

‘You have unfailing, annoying luck,’ Draco sighed, plucking the wand back from Harry’s fingers and standing up to brush himself down, as if a speck of invisible dust had landed upon his impeccable robes, which was ridiculous since Harry doubted a single fleck of dust or dirt had ever made its way into the elaborately furnished room. ‘I doubt it will let you down now.’

‘Yeah, because luck is far more reliable than, say, the ability to effectively pull of the Killing Curse.’ Bracing himself against the table Harry pushed himself upright, palms flat on the smooth surface and leaving dark, sweaty handprints as he stretched his stiff muscles. At least the antidote worked fast, although he had hoped Draco had forgotten about the wand. He watched as it disappeared into the swathes of his cloak, his choices getting fewer and fewer.

‘I am sure you will rise to the occasion.’

‘No, I won’t,’ Harry corrected incredulously. Draco seemed content to wait and watch silently as he grasped his bearings and readjusted his balance. Genuine tiredness had settled on Harry now, coupled with persistent hunger that made his head ache. Numbness, he considered, might well have been the better option. ‘I can’t cast it.’

‘That far beneath you is it?’ the first flashes of Draco’s temper were showing again in his clipped words as he wrinkled his nose in contemptuous disgust. Just like back at school, Harry realised, with the same childish and petty viciousness. Draco may have grown up, but he had never had someone to polish the edges off him. ‘If I were you I would swallow those misplace nobilities you seem to cling onto.’

‘I mean I physically can’t cast it. It doesn’t work.’ Draco looked at him warily for a moment before stalking towards the door.

‘You are destined to kill him, so you will find a way,’ a command for Harry to readjust the very functioning of the Universe to suit Draco, as an Accio charm dragged him across the room, unexpectedly catching him as his shin scraped the edge of the table and he was pulled past it. Why was this so much of a problem? He’d been given a chance, no matter how heavily the odds were stacked against him, to kill Voldemort, and Malfoy had nothing on the Dark Lord when it came to mindless evil. And his chance of success now was no worse than it would be in any other scenario he could possible imagine. He should at least be willing to try to fulfil his prophecy, to play the hand he had been dealt at birth. Voldemort was the immortal one, the one who could only be destroyed by his hand. Malfoy would be pretty much free game; the rest of the World could shoulder the responsibility of taking care of him.

This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end though, and even if he did somehow manage to achieve the impossible it wouldn’t be victory. It’d be taking the easy way out.

‘Don’t you think you’re being a bit rash?’ Harry questioned as he rebounded from the force of the spell, landing hard on his backside as the door to the chambers closed. This was much more like it, Harry mused dejectedly. With the darkness and the narrow corridors paved with stone. You could view this as a layer of evil no problem, unlike the bright, if compulsively tidy room he had just left. There was a heavy, musty scent that hung in the air too, thick and cloying and faintly nauseous.

‘Rashness is all we have time for,’ Draco snarled between teeth gritted in annoyance as he cast an apprehensive look down the corridor in both directions, an irrefutable facet of fear visible in his posture despite all his bravado. Voices could be heard in the distance, mutterings too quiet to decipher. It wasn’t Snape though, a conclusion Draco seemed to agree with as Harry found himself pulled awkwardly to his feet by a spell. ‘There will not be another opportunity like this. Ready for it or not we must take it.’ A sudden flash of light soared over Harry’s shoulder, as he swivelled round to watch it streak into a far shadow, eliciting a gasp of shock and a high-pitched yelp. ‘Follow me any further Bella and you will regret it.’

‘You must take it you mean; since it is your opportunity we are really talking about here. You’re just dragging me down with you,’ Harry corrected sullenly as the invisible force that had heaved him upright shifted itself to instead yank him after Draco, who was marching ahead and giving every impression of ignoring Harry, occasionally glancing over his shoulder and examining the gloom that spread behind them, ensuring they were no longer watched. ‘I know how powerful he was years ago, so I can only guess how powerful he is now.’ Harry’s logic failed to pierce Draco’s resolve or even dent the belief that his bloodline was enough to ensure triumph. He had been slighted, he had been undeniably insulted and he would not stand for it. ‘I don’t stand a chance.’

‘He has a weakness Potter,’ Draco said quietly, his gaze continuing it’s guarded watch. ‘He is incomplete.’

‘What?’

‘There is something called a Horcrux,’ Draco stopped suddenly, leaving the sentence unfinished, his eyes flickering around him with distrust.

‘Isn’t that what you called the diary?’

‘Yes, but he has more than one,’ Harry felt the spell release him, although Draco’s hand curled round his arm before he could so much as flinch away, Draco’s face coming close to his ear, his voice a low whisper Harry had to strain to hear. ‘Now listen, and listen carefully, because I have the time to say this only once.’ Harry nodded wordlessly as Draco aimed a silencing charm at the nearby wall, creating a tiny bubble for them both before leaning back slightly, although his voice didn’t rise above a soft murmur. ‘The Dark Lord made seven of them. He split his soul seven times, and stored each fragment in an object of meaning, thus turning the object into a Horcrux, a way to ensure that he, or at least a part of him, could continue to survive even after death. He can be reborn from them, as you saw that time in the Chamber of Secrets.’ Harry nodded mutely, his head reeling from the information as he stared blankly at the floor at his feet, trying to understand the full impact of what he was being told. ‘You have all ready destroyed one, and a couple of others have met an unfortunate fate over the years, but some still exist.’ Draco reached out and grasped Harry’s chin, lifting his eyes to meet with his own, which stared fixedly. ‘They are his weakness,’ he said intently, eyes bright with the knowledge. ‘He has stretched himself too thin without even realising. Just the death of one had more profound implications than he ever realised.’

‘Then we need to destroy the rest.’ Harry declared, the pressure of the fingers that still clenched round his jaw becoming painful.

‘Are you an idiot?’ Draco dropped his hand reflexively. ‘Destroy one and he will know. They are a part of him and he will feel it.’

‘You don’t know that, you’re just guessing,’ Harry responded indignantly, getting louder until Draco glared at him pointedly and Harry resumed in a harsh and throaty undertone. ‘You’re grasping at straws. You want to leave little bits of him floating around, but he can’t be completely destroyed until they are gone.’

‘Yes, Potter, each of the Horcruxes contain a piece of his soul. Yes, he cannot be truly defeated until they have all been destroyed,’ Draco reiterated with sarcastic contempt, his mouth curling into a disparaging sneer that made Harry want to just turn and walk away from the whole thing there and then, consequences be damned. He couldn’t spend another minute in the presence of the man, let alone work with him in a pitiful imitation of camaraderie. ‘However, if you would be so good as to give your shining consent, I would rather remove the piece that is currently capable of cursing me to oblivion and back first and then worry about the other, rather more inanimate pieces, after.’

‘I’m the one who has to kill him, and I would much rather deal with the bit that can curse when it’s at its weakest,’ Harry argued stubbornly, crossing his arms across his chest.

‘You only have to kill him Potter,’ Draco said scornfully. ‘Don’t worry about the rest.’

‘It’s a pretty big rest.’

‘Just because you are the only one who can kill him does not mean you are the only one who can fight him,’ the silencing charm was dropped with a wave of his wand, as Draco gestured for Harry to go first, smiling as he stalked past. ‘I want the privilege of taking him down a step or two for myself. I will keep him occupied, you concern yourself with fulfilling your part of the bargain.’

‘There was no bargain, Malfoy,’ Harry reminded forcefully, ‘only blackmail.’ The anger and resentment he was feeling abruptly left though, as a set of large double doors appeared before them, and his scar flared to life.

‘No backing out now,’ Draco commented tauntingly, seizing Harry, who had taken an unconscious step backwards, and dragging him forcibly towards the doors which opened with a long, drawn out groan at his presence. ‘Be a good little boy and act afraid.’ No act was needed though, Harry was bloody terrified. This was a bad idea, and it would take more than luck to get him out of this one. He needed a damn miracle.

The ceiling was too high as he entered, indefinable above the shadows that stretched from the walls. It left the air cold as the tiny hairs on the back on his neck and down the length of his arm prickled. No, it wasn’t the air doing that it was the presence. High windows showed only the darkness of outside though, with no escape as a set of eyes focused eagerly on him. Harry could feel the anticipation and the expectancy, and it was only the firm grip that kept him from bolting as he cursed his supposed Gryffindor courage for deserting him now.

Voldemort sat before them, unchanged over the years with Snape standing slightly to his right, a furious expression on his face as Draco approached.

‘You stole Potter,’ Snape said flatly.

‘You never told me he was here,’ Draco replied flippantly, throwing Harry to the ground before his forsaken Master, as Harry fell painfully to his knees before scrabbling back to his feet, horrifyingly aware of the eyes that watched his every move with malicious pleasure. He wouldn’t kneel, not if he was going to die; he wouldn’t give the bastard the satisfaction. ‘Perhaps if you had this whole thing would have been over that bit quicker.’

‘You were not told for a reason, Draco.’ Voldemort interrupted with a warning tone, although his eyes never left Harry; boring through him, stripping down his weak defences to leave him feeling smaller, younger and more vulnerable than before. Draco held back from sneering. ‘Yet still you defy my wishes and sneak behind my back. If your assistance had been required I would have demanded it.’

‘Forgive me,’ Draco’s tone was angry, but he couldn’t help it and couldn’t bring himself to tack the title of respect on to the end of the sentence. ‘It was inevitable Snape would foul the whole thing up sooner or later,’ Malfoy paused to look at his former Professor, a small smile curling the corners of his mouth, his grey eyes flashing with the prospect of vengeance soon to be justly had. Harry could have sworn he saw a momentary flicker of panic dart behind Snape’s own eyes, but it was soon gone as the Potions Master responded with no more than a derisive and contemptuous inclination of his head, as though daring Malfoy to continue. ‘After all, it’s in his blood to fail, to be weak.’ Draco looked back to the Dark Lord, whose gaze had hardened and narrowed to slits, leaning forwards on his throne as Malfoy held the look for a moment of calm before speaking, his voice strong and condemning, rising to the very rafters with its judgement and ultimate sentence. ‘I did not trust to the success of a Half Blood.’

There was a pause, a breath of absolute silence and sitllness as Voldemort turned his gaze on Snape, red eyes glowing murderously as the Potions Master opened his mouth to speak. He didn’t have a chance, barely seeing the wand that aimed towards him at the onslaught of his mind, as the Dark Lord plunged in without heed, shearing his way through the memories as Snape’s mind collapsed under the sudden invasion. Whether the Dark Lord ever found the wall of Occlusion was irrelevant, as it crumbled instantly under the assault, as his Master seized the secreted memory with triumph, pulling out victoriously to leave Snape with one final, coherent thought.

At least now he was someone important.

‘Avada Kedavra’





Chapter 18: Reckoning
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Chapter 18: Reckoning

I see the rage in your face
The rage of hate in your face
The master's saying calm down
You'll find a way to calm down

But now it's loose and out there
You better hide it somewhere
His master's dogs are loose now
They flesh you to your bones now.

Hate Is Mine

-Wumpscut, Hate Is Mine


‘You have known his bloodline for how long, Draco?’ The Dark Lord said with careful emphasis.

‘I have suspected for some time, but until I was sure I could not act.’

‘For all these years I was deceived,’ the Dark Lord blasted the lifeless body with another curse, obviously angered that Snape had only one life to lose, and Harry felt a wave of guilty nausea as a pale hand smacked with boneless obscenity against the floor and didn’t so much as twitch. He couldn’t help the sick feeling of gratitude that the face was obscured by shadows and the frame of grey speckled hair, so that he could no longer see the expression of horrified shock and sudden awareness, as though all the pieces had fallen into place in that moment leaving only a bitter acceptance that had etched itself onto the sallow features.

‘You were not the only one,’ Draco replied darkly, his own eyes casting a dismissive glance over his old Head of House, glinting with victorious glee before snapping back to the Dark Lord. Draco wasn’t even bothering to hide his contempt any more, as the grey darkened with disgust and his lips pulled back into a sneer of revulsion. Harry didn’t need to be able to see into his mind to know the turbulent direction his thoughts had taken. His hatred seemed to coalesce into the space around him, vile strands weaving through the air. A shiver rippled violently up Harry’s spine, prickling the hairs as it reached his neck, leaving his thoughts sharp and panicked, emphasised by the throbbing in his scar which had risen to a piercing sensation as though a part of Voldemort was crawling under his very skin. He didn’t even have his wand, it was still tucked away somewhere in Malfoy’s robe, probably only to be given to him at the last possible moment and perhaps not even then.

‘If he, of all people, could survive unknown for so long then there must be others,’ Voldemort snarled. His wand was still extended, held out in front of him as though daring Snape to rise again, to crawl forwards with pleading excuses, begging forgiveness and absolution. Whether his failure to do so caused the Dark Lord greater annoyance was impossible to tell, as his voice sounded across the room, choked with anger and rage. ‘You will find them, Draco,’ he still hadn’t moved, still stared at the body, face twisted with fury and eyes burning as he spoke without turning. ‘By whatever means necessary. Find them and destroy them.’

‘I will start instantly,’ Harry barely saw his hand move before it was holding a wand aimed straight at the heart of the Dark Lord, steady and unwavering, as Voldemort’s gaze snapped round to meet Draco’s, ‘by removing you.’

Malfoy didn’t pause as a jet of red light erupted from the tip of his wand, barrelling with blinding force towards the seated figure which didn’t move, seemingly stunned in anticipation as the Dark Lord’s eyes glittered under the approaching light of the curse before it evaporated into a puff of smoke, tiny pinpricks dancing in the air before blinking out. Draco took a single step backwards; eyes alight with determination as Voldemort rose slowly, gracefully, wand still hanging by his side as the long fingers of his other hand traced the length of the arm of the throne.

‘You would challenge me?’ The words were spoken with soft menace, light with questioning and incredulous surprise as Harry edged backwards, hand clutching at his head, which had exploded in a myriad of coloured spots and waves of sharp, jagged sparks as he reached blindly for the wall. The floor swam and rolled beneath his feet, it seemed, as he screwed his eyes shut, the voices fading to a muffled cacophony beneath the pounding of the blood in his ears. He tried to call for Draco, but couldn’t even tell if a sound passed his lips, the only response he received being a rich laughter he wretchedly recognised as Voldemort’s, echoing round his own head as he tried desperately and without success to push out the invasion of his mind.

‘Challenge, no,’ Draco spat angrily, standing his ground now as he lifted his chin proudly. ‘That would suggest I considered you my equal,’ he quirked an eyebrow in accompaniment to his sneering contempt. ‘I exterminate Half Bloods.’

The Dark Lord’s eyes clouded murkily at the statement, an uncontrollable window of emotion in his otherwise impassive face. ‘Well then, it would seem Severus was right about one thing,’ he hissed, leaning forwards slightly as his voice dropped in the silence. ‘I do indeed have a traitor in my midst.’

‘You are the traitor!’ Draco roared, his second curse soaring across the room, the light darker and more intense although it too dissipated before it could strike. ‘How dare you call yourself Lord when your rule is no more than a hypocrisy, a mockery of everything I believe.’ The Dark Lord strode forwards, footsteps smooth as his robes billowed around him. Wand trained on Draco he gave Harry barely a glance, freezing and immobilising him with a dismissive wave of his free hand as he bore down on the young Malfoy, a single curse leaving the tip of his wand with a jet of blinding, yellow light.

Draco fell with a grimace as his hand grasped for something in his robes, followed by the wooden clattering of a wand skittering into the shadows as the Dark Lord approached. He attempted to rise, but a foot rested in the curve of his chest, pushing Draco inexorably back to the floor as the Dark Lord’s wand pressed painfully against the tender flesh of his neck and his voice murmured forebodingly in Draco’s ear. ‘I am no traitor; I am the descendant of Salazar Slytherin himself.’

‘And no doubt he is turning in his grave knowing that his noble bloodline has been so foully tainted,’ Draco snarled in response, pushing himself up onto his elbows and trying to turn his head, stopping as the tip tried to bury itself deeper into his throat, digging hard enough to bruise. ‘You make me ashamed to have been in his House!’ Voldemort growled in the back of his throat, spidery fingers tightening round the neck as the wand was withdrawn slightly but remained aimed at him murderously. The Dark Lord wanted Draco to see what was coming.

‘You are about to die, young Malfoy.’ Draco couldn’t help but swallow reflexively at the soft words.

‘Expelliarmus!’ The spell was shouted by a rough voice in the shadows, a flicker of surprise showing before Voldemort was thrown unexpectedly from Draco. His body hit the far wall with a resounding thud and the ringing crack of bone against stone before it crumpled, landing in an unmoving heap as Harry ran forwards, hand rubbing convulsively at his scar. He watched the figure silently for a moment, shivering noticeably so that even his wand trembled in his fingers. ‘Did you know he could do wandless magic?’

‘Not to that extent,’ Draco admitted hoarsely, rolling over and coughing painfully. ‘The occasional Lumos, perhaps even the ability to summon his wand, but stunning someone? He kept it well hidden.’ Harry backed slowly towards him, refusing to let his gaze leave the body of the Dark Lord for even a second. He stumbled on the uneven floor though, yelping with shock. ‘How did you get free?’

‘It just dropped off,’ Harry sounded breathless as he reached out to help Malfoy to his feet, although the weight of the man threatened to pull his shaking body over too. Draco righted him easily, hand resting on Harry’s shoulder as he scanned the floor for his own wand, bending down to seize it triumphantly.

‘Either he lost concentration or he cannot maintain it for any length of time,’ Draco reasoned. ‘Neither of which is important now.’ He was smiling again, a vicious smile as Harry wavered when the crushing pressure of the hand holding him upright was released and Draco took a step away, a step towards the fallen figure. ‘I will not kill an unconscious man though,’ he declared without preamble, raising his wand again as Harry’s eyes widened in fear at what he was hearing. ‘There is no pleasure to be had in defeating someone so unworthy if he does not realise his own failure.’

‘Are you nuts?’ Harry threw himself forward, hands curling round the arm as it was knocked down. ‘Have you forgotten what just happened? He blocked everything you threw at him,’ the body was starting to stir, as Harry continued to pull on Draco’s arm, eyes darting desperately to the far doorway. Draco pushed him aside with little effort, sneering disdainfully as Harry scrambled back to his feet.

‘He won’t block this!’ Harry grabbed his arm again, pulling the wand off target as the Enervate ricocheted off a nearby torch. It didn’t matter though, as Harry moaned in the back of his throat at the sight of the Dark Lord slowly uncurling himself, fingers flexing, arms stretching and the slow, expectant inhalation as the Dark Lord slowly pushed himself upright. ‘Kill him,’ he heard Draco command quietly through the fog of panic. ‘Your spell got through.’

‘Don’t be such a prat,’ Harry gasped as the pain leapt back to life, scorching through his mind as the Dark Lord turned to rest his gaze on him. ‘I only got through because he was too distracted by you to notice me.’ Somehow he managed to aim his wand though, as his vision shifted and blurred.

‘Something which won’t happen again,’ Voldemort said smoothly, his own wand leaping from where it had fallen and slapping into his waiting hand. Harry glared defiantly, prepared to defend himself no matter how pointless the effort proved to be. The Dark Lord’s interest had moved on though, as he regarded Malfoy through slitted eyes. ‘Betrayed one Half Blood just to ally yourself with another, have you now Draco. Your father would not be pleased with you.’

‘I am just relieved he is insane all ready, so at least he will never have to know the humiliation of having served you.’

‘Your father would never have been weak enough to believe such lies about me,’ Voldemort roared angrily, striking at Draco’s obvious weakness. He had always cared too much what he father thought, had always been almost obsessive in his desire to please the man. Such habits had not left him completely. ‘Give me the boy now I may see my way clear to forgiving you.’ The command was punctuated by a curse Draco narrowly avoided.

‘No.’ Draco placed himself in front of Harry.

‘Then I will hand you to the Dementor’s,’ Voldemort hissed menacingly. ‘Where you can spend the rest of your days reliving the knowledge that you are nothing but a disappointing end to a once noble family.’ Draco went rigid at the comment, but said nothing in the silence that seemed to draw itself out indefinitely, stretched to breaking.

Harry felt a hand curl round the top of his arm and for a moment it seemed his very heart stopped in terror as he waited to be handed over, not daring to breath. He didn’t hear the Killing Curse Malfoy sent barrelling towards the Dark Lord, nor the words whispered frantically in his ear before Draco too closed his eyes in concentration for a moment, muttering under his breath before opening them with a sharp exhalation as his World tinged green and he realised that there was now one more person to have survived the unforgivable curse. The Dark Lord could not be killed.

It was worse than death, as the scream caught in Harry’s throat and the air pressed in around him. He couldn’t draw breath as he felt himself compressed from all sides, squeezed mercilessly it seemed his very skin was splitting under the pressure, his lungs burning. He hit the floor hard, jarred to his knees as he wrapped his arms around his middle and whimpered quietly, no room left for shame or embarrassment. He vaguely registered reluctant and forced apologies from above him, as he squinted up at the pale face looking down at him with a mixture of infuriation and relief. ‘Bloody Hell Potter,’ Draco hooked an arm under him, lifting him back onto his feet. ‘You’re not splinched,’ Draco spun him round, checking his statement were in fact true, adding to the queasiness as Harry doubled over and wretched. ‘Pull yourself together.’

‘What happened?’ The awful taste of bile clung to the back of his throat as Harry spat onto the floor several times in an attempt to lessen it.

‘I lowered the wards surrounding the chamber and apparated us out.’ Draco didn’t bother waiting for Harry to regain himself, lifting the light frame into his arms and all but running down a narrow corridor. ‘Only had time to grab your hand, which is why it wasn’t particularly pleasant. Haven’t side-alonged anyone in years,’ Harry got the impression Draco was more trying to calm himself with the pointless comment than anyone else, as though speaking of the little things made the predicament less massive. He looked oddly drawn in the faint light, somehow smaller and less intimidating then before, strands of his blonde hair swinging wildly across his face. Harry felt oddly distanced from the whole thing too, as he let himself be carefully carried and his eyes drifted shut. A sharp pain in his head and they shot open again though, as he looked more closely, suddenly horrified, at the familiar walls.

‘Why are we still here?’ He struggled to free himself from the arms that held him all the more tightly, as Draco picked up his pace. He was running now, without grace or style but in the manner of one trying to get far away as quickly as possible.

‘Don’t be a fool Potter,’ he managed to comment between panting breaths, ‘an anti apparition barrier surrounds the entire place. We cannot leave that way,’ Harry started to argue the obvious flaw in the statement, but was cut off impatiently. ‘This place is too large not to allow apparition once within its walls. The Dark Lord demands immediacy to his summons from his servants. His personal chambers are the only place into which and from where it is not possible.’

‘But…’

‘The Dark Lord is not in the habit of doing his own dirty work,’ Draco snapped. ‘I erected them for him, and I brought them down.’

‘Can he find us?’

‘With ease,’ Draco rounded a corner and skidded to a halt, the weight of Harry almost toppling him off balance as he glared into the gloom, the tenseness in his shoulders the only evidence to his alarm. Bellatrix blocked his path.

‘You’ve been a very naughty boy, haven’t you,’ Draco snarled at the taunt, turning slightly so that Harry remained out of her direct aim. Bella had had her wand aimed straight at him. ‘Don’t move, or I’ll be forced to curse you, and your mother won’t be pleased with that.’ Harry tried to reach for his own wand, but his hand was trapped and a slight squeeze from Draco stopped him from moving to free it.

‘Get out of my way,’ but Draco had nothing to threaten her with, not whilst he was carrying Harry and unable to reach for his wand which he had tucked away in the folds of his robe. He cursed himself for his own stupidity and lack of foresight, refusing to dwell on the decidedly Gryffindor nature of his actions, no matter the motivation behind them.

‘I’ll let you run away,’ Bella suddenly said in a singsong voice, her offer unnervingly perceptive. ‘Run away from your Master like a bad, bad boy.’ Harry wondered how she knew and how much she had seen, how much she remembered. ‘But it will cost you.’ Harry felt Draco prepare to run as he inclined his head to ask the question he all ready knew the answer too. ‘I want that pretty little boy in your arms.’

Draco growled in the back of his throat. ‘No.’

‘You can even have him back when I’m done,’ Bella continued as though his refusal had never existed.

‘When you are done I doubt there will be anything to give back.’

‘Better broken than dead, right little dragon,’ she moved closer, peering at Harry, trying to see his face as she lit her wand and Harry closed his eyes and turned his head against the sudden bright light. ‘Besides, it’s only those green eyes of his I want. Pluck them right out and the rest of him is yours.’ Draco felt Harry suppress a shudder as he made a quick decision.

‘Fine,’ Draco said softly as Harry stiffened in his arms, but had the sense not to struggle. ‘Come and take him.’ Bella’s eyes lit up as she pounced forwards without thought for anything but her prize, her fingers brushing the hair from Harry’s face with surprising gentleness as she tilted his face towards her before they shot forwards like vicious claws to pry open his eyes. Harry flailed desperately with a yell as Draco caught her with a sharp kick to the thigh. She backed off with a yelp, limping as Draco dropped Harry’s legs, reaching for his wand as he kept the boy upright with a tight hand around his narrow waist, aiming steadily at the crouched woman. ‘What did I tell you about following us?’

Bella merely looked thoughtful though, making no further move to fight him. She straightened up, looking unexpectedly younger than her years. ‘Your Master will not be happy,’ she said with surprising coolness, shaking her head, her dark hair swaying with the movement. ‘But neither would your mother if you were to die and she suspected I had let you.’ The fondness in her voice was startling as she spoke and took an ominous step forwards, Draco flourishing his wand with intent. She ignored it, jabbing a bony finger in his chest as cruelty lit in her gaze again. ‘You are a traitor, young Malfoy. Return and I will see to it you die a traitors death, family or not.’

‘Get out of my way.’ Draco commanded again flatly, and to Harry’s surprise Bella did so, receding into the shadows as they sidled past. Harry watched as she disappeared into the darkness behind them, Draco’s grip loosening. ‘Can you manage on your own now?’ The old snideness was back in the voice, although it shook slightly as Harry merely scowled by way of response. Draco was running again though before he could test to see if it were actually true, and his legs were wavering beneath him when they finally stopped outside a door which was flung open with a series of spells.

‘These are Snape’s rooms,’ Harry gasped as the door opened and he looked around the dark and familiar walls, shying back into the hallway. These were the rooms of a dead man and he didn’t want to enter. The choice was taken from him as he was hauled forwards though, the door slamming shut behind him as the torches lining the walls flickered to life.

‘I am not foolish enough to head for my own.’ Draco released Harry and headed for the fireplace, stepping gracefully over the broken remains of a chair before floating the wooden splinters into the empty grate, lighting it quickly and violently before swearing loudly at the empty mantelpiece. ‘No bloody floo powder.’ He wrenched open the nearest drawer, rifling through its contents and sliding it closed again with enough force to shake the cabinet before moving on, as Draco tipped over a table in annoyance and aimed his wand at the room in general, shouting ‘Accio floo powder.’ Harry darted backwards as a cloak whipped inches past his face, a cloak which he recognised as he yelled for Draco not to touch it. The warning was useless, as Draco had all ready caught the item easily as he stared at Harry questioningly.

‘It was a portkey,’ Harry explained quickly, as Draco searched the pockets, pulling out a small bag before tossing the ragged item into the far corner. ‘Snape made it to bring me here, and he could have done god knows what else to it.’

‘Did Snape give you this too?’ Draco gestured agitatedly with the bag, shaking his head despairingly at Harry’s sharp nod as he loosened the thin cord keeping it closed, gingerly pulling out a pinch of dark powder, which he threw experimentally into the flames that were slowly dying as the wood crumpled to ash. They roared back to life, a deep green as Draco exhaled with relief. ‘Seems fine,’ he didn’t sound convinced though as he mentally traversed the list of all the possible traps using the powder could spring, ‘and it did answer to the summons, so it would appear genuine.’ Draco poured a small pile into the palm of his hand, the sound of the rushing grains oddly calming before he threw the bag to Harry, who caught it deftly, spilling the fine powder on the floor by his feet as his fingers closed carefully round what remained. ‘Follow me,’ Draco was all ready in the fire as Harry looked up, glancing fearfully over his shoulder as he thought he heard the sound of approaching voices outside the door, dismissing it as the panicked creations of his imagination. There was a brief roar of flames and rush of wind, and running across the room Harry stepped into the now empty hearth, jumping with shock at the reoccurring sounds that were no figment of his imagination as he threw down the powder, his voice cracking round the direction, ‘Hogwarts.’

Closing his eyes against the rushing of the floo, Harry stumbled blindly out the fireplace at the other end, just to be dragged out the way as Draco aimed a stream of spells and charms at the fire within, the flames burning through a deep red that was almost black when he finished, receding until only the embers glowed.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Sealing it.’ Draco’s tone was sharp as he paused to inspect his work.

‘Will it keep Him out?’

‘This is my school now Potter. No one enters without my leave.’ Draco affirmed resolutely as Harry glanced round the room at the slumbering portraits. The desk was different, the wood lighter than that of its predecessor, but it stood in the same place. There was no perch for Fawkes here either. For all he had tried to claim the Headmasters Office as his own, something about the room still breathed the presence of Dumbledore. The greens seemed out of place, the high-backed chair behind the desk too uncomfortable and stark. Even the Sorting Hat on a high shelf looked more rigidly upright than he remembered, as though it too couldn’t relax in the fastidiously bare surroundings. The room shouldn’t have looked this way, and it made Harry uncomfortable.

‘It doesn’t feel different, you know,’ he commented almost absently, drawing a scowl from Draco. It still felt like it should be how it was, an indefinable feeling he couldn’t place; and every time he blinked it was almost a surprise that the room remained the same, as though in that split second it would revert to the welcoming warmth he remembered and longed for.

‘I know,’ Draco grabbed Harry by the arm as the door swung open to the spiralling stairs that led back down, pulling him impatiently past the stone gargoyle that bowed as Draco passed. What he had expected to see Harry didn’t know, but it wasn’t this. It was almost insulting as he stopped without thinking, Draco for once not yanking him back to his senses and instead releasing his grip as Harry edged towards the nearest window, sighing contentedly as the moonlight hit his face and he could see. The high tower of Gryffindor rose majestically into the cloudless sky, just as he remembered it, and below him the grass spread out towards the hoops of the Quidditch Pitch, which glinted in the soft light, the stands a mass of shadows on which he could barely make out the crests of the Houses. This was his home, this was where he belonged as he closed his eyes and released in the moment of absolute peace.

‘You didn’t change it,’ he sighed, only the hint of a question lighting the statement.

‘Hogwarts has stood this way for hundreds of years,’ Draco looked mildly aghast at the insinuation. ‘It would not have been my place.’ Nodding in agreement Harry turned his gaze towards the sky again, mapping the stars as the full moon hung brightly amongst them.

The full moon.

‘Is Remus here then?’ Harry finally asked, the brief reprieve ending instantly.

‘He is dead Potter,’ Draco sighed as Harry turned to glare at him venomously. ‘I lied, and don’t look so damn surprised. You knew the truth, you just wanted to believe otherwise.’ Harry was too tired to hold on to the anger. He just wanted to crawl towards the staircases and into the common room so he could hide in his bed and pull the curtains on the rest of the World.

‘So now what?’ He slumped back with exhaustion, head hung with defeat as he waited to be told what use Draco could further find of him, if any.

‘I am going to send you back.’

Harry heartlessly quashed the hope that jumped to life at the statement, as he watched Draco carefully for any hint of a lie. ‘You have a Timeturner?’

‘I have several,’ Draco boasted, smirking at the doubtful expression Harry continued to maintain.

‘How?’

‘My school, my rules.’ Draco turned down the corridor, his stride slow and purposeful as he commented over his shoulder. ‘Are you going to follow me or not?’ Harry pushed himself upright, scepticism still evident as he hurried to keep up. Draco kept glancing at him too, disconcertingly, as Harry tried to ignore it. There was only one place Draco could be going he realised as they entered the seventh floor corridor though.

‘The room of requirement?’ Harry said with bewilderment. ‘How do you know where it is?’

‘I found it in my seventh year,’ Draco was smiling again. ‘I saw you disappear into it enough times, and it wasn’t overly difficult to uncover the secret behind it. It was of some use to me at the time.’ Harry opened his mouth to press further, but a look from Draco, momentarily marring his bright expression, stopped him.

‘And now?’ He settled on instead as the blank wall approached.

‘It is of even more use.’ Draco paced outside the bare wall, face set in concentration as Harry watched, wondering what Malfoy was requesting before a door appeared. Harry made no move to open it though, waiting for Malfoy to do so, holding it open so that Harry could see into the room beyond as he stepped closer, peering into the candlelit space with astonishment.

Neat shelves lined the walls, which bore remarkably resemblance as those in the dungeons. It looked somewhat like an enlarged version of Snape’s Potions Cupboard even, dark and foreboding as they stretched out of reach, although Harry could still see the rims of jars and vials on those above his head. Draco stormed across to one with the air of someone who knew every inch of the small room, and exactly what resided in each, lifting a small pendant with care and aiming his wand at it as the thing glowed briefly. He glanced towards Harry, who could see the flicker of doubt and the inner argument as Draco convinced himself one final time that there was no other option, before thrusting the item out to him, chain hanging between his fingers. ‘Take it,’ he commanded, the tone demanding obedience.

Harry reached out tentatively as he edged slowly closer, fingers almost brushing the smooth edges of the Timeturner but stopping a fraction before he actually reached it, withdrawing his hand slightly. ‘How do I know I can trust you?’

Draco let out a choked laugh. ‘Merlin Potter, of all the times to ask,’ he moved the item back towards Harry, closing the small distance he had created but not forcing it on to him, waiting for Harry to take it for himself. ‘You didn’t have a problem trusting Snape.’

‘No, I just didn’t have a choice.’ And he couldn’t bring himself to take the thing now, no matter the consequences, or even that he felt inclined to believe Malfoy, strange as it seemed. But the Timeturner just hung from between his fingers with such beguiling innocence and tempting promises that he couldn’t take it because then they would twist on him into lies and deceptions he didn’t have the strength to deal with.

Draco picked up on his hesitance, his face hardening with irritation when he spoke again. ‘I am not giving you one now either,’ he declared harshly, as Harry glanced up at him. ‘Listen Potter, I don’t care what I have to do to ensure it, but you will be going back by my hand.’

‘Why are you so willing?’ Harry finally managed to articulate the crux of his problem as Draco huffed. ‘Minutes ago I was your way to absolute rulership. Why are you giving that up?’

‘You were right Potter,’ Draco cut him off sharply, the words obviously unpleasant to him as he spat them out quickly. ‘Is that good enough for you? You were right. No one can defeat the Dark Lord now, not even you. I am stuck under his thumb until the moment I die, which is looking to be a very close moment after all.’ Harry still looked confused though, as Draco rolled his eyes and gritted his teeth. ‘I am sending you back because the only way to ensure this does not happen is for you to make sure I never find myself in this position to begin with.’

Harry opened his mouth silently, gaping with disbelief. ‘You want me to tell you not to join Voldemort?’ He sounded shocked. ‘You do remember that my saying you shouldn’t do something would have the most likely result of you running over broken glass to do it.’

‘I will have all ready joined him,’ Malfoy ignored the sarcasm, holding out the Timeturner once again, although there was no choice left in the gesture. ‘It’s too late to for you to stop my being marked. And to be honest, I really don’t care what you have to do to achieve it. Just do it. Tie me to a bloody tree for the year if that is the only way,’ Harry lifted his hand again towards Draco’s, just to find it pulled out of reach at the last second. ‘I won’t join you though,’ Draco hissed in warning, ‘or Dumbledore, or your stupid little Order. You can’t convert me, so don’t even try. Just make sure I don’t kill the old man. That’s pretty much where it all went wrong.’ Harry nodded silently, his throat thick.

‘When will I arrive?’

‘Near enough to the same time you left,’ Draco held out the Timeturner again, and this time Harry took it, marvelling at the weight of such a small item as he ran a finger gently along the surface, pausing as he moved to place it round his neck.

‘Wait,’ he looked up hopefully, arms dropping, ‘can’t you make it a few months earlier?’

‘No,’ it was definitive and there was absolutely no give in Draco’s voice, no chance of a different answer or convincing him otherwise. ‘The risk is great enough as it is. Besides, there is nothing you could do.’ Draco held the glare he received with a steady and unblinking look of his own.

‘What do you know,’ Harry muttered sullenly when he finally looked away, fingers twining round the chain of the Timeturner as he twisted it distractedly.

‘I am not stupid, Potter. He’s dead and you have to accept it.’ Harry winced slightly at the harshness of the words. ‘Even if I were to give you those few more months, there is nothing you could do to change anything.’

‘You can’t be certain, you don’t know,’ Harry argued urgently, his voice rising in the confines of the room.

‘I know more than you realise. Black is gone.’

Insults sprang to mind, a litany of abuse Harry longed to hurl at Draco but didn’t. ‘Fine,’ he said instead, dropping the thin chain over his neck and feeling the cold metal snake uncomfortably down his chest. ‘How does it work?’

‘Turn it, just once.’

Harry nodded, holding the Timeturner carefully as he examined it before he spoke thickly and without looking up. ‘Thanks.’

‘I don’t want your thanks, Potter,’ Draco sounded insulted. ‘I’m not doing this for you.’

‘I know.’ The pendant moved smoothly under his fingers, as he slowly started to twist it round, watching as the light from the torches flickered along its surface. He was going home. It didn’t feel real.

‘One more thing,’ Draco added quickly, as Harry looked up blankly. ‘Tell Dumbledore not to go to the cave.’

‘What cave?’ He hadn’t stopped turning it; he didn’t think he could now. It seemed to be moving on its own, dragging his hand slowly with it.

‘Just tell him. The locket is a fake. Voldemort could never find the real one. It was taken.’

‘I’ll tell him,’ Harry paused, watching as the Timeturner approached the full spin. He swore he could feel the magic gathering round him now, trickling through his body as a single, frightened thought hit him, one he couldn’t let go unanswered. ‘What will happen here now, when I go?’

Draco smiled reassuringly. ‘With any luck, this will never have been.’

***


Harry landed as his stomach roiled and he vomited what little remained in it, clutching the side of the nearby bed as he continued to dry heave until his sides ached horribly and tears prickled the corners of his eyes. Grasping the Timeturner in his shaking hand he yanked on it suddenly, feeling the chain tighten painfully against the back of his neck, the links pinching the skin before giving way as Harry tossed it into the furthest corner of the room. He blinked fiercely to clear his vision as he looked at the crumpled sheets that covered the bed. His bed, as he glanced at the side table and then round the rest of the room, confirming what he was too scared to believe until he was absolutely sure.

He was back.

Pulling himself onto shaky legs he ran for the door, searching the hallway beyond with frantic eyes and all but falling down the stairs in his rush. He couldn’t be too late and it just wouldn’t be fair. He had to catch the person responsible, had to see them with his own eyes to confirm that he hadn’t all been some awful nightmare. But there was no one, as he let out a choked sob of despair and frustration. Passing down the hallway on weak and shaky legs he threw open the front door, looking down the empty pathway and onto the street beyond. There was no one in sight though, only the gentle buzz of a street lamp and the mocking emptiness. Some part of him resisted the immediate urge to run out onto the road, to shout his defiance, to make the person come back and face him. He didn’t though; closing the door he instead checked the kitchen methodically, feeling horribly disconnected and empty until his eyes were drawn angrily to the fireplace he wished he had checked sooner. But the hearth was clear and cold, confirming that no one had been through it. Not yet, at any rate.

Gripped by fear Harry suddenly fled the kitchen, running up the stairs he barrelled into the Master bedroom, almost throwing the door off its hinges in his rush and his desperation to see, to make sure.

‘Remus!’

He had been taken, Snape had said. He had been kidnapped and horribly tortured, but Snape hadn’t said when. Which meant it could have been tonight. They could have removed Harry and claimed themselves a werewolf in a single evening.

Not caring, all warning fleeing him completely, Harry lit the room with a shaky spell, as soft beams of light spread across the shadows and he padded softly forwards. ‘Remus?’ The wolf was lying exactly where he remembered it being, but the only indication Remus was aware of Harry’s presence was the smallest twitch of ears as Harry gathered the courage to move closer still. One hand reached out to grasp the bedpost as he lowered his wand slightly to cast its beam across the dark covers, taking in a sharp breath at what he saw. ‘Oh god, what did they do to you?’ Harry fell on his knees by the bed, reaching out tentatively to touch the soft fur, curling his fingers in it. The wolf barely moved as it let out a tiny breath, barely audible even in the still air.

Reaching out again Harry pushed insistently on the wolf’s chest, trying to wake it, his anxiety reaching a peak, his breathing fast and trembling. Remus was hardly breathing himself now, as Harry crawled up next to him, placing a gentle hand across his ribs and taking comfort in the tiny yet repetitive movement he felt. Remus wasn’t dead, and Harry wouldn’t let anyone take him, not now, not ever, as he spread out against the warm fur, one arm thrown across the fur of his chest so that he could feel the rise and fall of each breath, knowing that were it to fade he would wake instantly.

Eventually Harry fell asleep.








Chapter 19: Fairytales And Nonsense
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Authors Note: This chapter is dedicated to Bibbs, who has been a source of support and inspiration throughout most of this fic. Her dedication to reading, and her fabulous reviews have been nothing short of wonderful. But anyway, since you love Remus so much (and I won’t even hold it against you) this chapter is for you, especially the beginning, which I added in as a special treat. I just hope that I did him justice and that you enjoy!




Chapter 19: Fairytales and Nonsense

There is thunder in the distance and the sky grows grey.
There is lighting in the clouds in search of prey.
It's not a matter of if as much as when,
the clouds will break and the rainfall will begin.

-Assemblage 23, Cocoon


‘Harry?’ Harry grunted, trying to smack away the hand that shook him gently, rolling over and burying himself deeper in the soft covers. The voice was starting to sound impatient though, and he could feel his tired stupor reluctantly dissipating as he cracked open an eye and muttered something obscene about early risers. ‘Come on, wake up.’

Harry shifted himself up onto his elbows and looked round blearily. ‘Huh?’ The morning sun was streaming brightly through the window, the sheets warm and rumpled beneath him as he looked up at Remus who was watching him sadly, his eyes filled with disappointment, his voice quiet and reproachful in a way that made Harry cringe with shame.

‘Harry, what are you doing in here?’ Of course Remus wouldn’t have wanted Harry to see him like that, changed, no longer human. He was always so careful about what he was, not ashamed exactly, but cautious. And Harry had just run in and trampled over his wishes and his privacy without a thought for the man, too concerned with his own feelings of fear and loneliness for even a moment’s consideration. And he was still tired, the little sleep he had managed distressed and uneasy; he felt stretched too thin, hanging on in a tumultuous storm flying out of his control.

Harry didn’t bother to answer, throwing himself at the man who grunted in surprise at the weight that hit him as Harry wrapped his arms round Remus’ waist. He tensed with apprehension for a moment, expecting to be thrown off, knowing he probably didn’t deserve the comfort he felt in being able to feel for himself that Remus was really here and really alive, not taken, not dead. A sob broke lose that he couldn’t control, hating himself for being so pathetic as he felt Remus’ arms circle him awkwardly yet carefully in response, rubbing his back in a gentle and soothing motion. He’d never needed anyone before, but now he felt as though the ground beneath him would swallow him and spit him back to that place if he didn’t have someone to hold onto. ‘What’s wrong?’ Remus whispered above him, but Harry wasn’t able to answer and he didn’t want to move. Remus didn’t make him either, just holding him and stroking his hair, murmuring repetitively in a way that was completely meaningless yet still made Harry feel safer.

The hand stilled eventually however, as Harry felt Remus lift it to sniff cautiously, stiffening with worry as he snaked his hands round his back to loosen Harry’s grip and untangle the fingers that had woven themselves into his shirt. ‘Harry, is this blood?’ He found himself pushed away, held at arms length as Remus finally looked at him properly, eyes widening with shock and panic. ‘Merlin Harry, what happened to you? Are you hurt?’ Harry noticed that the hand that had been running through his hair was streaked with dirt and grime and the odd tinge of red dried to an almost brown. He couldn’t drag his eyes away from it.

‘It’s not mine, I don’t think.’ Harry managed to breathe, his words a rushed jumble. He didn’t feel hurt, more just numb. Remus didn’t listen, pulling the matted robes over Harry’s head with care, ignoring his own twinges as his arms and back protested to the movement. Harry just lifted his arms absently, closing his eyes against the darkness as the fabric surrounded him before being lifted away, feeling strangely lighter without the weight hanging from his shoulders. He glanced up as the bundle was thrown into the far corner, suddenly incredibly glad that it was no longer near him. He didn’t want anything that had been from Snape. Remus had moved over to the nearby wardrobe, the hangers rattling as he pulled out a threadbare cloak, which was swept round Harry, remarkably soft regardless of the bare patches and frayed hems. Harry pulled it tightly round himself, struggling to toe off the boots that still encased his feet. Remus stilled his frantic movements, pulling the laces free and slipping them off easily as Harry crossed his bare feet under him, tucking the edges of the cloak around him so he could sit, completely swathed, in the middle of the bed.

Remus wouldn’t leave him alone though, pulling open a drawer and unrolling a thick pair of socks. He pulled out one of Harry’s feet, slipping the heavy wool over it. ‘We have to get you to Madam Pomfrey,’ he said, looking Harry in the eye although he didn’t hold the gaze, looking away again quickly and apologetically. ‘You could be infected. You shouldn’t have come in here.’

‘I’m fine,’ Harry protested weakly, flinching backwards as Remus stood up angrily, face flushed as he dragged an anxious hand through his fine hair, pacing the few steps in front of him.

‘How can you say that?’ he demanded sceptically, rolling his eyes desperately to the ceiling, his hands absently clenching and unclenching at his sides so that Harry could see the faint outline of tiny crescent shaped indents left by his nails. ‘I am so sorry,’ Harry’s eyes snapped up again, full of surprise and confusion at the apology; what did Remus have to be sorry for? ‘Bloody Hell, we need Snape.’

‘No!’ Harry shouted, causing Remus to jump.

‘What?’

‘No Snape,’ Harry confirmed, trying to smile. ‘I’m fine,’ his words were about as convincing as the smile though, and Remus still looked doubtful, horrified even as Harry realised what had the man so alarmed. ‘You didn’t do anything,’ he said, hoping that somehow Remus would believe him on this if nothing else. ‘Don’t you remember? Someone knocked you out last night.’

‘I…’ Remus trailed off.

‘You didn’t touch me, Remus. You were completely unconscious,’ Remus looked almost too scared to believe Harry though. ‘I just didn’t want to leave you like that.’ Harry didn’t mention that he hadn’t wanted to be left on his own either. It would only have been cause for further concern, and Remus looked as though his nightmare had been lifted. He didn’t need a new one in its place.

‘Gods Harry,’ Remus declared with a nervous chuckle. ‘I saw you lying there looking half dead; you start crying and then I find out you were covered in blood. I thought I’d bitten you or something. James would never have bloody forgiven me!’

‘Like I said, I don’t think any of its mine.’

‘Well, forgive me for asking the stupid question then, but if not yours then whose blood are you covered in?’ Harry just shook his head, the burning pressure rising behind his eyes again as he moved forwards to hold onto the man.

‘I thought you were going to die,’ Harry managed to hiccup quietly. ‘You were hardly breathing, they could have just walked in any moment and taken you. I didn’t want that to happen again, not after what he did to you last time.’

‘Who could have?’ Remus asked gently, but Harry wasn’t answering, and Remus contented himself with simply holding the small boy until the shuddering subsided. ‘Come on,’ Remus said eventually, uncurling Harry’s fingers, which were gripping like death to the back of his shirt again and suppressing a shiver as a cool gust washed over the damp spot on his shoulder where Harry’s head had been resting. ‘Lets get you cleaned up then we can go see Albus. I believe I need to have words with him anyway.’

‘Are you all right?’ Harry sniffed, wiping his nose on the sleeve of the cloak then looking apologetic as Remus summoned a tissue and handed it to him.

‘Right as rain. It’d take more than a little sedative to kill a werewolf Harry, I thought I taught you better than that.’ Looking up into his eyes Harry suddenly realised the worry Remus was trying to hide from him. It hadn’t been a little, Harry knew. To knock out such a creature must have been bordering on overdose, else every werewolf would just ride out the change in a drug-induced sleep.

‘Are you sure?’ Harry hated how much his voice shook as Remus sat next to him, placing a hand on his shoulders as he met his gaze intently.

‘Harry, it has worn off,’ Harry nodded, but a shiver trailed up his spine and he couldn’t stop his thoughts from drifting once again to what could have been. ‘There is absolutely no more danger in it, so do not worry yourself. If anything take comfort,’ Remus managed a weak smile of his own. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had a change that easy.’ Harry tried to look more convincing as he nodded again, stopping himself from chewing anxiously on his bottom lip as the mattress shifted under him at the loss of Remus’ weight. ‘Which brings me back to you. If not your blood, then whose?’

Harry shrugged. ‘Malfoy, possibly. Tonks. Snape if I’m lucky.’

Remus pulled a tattered pair of shoes out from under the bed, sitting to lace them slowly as he spoke. He tried not to sound doubtful, adopting the reasonable tone Harry recognised from his time as a Professor when he pointed out facts in the hope the student themselves would spot their own error. ‘Tonks was on Auror duty last night, and I doubt Snape would willingly enter this house unless it was an absolute necessity. Malfoy, either Malfoy, simply cannot enter.’ Remus looked up as Harry let out a choked laugh.

‘Don’t suppose you have anything around to eat, do you,’ he asked. It seemed like a safer subject and talking about anything else suddenly felt far to hard, especially given all he had to tell. ‘Haven’t eaten anything in a few days. Actually,’ he grimaced as his stomach churned unpleasantly, ‘forget that, I don’t think I could keep anything down.’

‘What has happened?’

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.’ Harry laughed hysterically. He could feel the tears welling up again and blinked them furiously back. ‘Can I have a glass of water?’ Remus summoned one distractedly, splashing the floor before holding it out to Harry whose fingers trembled trying to hold onto it until Remus took the glass from his unresisting grip and tilted it up to his lips, helping him swallow.

‘Better?’

‘A bit.’

Remus placed the glass on the small table and straightened up. ‘Up to travelling?’

Harry blinked. ‘Where too?’

‘I think it’s really time to go find Albus.’

‘Oh yeah, that might be a good idea,’ Harry remembered as Remus looked even more concerned.

‘Do you want a calming potion?’

‘Did Snape make it?’ Harry asked as Remus nodded at the odd query. ‘Then no.’ There were no questions over his refusal, for which Harry was incredibly glad.

‘Come on,’ Remus offered his hand, ignoring his own pain as he helped hoist Harry to his feet, not commenting as Harry clung weakly to his arm and refused to let go, looking up at him pleadingly. Remus just patted his hand awkwardly in what he hoped was a comforting manner. He just wasn’t used to someone so obviously needing him, to someone not shying away from him, knowing what he was. And that it was Harry, who was in many ways even less able of showing or receiving affection of any sort than himself, holding onto him as though his very World would crumble away without the support was troubling. He led him down the stairs in silence, creeping quietly past the portrait and into the kitchen. ‘Lets get this, whatever it is, over with so you can get some sleep.’ Remus said softly. ‘You look exhausted.’

‘Thanks,’ Harry slumped into a chair, relinquishing his hold although he still followed every move Remus made, and Remus couldn’t help but noticed how his gaze flew apprehensively to the shadows every few seconds. Reaching for the pot of floo powder he lit a fire, the flames roaring to life. ‘Wait,’ Harry said frantically as Remus made for them both to leave. ‘Upstairs in my room somewhere there is a Timeturner. Can you find it?’

Remus couldn’t ignore the strangeness of the request. ‘What are you doing with a Timeturner?’ Harry just looked at him again, eyes wide.

‘I’ll explain, I promise, but I don’t have the energy to do it more than once. Please Remus.’ There was no point in pushing the issue now, so Remus just nodded, running up the stairs, his footsteps reverberating through the ceiling, and returning a few moments later, handing it out. ‘You carry it,’ Harry said as he shied away from the thing, relaxing as Remus slid it carefully into his pocket.

‘You ready?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then let us hope he is in,’ Remus threw in a handful of powder, shouting for the Headmasters Office and holding Harry tightly as he felt him tense in the rushing wind. They landed in an empty office, Fawkes letting out a soft note in greeting before returning to preening on his stand as Harry looked around and let out a sigh. The sunlight lit the walls, warming the wooden reds as dust sparkled in the air around him. Harry hadn’t noticed the large window before, but it was open now as the soft breeze caused the occasional chime of metal or rustle of paper. The Sorting Hat was snoring softly on its shelf, half buried, surrounded by unnamed items, although Harry swore he recognised the hilt of a sword leaning slightly over the edge. There was order to the clutter though, and not the stark and compulsive order Draco had created. It was homely and inviting, making a place for him amongst all it all ready contained instead of making him feel like an invader, small and out of place.

‘This is much better.’

‘Better than what, Harry?’ Dumbledore appeared from behind a bookcase with a faint smile, glasses balanced precariously on the tip of his nose, a hefty volume tucked under his arm, which he placed on the desk, looking curiously to Harry for his answer.

‘Anything else,’ Harry replied vaguely as Dumbledore turned to cast a questioning glance to Lupin, seeing nothing but worry in the man’s face.

‘Has something happened?’

‘Yes,’ Lupin watched as Harry stepped away from him and reached out to touch the back of a chair, grazing it lightly as though expecting his hand to pass through it, before running his fingers almost reverentially across its back. Fawkes spread his wings, drifting gracefully to land on the same chair, trilling curiously and staring at the place Harry’s hand rested, head tilted as if searching for whatever hidden mystery it was Harry saw, ‘but I do not know what exactly. I suspect it involves this,’ Lupin handed the Timeturner to Dumbledore, who took it appraisingly, peering down his glasses.

‘Did you use this Harry?’ Dumbledore asked, turning to the boy who was now stroking Fawkes soft head.

‘Yep.’

‘To visit the past,’ it was more of a statement than a question as Harry shook his head. But then again travelling to the future was supposedly impossible, wasn’t it, so he couldn’t exactly blame Dumbledore for making that assumption. At least he’d managed to learn something though. Perhaps he could give Snape some sort of heart attack with that, since the man so adamantly believed the prospect of it ever happening unlikely at the very best.

‘Not exactly,’ Harry swayed slightly, torn between laughing and crying again as his legs wobbled and Fawkes let out a small cry of distress, hopping up onto the arm to get closer.

‘Harry?’ Lupin rushed forward as Harry collapsed onto the floor, catching him easily before he actually hit. Tucking an arm under Harry’s legs he lifted him gently onto the seat, Fawkes pressing his head to Harry’s cheek in reassurance as Dumbledore knelt in front of him with surprising grace for such an old man.

‘Harry,’ he said softly, his hand resting under Harry’s chin, tilting his head up so that their eyes met. Harry flinched away automatically, expecting a rush of unexplained hatred, but none came. ‘Trust me.’ Harry nodded numbly, swallowing nervously as he felt the Headmaster slip into his thoughts, although the picture they provided was jumbled at best. He tried to concentrate, but it was difficult, and the days didn’t seem to want to replay in any sort of order. Thoughts of Snape, and he felt the Headmasters sadness as an image of the man lying dead stormed its way to the forefront and refused to be dismissed, interspersed with memories of Tonks: turning him away, helping him, fighting to her last minute to protect him. Harry let out a choked breath, sagging with relief as Dumbledore pulled out with a sigh, hand briefly tightening on his shoulder. ‘Not the past then,’ he said sadly as Harry shook his head, watching as Dumbledore stood and aimed his wand at the wall, a silvery figure shooting from his wand and disappearing through the stone, headed downwards.

‘What do you mean, not the past,’ Remus moved closer to Harry as Dumbledore stepped away, his mere presence infinitely comforting as Harry curled his feet under him, wincing at the coldness against his legs even through the thick socks. ‘Where else could it have taken him?’

‘The future,’ Dumbledore seated himself slowly behind his desk, rooting through a drawer and pulling out a small vial which he offered to Harry, who shook his head in refusal that the Headmaster did not press, ‘and from what I could see a most unpleasant one.’

‘Voldemort, he won,’ Harry managed to offer. He didn’t look up from his lap though, his voice bitter. ‘He killed all the muggleborns and half-bloods trying to make his perfect World. He used me to finish off the ones he couldn’t find.’ Lupin let out a small gasp of shock behind him.

‘Nothing you have seen is true any longer though,’ Dumbledore leaned forward, his words ringing with importance, importance that Harry believe him and find comfort in the knowledge that it had not come to pass, that he not carry the blame for the deaths of some who had not yet even been born. ‘Those people have not died.’

‘Does that include Snape?’ Harry looked up, eyes dark and challenging, his anger overwhelming his exhaustion and anchoring his fluctuating emotions. His hands stopped their systematic twining in the cloak that pooled in his lap, instead moving to grip the arms of the chair and not relaxing even with a soft croon from Fawkes. Dumbledore flashed a look to Remus filled with concern and something else that made Harry even angrier. It was obvious; Dumbledore didn’t want Harry being difficult, not over this.

‘Professor Snape, Harry.’

‘I take it he’s around somewhere,’ Harry continued stubbornly, shaking away the hand Remus place over his own as he crouched down next to the chair and Dumbledore sighed. He felt a sudden wash of deep and primal terror that all he had experienced, all he had seen would mean nothing now. It was not to be proved unfounded.

‘What happened to you with him will not happen again.’ Dumbledore sounded so sure of what he said Harry felt the hysteria bubbling upwards again. He was going to have to see the man again, live with his presence always knowing what he was capable of doing, how he had betrayed everyone.

‘It happened once, didn’t it?’ Harry tried to argue with futility, but it was a pathetic attempt even to his own ears. He felt his chest tighten in panic, breathing fast and shallow. He didn’t want to be anywhere near Snape again, not in the same room, not even in the same building.

‘Harry, I trust Professor Snape explicitly.’ Dumbledore looked so calm as he said it too, like he truly believed his own words, believed that they stood for something.

‘The same way you trusted Quirrell in my first year?’ Harry asked sharply. ‘Or how about Professor Moody? Oh wait, that wasn’t Moody at all, was it? Do I even need to mention Lockhart?’ Dumbledore didn’t seem affected by any of it, as though he saw something very different in what Harry believed to be his greatest failures. ‘Excuse me if I don’t hold too much faith in your ability to employ the trustworthy, or at the very least people who aren’t out to kill me.’

‘The situation here is quite different, and this is not something for negotiation,’ Dumbledore continued sternly. ‘I would trust Professor Snape with my very life.’

‘Well that’s good,’ Harry snorted mirthlessly. ‘Since he’s going to be watching when you get killed.’

The statement didn’t have the punch Harry had hoped for. He had wanted Snape turned from the castle at the news that he would betray the on man who had given him so much so completely. He wanted Snape to suffer when he realised his traitorous thoughts had been discovered, whether or not he had any intention of acting on them yet. He wanted the man consumed with guilt as he reaped the consequences of his dirty, double-crossing nature. Dumbledore gave no indication of anger though. ‘The future is not set,’ his tone was infuriatingly reasonable. ‘What you experienced was merely one possibility, and a possibility for which you do not have all the facts. You do not know enough for us to jump to such rash and unfounded conclusions.’

‘He handed me over to Voldemort,’ Harry hissed. He knew Dumbledore had seen it, seen for himself the traitor Snape had become. He had seen his own portrait consumed in a rush of flames in Harry’s own memory and heard Snape’s self-righteous and pitiful attempts at justification. ‘I watched him kill Tonks. Exactly how many more facts do you need?’

‘Calm yourself Harry,’ the words only served to make him more furious though. ‘The future you have seen, whilst horrific, is nevertheless one of little probability.’

‘I won’t be happy until that probability is nothing.’

There was a knock on the door, loud and booming in the tension of the room as all eyes turned towards it, Harry jumping from his seat and swaying only slightly as it opened and Snape stepped in. Harry had his wand drawn in an instant, oblivious to Dumbledore’s gentle demanding behind him and Lupin’s quiet pleading. The wood seemed to vibrate in his palm with anticipation, the potential humming beneath his skin, and he knew that this time he was going to kill the man.

‘Harry?’ Remus said carefully, his voice quiet and flat. He hadn’t moved from his position, squatting down next to the chair Harry had been sitting in, despite the discomfort staying there must have caused. His face was pale and anxious too, drawn with fatigue. He probably should have gone to the hospital wing by now, Harry realised, made sure he really was all right from the transformation and wasn’t about to suffer from anything that had happened during it.

‘He’s a traitor,’ Harry tried to explain. He had to do this, and Remus had to understand why, else he would just hate him for it. He could live with Remus’ hate though if it saved him and everyone else; if it was the only choice left.

‘He is not, Harry,’ Dumbledore said slowly. Snape merely quirked an inquiring eyebrow.

‘You haven’t seen what I did.’ Harry spoke desperately, imploringly almost.

‘None of which is true at this moment.’

‘I won’t let it become true either.’

‘There are other ways, Harry,’ Dumbledore tried to placate. ‘Knowledge itself is the most powerful weapon of all. I cannot allow you to resort to violence in a pre-emptive attack of what may never come to be.’ Harry seemed to consider the thought, lowering his wand slightly as Remus pushed himself stiffly to his feet, nodding his agreement. Harry made his choice in an instant though, his eyes flashing angrily as his wand snapped back up with intent.

‘Avada…’ Remus lunged forwards and managed to snatch the wand from Harry’s hand before he could finish, but wasn’t quick enough to stop him launching himself at the Potions Master, who side stepped neatly out of the way, casting Dumbledore a questioning glance. Harry spun round quickly though, snarling as he moved to punch the man, to strangle him with his bare hands if necessary. Shifting his position slightly Snape raised his arm to backhand the boy, bringing it down and round in a long, violent sweep at the same moment a stunner connected and Harry froze.

‘Severus, you know my views on manhandling the students.’ Dumbledore sounded more tired than disapproving as he tucked his wand back in his robes, seating himself back down heavily.

‘I hardly fail to see how they can be applied when said student is aiming an Unforgivable at my person.’ Snape lowered his hand and straightened his robes, his face noticeably paler as he took a moment to regard the motionless figure thoughtfully, seating himself as he did so, his gaze not once wandering. ‘Given you also have views against cursing them, I find myself entirely lacking in options.’

‘He would not have succeeded in casting it.’ Snape did look round at this comment, expression agape before he remembered himself, back ramrod straight in the chair.

‘Forgive me, but the impression I had from here was somewhat less optimistic.’

‘I am worried,’ Remus interrupted. He had taken the abandoned seat and still had Harry’s wand in his hand, hunched over it as he turned it over and over, staring intently and his gaze occasionally flickering to Harry. ‘That outburst was not typical of him.’

‘Not typical?’ Snape scoffed. ‘Someone needs to have a few well placed words with that boy about what it means for a curse to be Unforgivable, and why you shouldn’t just toss them around when the mood takes you.’ If Snape still felt any trepidation over what had happened, he buried it beneath a layer of impenetrable sarcasm so deep Lupin doubted if the man even felt it himself any more. ‘This is not his first attempt at one, and eventually he will get them to work. Not that I doubt the consequences of that will be amusing,’ Snape smirked cruelly as a thought struck him. ‘In fact I shall endeavour to make such a thought my last, in the hope it gives me at least some joy when I find myself murdered mid class. Does he at least have a reason, and if so is there the remotest chance of it not being horrendously Gryffindor.’

‘Harry is of the opinion that you are on the verge of betraying us,’ Dumbledore said flatly as something flickered in Snape’s expression, his silence turning cold, his position becoming, if it were possible, even more rigid, ‘leading to the downfall of the Wizarding World.’

Snape seemed to mull the words for a moment, scrutinising them mercilessly for every pitfall and possible trap. ‘I doubt my betrayal alone could lead to such a drastic outcome,’ he eventually said stiffly, holding his head high in the way of one prepared to defend himself against any retaliation or accusation, eyes narrowing as Dumbledore smiled warmly.

‘Do not worry yourself,’ there was absolute conviction in the Headmasters voice, though it did nothing to relieve the chill that had settled itself icily round Snape, who had heard enough lies coated with sugary sweetness and enough orders for death issued in boredom to know that you couldn’t judge content on delivery alone. ‘I have the utmost faith in you.’

‘I would never have thought otherwise,’ Snape’s reply was instant, although the stiffness hadn’t left his voice even as he allowed the tiniest trace of bitterness to taint and sharpen the edges. This did seem to have an effect on the Headmaster though, who looked to deflate under their onslaught, clasping his hands together on the desk before him as Snape continued to stare in resolute defiance.

‘Someday, Severus, I shall earn back your trust as you have earned mine.’ It was said without the annoying twinkle that so often graced the Headmaster and that Snape always felt heralded a coming manipulation, and Snape did relax slightly at that. His expression faded to something approaching appreciation before it was schooled carefully back to neutrality to cast a warning look at Lupin, who had slouched down in his seat, daring him to remember any of what had passed.

‘Leaving such outbursts of misplaced sentimentality aside,’ there was no bite to his mocking tone though as Snape drummed his long fingers casually on his thigh in a careful picture of emotionless disinterest, ‘where exactly did this idea come from?’

Dumbledore looked across the room to where Harry still stood. ‘I think perhaps we should revive Harry for this.’ Lupin looked worried at the prospect, but Dumbledore raised a hand to silence any misgivings he wanted to voice. ‘I have barely seen even the beginning of the story myself, and what I did was somewhat too clouded with emotion to form any real understanding.’ Lupin nodded in reluctant agreement and acquiescence, sitting far more attentively than moments before, wincing as he tried to shuffle into a more comfortable position and surreptitiously trying to stretch away the ache in his legs.

Snape, however, didn’t bother to give an argument; standing and pulling his cloak tightly round him, inclining his head in departure. ‘In that case it would probably be safer for all involved were I to leave. You can no doubt inform of all the inane details at a later time when there will be no risk of inviting the Golden Boy to further acts of uncharacteristic violence.’ Lupin frowned at the sneering quality to the final words as Snape pushed the chair to the side and out of his path, one of the legs leaving the carpet and scraping piercingly on the wood.

‘Severus, sit.’ Snape scowled at Dumbledore’s order, but obeyed. He only went so far as to perch on the corner of the seat though, making no move to return it to it’s original position which would have been, Lupin couldn’t help but notice, closer to Harry. Where he sat now Snape was out of the way and no longer in the direct line of sight of the stupefied boy. The Potions master had pulled his wand, however, and Remus berated the traitorous thought that hoped Snape would at least think before casting whatever curse first sprang to mind should he feel the need. He had a horrible feeling, made all the worse for by the fact that he knew it to be true, that Snape would act not out fear but out of the deep seated loathing borne from the father and since projected onto the son that was just waiting for an excuse. ‘Finite Incantatem.’ With a flick of his wand Dumbledore sent the spell across the room towards Harry, who sagged momentarily as he reasserted control over his muscles, before scanning the room and glaring once again at Snape.

‘Harry, please sit down,’ Dumbledore said gently, conjuring a plush seat out of the air, which spun around to rest next to Remus.

‘I won’t sit in the same room as him,’ Harry snarled, jabbing a finger viciously towards Snape.

‘You will have to eventually, so you may as well now,’ Dumbledore tried to reason. Harry just crossed his arms, casting his glare towards the Headmaster instead, who sighed before speaking with practised patience. ‘There is always the matter of lessons Harry.’

‘Not anymore,’ Lupin could practically see Snape’s fingers twitching to curse Harry for his insolent tone. ‘I won’t be taking Potions, even if by some miracle of his messed up teaching I did manage to get the grade needed.’

‘Assumptive as always, I see,’ Snape sneered, unable to keep quiet any longer. ‘Although, as usual, your actions have little point behind them.’

‘What it that supposed to mean?’ Harry snapped.

‘Professor Snape will not be teaching Potions this year,’ Dumbledore cut in before Snape could cruelly tear through the boy with his words, an act which he would not regret no matter how much more difficult it made an all ready overwrought situation. Harry felt his heart sink at the news, weighed down by a desperate panic. ‘He will be filling the Defence position.’

‘Bloody typical,’ the outburst was less angry this time, more wretched as Harry seemed to fold in on himself slightly. ‘Even if you thought that wasn’t the one lesson I enjoy, you know it’s the only one I can’t quit. Still, it’s not like every other teacher of it hasn’t tried to kill me,' Harry had shifted back to Snape again. 'You just fulfilled that requirement in advance.’

‘Professor Snape has not done anything of the sort.’ Dumbledore corrected.

‘But he will,’ Harry said miserably, falling into the seat, holding his face in his hands and trying to pull himself together. He didn’t want Snape to see him like this, but he doubted he could say anything or even look at the man without falling apart again. Snape couldn’t know he was so weak.

‘Having this argument backwards and forwards is fruitless,’ Remus interrupted gently, noting Harry’s distress and placing a hand on his shoulder. ‘Harry, tell us what happened, the whole story.’

‘Why?’ He sat back in the seat, looking intently at his hands. ‘So you can listen to me and pretend you believe just to tell me how wrong I am some more?’ He could hear the insistent tapping of a foot against the floor, muffled slightly by the rug but no less annoying. The sound practically rang of impatience.

‘If you would rather we dismissed your story as fairytales and nonsense, I would be happy to oblige,’ Snape commented, the tapping pausing as he spoke, allowing Harry to reclaim some of his lost rage.

‘I bet you would.’ He scowled in response, but his exhaustion had returned with a vengeance and he couldn’t find the energy to comment further. He just wanted to curl up in bed, but he knew that wouldn’t happen until he had given at least some sort of acceptable answer. ‘Someone got in the house while I was asleep and stuck a Timeturner round my neck,’ he said simply. ‘Next thing I know I’m waking up and the place is empty, being accosted by strange old women out for blood, running into him,’ Harry couldn’t have filled the word with more venom, ‘and then spending every moment from then on fighting for my life.’

‘When were you?’ Dumbledore asked, apparently realising he would get no answers through anything less than specific questioning.

‘Twenty-three years from now, but only because something went wrong,’ Harry took a brief moment to wonder where he would be now had Voldemort’s plan not been interrupted. After all, it was only a freak accident, yet another moment of surprising luck that had deposited him at that time. What difference would a day or even an hour have made, let alone ten years. ‘According to Malfoy it should have been thirty three years, or something like that.’

‘Lucius?’ Snape asked flatly, barely masking his abrupt interest, and Harry bit back a comment on how the man could manage to speak civilly when one of his fellow Death Eaters was involved, but not over someone who was supposed to be on the same bloody side as him.

‘No, his son.’

‘Draco?’ Snape looked disbelieving, turning to Dumbledore. ‘The Malfoy’s are not in favour with the Dark Lord at the moment. Whilst, if given the opportunity, Lucius could reclaim at least some of his standing, Draco has never shown even the slightest inkling towards the same bloody minded malevolence the Dark Lord so admires in his father.’ Harry did laugh at this, earning himself a reproving glance from the Headmaster.

‘He’s going to kill Dumbledore,’ Harry said, smiling wryly at Snape’s look of surprise. ‘Would that fulfil the bloody minded malevolence requirement enough?’

‘A sixteen year old boy cannot cast the Killing Curse,’ Remus offered calmly. ‘It is unheard of.’

‘Potter here has been giving it a pretty good go.’ Snape snarked. Harry fixed him with a determined stare.

‘He won’t do it again.’

‘Of course not, not with our resident Hero here to save the day,’ Snape was sneering now. Harry wished Remus would give him his wand back.

‘He won’t do it because you won’t allow him back in the school,’ Harry tried to ignore Snape instead and aimed the demand at the Headmaster, who started to speak but didn’t get past the first syllable, ‘and don’t you dare start lecturing me on why I should give people a chance before I condemn them,’ Harry found himself leaning forwards as he spoke, his voice rising. ‘He won’t be coming back because he asked me to make sure he didn’t do it this time round.’

‘You mean not kill Professor Dumbledore?’ Remus clarified.

‘Oh, there’s no nobility behind it,’ Harry corrected. He could see why Remus was looking a bit confused though. ‘He didn’t like what he had become, nothing more than a slave to a half-blood,’ a small part of him hoped Snape didn’t know that fact yet, although Harry knew it was doubtful. Besides, what would Snape care if his Lord weren’t pure given Snape’s own blood. They were both bloody hypocrites. ‘He sent me back on the condition I stop him this time round.’

‘Draco Malfoy would not go against the wishes of his father,’ Snape said immediately and in direct contradiction to the statement, as though Harry’s words meant next to nothing in comparison to his own, as though Harry knew nothing.

‘Because Lucius would still fawn over Voldemort if he knew of his heritage, yeah right.’ Harry had had his doubts on this issue, but Draco had been adamant his father would never have served in such a way either. ‘And his beliefs haven’t changed, he won’t be switching sides or anything.’ It felt important to clarify this. Harry was no idiot, he knew how valuable an asset a Malfoy would be in opposing Voldemort, but he also knew enough to know that no Malfoy ever would. No, they shared the same ideals, the same fervent desire for a pure World. They would merely object to it being created by the very thing they so despised. It would be an insult.

‘You said he sent you back,’ Dumbledore interrupted his thoughts, and Harry shifted uncomfortably under so many gazes.

‘Yeah, eventually,’ he still felt horribly conflicted over Malfoy in a way upon which he didn’t want to dwell. ‘Wanted to use me to overthrow Voldemort at first.’ And Malfoy had been fully prepared to throw Harry to the snakes in a fruitless attempt to claim something more than Malfoy all ready had. But then again he was always going on and on about having only the best. It wasn’t that he viewed possessions to be more important than people; it was that he felt people were nothing more than possessions, to be used as he needed them for his own gain. ‘But he saved my life, much as I hate that, when it really mattered.’ Which was, at the end of the day, the cause of his confusion. The motives had been selfish and heartless, but Draco had still willingly saved the life of someone he had despised for years.

‘Saved your life?’ Dumbledore said carefully, watching Harry closely as he shrugged and nodded. Something was passing silently between the three men, but Harry couldn’t be bothered to decipher what it was.

‘You don’t think?’ Lupin said, as Snape looked smug, confirming that yes, he very well did.

‘It is difficult,’ Dumbledore stroked his beard thoughtfully. ‘I do not know whether such a thing can breach time in such a way. Whilst yes, it has happened, fulfilment will mean it never will have done so, and if it never happens it cannot in any sense be forged to begin with.’

Forged…Harry recognised that word in conjunction with something else, something important. ‘I didn’t…’ He sat up quickly, looking positively sick.

‘It would appear that yes, you did,’ Snape said with maliciously glee, ‘there is apparently every chance you have forged yourself a Wizards debt.’ Was such a selfish action enough? He had a horrible feeling it was. After all, his father had saved Snape not because he had particularly wanted Snape to live, but for his own reasons. ‘A Gryffindor owing his very life to a Slytherin, who would have thought.’

‘Bugger that!’

‘Language, Harry,’ Remus chastised gently.

‘No, I don’t care,’ he slouched down in the chair again, looking tired and defeated. It was all so damn complicated.

‘Perhaps we should let Harry get some rest.’ Dumbledore said softly as Lupin stood, helping Harry to his feet. ‘There is nothing we can do at the moment; events will just have to unfold as they will.’

‘Wait, there was one other thing,’ Harry gestured for Remus to wait. ‘Malfoy, just before I left, he gave me a message for you.’ Thinking back on it Harry had the unwelcome thought that it could all have been part of some elaborate plan, the smallest dip in the road to shift the path of the future into Malfoy’s favour. ‘It didn’t make much sense them, and it still doesn’t now, but he told me to tell you. Don’t go to the cave.’ There, he had said it. Harry just hoped nothing that happened from here on because of it would be his fault.

‘What cave?’ Dumbledore looked suddenly concerned, his gaze fixed unshakeably on Harry who struggled not to buckle under it.

‘He didn’t say anything else,’ Harry offered, wishing he had asked more. It was obviously important. ‘Except that the locket is a fake and Voldemort could never find the real one.’

‘What locket?’ Remus asked, also picking up on the Headmasters interest.

‘It is but another piece of the puzzle.’ Harry fought back at his initial annoyance at the riddle Dumbledore seemed to feel passed for an answer, as something came to mind and he asked without thinking.

‘Does it have to do with Horcruxes?’

Dumbledore didn’t have to answer; his look said everything. ‘What do you know of them?’

‘That Voldemort made a whole bunch of them, something about them containing a bit of his soul, like the diary,’ Dumbledore sat in silence for a minute, staring intently at the wall as Harry fidgeted with impatience. Taking a deep breath he looked to Harry.

‘Harry, will you wait outside for a moment. I need a quick word in private.’

He wasn’t surprised. Hell, he’d even been expecting it. It still hurt to be dismissed in such a way though, especially after Dumbledore’s promise to him the year before. ‘Of course, what should I care about a few more secrets?’ Harry muttered angrily, stalking shakily towards the door. ‘It’s not like you listen to me anyway. Snape will return to Voldemort before the bloody year is finished though, no matter what you say, so don’t look all surprised when he does.’

Dumbledore said nothing further though, merely waiting for Harry to open the door. ‘Remus will be out shortly to escort you to Madame Pomfrey.’ Harry nodded once, sharply, slamming the heavy wood behind him and sinking onto the stone steps outside to wait.

‘What is a Horcrux?’ Snape asked once he had left.

‘An issue for a later time,’ Dumbledore sighed, fingering the book in front of him before pushing it to the side, ‘once I have had a chance to rethink and reconsider a few of the things I thought I knew.’

‘Albus,’ Remus said softly in the silence that followed. ‘There is one issue I did not wish to discuss further in front of Harry, as it will merely give him more fuel to his hatred.’ Remus looked sideways to Snape, letting out a deep breath. ‘My Wolfsbane, it was drugged, obviously as part of the plan to take Harry.’

‘Drugged?’

‘A sedative,’ Remus admitted. ‘Knocked me right out and almost killed me in the process. I remember little,’ he mentioned before it could be asked, ‘so even if I did sense the presence of an intruder I have no recollection of who or when.’ He glanced at Snape again, looking oddly guilty over the admission. ‘Given all that has been said I do not want you to think that I believe it was you in any way…’

‘Shut up Lupin,’ Snape growled. ‘At the end of the day who else is there to suspect?’

Dumbledore just shook his head at the information. He looked older in that moment, more human and more capable of failure than ever before. ‘No one is infallible, Severus.’

‘I do not know if you are doubting my Potions skills or my allegiance with that statement Albus,’ Snape said harshly, ‘but I take offence to either.’

‘I was referring to myself,’ Dumbledore corrected with a sigh. He reached out to stroke the bird Harry himself had found comfort in not long before. ‘The protections around all of us on which I so rely.’

‘You think someone got round the protections on Grimmauld Place?’ Lupin asked fearfully as Dumbledore stood.

‘Someone may not even have needed too,’ he sounded weary as he moved towards a far cupboard, opening it with a murmured password and reaching inside to pull out a sflat, grey basin, the silvery contents swirling and completely unaffected by the movement. ‘But uncertainty is of the very nature of a paradox such as this one. Ah but for the complexities of time.’

‘Paradox?’ Lupin looked uncertain as Dumbledore placed the Penseive on his desk, holding his wand to his temple and extracting a long, glowing string. Snape glanced over, his expression turning stony as an image of his own face; older, greyer and deathly still faded into the mix.

‘The paradox would be me,’ he sneered, composing himself quickly from what he had seen. ‘After all, I cannot very well be both loyal to the cause and a traitor at the same time. Which would you prefer I choose?’ he added callously.

‘All ready things have started to move out of foresight,’ Dumbledore shook his head. ‘All ready Harry has changed the future, and we can hold no certainty in what he saw.’

‘He seems pretty damn certain about it.’ Snape pointed out.

‘And even that may have far reaching consequences for us all. I trust you Severus,’ Dumbledore continued as though reading his mind. It was something Snape always found unnerving, as though there was a weakness in his shields being abused, ‘more than you give me credit for.’

‘Your words mean little when you so openly acknowledge the future Potter has retold.’ Snape was surprised at how emotionlessly the response came out. ‘Tell me, how can I be both the man you say you see now and the man he has told you I will become.’

‘It is because you argue so that I can believe it.’ Another memory joined the pool, and Snape kept his gaze firmly fixed on the far corner of the room as Dumbledore spoke, not wanting to see himself again in such a way. ‘You have your own darkness about you, but not all darkness is evil. It is the day you deny it exists at all that I first doubt you.’

‘And what of Draco Malfoy?’ Snape questioned tersely. ‘You have his request, will you honour it?’

‘I will not turn him from the school. In this I feel it would bring about his most certain death.’

‘Whereas allowing him to return may well guarantee your own.’

‘But I am all ready old, and death is not so far away however it may choose to arrive.’ Dumbledore gestured for the door, signalling their time to leave as Lupin crossed the room, hand pausing on the handle as he waited for Snape to follow. ‘Besides, he will have you to watch him and guide him, and Harry will not ignore his duty.’ Snape snorted incredulously at the comment, but said nothing. There didn’t seem to be anything left to say.









Chapter 20: Casting Shadows
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Chapter 20: Casting Shadows

Everyone who casts a shadow,
Seems to stand in the sun.
And when your step leaves a track
You seem to be going on.

I know myself, I know my shades.
But I don't see no light.
And if there's a track, it means: no turning back
No matter what you try.

-Wolfsheim, Everyone Who Casts A Shadow



‘Severus, a moment alone, if you please.’ Dumbledore’s voice was soft, yet there was no hint of an option the question itself suggested there should be. He didn’t wait for a reply either, his attention apparently focused elsewhere as he swirled his wand above the desk with a flourish. A tray appeared at the same moment Snape gently closed the door after Lupin and turned back to face him, his expression as blank and emotionless as his words.

‘For what purpose.’ He glared as Dumbledore gestured towards the seat Snape had left only minutes ago, crossing his arms and standing his ground, refusing to play into the relaxed and friendly atmosphere the Headmaster was trying to achieve, apparently oblivious to the insult it embodied.

Albus merely smiled warmly though, shifting his pensieve aside, the movement causing tiny waves of the silvery substance to lap against the sides. He lifted a steaming teapot and poured its contents in the two cups, levitating an obscene amount of sugar into his own before turning the other towards Snape, lifting his eyebrows meaningfully as he drank from his own, leaning back into his chair whilst Snape remained where he stood with no indication of moving. ‘Grace this old man with your company and a cup of tea.’ Snape couldn’t have stopped the snort of incredulity anymore than he could the sneer that curled the corners of his mouth.

‘You wish to drink tea with me?’ he sounded disbelieving.

‘We have not talked in some time; an oversight on my part I admit, and one I intend to remedy.’ Snape couldn’t help the growl in the back of his throat as he met the Headmasters level, open gaze, his own lips pursing into a thin line as he narrowed his eyes and tried to relax the angry stiffness that seemed to have fused his spine.

‘You are not fooling anyone with this banal act of platitude,’ Snape managed to snarl when he felt he could speak, if not completely civilly, then at least without cursing. ‘I do not need our acquaintance reinforced with such a deliberate offering. It will not change anything.’ It wouldn’t, and Snape refused to believe that Albus truly thought it could. No doubt the old man felt he had to at least try though, had to at least maintain the image of faith that had been so irrevocably shattered in the space of a single night. ‘Do you honestly believe that tea is the means by which you can guarantee my wavering loyalty?’ He would play the part of devoted follower no longer, in the hope his reluctance would force the Headmaster to drop the ridiculous farce of trust he had maintained for so long.

Dumbledore gave an offensive little chuckle instead. ‘My dear Severus,’ he said lightly, shaking his head as if to dismiss the words. ‘You have all ready sentenced yourself for a crime you have not yet even committed.’ It felt as if Albus was forcibly steering him onto the path of betrayal, kindling his hatred with remarks dressed in the guise of innocence. And he did it with that infuriating twinkle in his eyes that always seemed to strip away the layers of self-control Snape meticulously applied and tended every moment. It battered through his shields of calm and logic and stirred up the frustration beneath until it bubbled close to overflowing.

‘Have not yet?’ he managed to grind out, as his anger once again rose with the thought that the Headmaster could not even grant him the dignity of the truth, the same honesty that had spawned his first declaration of mistrust those few years ago. ‘Then you admit my doing so is inevitable.’

‘Nor have you lost your gift for twisting my words to suit your own purpose.’ The hint of annoyance in Dumbledore’s words caused Snape a momentary flash of satisfaction as he crossed his arms across his chest, lifting his chin to stare challengingly down his hooked nose.

‘You call it twisting on my part, but perhaps it is merely the truth taking an opportunity to rear its head amidst a sea of lies.’ Albus all but rolled his eyes at Snape’s tone, placing his cup delicately back on the table with a faint chink of china against the wood, meeting the potions master’s accusing gaze over the rims of his glasses.

‘And perhaps it is no more than what it is.’ Albus sighed, the irritation leaving his posture as Fawkes crooned from his perch, the sound causing Snape to tense warily before the Headmaster continued, his tone once again adopting the patient and understanding undercurrents that defined his way of speaking and made it, on occasions, infinitely more frustrating to listen to. ‘A feeble attempt to demonstrate that you need not believe yourself fixed to this future and this future alone. I would not have thought you such a devout believer of destiny.’

‘Oh please, Albus,’ Snape sneered. ‘You make it sound as though I have been listening to the tragic wallowings of Sybil, so let me assure you that I have equal disdain for any opinion she may chose to voice.’

Albus cocked an eyebrow. ‘Yet you seem fixated on the belief that the path to the future Harry has seen is the only one available for you to walk.’

‘You seem to have mistaken me,’ Snape corrected harshly. ‘It is not destiny in which I believe, Albus, but the unchangeable qualities of human nature itself. It is not my destiny,’ he spat the word as though it tasted foul, ‘of which I am convinced so much as it is who I am. You yourself have acknowledged its possibility. Either what Harry has said is true and I am a traitor, or he is lying and I am not. There can be no in between.’ Snape winced, cutting off his tirade and earning him a raised eyebrow from the Headmaster as he clenched his arm with something approaching apprehension. It was too soon, for all that Snape had been expecting and waiting for it. The fiery pain scorched beneath his skin and he had never resented it so much. He had known it was coming, and suspected it would be sooner rather than later. How could it not be, given everything that had just passed. ‘He is calling,’ Snape confirmed.

‘Not something entirely unexpected,’ Dumbledore watched Snape for a moment. He had made no move to leave and was even now staring hesitantly at the fireplace. ‘Is there something more you wish to say?’

‘You have a choice,’ Snape blurted, scowling at the sound of his own voice before the unfeeling mask slid back into place. ‘Given all you now know you do not have to let me return,’ he commented flatly.

‘I ask no more of you now than I have in the past.’

‘That is not my point and you know it,’ Snape snarled, his sudden inability to maintain his calm exterior serving only to further prevent him from reaching for it. ‘You must admit you would sleep a lot easier were I not called so regularly into His presence.’

‘That is true, but not for the reasons I suspect you imagine. I would sleep a lot easier knowing you were out of harms way.’

‘You will willingly continue to let me walk back into the service of the man I will betray you for?’

Albus still hadn’t looked away, still maintained his firm gaze as he spoke calmly and with unwavering surety. ‘I do not believe you will betray me.’

‘Keeping me from Him is the only way you can be sure of that though.’

‘It is not.’

‘You really are blind,’ it would have been less menacing if he had shouted, but Snape had never been one for hot bursts of anger. His fury was instead cold and deep and always waiting. He tucked it away now, releasing his arm to hang at his side where it burned like ice. ‘You must be certain of this. I cannot delay indefinitely.’

Albus sighed, a sound that heralded a weariness Snape had never before seen in the old man. ‘I trust you, Severus,’ and as the words washed over him he felt, if not belief, then the possibility that belief was not completely beyond him. ‘Over the years you have done nothing to give me cause to doubt that, and it has not changed.’ Snape bit down mercilessly on the flicker of fury that sparked at that comment. He had done something, even if he had yet to know what for himself. But Albus’ words were continuing without him, taking with them the chance to dwell once again as the Headmaster leant forwards and across the desk, eyes meeting Snape’s own and filled with regretful understanding. ‘Do not forget that I have seen what you suffer at Voldemort’s hands. You have no more desire to keep going back than I have to continue to have to send you.’

Albus did not hold the gaze though, hands splayed on the polished wood of the desk as he leant backwards once more to breathe deeply. Snape did not have time for this, for the Headmaster to drift in his own thoughts whilst his own arm pulsed with ever increasing pain that refused to ebb, calling him, demanding his presence. Albus’ had yet to finish though, even if his next words were unexpected. ‘And at the end of the day only you can make this choice, safe in the knowledge that you will have my complete support no matter what decision you make,’ Dumbledore looked up gravely. ‘I would be foolish to deny that this new knowledge changes things, for you more than any of us. And whilst the information you have provided in the past has been invaluable, this is perhaps a moment to look beyond that.’

Snape felt his throat squeeze shut, his blood pounding in his ears so that he could barely hear what followed. ‘Up until this day you have gone back as a soldier of the light, my soldier if you will; my spy under my orders. I have asked more of you than I have any other member of the Order, and I am ashamed that it has taken such a terrible ordeal for me to realise that in my zeal I have perhaps asked more of you than I had the right.’ The pressure Snape had felt dissipated to an emptiness almost as uncomfortable. ‘There is no doubt in my mind that if you returned to serve Voldemort in your heart it would be because I pushed you there. And in these last few minutes the thought has struck me as to what I would be doing now had Harry not found a way back, had we woken to find him gone, and I cannot lie to myself that I would do anything less than use my most valuable resource to get him back.’ Dumbledore looked sad now, and Snape had to refrain from forcing him onwards, making him continue the admission he needed to hear. ‘I would ask too much of you, I realise this now. But Harry is important to the war, more important than a single life. But his importance should not diminish that of others. I am willing to lay my life down to protect the boy, I do not have the right to lay down the lives of others.’ He sighed again. ‘Which is why I am now giving you the choice I never gave you before. You must realise his importance for yourself and the sacrifice you make must be willing. I will not send you back, but I will ask you. What you do now you must do of your own free will.’

The choice had never been that simple though, even as Albus spoke of free will tinged with manipulation. The chance to make the choice provided it was the right one. ‘If I am not your spy then I am useless.’

Dumbledore refrained from arguing, for what little dignity it left Snape, although his silence would have been too much to ask for. ‘It pains me that I have led you to believe so.’ Snape merely nodded in reply, standing gracefully and reaching for the pot of floo powder, the words that followed slicing through him unexpected. ‘As it pains me that you fear failure so much you would actively seek it out merely to maintain your illusion of control.’ Snape didn’t look back at the Headmaster as he threw the powder into the flames, disappearing in a rush of smoke that was all the answer to that particular comment he felt needed to be given.


***


‘You don’t believe me, do you?’ Harry asked quietly, sounding defeated as he finally broke the tense silence that had engulfed them as they made their way through the empty corridors of the school, Lupin’s strides slow and measured as he allowed Harry to set the pace. He stopped frequently, although whether this was to catch his breath or just to stare out the windows in wary distrust Remus couldn’t really say. He resisted the urge to levitate or even carry the small boy the rest of the distance. Harry had apparently taken all the help he was willing to receive.

‘It would be pretty difficult not too,’ Remus adopted a diplomatic tone that spoke neither of complete disbelief or overwhelming certainty. There could be no doubting the general truth behind the tale, but Remus was nothing if not a hardened pragmatist, and had yet to decide which specifics had been unavoidably altered by the overpowering bias of those involved. ‘The evidence is rather staggering.’

‘I mean about Snape.’ The question was cold and straight to the point Harry knew Remus had been carefully skirting, accompanied with a fearsome stare Remus felt was challenging him to take the same stance as the Headmaster, to effectively declare he too believed Harry a liar. Not that either Remus or Dumbledore did necessarily think that. Far from it, they had both accepted the future Harry retold as a possibility. But unlike Harry, and evidently Snape from his reaction to retelling, they were not convinced it was the only possibility. Remus kept the similarities he saw in his best friend’s son and his worst enemy to himself.

‘It is not as simple as mere belief,’ Remus spoke with soft reproach, shaking his head as Harry looked sulky. It occurred to him there was no point in trying to dress the truth up in fancy words to soften the meaning behind them into something Harry might find acceptable. Blunt honesty would be treated with the same hostility as if it were veiled and sugar coated to seem more tolerable. Harry would have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, from his cemented conclusions.

‘Why not?’

‘Severus is not a bad man,’ Remus had his hands on Harry’s shoulders, pulling him round to face him, forcing him to meet his gaze so Remus could be assured he was at least listening even if he refused to hear. ‘But even good men can sometimes be led into terrible things.’

‘If you knew what he did to you, you wouldn’t say that,’ Harry said with painful conviction.

‘He hasn’t done anything to me.’

‘But he will do,’ Remus bit back on the urge to shake the boy until he dropped the stubborn attitude. Remus was no expert on the subject, he had found divination ultimately pointless and filled with glaring inconsistencies and hypocrisies, but he wished now he had paid more attention so he could better put into words exactly why the concept of a predestined future was absurd. There were prophecies, yes, but even they maintained the offer of choice, limiting the future but not to a single outcome. Harry seemed determined that what he had seen would play itself out again though, oblivious to the fact that his mere presence had all ready changed it beyond measure. ‘And if he would do it then, then he will do it again now.’

Patience, Remus reminded himself, was a virtue. He could rant and plead and cajole and explain repeatedly to Harry to the end of days, but to get through to him he had to find a way to show him the truth in what he said. ‘Harry, listen. Who we are and what we do are not always in agreement,’ Harry gave a small snort of doubt. ‘Remember that night all those years ago now. I forgot to take my potion, a seemingly innocent act. But nevertheless it was an act that almost led to your death.’ Harry tilted his head sceptically, looking unconvinced.

‘It wasn’t your fault.’

Remus took a deep breath, taking a moment to curse the fact that the son appeared to have inherited the same trait that had been so frustrating in the father: a refusal to see in anything but black and white. ‘It was my fault Harry, and no amount of denial can make it otherwise.’ Harry seemed to want to argue the point further, so Remus didn’t give him a chance. ‘I have come to accept, however, that it does not make me a bad person. A careless one, yes. A foolish one on occasions most certainly. But not bad.’

‘Snape didn’t just forget to take a potion though,’ Harry wriggled himself out of Remus grip and stepped backwards, crossing his arms defiantly. ‘He forgot what bloody side he was supposed to be on.’ It sounded like so many arguments Remus had heard regarding Severus over the years, and whilst during his time as a student Remus had been inclined to accept such arguments, it really was time for them to die.

‘Severus Snape is the most rigidly moral man I know,’ he hadn’t meant to sound quite so exasperated, and the light of betrayal in Harry’s eyes had always been enough to stop him when it shone that same way in James’. It wouldn't do so now. ‘He knows what he is capable of doing, and it is that knowledge that stops him from doing so more completely than anything else ever could.’

‘He torments his students for fun and some warped sense of personal satisfaction.’ Harry said with disgust, apparently completely ignorant of the fact that Snape was not the first teacher to have done so, nor would he ever be the last. Remus couldn’t help but chuckle at the obliviousness of youth.

‘I never claimed his morals couldn’t do with a little sharpening on occasion,’ the comment seemed to calm Harry a bit, as the tenseness he hadn’t noticed the boy carried sagged from his shoulders. ‘But they are unbending where it is important. He may cut you down with biting words, but you must know there is not a single student he wouldn’t lay down his life for to protect.’ Remus took a step closer again, his hand once again coming to rest on Harry’s shoulder, although this time it remained more as a comforting weight than as a means of restraint. ‘He stood between you and a werewolf Harry, and that is not something you should have ever dismissed so lightly.’

‘He sent you out to feed on Tonks,’ Harry quipped angrily in response.

‘Pardon?’

‘In the future. Voldemort wanted to find a way to control werewolves as murderous hunters. Snape picked you as a test subject, and when it came to actually testing it he sent you after Tonks, to see if he could make you kill someone you cared for.’ Harry would have stormed ahead at this moment did his legs not feel almost too heavy to lift, instead contenting himself with sullen silence he would not break, giving Remus no choice but to think on the declaration as they continued through the school.

***


Severus Snape was not blind to the ugly parody he made walking down the corridors of the Dark Lord’s place, the stones sounding once again in their sympathetic ring below his boots, their noise a hated familiarity that twisted and distracted his thoughts with half-buried grudges and manipulated truths. They seemed almost mocking now, echoing his footsteps back to him tinged with malicious humour at his discomfort behind the white mask, laughing in his ears and dredging up the same words he had dwelt on not a few days prior, singing them in a high pitched taunt in his ears. Do not give me reason to doubt.

It was only a few days prior that he had been searching for that reason; and if he had failed to see that which he had apparently provided all those years ago, he certainly seemed to have provided a valid one now, and done so without having to lift a finger. If Potter’s story was to be believed there was not just a single reason to doubt him, there was every reason. Albus could talk all he wanted of the folly of destiny, it didn’t matter. Snape had it in him to betray the trust of those closest to him. There was nothing more he needed to know.

There was still so much he didn’t understand though; so much left unanswered that gnawed relentlessly at him, coaxing his thoughts into a constant swirling mess he couldn’t tame. It made no sense; there was no logic behind it, no reasoning he could conceive to explain his main, intense concern, that he could do something so inconceivable. He was not naïve enough to deny the cold truth; he was enough of a realist to recognise that at least a sliver of him was capable, if not willing to commit such murderous monstrosities as those recounted to him. No, his defence could never rely entirely upon his character, and he would never be fool enough to even attempt to claim it could.

If there was one thing on which he could be certain though it was his own worth, to both Master’s he served. And whilst one would claim his indispensability, the other did not hesitate in complete and unwavering honesty. Severus Snape knew of his tenuous position within the ranks of the Death Eaters, knew that of those present his merit barely glimmered. And the knowledge of this was evidenced by the surprise with which Potter’s story had struck him. He had known of no plan to remove the boy in such an extreme way, had heard not even the whispers of the formation of an idea that would be enacted in the future to have such an acute influence on the past, the present even. But it had to exist now, even if as nothing more than a vague hope, else why now, why this day? Convenience, the ideal set of circumstance would mean nothing if there was no one to understand the why behind it. The Dark Lord was planning for this even now, Snape knew, and if the early nature of his summons were any indication he expected the results he envisioned.

‘Severus, you are late.’ He had arrived in the central chamber and barely realised it, as Snape shook his head imperceptibly in a futile attempt to clear his thoughts as he sunk to his knees, head bowed.

‘Most humble apologies, my Lord, I was detained by Dumbledore. He was reluctant to allow me to leave.’ That was true enough, and the Dark Lord could read into it however he wanted.

‘Do not concern yourself. Given the circumstances I was expecting no less.’ Snape maintained his indifferent expression, allowing his thoughts to swirl with a genuine hint of confusion to hide his growing anxiety. Perhaps coming back now had been a mistake, but Snape had wanted answers. Not for Dumbledore, not for the precious Boy Who Lived or the fate of the Wizarding World, but to satisfy the endless questions he had for himself alone; to see if he could spot even an inkling of the future he had been told was coming.

Given the circumstances.

He had almost missed it, so engrossed in his own thoughts, cursing his distraction. A seemingly innocent statement, or as innocent as anything leaving that twisted mouth could hope to be, that hinted at something far deeper. The Dark Lord had expected his arrival to be difficult, had expected something to delay him. The expectation would not have existed were he a mere messenger of the facts. If Potter had simply disappeared Albus would have told him what to say, patted him on the head and sent him off like a good little boy. There would be no need for delay unless there were suspicion, and the Dark Lord had all but confirmed the possibility of such a thing. The feeling that he was walking along a narrow precipice grew as Snape kept his balance only with the unfounded hope that he was, this once, mistaken.

‘Potter, My Lord…’ Snape started, horrified at how thick his voice sounded. But his senses were screaming at him that something was wrong, that he had missed something crucial he couldn’t possibly hope to know but would live to regret not realising sooner. He had pieced together only half of a far greater picture, as he frantically turned his thoughts over and over in search of the elusive truth. ‘He arrived at the school this morning distressed and with a most unusual story to tell.’ Everything he had heard in the last hours swam in his head as he spoke, the pieces trying desperately to slot themselves together in time. But he needed more of it, more time to follow the logical path. ‘And a Timeturner.’ Potter had been sent to the future, a future in which the Dark Lord had achieved his ultimate goal, a future in which he, Severus Snape, stood willingly at his right hand, a place he had never imagined himself to be. And it wasn’t just a matter of loyalty that fuelled his doubt over the likelihood of his ever standing in such a place, although that was the thought that caused him the most distress. Noble intentions of facing death before submitting himself to such servitude were all well and good, but ultimately far too melodramatic and Gryffindor for his tastes. He did know his place, and it was at the Dark Lords feet, where he had always been.

Unless he proved himself unequivocally. Unless he proved his complete and unwavering devotion.

He tossed that thought aside. He had no part in the kidnapping of Harry Potter and dwelling on the impossible would only distract. It crawled insidiously back as Snape looked up to meet to knowing eyes of the Dark Lord, however, and the subtle inclination of his head in confirmation as the puzzle leapt beneath his eyes, fully formed, yet displaying a picture he had no desire to see.

Unless he helped hand over Harry Potter.

The conversation in Dubmledore’s office flashed past in his head as he sought with vague horror for a comment that could indicate otherwise, that could shed even the slightest doubt on the prospect of what he suddenly comprehended he could have done. But Potter hadn’t known himself who sent to him the future, had he? Someone had violated Grimmauld Place, he had said, someone had passed the wards and protections to place the item round his neck, but that someone had never been named.

And the Timeturner he had handed to Dumbledore had been normal, couldn’t have been the one to send him to future, which meant the boy had all ready used two of them in his trip. And if two had been used then who was to say there couldn’t be third?

Snape did not of any plan involving Potter, and he had a sudden, horrifying doubt that that particular excuse would carry any weight whatsoever any more. Time, it seemed, was both the ultimate alibi and the final nail in his coffin at the same time. He doubted that anyone else in the room knew of such a plan either; anyone other than the Dark Lord himself, so the person responsible couldn’t be named, not until they’d committed the crime itself.

A spear of hope flashed through him. Helping wasn’t the same as doing. He did not have to be the one who had placed the item round his neck, because if he was that person then he had no hope of redemption. He could have worked to hinder the final goal, but found himself unavoidably hampered by circumstance. If he wasn’t the one to place the Timeturner round the neck of a young boy his betrayal was not set in stone. Except it was, because the final clue was there, as plain as day. The final, damning piece of evidence.

‘My Wolfsbane, it was drugged, obviously as part of the plan to take Harry.’

And Severus had protested that there was no one with the knowledge, no one with the ability to do such a thing without his noticing. But that wasn’t true anymore, was it. No; because there was one person who had the skill to mask such tampering and the familiarity to enter his labs unseen and undetected. Himself. He was the only one who could have drugged the werewolf unknown, which made him the one who had placed the item round Potters neck to take him to a future that had blackened without him. And he could only have done it willingly.

He was a traitor. Not now, but one day he would be. It was inevitable, wasn’t it? The actions of the present spoke for the future. He had done it, and he would do it again.

‘You have always been one of the more intelligent, Severus,’ Snape looked up again with panic to meet the eyes of the Dark Lord, the anger within that had replaced understanding confirming his every fear.

‘I will fail you,’ the words came out quietly, aimed at who he was not sure. It seemed he would fail most people.

‘You will. But you have proven your loyalty to me in the meantime, a loyalty I have long doubted. For that I will not kill you,’ the smallest of smiles, obscene and grotesque on the lipless face, ‘you will merely wish I had.’

And the day around him darkened to the sound of his own screams.

***



‘Ah, Mr Potter. I should have known that if any student were going to drag me from my holiday it would be you.’ Madam Pomfrey stepped from the fireplace, a single bag in hand as she banished the lingering dust on her robes with a flick of her wand before turning her attention to the rest of the room. A House Elf appeared with a pop and immediately set to preparing the nearest bed, as crisp sheets wrapped themselves round the mattress and the surrounding lights flickered to life.

‘I didn’t mean to interrupt you,’ Harry started guiltily, watching nervously as the bag was placed down and opened, its contents consisting primarily of vials that came flying out with speed that suggested they would shatter on impact, but instead came to rest in neat, ordered rows on the bedside table.

Pomfrey turned to Harry, her expression set as her hands rested on her hips. ‘Did I say it was a problem?’ she demanded, nodding her permission for the House Elf to leave.

‘No.’

‘Then do not assume it is such,’ she pointed to a nearby bed, clearing her throat as Harry shuffled slowly towards it to hurry him up. ‘Hop up then and lets see what you’ve managed to do this time.’ Harry lifted himself stiffly onto the bed, the sheets soft and cool to the touch as he leant backwards onto the pillow, reaching out instinctively to grab Remus’ hand as he started to move away.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Remus reassured as Harry looked embarrassed but made no move to relax his grip, flinching as Madam Pomfrey snapped her wand round to point at him. The spells flew with reassuring efficiency though, the tip of her wand glowing in a multitude of colours, each of which was examined intently.

‘No serious injuries,’ she finally said with a smile. ‘Which I suppose is a first for you.’ Harry managed a small chuckle at the comment even though it sounded harsh and forced. ‘Exhaustion, and there are still elements of a paralysing potion floating around in your bloodstream. Do I want to know how that, of all things, got there?’

‘I guess my toes do still feel kind of numb,’ Harry commented now he thought about it, avoiding the question and flexing his fingers, which felt heavy and unresponsive. The medi-witch didn’t push him either, fingering through the vials of potions.

‘You’ll need to take an antidote.’

‘But I all ready took one,’ Harry argued, pushing himself up onto his elbows to watch her more closely.

‘It wasn’t nearly strong enough to completely negate all the effects.’ Having dismissed all those she brought with her, Madam Pomfrey summoned a vial from the nearby cabinet, popping the cork and sniffing the contents before holding it out. ‘Take this.’

‘Where did it come from?’ Harry questioned, feeling Remus’ hand tightening round his own.

‘Don’t start this again,’ his tone was chastising.

‘I want to know,’ Harry said with mulish determination.

‘All the school stores are replenished by Professor Snape,’ Madam Pomfrey shook the bottle gently to remind him of its presence. ‘Do not worry, although it was brewed last year it is still viable.’

‘I don’t want it,’ Harry said sullenly. ‘I’ll wait for the effects to disappear in their own time.’ Poppy looked at him agape for a second, her arm dropping before she closed her mouth and narrowed her eyes.

‘Your body cannot neutralise the potion on its own,’ her voice was strict and spoke of terrible punishments for disobeying.

‘It’ll wear off eventually.’

‘No, it won’t,’ Remus said definitively before Madam Pomfrey could launch into her usual tirade against students who insisted they knew better than her. ‘The numbness will spread and whilst it doesn’t have the strength to debilitate completely, you will still find it markedly incapacitating.’ Pomfrey nodded in agreement as Harry snatched the vial with a snarl, gaze glancing between the two of them a number of times before he tipped his head back and swallowed, trying not to gag at the familiar unpleasantness. This time it seemed not only to sink to his stomach, but to leave a thick, uncomfortable coating down the sides of his throat he couldn’t swallow away. He took the glass of water handed to him, only taking a couple of sips before grimacing and deciding against any more. It didn’t wash away the feeling, just compounded the horrible oily sensation.

‘I won’t take any of the others,’ he said, wiping at his mouth with the back of his and nodding to the row Pomfrey had organised next to his bedside.

‘You need sleep and nourishment.’

‘Then I’ll do it the normal way.’ Madam Pomfrey gave an impatient huff, but swept away with the vials anyway as Remus helped Harry beneath the cool sheets of the bed. He was tired, but sleep was the last thing he wanted to do. He had to know Remus was safe, that he wasn’t going to wake up and discover that this was actually the dream, or that Voldemort had tried again. ‘You won’t go anywhere, will you?’ he yawned, forcing his eyes to stay open and ignoring the foggy feeling eating its way through his brain.

‘I will stay until you wake up.’

‘Thanks.’ Remus moved to remove Harry’s glasses, pushing his fringe from his face and frowning as he saw Harry’s scar, rubbing away the thin trail of blood that had welled there and showing Harry, who pressed the back of his hand against it just to have it also come back smeared with red. ‘That’s odd.’

‘It hasn’t bled before?’

‘Not on its own,’ Harry frowned, feeling nothing but the mild throb in his forehead he had been feeling since his encounter with Voldemort. It hadn’t subsided at all, but at least it hadn’t gotten any worse either. He barely opened his mouth to say so too before a wave of pain hit him, accompanied with a storm of rage and hatred as Harry opened his mouth and screamed and screamed, choking as a potion was forced past his teeth and dribbled from the side of his mouth, burning in his lungs as he scrambled for air, hands thrashing against the covers.

And beneath the fury there was a weaving thread of satisfaction.

It dissipated slowly, scuttling reluctantly away as the pressure on his wrists that Harry hadn’t even noticed was released and he could pull his arms protectively round his middle. ‘He knows, and he’s mad,’ Harry managed to whisper quietly as the dreamless sleep engulfed him and his head lolled back.

***


The fireplace spat and flared green as Snape fell through, collapsing to his knees with a grimace, teeth clenched so that only the sharp exhalation of his breath and the shaking of his limbs gave away his pain. He remained there for a few moments, breath rasping through his nose as he closed his eyes and tried to calm the convulsing of his stomach, which clenched painfully, and the shuddering waves that rippled under his skin. He started to push himself upright, faltering as his legs shook uncontrollably and threatened to spill him straight back down.

The Dark Lord trusted him, and Snape did not know whether the knowledge made him proud or nauseous. It would certainly make his role as spy that much easier, whilst at the same time that bit more perilous. There was so much he could do with this newfound trust, the potential for information he could bring back to the Order practically limitless.

Except any offer of knowledge would have to be presented alongside the truth of how he gained it. His sudden leap in success would not be conveniently brushed aside. Dumbledore would not be so quick to declare his faith in his Potions Master if he discovered the truth. In fact he had all but said it himself, that he had no doubt that if Snape were to return to the Dark Lord it would be because the Headmaster pushed him there. And if anything were to give him reason to push, this proof of his betrayal would do it where mere allegations of it would not. No, were Albus to learn of his part in the future Potter had visited it would not be from his lips.

Determination gave him strength, as he locked his knees beneath him, swaying but upright. He had been given a new task, which he would report as was required of him. And he would do what good he could whilst he was still in a position to do it, in the hope it would atone for what he would become. And if he was going to fail, the failure would be his alone.

It would be his secret for as long as he could keep it, casting shadows before it into an uncertain future.


Chapter 21: Uncertain Waters
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Chapter 21: Uncertain Waters

The paradox of reality is that no image is as compelling
as the one which exists only in the mind's eye.

- Shana Alexander



Harry woke, squinting against the noon sun and grunting under his breath as he threw the covers over his head and burrowed deeper in an attempt to escape the blinding light. The sleep had left him drowsy and disoriented, but the bed was soft so he wasn’t about to complain or question it. He tensed as a low chuckle sounded behind him though, lying still as footsteps retreated slightly across the room and were followed by the jangling of curtains against the rail, the invasive light reduced to more tolerable levels that didn’t burn the back of his eyes. The footsteps returned as Harry closed his hand around his wand hidden beneath his pillow, turning over sharply in a way that almost tumbled him from the bed so he could aim it’s tip straight between the eyes of a rather bemused Ronald Weasley.

‘Um…’ Ron stuttered, crossing his eyes and peering down his nose, seemingly at a loss for things to say, not moving as he waited for Harry to speak; or at least lose the startled, yet oddly grateful, expression and close his mouth. Upon attaining neither he shrugged and continued, lifting himself onto his toes to look over the wooden stick and tightly clenched fist that held it. ‘You hungry, mate?’

‘Where’s Remus?’ Harry sounded panicked, lowering the wand slightly as his gaze flickered to the chair next to the bed, pillows crooked and squashed, then anxiously to the corners of the room, which were empty.

‘He had to go to the loo,’ Ron jabbed a thumb over his shoulder in the vague direction of the door at the far end. ‘I tell you, the man may be a great teacher, but he can’t hold his bladder worth anything. Third trip he’s made this morning.’ The weak joke had Harry focused back on Ron and actually looking at him as though he were real instead of some figment. He did seem rather intent on blinking, however, as if he truly expected the redhead to flash out of existence in the moment of darkness.

‘When did you get here?’ he finally asked.

‘Hour or so after you,’ Ron answered easily. ‘Look, are you going to put that thing down yet, only the twin’s have cursed me enough times this holiday and I’m getting a bit, you know, touchy about the whole thing.’ Harry looked at his wand as though seeing it for the first time, shoving it hastily under the covers with a sheepish look.

‘Yeah, sorry.’

Ron took the opportunity to nab the vacated seat, wriggling to get comfortable before extracting one of the cushions and throwing it haphazardly onto the nearest bed. ‘Don’t mention it,’ he said casually. ‘Just don’t get mad if you wake up late for class one morning and wonder why I left you to sleep.’ Harry chuckled at the comment, punching the pillows behind him before leaning back, keeping his gaze fixed on the far door. ‘So, are you?’ Ron distracted, causing him to look round again.

‘Am I what?’

‘Hungry?’ Ron questioned impatiently. ‘I swear mum practically threw me out of the house this morning. Didn’t even give me a minute for breakfast. Seemed to think you’d be dead before we got here and she wouldn’t have the time for her final goodbyes.’ Harry couldn’t see Molly anywhere in the room, although that didn’t mean she wasn’t around somewhere. ‘Don’t worry, she left again once she realised you weren’t about to kick it. Didn’t want to leave Ginny on her own in the house for long in case Death Eaters started battering down the door. I tried to tell her that it’s not like you’re a stranger to this place, and that Dumbledore wouldn’t send us such a cheery invite if you were, in fact, dead, but she wouldn’t listen,’ Ron finally paused for breath, cocking his head in consideration. ‘Though congratulations on getting in here before term even starts. Dunno if anyone’s managed that before.’

‘Is Hermione here too?’ Harry asked hopefully.

‘Nah, spending time with the muggles,’ Ron frowned as though her doing so was a personal insult. ‘She was going to come visit a few days ago, but they got upset, something about hardly seeing her anymore. That and they heard about You-Know-Who.’ Harry winced; he knew how the Dursleys…well, his Aunt, had taken the news of Voldemort’s return, and she had had Harry’s impending, increasingly likely death to buffer the news. He wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the dentists had locked Hermione in her room and forbidden her from leaving to keep her away from it all, knowing it was the only way they would manage to do so, and even then that it was unlikely to succeed. ‘I think she was forced to be creative.’

‘You mean she lied?’ Harry said with horrified amazement.

‘Hermione?’ Ron snorted. ‘I don’t think so. She may have stretched the truth a little about Hogwarts being the safest place for her and all…’

‘It is,’ Harry cut in bluntly.

‘I’m not arguing,’ Ron said earnestly. ‘But lets face it; the place isn’t exactly safe if we don’t stay in it. I think she may have avoided sharing that bit...’ Ron finally stopped at the look on Harry’s face, his freckles standing out as he blushed guiltily before continuing as if he had never said anything. ‘Anyway, she’s spending quality time with the parents,’ he finished lamely, attempting a weak smile as the door across the room opened and Remus stepped out. Ron jumped from the seat as though propelled, moving sheepishly out the way as Remus walked over, giving Harry a cursory examination that took in his pained expression before sitting back down.

‘I’m sorry,’ Harry blurted out, causing Remus to snap his mouth closed around whatever he had been about to say. ‘About Sirius. I should have said it sooner, but what with everything that happened it all ready seems so long ago. But it wasn’t, and I know you must miss him, and I’m sorry.’ He looked down at the sheets that he had twisted round his hands, unwrapping and smoothing them compulsively to avoid looking up.

Remus shifted forwards in his seat, sitting on the edge with his elbows rested on the bed. ‘We will discuss this later,’ he said softly, placing his fingers under Harry’s chin to lift his gaze. ‘When we have both finished reeling from all you have just been through, and when I feel you will truly believe me when I say it was not your fault.’ Harry sighed and nodded slowly. ‘So are you feeling better?’ Remus asked, leaning back again as Ron threw himself heavily on the end of the bed, Harry pulling his feet out the way just in time to avoid a painful encounter. ‘I thought you’d sleep for a while yet.’

‘I’m fine,’ Harry replied with sudden eagerness as he perked up considerably, throwing the covers to the side and making to get up, looking for his clothes but resigning himself to travelling in the infirmary’s issued pyjamas if it meant he could leave. ‘Can we go now? I’m sure Pomfrey wants to get back to her holiday.’

Remus smiled as Ron huffed, having just received a faceful of flying linen, before placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder to stop him. ‘No doubt she does,’ he said gently over Ron’s muttered cursing, pushing Harry carefully back down. ‘But if she catches you up now she’ll quite happily force another sleeping potion on you to keep you in bed, any plans of her own be damned.’ Harry scowled at the prospect, swinging his legs back up and dealing Ron a none to gentle kick in the ribs to get him to shift over. Remus rescued the covers, tucking them back in as Harry folded his arms sullenly, sending Remus a vaguely pleading look. ‘Just relax,’ he said in response. ‘Surely you’ve realised Poppy’s tendency by now to treat anxiety to leave as a symptom of a deeper illness.’ Harry glowered, but relaxed back into the pillows anyway. ‘She used to do it to me all the time. The more you say you’re fine, the more convinced she becomes you’re hiding something from her. Just sit back, look contrite, and suggest that perhaps more homely surroundings will make you feel more comfortable.’

‘How do you know all this?’ Ron asked with awe.

‘Trial and error,’ Remus said with a smile that suggested it had been long-suffering. ‘Doesn’t work for everyone though. Sirius was always all but thrown out by his ear, but then again he was usually either faking, or only here due to the effects of a prank gone wrong. Madam Pomfrey has always had a soft spot for someone though,’ he looked back to Harry. ‘Given how often you’re in here I’m not surprised she’s become so attached to you.’

‘I don’t know whether to be honoured or horrified,’ Harry admitted.

‘You should see if you can get her to hand over a few of her more general curse healing potions,’ Ron suggested, nudging Harry in the ribs. ‘What with the twins I could certainly do with a few. Just feed her some story about just in case, you know…’

‘Why don’t you order us all some food, Ron,’ Remus interrupted kindly, earning himself a look of intense happiness tinged with worship.

‘What, really?’

‘I am feeling rather peckish, and I would hate for your mother to think I had neglected the son she entrusted into my care,’ Ron nodded in sympathetic understanding. ‘I’m sure Harry must be starving too.’ Harry nodded grudgingly as Ron leapt towards the door.

‘I’ll be back in a flash,’ he declared, striking a suitably heroic pose.

‘You don’t have to go all the way to the kitchens,’ Remus offered. Ron all ready had the door open as was all but flying through it, grabbing the handle to slow himself without toppling over.

‘I don’t?’

‘Use the floo,’ Remus pointed to the oversized fireplace that dwarfed the room. ‘I’m sure Madam Pomfrey won’t mind. There should be a pot of powder just on the mantelpiece, hidden behind the gourd.’ Ron was rummaging through the items that lined the long shelf before Remus finished, his movements becoming decidedly more carefully after a loud clatter and a lucky catch.

When the flames had flared green and Ron sank to his knees, face disappearing into the fire, Remus leant over to the bed. ‘Harry,’ he said quietly as the beginnings of a complicated and specific order floated across the room. ‘I don’t think you should tell Ron and Hermione what happened, or at least not everything.’

‘You’re referring to Snape again, aren’t you,’ Harry hissed with a frown. ‘Not exactly subtle.’

‘The less people who know, the better.’

Harry let out a scoffing noise. ‘Personally I think its more accurate the other way round. Everyone needs to know how much of a traitor he is.’

‘But he isn’t one Harry.’ Remus hadn’t wanted to send Ron away in the hope that his presence would force Harry to listen where he could no longer rant and shout without drawing attention. With the growing urge to do so himself he was beginning to wish he had.

‘Not yet, perhaps.’

Remus looked saddened. ‘Can you really not see that if you make everyone believe he is, he is more likely to actually become so?’

‘If he was trustworthy it shouldn’t matter what I say!’ Harry snarled angrily. ‘If you really believed in him as much as you claim to do so then what does it matter what I say, as surely no one will believe me?’ What could he say to that? Severus had never done anything to help his reputation in this regard, preferring to come across as a warped and bitter man. In many respects he had dug his own grave, as people would be all too willing to pounce on the apparent confirmation they had been right about him all along. Human nature could be a very fickle thing.

‘You say you want to avoid the future you saw,’ he attempted to argue instead. ‘And the only way to do that would be to keep Severus on our side, but you insist on pushing him out.’

‘I’m avoiding it by showing people the truth before it is too late.’ Remus didn’t even attempt to cling to the thread of doubt that had entered Harry’s voice as it was completely dwarfed by the determination that accompanied it.

‘Harry, please try to understand.’

‘I am trying,’ Harry said with frustration, whether at Remus’ constant pushing or his own thoughts. ‘Really I am. But you didn’t go through what I did.’

‘If you tell everyone then Severus won’t have to do anything,’ Remus was pleading now, both he and Harry knew it, and Harry at least looked marginally ill at ease and discomforted for it. ‘He’ll be condemned on your word alone. Do you want to be responsible for that?’

‘Given the alternative…’ Remus hid the relief he felt at the doubt that was now even more evident in Harry’s voice. Not that he believed Harry doubted in his assumptions on Snape at all, but that he was considering he could possibly be approaching the situation in the wrong way gave Remus a touch of hope.

‘At least give him a chance,’ he grasped desperately, talking quickly before Harry could resolve the dispute with himself. ‘Hold off telling everyone until you are absolutely certain.’

‘I can’t lie to Ron,’ Harry said plaintively.

‘Then don’t,’ Remus conceded, ‘But do me one favour, please, and tell him and Hermione together.’

Harry’s forehead creased, his eyebrows knotting together in mystification. ‘Why?’

‘So I can rest knowing that at least one person will approach this with a level head.’

Harry scowled at Remus’ grateful tone. ‘Fine,’ he said without grace, inwcing as his scar gave a mild twinge.

‘How’s your head?’

Harry cast Remus a suspicious look.

‘Fine.’

Remus shook his head in silent mirth. ‘I take it that if I were to ask you how you slept, your answer there would also be fine; and whether your fingers or toes still feel numb would probably warrant a similar response, right?’

‘It doesn’t hurt much really,’ Harry added reluctantly.

‘What happened?’

Harry considered playing ignorant, but decided it wasn’t worth it. ‘Voldemort was torturing Snape for something.’

‘Do you know what?’

‘Messing up his perfect plans?’ Harry suggested sarcastically.

It was like getting blood from a stone. ‘Did you hear him actually say that?’

‘No,’ Harry admitted unwillingly. ‘But he was bloody furious yet still satisfied about something too.’ He looked round as Ron approached again, a large grin on his face and arms full to bursting, leaving a trail of splattered mess in his wake that Remus hastily cleaned with a quick spell before the mediwitch could return.

‘They’re just cooking it,’ he offered as though to explain a lack of food, despite the fact that he could barely manage what he had. ‘But Dobby sent these up for us in the meantime.’ The bottom half of the bed practically disappeared under a mountain of pasties, fruit and miscellaneous items Harry couldn’t quite identify, Ron snagging an apple as Remus examined a worrying pink and green sugary creation. He and Harry shared a quick look, as Harry nodded minutely before Ron’s loud voice once again rang to the corners of the room. ‘Not sure exactly how big Dobby thinks this army of yours is, but he seems determined it gets a proper meal.’

***


Snape was limping only slightly as he entered the Headmasters Office for the second time that day. It had been a choice; he could allow the slight lurch every time his tender left leg hit the floor, or he could force himself into his usual sweeping stalk with a grimace that gave away what he was hiding anyway. At least with the former he wouldn’t have to suffer actually telling Albus what pained him so, as though the man were his damn nursemaid, thusly cutting down the list of irritating questions he would be facing by one. And whilst there was little Potions couldn’t achieve, in the right hands, there were some things best left to time to heal. Not that he hadn’t liberally doused what he could with concoctions to blunt the icy claws that scraped at his mind and the tremors that shook his muscles. He had done the best he could to limit the sympathy and pity he was currently receiving from the Headmaster’s gaze.

‘All did not go well, I assume?’ Albus said gently, breaking the tense silence as he conjured the Potion’s Master a chair, one Snape couldn’t help noticing was rather more padded and comfortable than usual. Pride kicked in with a frown as he strode towards it and his leg protested with a heated twinge, forcing him once again to slow and bear the worried stare for a moment longer.

‘All went remarkably well, considering.’ He slumped downwards with less grace than he had intended, the muscles in his leg still stiff and strained and not accommodating when it came to bending, forcing him to hold the limb outstretched in front of him as he leant back to prevent toppling over. Regardless of his apparently relaxed stance, nothing in his posture indicated he was as such.

Albus quirked an eyebrow, studying Snape intently over the rims of his glasses. ‘Forgive me, but it has been a long time since I have seen such…physical evidence of your suffering.’ He was not deterred as Snape bared his teeth in a silent snarl. ‘If it did indeed go as well as you state, I doubt you would be so obviously favouring your right leg.’

‘Nothing more than an overzealous curse and a bad fall,’ Snape excused tersely. A deep itch had taken up residence as payment for his aborted attempt to lessen the appearance of his injury, one that was slowly growing and felt as if needles were being driven through his very bones. He managed a derisive sneer and a curl of his lips, resisting the almost overpowering urge to grab the offending limb and tear his nails through the flesh itself in an endeavour to lessen the stabbing sensation. ‘An unintended outcome, although I am sure it was not regretted. I guarantee to you I have suffered worse.’ Snape hoped it was guilt on the Headmaster’s part at the unavoidable truth of the statement that stopped him from pointing out the larger truth it was hiding. That or he sincerely did not see it, apt as the old man was at ignoring that which he did not want to see.

‘Voldemort was not angry at your news?’

‘He was, however most of his rage was aimed at others beyond the simple messenger,’ Snape lied easily, reminding himself over and over that he did not feel bad for doing so. It would, after all, prove to be for the best as he deflected the subject onwards. ‘And if you were ever in any doubt over Potter’s story, I do believe it has been proved misplaced.’ Snape was beginning to hate the office all ready, with its cheery colours that stood brightly under the afternoon sun streaming contentedly through the windows. Normally he would have to have been subjected to it for far longer to achieve this level of intense loathing. He longed for the dungeons though, for their quiet shadows and peaceful silences. ‘The Dark Lord has assigned me a new task.’

The Headmaster reached across his desk, spindling fingers closing round a small, yellow sweet before popping it absently into his smiling mouth, eyes never leaving Snape’s. ‘And what is that?’

‘To watch over Draco.’

There was a crunch of candy as Albus shook his head in amusement, an action that did nothing to soothe Snape’s growing discomfort, as his leg prickled in time to the growing pounding in his head. He wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed and sleep until the potions had done their work and his body felt like his again, but that wasn’t a choice he could even entertain. ‘Given your grave tone I was expecting something much more dire.’

Snape regarded the Headmaster with something approaching smug satisfaction. ‘To watch over Draco,’ he continued haughtily, ‘and ensure he doesn’t fail in his latest task.’ He paused for effect in much the same way that Albus was so inclined to do, aware of the pettiness of the action but not caring, making his voice suitably calm and composed before deigning to continue. ‘He has been instructed to kill you.’

Dumbledore merely smiled benignly, confirming Snape’s long-standing belief that the damn lemon sweets were, in fact, drugged. ‘Is that all?’

Snape felt his headache jump up several notches. ‘What do you mean, is that all?’ he ground out through gritted teeth, his jaw clenched painfully so the words were somewhat muffled. ‘Is it not enough?’

Albus was still smiling, humouring him, like an overexcited child on the verge of throwing a tantrum, Snape was inclined to believe. That was what it felt like. ‘As you were so eager to point out only moments ago, it is not a surprising development.’

Snape snapped his mouth shut quickly to prevent himself from uttering the response he had wanted to give and save himself from wasting the breath. There was one thing he had to know though. ‘You’re still going to let him return to the school, aren’t you?’

‘It would be somewhat difficult for you to watch over him if I did not.’ Simple, reasonable, and yet still completely and utterly wrong, even if Snape couldn’t yet formulate the words as to why.

‘Perhaps you’d like me to take the time to teach him the proper wand movements the killing curse requires whilst I’m here then,’ he sneered instead. ‘At least that way it will be a quick and relatively painless experience, at least for you.’ He left the implied message they both knew was there unsaid. Snape was not one for gushing declarations of sentimentality. Not that sarcasm was the most helpful of tools itself, but damn it all if it didn’t make him feel better. ‘Conversely, though, it would be somewhat difficult for him to kill you if you expelled him. It’s not as if you don’t have adequate reason.’

‘The board of Governors,’ Albus continued, his tone laden with infinite tolerance for the ignorance of the World, ‘on which I must remind you Lucius Malfoy sat for many years, would not take kindly to my expelling a student merely on the basis of the word of a distraught young man and a former Death Eater.’ Which was exactly what Snape would always be. He had a hard time arguing, even to himself, that they were wrong in their bigotry now though.

He pushed the thoughts aside. Now was not the time to dwell on bitterness. No doubt he would have plenty of opportunity to do so come the future. ‘Lucius Malfoy is currently rotting in Azkaban,’ he pointed out logically instead, ‘and thusly in no position to complain about the treatment of his son.’

‘Nevertheless remnants of his influence remain, and could make life very difficult indeed.’ Albus regarded his office wistfully, ‘and having only just removed the final lingering traces of pink and kittens, and even pink kittens, from my office, I would not relish the arrival of another Dolores Umbridge. Draco Malfoy will return at the beginning of September.’

‘The boy has been marked, Albus.’ Snape said, allowing an uncharacteristic flash of hope to create an image of the Headmaster rearing angrily from his desk declaring all Malfoy’s hereby banished from the castle for all eternity from this day forth. He was, unsurprisingly, disappointed.

‘You of all people should know that is not the end of the road for him.’

‘But we are talking about your life here,’ Snape declared with emphatic frustration. ‘How can you be so utterly apathetic?’

‘I will not throw away the life of a child merely to safeguard my own,’ Albus had almost raised his voice, fixing Snape with a disappointed look as the blasted bird in the corner roused itself once again from its perch, letting out a raucous squawk that startled Snape into grasping the edge of the desk in front of him, and swooping out the window as though it too had been insulted by the comment. Or perhaps it simply did not appreciate his company, Snape considered, relaxing his grip. It was, after all, the very embodiment of light and goodness. ‘Besides, young Malfoy will not only have you to watch over him, but Harry also. Do not forget the debt the two share.’

‘Might share, Albus. Might,’ Snape sighed, suddenly feeling inexplicably tired. ‘It seems to me that the debt will only arise in the event of failure anyhow, failure that you seem to be actively courting.’

Albus reached out across the desk to pat one of Snape’s hands kindly, his skin soft and papery. ‘I do not believe I could have placed my life in better hands.’ Snape shook his head minutely.

‘You are too important to risk in this way.’

‘I am flattered, although your sentiment is somewhat misguided.’ Snape knew what was coming next, though that didn’t stop him hating it. ‘There are those more important than myself in this war.’

‘Potter,’ Snape spat with disgust, pulling his hand away. ‘And what do you think will become of him in the event of your death?’ His eyes flashed with questioning accusation.

‘You talk as though I were all but awaiting burial,’ there was a hint of reproach in Dumbledore’s voice. ‘I have half a mind to be insulted.’

‘Only half?’ Snape had never liked being scolded as the hairs on the back of his neck rose defensively. ‘Obviously I am not trying quite hard enough then.’

‘And we do not have time for you to wallow in self pity.’

‘Perhaps then,’ Snape snarled viciously, ‘you have the time to explain to me exactly what a Horcrux is instead?’ He followed the question with an inquiring hum in the back of his throat. ‘Or were you hoping that what with everything else that has happened I would forget?’

Albus had the audacity to look stunned. ‘You do not know?’

‘I would not be asking if I did so.’ A guilty silence emanated from the Headmaster as he composed himself under the Potion Master’s scrutiny.

‘My apologies,’ he finally spoke, ‘but when you claimed ignorance before, I believed you merely intent on deflecting the conversation away from yourself and distracting Harry.’ Snape snorted quietly to himself as Dumbledore’s expression shifted to mild curiosity. ‘In all your research,’ and Snape knew exactly what he meant by research, ‘you have never even heard mention of them?’

His reply was flat and firm. ‘No.’

‘I am surprised.’

‘Please Albus,’ Snape said disparagingly, shifting his weight in the seat. ‘If the Dark Lord is using them I can only imagine how inherently evil they must be, and I would like to consider myself at least slightly more morally inclined than him.’

‘Well,’ shock did not suit the Headmaster, so unused to it as he probably was. Were he not momentarily impotent with blinding rage Snape might have taken pleasure in proving the man as fallible and capable of jumping to the wrong conclusions as anyone else. Somehow his mistakes normally had the benefit of looking less so and being easily brushed over, leaving only the illusion of unfailing knowledge. ‘As you must have realised from what Harry said, although I doubt he realised the full implications of what he was told himself, a Horcrux contains a piece of a soul.’

‘In this case the Dark Lord’s.’ Snape filled in the obvious as Albus nodded in unnecessary confirmation.

‘It is how he has achieved immortality.’

At least that question was finally answered then, as in the past it had struck Snape as one fundamental to defeating the Dark Lord that was just not being asked. He took great care in his own following question too, seeking out the appropriate tone and testing it in his mind before finally asking. ‘How is it even possible to create such a thing?’

‘They are not at item that is heavily researched,’ Albus was excusing himself all ready, anger and annoyance feeding the ache in Snape’s head, which had returned full force, accompanied with the bitter taste of bile and nausea. He should have waited longer before allowing the meeting, pride be damned. At least then he would have been more controlled, instead of having his focus split between hiding the shudders that were once again starting to manifest and analysing every statement for pitfalls. ‘Even my knowledge on them has had to be pulled together from several resources, each of which was reluctant to say too much.’

‘For fear of someone actually using them?’ Snape snapped in accusation. ‘If your inability to give me a straight answer is out of reluctance to share such delicate information with someone of my disposition, let me assure you I am perfectly content with my soul just the way it is, and have absolutely no desire to see it torn to shreds.’ He did blanch slightly under the look Albus gave him, acknowledging that he may have pushed the Headmaster’s good temper too far.

‘I am merely letting you know that I am by no means a definitive expert on the subject,’ Snape rarely heard Albus’ voice so cold, and felt a twinge of guilt at his own words. ‘And as such I bear the possibility of not being entirely accurate.’

‘I shall keep that in mind,’ Snape said stiffly, his words passing for enough of an apology to thaw the icy gaze. ‘As you were saying…’

Albus leant forwards again, hands clasped in front of him as he stared at a spot on the desk in front of him. ‘A Horcrux contains a piece of a persons soul and stores it, safeguards it if you will, in the seemingly innocent guise of a separate object,’ he stopped, steepling his fingers as he looked up and over the rims of his glasses. ‘It is considered the darkest of curses, and it is a curse, not only for what it does, but also how it is created.’

‘How?’

‘The Killing Curse,’ Dumbledore sighed, his hands falling to the desk to hit the soft leather inlay. ‘At the moment it is cast is gives the caster an opportunity to cleave his soul in two, and to store one of these fragments wherever he so chooses, binding it to the earth in a way that even death cannot overcome.’ Snape endeavoured to sit up straighter, despite the protest of his leg. ‘Every attempt to do so, however, renders the original shard that little bit less human.’

‘And you believe the Dark Lord has one of these?’ It was no good pretending he wasn’t fascinated, as Snape very much was.

‘No.’

Had he missed something? ‘No?’

‘I believe he has six.’

‘Six?’ Snape said in flat disbelief.

‘Well, five now, since Harry has all ready destroyed one.’

‘He has?’ Snape barely managed to ask weakly.

‘In his second year. The diary that possessed young Ginny Weasley,’ Snape vaguely recalled the incident, although he had not been aware of the exact details at the time. Now he understood a little better why the Headmaster had been so guarded. ‘He stabbed it with the broken tooth of a basilisk.’

‘A piece of the Dark Lord was in the school, controlling students?’ Why was he so surprised? For all the irritation it caused Snape to admit it, Potter had had a point in at least some of his argument with Dumbledore. Something didn’t quite add up though, as his memory threw up an earlier comment. ‘Why did you not realise what it was earlier?’ Albus had the good grace to look ashamed.

‘It is something I could have found sooner, but my relationship with the only person who knew of such a thing made it difficult, and I was reluctant to push,’ he admitted. ‘For that reason the knowledge such a thing existed was only recently brought to my attention,’

‘By whom?’

‘Horace Slughorn.’

‘And you believed him?’ Snape let out a snort.

‘I had no reason not to, he shared the information freely.’

‘Even if said sharing was a little late.’

‘I do believe he was ashamed of the part he played.’

‘Played in what?’ Snape narrowed his eyes as Dumbledore let out a heavy breath.

‘He was the one who gave the necessary information to Voldemort.’

Snape looked dumbfounded, tearing through his memories to verify for himself what he all ready knew. ‘Slughorn has never and would never bear the Dark Mark. He is no servant of the Dark Lord.’

Albus smiled, but unlike before it was worn and frayed. ‘I am fully aware of that, my dear boy; else I would not have extended the Potions position to him.’ Not that the contrary would have been a surprise to anyone with eyes. ‘However, whilst he has never served the Dark Lord, he did have the misfortune of teaching him.’

‘Slughorn taught the Dark Lord.’ Snape confirmed slowly, lest he had misheard.

‘Hard as it is to imagine, but Voldemort was once a child, and as such did once attend Hogwarts.’ Was he really so formidable in Snape’s mind that such an image seemed absurd? ‘He was a couple of years below Minerva, if memory serves me correctly. Obviously she has no idea of this, although I would be surprised if she did not suspect. Very charismatic young man, Tom Riddle was too, good at getting what he wanted out of people.’

‘And so Slughorn told him of Horcruxes,’ Snape said with disgust to mask his unease at the information. ‘I am almost ashamed to call the man a Slytherin.’

‘Indeed, however all he did was make the boy aware that they existed; and how was he to foresee the use they would be put to in the future?’ Snape didn’t comment that the malevolent evil of the Dark Lord would probably have shone like a beacon since the moment the man could speak. Slughorn had been blind and stupid; but on that same note it had to be admitted that so, most probably, had Albus. ‘Tom found the incantation of his own accord. It is thanks to Horace though that we know there are, or at least were, six. His memory, when I finally wrested the true version from him, confirms this.’

‘Do you know what they are?’ That he even had to ask disconcerted Snape, as he all ready found himself longing for the return of the old image of an infallible, dependable Albus. He had learnt too much in the last hours to believe in that again though, as the Headmaster let out another weary sigh to further shatter the image.

‘I have my suspicions. In his arrogance Tom has made himself somewhat predictable. Few items would be worthy of the honour of bearing part of his soul.’ Snape couldn’t deny that. The Dark Lord had forever hampered himself with his notion of nobility that so often presented itself in excessive and unsurprising dramatics. ‘I have it on good authority that he has had access to a number of artefacts belonging to the Founders.’ Snape’s gaze instantly flickered to the sword resting on the shelf before Albus could answer his worry. ‘No, not that one, fortunately. Both it and the Sorting Hat have remained safe. Harry himself, however, referred to a locket in his message from young Draco, in many ways confirming the information I have. The locket in question belonged to Salazar Slytherin. On this basis I am inclined to believe that he also has the Hufflepuff Cup.’ Snape had only heard rumours of the latter item, and nothing of the former, but anything once belonging to the more disreputable Founder had no doubt been in the hands of a darker inclined family, and they were notorious for hiding and hoarding their possessions like no other.

He could fill in the details with his own research later though, when his thoughts didn’t slice jagged scars behind his eyes. ‘That still leaves another three.’

‘Yes, and I admit that on one of them I still have no lead or even the faintest idea of what it could be.’ Snape wondered briefly exactly when it was Albus had become so old. ‘I believe it to be something of Ravenclaw’s, but my searching has turned up nothing.’

‘Then you know the artefact he chose to represent Gryffindor?’ Severus deduced.

‘Yes, and no.’

Snape’s temper snapped tight again. ‘Must I drag every last bit of information from you like venom from an Acromantula?’

‘My apologies, but this is all very much supposition on my part, and even as I tell you I am still sorting much of it out in my mind.’ Snape forced himself to remain patient. ‘I believe I know the identity of the Gryffindor Horcrux, or what the Gryffindor Horcrux was intended to be and what he has settled with in it’s absence.’

‘I’m not sure I understand.’

‘As I said, a Horcrux is created through a violent act of murder…the Killing Curse. And just as Voldemort chose only the rarest and most meaningful items to house the fragments of his soul, so he would only allow said fragments to be created by a death equally as meaningful.’ It took only a moment for realisation to hit Snape.

‘You can’t mean…’

‘I believe he intended to use the death of Harry to create his final Horcrux, the Gryffindor Horcrux if you will,’ something had fallen from the Headmaster, the sense that everything would turn out all right in the end. ‘And how apt would it be that the death of the son of such highly regarded Gryffindor family be the means by which he achieved it.’

‘He failed though, didn’t he?’

‘Oh yes, at the time. The curse rebounded, destroying his body whilst his soul was still bound to the Earth. No Horcrux was created that night, although he has done so since.’ Albus touched the tip of his wand to the pensieve that still rested on the side of the desk from earlier, perusing the contents briefly with a look of concentration. ‘As you know, seven is a number of great power, and Tom was adamant he would have his soul in seven pieces, even if reduced to settling for the resting place of his final,’ the image of a familiar coiled snake leapt out the silvery liquid in a scene Snape did not recognise, slithering down a staircase before its tongue flickered in the direction of an elderly muggle. ‘I believe he used Nagini. Whilst not Gryffindor she still has meaning to him, both as his familiar and as the symbol she serves of both his House and his bloodline.’

There was something obscene about the image, which Dumbledore mercifully banished before it could play out to its clear conclusion. ‘Which leaves the final one, then.’

‘Ah yes, and happily it is the one of which I am most certain, and whose location I believe I have.’ Snape’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as the missing spark returned to the Headmaster, taking with it the feeling of absolute uselessness. ‘A small shack in the village of Little Hangleton; what I have discovered to be his ancestral home. I have visited it once all ready, and seen with my own eyes where the item sits. I regret I have not found a safe passage through the protections, however,’ his eyes met Snape’s once again with optimism. ‘Perhaps this is an issue on which you can help though.’

‘You need my help in breaking the curses on this artefact?’ It appeared the only logical request in every way except that this was not Snape’s area of expertise, unless it required a Potion’s based method to defeat it. He could identify the curses with relative ease, he supposed, but better Flitwick, or even Minerva, for actually breaking them. They would struggle no more than he on ascertaining what they were to begin with.

‘Not quite, for the longer I have spent studying them the more I am convinced there is no way they can be broken.’

‘Then what is it you need from me?’ Snape asked with confusion as Albus took a deep breath.

‘I need you to help me survive them.’

Snape looked suddenly suspicious, eyes narrowing with resentment. ‘This is a test, isn’t it?’ He demanded, as everything slotted into place.

‘No Severus,’ Albus said tiredly, his face falling with disappointment, or perhaps it was grief over everything he had finally accepted he had lost. ‘This is trust.’

***


‘I told you it would work,’ Remus said quietly as Madam Pomfrey bustled round a quickly dressing Harry, rattling off last minute bits of advice as he tucked the t-shirt Ron had provided into his oversized trousers and rammed his wand into the back pocket, relishing in the feel of clean clothes. ‘Never doubt the word of a Marauder.’

‘I won’t,’ Harry promised emphatically, making a last minute check for anything he might have forgotten. Not that he had brought much with him.

‘Shall we get you back then?’ Remus took a couple of vials Madam Pomfrey handed out, placing each one in a separate pocket before sliding open a nearby drawer to retrieve the cloak Harry had previously worn. He shook it out with a snap, casting a cleaning charm before wrapping it back round Harry’s shoulders. ‘Can’t have you getting cold, Poppy here would have my guts.’

‘The cheek,’ the mediwitch reprimanded, although it was with a smile as she ushered them towards the fireplace.

‘Where are we going?’

‘Grimmauld Place, of course,’ Remus took the offered pot of powder with an inclination of his head in thanks. ‘Where else?’

‘Not the Burrow?’ Harry looked hopeful.

‘Sorry,’ Remus looked liked he at least understood Harry’s reluctance to go back to the place, ‘but it isn’t protected enough. Ron’s staying there though, aren’t you,’ Ron nodded eagerly, although that was possibly more at the thought of having another person with him to stand off against his brothers than his love of the building itself. ‘As are Molly and Ginny.’

‘Not to mention the twins’ll be popping round,’ there was definitely a malicious edge that spoke of most horrible revenge in Ron’s voice. ‘They’re dying to show you their new shop too, if we can convince Mum to take us to Diagon Alley.’

‘They got a shop?’ Harry asked in surprise as Remus herded him towards the hearth, all but pouring the floo powder into his hand.

‘Uh huh. Some mysterious benefactor gave them a fortune,’ Harry hoped he didn’t look too guilty, ‘for some deranged reason. It’s pretty cool there, you know, if you’re willing to risk leaving a different shape.’ He smiled as Ron continued grumbling even as Harry gave his directions and the flames rose up around him, sucking him down and spinning him round before spitting him out into the room he frequently wished he had never left to begin with.



Chapter 22: Secrets
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Chapter 22: Secrets

I say that a man must be certain of his morality
for the simple reason that he must suffer for it.

-G.K Chesterton


The time since leaving the Hospital Wing seemed to have gone past in a blur of anxious days and restless nights in which Harry’s sleep had been sporadic at best, and his mood even worse as a consequence. It was better than it had been when he first returned to Grimmauld Place, tired from the short journey through the floo and oddly uncomfortable in the old house. There had been hugs and an almost frantic doting from Molly, who had ushered him to his room for a nap whilst flashing him with seemingly uncontrollable pitying glances. Phineas had then glared imperiously down at him from his portrait, only leaving after a number of choice words from Harry who hadn’t wanted to mourn the end of the family line with the overly pretentious painting. Feeling agitated Harry had been grateful when a soft knock issued from the door and Ginny entered, having snuck up with a plate of biscuits and glasses of juice despite Molly’s orders to leave Harry alone so he could sleep. Sleep had been about the furthest thing from his mind. She had chatted aimlessly for a while, undeterred by his own lack of response, until her mother called her down and she left with a bright smile and roll of her eyes. By this point Harry had had to admit he was tired. Despite his exhaustion though, he had found himself incapable of sleeping for more than an hour at a time, waking up with a jolt and gasp of panic, shadowy figures playing at the corners of his vision. At first it had been nerve-wracking, making his attempts at rest more and more troubled with each passing night as his own fatigue and paranoia battled with each other. It was a pattern that had lasted several days and when Ron, ecstatic to have gotten his own room in the large house, found out about it he had instantly moved back in with him, and his presence had helped, to an extent. But Harry still found himself waking in the early hours with a feeling of deep-seated dread that battered his fatigue into submission.

Throwing off the thin covers that were all he needed since the heat had turned humid and sticky, Harry stood carefully to avoid the springs on the bed creaking and disturbing Ron before padding softly down the stairs. No matter how comforting his friends presence was, Harry could not make himself truly relax until he checked there was someone downstairs. More often than not Molly was the one still awake, waiting for her husband, one of her sons or an Order Member and making sure there was a hot cup of tea always available. She had taken to having one ready for Harry too, making no comment on his early morning company and just sliding it into his hands with a small, understanding smile that had Harry almost certain Remus had told her, if not the truth, then at least an acceptable, abridged version of it. Whenever he returned to bed there was also, always, a small vial of dreamless sleep sitting innocuously on his bedside table. If either Molly or Remus were aware that each was poured stubbornly down the toilet, they made no mention of it.

Over the days Harry had gotten used to Remus himself rarely being around anymore or for any length of time anyway. He had been around constantly the first few nights in an attempt to help reassure Harry, normally spending his evenings in the library where Harry would join him, frequently dozing off in one of the comfortable armchairs until Remus either woke him, or carried him back up to bed. It had been nice having the Professor around too, not that the place wasn’t frequently crawling with people, and Harry had become oddly used to it even though it had been such a short time Remus understood, and he knew; he had even made a point of always leaving the door to the Master Bedroom open too, so Harry could see for himself at a glance that he wasn’t alone.

But eventually Remus had had to return to his duties. The Order was stretched as it was, and Harry understood that everyone was needed, especially since Voldemort’s attacks had become impossible to ignore. Even if Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister, had wanted to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, he would have had a hard time denying the return of You-Know-Who given the staggering evidence to the contrary. Evidence, Harry had been aghast to learn, people had been trying to hide from him. He had only discovered by accident when he walked in for breakfast one morning to have Molly snatch a copy of the Daily Prophet from the hands of her husband and try to secrete it away. Harry had asked innocently enough if he could please read it, having been unaware anyone in the house received the newspaper at all, figuring that having owls arriving at the same time every day in delivery could be a bit of a security risk. Molly had just smiled nervously at him, wiping down the table as she asked what it was he wanted to have a look at.

Remus had shouted at Molly when he arrived back that night, the peculiarity of such an outburst further emphasised by the fact that neither had the presence of mind to erect a silencing charm, let alone make the door imperturble. Harry and Ron had sat on the stairs near the kitchen, sharing the occasional grin or wince at the comments that had gotten louder and more heated as they went on. When their past professor swore loudly and vehemently at the top of his voice Ron let out a victorious whoop in contrast to Harry’s quiet shock, vowing to get himself a pensieve so he could hear it again and again along with the mute silence that had been the only response from the formidable woman.

Remus had walked through the door a few minutes later, looking up at the pair and sighing in a mixture of defeat and shame. The newspaper held tightly in his clenched fist was rather crumpled when he handed it over as Harry took it uncertainly. ‘She won’t be hiding it from you any more,’ he had said flatly. ‘If I had known she was I would have stopped her sooner.’ Harry nodded, not certain he really want to know what was written inside now that he actually had the thing in his hands. ‘She only did it because she cares about you and doesn’t want to see you hurt anymore.’

‘I know.’ And he did know, he was just fed up with everyone deciding ignorance was what was best for him.

‘It isn’t good,’ Remus went on, crouching down a couple of steps below them, his hand gripping the railing for balance. ‘Some of it is complete and utter tripe though. Try to filter through it to determine what is and isn’t important.’ He stood up, and for a moment Harry thought the man was going to ruffle his hair or do something else equally bothersome like Sirius had always done without thinking. Actions like that weren’t second nature to Remus though, and somehow they didn’t seem quite so annoying when they never actually happened. Instead he just placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder. ‘If you’ve got a minute later come and find me,’ and then he continued up the stairs, his thin shoes almost silent on the floorboards as the door to his bedroom creaked open and didn’t close.

Ron had all but snatched the paper from Harry’s hands before Remus had reached the top of the staircase. ‘Mum hasn’t let me near one of these things either,’ he declared, opening it across their laps as Harry scanned the headlines with growing anger. He had missed so much! Bridges collapsed in mysterious circumstances, taking the lives of countless muggles with them; inexplicable deaths with no apparent reason behind them except of look of fear or incomprehension. Muggleborns being more personally hunted by the swelling ranks of the Death Eaters, and across the country the leering eyes of Dark Mark gazing down whilst the glittering green snake wound itself obscenely through its open, laughing mouth. He had also had to admit that Molly may have been right in keeping it from him, as his sleep once again took a turn for the worse.

Remus hadn’t been around that night, nor had anyone else. This time Harry had a pretty good idea of where they had probably gone.

There was a painfully bright light under the door to the kitchen this night though, instead of the usual soft glow, blinking out as figures passed by on the other side. There were voices too, as Harry approached cautiously, hand on his wand and breath caught in his throat so that he was forced to let it out in a great whoosh that muffled the few snatches of conversation he could make out even more. Shouting would, possibly, have been better. More informative, certainly, as raised voices had an undeniable way of announcing their cause with little room for ambiguity. This hushed urgency, however, told him nothing and he was, for once, loath to go storming in without at least a slightly better idea of what awaited him beyond. The decision was taken away from him as the light from the crack at the floor was once again blocked out and the handle turned, the door flying open before he had a chance to move out the way. Bill looked a little stunned, framed in the light and jumping slightly at Harry’s presence before giving him a conspiratorial grin.

‘Mum thinks you’re asleep,’ he said quietly as Harry glanced past him. ‘Been banging on at everyone about keeping it down so as not to wake you. If she catches you out here she’ll have you back upstairs in a flash.’ Harry’s face fell as he looked up to Bill, pleading him not to give him away. ‘So if I were you I’d get in there now,’ Bill added, stepping past him and out the way, earning himself a look of pure, worshipful gratitude. ‘Trust me, once you are she won’t be able to drag you out for love nor money.’ Harry barely paused, fumbling out his thanks as he ran in, glancing round the occupants, most of whom had yet to even notice his presence, and not even getting halfway before he was almost knocked off his feet.

‘Harry!’ Hermione threw herself at him with a thud, causing a sudden exhalation of air that left Harry unable to respond with anything beyond a startled ‘ungh’. She buried her face in his shoulder, her wild hair tickling his nose as he hugged her awkwardly back, suddenly embarrassingly aware that she was wearing only a dressing gown thrown over her pyjamas and that a woman he recognised as her mother was standing only a few meters away. He let himself simply take comfort in knowing she was here and all right before disentangling himself as Hermione swiped at her eyes with her sleeve, leaving a damp trail across the light blush on her cheeks. ‘I’m so glad you’re all right,’ her voice had taken on the inquisitive and somewhat bossy tone she used when there was something she didn’t yet know, yet was determined to rectify. ‘I got a letter from Professor Dumbledore, and then another, less coherent one from Ron, but neither of them really told me anything. Did something happen to you?’

‘I’ll explain later,’ Harry promised as the fire flared again, this time exhaling Hermione’s father and Tonks into the throng. The Auror had her wand drawn, her hair a serious dark brown that managed to make her look much more formidable. She relaxed when she saw Harry though, winking as she shook her head until she was framed with a vibrant corona of bright, vivid yellow. Harry just rolled his eyes, grinning as Tonks slapped him on the back on the way past him and out of the room. ‘What happened?’

‘Voldemort,’ Hermione said seriously as across the room Molly flinched, evidently upset at Harry’s presence and itching to usher him out the way. It was only Remus’ warning look and the shake of his head from across the room that prevented her from doing so. Mr. And Mrs. Granger at least looked unaffected by the name but perhaps, Harry considered, that was merely because they had not heard it enough yet to fear it. ‘I’ve been following the Daily Prophet, and he’s been attacking muggleborns. We heard news he was coming for me next.’ Harry swung back round to face Hermione, shock and panic etched onto his face even as she let out an amused little laugh at his reaction; one that sounded only the tiniest bit hysterical. Kingsley Shacklebot had stepped from the fire too, looking far less cheerful than Tonks had managed and departing in the same direction as she had, his presence a further indication of how serious the threat had been.

‘Are you all right?’

‘We are fine,’ Hermione’s father interrupted them both, stepping forward with his hand outstretched, an action that seemed almost ridiculously normal given the circumstances. Despite the plaid dressing gown he wore Harry still felt somewhat intimidated though, reaching out numbly to return the gesture. ‘And we have not had the pleasure of meeting you in a number of years. Seeing you now reminds me of how much my daughter has grown in her time away.’

‘It is a pleasure to see you again, sir,’ Harry replied carefully, the manners drummed into him from childhood taking over. ‘I am sorry for what has happened to you.’

‘No matter,’ Hermione’s father said easily. ‘We are here and we are all alive, whether our home remains standing when we return is of little consequence in comparison to that’ he regarded Harry with careful scrutiny in a way that made him feel he was being measured for blame. It was a look that crawled guiltily beneath his skin.

‘How did you even find out what was happening?’ Harry asked, more to break the silence than out of anything beyond mild curiosity. The fire flared again as though to answer his question, spitting green sparks and exhaling a thin film of black soot as Snape stepped out. Mr. Granger was all ready gesturing towards his presence before Harry could speak.

‘This man was good enough to inform us,’ he began, turning to the Professor who was staring down at Harry with open hostility. He snapped his gaze up as Mr. Granger continued, a sneer of contempt in place as if to ward off what he suspected was coming. Whether he objected to displays of gratitude from a muggle, or merely gratitude in general was uncertain. Harry was inclined to believe the latter. ‘Thanks are in order, although they hardly seem enough…’

‘Get out,’ Harry growled, cutting off Hermione’s father even as Hermione gasped in shock at the hatred in his tone. Harry stepped protectively in front of her, ignoring the indignant mutterings of her parents at his rudeness. Not that it counted as rudeness when Snape was involved. Even Hermione, who frowned upon addressing any Professor, even one as unfair as Snape, with anything less than respect would understand once he had had an opportunity to explain. He just had to make sure he had such an opportunity.

‘No thanks from yourself?’ Harry growled in the back of his throat at the maliciousness behind the taunting in Snape’s words and the fact that no one else seemed inclined to want to hear it. ‘Why Potter, you wound me,’ his sarcasm rang with feigned melodrama, Snape smoothing down his robes as Harry’s eyes narrowed in recognition. He had certainly seen them enough, even if everyone else was either oblivious or merely turning a blind eye.

‘Get out,’ he repeated, louder, his voice shaking with anger that was mirrored in an ugly vase that had started to tremble on the mantelpiece, one that Remus moved swiftly and subtly to remove. ‘Or do you think it’s funny parading around in your Death Eater robes for everyone to see whilst you laugh at them behind their backs.’ Mrs. Granger gave a small gasp even as Hermione gave Harry’s arm a warning squeeze and whispered something in his ear that he was too angry to hear.

‘I do not see anyone laughing,’ Snape pointed out with far too much self-assurance, leaving Harry feeling stranded and alone and, therefore, increasingly more furious. ‘Least of all myself.’

‘You aren’t welcome here. Sirius wouldn’t have wanted you.’ Harry felt a tremor of guilt for using his godfathers name in such a way, even if it were true. Sirius wouldn’t have stood around saying nothing; Sirius would have defended Harry, would have stuck up for him and kicked Snape out on his greasy, double-crossing backside

‘Yet you do not have the authority to throw me out,’ Snape stated smugly. ‘So until that regretful day I shall continue to come and go as I please.’ Climbing, surging rage left Harry impotent to reply even as something seemed to occur to the Potions Master, who narrowed his eyes in comprehension. ‘And I do not spend what little spare time I have brewing that potion for you just to have you throw it away on a selfish whim. You will drink the damn thing in the future, and sleep through such things that do not concern you.’

‘No, I won’t,’ Harry spat, finding his voice. He stalked from the room with Hermione in tow as the few remaining occupants of the room watched him leave in shocked silence, a couple of them flinching as the heavy door slammed shut, banging violently against the frame.

There was mute, shocked silence for a few seconds before Hermione’s father was the first to speak. ‘Well…’ He looked rather rattled, forehead creased into a frown as he stared at the closed door as though debating storming upstairs to rescue his daughter from angry teenage boys both specifically and in general. ‘I can’t claim to have understood everything that has passed,’ he turned back to Snape, who was glowering ominously, ‘but our thanks are still valid…’

‘Not to mention unwelcome,’ Snape snapped impatiently, earning himself a disapproving cluck from Molly, who had recovered admirably from the outburst and was sending Remus innumerable meaningful glances. Tonks had also returned upon hearing the noise, having passed a fuming Harry in the hallway and received nothing more than a muffled grunt in response to her questioning. She took in Snape’s dark expression and promptly left once again with a jovial comment about not being paid enough; one she had fully intended to be overheard since she had erected a shield to the curse before Snape had even managed to fling it.

‘Why don’t I show you where you will be staying,’ Molly took a stunned Mrs. Granger by the arm, earning herself a scowl from Snape she deftly ignored as the man turned on his heel towards the fireplace, robes flaring around him as he forcefully summoned the floo powder from across the room. The pot narrowly missed clipping Remus arm and showering the floor in powder as Hermione’s mother cast Snape her own worried glance and she was escorted kindly, yet firmly, towards the stairs, her husband subjecting Snape to his own evaluating gaze before following.

A hand on his arm elicited another snarl from the Potions Master as he bared his teeth at the werewolf who made no move to remove the offending limb. ‘I will speak to him,’ Lupin said with what Snape considered unwarranted, not to mention completely unnecessary reassurance, as another door slammed in the distance, heralding Harry’s own arrival to his room.

‘Until you are blue in the face, no doubt,’ Snape shook the hand away, but didn’t bid an instant retreat through the warm flames that now blazed in the fireplace, replacing the floo powder on the mantelpiece. ‘Do not tax yourself on my account.’

‘It is the least I can do,’ Remus smiled disconcertingly. ‘Thank you.’

Snape let out snort of amusement that held no humour, crossing his arms in front of him, wand dangling lazily from his fingers. ‘I seem to be drowning in thanks today, don’t I,’ he drawled in a way he knew he had picked up from one Malfoy or the other, the only thanks he felt himself being that Lupin had shown the unexpected foresight to wait for the room to empty before launching into his pitiful display. Small mercies sometimes had to be wrought wherever they could be found. ‘So what is it for this time?’

He had hated Lupin in school, even before he found out the man was a murderous beast. Snape had his suspicions he would have hated him had he not been sorted into the abominable house and made such atrocious friends. Snape could have hated Lupin all by himself merely for the blasted way the man seemed intent on caring about things that were quite emphatically not his concern. ‘Harry would have been devastated had anything happened to Hermione,’ Snape rolled his eyes at the obviousness of that comment, and the way his tone insinuated this was Snape’s own reason for caring, ‘and he may not show it now, but he is grateful that you would risk your life to save her. One day he will realise it.’ Just as one day Snape would discover Black and Lupin had birthed a secret litter of pups.

‘There was no risk,’ he said firmly instead.

‘I am not an idiot,’ Lupin claimed in direct contradiction of the overwhelming evidence that screamed otherwise. He should have been a Hufflepuff, Snape considered, for his dismal façade of loyalty and understanding and trying to see the best in people regardless of whether or not the best actually existed. And Snape knew it was all an act, and a worthless one at that. People didn’t change, and Lupin had always been a coward; first following his friends blindly, now following the son with his eyes equally clouded. What he hoped to achieve with the show was anyone’s guess though. ‘You came straight from the meeting when you heard, right?’ Lupin tilted his head as if seeking approval and congratulations on deducing the bloody obvious; a satisfaction Snape wouldn’t give him as he opted for a bored look. ‘You know the Dark Lord could easily have discovered your plans.’ It was more of a chastisement than a question, and it bristled against Snape’s frustration.

‘And much as the jumped up little know-it-all annoys me, I would not have left her to die, insufferable member of the Golden Trio or not, when there was something I could do to prevent it.’ He said it coldly, holding the appreciative look he received with a challenging one of his own. The wolf seemed to have taken the hint too, as there were no further inane comments thrown out. Without so much as a nod of farewell Snape swept back towards the fireplace, the wood that had burned within it now almost completely crumpled to ash as he blasted it back to life with his wand, the flames licking the top of the hearth before settling again.

‘How are you, Severus?’ Remus asked unexpectedly and with what passed for almost genuine concern, freezing Snape mid-movement as he bit ruthlessly back down on his anger, turning slowly to the wretched man who could not just let things be..

‘It is strange,’ he answered flatly, ‘but in all the years I have had the misfortune of knowing you, I do not recall once giving you permission to use my name with such familiarity,’ Snape raised an eyebrow. ‘Get to your point, Lupin,’ he emphasised the name maliciously, lips curling cruelly, ‘and get to it quickly. I do not have the time for you to skirt so delicately around whatever issue you have.’

Remus looked momentarily unsure, as though he had been expecting a different reaction. A volley of curses, perhaps; maybe even for Snape to bear his poor, lost soul to the man since he was no doubt Gryffindor enough to believe that to be a possible outcome. It lasted only a second though, before a glint of the old Marauder stubbornness Snape detested so returned to his eyes, no doubt borne from the unfairness of the Universe not going his way. ‘Fine,’ he said with what Snape considered little grace, and there was something in Lupin’s demeanour that gave him the distinct impression the man was not yet finished. He was not to be disappointed. ‘Harry saw you, that first night he was back, when he was in the hospital wing. He saw you being tortured.’ Snape went oddly pale, his pallor sickly under the orange glow of the fire. His eyes glittered in frantic thought for a moment, assessing the statement and the situation with urgent clarity.

‘What will it take for this to go no further,’ he choked out, somehow managing to retain an unemotional flatness in his voice. Nevertheless Lupin was still regarding him with unsure bewilderment; the look of someone who had expected a breeze, but not to be blown off their feet. It eased Snape’s own disorientation at the unexpected declaration.

‘Pardon?’

‘Do not play ignorant with me,’ Snape snapped as the few remaining vestiges of anxiety fled in the face of his following anger. Lupin knew, and how much had Potter even seen or heard to tell him? He had been foolish to forget the connection the boy shared with the Dark Lord; too concerned with his own pride as he pushed the memories of the farce of those lessons to the back of his mind along with the humiliation of why they had stopped. Snape narrowed his eyes in consideration of the man before him, cutting straight to the point with a bluntness only a Gryffindor could admire. ‘What will it take to have your guarantee you will not breathe a word of this to Albus.’

Remus let out a nervous chuckle. ‘What on earth are you getting at?’

‘Must I Obliviate you?’ Snape brandished his wand threateningly. He would have done it all ready were it not for the risk of having his actions discovered. Better to leave the werewolf to his own notions regarding Snape’s adamant demands than face answering why he had felt the need to hide such a thing in such an extreme way to the Headmaster.

‘No, fine,’ Lupin had taken a step backwards, hands raised in front of him in a gesture that was probably supposed to be calming but instead just looked protective. ‘I won’t breathe a word.’ Snape let out a small snort that declared he was willing to wait and see if that proved itself to be true, relaxing his wand if not his snarl. Let the man attached whatever notions of nobility and self-sacrifice he could think of, they would no doubt keep him silent better than any excuse Snape himself could muster. Besides, Lupin was the master of suffering in silence, the martyr that he was. It wouldn’t take a huge leap of intelligence for him to draw all sorts of parallels between the two of them, only a very small step of melodramatic ignorance. ‘Are you all right though?’

Snape rolled his eyes. The fire had once again burned out, offering no escape unless he started torching furniture. ‘I am quite well.’ But it had been a long night, as nights often were when called into the presence of the Dark Lord, and the early hours of the morning were starting to haze at the prospect of sleep. Lupin’s hovering, however, was clearly declaring the chances of a painless escape to be naught until he had been appeased. ‘Potter was no doubt exaggerating.’ It was a feeble excuse, but Snape could work through such things. ‘Has he seen anything else?’

‘Not that I know of.’ Lupin looked even more harried at the question and the prospect that just because he didn’t know didn’t mean there hadn’t been more subsequently hidden. It would certainly go some way to explaining the brats appalling sleep patterns, more so than the current claim that it was the fear of being snatched away in the night that was keeping the Golden Boy from his golden dreams. No Potter had ever known the meaning of fear. It was too far beneath them. ‘I will ask him.’

Snape nodded sharply once, both the gesture and his following tone indicating the end of the conversation. All he had to do was leave the immediate area surrounding the house and he could apparate to a place where there was no arrogant Potter and no officious werewolf to bother him. ‘And I will speak to the Headmaster about his resuming Occlumency lessons.’

It was too good to be true as he took three long, interrupted strides towards the door and freedom before the question slapped him accusingly. ‘With?’

‘Not myself,’ Snape growled. That had been a disaster hovering in the corner of the room just waiting for an opportunity to bounce off the walls, smashing everything in its path, although not even Snape had predicted the destruction it would leave in its wake. Let Albus attempt to spark whatever limited ability the boy possessed, Snape no longer cared for the excuses the old man had provided. Let him see the shadow of the Dark Lord in the eyes of his star pupil; it was a better choice than Snape having to face the shadow of the father. ‘But he must learn,’ Snape shook himself from his memories; clinging to the anger they left behind as further fuel. ‘I will not have him putting my life at risk with his selfish laziness and refusal to learn something so painfully important.’

‘I don’t think he wants to be taught,’ Lupin admitted with a sigh that turned Snape’s blood to furious ice.

‘What?’ he hissed.

‘He probably thinks it’s the only way he can find out what’s going on.’ The obnoxious, spoiled brat would only be concerned with his own discomfort. Never mind the precarious line Snape had walked every lesson with the Dark Lord no more than a curse scar away; never mind the lives he had risked and lost, not that Black was any great loss, with his refusal to make any real effort. Potter had probably only ever seen Occlumency as another trial he was forced to bear, another burden on his perfect life he was made to endure.

‘I think you saw to that with your rather impressive display involving the Weasley mother the other day, wouldn’t you say?’ Lupin flushed slightly under Snape’s sneer. ‘Which means that impressive excuse of his is failing to hold up any longer.’

‘There are some things the Daily Prophet cannot tell him,’ Remus argued, earning himself a scoffed reply.

‘There are many things that disgrace of a newspaper cannot tell anyone.’

‘About you, Severus,’ Lupin snapped, his boundless patience finally snapping as he pulled up one of the many strewn about abandoned chairs, his fingers playing against the grain of the wood as he spoke somewhat more tersely than in the moments before. ‘I suspect he is searching his dreams for evidence regarding you, either one way or the other.’

No wonder Lupin hadn’t brought it up sooner, Snape considered, or had words with Potter about the nature of the connection he had; he was no doubt looking for the same evidence himself. ‘Anything he manages to glean from the mind of the Dark Lord will be as biased as if he were to plough his way through the thoughts of the Headmaster, or does he not realise what my position entails,’ Remus glared as though he were the one offended, gesturing defeat, or possibly just surrender, with his hands. Snape didn’t stop though; why should he when Lupin had refused to show him the same courtesy. ‘If he is waiting for me to denounce the Dark Lord and declare Albus Dumbledore the single greatest being imaginable, he is looking in very much the wrong place.’ Remus muttered something Snape didn’t quite catch under his breath. ‘Or perhaps he is just waiting for the next show,’ Snape added spitefully as Lupin flinched at the accusation.

‘I will speak with him,’ the man repeated curtly. Snape merely snorted and he wrenched open the door.

‘It would appear you have much to say.’


Chapter 23: Star Light, Star Bright
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Chapter 23: Star Light, Star Bright

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have this wish I wish tonight.


‘Oh Harry, that’s awful!’ Hermione gushed as Harry trailed off his final sentence. She had barely interrupted him the entire story, stopping him only once or twice with a pertinent question or need for clarification. She seemed to have latched on to his tale like a lifeline for the distraction it provided, but even with a heavy blanket wrapped round her shoulders her hands were still shaking and her voice occasionally echoed with the same mild hysteria that had threatened to topple her laugh earlier. Ron, on the other hand, had just stared in wide-eyed disbelief that had still to leave him completely as he regarded at Harry, once again encased uncomfortably in Hermione’s arms, with a mixture of awe and fear on his friends behalf.

‘That’s why you’ve been so foul to Snape!’ he stated, more as a declaration of his understanding than a question. Harry let out an inaudible sigh of relief that at least one of his friends was obviously and firmly on his side; there had almost been glee in Ron’s tone. He could tell it was only one though by the thin set of Hermione’s lips when she pulled away as Ron continued. She fixed him with a determined and unforgiving glare that Ron remained completely oblivious too as he gesticulated wildly over the implications of his newly acquired knowledge. ‘Always knew the greasy git was worthless. Wonder why Dumbledore even keeps him around…’

‘Ronald Weasley, hold your tongue,’ Hermione snapped sharply, earning herself silence even though it was more shocked than obedient. Ron, still too wrapped up in his abandoned rant, seemed to need a few seconds to change mental gear. Harry had to give him credit though; he seemed more than prepared to continue his diatribe on a completely different topic after those seconds had passed. ‘And before you get it into your head to throw one of your little temper tantrums…’

'Temper tantrums?’ Ron managed to choke out indignantly.

‘Yes Ron, tantrums,’ Hermione shot him another warning look before continuing. ‘I am not dismissing Harry’s story, or any of the things he has told us, as untrue’ she met Ron’s incredulous look with a firm one of her own. ‘What Professor Snape did was terrible, atrocious even…’

‘Yet I still can’t call him a git?’ Ron interrupted, annoyed.

‘I doubt I could stop you.’ Hermione said flatly. ‘Nevertheless, I still don’t think you should have spoken to him in that way,’ she had turned back to Harry, her voice sympathetic but hard. ‘He risked his life to warn my family on time.’

‘And the question you need to ask yourself, Hermione,’ Ron interrupted with smug superiority, ‘is ‘why?’’

He found himself leaning backwards from his comfortable position on the bed as Hermione rounded on him for a second time. ‘No, I don’t.’ Each word was laid down as an immovable and unchangeable force as she clenched her fists at her side. ‘The Professor Snape that Harry met was a cruel and horrible man, but he was not the same person who I saw tonight.’

‘Not cruel and horrible?’ Ron snorted. ‘Are you absolutely certain he didn’t slip you something whilst playing the almighty saviour?’

‘Shut up, Ron,’ Hermione all but shouted as he shuffled further away, all but hitting the wall behind him and casting Harry a frantic look of pleading as he finally noticed the shadows beneath his friends eyes, and the tear that worked its way down the previously dried tracks on her cheeks. ‘Can’t you think for once, before opening your mouth and judging things you don’t understand?’ She cut herself off as Harry placed a hand gingerly on her arm, turning sharply with a muffled sob and burying her face in his shoulder. Harry patted her stiffly on the back, casting Ron, who looked bemused and guilty, an embarrassed glance.

‘I’m sorry Hermione,’ Harry offered when Ron failed to offer any more than a shake of his head and a look that indisputably confirmed all girls to be completely bonkers. ‘I shouldn’t have said anything.’

The fabric of his dressing gown muffled Hermione’s reply. ‘Don’t be silly,’ she sniffed, lifting her head and wiping at her eyes, as Harry discretely tried to peel his damp pyjamas from where they had stuck to his shoulder. ‘I’m glad you told us.’

‘It could have waited till you were feeling better though,’ Harry floundered at the mildly insulted look Hermione cast him as she sat down and curled up against the headboard of the unoccupied bed. Ron had scrambled forward so that he was once again perched on the edge of his bed and was trying to look supportive through his expression of disgust for all things Snape. Harry sat down heavily next to her, the springs bouncing beneath them both so that he earned himself another weakly scolding glare. ‘I was just so angry when I saw him,’ he tried to explain. Hermione just let out a weary sigh. ‘I had to get you away, and…’

‘You don’t understand, you weren’t there,’ Hermione blurted out suddenly, cutting Harry off mid sentence before letting out a hysterical little giggle that sounded strange coming from her. ‘Listen to me, when you could say exactly the same thing back.’ She wiped her nose on her sleeve; grimacing at herself seconds after before looking hastily round the room. Ron snagged a box of tissues from his dresser with surprising consideration, throwing it to land at her feet. Hermione smiled slightly before blowing her nose.

'You didn’t see Professor Snape when he arrived.’ She shuddered involuntarily as Harry glared meaningfully at Ron, who had opened his mouth to say something but quickly shut it again. Not that Hermione would have heard him particularly. Harry had a feeling she needed to talk, not to argue. ‘It didn’t occur to me till you mentioned it, but he must have come straight from a meeting, it explains a lot.’ Harry didn’t have the nerve to ask exactly what this lot was that had been supposedly explained, nor to remind Hermione that he nothing he had said was supposed to vindicate Snape in any way. ‘I don’t think he was supposed to be there, and I guess he was worried that all the other Death Eaters, or even Voldemort himself, would have all ready arrived. He just apparated straight into our living room. I heard the crack and then he was just standing there, mask and all.’ Ron stifled a small growl of anger, but it was still enough that Hermione looked up from her fingernails. Her tone was coloured with a small amount of condescension towards him when she continued. ‘He probably figured he stood a better chance of throwing together an excuse if he was wearing the outfit when he had landed, uninvited, in the middle of a group of Death Eaters. As opposed to appearing in his teaching robes?’

She shook her head as though the motion dispelled her annoyance, gaze returning to examining her hands. ‘But still, it was a huge risk. I can’t imagine Voldemort would have been all that forgiving had he found him there. What could Professor Snape have said to that? “Sorry, I know I’m not supposed to be here, but I didn’t want to miss the fun?”’ She winced at her own bad humour and then paused for a moment, blushing slightly before looking sheepishly at Harry. ‘I screamed when I first saw him. Made a right fool of myself. Didn’t help that he just grabbed me and put his hand over my mouth to quiet me. Still, I would like to have thought I would have reacted a bit better to such a thing.’ Hermione frowned, hands now fiddling with the hem of her pyjamas, her voice dropping and her face clouding with an expression that indicated she almost doubted what she was about to say herself. ‘Anyway, it was only for a second, but when he removed his mask I swear, he almost looked frightened. Terrified even. Like his being discovered was a certainty, and he knew exactly what he was going to suffer for it,’ her eyes had taken on a haunted look. ‘I guess it was a certainty, in a way. After all, when Voldemort discovers I’m not there, how many other people will he have to blame?’

‘I’m glad you’re all right,’ Ron said softly, breaking the silence that had hung ominously following the question, as he stood and moved closer.

‘Which is why you won’t insult Professor Snape any more, all right?’ Hermione’s eyes snapped up uncompromisingly to pin Ron, who looked sick at the demand. ‘At least not in front of me,’ she conceded reluctantly. ‘Say what you like to yourselves, but I don’t want to hear it. He saved my life, and my parents, and I am not naïve enough to believe he won’t suffer for it. I will not have you belittle what he did!’ Hermione was all but shouting when she finished.

‘What about everything that happened to Harry?’ Ron questioned indignantly. Instead of angering her further, Hermione seemed to deflate slightly. Guilt was gnawing at the edge of her voice when she spoke.

‘It’s really not that I don’t believe you,’ she said carefully, looking back to Harry. ‘I do. And if it looks to be happening again I will be the first to stand beside you and hex him to oblivion,’ the words came out in a rush, and her gaze practically begged Harry to understand. ‘Until then I owe Professor Snape more than that.’

Harry swallowed, eyes flashing between his two friends. ‘I guess I can sort of understand,’ he mumbled reluctantly. The memory of Snape’s face when he aimed his wand at Dumbledore’s portrait pushed him to continue though. ‘It’s just…’ He cut himself off with a sigh.

‘Just what?’

Harry tilted his head in a mixture of teasing and annoyance. ‘If I am going to be keeping this promise, I really ought to start now,’ he said gruffly, his mood rising slightly at the smile he got in return. Smiling was far better than tears, and the knowledge that more tears still threatened the immediate future pushed him to continue. ‘Ron too, right?’ He looked up to where Ron was hovering awkwardly, watching as his friend blushed to the tips of his hair when the smile moved to him.

‘I suppose.’ Hermione was practically beaming at them both, swiping at her nose again. Ron bent down and picked up the discarded tissues, thrusting them at her before retreating back to the safety of his bed. He seemed almost relieved when a knock issued from the door, his ‘come in’ sounding far too desperate. Remus stuck his head through the door cautiously, as though worried over what he might find.

‘Hello Hermione, how are you feeling?’

‘I’m fine Professor.’

‘Not Professor any more, just Remus will do,’ he smiled, coming fully into the room and flicking his wand so that a tray hovered in behind him before pushing the door ajar. ‘I thought you could perhaps do with something to drink.’ He passed a glass that Hermione took gratefully, sipping slowly at the contents. ‘I also wanted to let you know that we have set your parents up just down the hallway. I hope you don’t mind sharing with Ginny again.’

‘Not at all,’ Hermione managed a weak smile in return. ‘We’re they both all right?’

‘Your father seemed a little anxious,’ Remus’ eyes drifted to Harry at that comment, ‘but it is only to be expected after everything that happened.’

‘What about Professor Snape?’

‘He has all ready left.’

‘Oh,’ Hermione looked disappointed, ‘I wanted to thank him.’

‘Sometimes such things are better left till morning, when they can be appreciated without the burden of frazzled emotions.’ Remus looked between the three of them, relief evident in his posture. ‘I take it Harry has informed you both of everything that has happened.’ Ron nodded, but did no more than scowl under Hermione’s glare. ‘Then I shall take your continued desire to display gratitude as a positive sign that at least one of you has approached this rather unique situation rationally.’ He only got a single nod in return, but seemed satisfied that the other two were not demanding instant vengeance and so pushed no further. ‘I know it has been a long evening for all of you, but I need to speak to Harry. In private.’ Hermione and Ron both rose as if too leave before Remus waved them back down. ‘Don’t be silly, I meant for him to come with me.’ He swung the door back again, his hand the only thing that stopped it from hitting the wall with a crack as Harry pushed himself upright with a frown.

The corridor was unlit as Harry stepped out behind Remus, the only available light coming from downstairs where Harry could still hear muffled voices. A couple of candles chased away the gloom of the Master bedroom when he entered though, but Harry still squinted until Remus flicked his wand and a number of torches spluttered to life. The scraps of parchment strewn across the bed also vanished at a second wave of the wand as Remus toed off his shoes, gesturing for Harry to make himself comfortable.

‘You still aren’t sleeping?’

‘I’m doing fine,’ Harry said flatly, sitting heavily on a threadbare chair as Remus crossed to the nearby cupboard, hanging up his robes and pulling a large box from the highest shelf which he opened carefully, causing the soft sound of gently chinking glasses. He pulled a small vial from a carefully padded slot and held it out.

‘Take this.’ Harry had poured enough Dreamless Sleep down the toilet to recognise it instantly.

‘I’m not taking any potion made by Snape.’

‘Severus didn’t make this,’ Remus responded with infinite, infuriating calm. ‘You need to rest, so I brought you some from Diagon Alley.’ Harry’s mouth fell open as Remus spoke. ‘The quality probably isn’t quite as good, but it will suffice.’

Harry now looked aghast, ‘But that stuff costs a fortune!’ he spluttered indignantly. ‘You can’t afford it!’ He immediately looked embarrassed at his blunt outburst, a deep blush tinting his neck as he dragged a hand roughly through his hair, wisely choosing silence instead of floundering in an attempt to recover.

Lupin just regarded him with tolerant amusement. ‘It is fortunate teenage boys are not generally known for their tact,’ he said with a faint smile, closing the box with his empty hand and flicking the tiny bronze latch inlaid into the dark wood. ‘Your concerns are misplaced, for reasons that I will explain shortly. Take it,’ He gestured with the vial and Harry reached across slowly to snag it, obviously still unsure. It didn’t look quite the same as the ones provided by the potions master, now he could see it closer, the colour slightly lighter and the liquid noticeably thinner. ‘The potion is not the main reason I wanted to speak to you though.’ Harry glanced up from his scrutiny of the vial to see Remus take a deep breath, as though steeling himself for something unpleasant. ‘I think it is time we had that talk about Sirius.’

The effect was instantaneous, Harry’s face blanching slightly before draining of all colour and emotion, leaving a flat, blank stare in its place as he rose from his uncomfortable seat, angling his body towards the door in readiness to bolt. ‘I don’t want too.’

‘Nevertheless there are things that I think you need to hear.’ Remus was studying him carefully, his own expression showing nothing more than a distant concern. Somehow it was worse than seeing disappointment, or even accusation. Harry felt his temper rising in defence against his own disquiet.

‘Can anything you say bring him back?’ His disjointed nights were making him edgy and snappish, but he still felt the smallest twinge on his conscience at the pained look his words elicited.

Remus, for his part, covered the hurt quickly, taking a step towards Harry as he spoke softly. ‘Of course not.’ Harry took a sharp step backwards, stubbornly maintaining the distance and narrowing his eyes.

‘Then this seems kind of pointless, don’t you think?’

Remus just looked thoughtful, his breathing low and steady as Harry prepared himself for the litany of sympathy he had come to expect in this sort of situation. Mention Sirius in his presence, and all of a sudden there were more pitying looks and silent gestures of consolation than Harry felt he could cope with. ‘A couple of days ago you apologised to me over him,’ Harry hadn’t been expecting that, ‘why did you feel the need to do that?’

‘Why do you think?’ Harry found himself backing further away, his socked feet scuffing on the wooden floor. Remus was still watching him attentively, apprehensively even, waiting for something. Harry suspected he knew what. ‘Or do you just want to make me say it, is that it?’

‘Make you say what?’

‘That I killed him, or at least that it is my fault he is dead,’ Harry amended hastily at Remus’ sudden shocked expression, as though someone had pulled the floor out from underneath him. ‘You don’t have to worry, I won’t forget it.’

Remus seemed to need to swallow a few times to clear his throat, his words still coming out strained. ‘That is quite possibly the very least of my worries, Harry.’ He sank down onto his bed, a hand rising to rub at his forehead in a dimly helpless gesture before he looked back up to meet Harry’s gaze, clearly searching for something.

‘I won’t be doing it to anyone else either.’ Harry added bitterly, since the man obviously wanted to hear something more. ‘I learnt my lesson.’ If anything the comment just made Remus grimace slightly.

‘Sit down,’ he said gently, indicating to the bed. When Harry made no move he patted the covers encouragingly. Harry moved forward only reluctantly at that, taking the furthest seat possible and resting his back against the beds pillar, ignoring the painful way the wood pressed into his spine. ‘I had not realised you felt so strongly over this; else I would have spoken to you much, much sooner.’ Harry frowned, uncurling his feet from where he had pulled them under him and sitting more stiffly. ‘I knew you felt guilt, but thought it more generalised, and I did not think that forcing the issue would be best for you, not at the moment. I certainly didn’t think you had pinned the blame on yourself quite so specifically.’

Harry scowled. ‘If I hadn’t gone to the department, if I had just listened to everyone else, none of this would have happened.’

‘That may be true,’ at least Remus didn’t try to deny it, ‘but if many people hadn’t done many things it could also have been avoided. You are not the only one to have made errors.’ Harry thought bitterly back to Snape’s refusal to listen to him, to his selfish dismissal of Harry’s warning. ‘However errors do not equate to fault. It is not because of you that Sirius died. It is the fault of Voldemort most certainly, and of Bellatrix even more.’ Harry wondered if Remus truly believed he didn’t blame Bellatrix in the slightest. He had plenty of blame left over for the woman, he just knew how to share it.

He didn’t bother to point that out though. Remus probably wouldn’t believe him anyway, not without proof, and Harry didn’t fancy bringing up his aborted attempt at an unforgivable in that regard. ‘I was so sure though!’ he said angrily instead. ‘I dragged all my friends with me to that stupid place, and there was no need. Ron and Hermione nearly died too! Ron still has the scars from it.’ Harry had seen the thin silver lines that ran down the back of Ron’s neck, a couple curling behind one of his ears, the longest creeping towards his left temple. They had faded to almost non-existence, but Harry knew that nearly would never be enough for his surprisingly self-conscious friend. He had stumbled across Ron frowning at them in the mirror once, and crept silently away not having a clue what he could say.

‘Better men than you have fallen to Voldemort’s traps, Harry.’ Had better men had several people all clamouring at them to close their minds, yet steadfastly and stubbornly refused to listen? Not that Harry was hording the blame for himself in this instance either. No, he hadn’t made any particular effort to learn Occlumency, but on that basis nor had Snape made any real effort to teach it. ‘He played on your love and dedication to your friends, but just because he used them in such a way does not mean that they are bad things to have.’

‘If I had perhaps shown a shred of intelligence along with all those wonderful traits then Sirius would still be here,’ Harry bit back on an ironic chuckle that he was throwing out an abridged version of many of Snape’s own words. ‘He gave me his mirror you know.’

‘Mirror?’ Remus’ brow creased in confusion.

‘Part of the set he and my dad used to talk to each other.’ Remus nodded in remembrance, remaining silent as Harry struggled to find the words he wanted to explain himself. ‘He gave it to me right at the start of term, and I forgot about it,’ a hint of desperation entered his voice, but Harry jerked away at Remus’ brief movement as though to try to comfort him. ‘If I had used that I would have known he was fine, then he wouldn’t have had to come running after me to save me from my own stupidity.’

‘He did not think of it in that way.’

Harry jerked his head up. ‘What?’

‘He did not think of himself as saving you from your stupidity, as you put it.’ Remus smiled fondly. ‘Have you not considered that he was doing, in his own way, exactly the same thing that you did?’

Harry really didn’t think he liked the direction the conversation was taking. ‘He was just trying to clear up my messes after I ignored what everyone else was trying to tell me.’

‘He ignored the warnings of Albus, Severus and even myself for him to stay put and not leave Grimmauld Place.’ So what, Harry thought, he wouldn’t have wanted to be cooped up in this miserable old house either. ‘Had he listened to them he may not have died that night. By your own logic that should make him just as responsible for his own death as you.’ Harry glared through his fringe. ‘So, do you blame Sirius at all?’ Remus repeated.

‘Don’t be ridiculous. He was just trying to save me!’

‘Just as you were trying to save him.’ Harry scowled, crossing his arms over his chest as Remus continued. He had imagined more justifications and arguments, and was frantically trying to piece together his jumbled thoughts into some semblance of a reasonable comeback. ‘He mentioned you in his Will, you know.’

‘I don’t want his money,’ Harry declared sullenly. Did Remus really think he could buy him off?

‘Which is good, since Sirius seems to have felt the same way. Something about teenage boys with more gold than sense I believe were his exact words.’

‘That’s not fair!’ Harry’s voice rose with self-righteous ire. ‘It’s not like I’ve ever thrown my money around, or wasted it on stuff, or anything like that. I’ve hardly touched it, except for schoolbooks and other things it’s not like I could ask the Dursley’s for…’

‘Harry,’ Remus interrupted him warmly, reaching out with a hand to lay it on Harry’s. ‘It was meant as a joke, not something for you to take as a personal insult on your character. Both Sirius and I were…are well aware that you are very mature when it comes to issues of material wealth.’ Harry shot him a suspicious look. ‘He was merely trying to lighten the mood of a rather depressing and awkward conversation at the time when he said it, and I mistakenly thought it would work for you the same way it did for me. I have never been very comfortable discussing money in such large quantities as both your father and Sirius were accustomed, and I had the sense you felt somewhat the same. I just wanted to put you at ease.’

‘I didn’t think he was that rich,’ Harry observed grudgingly.

‘He was heir to the Black line; for all that he refused to touch or acknowledge it. Didn’t want anything that came from his parents. He at least accepted it, however. It was that or have the whole lot transfer itself to Bella.’ Remus lifted his eyebrows pointedly. ‘And I’m sure we can both imagine the uses she would put it to. The Dark Lord is formidable enough without the brunt of the Black wealth supporting him.’

It had to be asked, even though Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to know. ‘Who did he give it to then?’

‘He set a small portion aside for the Weasley’s,’ Harry couldn’t help but smile over what it meant that his godfather had been so thoughtful to the family that meant so much to him. ‘A sizeable sum was also left in more open terms for use by the Order.’ Remus looked nervous, as if his next declaration were truly atrocious. ‘He left the rest to me.’

Harry found himself speechless for s second before blurting out the first thing that popped into his head. ‘That’s how you got the potion!’ he exclaimed, his anger giving way slightly to a wave of excitement. This was perfect. ‘That means you won’t have to worry about finding work or anything, at least for a while. And you won’t have to go to Snape for the Wolfsbane either any more, you can buy it from someone else.’

‘He left you the House, Harry.’ Remus interrupted, apparently opting to ignore the Wolfsbane comment.

Harry trailed off, stunned as he just stared in incomprehension. ‘Pardon?’

‘The house, Grimmauld Place. He left it for you.’

‘But why?’ Remus closed his eyes almost painfully at Harry’s confusion. ‘Surely there are others who need it more.’

‘He wanted you to have somewhere you could call home, even if he couldn’t be here to share it with you. He was adamant about that.’ Harry found his throat closing up. It all seemed too big.

‘I…’

‘He cared for you deeply,’ Remus filled in the oppressive silence smoothly, if rather more forcefully than Harry had ever expected from his quiet Professor. ‘Had things been different he would have gladly taken you in. But things weren’t different, so he tried to do the best he could for you otherwise.’ Harry wasn’t crying, but only because he was putting conscious effort into it. There was certainly no chance he could have any of the things he had dreamed of now. ‘And he would not want you to wallow so desperately in such guilt the way he did for so many years, blaming himself for a betrayal he could not have foreseen.’ Harry could barely bring himself to nod, clenching the vial he still held tightly in his fist. He might not have been able to have his dreams, but he supposed what he was being offered instead wasn’t too far off.

‘I think I should go to bed now,’ he managed to whisper. ‘Since I have the potion and all.’

‘Perhaps things will seem a little brighter tomorrow,’ Remus said hopefully.

‘Yeah,’ Harry gazed towards the window and the starless sky outside. ‘Perhaps they will.’ He walked towards the door somewhat mechanically, turning only to watch Remus cautiously for a second, as if he still expected the man to rise and erupt in a barrage of accusations and blame. Remus just smiled encouragingly.

It wasn’t until the door closed behind him that Remus let out the breath he had been holding, standing and compulsively smoothing down his shirt. He paced a few times but felt no better for it, so instead just dressed for bed, taking liberal gulps from the glass on his beside table before refilling it from the sink in the adjoining bathroom. Of all the things he had wanted to discuss with the boy he seemed to have tackled so few of them. There was still the horrible issue of Occlumency to bring up, not to mention the even more daunting one of Severus Snape. And much as he hated to admit it, but he was slowly coming to terms with the fact that he simply did not know Harry as well as he had thought. He couldn’t bring himself to feel anything but relieved, however, that it seemed he had at least manage to confront the largest problem facing him, despite the fact that it had been one he hadn’t even known existed.

***


The morning had slipped by in its usual haphazard manner, with pranks from Fred and George followed by considerable whining from Ron, who more often than not filled the role of target. Letters had arrived complete with OWL results, and Hermione’s joy had been infectious enough to at least coax a smile from Harry. After the lecture he received from his mother, Harry was unsurprised Ron hadn’t even managed to force one.

Remus had arranged the visit to Diagon Alley. Harry was in no doubt it was intended to cheer him after the conversation of the night before, and Harry was grateful for the trip. Not because the bustling streets gave him any reason to feel any less miserable, but because at least it provided a different backdrop to his exhausted moping. Clean though Grimmauld Place now was, it was still dark and gloomy. Harry supposed he could do something about that, now the place was technically his, but he didn’t think a coat of paint would cut it. Exorcism seemed to be nearer to what the place needed. At the very least Kreacher would have to go. The whole topic was still oddly distant though, so he didn’t dwell on it.

Apparently Hermione’s constant cheerful chattering had been too much for Ron, who had volunteered to accompany Ginny to Eeylops, offering to buy Harry some food for Hedwig whilst he was there thusly saving him the hassle later. Harry wasn’t exactly stunned by the revelation; of the three of them Ron’s scores had been the most disappointing, even if not that far below Harry’s own. He was therefore suffering the most not only from Hermione’s disdain towards failure, but also because her boundless delight was proving rather wearing on those not gifted with natural genius. Besides, his friend’s dreams of being an Auror had been crushed not only by his lacking Transfiguration skill, but by his Potions grade. Ron was considerably less upset by the latter, however. Harry had yet to decide how he felt about his own substandard mark in that particular subject.

‘Everyone knows Snape doesn’t accept anyone with an OWL below an O,’ Harry repeated himself for what felt like the fiftieth time, wishing he had had the foresight to escape with Ron. When it came to matters of learning Hermione did more then just apply her own rigorous standards to all around her; she expected everyone to all ready have them. ‘It’s not like Snape didn’t tell me that, gleefully, enough times over the years. I only got an E Hermione.’

‘But you haven’t even spoken to Professor McGonagall yet, or the Headmaster,’ she seemed to be struggling to understand the thought that he might not even want to continue with potions. Any love he might have felt for the subject had been systematically and mercilessly ripped from him over the years. ‘I’m sure, with everything that happened last year, they could at least convince Professor Snape to allow you to take some sort of test to prove you are of an acceptable standard. You need this to be an Auror.’

Yes, Ron had definitely gotten his tactics right with his timely escape. ‘Don’t think I don’t know that.’

‘This is your future Harry, you could at least pretend to take it a bit more seriously. Don’t just throw it away because of your feelings towards the Professor.’ Harry rolled his eyes at Hermione’s chastising words and kicked at a loose stone, sending it skittering down the path ‘If you give up now, then he will have won,’ she added somewhat slyly, fully earning herself the dubious look Harry cast over the rims of his glasses.

‘I’m not giving up, but you have to face facts. I suck at potions,’ Hermione looked ready to argue again, but Harry plowed onwards. He had heard the lecture she was no doubt preparing to launch into in pretty much every form he could imagine. ‘Snape could give me as many mock tests as he wanted; in fact he would probably quite happily give me several just to watch me fail.’ Hermione gave a conceding nod to that point, sidestepping to avoid a group of over excited second years and stopping by the window to Flourish and Botts. Harry slouched next to her, leaning against the glass as Hermione scanned the volumes displayed. ‘Besides,’ he continued grumpily, ‘that doesn’t even matter, Snape isn’t teaching potions this year.’

‘All the more reason to talk to the Headmaster!’ Hermione exclaimed, her hand closing round his wrist and dragging him towards the door. The inside of the shop was no less crowded than it had been outside, but at least it was quieter. Harry guessed that any small amount of time spent in the presence of Madame Pince led to an urge in anyone to be hushed in the presence of books. ‘I know you’re not that bad,’ Hermione pushed gently. She had released her death grip on his arm, but Harry suspected that was only because she needed both hands to carry everything. ‘You mentioned yourself how much easier you found the exams without Professor Snape breathing down your back.’

‘We don’t all have your ability to be good at everything. I can’t brew, and I have accepted it,’ he sighed as Hermione thrust a heavy text into his hands, barely glancing at the title before sliding it carefully back into the nearest empty space. ‘And I am not buying the books on some vague hope that the new Professor is any less of a git than Snape.’

‘I wouldn’t use the word git myself,’ a loud voice suddenly boomed behind them, causing Hermione to emit a surprised yelp as she spun round, almost toppling a nearby pile of books and poking Harry in the eye as she drew her wand. ‘I’ve heard it plenty of times over the years, mind you, but I’ve always had something of an affinity for the more original insults. Long-winded, you know, that’s the way to go. Your father, now he never really got the hang of that. Somehow once you’ve heard the term ‘slimy slytherin’ several hundred times, it looses punch.’ Harry looked vaguely bemused at the sudden stream of information coming from a man far too short to be able to produce such vast quantities of invasive sound. ‘Your mother on the other hand, she was quite something when she was riled.’

‘Excuse me, sir?’ he managed to ask dazedly in the unexpected lull in conversation. He had fully expected the man to continue all afternoon.

‘Oh, right, introductions. Not that I don’t know who you are,’ the man gave Harry a conspiratorial wink. ‘Horace Slughorn is the name, although that’s Professor Slughorn to you.’

Hermione’s wand disappeared in a flash, only to be replaced by an equally daunting expression of complete and unwavering attentiveness. It was the sort of look she got when a Professor set extra credit assignments. ‘The new Potions Professor?’ she asked hopefully, her hand all ready rummaging in the bag thrown over her shoulder, pulling out a length of parchment Harry was horrified to discover she had filled with book titles. ‘I am so glad to have run into you sir!’ she was positively beaming now, her finger tracing down the list critically as she spoke. ‘Which text would you recommend to supplement the required list? I have heard good things of Raynold Pootridge’s work, but the other day I overheard someone mentioning…ah yes, this one,’ her finger jabbed unforgivingly at a seemingly random name on the parchment. ‘I overlooked it at first after hearing of the author’s tendency to poorly footnote his sources, and that some of his arguments lack properly formed conclusions, but I feel I was perhaps a little hasty?’ The look she gave Slughorn clearly indicated she might well consider her universe ended should he confirm she had, in fact, made an error in judgement.

‘Stick with the Pootridge, Miss…?’

‘Granger,’ Hermione let out a sigh of relief. ‘Hermione Granger.’

‘Ah yes,’ Slughorn’s gaze warmed instantly. ‘I have heard much of you all ready, Miss Granger. Albus speaks rather highly of you. One of the most talented witches he has had the pleasure of meeting, I think he said, although I am prone to lapses in memory at my age.’ He regarded Hermione with open curiosity. ‘And you are muggle born too, I believe.’

Hermione’s enthusiasm dropped several notches under the close scrutiny. ‘Yes sir, I am.’

‘Amazing, simply amazing. Had sheer talent not fooled me in the past I might have mistaken you for pureblood, but we live and learn,’ Hermione had her lips pursed by this point. ‘Hmmm, yes indeed, you were quite the temptation.’

‘Pardon?’

Slughorn smiled under his moustache, his bald head gleaming oddly in the light of the room. ‘As any Professor knows, there is nothing more intriguing than the prospect of a student who actually wants to learn. Albus was pulling out all the stops to convince me to take the job. You, my dear,’ Slughorn looked proud of himself, as though he had unearthed some hitherto unknown treasure, ‘were the icing on the cake.’

‘Um…thank you,’ Hermione looked somewhat bewildered.

‘And what about you, Mister Potter?’

Harry scowled. ‘What about me?’

‘Don’t tell me the promises of a Boy-Who-Lived to teach were empty!’ Slughorn looked moderately offended. ‘I cannot help but notice you fail to carry a single potions text.’

‘I was just talking to him about that before you arrived, sir,’ Hermione sent Harry a challenging look, clearly under the belief she could change his mind now she had backup. Harry opted to cut the conversation short.

‘I didn’t make the grade,’ he said simply, glaring for good measure.

‘Ridiculous!’ Slughorn dismissed easily. ‘The son of Lily Potter failing potions? It would be unheard of.’ Harry bristled at the casual and repetitive use of his parents’ names.

‘Snape told us several times that the NEWT requires a grade O at OWL level. I didn’t get it.’ Harry wondered if he repeated it enough times, people would actually start listening to him.

‘Ah yes, well, Snape’s NEWT would require that,’ Slughorn was grinning as he said it though, which took the malicious edge from the words. ‘I myself, however, am neither so onerous nor obsessed over perfection. Potions is something you feel, not something you grade.’ Harry was surprised the man wasn’t pinching his cheeks or ruffling his hair from the way he was speaking. ‘We simply need to coax those brewing genes of yours to the surface.’

‘So he got in?’ Hermione was practically bouncing with excitement again, all previous reservations over the man forgotten.

‘What grade did you say you got?’

‘An E,’ Harry mumbled.

‘Well, had you said a D we would be in rather more trouble, but as it is I have always set my NEWT entry requirements at that grade, and see no reason to change now,’ Slughorn looked proud enough that an onlooker could have justifiably believed he had just discovered a counter to the Killing Curse. ‘I look forward to seeing you at the start of term.’

‘Thank you sir,’ Hermione said when Harry failed to reply, his attention snapping up to an unnamed distraction at the back of the shop. ‘I look forward to our lessons.’

‘As do I,’ Slughorn beamed at the two of them, and if Harry’s lack of acknowledgement offended him he didn’t show it. ‘It has been a pleasure to meet you both, but unfortunately my duties insist that I must run. I look forward to seeing you again on the train.’

‘Of course sir,’ Hermione nudged Harry who mumbled his own farewells as Slughorn bustled his way through the crowd, using his ample frame to clear the way where his ringing voice failed. ‘That was very rude Harry,’ she chastised gently when the man was well and truly out of earshot. ‘You could at least have acted a little happier,’ she perked up quickly though. ‘At least now I know I’ll have some company in the classes.’ Realisation flashed behind her eyes and her hand came up to cover her mouth. ‘Oh no,’ she breathed, looking mortified ‘I forgot to ask about Ron.’ Harry snorted, although his eyes didn’t stop scanning the customers surrounding them, imagining full well what Ron’s reaction would be to the news of two years more potions, regardless of the Professor. ‘Oh well,’ she sighed to convey she was making the best of what she believed to be a very bad situation, ‘lets get you your books since we are here and you’ll just have to share if Ron gets accepted. I’m sure we will be able to order him one in or something. Harry, are you even listening to me?’ Harry just grabbed her hand in response, dragging her through the gathered group of students picking out their texts under their parents ever-watchful gazes.

‘There is something else I need to do first,’ he said firmly, scanning the people around him until he spotted the thing that had caught his attention him earlier: a head of platinum blonde hair making its way lazily through the bookshelves.

‘What on earth could be so important?’ Hermione asked, puzzled. ‘And don’t say it’s Professor Snape,’ she added harshly.

Harry gritted his teeth behind his response.

‘No. It’s Malfoy.’






Chapter 24: Promises Broken
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Chapter 24: Promises Broken.

If you wish to be a success in the world
promise everything, deliver nothing.

-Napoleon Bonaparte


‘Harry,’ Hermione demanded in a low whisper, trying to free her arm from the grip that had dragged her down the crowded streets after the head of blonde hair that had just disappeared into Knockturn Alley. Whilst she had allowed herself to be manhandled up until this point, the looming entrance to the darkened street had her digging her heels in and fighting back. For his part Harry released her arm quickly, and with a faint appearance of guilt as Hermione straightened her top, scowling at the stretched sleeve and shooting Harry a decidedly scolding look. ‘We can’t go down there,’ she said in a tone that declared there could be no arguments, lifting her head authoritatively. She relaxed slightly, with a huff and a small smile, when Harry treated her to an amused grin. ‘No one knows we’ve left the bookshop,’ she said with rather more concern, ‘they won’t be able to find us if anything happens.’ Harry just snorted in disbelief.

‘Trust me, Hermione, everyone always knows where I am.’ He ducked into the shadows just beyond the alley entrance before Hermione could try to stop him, wishing he had had the foresight to bring his invisibility cloak. Fortunately Malfoy’s natural paleness made him stand out like a burst of bright light in the gloom of the alley, especially considering the usual cloaked and shadowed appearance of the occupants. Hermione followed him seconds later, as he had known she would. For all her blustering about breaking the rules, she never failed to flounce straight through them all after either Ron or himself. ‘Besides, I have to do this.’ Reluctant understanding broke apart the worst of Hermione’s infuriated expression.

‘You think you can convince him not to return to school?’ she still regarded him with incredulity, but at least she no longer seemed on the verge of marching him back to either Molly or Remus. Harry took this as a sign of her imminent if not immediate agreement, returning his attention back to the task of spotting Malfoy, craning his neck so he could see over the shoulder of a tall, shrouded hag who had blocked his line of sight.

‘I think I can hex him and drag him somewhere that’ll make his returning pretty bloody difficult.’ Harry just wished Malfoy’s own suggestion of tying him to a tree for the year was more practical. If it happened to be, say, a large, acromantula infested tree, then all the better. He huffed in annoyance at the old woman still in his way, glaring at the back of her head in the vague hope he could make her uncomfortable with the awesome power of his glare alone, thusly causing her to move on. Malfoy had ducked out of sight a few moments ago, leaving Harry unsure whether it was a shop he had entered, or another alley.

‘Like where?’ Hermione suddenly asked shrilly, causing Harry to jump. The old woman also became rapidly aware of their presence, turning in surprise and subjecting Hermione to a critical look, muttering under her breath about the rudeness of filth before her gaze slid inexorably over to Harry. Her eyes widened in recognition, narrowing again quickly as she turned on her heel with surprising grace and hobbled away. Harry just rolled his eyes that she had finally gotten the hint, but Hermione looked considerably more doubtful about his headlong leap into the relatively unknown. ‘Have you even thought this through?’ she whispered, eyes darting nervously around them both. In truth Harry had given his plan about as much thought as he could spare in the minutes since he had spotted the Slytherin across the shop, but he wasn’t about to admit that.

‘I can at least talk to him, explain things…’

Hermione just looked astounded, most probably by the depths of his ignorance if the way she closed her mouth into a thin, pursed line was any indication. ‘Well, at least I can be assured that I won’t miss out on the single most stupid conversation of the year,’ she finally snapped in annoyance, crossing her arms across her chest. ‘You and Malfoy can barely keep a civil tongue at the best of times; what exactly do you think is going to be so different just because, thanks to some obscure twist of fate, you can start this little chat with ‘by the way, your future self told me to say this, so you had better listen.’’

‘If you have any bright ideas of your own, please, feel free to share them,’ Harry bickered, disgruntled not only by the increasingly likely chance that he had lost Malfoy, but by the fact that he was having to have this stupid quarrel when they should have been tracking the Slytherin down all ready.

‘Yes,’ Hermione huffed with exasperation. ‘Lets go back.’

Harry looked at her aghast. ‘He’s going to kill Dumbledore,’ he managed to articulate round his incomprehension at her reluctance. His mood was abruptly skewered into anger at Hermione’s reaction, or distinct lack thereof.

‘But it doesn’t make any sense,’ she tried to reason quickly, her hands now gesturing wildly as she sought to make him listen before he did whatever ridiculous thing she obviously thought he was going to do. Probably go storming through the alley in a volley of curses or something. ‘Dumbledore is the only man Voldemort has ever feared. Voldemort himself can’t kill him. So why would he send Malfoy, a sixteen year old Wizard who isn’t even qualified yet, to do it for him? It would be setting him up for failure, Harry.’

She had a point, and did he not know what he did he might have listened to her. It made sense, after all, since Malfoy was nothing but a pathetic snake clinging to his families name and influence. Without either of those he was just a scrawny, jumped up brat who would probably run and hide at the first sign of trouble, possibly cursing a few defenceless stragglers on the way. He gave orders of violence to bigger people, whilst he himself stood safely in the background. He was a coward, and did Harry not know better he wouldn’t have credited him with the guts to actually murder someone face to face, without the shield of so called friends to hide behind him. Unfortunately, he now knew better. ‘Yeah, but the thing is, you see, Malfoy isn’t going to fail.’

Hermione had all ready moved onto her next argument though. ‘How can you even be sure he is a Death Eater?’ she asked logically. It was slowly driving Harry absolutely barmy, especially since he knew Malfoy was so close and doing god only knew what. ‘Voldemort isn’t in the habit of recruiting children.’

‘He told me himself, he’s been marked all ready.’

‘But you’re changing things,’ Hermione reasoned. ‘Couldn’t you have changed this too?’

‘No.’

‘Why won’t you even consider…’

‘It hasn’t changed, Hermione, because it has all ready happened,’ Harry all but yelled in her face, taking a deep breath to calm himself as she backed off marginally in the face of his aggravation. ‘It happened before I ever saw that blasted Timeturner,’ he continued rather more glumly, ‘and before I ever saw all the miserable things that are going to happen. I can’t change the past.’

‘It just seems rather far fetched, is all.’ Hermione said defensively.

‘Really?’ his sarcasm came out more scornful than he had intended, as Hermione stiffened even more. ‘Because I always thought that visiting the future to learn about your own demise was a perfectly normal thing.’

‘We’ll talk to him, okay,’ Hermione was clearly trying to mollify him, but it still made Harry feel a bit better. He scuffed the tip of his trainer on the dusty street, ramming his hands deep into his pockets as he sighed heavily, wishing it could all be a little easier. At least when Voldemort was hunting him down he had a slightly clearer idea of what he was supposed to do. ‘I just don’t know what good it will do.’

He hated hearing how her words echoed his own worries. It was one thing for Malfoy to instruct Harry to change to fate of his younger self, but Harry had the distinct impression that Malfoy had had something of a different recollection when it came to exactly what his younger self had been like. ‘More good than if we ignored it and just hoped everything turns out all right.’ He affirmed, somewhat for his own sake. He all ready knew what would happen were he to leave things, and he doubted there could be consequences much worse than that.

‘I suppose you’re right,’ Hermione gave him a small smile, placing a cautious hand on his arm. ‘Just please, try to reason with him before you start throwing curses.’

‘Underage magic isn’t allowed, remember,’ Harry said, looking up through his fringe with a grin. ‘Couldn’t curse him even if I wanted too.’

‘Somehow that doesn’t make me feel any better,’ Hermione commented with a grimace as they left the shadows they had been skulking in. The street wasn’t as crowded as Diagon Alley tended to be, but it was much narrower and even its few occupants left Harry feeling oppressively hemmed in. Hermione, to both his relief and consternation, seemed just as uncomfortable as he did, rubbing her arms as if cold as they started walking slowly past the dark shops. ‘I wish I’d brought my cloak,’ she muttered as they entered the alley proper, the noise of Diagon Alleys fading slightly into the background. ‘Somehow I don’t think muggle clothes exactly fit in here.’ Harry glanced down at his own baggy jeans, nodding in agreement.

‘If it looks bad, we’ll make a run for it,’ he assured her as they approached the shop he thought he had seen Malfoy duck into. ‘At least he didn’t want to go to far in.’ Hermione glanced over their shoulders as Harry peered through the grimy window, resting his hands on the sill in the hope the action made him look more relaxed and less suspicious.

‘Do you see him?’ Hermione leant closer to whisper in his ear, her eyes not straying from the street behind them.

‘Hard to tell,’ Harry admitted, balling his hand into a fist and rubbing it against the glass in the hope of creating a slightly cleaner spot, trying to give the impression of someone who was just trying to get a better look at the display. Not that he particularly wanted to look at the display, which seemed to consist largely of various shrunken and withered body parts. All he achieved was to smear more dirt on the all ready grimy window though, as he took a moment to look properly at the wooden beam on which he was resting, his nose screwing up in disgust at the layer of thick, black filth that covered it. ‘Urgh, does evil come with a no washing clause or something?’ He wiped his hand on his trousers, which had seen better days anyway and didn’t look any the worse for wear for it. ‘Lets just go in.’

‘Is that really a good idea?’ She was too late, as Harry had all ready stalked past her and pushed open the door, a rusty bell giving off a hollow chime as it swung inwards. ‘Harry, wait,’ she exclaimed urgently after him, running a hand through her hair before reluctantly following.

‘What are you doing here?’ Malfoy’s irritating drawl rang through the shop as Hermione entered. ‘And bringing mudbloods with you,’ he added as he caught sight of her, his face creasing in disgust. ‘I do apologise for the smell,’ he threw the comment loftily over his shoulder to where the store keeper was standing, although the man did no more than smile nervously in response.

‘We need to talk,’ Harry said sharply, his own nose crinkling with distaste as he looked round the shop. What he had seen in the window had nothing on some of the objects hanging on clear display inside. Oddly enough Malfoy looked quite out of place amidst it all, his immaculate robes having a sharp disparity to the musty interior.

‘I have nothing to say to you,’ Malfoy sneered.

Harry just shrugged and stalked across the shop, to Malfoy’s rising indignation, and grabbed his left wrist. Shocked at the unexpected move, Draco instantly tried to yank it out of his grip, twisted violently and snarling under his breath as he reached for his wand with his right. ‘Harry, you can’t do that!’ Hermione shrieked in the background as Harry backed Malfoy against the counter, knocking the breath out of him. Vials clinked together, the shopkeeper backing even further away as the struggle escalated when Harry tried to push up the sleeve covering Malfoy’s left arm. Between Malfoy’s violent protestations and his own annoyance it didn’t work, so he instead gave the thin material a sharp pull. A loud ripping sound accompanied the knee he received painfully in his thigh, and had Malfoy’s eyes widening in fear, frozen as a second yank had the fabric parting in a frayed line as the sleeve of his robe feel away revealing the mark that lay beneath. Hermione let out a gasp of shock as Harry stepped back with a knowing smirk. ‘Anything you want to say now?’

***


‘What are you doing here Snape, I know the Dark Lord didn’t summon you,’ Bella stepped out of the gloom that permeated the stretching, narrow hallways, her face eerily shadowed by the long mane of unruly hair she wore loose and tangled. ‘Not yet, at any rate,’ she added threateningly, a malicious smile curling her lips that was made even more so when she tilted her head upwards, her pale skin reflecting the low burning torches that lined the wall. ‘I’m sure it is only a matter of time though. He has a couple of questions I think we would all be interested to hear the answers too.’

‘I answer to our Lord and our Lord alone,’ Snape snarled in response, resuming his long stride. She matched it easily despite her noticeably shorter frame and the suddenness of his motion, the heels of her boots striking each step against the worn stone as she toyed with her wand, passing it from hand to hand with the occasional absent flourish. Given her penchant for randomly firing curses at her fellow Death Eaters, Snape briefly debated the wisdom of his next comment. ‘Unless you consider yourself more deserving of such information that I have?’ Infuriating the woman was worth the risk, he decided, especially since said risk was minimal. It was the lower ranks of the Death Eaters that felt the brunt of her nature more often than not, her actions all but actively encouraged by the Dark Lord himself. It was rare that she turned her wand against those of higher standing, however, although Snape was unsure whether this was out of deference to her Lord, or because she preferred a somewhat more helpless victim.

‘I think no such thing!’ Bella shrieked with predictable outrage, her thin fingers clawing his arm as she spun Snape to a halt. He twirled his wand lazily between his own fingers by way of a reply, quirking an eyebrow at the woman who slowly lowered hers back to her side, blasting a spider from the wall at his shoulder in anger and frustration. Evidently her time in Azkaban had not completely destroyed her ability for coherent thought. Bella could curse him, but unlike the majority of the cowering, snivelling excuses for Wizards who had sought to join the Dark Lord in recent months, Snape had no qualms about cursing her straight back. They would duel, and it would be a duel to the death, not because such a thing was expected of Death Eaters, but because Bella had no restraints and Snape had no desire to die. Fortunately Bella had recognised that such a thing would not be beneficial to either of them, whatever the outcome. The ranks of the Death Eaters were swelling, but the inner circle was not large enough itself that the Dark Lord would tolerate an essentially pointless loss. Not that Bellatrix hadn’t made it perfectly clear that she would consider the loss of Snape anything but pointless. Hatred and distrust clung to every word she spoke, even as her voice dropped into disgustingly false affability. ‘I am merely curious as to what happened to the mudblood girl I was promised last night,’ she crooned sweetly, trailing the tip of her wand up Snape’s arm in a manner that could almost have passed for seductive. ‘I was so looking forward to her.’

Snape forced back a shudder. He didn’t necessarily like the vast majority of the children he was forced to teach, but there was little they deserved less than to fall into the hands of Bellatrix Lestrange. He would wish her only upon those who had the misfortune to fall into the reach of Greyback instead. ‘I can only assume the mudblood you are referring to is one Hermione Granger.’ he sneered as Bella watched him with a predatory glint, forcing his own expression into one of absolute boredom before marching steadfastly, once again, towards his destination.

Bella’s displeasure at Snape’s comment was almost palpable in the chilly air as she shouted after him, footsteps sharp and echoing as she fought to catch up. ‘Then you know she escaped our Lord’s clutches in most mysterious circumstances.’

‘If you can call a handful of Auror’s mysterious,’ Snape sniffed dismissively, allowing himself a flash of selfish pleasure over the shock on the witches face. In many ways he was grateful that Bella had cornered him before he received the summons he had long been expecting. She was Slytherin, yes, but any cunning she may have held in her youth had been overwhelmed by her fanaticism and obsession, leaving her ruthless, but also as rash as any Gryffindor. There was no subtlety, just mindless viciousness. She would have expected him to deny all knowledge of the girl, completely oblivious to the fact that sometimes apparent ignorance could be more condemning than the truth itself. Not that she would ever believe him, no matter what he said, but every word would be repeated to the Dark Lord. And for all the Dark Lord favoured his little Bella, he was not blind to her faults. His own doubts would become less so hearing them from a woman whose sanity was sporadic at best, and whose litany of Snape’s impending betrayal had been heard too often to hold the weight it once did.

After all, the Dark Lord trusted him now. Snape had proven himself. Hopefully, one day, the nausea that knowledge promoted would lessen.

‘You have seen her?’ Bellatrix’ features had taken on a disturbing, hungry look that had Snape looking down his long nose at her in disgust he quickly disguised as jaded indifference.

‘Both the girl and her family arrived at the Order Headquarters yesterday evening only shortly after myself.’

‘Convenient, don’t you think.’

Snape sighed. ‘I think many things Bella, you will have to be more succinct if you expect me to know exactly which thoughts of mine you are referring too.’

‘You know exactly what I am talking about,’ Bella snapped. ‘Not minutes after you first hear of the attack and the girl is whisked away to safety,’ the accusation left here eyes only to be replaced with disturbing eagerness. ‘I cannot wait to see you try to talk your way our of this one.’

‘There is nothing for me to talk my way out of, as you so eloquently phrase it, since this is nothing more than unfortunate happenstance and some rather wild conjecture on your part.’

Bella didn’t appear convinced. Snape wondered whether even his appearance with the head of the girl on a silver plate would make her more so at this moment. ‘Such a pity the Dark Lord agrees with my concerns.’

‘I have no doubt the Dark Lord gives your concerns the same weight he does those of any of his followers who spent the last twelve years in Azkaban,’ Snape commented pointedly.

Bella spluttered soundlessly at the insult, her long fingers clawing impotently at the air at her side. ‘He knows I am loyal!’ she shrieked, her pace shortening in her outrage until she found herself several strides behind the potions master. She made up the distance with an impressive sound of fury, cloak spilling through the air behind her.

‘Your loyalty is not what I am questioning,’ Snape adopted the same tone he normally used on overwhelmed or homesick first years. Slytherin first years, he amended, as he treated Bella to a rare look of pity. ‘Merely your ability to think coherently for any stretch of time.’

Bella didn’t erupt as he had hoped. It seemed the madness brought on by the Dementors didn’t quite compare to the madness the woman herself had caused through the Cruciatus. The Longbottom’s would never wake from theirs, but nor could they say they saw justice since Bella still seemed able to function on an almost normal level at moments. Those moments didn’t seem as few and far between as they once had either. The witch could still be pushed into a blind rage, in which all capacity for reasoned thought left her, but the predictability of such rages was slowly waning. Instead she just treated to Snape a slow, probing look that weighed too heavily for comfort. ‘How else could the girl have escaped, unless you warned them?’ she questioned, as Snape felt a completely unrefined blow strike across his Occlumency walls. He batted it aside easily, sharing an incredulous look with an equally undaunted Bella.

‘The girl in question is a close friend of Potter,’ Snape said slowly, emphasising each word. He even slowed his pace again, coming to a halt and turning to face the woman who did no more than watch with anticipation. ‘I am sure that even Dumbledore, in all his blindness, would not have overlooked the precarious position in which that places both her and her family. No doubt the place was crawling with wards to rival that of Potter himself,’ he could see that was not the case immediately as Bella’s expression turned once again suspicious. He forged forward regardless. ‘You must admit, Bella, that you are not known for your stealth. You probably tripped several before you reached the front door.’

‘For all this security you speak of, Snape, there were no apparition barriers.’ Snape was shocked, not only at being proven so completely wrong, but at the knowledge the Headmaster had left the girl so utterly unprotected. ‘We discovered this when we apparated directly into an empty house. That is something of an oversight, wouldn’t you agree?’ Yes, he did agree, wholeheartedly. He felt faintly sick at what might have happened had he trusted to Albus foresight and not risked his position so completely. At least he now knew his actions had not been a waste, however, no matter what they led to. ‘So I ask you again, how did they know we were coming?’

‘I do not know, Bella,’ Snape snapped angrily. ‘I was not there, as you may recall.’

Something in his voice must have surprised her, possibly even satisfied her. Maybe it was the raging hatred he felt towards the Headmaster at this moment seeping into his tone. Whatever it was Bella’s questioning shifted footing. ‘Perhaps you can tell me why you are here instead then?’

‘I would have thought you knew the answer to that better than I, since it was your own sister who requested my presence…’

‘Oh no,’ Bella interrupted as she stepped angrily in front of him to block his path once again. Real murder flashed in her eyes this time though. ‘You are not dragging Cissy down with you.’

‘Pardon?’

‘Hasn’t she suffered enough, with her failure of a husband locked away?’ Bella didn’t seemed inclined to hear him any more as her annoyance escalated. The shadows under her eyes seemed to stretch also as she descended into mindless muttering. This was the woman who had spent years in the loving hands of the Dementors. ‘She doesn’t need you, no matter what she may have convinced herself. I keep telling her, she should be proud, proud and willing…’

‘So this is about Draco then.’ Snape sneered, pushing past the woman and continuing down the corridor. He had suspected it would be.

‘What do you know about it?’ Bella had her wand aimed at his back.

‘The Dark Lord is, on occasion, known to share information with others beyond just yourself.’

‘But you,’ Bella shook her head as though to dislodge a traitorous thought. ‘It is a mistake,’ she shouted after his retreating figure.

It was surprise that stopped him this time, surprise that Bella would ever consider her Master could be wrong in anything as he stalked back to where she stood, tall, proud and completely and utterly mad. ‘I have proven my loyalty,’ he said disdainfully, as Bella tilted her head back regally to look at him. ‘Not only in the things I have done, but in those I will do.’

Bella just looked, if possible, more contemptuous at his words. ‘Oh yes, dearest, darling Severus, and how lucky it is for you that your future is apparently filled with more worth than you ever managed in your past.’ There was a trace of bitterness in her own voice, coupled with a nasty sneer. ‘Was it comfortable holed up in Hogwarts for all that time whilst the truly worthy of us all but perished in Azkaban in the name of our Lord?’

‘Yes,’ he said simply. His stay in the prison had been brief, but long enough for him to realise that, in comparison, almost anywhere else could be considered comfortable. ‘Regular meals, warm rooms and the unmistakable absence of Dementors. Which one of those, exactly, am I supposed to object too?’

‘You’ve been living out of the hand of Dumbledore, like his little pet dog,’ Bella spat at his feet with disgust. ‘To me that says something about where your loyalties really lie.’

‘I am a spy. Unsurprisingly the position requires I stay close to those I am supposed to be spying on,’ Snape drew his cloak round him with a snap, turning on his heel with the intention of finally leaving the loathsome woman behind. She wouldn’t leave him though, certainly not now she knew where he was going. ‘I will not justify myself to you again,’ he offered to fill the expectant silence that hovered between the two of them, ‘and, to be honest, I am getting a little bored with answering the same questions over and over. You were there when the Dark Lord himself asked them. Do you think I could lie to him?’

Bella’s answer was chilling. ‘I think you would give it a damn good try.’

‘This does not concern you,’ Snape sighed with annoyance as he stopped outside the door he had been seeking. He would rather not have met Narcissa here, but the Manor was watched too closely since the arrest of Lucius, making their meeting in such a place suspicious. Narcissa herself seemed to be spending more and more time away from their home anyway, claiming the absence of her husband coupled with her son’s return to school left the house strangely empty. That she sought out the company of her sister in her loneliness was not what Snape would have wished for her. He knocked politely on the door as he hissed under his breath. ‘So either leave, or shut that infernal mouth of yours.’ Bella didn’t have time to respond, as the door opened.

Severus couldn’t help but frown. He had known Narcissa, both as an acquaintance and from afar, for many years. They had never been close, but there was a mutual respect that could almost pass for friendship at first glance. He had never before seen her look so troubled, look anything other than the picture of immaculate beauty that was expected of her. Now though she looked harassed and anxious, her eyes rimmed with red from where she had been crying, her hair dishevelled, wisps flying erratically around her pale face. ‘Narcissa,’ he said softly; she looked as if a sudden, loud noise was all that was needed to tip her over the edge. ‘It is wonderful to see you.’

‘Severus…’

‘Should not be welcome here,’ Bella interrupted nastily, casting Snape a spiteful look as though he were the one responsible for the state of her sister, and pushing her way into the room. ‘Haven’t I told you Cissy? I will take care of it all.’ She fussed ineffectually over her sister for a moment, snarling at an indifferent Snape the whole time.

‘Last I looked, Bella, you were hardly in a position to be wandering the halls of Hogwarts.’ Narcissa said gently, her poise only slightly blemished by the almost unnoticeable shake in her voice as she sank back into the soft sofa. ‘There is little you can do to help in this instance.’

‘But this is mad,’ Bella howled mournfully, petting Narcissa’s unruly hair, smoothing it back into a semblance of order. Narcissa smiled slightly at the motion, patting Bella’s free hand with her own in a small gesture of returned comfort. ‘That you would trust him with your only son.’

‘The Dark Lord himself has all ready entrusted me with the task of ensuring Draco’s progress throughout the year,’ Snape offered superciliously, drawing the attention of both Black’s, one of whom glared hatefully, the other who looked both relieved by the news, and horrified at the same time. ‘I was not aware those orders were up for debate, however if you would prefer I not accept such an undertaking I will, of course, be happy to voice your concerns on your behalf.’

‘Those orders may well be up for consideration given some of the unresolved issues at hand,’ Bella barked.

‘So you keep repeating. When exactly should I expect these summons then, Bella? I will endeavour to keep my schedule free.’ Their bickering was stopped as Narcissa let out a gentle sob, muffled by her hand as she pulled away from the both, perching on the far edge of the sofa. Her breathing was heavy as Snape sighed in exasperation, rolling his eyes as he stalked across the room, pouring a generous glass from a decanter sitting on a high shelf, and following with a second, slightly smaller serving. He thrust the lesser of the two glasses into Narcissa’s hand, downing the other in one long gulp that burnt at the back of his throat. If he was forced to deal with crying women, he would be damned if he was going to do it sober.

‘My Draco is going to die, isn’t he,’ it wasn’t so much of a question.

‘There is a chance.’

‘There is more than a chance, and you know it,’ Narcissa sniffed, although the tears had, at least, been short lived. ‘I had hoped it would not come to pass, that the instructions were not serious; but if you are involved…’ She trailed off. It had been a naïve and foolish hope, but not one Snape could necessarily fault her for. ‘The Dark Lord himself has failed it innumerable times.’ Her expression became horribly disturbing, of one who has realised the unfairness of their fate and knows they are powerless to change it. ‘This is not a test of loyalty or anything else you might want to call it; it is punishment. Punishment for Lucius’ failure.’ She looked rather more desperate now, wild and trapped as she stared at Snape, pleading him for an answer.

‘Lucius was weak,’ Bella declared haughtily when Snape failed to form a suitable response, as though her words were exactly what her sister needed to hear to cheer her up. Narcissa looked away from him at that moment, closing her eyes, her shoulders shaking beneath her pale robes. ‘He was weak and he was stupid, and if he ever gets out of Azkaban I will kill him myself for what he has done to you.’ Narcissa just shook her head frantically, weeping quietly again.

Snape could see what was coming next, as Bella looked ready to launch into her next tirade of revenge for slights against the Black name. ‘Funny,’ he interrupted, not because he necessarily wanted to draw himself even further into it, but because he needed to speak to Narcissa, and he could not successfully do so whilst her sister caused her more grief, regardless of intention. ‘But I seem to recall you were also present at the fiasco at the Ministry. Would that not make a share of the responsibility yours?’

‘I managed to kill that ingrate of a cousin, didn’t I?’ she tossed back furiously. ‘It’s more than Lucius managed.’

‘Yet the children still managed to escape you,’ Snape shook his head pityingly, relaxing back into a padded armchair and assuming a position of reclined authority. The alcohol had not had the affect he had hoped for. Instead of muting reality it had instead given it a grating edge, Bella’s harsh voice now severely jarring his nerves. ‘I had no idea Hogwarts was teaching it’s students to be so formidable.’

‘Dumbledore…he.’

‘Saved them? Yes, eventually,’ Snape gestured facetiously. ‘I believe they evaded you by their own means for long enough to cause embarrassment though, wouldn’t you agree?’ He smiled, an expression that often disconcerted himself as much as it did others.

‘At least I was there,’ Bella suddenly shouted. ‘Where were you? At Hogwarts, that’s where, getting all cosy.’

Snape sat forwards in the chair, eyes intense as he fixed them on her. ‘Had I not been at Hogwarts, Potter would never have made it to the Ministry in the first place.’

‘And that’s what you told the Dark Lord, is it? Never mind that you could snatch the boy out from under the nose of the old fool any time you wanted.’

‘If that were indeed true, our Lord would have issued orders for me to do so by now.’

‘How do I know he hasn’t, and that you haven’t made your usual, pathetic excuses.’

‘But I though you knew everything, that as his most trusted servant our Lord confided his every thought to you,’ Snape smirked at Bella’s silent outrage, a small noise dragging their attention apart.

‘I never wanted Draco here, you know,’ Narcissa admitted quietly, interrupting them both, Bella instantly returning to her fretful fussing as Snape swivelled slightly in his seat to face her. ‘I wanted to keep him away from such things, but he has always admired his father so. He thinks it is a gift, this opportunity, but he never looks far enough ahead. He thinks he is protecting me.’

‘If I had a son I would be proud to have him serve my Lord in such a way.’ Bella’s voice was coloured with a hint of disapproval at her sister’s words, causing Snape inexplicable rage that the woman could be so callous.

‘But you do not have a son, do you Bella,’ he sneered. ‘And how many years have you been married now? Surely that should have been plenty of time for you to mother a small army for service. Or are the rumours of you and the Dark Lord true?’ Snape allowed a small, vindictive smile to twist his lips. ‘I have often wondered why he intervened to save you from the Ministry above all the others who failed so miserably at your side.’

‘Blasphemy!’ Bella shrieked, jumping to her feet, finger hovering accusingly in the air between them. ‘How dare you talk behind my Masters back in such a way?’

‘Last I looked our Lord was no God, Bella, which makes it disrespectful at it’s very worst, but not blasphemous. Not quite yet.’

‘I will see you dead before the day is out, Snape.’ Bella hissed. She didn’t move or flinch away at all when Snape rose slowly to his feet, towering imperiously over her.

‘And how do you plan to achieve that?’ His voice was soft and low, dripping smoothly from his tongue as he took a step forwards. ‘Do you honestly believe the Black name carries the same worth it once did?’ Narcissa sat up stiffly at the words, her face still streaked with dried tears even as Bella snarled under her breath, prowling in front of Snape. ‘One Gryffindor blood traitor, and one equally disloyal but no less dead brother; not to mention your very own sister.’ Bella let out a screech of angry distress, her hands rising to clutch at her ears as though the action would stop Snape from speaking. ‘Eloped with a common muggle, didn’t she. Perhaps the other rumour is true instead then, that Andromeda hit you with a nasty hex to leave you barren and childless in thanks for all you did for her.’ Snape cocked his head slightly, eyebrows raised mockingly before he jabbed an accusing finger in her direction. ‘Your family has not served the Dark Lord well in recent years,’ his tone was hard as he leant forwards until his face was mere inches from Bella’s, lit with contempt, ‘and you would do well to stop spreading vicious little lies about me lest our Master look more closely at exactly how many times your blood has betrayed him.’ Snape stopped suddenly as he felt the tip of a wand pressing into the soft underside of his neck.

‘Do not forget this is my family of which you speak also,’ Narcissa said softly from her seat, her eyes still bright with unshed tears, but also cold and unforgiving. ‘Marriage is all that keeps me from bearing the name you so casually slander. Press me and I may be forced to take a little more interest in your own family.’ She glided to her feet in a fluid motion, her wand not moving as Snape swallowed reflexively against it. ‘Snape is no pureblood name with which I am familiar, and I know all about the little nickname you gave yourself in school.’ Her eyes widened meaningfully for a second.

‘Are you suggesting…is he?’ Bella looked up with mingled horror and sadistic glee, her own humiliation forgotten.

‘I am no half-blood, if that is what you are thinking,’ Snape managed to sneer.

‘But you must have some muggle ancestry, at the very least.’

‘Far enough back that my blood is considered pure enough to serve our Lord.’ Snape said smoothly. ‘You think he has not raised these same issues? I am not proud of it, but there is little I can do to change the foolishness of those in the past.’ Bella still looked unconvinced, her forehead creased in consideration.

‘You’re lying,’ she said brusquely. Snape cast her an irritable glower.

‘You would declare the sky were orange merely to contradict me, Bella, so forgive me if I do not give your incessant ramblings the credit you no doubt feel they deserve.’ The wand was removed from his throat, and Snape raised a hand to rub at it gingerly, his fingers feeling the bruise it had left and wincing.

‘He isn’t lying, Bella,’ Narcissa’s comment took him by surprise, said softly and with infinite tiredness that sounded in sharp contrast to her prior threat. Her defence of him when she had had her wand lodged in his neck not seconds prior was also somewhat odd. He turned to regard her warily, receiving no more than a small smile in recognition. The two of them had never been particularly close, associated only through the man she had married, and the woman had no less reason to curse him than to defend him. ‘Lucius knew you for how long?’

‘Long enough,’ he replied tersely.

Narcissa smiled again, warm and loving in thought of her husband. It was an expression that was difficult to relate with the fact that she had willing and happily married a Death Eater, and aided in raising a second. ‘He used to speak much of you, back in those days.’ The days when their ideology had been much easier to defend; when Snape himself had truly believed in what the Dark Lord wanted to achieve. After all, he had experienced first hand what muggles were capable of, and had had no desire to see the world that was his escape tainted by the same mindless hatred and violence, did not want to see it slowly infused into society through every muggleborn that attended. He had been quickly disillusioned: the brutality existed there all ready. ‘That name amused him no end.’

Snape scoffed dismissively. ‘It was meant as an insult to my father, not to cater to the humour of your husband.’

‘Nevertheless he appreciated the irony behind it.’

‘I have no doubt.’

In reaction to his cold tone Narcissa pulled herself up proudly to her usual bearing, aloof and untouchable, although her eyes still contained a hint of warmth. ‘So, do you two think you can stop bickering like a pair of children for long enough for me to explain why I asked Severus here?’ she aimed the comment primarily at Bella, taking the following silence as affirmation before she turned back to Snape. ‘Good,’ one of her hands reached out to grasp his in an unusual display of affection, or desperation. Snape resisted the urge to shake it off. Such displays and manipulations were beneath her, but something in the way the fingers grasped round his own held him back from such an outright dismissal. ‘I want to you look out for my son.’

He did draw his hand back at those words. Did the woman think it was amusing to waste his time and potentially jeopardise his position in such a way as to call him for such a frivolous and unnecessary reason? ‘As I previously mentioned, I have all ready been ordered to do so.’ He exhaled at Narcissa’s hard look, softening slightly as he reminded himself that what stood before him was not the wife of Lucius Malfoy, but a concerned mother. ‘Not to mention that I would do so regardless,’ he added, reaching out to enclose her abandoned hand between his once again, feeling the warmth seep into her cold skin. ‘I am…fond of him, and would do what I could to ensure his safety for that reason alone.’

‘That is not good enough,’ Narcissa demanded. ‘I want more.’

‘Exactly what more do you think I have to give?’

‘An Unbreakable Vow,’ Narcissa’s voice cracked only slightly as she lifted her head proudly, meeting his gaze and ready to take the refusal she believed was coming. ‘To protect my son, as you have so repeatedly said you will. If you would indeed do so regardless,’ she added shrewdly, calling Snape on his own words, ‘then the vow itself should be of little consequence.’

Snape cursed himself for his prior words of comfort, which had been meant as only that, not as a weapon to be used against him. ‘Bella will be our bonder?’ Narcissa’s eyes widened only slightly at his unexpected, implied agreement, as if there had really been any option for him to deny her.

‘I see no one else in this room.’

‘Very well,’ Snape knelt gracefully, releasing one of his hands from hers, clasping firmly with the one that remained as he raised an eyebrow in question to her following suit. She did, her skin now faintly clammy against his own in the cool air of the room, her robes pooling dramatically on the floor round her. Bella had drawn her wand and stood over their clenched hands with an air of disbelief. ‘The terms?’ The wand tip rested gently against the tips of his fingers. Snape tried not to think about the number of Unforgivables that had passed through it.

He instead focused on the lilting of Narcissa’s voice, hard and determined. ‘Will you, Severus, watch over my son throughout the course of the year?’

‘I will.’ He tried not to sneer at the waste of a promise. He was bound by the Dark Lord to do as such all ready.

‘Will you guide him towards success, teach him all he needs to know?’

Clearly Narcissa had not learnt her husband’s natural flair for twisting his words to their required purpose. Worry and love for her son was making her stupid, was leading her to waste the opportunity in a way Snape almost found inexcusable. ‘I will.’

‘And will you protect him, with your very life if need be, from any possible harm that may befall him,’ Narcissa’s gaze became pleading in that moment, truly distraught in a way no one could hope to fake. Snape felt his heart clench. Narcissa had love for few people, and those she did not love she would gladly sacrifice in the name of those she did. Snape was fully aware that he fell into the latter category of people. She would have him promise the impossible with little concern for his imminent failure, and the price thereof. ‘The Dark Lord has vowed death to us both should he fail, and whilst I would consider my life more than adequate payment for that of my son, Draco does not agree.’ For a moment it seemed she might cry again, but instead she took a deep breath, pulling herself rigidly upright. ‘I wanted him to run, but he will not, so now there is no choice. You must see to it, Severus, you must see to it that he does not fail.’

He didn’t have time to assess all the implications of the request. Bella was watching him expectantly; the Vow itself was waiting impatiently for its completion. He had no choice.

He chose.

‘I will.’

A thick cord of light sprang from the tip of the wand, blazing red as it wound round their hand and wrists, sealing them together before disappearing beneath the skin. He felt it burn there for a moment, a glowing trail that remained almost comforting until it reached out with claws and teeth and sunk itself into his heart. Snape pitched forward, hand clutching at his chest as above him Bella smirked and crowed.

‘Tut tut, Sevvie dear, it seems that no one taught you not to make promises you can’t keep,’ Bella giggled maliciously as Narcissa tried to help Snape to his feet before rounding on her sister with the air of one who has just had all their ignored concerns proven right. ‘I told you he didn’t want Draco to succeed,’ she accused. ‘He wants to protect that old fool of a Headmaster, no matter what happens to the rest of us. You have sentenced yourself, sister dear, and when the Dark Lord hears of what you have done…’ Narcissa waved Bella into silence.

‘What is happening?’ she asked frantically as Snape clutched her arm. An Unbreakable Vow knew no mercy; it punished failure, but in doing so it had given him a remote chance.

‘Where is Draco?’ he managed to gasp.

‘Diagon Alley,’ Narcissa replied. ‘Purchasing his school supplies for the year.’ Snape frowned slightly, pulling himself upright although he still lent heavily on her slight frame. The content of the final vow still spun in his head as he considered the innumerable ways it could be broken, and the necessity of the most obvious of these. He was not the only one to have made a pledge to save Draco, and in different circumstances he might have laughed at the irony that the two promises swore such completely different outcomes.

‘We must go to him,’ he almost fell again as the light pierced another burning trail through his chest. Bella’s grip on her wand tightened as though to accompany them.

‘My sister is not going anywhere without me, especially not with you.’

‘But you are a wanted woman, dearest Bellatrix,’ Snape managed to chuckle hollowly. ‘Whilst I can fully be expected to appear in such a crowded place with the mother of one of my students in my company, I might struggle to explain why we were also accompanied by a murderous madwoman.’

‘This is some elaborate scheme of yours and that fool Dumbledore,’ Bella sounded unsure as Snape bent over double again, his breath panting.

‘I do not have the time to argue with you,’ he snarled. ‘We must leave now.’

‘Do you know what is happening to my son?’ Narcissa questioned frantically as Snape nodded.

‘Potter,’ he managed to sneer. He only had a suspicion, a guess at best, but it was an educated guess And at the end of the day he didn’t need to be sure. Eventually everything bad that happened to him always came back to Potter.


Chapter 25: Can And Can't
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Chapter 25: Can and Can’t.

It is always good men who do the most harm in the world.

--Henry Brooks Adam



‘Leave,’ Malfoy said coldly to the shopkeeper, pulling himself upright and retaining a remarkably haughty air despite his harried and dishevelled appearance. His glare didn’t leave the pair of Gryffindors as he spoke, however, nor did he make any move to repair his damaged robes and cover his bare arm.

‘My own store?’

Draco did turn round slightly at this comment, to pin the man with a withering look. ‘Would you rather explain to someone else?’ he snapped, his voice a gap in his otherwise calm composure, as it shook slightly despite his best efforts.

The shopkeeper’s tone changed instantly, although whether it was out of respect for the family name or out of fear at the thinly veiled threat was anybodies guess. ‘Of course, Master Malfoy.’ He bowed low, his simpering platitudes oily with feigned humility. ‘It will be my honour to provide you with whatever you might need.’

Malfoy looked momentarily disgusted at the display before dismissing the man with a wave of his hand. ‘Privacy will do, for the moment.’ There was silence as the room cleared, the narrow door through which the owner sidled closing with the grinding of worn metal hinges, the latch clicking reassuringly loudly. Draco didn’t doubt the purpose of the otherwise innocuous noise, nor did he doubt that the man would have some way to overhear them. Clients of Knockturn Alley valued knowledge over mere trifles such as confidentiality, although they could be the masters of discretion, given the right incentive. It was incentive Draco would have to provide later.

‘Malfoy,’ Hermione gasped in disbelief, before he could consider the issue too deeply. ‘You’re marked!’ She stepped forward as though to examine the brand closer, as if she truly expected he would let her. Malfoy pulled his arm away sharply, hiding the grotesque mark behind his back.

‘Quick for a Mudblood, aren’t you,’ he sneered, halting Hermione’s progress across the room. She stopped as if jerked by strings, and Draco would have laughed at the flash of hurt he saw in her face, had the circumstances been any different. Harry jumped to her defence with his predictable quick temper, leaping forwards as if his body could shield her from Draco’s words.

‘Don’t call her that!’

Draco smirked, the discomfort he had felt over the familiarity with which Hermione had approached him fading behind a wall of antipathy. ‘Why not, or is the little Hero Potter going to stop me?’

‘Yes, I am,’ Harry said flatly, crossing his arms and holding himself proudly. He leant forwards slightly and with a vaguely conspiratorial air before he continued. ‘I’m going to stop you killing Dumbledore too.’ Malfoy went as white as a sheet as Harry brushed off Hermione’s frantic tugging on his arm and the whispered words anxiously telling him that he was handling it all wrong.

‘I don’t know what you are talking about,’ Draco lied unconvincingly.

‘I’m talking about Voldemort’s orders,’ Harry sneered, as Hermione gestured in defeat, turning on her heel. She rounded back on the two of them almost instantly, frustration evident as she tried to interrupt. Her mouth no more than framed the first syllable, Harry single-mindedly ignoring her. ‘Really think you can do it, do you?’

It took Draco a moment to realise he had been backing away; that Harry was slowly looming over him, a glint of fairly manic determination in his eyes. ‘I think you may finally have gone round the twist.’ Old habits warped his frank observation with spiteful taunting.

‘This isn’t going to help.’ Hermione tried to pull Harry back from where he was thunderously advancing on the Slytherin, her arms linked through his as she pulled him backwards. ‘Don’t antagonise him, or he’ll never listen.’ Draco took instant offense to being spoken about as if he wasn’t even there.

‘Listen to what?’ he jeered defensively. ‘Poor little Potty’s pathetic attempts to convert me?’

‘Like I’d waste the breath!’

‘Harry!’ Hermione’s snapped, outraged. Her tone managed to halt him, even if it didn’t garner his full attention. ‘Don’t forget the debt,’ she added, regardless of his growing scowl.

‘He never said I had to be nice about it,’ Harry argued mulishly. He had reluctantly turned to face her, but his eyes kept skittering to watch Draco, whose confusion was rapidly escalating. Hermione just held his gaze scathingly. ‘Tying the git to a tree is starting to sound more and more appealing,’ he finally mumbled, with only the smallest trace of humour, by way of appeasement.

Clearly nervous, Draco interrupted without thought. ‘What in Merlin’s name are you on about?’ he scorned, his expression quickly shifting into a leering grimace. ‘Or is this some hitherto unfulfilled fantasy of yours?’ Hermione barely managed to restrain Harry, who had spun back around, hands balled into fists.

‘Shut your mouth, you filthy little Death Eater!’ he roared.

‘Make me, you glorified excuse for a wizard.’

‘Right, fine, I will.’ Harry glared, pulling his arm free as Hermione stumbled and lost her grip.

‘Malfoy,’ she said desperately, the words spilling out in a jumbled rush as Harry advanced once again on the Slytherin. ‘We know Voldemort ordered you to kill Dumbledore, but you can’t. Harry, he got sent to the future, he saw what happened to you. You made him promise not to let it happen again.’ Harry whipped round to stare at her with betrayal.

‘What?’ Draco looked genuinely perplexed.

‘You saved his life,’ Hermione continued.

‘I would never!’ Draco declared at the same time Harry grumbled just tell him everything, why don’t you.

‘You saved it so he could stop you now,’ Hermione finished, glancing apologetically at Harry. Draco at least looked thoughtful, even as he sneered contemptuously.

‘You are lying, and lying badly,’ he said with absolute belief. ‘Besides, travelling to the future is impossible.’

‘So I keep getting told,’ Harry interrupted. ‘But if it wasn’t true, how would I know about your mark?’

Draco waved his unmarked arm dismissively. The gesture looked forced, as if the younger Malfoy had put conscious effort into stripping all such movements from the arm he didn’t want to draw attention too. Or maybe moving it too much hurt him, Harry considered with morbid curiosity. He knew the mark burned, but for how long and how often? ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if you accosted every Slytherin in school in such a way.’

‘Will you get your head out your arse for just a minute?’ Harry said, exasperated, Draco’s look of shocked indignation all the answer he needed. ‘Fine, then how did I know about your orders, hmmm?’

Malfoy had wrapped his haughtiness around him like a shield. ‘There are no such orders for you to know about, therefore I must conclude that you have become deluded and nothing you say can be trusted.’

‘Hark, the little miniature Death Eater talks about trust.’ Harry let out a bitter laugh. ‘Tell you what; let’s forget this for a laugh. How about I just call the Aurors to take a look at you new tattoo? Perhaps they’ll be good enough to get you a cell next to daddy dearest.’

‘Don’t you dare talk about my father,’ Malfoy warned.

‘I will talk about your family however I bloody well want, Malfoy. You’re all murderous lunatics, and if you think any of you deserve any better…’ He was cut off by a fist flying into the side of his face, a shocked gasp coming from Hermione.

‘What would you know about family,’ Draco shouted. ‘You’ve managed to kill off most of yours. At least it’s helping to get rid of all the trash though. Perhaps you’ll be good enough to dispose of the Weasley’s next.’

Harry roared indecipherably, launching himself back at Malfoy, shoulder meeting his thin chest as he barrelled them both onto the floor. ‘Don’t you dare talk about them that way!’ He punctuated his sentence with a blow that split Malfoy’s lip. ‘The Weasley’s are worth ten of you, you lying, cheating scum.’

‘And how much do you think you’re worth to them now it’s all taking off, huh?’ Draco sneered, exhaling sharply as Harry flipped himself on top of the blonde, pinning him down. ‘You think they’ll put you above the lives of their flesh and blood now they know how much of a danger you are to be near?’

There was nothing for a moment that stretched on and on. ‘The Weasleys will stand by Harry no matter what,’ Hermione eventually said softly in the outraged silence. She had her wand drawn, but it was aimed at Harry, whose eyes flashed murderously as though any second he would snap from his trance with the sole intention of beating Draco to a bloody finish. ‘We all will, and I know you don’t understand that, Malfoy, but it doesn’t matter, because one day you will stand by him too.’ Her words seemed to have calmed Harry slightly, as he shifted his weight from where he had straddled Draco’s chest. He didn’t offer Draco a hand as he stood, however, instead just making a half-hearted attempt to straighten his robes as Draco lifted himself stiffly onto his elbows. ‘That you do it out of love for only yourself is irrelevant, because you still do it. You recognise that Voldemort can’t give you what you really want, only this time that realisation won’t have to come too late.’ Draco looked sullen, still disbelieving as he pushed himself unsteadily to his feet, wincing as he prodded at his side with a finger.

‘And what, exactly,’ he said carefully around his swollen lip, ‘was so terrible about my future that I would sink so low as to save his miserable existence, then?’

‘Well, Voldemort wanted you dead for one thing,’ Harry sneered as Draco went pasty white again, so much for not believing him.

‘And my mother?’

‘Who gives a damn about your mother, Malfoy?’

Malfoy’s features went hard. ‘I do, since you ask.’

‘Yeah, well all I care about is that fact that you want to murder a great man, who for some reason seems to think you pathetic life is worth more than his own.’

‘Dumbledore knows?’ Malfoy gasped, forgetting himself in an instance of blind panic.

‘What, you think I would tell you and not him?’ Draco looked mildly panicked at Harry’s words, as he took a step backwards, shaking his head, his eyes wide and anxious.

‘No,’ he said frantically. ‘He can’t know. If he knows then I could never…my mother…’

‘Oh, back on your mum again are we. Never took you for such a little mother’s boy.’ Harry said nastily as Hermione gave him a sharp slap around the back of the head.

‘Shut up, before you ruin everything even more than you have managed so far.’ She glared, before schooling her features into something more approachable. ‘Malfoy,’ she said gently, taking a step towards him.

‘Get away from me,’ Draco hissed menacingly. ‘Both of you.’

‘We just want to help,’ Hermione tried to placate.

‘Help yourselves, perhaps.’

‘This is what you want, you arrogant idiot,’ Harry exclaimed.

‘What would you know about what I want?’

‘Have you listened to a word I’ve said?’

‘Actually, yes, I have listened to every self-absorbed thing that has left your mouth.’ Draco jumped when his back hit the countertop once again, crossing his arms in a final gesture of defence. ‘Unlike some people, I am capable of hearing what others have to say, as opposed to being completely infatuated with my own self righteousness.’

‘You’re a fine one to talk.’

Draco narrowed his eyes murderously. ‘Oh, well, since the Golden Boy Potter is always right, perhaps you’d care to tell me why my mother deserves to die more than your pathetic excuse for surrogacy?’

Harry looked as if Draco had just asked him to explain why the grass was green. ‘She brought it upon herself; she’s a bloody Death Eater.’

‘She is not!’ Draco roared.

‘You’ve said the same thing about your dad plenty of times,’ Harry pointed out facetiously, ‘or are you going to claim that I dragged him to the Ministry that night and dressed him up in his little Death Eater outfit just so the Aurors could catch him?’

‘My mother isn’t marked,’ Draco said through gritted teeth.

‘Doesn’t make her a good person.’

‘So speaks the judge, jury and executioner.’ Malfoy’s voice was trembling slightly as he spoke now though, dulling the malicious tone. ‘Does it make you happy then, Potter,’ he continued snidely. ‘Does it fill you with the warm fuzzies knowing you’ve set another Slytherin up for failure?’ He cocked his head, jumping slightly at the sudden, muffled crack of apparition from the street outside, eyes widening fearfully as if expecting the Dark Lord to sweep into his presence to exact punishment in that moment.

‘Oh, you set yourself up for this one all by yourself.’ Harry looked smug, ignoring Hermione’s insistent tugging on his arm and completely oblivious to the shift in air as the door opened behind him. ‘This is Dumbledore we’re talking about, did you really think there was any way in which you would have stood a chance?’ He laughed lightly, shaking off Hermione’s hand and aiming his wand again, for all the use it was. It made him feel better though, more in control. Besides, Malfoy didn’t look in any condition to remember that Harry couldn’t actually use it. He looked ready to bolt - staring over Harry’s shoulder and towards the door - an act which Harry had no problem with provided he bolted a long way from Hogwarts.

‘If you do not refrain from aiming your wand at my son, I will ensure that your doing so in the future becomes an impossibility.’ Harry jumped at the icy tone, his gaze leaving Malfoy and swinging round to Narcissa, who regarded him with regal contempt. He barely took a moment to register it, however, his eyes drawn irrevocably to Snape, whose hand clenched her arm.

‘In the habit of listening to Gryffindors, are we Draco?’ Snape managed to drawl.

‘I…’ Draco appeared to pull himself together, at least marginally, his shoulders stiffening even if his eyes still looked rather wild. ‘Not normally, sir, no.’

‘Ah, so some extenuating factor has made this the exception to the norm then.’ If he didn’t know any better Harry would almost have believed Snape stumbled as he made his way forward. ‘I am, as always, on tenterhooks to hear what this fascinating development has been.’ Harry opened his mouth to speak, receiving a swift kick in the leg that caused him to gasp.

‘I swear, Harry,’ Hermione hissed in his ear. ‘If you say one word I will curse you into silence myself.’ She received a suspicious look from Snape, but she met his gaze with a glare of her own before he turned back to Draco.

‘Since when does Harry Potter, of all people, tell you what you can and cannot do?’ The end of the question was practically gasped.

‘He doesn’t,’ Draco scowled.

‘What else did he say to you?’

‘Nothing, it isn’t important…’ Snape all but collapsed at his feet, his hand shaking as it reached out to the nearest counter for support, upending an array of glassware that smacked dully against the floor, their contents drifting into a lazy surrounding halo. Draco didn’t seem to be able to take his eyes off them.

‘It is important.’

‘He…’ Draco shot a wary glance at Harry.

‘Severus, are you sure this is wise,’ Narcissa said softly, looking meaningfully towards Harry and Hermione. ‘Those two…’

‘Can be easily Obliviated,’ Snape snarled. ‘So unless you happen to be skilled at resurrection, I would suggest you encourage your son to speak.’

‘Dumbledore knows,’ Draco suddenly admitted, his voice tight. Snape quirked an eyebrow.

‘You are surprised?’

Draco looked horrified at the insight. ‘But, I thought…’

‘No, it would appear you did not.’

‘You think he is just going to let me do it, do you?’

‘Yes,’ Snape said simply as Harry made a noise of outrage.

‘What?’

‘The man is a Gryffindor, Draco,’ Snape said with all the disdain he could manage. ‘He would not strike down one so young when he believed there were a chance you could be saved.’

‘Voldemort is sending you out to die,’ Harry interrupted desperately, seeing the first threads of doubt he had created starting to dissipate. Narcissa had her wand in his face at the same moment Snape grunted almost soundlessly, his hand clutching his chest.

‘Be quiet,’ Narcissa said softly. ‘Lest I find myself convincing Severus not only to Obliviate this encounter from your mind, but also the knowledge that your little friend here ever accompanied you.’ Harry’s eyes widened at the implied threat.

‘Much as I hate to say this, but Potter may have a point,’ Draco said shakily.

‘Except there is one thing he isn’t telling you.’ Snape was pasty white. ‘Isn’t there?’ Harry just shook his head. ‘After all, if you truly believed what you are saying, you wouldn’t be here so desperately trying to convince Draco otherwise.’ His breath was coming in short pants now. ‘Tell him, Potter.’

‘No.’

‘Tell him his future or I will force it from you.’

‘Are you saying it’s true?’ Draco looked stunned. ‘Potter saw the future?’

‘A future, yes.’

‘What happens to me?’ he suddenly demanded, swinging back round on Harry. ‘Granger said I couldn’t kill Dumbledore, she said that you knew what would happen to me. Well, what is it?’ The frantic look got worse as Snape let out a low chuckle.

‘Why, Miss Granger, what a practically Slytherin way of phrasing it.’

‘Phrasing what?’ Draco demanded.

‘I believe when she said you couldn’t, she meant it as a more generalised, moralistic turn of phrase than the literal interpretation you seem to have taken.’ Draco looked hopeful. ‘Fundamentally true, I suppose, if you happen to see the world in such glaring shades of black and white.’

‘Don’t tell him,’ Harry growled. ‘Dumbledore may not let me do anything about you, but I will bloody well change this.’

‘You killed him, Draco,’ Snape said softly, it appearing to be all he could manage. ‘You can do it, and Potter knows you can. Why else would he be here? You did fine then, and you will do fine now.’ There was something jarring about hearing Snape’s voice so reassuring. ‘Your doubt is the only thing that can cause you to fail.’ Something eased Snape’s pain as a flash of relief passed across Draco’s features. It was replaced a second later with dawning annoyance.

‘Mother brought you here, didn’t she?’ Draco cast her an infuriated glare. ‘And I bet I can guess why. I told her not too. I can handle this – you just said I could yourself.’

‘I have no doubt that you can.’ Snape pulled himself to his feet, a thin hand brushing at the collar of his robe. Draco’s lack of concern was rivalled only by his lacking surprise at his professor’s sudden recovery. ‘It is, perhaps, an issue for another time.’ His eyes traversed the space to Harry, who was practically trembling with angry betrayal.

‘Talk to him now, why don’t you,’ Harry bit out He half expected to feel Hermione’s hand against his arm, or something, some gesture that let him know she was either backing him up or telling him to shut up. There was nothing, and he didn’t dare look round to her after Narcissa’s threat. ‘Since you’re Obliviating us anyway, where’s the harm?’ Snape sent him a derisive look in return, ushering Draco towards his mother, who petted his hair absently. Malfoy squirmed away, and Harry hated him more and more with every inch of distance he reclaimed.

‘You should go,’ Snape gestured Narcissa towards the door. ‘The fewer people who see you here, the better it will probably be for us all.’

‘You will be alright?’ she asked with near concern, although her eyes drifted meaningfully to the Gryffindor pair, belaying that the enquiry had been directed in any towards his health. Snape didn’t look quite recovered, a thin line of sweat still beaded his forehead and his eyes were sunken.

Draco had no such compunctions about subtlety. ‘Who cares?’ he snarled with a glare at the potions master that had Harry wondering exactly what it was he had missed to turn the Slytherin from respect to disgust so completely. ‘I’m right, aren’t I? Really you just want us out of here so you don’t have to discuss it. Much easier to fob me off at the school.’

Snape opened the door for them both, Draco steered by the arm of his mother, which held him securely for how thin it was. ‘It would do well for us both if you remember some of your manners by the time you get there,’ Snape said meaningfully. ‘And that the wandering ears of your fellow students are not the only thing you should be concerned about in a place such as this.’ Draco didn’t look appeased, but he held his mouth shut in a thin line and allowed his mother to lead him from the store and back onto the alley. Harry watched him leave with an anxious desperation to follow and undo everything Snape had somehow managed to do. He had been so close, and now he seemed further than ever before.

‘You might think you’ve won,’ Harry said after a moment, his voice a low rumble. ‘But I swear, you can Obliviate me, but I’ll find a way to remember. Then Dumbledore with have no choice but to listen to me.’

‘I’m not going to Obliviate you, you idiot,’ Snape snarled. Harry looked up, his eyes clouded with fury beneath his fringe.

‘You told him everything!’

‘I would not have needed to, had you actually listened to the Headmaster, and done as you were damn well told for once.’ Snape’s voice grew progressively louder with each word. ‘As it is, I can only hope he can find a way out of this mess you have created!’

‘I created?’ Harry scoffed. ‘Malfoy was about to run away like the coward he is. As far as I can see that would have solved a whole bunch of problems, except you had to butt in and ruin it all.’

‘No, Potter, I had to ‘butt in’ as you so eloquently phrase it because you cannot just leave things be, and because now, thanks to your interfering and heedless actions, there is more at risk than a mere debt.’

‘A mere debt?’ Harry mocked with incredulously. ‘Is that how you would refer to the thing you owed my dad?’

‘The debt will not kill you should you fail to fulfil it,’ Snape said quietly after a moment’s silence. ‘Others, however, have now been dragged into this farce, and their lives could well be forfeit should you succeed.’

‘Who?’

‘If you think I am unwise enough to tell you that.’

‘More of your precious Death Eater mates, is it then?’

‘No,’ Snape snarled. ‘People on your side, who have been fighting and risking their lives. For you. I will not have you endanger them further in your ill-thought attempts to do good, and your belief that you know best!’ Harry glared mulishly beneath Snape’s angry glower. ‘You will cease this course of action.’

‘I won’t.’

Harry recognised the shuttered expression that closed on Snape’s face, and was appalled that the anger he knew lay beneath it caused him a moment’s unease. ‘Even the Headmaster has requested you leave well enough alone,’ Snape said levelly, ‘will you not heed even him?’

Harry swallowed around the dryness of his throat. It seemed that no matter how much he tried to explain, no one listened. ‘He doesn’t know, though.’

‘And you shouldn’t know either.’ It sounded almost like a threat from Snape, who was standing so close Harry could see the first spots of grey in his hair, the ones that would multiply over the years. He forced his breath out evenly, remembering with gut-wrenching clarity the nausea he had felt when that same hair had been all that separated him from a look so dissimilar to the one boring into him at that moment. He remembered the pity he had felt also, but not the reason behind it. ‘So let me make this simple for you,’ Snape was continuing. ‘You will do as the Headmaster has said, because he deserves your respect, and your trust that he knows more about the current situation than you could ever hope to comprehend.’ Harry got the distinct impression Snape was asking him for something the man had been unable to deliver himself. ‘And, for your benefit only, we will maintain that you are only doing so for the Headmaster’s sake, and his sake alone. We will uphold this as the truth up until the point where you try something this foolhardy again.’ It was gone in an instant, but something passed behind Snape’s eyes; a look that echoed the person he would become. ‘When this happens, it will be my turn to ask you. And rest assured I will not be so nice about it then.’

‘You want Dumbledore to die.’ Harry was horrified to hear his voice crack slightly.

Snape stood up straight. ‘I guarantee to you I want no such thing.’

‘Then…’

‘Loathe as I am to say it, but listen to Miss. Granger, since I doubt I particularly want you to listen to the ramblings of the absent part of your little triumvirate, and you have proven you will listen to no one else.’

‘It’s not like she knows any more than I do!’ Harry exclaimed, earning himself a raised eyebrow before Snape turned his full attention to Hermione, whose continued silence had been more calculated than anything else.

‘Perhaps not.’ Hermione tilted her head at the implication in Snape’s comment, but still said nothing, her mouth pursed into a thin line. ‘But at least she knows that, and knows why.’ Harry stood agape as Hermione considered that.

‘I never did get a chance to thank you,’ she said eventually, her voice oddly stiff, as though she were putting conscious effort into removing all emotion from her tone. It was probably the only thing that kept Snape from storming out in a swirl of black robes and sarcasm, and no doubt the reason she did it. Instead Snape just stared at her, until he let out an exasperated sigh.

‘You may thank me by living up to my expectations. I am sure I do not need to tell you not to pass on what you have heard to anyone?’’


-o00o-



‘I had no choice!’ Snape snapped defensively. ‘I wasn’t prepared for something so completely irrevocable! What would you have suggested I do?’

‘Exactly what you did.’ Dumbledore gestured once again to the seat before his desk, and was once again ignored. ‘What else could you have done?’

‘I could have said no,’ Snape maintained with a snarl. Dumbledore raised an eyebrow questioningly. ‘I could have refused, argued that my word should have been enough. If not that, I should have just let the damn thing kill me!’

‘I am very glad you did not.’

Snape looked scornful at the sudden sentiment. ‘I have effectively guaranteed that Draco will be capable and willing to murder you before the end of the school year,’ he said with patronising slowness. ‘Should that prove impossible, I have instead promised that I will murder you myself. Tell me, Albus, should I sell the soul of a sixteen year old boy to save my own, or banish mine of my own accord? Which would make me less of a monster?’

‘If you have recited the vow exactly as spoken, and I believe you have, then those are not your only options.’

‘Draco Malfoy must not fail,’ Snape repeated. ‘More specifically, he must not fail in his task. Where is this apparent ambiguity you have seen? If anything, Potter has proven that there is none. The bloody vow is so open that Draco risks my life with every second he partakes in a little self-doubt!’

‘I am somewhat doubtful myself that that is all it would take. From what I can gather, it was more than a ‘little self-doubt’ that triggered the episode.’ Snape did not appreciate his brush with death being referred to as an episode. ‘Draco appeared to be utterly convinced there was no hope. You cannot fault him for that.’

‘I can fault Potter for leading him there!’ And he did. Oh how he did.

‘I will speak with Harry. For the moment, at least, he must leave young Draco to do as he will.’

Snape found his words taken from him. ‘You would ask him to ignore his debt?’ It was impossible that the Headmaster would demand such a payment from his most precious student. ‘I know the price for failure of one, and it may not be death, but Potter might prefer it were. You would have him live with that merely to save my life?’

‘I would not refer to your life as something mere, and that is not my plan. Harry will fulfil his debt.’ Of course. Potter would always be saved, come hell or high water. Snape felt his disbelief washed away on the much more familiar current of resentment.

‘Then I will die. I should be grateful it is at least better than the alternative.’

Albus glanced derisively over the rims of his glasses. ‘Perhaps - instead of drowning in your apparently abundant, if somewhat unnecessary, self-loathing - you could try to show Draco that failure is no more than exactly what he makes of it.’ Dumbledore ignored Snape’s incoherent spluttering, opening his uppermost desk drawer and removing a worn looking amulet from within. ‘This was a gift, from Sybil, supposed to protect the wearer from bad influences. I suppose it does no harm to test it. Is the potion ready?’

The question caught Snape off guard. ‘So soon?’ There was only one potion the man could be referring too, and he had spent his every free moment tweaking and honing the brew since the idea first struck him. Never mind that every time he touched it the Headmaster’s words teased and tormented him. I need you to help me survive them. The whole thing still reeked of a test, be it of loyalty or character. But Albus had found something of great importance to the Dark Lord, important enough that he would risk the most ingenious and insidious curses Snape had ever seen to get it. Snape had promised to help, and all Snape’s power lay in potions; it was the only place he knew to find a solution. And Dumbledore had been right, it had been beyond Snape’s skill to circumvent the protections. The single brief view he had garnered of them from the depths of the Headmaster’s pensieve had shown a writhing mass of malevolence. Surviving them was the only option, and even that seemed far-fetched.

‘I see no point in waiting, and the children will be returning to school in a matter of days.’ Potter and Draco included, no thanks to the former. ‘I would rather this be finished, one way or another, by then.’

Snape shook his head. As much as the school was a sanctuary, it was also a tether. They should wait no longer for fear of waiting indefinitely. But surely, he considered, such a wait would be better than to have the students arrive and only their hated Potions professor to explain away the death of the man they relied on so much. ‘I have barely had the time to scrape the surface.’ Months would not have been long enough. He was attempting to create the impossible. ‘I could not even begin to predict what some of the curses will do, let alone hope to save you from them.’ After all, a cure to anything was no different to a cure for everything. Thousands had tried before him. Who was the Headmaster to believe he could succeed where they all failed?

‘I am sure you have done your best.’

Snape barely refrained from smashing something. ‘And you are not listening to me when I say my best is not yet good enough.’

‘It will have to do, I can wait no longer.’

‘Why you, then?’ Snape argued heatedly. ‘As you so repeatedly keep telling me, this is Potter’s destiny, not yours. Why are you doing his duty for him?’ It was a petty and childish argument. At the end of the day, why anyone?

‘He is still a chid, and I will keep him from it for as long as I can.’ In Snape’s mind the response lacked any real meaning. There were other children who suffered more, with no one willing, or left, to fight their battles for them. ‘There will be a time, yes, when he must accompany me, but that is not now. Whatever fights I can bear for up until that time, I will.’

‘He doesn’t deserve it.’ He didn’t. Lily would have done, but her son had none of her patience or understanding. No, Harry was his father’s son, all hatred and prejudice hidden behind the façade of justice and light.

‘I believe otherwise.’

He didn’t want to let it lie. ‘And I cannot convince you against this?’

‘My mind is set.’

But he had too. Dumbledore was not a man to be swayed. Snape supposed he should be appreciative for that. It was a quality of the man that had saved him time and time again. ‘I suppose I should be grateful, then,’ he sneered. ‘If I fail to save you, at least I will have saved myself from this damned vow.’

He had expected anger, or at the very least impatience. Albus rarely indulged his fits of sullen acrimony for long. He didn’t want to have to bear the beseeching look that stole across the Headmaster’s eyes instead. ‘There is a way to salvage all of this, Severus, and I will find it. You have my word on that.’ Dumbledore reached out to grasp Snape’s wrist, holding more tightly than Snape would have thought possible. ‘I am asking you, as a friend, to believe me.’

Any other person would have reciprocated in kind, would have valued and repaid the sentiment with similar words of gratitude. If nothing else, they would have nodded in recognition of all that was said. ‘The potion, or what of it I have brewed so far, is ready.’ It was the closest to a thank you he knew how to get. ‘There is one thing you might do for me, however. I would not ask had I more time...’

The hand loosened and slipped away, leaving a ring of softly burning flesh where the fingers had clenched too hard. ‘What do you need?’

‘One more night,’ Snape said carefully, glancing round the room for the presence he could hardly have missed, making sure it was there. ‘And a bottle of phoenix tears.’

----------

Author's Note: I just want to take a moment to apologise for how long it has taken me to update. I hit a block, which didn't want to budge, and eventually I got a little tired of throwing myself against it. I seem to have gotten back into the swing of it now, so hopefully the updates will start to come much more regularly. Whatever happens though, I have every intention of seeing this fic through to the end. Thanks for reading =).





Chapter 26: Fools
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Chapter 26: Fools

He who controls others may be powerful,
but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.

--Lao Tzu


‘You asked for one night, and I have given you two,’ Albus said kindly as he stepped through the door to the potions classroom. His presence in the dungeon always made Snape feel slightly disillusioned, as the Headmaster faded slightly against the dreary backdrop the rooms provided. The imposing stone walls made him look more hunched and frail; the spluttering torches washed the brightness from his robes.

‘There was an unforeseen problem.’ Snape spelled the flame that sat beneath the gently bubbling cauldron to reduce minutely. His own shadow flickered against the chalkboard behind him, the spidery remnants of his slanted writing almost invisible beneath it. He had tried to write it down, to keep some record of his creation so he could analyse it for pitfalls and weaknesses. But potions of this variety were felt more than brewed, and resisted being recorded in such a finite way. Every step he had hurriedly scrawled resulted in a stray hair, and extra stir or an unwanted bubble in his distraction. ‘It must be kept at this temperature precisely, or it will be about as effective as mud.’

Dumbledore eyed the cauldron speculatively. As far as Snape knew, the man never brewed, yet the care he took as he leant over to inhale deeply indicated this was more a matter of personal choice than any lacking skill. The Headmaster had dabbled in alchemy, after all; and whilst the subject itself was considered by many as nothing more than the foolish search for glory, it was widely acknowledge that such a search required considerable skill in potions. ‘Surely you are capable of maintaining it as such without your continued presence?’

Snape frowned. ‘Of course.’

Dumbledore nodded. ‘Then we should depart immediately.’

The faint outline of the amulet the Headmaster had produced the previous night, bobbing just beneath the collar of his robes, sparked a rush of annoyance. ‘It cannot be brought with us,’ he challenged, wanting something more than this calm and unconcerned foray into an unknown threat. He didn’t get it. The Headmaster just smiled, running a hand through his beard in a gesture Snape remembered from a time when he had been scared and just a little homesick, and had set fire to his friends curtains rather than admit to being either. He wondered, with a fair degree of vindictiveness, if even Minerva would ever be more than just an old student to the man.

‘I do understand that is what you meant.’

‘It adds to the risk.’ He wasn’t a student any more, however, and Albus was more than just an associate, which meant Snape was damned if he was going to take the vagueness and never-ending optimism that was supposed to surrogate for actual answers. ‘I brewed a batch without the phoenix tears, but since I cannot guarantee the efficiency of the potion that contains them, I am even less convinced of the batch without.’ More of the brew rested on the tears than he would have liked. He resisted saying they were the most important ingredient he had added. Without the aconite, the potion had an alarming tendancy to froth excessively; without the nightshade he had almost taken out the entire wing. But without the tears he had a nasty suspicion the potion made a better plant food than it did miracle cure-all. He had been tempted to demand the fire-bird join them on the expedition, and be ready to damn well cry on command. Surely any creature that could spontaneously burst into flames and survive was capable of providing warm tears when requested.

‘I do not plan on lingering once we are done.’ Dumbledore waited patiently as Snape once again checked the ward surrounding the cauldron, checked his wand and rummaged through his drawers. The vials he pulled out were old, coloured with age and pitted from long use. But the glass was thick and well made, even as he muttered any number of charms to clean and protect it. ‘No doubt it will buy us the time to return.’

‘Then I would recommend we return very, very quickly.’ Snape strode to a second cauldron, dipping the neck of each vial in turn, watching as the thick liquid slowly piled at the bottom. Each one was sealed with a cork, one disappearing into the many folds of his cloak, the other pressed into the Headmaster’s warm hand.

Dumbledore clasped his in return, if only for a moment. ‘Have you a broom?’

‘I was thinking more along the lines of a Portkey,’ Snape argued. Failing that, he would have rather taken Floo powder. Injuries didn’t travel well through the Floo, but if it were a choice between that, and the aching slowness of flight, he would take the fireplace in a pinch. ‘One that would, preferably, deposit us both in this very room.’

‘Given where we are going, do you honestly believe that to be the wisest item to carry?’ Albus accompanied the question with a look over the rims of his glasses that withered Snape’s protests.

‘Perhaps not,’ he conceded. ‘I will borrow a broom from the school supplies.’

‘Hardly sufficient for a quick return. I have one you can borrow.’ He snapped his fingers, a house elf appearing with two broomsticks clutched in its spindly fingers. The creature handed them over silently, the rustle of the bristles and the slight rasping of wood against wood the only noise that passed between the two before the elf disappeared with a pop. Dumbledore let his eyes drift briefly over both before handing one over with a flourish. ‘Much faster and more reliable than those old Cleansweeps.’

‘I forgot broom collection was amongst your many eccentricities.’ Snape scoffed as he grasped the polished wood with determination, his gaze barely brushing the item before landing on the stark imprint emblazoned across the handle. ‘This is Potter’s broom.’ He said with something akin to horror.

‘Technically,’ the Headmaster corrected him, ‘thanks to the ban implemented by the late Undersecretary, it is the property of the Ministry.’

Snape may as well have been deaf for all that mattered to him. ‘The god-forsaken mutt gave it to him. I wouldn’t be surprised if the damn thing tossed me.’

Albus continued obliviously. ‘The ban will be lifted, of course. Such a ruling could not hold sway for life. I think a summer will be sufficient.’ He smiled benignly. ‘I will return it after the feast.’

‘He will not appreciate my using it.’

‘I do believe you said speed was of the utmost importance. There is no faster broom in the school.’ The Headmaster held the door open, leaving Snape no option but to cast the item a final resigned glance before striding through.

‘How far must I ride the accursed thing?’

‘As far as Hogsmeade,’ Dumbledore chuckled. ‘I am not barbaric, Severus, and we will be travelling quite a distance. I’m not ignorant to the concept of Apparition. Nor am I unaware that the town, whilst close, can seem to be an eternity away when you have nothing but your feet to rely on.’

‘You find this amusing?’ Snape sneered, not expecting or wanting an answer. The silence they had drifted into was much more comfortable. Dumbledore kept pace with him easily, the corridors flowing quickly past them until they stood by the front doors. The sun was already creeping towards the distant horizon. The school train was even now nearing its destination. They should not have left it so late.

‘We will be back in plenty of time for the feast,’ Dumbledore assured him. ‘Whilst I too would have preferred not to have left it so close, I cannot argue that you have not used the extra time well.’

‘I’m sure there would be other opportunities,’ Snape suggested.

‘Indeed there would be, but I will not leave the school unprotected once the students have arrived.’ The more he spoke, the more Snape was convinced that the entire notion of their venture was ludicrous. Hogwarts needed Albus, and not just as a figurehead, but as a powerful adversary. And Snape had seen what lay waiting for them this evening; he had heard the buried acceptance in the Headmaster’s voice before he had ever breached the memory showing him exactly what awaited them. He had sworn to help the Headmaster survive before he had even seen the tangled web of protections they would be attempting to breach. Neither had brought up it was a promise he would likely be forced into breaking. ‘We must go now.’

It was a piece of the Dark Lord’s very soul, his secret to immortality, and its destruction was both a valuable and priceless thing. Worth more than both their lives combined were that the only cost they would be paying. The school needed Albus, however. The Order needed him. Blast it all if Potter didn’t need him, and that brat had more resting on his shoulders than Snape cared to contemplate. Albus probably thought he was doing the boy a great favour, carrying what burden he could. He doubted the man had considered what extra burden, what new hurt, his death would bring about instead.

‘And if something should happen to you this evening?’ He phrased it as a remote happenstance when they both knew it wasn’t. ‘The school will be even more vulnerable if you are dead as opposed to simply away.’

‘The school will have Minerva. As Headmistress she would be a much greater threat to the enemy than she would simply as my deputy.’ Snape couldn’t argue with that. The power of the deputy Headmistress was limited in comparison to what the true Headmaster could do. With the weight of the full title, Minerva would lack only in reputation, of which she still had a plethora. ‘I have, of course, warned her of the potential situation.’

‘And she accepted it?’

‘Of a sort,’ Dumbledore chuckled.

‘I would appreciate it if you didn’t laugh just prior to your imminent death,’ Snape growled angrily. The grounds were far behind them now, the small village closer with every step, the boundary of the wards even closer still. ‘It is somewhat disconcerting.’

‘And I do wish you wouldn’t snarl so, but life is full of disappointment.’

Snape passed the rest of the distance to the town in icy, emotionless silence that seemed to amuse the Headmaster as much as any other response Snape could have envisioned would have done. He glared as the Headmaster grasped his arm for apparition, a silent chuckle shaking the old mans shoulders, and then the world crushed around him for an instant, reforming almost instantly into a wooded alcove far denser than the one they had left. The crackle of dead leaves in the distance had Snape turning in an instant, wand drawn and pointed even as branches snagged and pulled at his robes. When nothing sinister appeared, he fought to reclaim them, thorns tearing a deep gnash down his left sleeve. A hasty spell obliterated the worst of the growth, and a flash of red caught his eye as he turned back to the Headmaster.

‘You brought the sword with you?’ He had only seen it for an instant, hidden beneath the many folds of Dumbledore’s cloak, but the jeweled hilt had been unmistakable. ‘Why?’

‘I believe we will need it to destroy the item,’ Albus replied easily.

‘It can do that?’ Snape did not have the complete faith in the item that the Headmaster radiated, and found himself wondering if it was a reasonable reaction, or if he had been that far indoctrinated against all things Gryffindor. Certainly it didn’t look like anything special, unless excessive gaudiness was a secret weakness of the Dark Lord.

‘Certainly.’ Albus hefted the lengthy blade, studying the writing engraved along its surface. ‘It is Goblin forged, and given the life it has led, that is a great advantage.’

Snape found himself torn between complete admiration and absolute panic. ‘You did tell me that Potter used it to kill a Basilisk, correct?’ he confirmed, his mouth going dry as Albus nodded. ‘And you are absolutely sure the Dark Lord has not managed to get his hands on it?’

‘I am.’ The conviction was driven home with a rush of Legilimency Snape found himself appreciating for once. ‘We would have a whole host of other problems were I anything less than entirely certain.’

‘That is one way of understating it,’ Snape said humourlessly. He hadn’t brought up the question of destroying whatever the Horcrux was, too blinded by his own task to even think of it. ‘I take it that it was that brief brush with the snake you were referring to as an advantage.’

‘Indeed.’ Albus pointed between the trees. Snape could vaguely make out the shadowy shape of a long forgotten building. ‘The entrance is on this side.’ Snape pushed ahead of the Headmaster, ignoring his catching robes and the muffled sounds of a distant town. A spider scuttled quickly out of his path, Snape tearing through its web and leaving it vibrating wildly on a remaining strand.

It was as if a line had been breached. The air had been brisk, ruffling his cloak and rustling the leaves that were overhanging above them. The sun had just started to dip below the canopy of distant rooftops, casting warming slants of red and orange through the branches as the dust stirred from the abandoned path cutting through the overgrowth. The shack stood just before him, only partly concealed by the overgrowth of holly that meandered across the teetering roof. Grass grew long and thick, peeking through knots in the woodwork and brushing persistently against the clouded windows. Snape sent a spell hacking straight through the burgeoning growth at his feet, reducing a twist of competing saplings to ruin, his boots further grinding the remains into the ground beneath as he attempted to further clear the pitiful excuse for a path. It hit him unexpectedly, drawing an involuntary wince and a quick backstep, away from what could only be called noise despite the pressing silence that left his ears ringing.

He reached a hand out tentatively, long fingers snaking towards the rotting beams of the tiny, wooden shack. The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he felt something lying, waiting, just a hairs breadth away. Albus needn’t have placed the hand on his wrist, preventing any further movement. Snape couldn’t have pushed himself past the intent that hovered there.

It was ridiculous; loud, demanding and unpleasant in a way that clawed and itched. The shack wasn’t a hiding place, it was a fortress that pointed and laughed and was undeniably there and couldn’t possibly be missed. By anyone. ‘How has it managed to remain unnoticed for so long?’ It was meant to be a secret, Albus had said, and the Dark Lord didn’t hide his secrets with such raucous abandon.

And it was different, Snape remembered with a start. The memory he had seen, swirling in Dumbledore’s pensieve, had been formidable, yes. But it hadn’t exuded this flippant disregard for its hidden value; it hadn’t stomped and shouted. The wards had been the same knotted mess they were now, but muted; visible only if you looked and, sometimes, only if you knew what you were looking for. Which meant only one of two things. Either the Dark Lord had been given reason to return; had felt compelled to risk his greatest and most treasured asset for this trumped up, posturing attempt at intimidation.

Or Albus had changed his memory.

Disconcertingly, Snape was pretty sure that the correct answer was the one he least wanted to find true.

‘It is out of the way, now,’ Dumbledore offered as a paltry explanation to the question Snape had almost forgotten asking. He focused on the shack again, trying to mask his unease. ‘Even if it once was not.’ It wasn’t as if he had never been lied to before. The Dark Lord frequently tested his loyalty in such a way. But the Dark Lord inspired fear, beyond all else, and it was easy to hide a wealth of knowledge behind a mask of fearful subservience. He had never expected such a maneuver, however, from the man he considered a friend. He had never thought he would have to hide apprehension, of all things, from the Headmaster, who inspired nothing but admiration from others. ‘There are many rumours that help to keep it so.’

‘Rumours?’ he asked, finding interest he didn’t have to feign. ‘Like the shrieking shack?’

Dumbledore nodded twice, tilting his head in consideration before shaking it instead, answering, ‘rumours with perhaps a little more truth behind them than that.’ Snape fervently wished he had seen how obviously distracted the man was earlier. Actually, he had seen it; he had just falsely attributed it to the nature of their little excursion. Even Albus Dumbledore was allowed a little trepidation before facing something that could, and probably still would, kill him. This carelessness spoke of something far greater than that, however. Snape wondered exactly what else the Headmaster had decided to keep from him. No doubt it involved Potter, who didn’t deserve this sort of devotion, yet was getting it anyway.

‘It will kill anyone who gets close.’ The point was obvious but, Snape felt, worth making.

‘It will, and it has,’ Dumbledore sighed tiredly. ‘Tom may be sentimental, but he does not shirk in protection when it is due.’

‘I can break half of these, perhaps.’ Snape held the palm of his hand out flat again. Magic needed to be strong, in order to be felt in such a way. It wasn’t so much a feeling even as it was the merest sense. Hogwarts managed it, leaving newcomers aghast. But even there the feeling quickly dissipated. The wards surrounding the shack writhed and twisted on themselves, bucking ferociously whenever Snape raised his wand in the hope to catch the identity of another. He wasn’t even sure that the ones he had managed to name were correct. If they were, than by all rights the protections should have destroyed each other. ‘I can’t just let you walk into them.’

‘We shall see what we can do first,’ Albus said comfortingly, and Snape was achingly aware that it was neither a confirmation nor a denial of what he feared.

‘You should’ve brought Filius,’ he mentioned offhandedly instead. ‘He has far greater skill for this.’

The reply chilled Snape. ‘And beliefs that would have only hindered when he failed.’ Albus’ words bore down on him with a crashing wave of incredulity and betrayal. Potter didn’t deserve this; didn’t deserve that someone would willingly risk so much to save him from even a slither of his own destiny. Potter should have been brought here to share in the pain and the sacrifices and the distinct lack of choices and answers. But most of all, Potter shouldn’t have the right to hate the person who was stuck here in his place, making all the hard decisions for him, so very much. Albus had offered Snape the choice before, and now Snape was going to make it. Damn the golden boy to the depths of Hell and back again before Snape let one more person make another futile sacrifice in his name.

He cast a final spell at the shack in vicious satisfaction, turned on his heel to tell Albus exactly what he could do with the thrice cursed Horcrux, and felt his every shred of loathing evaporate as his wand sparked twice in response to the hastily cast identification charm, horror quickly sweeping in to take its place.

‘It wouldn’t make a difference anyway,’ he snapped in overwhelming relief. If this was right, there was nothing they could do. The potion would be useless. If a swarm of phoenixes, all sobbing over the impending death of the old man, were to swoop down in a rainstorm of tears it would make no difference. Albus would have to find another way. ‘We may as well leave them all up.’

‘You spotted it too?’

Snape looked aghast. ‘You’ve seen this?’ he questioned with disbelief.

‘I did say it was well protected,’ Dumbledore chastised gently.

‘This changes everything!’

Albus had the gall to chuckle. Snape had never hated him so much. ‘I also believe I mentioned that I doubted the wards could be broken.’

‘You manipulative bastard!’ Snape roared. Dumbledore’s expression was amused. ‘You could have mentioned it specifically! It’s not as if it could be anything else.’

‘Then you would not have come.’ The implications of that passed Snape by.

‘Because it is a fruitless endeavour!’

Albus quirked an eyebrow. ‘Given the potion you have spent the better part of the last two days brewing, I would have thought you could have figured that out for yourself.’

‘You doddering old man!’ Even as he said it, Snape reached out to grasp Albus around the arm. ‘How dare you stand there, willing to walk in to that, whilst letting me believe I had a chance of saving you from it!’

‘You have every chance.’ Have, not had. Snape redoubled his grip. ‘I brought you here to help, Severus, because I was not sure, after what Harry said about the locket, that the risk was entirely worth taking by myself. If someone else has also been stealing horcruxes, then there is much more to consider.’ Except Albus wasn’t actually considering anything beyond saving poor Harry Potter.

‘It’s an Unreachable Curse,’ he shouted, all but shaking the Headmaster like an unruly child who refused to listen and, above all else, learn. ‘You do know what that means, right?’

‘That something must be sacrificed in order to break it,’ Albus quoted dutifully, disentangling Snape’s fingers from his robes.

‘He tethered it, lord only knows how, to a Binding Charm, of all things.’ Innocuous and harmless, except the Unreachable Curse was based on the rules of sacrifice, and sacrifice without reward or purpose was a pointless thing. Somehow, the charm fulfilled this requirement.

‘You make it sound so simple.’ Even Albus was impressed, Snape could tell; always willing to admire the skill behind the deadliest of spell constructions.

‘Simple, no, just out of character,’ Snape argued. ‘If he could do this, then I see no reason why he also couldn’t have ensured your entrails were dragged out through your nose when you first approach.’

‘As opposed to being magically bound to sacrifice the first thing the ward comes into contact with?’ Dumbledore commented with innocence that gave Snape pause. That was what the Binding Charm did? Magical sacrifice was a nasty thing, outlawed so long ago for several exceedingly good reasons.

‘Point taken,’ Snape conceded reluctantly. ‘I suppose this is why you hold on to your foolhardy belief that this is survivable.’

‘Sacrifices do not kill.’

‘Until the ritual is over,’ Snape amended. ‘Then they are known for killing.’

‘The injuries that result often kill, yes,’ Albus argued, as if cause and effect were things that could be separated by sheer force of will. ‘The ritual itself is relatively benign.’

Snape held back on a snort of disbelief at the suspicions that were forming in his mind, suddenly sure he knew how Albus planned on living through the night. ‘There are wizards who have argued that it was the attempt of someone to avoid making the promised sacrifice that led to the existence of werewolves, you know,’ he said lightly.

‘I have no intention of shirking payment.’

Snape’s brow furrowed in confusion. There was no other possible loophole, no other weakness or potential point of manipulation. ‘Then what?’

Albus just smiled, his hand patting gently against Snape’s arm before giving one final, conciliatory squeeze.

He stepped towards the shack.

Snape’s hand shot out, his fingers grasping thin air, finding nothing to hold onto or pull back. He cursed at the impulsiveness of Gryffindors in general and the rashness of the Headmaster in particular and he hated Potter with all of his soul as he realised there was nothing he could do. He couldn’t even reach the Headmaster, not until the sacrifice was made, at which point it would probably be too late for anything but a hasty goodbye. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out the vial and hurled it against the wall, his previous spells preventing the glass from shattering so it fell to the ground with a dull and completely unsatisfying thud.

Snape cursed again, his wand twitching almost frantically as he rattled off every spell his memory could dredge that could possible do something. Albus hadn’t thought it through; he never did. Oh, the man could plan for the future like none other, but the only future he could see was months and years in the distance. He was blind to the immediately preceding time after any decision. It was all very well to charge Snape with the duty of saving him from his own, immense, stupidity. It was quite another to make himself beyond saving.

With a snarl of incomprehensible fury, Snape tried to summon back the vial, but it refused to move. He aimed a Blasting Curse at the ground just beyond it, but the spell appeared to fizzle out before it even reached. In a haze of anger, he strode forwards, the buzzing of the wards growing louder and more deafening with each step, until he could just bend down and reach it for himself.

The silence hit him first.

It was almost as painful as the noise itself had been, and the creaking of rotting wood shifting in the wind was a blessing of normalcy as he straightened upright, glanced round to confirm the dawning comprehension, and then glared at the Headmaster.

‘They’re all an illusion?’ Snape looked round, his perplexity doing nothing to mute his enraged infuriation. The shack was more ramshackle than humble; there was no charm to it, only the remains of abject poverty and the disillusioned pride he knew so well. He should have figured, really. Nothing that powerful could have gone undetected by the Ministry for so long. An illusion, however, left so little spell residue it was remarkable it could falsify something of such immense proportions.

‘It would appear so.’

Snape wasn’t as convinced. ‘We are missing something fundamental. Leaving it this unguarded is almost as preposterous as the ridiculous farce he erected.’

‘I quite agree.’ The old man said it with apparent truth, but Snape couldn’t shake the feeling he was being told what he wanted to hear and no more. As if to emphasise this, Dumbledore took a moment to rap his knuckles solidly on the bare wall behind him, and scuff his foot meaningfully into the dust that shifted round his feet. ‘Yet my entrails remain firmly where they should be.’

There had to be something else here, though; some curse or hex. The illusion seemed to serve more than just one purpose, however, since it overrode everything else around it. It didn’t matter what spells he tossed into the darkened corners, they all told him exactly the same thing. ‘It’s useless,’ he snarled, thoroughly disgusted at being so completely undone by such a simple principle. ‘I can’t find anything beyond that damn atrocity. There could be anything in here.’

‘I can take it down,’ Albus offered, ‘but I do not feel it would be for the best.’

Snape did consider it, for a moment. It was an obvious ploy, but he was exhausted with stumbling around blind. At least that way they would be ready for whatever came, instead of accidentally tripping something unexpected. For all it had sounded like an offer, however, Albus clearly wasn’t willing to do such a thing. The suggestion had been purely to appease him, as if he had any control left at all, and it had him snapping. ‘You are capable of forethought, then?’ Snape sneered bitterly as he continued. ‘I am eternally surprised.’

‘Severus…’ It was less a warning, much more a tired request that Snape felt he had every right to ignore.

‘Don’t ‘Severus’ me,’ he barked, feeling bizarrely lightheaded. ‘It could have been real, and it could have done anything. It could have taken your very magic, you absolute imbecile.’

‘But it didn’t.’ Insulting Albus wasn’t as satisfying as it should have been, especially when he offered nothing more in defense of his actions. ‘Would you like me to take it down?’

Snape growled in frustration. Of course he didn’t want it, even at the height of his pique and ranting, it was a ridiculous idea. And Albus knew that. ‘It will likely activate the very thing we are trying to avoid.’

‘We would, at least, be able to ascertain if there are any other curses waiting.’ Snape was grateful the Headmaster hadn’t just torn the wretched illusion down with the same disregard he has stepped through it. For all he knew, doing so would bring the Dark Lord himself here, and this was the very last place Snape wanted to be found, in the absolute worst company.

‘At the moment your chances of living through this night have increased from highly unlikely to relatively slim.’ It was funny that he had never feared the prospect of the Headmasters death until the chance of it had faded, however minutely. ‘I am growing quite attached to these new odds.’ He took a step forward, as if to further prove his point. They needed to get this done and get out, get back to the school, and that wasn’t going to happen whilst they remained fearfully rooted to the same spot. ‘You said you had seen it; where is the blasted thing?’ Albus gestured to the far corner of the shack where an opening Snape generously called a door stood swathed in shadows. The gesture bolstered Snape’s belief that they were safe, at least in their current room, as he strode towards it and peered inside.

There was nothing there. Snape looked angrily back to the Headmaster. ‘I don’t see anything.’

‘That is because it is hidden.’

Snape bit back on a growl. ‘Then why don’t you unhide the damn thing.’ Albus was studying the doorway; the rusted hinges that hung loosely from a mass of sodden and peeling pulp.

‘I have already used up more than my fair share of luck today,’ the Headmaster commented. ‘If the house itself is carrying the illusion, then that room is most certainly enchanted against any intruder who manages to brave it.’ Snape eyed the Headmaster with mistrust, mentally substituting the reference to bravery with sheer, hardheaded foolishness. ‘I think it is safe to assume the standard counters will not work.’

‘Nor any of those I know,’ Snape admitted. He had rattled off a few out of habit, but with no way of knowing if anything existed to combat in the first place, he may as well have wasted his breath in praise of Longbottom. Albus was still staring at the frame, so Snape took a deep breath to bolster his intent, and took a single step into the room.

‘Severus!’ Albus cry of alarm gave Snape a wave of satisfaction. ‘What are you doing?’

‘Gaining some control of the situation,’ Snape replied easily. For all his apparent care to the nuances of their predicament, Snape had no doubt that eventually Albus would have done the exact same thing. Again. Snape wasn’t about to allow him the ease of merely throwing himself into danger. Let the old man have to fend it off for a change. ‘I have yet to encounter anything particularly hostile, however.’

‘Obviously,’ Dumbledore entered after him, forehead creased in confusion. ‘Tom would not be so lax.’

The smoke seeped through the boards beneath his feet; tiny wisps at first that clung to the soles of his boots and snaked their way through the tread, wrapping round the laces. Snape managed a single step forward before the wisps coalesced and tightened, drawing his boot to the floor as he glanced down and let out a mangled curse and warning.

It was too late. Already the tendrils had snaked towards Albus, finding purchase in the hem of his robe, stitching it to the broken boards in a grey and misty latticework that was multiplying and growing, shrouding every inch in a murky, translucent haze. ‘Don’t let it touch you!’ Snape managed to gasp in warning. Potioned Imperius, the few Death Eaters to have encountered it had named it; virtually unheard of, almost impossible to create and, for once, something he didn’t have to feel responsible for himself. ‘Or the damn sword,’ he added quickly, as Albus raised the weapon as if to slice through the reaching threads. It sank into the skin, into the bloodstream. If he and Albus were lucky, they would then merely be commanded to kill themselves. He aimed his wand carefully at a coil that was rising towards his neckline far faster than the others, shooting a narrow jet of fiery light at the offending smoke. The two met for an instant in a blinding eddy of orange and grey, before the smoke hardened to ash, drifting in lazy rivulets to the floor below.

‘I can only assume that was truly necessary.’ Even now Albus managed to sound chastising as Snape aimed at another tendril.

‘Fiendfyre is the only thing that can destroy it.’ Snape had freed enough of himself to turn to the Headmaster, whose own fiery shield was serving only to slow the encroaching smoke. Whilst the progress had been halted, however, it was still growing, and where there had previously been only threads there was now a rolling wave of thick and inky blackness, crashing in a huge, bounding surf around the mans legs, buffeting the belt of roaring fire the Headmaster had conjured, filling the air with choking fumes. The threads that had held the potions master were even now retreating from the residue the brief clash of Fiendfyre had left behind, snaking towards the only other target in the small room, joining in the relentless assault. Snape raised his wand.

‘Do not!’ Albus had to roar to be heard over the crackling flames that were starting to lick at the wall, charring the wood. Only the floor itself was unscathed beneath the broiling mass of smoke, and even through that Snape could see the occasional distorted flicker of red and gold as the fire fought to gain ground. The smell was unbearable, the Bubblehead Charm he had cast keeping out the worst of the smoke, but not all. The air was too hot, burning his throat and singing his hairs. His eyes watered as he squinted through the haze of heat to the lone figure of the Headmaster, now embroiled in a battle of red and black. Albus was winning, however impossible it should have been, his flames wrapping round the smoke and squeezing before leaping for the next thread. And slowly it wasn’t fire that filled the air, it was the cloying ash of victory that clung heavily to his robes and glued to his skin. He was on his knees despite having no recollection of falling to them, and Albus had stepped wearily forward and grasped his hand. ‘You should not have cast that.’

‘You’re going to lecture me now?’ Snape said with disbelief. An Augmenti had relieved the worst of the burning in his throat, but the words still sounded hoarse.

‘We have still not seen the Horcrux,’ Dumbledore heaved the potions master to his feet with surprising strength. ‘And Fiendfyre is notoriously difficult to control.’

‘The worst that would have happened,’ Snape corrected, ‘is that we would have been forced to Apparate, and the fyre would have done what your precious sword is apparently capable of.’

‘The fyre would have destroyed whatever lies in this room, yes.’ Dumbledore’s beard was streaked with soot, the grey highlighting the pallor of his skin from the exertion. ‘As I have already mentioned, however, there is a second thief on the loose. I would like to confirm that what we have destroyed is, in fact, the real thing.’

Snape nodded after a moment, doubling over in a harsh barrage of coughing as Albus cleared the air further with another spell. ‘Where is it then?’ he asked, surveying what little remained of the room.

Dumbledore pressed the tip of his wand against a floorboard, banishing the ash that coated the ground before muttering a spell that had it slowly curling backwards. A golden box was nestled in a small nook beneath it. Snape felt his anger growing as hot as the flames had been. ‘And how, exactly, did you know that was there if you haven’t even been in this accursed place before?’

Albus didn’t look offended at the tone and the questioning mistrust contained within it. Instead he just looked infuriatingly smug. ‘The floor is rotten, Severus.’ Snape had noticed that. Having almost put his foot through one or two riper boards, he would have been hard pushed not too. He quirked an eyebrow to indicate how little he thought that explained. ‘And whilst I admit I may have been a little hasty in my approach today, I assure you I was quite thorough in my first visit.’ Snape didn’t doubt it, given all the man had changed in his memory just to get Snape here. Albus gestured to a window at the far of the room. ‘Just because I didn’t enter this place last time, doesn’t mean I didn’t look through the window.’ Snape took a closer look at the board that had been peeled back. A particularly determined plant had mercilessly forced its way through, leaving a meter long split in the grain. Whilst he had been able to see nothing from the doorway in which he now stood, Snape was willing to accept that someone could, perhaps, have seen a glint of the box from the other direction. ‘The Gaunts were not rich; they could not have left it here. Tom is the only other person who might have had reason to return to hide such a thing.’

‘Are you going to open it?’ Of course he was. Someone had too, eventually. It was the general defining theme for the night.

Albus nodded thoughtfully, waving Snape backwards as he started to approach. ‘There has been nothing overtly nasty thrown at me so far.’ Snape wondered exactly what the old man considered nasty for nothing to have counted so far. ‘I do not believe, any more than you, that that is likely to continue.’

‘Then what?’ Albus knelt before the box, careful not to touch it, hovering the small item to rest at his feet. He appraised it for several seconds, his wand tracing patterns in the air before he sighed deeply.

‘It is cursed, that much is certain, but I can’t see what with.’ Albus tapped his wand against his beard in consideration. ‘I would be tempted to take it with us. Perhaps, once outside the illusion, we would have more success. I do not believe it will leave quietly though.’ Snape heartily agreed. If the illusion was to blind them, then attempting to circumvent that would probably trigger something equally horrific. ‘Which leaves the option of opening it here, and dealing with whatever comes.’

‘Then get on with it.’ Snape hated it when the Headmaster acted as though he has not already made up his mind. For his part, Albus hooked his wand against the tiny latch that held the lid closed. Snape took a deep breath and silently intoned a Shield Charm, his gaze fixed on the box and ready to leap at whatever emerged. The latch opened with barely a sound beyond a single clink as it fell back against the side of the ornate box. The crack between the lid had widened, enough that Albus could prise it further open with the tip of his wand, the rich green padding within becoming visible as, with a sudden flick, the Headmaster threw the lid back fully.

The box opened with a clatter that reverberated in the small room, but did not herald a coming curse. Curious, Snape leant forward to better see what lay within. It was an ugly thing, really, a stone overly large and miserably coloured and pitted on a tarnished band. It certainly didn’t warrant the hungry look that lit in the headmaster’s eyes.

‘A ring?’

‘Not just any ring,’ Albus breathed in disbelief, leaning in to study the stone closer, his eyes widening as his hands twitched to reach for it. He managed to hold himself back for a moment, but seemed incapable of leaving it entirely. He settled for grasping the box, holding it close to his chest as if protecting it.

‘It could be Merlin’s for all I care. Just stab the thing with the blasted sword already,’ Snape prompted, Albus having made no move for the heavy weapon still slung at his waist. ‘God only knows what else the Dark Lord has left behind here.’

‘We have come this far.’ It was true. Dumbledore had opened the box and remained unharmed. As if reading his thoughts, a curse took the opportunity to flare briefly at the feet of the Headmaster, but Albus deflected it neatly. It had been vicious, yes, but considerably less powerful than Snape had expected, given what they now held.

‘And I would quite like to continue further,’ Snape snapped, his growing unease shifting into irritability. They were being toyed with; picked at by distractions while the real threat lay somewhere, out of reach, but still close. With the ring no more than an arms length away, there was only one place it could be.

‘You do not know what it is you are looking at, Severus,’ the Headmaster responded softly. Snape felt his chest constrict in growing dread. There was no gentleness to the tone; no chiding reprimand or laughing geniality. There was only hunger, and need, and desire, and want, and a thousand other things Snape had not once associated with the Headmaster, but yet seemed now a part of him he would be indefinable without. It was something he had seen more times than his conscience could happily live with, something he had caused more times than could be forgiven, and something he could not comprehend or source in the midst of the empty room. Unless it was the box. This was what protected it! Not an enchantment to kill directly, but one to lead you, unflinchingly, to death. Albus had felt nothing until he had touched the blasted thing he was now cradling like a lifeline. Snape wanted to grab the man and run, but he didn’t dare take a step further lest whatever enchants had ensnared the Headmaster take him too.

‘Why don’t you tell me?’ Oh yes, he had definately seen it before. Lust potions frequently falsified the desperate urgency that vibrated from the old man, who was mesmerised by the ring. There were books detailing hundreds of dark spells, each of which was capable of ensnaring even the strongest of minds with a single focus, regardless of consequences; silent siren songs that lured and trapped and killed. ‘What is it?’

Albus’ reply was so quiet, Snape almost didn’t catch it above the pounding in his ears and the rasping of his breath. ‘It is forgiveness.’

Snape raised his wand, or at least he meant too. His arm refused to move, his wand useless by his side as Albus dragged his gaze away from the ring to stare at Snape with true sorrow that Snape couldn’t even turn away from. A body bind? You bastard! ‘Even you, Severus, cannot understand this.’ And Albus spoke so softly as Snape thrashed and fought inside his head to absolutely no avail. ‘It will all work out in the end though, trust me on this.’

But Snape didn’t, not any more. There was nothing good that could come of this, all the lies and evasions, as the Headmaster turned back to the ring, his arm reaching out, and Snape turned to his only option. Albus was a Legilimens few could rival, it was true, but his Occlumency skills were relatively weak in comparison, certainly nothing to Snape’s own. It was a risk, most certainly; the old man wasn’t even facing him, and Snape was going to have one monster of a headache in a few moments, but he couldn’t move and it was all connected to the ring. He had been an idiot not to see it sooner. The protections were all on the ring, every single last one of them. What else needed them? The shack was nothing but a degraded and abandoned hovel, and a person could have only one reason to come here. Everything else was hype and propaganda, leading inevitably to the only conclusion.

Snape thrust his will forward, snapping in to the Headmaster’s mind with a force that would have thrown him to his knees were they still connected. Without eye contact it always felt like he had to push so much more of himself out, and Albus was turning his attention to fight him, with all his strength, if necessary, which was formidable in its intent as much as its power.

‘Albus, you stupid old man. Potter isn’t worth this.’

He was in here, somewhere, Snape was sure. He just had to find him, find the spell, and break its hold, before he was tossed out on his metaphysical arse. Already it was a strain to remain, the pressure building so that every step forward was a battle in itself. The threads of Occlumency were gathering round him, steering him as he attempted to slip and slither past. They buffeted him with surprising gentleness, as if trying to keep the inevitable pain to a minimum.

‘Leave, Severus. You do not know what you are doing.’

Oh, he hated it when the Headmaster spoke this way. Each word was a relentless, agonising nail driving into his skull, reverberating and crashing through his mind, leaving speckled trails of pain in their wake.

‘You brought me here to protect you. I am trying. You could help yourself too, you know.’

He caught a glimpse of something, a pretty young girl, blonde hair tumbled carelessly round her small face, blue eyes open and staring but nothing more, not anymore. A hand on his shoulder as he knelt on the grass beside her, tears in his eyes and guilt gnawing at his heart, next to the hatred of his brother.

‘You cannot, and I am. This is no longer your fight.’

A gust of memory caught him, sweeping him along with the shouts and heated words of a nameless fight, as Snape bucked and twisted and clawed not to be thrown out. Where is the goddamn, bloody spell already. He still hadn’t found it, nor even a wisp of its existence. It was hidden too well, and gentle fingers were slowly disengaging his grip as he felt his consciousness separated and carefully cradled, his own mind looming back towards him. With his last burst of strength he grabbed blindly, sifting through the fragments of mind and memory he ensnared, seeing nothing but the softened curls of clarity as he realised with a wrenching start, there is no spell, there is no spell.

He knew he had returned to his own mind the second he felt it trying to trickle out of his ears. He sank to his knees with a groan, gritting his teeth and bunching his fists as he wavered somewhere between vomiting and passing out. A cool hand wiped the sweat that had beaded on his forehead.

‘What is it about the brat,’ Snape managed to pant out between the rhythmic, pounding blackness in his head, ‘that you risk so much for.’ The ground wavered again, and Snape managed to crack open his eyes, Albus’ face careening in and out of his vision. The eyes were blue. They looked familiar. ‘You said this was his task, but if you can do this, so can anyone else.’

‘It is not always about Harry.’ Albus had helped him to sit at some point, but his supportive hands were leaving, his footsteps drawing further away. Snape braced his hands against the floorboards first, then the wall behind him as he pushed himself to his feet.

‘Is it even about the Dark Lord anymore?’

‘Yes,’ Albus said with such surety that Snape felt his concerns momentarily alleviated. ‘And no.’

The Headmaster bent down to the ring. He studied the stone for a moment and the tenseness left his shoulders, the weight he had apparently been carrying for so long, that Snape had never before really seen, fell effortlessly away. He slid it careful, reverentially, onto his finger.

He screamed.






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