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.
‘No resistance, no questions?’
‘There are rumours,’ Snape commented.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’
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.’
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