Title: A Series Of Reversals
Author: Keep guessing!
Word Count: 48994
Pairings: Severus/Harry/Draco; Severus/Harry; implied Draco/Ginny and Ron/Hermione.
Warnings: Underage in some countries as Harry is 17; 7th Year AU; dubious consent; coercion.
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: When Severus finds a book that will help the trio destroy the Horcruxes, and sends it to
Author's notes: To my regular beta, who is a wonderful help in so many ways, I offer my sincere thanks even though she must remain anonymous for now. And to the two ladies who did a read-through (you know who you are) and checked for plot holes I send big squishy hugs.
My version of the
Author's note to giftee: Dear serpenscript, thank you for the awesome prompts! I could have written all of them, but in the end chose your first choice. I changed it a little; I hope you don't mind but it worked better for me this way. So the messages from the book are spoken, not appearing on the page as they did in Riddle's diary. I tried to get most of the prompt in, and also some of your favoured kinks and hopefully none of your squicks. I also tried to avoid 'excessive' fluff, but had to give it a happy ending. I hope I made it plotty enough for you, though I'm not too sure about the clever use of canon bit *grins*. Also, I couldn't resist a fair bit of humour creeping in, maybe more than you expected. It was all Lucius' fault, you see...
A Series Of Reversals
Harry, Ron and Hermione had discovered most of the Horcruxes. And they had them too, safely kept in Headmistress McGonagall's magical safe at Hogwarts. Well, obviously not Nagini, because it would have been pretty stupid, not to mention dangerous, to put a snake in the Headmistress's safe. And even if they could have got hold of her it would have given the game away to Voldemort, so for now she lived, eating the odd Muggle and growing ever bigger and more disgusting. Mind you, Nagini would have been easy in one way – there was no question that it was possible to kill her.
Having returned to Hogwarts in their seventh year, the three friends had been allowed time out of classes by Professor McGonagall whenever they requested it. She knew they were hunting for something, something Albus had directed them to find. So she'd done all she could to help them, including loaning them the use of her hundred-warded safe, 'the safest safe known to wizard-kind', as it was patented, as well as a set of rooms just off her office, plus free access to all sections of the school library and the headmistress' personal library. They also had their own private rooms within
The three friends were currently sitting in Hogwarts' library, taking the opportunity to research in peace while the rest of the students were in classes, and they were going round and round in circles yet again. The problem was that everywhere they looked there was a dearth of information on Horcruxes, and no hints at all about destroying them.
"Look, there's only two we can destroy right now: the cup and the locket," Hermione went over it for about the twentieth time. "The broken ring is in the safe, Nagini is with Voldemort-"
Ron, as always, flinched. Hermione didn't pause in her exposition but she frowned fiercely at his reaction. "-Harry's already destroyed the diary, so all we need to do before confronting Voldemort-"
Ron didn't dare flinch this time, but he grimaced as he held himself still. "-is to destroy the locket and the cup," he finished for her when she paused.
"And whatever the other Horcrux is," Hermione said quietly. She had a horrid idea she knew, but didn't want to tell them just yet.
"Right, but we've agreed all this a hundred times before," Harry grumbled. "Tell me how and I'll go and destroy them right now."
"There's plenty of basilisk fangs-"
"Didn't work." Harry said flatly, dismissing Ron's suggestion. "We've tried it. I reckon the Horcrux has to be pierce-able, if you follow me, for the fangs to work."
"Well, the diary was made of leather and paper, and leather is skin, right?"
Hermione shuddered. "Not exactly."
"Well, you know what I mean." Harry sounded impatient.
"Yes," Harry frowned at Hermione now, hoping to avoid any more interruptions. She hated them, so why did she insist on interrupting everyone else? Merlin, she'd even interrupted Snape in full flow once or twice! It hadn't been pretty. "Which is the sort of thing a basilisk's fang is made to pierce, yeah?"
Ron frowned in concentration but nodded. "Makes sense, I suppose."
"But they're not for poking holes into metal, are they? That's why it doesn't work, I reckon."
"If only we knew what Dumbledore did to the ring," Hermione moaned.
"We could avoid it," Ron said grimly. "Look what happened to him! I'm not queuing up to have that happen to me anytime soon."
They all fell silent and looked glum. They'd come up with different ideas, and tried quite a few of them, but nothing had worked. The fangs had scratched the metal, even poked a hole in the side of the cup, but nothing had come of it. Harry was pretty sure his theory was right. So how the hell did you destroy metal?
"Fire!" Harry shouted.
"No, you twit, fire... it destroys metal."
Ron gave him a playful shove for calling him a twit.
"Not exactly," Hermione said for the second time that afternoon, trying to keep on topic. Harry glared at her, but this time it didn't stop her. She continued doggedly: "It might melt it, if the fire's hot enough or the metal has a low melting point, but it isn't destroyed as such."
"Well, melting it should do. The soul fragment should melt right along with it!" Harry was convinced that fire was to metal as fangs were to parchment. There was no other option that he could think of, and nobody had come up with a better idea.
And so they agreed to try it in the Potions lab after curfew, with the headmistress' permission, of course. And of course it failed, as all their other plans had done so far, because both the locket and the cup refused to change their physical state. This happened even though they were using a spell Hermione had found which would concentrate the heat of the flame and produce temperatures in excess of gold's melting point. And so it did, as they could hardly bear to be near the cup and the locket which were being heated in a thick crucible, and as a result of the sudden burst of heat all of them lost part of their eyebrows and had to spell them back for each other.
"Bugger!" was Ron's opinion.
Harry and Hermione had to agree; Hermione didn't even scold Ron for his language. And they were back to the drawing board once more. Which was, alas, quite blank.
Two days later they had another plan, which came about like this:
Remus Lupin was buttering his morning toast when a bird collided with the kitchen window. Looking up, he saw a black shape perched on the window ledge. It had a long black beak, which it soon put to use angrily tapping on the glass. Remus hurried, leaving the kitchen by the back door, which led to a grotty paved area where the bins were kept. Any rubbish deposited in these bins was magically added to the bottom of the bins belonging to the houses on either side, so
"Ah, yes, I see you have a letter for me. May I have it?" Remus sounded uncertain, for the bird looked pretty fierce. Owls, despite being birds of prey, had a rather more friendly appearance, with a nice fluffy look to them; but the crow he was confronted with had no soft edges at all – its beak was like a hatchet, the lines of its wings and body seemed sharp, and even its voice was harsh.
The crow turned back and pecked the window glass again, as if in temper, but it then stuck out its black leg to which a small envelope was tied. Remus moved carefully to undo the tie and take the envelope. "Thank you," he said quietly, both for the envelope and for not being pecked. Remus vividly remembered Sirius' old black owl, which had nipped quite viciously when it was in a disgruntled mood, which seemed to be most of the time.
"Rark!" the bird said again.
The crow's 'rark' was so loud up close that Remus felt his eardrums vibrate, and he stepped away more quickly than he'd approached the tetchy avian.
The crow was now looking at him as if he was a particularly juicy bug, so Remus decided it might be wise to feed the bird something other than himself. "Would you like a treat?"
The bird flew onto his shoulder and pecked at his head, which Remus did not appreciate at all. "I'll take that as a yes," he muttered, heading into the kitchen.
There was a biscuit tin on the long table, and Remus made his way over to it as quickly as he could, albeit with a rather lopsided gait due to his burden. On the one hand he'd be pleased to get the crow off his shoulder – it was disproportionately heavy, he thought, for such an angular bird – but on the other hand he had no wish to settle it in the kitchen as he was anxious to see the back of it. So he put the envelope down, wrestled with the screw-on lid, and took out a finger biscuit. He was about to break off a piece when the crow's head shot forward and the impressive beak neatly snagged the whole biscuit from his fingers, but not without scraping a gouge along his thumb.
"Ow!" Remus shook his hand to ease the stinging. The crow took off and flapped like an oily black shadow through the door, passing the window and heading upwards. "Well, I can't say I'm sorry to see you go," Remus said to the departing shape, hurrying over to close the door in case it fancied coming back for another finger. A finger of the biscuit kind, Remus could only hope.
Remus ran his sore thumb under the cold tap and the water certainly numbed the sting for a while. That bloody bird's got a beak that should require licensing as a dangerous weapon! Remus thought bitterly. It was only when his thumb felt better that he returned to his toast – now cold – and the envelope he'd not yet opened.
Now Remus Lupin was a Dark Arts specialist; it sort of went with the job (if you could call being a werewolf a job, that is). He knew better than to open an envelope like this without wearing gloves and first casting an elaborate series of detection spells. So he went over to a drawer in the sideboard and took out a pair of white cotton gloves which he kept for the purpose, pulled them on and then cast six spells, one from each class of detection spells, just to be sure. Whoever owned that bloody bird had to be dodgy, or his name wasn't Remus John Lupin, and he wasn't about to take risks. The envelope glowed yellow under the first spell, which was a sure sign it had been shrunk, but that was quite common with owl post and not suspicious. Remus continued with his detection routine until he was confident that whatever was within the envelope would not curse him upon opening; only then did he cast Restoro to turn the envelope back to its original size.
It turned out to be more of a parcel than a letter. The brown parchment that wrapped it was tied up with string and neatly sealed with wax. The seal's design was simple: a serpent in the shape of an S, which told him little, except that maybe his correspondent was a Slytherin. Which was no kind of recommendation, given the current state of the wizarding world. Remus took the scissors and slit the string, then broke the blood-red seal.
It was a book. An old book bound in brown leather. There was no clue on the outside as to the title or subject of the volume, so Remus picked it up and opened the front cover, seeking the title page. Instead, he found a small sheet of parchment tucked in there, covered with handwritten script. He put the book back on the table, took out the parchment, and read:
To the occupant of
I presume I have the dubious pleasure of addressing either Lupin or Potter, twin guardians of that mouldering pile. It's not much of a choice, but times are hard and I'll take what is available, and it seems you two are it. Feel free to share this between the pair of you, but no farther. That means no inane babble from you, Potter, and no 'discreet enquiries' from you, Lupin; the trail you leave is about as discreet as Dumbledore's choice of robes used to be – you might as well take out an advertisement in the Prophet and be done with it.
Remus scowled at the paper. He hadn't recognised the writing at first, but the tone left little doubt about the author. It must be from Severus Snape. He harrumphed and read on:
Potter, if you're the one reading this, take it immediately to Lupin and get him to handle the book. I mean it, you stubborn brat. Failure to comply may well mean failure to keep breathing for much longer.
Lupin, I 'liberated' this volume from the library of Lucius Malfoy. He is unlikely to notice its loss as I cast a glamour over the shelves and made sure not to trip his wards. He pretends to study the Dark Arts, but has long since given it up in favour of perfecting his menacing appearance (which I confess he has excelled at), and buying ridiculously expensive robes, a habit I believe he has acquired from his wife.
This book has an interesting section on how to destroy certain items. I do not have the time to subject it to comprehensive examination, or for that matter to practice extensive removal of hexes and curses, or to neutralise any other method of defence the tome may contain. Therefore I strongly advise caution. The book is old and Dark, and certainly contains some kind of strong magic, if only that generated by the creation of its text. I have, however, removed the most obvious traps in order to send it with Corvy, who is a most excellent bird in every respect, and it would be difficult to replace him.
Remus briefly wondered why anyone would want another such bird, but this was Severus, after all, whose opinion of the unpleasant avian was 'excellent'.
So beware, Lupin, and go over the book carefully before you let Potter get his idiotic hands on it, because he will certainly barge in without a thought (unless restrained) and probably lose a limb, if not his head.
I must admit the thought of Potter being forcibly restrained is an uplifting one, and so I end this missive with a certain lightness of heart that I did not possess at the beginning.
Use this well, Lupin; we need to finish it soon.
Remus Lupin smiled. Severus Snape's sarcastic, acid wit dripped from the parchment. There was no need for signatures, or even explanations.
On the night of the
Your colleague. Severus was not referring to the short time they had been Hogwarts professors together. Severus was still an Order member, but he was in deep cover.
Remus couldn't remember when he'd last felt so encouraged. He stared at the old book, and got to work examining it and rendering it safe for study.
"I think Hermione should do it, Remus."
Harry's voice was full of obstinacy. Remus frowned at him. "I have more experience..."
"Hermione's come through for me before. I trust the way she researches. No-" Harry held up his hand to deflect Remus' riposte. "I'm not saying I don't trust you. Of course I'm not. But I'm used to working with Hermione. And I'm the one Dumbledore left this task to. And it's not as if you've finished looking in the Black library yet, is it?"
"No, there's a lot more to research there, to be sure. But this was sent by Severus; he wouldn't have risked it if it wasn't important, and he implies it will tell you how to destroy something you need to destroy. But Severus did not want this shared with anyone else, Harry; just between you and me."
Harry's face twisted as Remus spoke the name of the man he hated second only to Voldemort. And when Harry dwelt on the horrible happenings on top of the
Remus shook his head. "Severus does know a lot about this sort of thing-" Harry snorted. "-and his advice is usually good. I would be happier if we listened to it."
"Well, I disagree," Harry said stubbornly. "I have to sort this out, and I'm more comfortable with my friends around. I'm not stupid though, Remus; I know the book's important, and there will be things for me to do because of it. I know exactly what we're looking for, and so does Hermione, whereas you don't because Professor Dumbledore didn't allow me to tell you, just Ron and Hermione. So the sooner I get to them, the better; having Hermione and Ron with me will be the best and quickest way to do what's needed."
Remus sighed. Harry had always done better with his friends beside him, there was no denying that. And the book was safe, or as safe as it was within his power to make it. On that point, he added a note of caution: "All right. But let them do the actual reading and handling. You can collate the material they find and be ready to act, but let them handle the book. Please, Harry."
Harry gave him an odd look. "Okay... but why are you saying that? Do you think you missed something?"
"No, I don't think so. But it's like Severus said in his note: it's Dark and it's full of strong magic. Therefore, it's dangerous. I don't want anyone to be hurt or affected by it; but if that does happen, it's better it's not you. You know what's at stake."
Oh yes, Harry knew. All that 'Chosen One' stuff.
"Seriously, Harry; promise me you won't handle it," Remus persisted.
Harry sighed, but gave his word: "All right."
Remus put a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you."
Hermione's fingers trembled on the cover as she opened the book and perused the table of contents. It was so old and Dark she could feel its power tingling under the skin of her fingertips. "Merlin! This parchment feels like skin." She shuddered.
Ron put his arm around her waist, leaning close to scan the contents table. "Ugh – it's bloody awful. Trust Snape to find something like this."
"And trust Malfoy to own such an abomination," Harry growled from his seat at the other side of the large study table in the middle of the Black library. He felt a bit stupid stuck on the other side away from his friends, but he'd promised Remus, and he didn't give promises lightly. "So, what's in it?"
"Hang on; it's quite hard to read. The writing is very ornate, a kind of copperplate script that's not easy to make out."
Hermione squinted at it for a while; she was used to reading old books, but this one was strange, as if it had been printed abroad, perhaps, or by some eccentric publisher who used unusual typefaces. That is, if it had been printed at all. She ran a finger over the lettering but couldn't decide if it was handwritten or printed. Ron gave up trying quite quickly, and shrugged across at Harry. He was not used to poring through archives of original sources, and he could make neither head nor tail of the book, or at least its contents page.
Finally, Hermione spoke, summarising. "Chapter the First is about 'the merits of different types of blood to bind spells to the caster or victim'." She turned to the appropriate page. "Seems to be about getting blood from people – oh, it's quite sick."
Hermione had turned pale.
"It's talking about how to bleed wizarding children so their parents won't notice it's been done," Ron joined in as Hermione struggled with her stomach. "You know, just partially, so the blood can be used in potions and suchlike." Ron had found that the text in the chapters was far less ornate than on the contents page and he could make out some of it. He ignored his friends' disgusted expressions and his own sick feeling, and continued. "This part's about where to make the incision, how to keep them quiet, all sorts of lovely stuff like that." Ron paused and swallowed, obviously ill at ease himself. "And there's diagrams," he added faintly.
Harry shook his head in disgust. "Voldemort didn't invent the Dark Arts after all, did he?"
"Nope, he just loves them," Ron said, looking across the table into Harry's eyes.
Just like Snape. Although Harry didn't say it, Ron could tell he was thinking it, his face gave it away. Harry thought Ron was thinking the exact same thing. Hermione, meanwhile, had turned to 'Chapter the Second'.
"The next chapter's about 'Using blood to strengthen the wizard and his spells'. Oh, honestly, whoever in this day and age believes that drinking blood makes you stronger?"
"Vampires?" Ron suggested.
"Well, it does give you iron," Harry chipped in, aiming to lighten the mood.
Hermione merely glared at them, disgusted. Admittedly, Harry couldn't see the pictures, but there was no excuse for Ron. Boys could be so tasteless! She turned more pages, the movement drawing an odd papery susurration from the old leaves.
"And the third chapter is about including blood magic in sex magic." She tapped the page with her finger. "Predictable," she muttered as she continued flicking through the book, not allowing Ron time to dwell on the illustrations to that chapter. "The fourth is about using sex magic with unwilling victims, preferably virgins, to restore an aging wizard..." Her face twisted and she had to stop awhile, obviously taken aback by what she saw. She closed her eyes for a few moments, took a few deep breaths, opened her eyes and carried on. "And the fifth is about... oh, hang on. It gets onto the topic of prolonging life here, and yes, aiming for immortality!"
Hermione's voice was full of excitement now rather than horror. Ron leaned over again, his attention fixed on where her finger was pointing.
"Horcruxes! Here it is! Their use and abuse, and how to create and destroy them!" she said triumphantly, her finger tapping the words for emphasis. Once... twice... three times.
Harry's heart was already racing at her words: they'd found it! A book that could really help them. And then his heart seemed to jump up into his throat as a bright light flashed from out of the book, obscuring his friends seated opposite and temporarily blinding him. Harry's hands flew over his eyes and he cried out.
Remus, who was working on the second floor of the Black library, having climbed a set of wrought iron spiral stairs to get to the less-used books, had been listening to the tone of their conversation, although he could not hear what they were saying. At first he heard the obvious disgust in Hermione's voice, which he would gladly have spared them by doing the research himself, and then the rising excitement, which had made him envious. But when Harry cried out in obvious distress, he quickly cast aside the books he was carrying, careless of whether they landed on the nearby desk or on the floor. They missed the desk by a whisker and dropped down onto the parquet flooring with a series of dull thuds which echoed his running footsteps as he headed for the stairs.
As Remus descended the iron stairway with a clatter, his nostrils caught the whiff of ozone, a sign of the discharge of a strong spell or the presence of a magical field. Harry was still sitting at the table, rubbing at his eyes. Remus' first thought was: Thank Merlin he's still in one piece! His second was: Let him not be blind! And his third, and the worst of it: Where are Ron and Hermione?
"Harry?" Remus put his hand on the boy's back only after speaking to him, not wanting to startle him. Harry was trembling. "What's wrong?"
"Bloody light blinded me. It's okay, it's coming back now."
"What light? And can you see?"
"Yeah, I can see," Harry said impatiently, as if Remus was out of line for bothering to worry about him at a time like this. "Well, sort of. It was light from the book. Hermione tapped the page and –" Harry peered across the table even more myopically than he would normally have done, then fumbled with his glasses which he'd placed on the table top before rubbing at his eyes. Finally he shoved them back on his face. "Where's Hermione? And Ron?"
An edge of panic was slipping into Harry's voice; Remus heard its unwelcome approach. Not that he was very calm himself, but he knew that panic at this point would be the worst thing Harry could do; it would be a long while before he could calm him. Remus needed a rational account of what had happened here in order to try and sort it out, if that was even possible. He certainly didn't need the stab of guilt that was piercing his heart right at that moment – the guilt that he'd missed something dangerous and handed these young people a magical time bomb.
"The light must have been an Apparition or Portkey spell; I know of a few," Remus told Harry, trying to sound the confident professor he'd once managed to be... trying to radiate control over a situation that was very much out of control. "As to where they are at this moment, I've no idea. And I doubt you have either."
Remus skirted around to the other side of the desk. The smell of ozone was at its strongest here. He looked down at the open book, lying spread out on the desk and looking, insofar as such a tome could, quite innocent. Remus did not trust its appearance at all. He leaned close enough to read the page it was open at, but he did not touch the parchment. The stench of spell residue was strong in his nostrils, clearly strong enough for a spell weave made up of several individual spells to have been discharged here.
"I should have known!" Harry was wailing. "I should have known! Tom Riddle's diary was just the same – it sucked me in. Okay, so I had to write in it, and agree to what it was going to do, or sort of, but still. The light was blinding though, not like with the diary, but it was the same sort of thing," he babbled. "Oh, Remus. I should have known!"
"Stop it, Harry!" Remus snapped harshly to try and pull Harry out of his panic. "Of course you shouldn't. I should have known, far more than you. I've studied such things. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and a very destructive one, and definitely counter-productive at this time. Now, concentrate! What was Hermione doing when the light appeared?"
"She was tapping it! The book, I mean. She tapped it with her finger. Three times."
Remus' heart sank. Three times, of course. A magical trinity, a very strong number. Hermione's three taps must have set off a spell that was waiting to discharge. "Do you know what she was tapping at... which words? Where they'd got to in their reading?"
Remus was privately thinking that it was rather odd that Ron had disappeared too, and his mind was bringing up all kinds of lurid images of the young couple's fate. Surely sex magic wasn't involved here? But old books of this kind were often full of it, and right now he was ruling out nothing. "What were they touching, apart from the book?" He winced as he recognised the obvious double-entendre, but Harry was still too agitated to notice.
Harry looked confused. The questions Remus kept firing at him were forcing him to think, to pull his mind back from the abyss of panic it had started to slip into. "Um... they were close, Ron had his arm around Hermione's waist and they were both leaning over to look at the page. The book's not clear; Hermione said it was hard to read."
Remus nodded. "No, I noticed that the writing is atypical even for one of the earliest scholarly texts written in English rather than Latin, and it's far from clear." He frowned. "Please, Harry, tell me what Hermione was pointing out."
Harry looked at Remus, and the older man saw the colour drain from his face. "Horcruxes, Remus. They'd got to the bit about Horcruxes: 'their use and abuse, and how to create and destroy them', that's what Hermione said!"
Remus closed his eyes. Horcruxes. A word he'd only heard in tales of darkest, deepest magic and terrible deeds. But of course... Voldemort would have done it, wouldn't he? That was why he kept on coming back when anyone else would have died. And that was what Harry was searching for. Oh Merlin, it was all so obvious once you knew about it! But it meant their situation was about as bad as it could be, and his earlier feelings of hope since the discovery of Severus' true allegiance drained away, just as suddenly as they had appeared.
Lucius Abraxas Malfoy was having a very bad day. It could well be the worst day of his life, he considered, if he cared to quantify it. Lucius did not consider his brief sojourn in Azkaban; he preferred to bury that unfortunate episode in a hidden part of his mind that he would not examine. And so, he was pretty sure this was the most dreadful day of his life, and it had been an awful shock: it come about suddenly, and worst of all, it had happened without any input on his part. The day had started out well enough: he'd taken an enjoyable late summer breakfast with Narcissa on the terrace before heading indoors to his study and the morning's mail. There had been nothing unpleasant in the envelopes which a variety of birds had brought to the manor that morning, in fact, some of his international investments were performing much better than expected, and Lucius had emerged with a smile on his face.
The front doorbell had rung then and the visitor had not been unwelcome: Severus Snape had come to consult his library again. Severus was reasonable company, a man whose right-thinking Lucius could rely on in most situations, something that could be said for very few people in the wizarding world, alas. But more than that, Severus was a staunch ally of Lucius' in the Dark Lord's inner circle; he had backed him time and time again, sometimes at the risk of their lord's displeasure. Yet for all his admirable qualities Severus was not perfect, and among the faults that Lucius perceived was the fact that the ex-professor was far too much of a bookworm. Lucius was well aware that Severus sneered at him now he'd given up struggling to read the more esoteric books in the Malfoy library – which was a disproportionately large percentage of them, in Lucius' opinion. But despite Severus' intellectual snobbery, Lucius was pleased to see him this morning, and had persuaded him to take tea in the orangery before he headed to the library.
They'd had a very nice chat for about three-quarters of an hour, touching on subjects as diverse as whether Lucius' racing pigeons were of better stock than the Muggle queen's – which Severus had questioned but Lucius was adamant about – and how much weight Dymphna Bulstrode had put on during her summer holiday at her villa on
Well, that is to say, Lucius thought he must have fallen from his horse, because how else would he have ended up here, in this.... book. There were no horses here and, rather alarmingly, no humans to be seen besides himself. Lucius was currently sitting in a room – a boring, almost colourless room with minimal furniture consisting of one sofa. The room seemed to be depicted on one page of a giant book, in which he, and the room itself, were somehow... contained.
It was not a large room – Lucius had already paced its papery perimeter enough times to discover that much. One good thing Lucius quickly discovered while he paced was that his mind did not feel sluggish in here. On the contrary, he felt razor-sharp: bright and rational, logical even. He wouldn't have minded having a conversation with Severus right about now; he was fairly sure he'd know just as much as the Potions master, about everything! Except, possibly, he had to admit grudgingly to himself, Potions. Severus was a demon when it came to Potions: what he didn't know he could invent, what he read about he could improve, making a Snape version far better than the original. But the annoying thing was that there was no one about to talk to, no one to impress with this strange new lucidity, not even a house-elf. And Lucius had a sneaking suspicion that when things returned to normal, (he refused to consider that they might not), his clear-mindedness would probably disappear right along with this strange setting. Life was usually like that.
Lucius sighed as he looked around, wincing at the boring colour of the walls that surrounded him. Biscuit, would that be the name for it? Beige? Ecru, perhaps? No... hang on... it was parchment! That was it, definitely! These walls were the exact colour of well-aged parchment, which was unsurprising as that was what they were made from, or shown on, or something. Hm, Lucius would have to ponder some more; it was strange and unnerving to be living in a universe created from paper. The book seemed to form the walls, and yet it surrounded the whole area as well. In some strange, warped way, it was a universe that Lucius couldn't quite focus on; nor, despite the new-found clarity of his thoughts, could he get his mind to work out.
Looking down, Lucius saw that the carpet beneath his feet was brown, the exact shade of the polished leather of his saddle, and presumably the binding of this book. To continue the bookish theme, the sofa was paler than the walls; it was the pale colour of new parchment and the cushions scattered over it were the same, but they stood out because they were decorated with random pieces of script 'written' in the black of fresh ink. Lucius chuckled at his whimsical descriptions, but thinking like this was making the room seem a little less boring. For the time being.
He had no real memory of coming to this place, and no memory of falling from his horse either. He'd been riding along; it had been a lovely sunny day and the woodland was pleasant to observe, and the next moment he'd been here. Seamlessly, without any kind of in-between. It was most odd. When he'd first found himself here, Lucius had wondered if he'd struck his head after falling from Xerxes, his chestnut gelding, and thus was having some kind of hallucination. Because he couldn't really be inside a book, could he? But Lucius soon realised he was not hallucinating, because he had then remembered how this very situation could have come about.
Certain precious things within Malfoy Manor were charmed, keyed to the wards that surrounded the property. These items, should they be removed from the manor, would cause something dreadful to happen to the thief – for theft it must be, for such treasured possessions would never be legitimately removed from his ancestral home by anyone except himself, Lucius Malfoy, Lord of the Manor. The charms, he now recalled, worked like this: as the item crossed the ward line, the thief would be trapped in a dungeon inside the manor; a dungeon set aside for just this purpose, buried deep beneath the Malfoy country pile. The dungeon was a door-less, windowless cell from which the miscreant would never be able to escape. And serve him right for being a dishonest bastard, and worse, a foolish one, for trying to steal what belonged to the Malfoys!
But the problem was – and Lucius well remembered his father telling him this while Lucius was still at Hogwarts – that if the thief was an expert in Dark magic, and a mage unsurpassed in all things cunning and sneaky, (and what were the odds of a thief being all of those things?) those spells could be turned inside out. Which would result in the owner of the item – namely, one Lucius Abraxas Malfoy, head of the Malfoy family and owner of the entire estate – being trapped inside the object that was stolen.
Lucius cursed the Fates, then Hecate and Circe for good measure, before starting on various parts of Merlin's anatomy, as he kicked at the page on which the wall in front of him was currently displayed. But the 'paper' seemed oddly resilient, and he had a feeling he was hurting his booted foot more than he was damaging the book, which, of course, only made him angrier and caused his language to become more colourful.
Sometime later, once Lucius had settled down again, he began to ponder how to get out. Because there had to be a way out... didn't there? It couldn't really be like that inescapable cell deep beneath the manor, could it?
Several hours later – at least it felt like hours, but with no way of telling the time he really had no idea – Lucius gave up looking for escape and switched, instead, to rather more vindictive thoughts. Because, damn it, he was getting rather fed up of sitting on the light parchment sofa, pondering his fate and looking for something that might not exist. He leaned on the ink-decorated cushions (he had read the fragments of sentences inscribed thereon repeatedly, but despite his new brain-power he had discerned nothing useful from them). No, he decided, his bad mood was best turned to thoughts of revenge – and just who to blame for his predicament.
Narcissa? She was always the first suspect whenever anything happened to him, and with good reason. Over the years of their marriage he'd learned to see her hand behind many seemingly random events. Would she have taken one of the precious books that were keyed to the wards? But why? Narcissa was not a great reader, and she owned the things in the manor just as much as Lucius himself did – well, except in strict wizarding law, of course, but to all intents and purposes she did. Nor did Narcissa know of the trick with the wards, for that was a secret passed from father to son, and Lucius had never told her. No, Narcissa really wasn't a suspect for this crime.
Draco, then? Lucius always thought of Draco second, because the boy could be a bit cheeky, if the truth were to be told, and he was not averse to 'pranking' his family. But no, it could not be Draco this time, for he was safe at Hogwarts... if you could call being under Dumbledore's wing 'safe'. Severus had returned Draco to the bosom of his loving family, and as the new school year neared, Narcissa had vetoed the suggestion of Draco finishing his schooling at Durmstrang. It was too far away, she said; the same reason she'd given before he started Hogwarts as a first year. Lucius, who valued peace in his home life, went along with her, and it had taken a lot of convincing for the Ministry to sanction Draco's return to Hogwarts. But it was apparent that Draco hadn't killed Dumbledore – everyone knew Snape had – and really, it could not be proved that he had done anything dreadful at all. Potter's accusation that Draco had let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts remained unproven and had been mocked by Lucius and his allies, and few believed a student would have been able to do such a thing. There was still a healthy amount of scepticism about Potter's wilder claims, which worked to Lucius' advantage. He had had to swallow his paternal pride at Draco's achievement in order to convince the school governors that of course his son was incapable of breaking through Hogwarts' wards. In the end they'd accepted it – the alternative seeming so far-fetched – and Draco had returned for his final year of schooling.
The house-elves, perhaps? Lucius did not trust them any farther than he could kick them with his premium leather riding boots – which was quite a long way, really, so that was probably not the best analogy to have drawn. But still, now that weird elf Dobby was gone from the estate, the rest of them were thoroughly biddable and cowed to perfection. Lucius doubted any of his staff was the culprit.
Which left... his dear old friend Severus.
Ah, yes... Severus Snape. A bibliophile if ever there was one, and a very covetous man. Lucius had watched the light of jealousy glint in Snape's obsidian-coloured eyes many times, and surprisingly, it was not directed at Lucius' perfectly beautiful wife. Oh no, it was directed around the shelves of his library. And once or twice at the racks in his wine cellar, on the few occasions he'd given the Potions master the vintage tour. But that was irrelevant... he was getting distracted. Back to Severus, not as vinophile, but as thief.
'An expert in Dark magic, a mage unsurpassed in all things cunning and sneaky.' That was what his father had said was needed to circumvent the protective spells keyed to the wards. And didn't that just describe Severus Bloody Snape, the Head of Slytherin House, perfectly? Lucius huffed in annoyance.
"Thanks to you, Severus, old friend, I'm stuck in the pages of one of my own bloody books!" he ranted, his voice sounding oddly flat without an echo in this paper-walled room. "A book you've probably got in your sweaty grasp right now! Can you hear me?" he bellowed even louder, trying to project his voice beyond the room, a room that existed only inside a book. "Let me out, Severus! Return this book to my library immediately!"
But of course no one answered, so Lucius got to his feet and began stomping around the perimeter of the room again, muttering imprecations against the pilfering Potions genius under his breath, until he nearly fell over something on the floor.
Something that hadn't been there before. Two somethings, to be more accurate, one of which groaned.
"Merlin's scrote, Mione!"
Lucius, who'd been having some trouble keeping his feet, looked down with interest when he heard the voice, which had to be welcome as it meant he was no longer alone. But he changed his opinion when he caught sight of a head of red hair. Not a Weasley! Could this day get any worse?
"Who are you?" he asked with aristocratic snappishness, as one who expected and deserved to be answered, straight away.
A squeak came from the body trapped beneath the probable Weasley, for the boy seemed to have landed atop another person. Either that, or he had too many limbs.
Now when Ron Weasley looked up and saw who was looming over him, demanding his name, he said: "Bloody hell, it's Lucius Malfoy!"
"And you are...?"
"Ron... Ron Weasley."
It was Lucius' turn to groan, and he wasn't the one being squashed under the Weasley, but he reckoned he was in about as much pain, for he had just had his worst suspicions confirmed: it really was a Weasley spawn in front of him. If he was going to be trapped in one of his own books, the only thing that could be worse than being trapped alone was being trapped with one of the vulgarly large Weasley brood. He sighed, quite discouraged, sank down onto the sofa and put his head in his hands.
"Let me up, Ron!"
Lucius didn't even look up at the sound of the other person's voice; not even when he realised the other person was female. Or possibly a very effeminate male. Surely Potter didn't sound that feminine? No, Lucius would have remembered... which meant it was probably the other member of the Unholy Trinity... the Mudblood, Granger. Lucius groaned into his palms.
Hermione clambered to her feet as Ron rolled off of her. She huffed with annoyance and smoothed down her robes, all the while darting her eyes around at their surroundings. What she saw did not bode well; they were in a room somewhere with Lucius Malfoy sitting just a couple of feet away from them, and when he'd finally looked up, he'd begun glaring at them as if they were the most despicable creatures on Earth. But as Malfoy did nothing more than glare for the moment, Hermione grabbed Ron's arm and hissed into his ear: "He's captured us using a book, just like he did with Ginny in second year! He's probably going to take us to Voldemort. Thank God Harry isn't here."
Ron wasn't so sure he agreed with that sentiment; he'd have felt a lot more confident with Harry at his back. But he also knew that if Harry was captured, the game would be up. So he hissed back at Hermione, "Yeah, with Snape's help! Why Remus trusted that book I'll never know!" That said, he straightened his back and glared down at Malfoy, who had stood up from the sofa. Ron was pleased to discover that Lucius was a couple of inches shorter than him, and he snapped, "Well, get on with it then! Take us to him."
Malfoy appeared somewhat taken aback; for a moment or two he almost looked slack-jawed, but soon regained his aristocratic hauteur. "I have no idea what you're talking about," he drawled.
"No? I suppose we just ended up in here with you at random then? Look, Malfoy, that book came from your library, and now we're trapped because of it. Where the hell are we anyway?"
But Ron got no answer to the last of his questions, because Lucius jumped on the mention of the book. "What do you know of my book? How did you get it?" And even as he fired the questions at the young people, Lucius' mind began to arrive at some very awkward conclusions indeed.
"It's just like Tom Riddle's diary. You played that trick before and nearly killed my sister!" Ron yelled. "Now you've got us. Okay, you were probably aiming for Harry, but tough luck."
Hermione, meanwhile, was fingering her wand up her sleeve. True, Malfoy was a Dark wizard – a Death Eater, no less – but he was outnumbered here. As Ron kept him distracted with his yelling – and Hermione thought wryly that she could always rely on Ron for that – and as Malfoy was disregarding her, she whipped out her wand and pointed it at him. "Stupefy!"
Malfoy turned to her with a smirk on his face. "I thought you were supposed to be intelligent, Granger. Surely you didn't think I'd have stood here without Stunning the pair of you while you were flopping about on the floor like a pair of landed eels, did you? Wands will not work here."
"It was worth a try," Hermione said defiantly. "And just because yours didn't work, doesn't mean mine had to be faulty."
"My wand is not faulty, you foolish girl. There is a dampening field in this space and magic will not operate."
"Then how did magic pull us in here?" Even as she asked it, Hermione realised she knew the answer, but Lucius answered anyway, merely confirming her thoughts.
"It is a one-way flow; magic cannot go out from this place, and movement of magic through and out of our wands is included in that. The field that pulled us in worked rather like a vacuum, we could be sucked in, but movement in the other direction is, sadly, impossible."
"What?" squawked Ron, catching on far more quickly than usual. "We're stuck here, with you?"
"I assure you, Weasley, that I am no more pleased at the prospect than you are. I have spent some hours considering my predicament, and I confess I see no way out. Meanwhile, there are even more pressing concerns."
"Why, like what we shall eat or drink, where we shall relieve ourselves, and where we may sleep."
"I don't know about the rest of it," Hermione said, face flushed with annoyance, "but I'm taking the sofa." And with that, she flopped down on it and put her feet up, daring either of them to disagree.
Remus stared at the book and came to a quick decision. Whatever Harry might say, it was his duty as the older man and the Dark Arts specialist to act quickly. He cast again the strongest containment charm he knew around the book, ignoring the fact that it hadn't worked earlier, before hurrying into the sitting room to fetch his most secure container. This was a box he used to carry questionable artefacts in, both for his own protection and that of bystanders. It had been left to him by Albus Dumbledore in his will. Albus had amassed a huge collection of devices of all sorts in his long and curious lifetime, and had recognised that Remus would have cause to use such a box; and so he had left it to him, along with a few other magical objects. The majority of Dumbledore's collection, however, remained at Hogwarts, where it was meticulously maintained by the headmistress, and regularly dusted, equally meticulously, by a very well-trained and very careful elf. Remus now placed the box, which was about the size of the sort of carton a Muggle supermarket used to pack tins of beans in, on the large desk near the book. He then levitated the book into the box, sealed the lid with another spell, and let out a huge sigh of relief.
"So what are we going to do now?" Harry asked, practically bouncing in his agitation. "We can't just shut the book away, Remus; Hermione and Ron are in there somewhere!"
"I am well aware of it, Harry; however, I do not wish either of us to join them, do you?"
Harry's face twisted in grief as common sense overcame his desperation to rush off and rescue his friends. "Then what next?"
"We're going to Hogwarts."
They tumbled out of the headmistress' Floo into the office previously inhabited by Albus Dumbledore, and before him a very long line of eminent witches and wizards.
"What's this all about, Remus?" Minerva McGonagall asked agitatedly. "You said it was an emergency, something to do with a book that swallows people?"
Remus proceeded to tell the headmistress about the accident while Harry paced the room, unable to settle enough to sit down. Minerva, noticing his agitation, called for tea and a house-elf brought a tray, but Harry hardly noticed. However, he did stop pacing and pay attention when she told them it would be best to use her office to keep the book in.
"Why would it be better here than at Grimmauld Place?"
"Because there just happens to be the best collection of magical instruments in Britain right here in my office," Minerva answered, as if Harry was being extremely dense. "You are quite welcome to use them, for as long as you might need to. After all, Remus, and yourself for that matter, will need all the help you can get to deal with this book. I have never heard the like!"
Harry frowned. "There was Tom Riddle's diary..."
"Well, yes," Minerva admitted, "though I had precious little to do with that episode, as Albus kept it very much to himself. He told us very little, just that poor Miss Weasley had been possessed somehow by a book. But this is not the same, is it? Just who is it who's possessed this time, Remus?"
"No one is possessed as such, not at this time as far as I can make out."
"You don't know!" Harry yelled. "Hermione and Ron could be having their souls sucked out in there!" He pointed at the box Remus was still levitating. "Just like Voldemort tried to do with Ginny."
"This book has no link to Voldemort that we know of..."
Harry snorted. "That we know of. That doesn't mean he hasn't had his slimy hands on it; it belonged to Malfoy. I'll just bet Voldemort has free rein of that library, don't you? And if it's important – and Hermione thought she'd found something important, just before she vanished – it makes sense that he'd protect it that way."
"Maybe." Remus didn't look convinced, and Harry was getting more annoyed with him by the moment.
"Well, what else could it be?" he shouted.
Remus whirled to face Harry. "Give me time to check it over. Panicking won't help them, nor will guesswork. I've brought the book here because we can contain it with Albus' Universal Safety Net while we examine it."
"What?" Anger had changed to perplexity now, and Harry even calmed down enough to sink down into one of the squashy armchairs.
Minerva poured him a cup of tea and pressed it into Harry's shaking hands. "Drink this, Mr. Potter, it's good for shock. We're all going to do our best to get Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger out of there – if they are truly inside there. Maybe the book was no more than a modified Portkey with added pyrotechnics."
Harry looked doubtful, but he sipped the tea and immediately began to feel better. Whether it had some kind of potion added, Harry didn't know or care; it was making him feel good. He drank more readily and soon finished the cup. Minerva topped it up for him. Meanwhile, Remus had taken a gossamer-thin shawl from a drawer in one of the ornate cabinets that lined the office. He held it up like a Muggle conjuror showing his trick to the audience.
"The Universal Safety Net, Harry. Albus collected it from a house sale at an old wizard's home in Romania. He used it quite frequently, I believe, and never knew a spell, curse or hex that could get through it. The problem, as you can see, is that it's quite small, but fortunately the book is not large either, and the net will just about cover it."
Remus levitated the top from the box, dropped the net inside and then reached out with his white-gloved hands to gently lift the book onto a desk at the side of the room, treating it as if it was a sacred relic. The fact that it contained, in some form, two of their friends made it just that. He wrapped the fine net around the book, front and back, and the net lay enclosing the book but lying loosely enough that the book could be manipulated through it. Light from a tall window behind the desk clearly illuminated the book, and it appeared just the same as it had when delivered by Severus' crow. That is to say, it was brown, untitled and wholly unremarkable – which was entirely suspicious in a society so fond of ornate decoration. Not only books but most other items were covered in patterns with some magical significance or other. Carefully, Remus opened the cover and riffled through the pages, which could still be seen quite clearly through the fine mesh of the net that, if Albus Dumbledore's judgement could be trusted, protected its viewers from any malevolence within. Of course, it might well shield any occupants from getting out as well.
Minerva stood beside him, her face plainly showing her opinion of the Dark book's contents as the pages were turned. Page after page was turned over until, like Hermione earlier, Remus found the section on Horcruxes. He took up a heavy glass paperweight from the desk (which looked quite grim as it enclosed a preserved specimen of Centruroides vittatus, a small but very venomous scorpion) and set it between the pages, weighting the book in an open position.
"Now," Remus said, straightening up, "let us proceed." He took out his wand and waved it over the book, speaking a string of Latin far too quickly for Harry to follow.
Harry missed his friends more than ever. Hermione's absence, in particular, felt like the loss of a tooth, or more appropriately, a limb, for his understanding was crippled. Hermione had taken the time to study Latin during her summer holidays. While the ancient language was not part of the regular Hogwarts curriculum, it was incredibly useful as most spells were still incanted in Latin. Harry had always relied on Hermione to help with incantations; she had always shared her knowledge readily with her friends, even if she did lecture a bit.
In reaction to Remus' words the book started to glow with a silvery light. Remus leaned closer and said, "Is there anybody there?"
Harry snorted, reminded of Sybill Trelawney and her spirit-contact lessons which she'd held a couple of years ago. His amusement faded though, when he heard, quite clearly, a voice in answer to Remus' question.
"Unfortunately, yes. And if you are trying to release us, I advise you to contact Severus Snape. Immediately."
"What?" McGonagall's screech was loud enough to rival Hedwig at her best. "He is the last person we will contact! And who is that anyway?" The headmistress had suddenly realised that the voice did not sound at all like Mr. Weasley or Miss Granger, for the aristocratic tone was quite unlike Ron's plebeian accent, but it was definitely masculine. It was rather an attractive voice, really, and as she thought of it Minerva felt a momentary tingle somewhere low down in her belly. It was all quite upsetting.
"I am the owner of this book," the voice answered. At which Harry, Remus and Minerva looked at each other, eyes widening as realisation dawned.
"Um, you don't think it's really Lucius Malfoy, do you?" Harry asked quietly.
"I think that's exactly who it is," Remus said darkly, and he quickly cast a one-way silencing spell so that Malfoy could not overhear their conversation, but they could still hear him. "Though what he's doing in there is anyone's guess. He was surely nowhere near Grimmauld Place at the time the spell-weave discharged."
"Unless Snape caught him and stuck him in there, then sent him to us," Harry suggested. "Shall I call the Aurors?"
"Och, no!" Minerva said. "I don't want the heavy-booted forces of the law in here. The last time they visited Hogwarts several antique vases were broken, and I'm not convinced one of them wasn't responsible for taking a souvenir tin of butter shortbread from Auchtermuchtie that my Great-aunt Demelza sent me last Christmas."
Well, that put paid to that suggestion, Harry thought.
"And besides, Mr. Potter," she continued, "if Mr. Malfoy really is trapped inside that book, it would only cause them to take it to the Ministry, and along with it any hopes of recovering Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger."
"Good point," Harry agreed glumly.
Remus dropped his silencing spell so he could communicate with the book. "I hardly think you're in a position to start giving orders, Malfoy," he said to the book, and there was quite a bit of satisfaction in his tone. "Do you think we're so foolish? Snape is a Death Eater; we're hardly going to contact him, even if we knew how to do so."
Harry grinned, thinking: Well done, Remus, you're keeping Snape's cover intact. Then he snapped at Malfoy: "Have you got Ron and Hermione in there with you?"
"Hello, mate!/Harry, Professor Lupin, we know how to do it!/Unfortunately, yes."
All three replies came at the same time and Harry had difficulty deciphering them, but he'd heard his friends' voices and breathed a sigh of relief; the first he'd managed since the blinding flash of light. "Don't worry, we're going to get you out," he assured them.
"If you listen to me, Potter, perhaps you may," drawled Lucius.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, shut up, Malfoy!" Harry had had enough of the pompous Death Eater already; he really did not envy his friends, stuck in there with him. "Where are you?"
"In the book!" Three voices, in very varying timbres, replied at once.
Harry rolled his eyes. Remus put a hand on his arm. "Let me talk to them, eh, Harry?"
Harry nodded, already frustrated by the surreal conversation, and sat down in a chair behind the desk. Minerva came and took another chair next to him. Remus pulled up a third and sat closest to the book, and proceeded to talk to its occupants. They described, as best they could, their environment and their lack of magic. Ron told Remus he was getting hungry and could kill for a butterbeer; Lucius snorted at that but mentioned the lack of a bathroom; while Hermione agreed with Malfoy wholeheartedly, but said she was otherwise okay, for she had a couch for the night and it was quite comfortable, thank you. Alas, this set them all off into a heated debate about fairness and sharing, which Hermione won by mentioning traditional wizarding chivalry and the current lack of equality for witches in their society, which should surely have some silver lining, and as far as she was concerned, the sofa was it.
The conversation from within the book had degenerated into a free-for-all by then, and Remus cast the one-way silencing spell again so they could talk without being overheard, then sat back and sighed. "They're not getting on very well together, are they?"
"Do you blame them?" Harry looked gloomy again. "Do you think we need to contact Snape?"
"Yes, I do. But I've no idea how. He contacted us, remember. And his crow is long gone."
"Severus has a crow as a post bird?" Minerva sounded interested in that, despite the ongoing cacophony from the book. She frowned and added a two-way charm to cut off the three captives' voices.
"Yes, and it mirrors his personality exactly," Remus said ruefully, gingerly rubbing at the sore place along his thumb.
"Not to mention it looks like him," Harry sniggered. "Bloody great beaks, crows have."
"I must admit it sounds appropriate," Minerva agreed, trying not to smile at Harry's comment. "But now I am going to have to leave you for a while. I have a couple of Transfiguration classes to teach for Professor Flapp-Doodle; he has an optician's appointment. Last week he misread 'cot' as 'cat', and the class's babies ended up inside the unfortunate felines. Thankfully both babies and cats were conjured, but it was a timely warning."
Remus stared at her, aghast.
"Oh, no harm done," Minerva said briskly. "And I confess I'm quite looking forward to teaching my subject again, if only for an afternoon. I suppose I need not tell you to be careful with Mr. Malfoy, need I? He is a most slippery character; always was." And with that word of advice, she bustled off.
Remus looked across at Harry. "And I suppose I've no need to tell you, Harry, that we're in serious trouble here. I've no doubt Malfoy will have realised just what book they're trapped inside, and what Ron and Hermione were researching. If we let them out he'll warn Voldemort."
Harry groaned. "But we can't leave them in there! They've no food, no drink, nothing but that blasted sofa, and that's causing more trouble than it's worth."
"I had noticed; they can't even cast Aguamenti. No, we must get them out, and soon. And Severus is the key. Malfoy must know how to contact him."
"So what do we do with Malfoy to stop him telling Voldemort we're destroying Horcruxes?"
"Maybe Severus can help with that. At the worst, we can keep Malfoy imprisoned here at Hogwarts; there must be dungeons we could use."
"Filch would know," Harry growled. "Or Snape again. Damn, his name comes up everywhere!"
"Severus? Yes, he is rather like that. Something of a lynchpin, wouldn't you say?" Harry scowled. "Which means we will have to be nice to him. Do you think you can manage that?" Harry scowled harder. "So, the first step is to contact Severus, and for that I must drop the silencing spells."
They both looked down at the book as Remus reversed the spells, tensing for the rush of sound that would emerge.
That didn't emerge.
It was quiet.
"Do you think they've killed each other?" Harry wondered nervously.
"Are you in there?" Remus asked hopefully.
"Yes!" the three voices chorused loudly, impatiently.
"Where else would we be, you lackwit?" Lucius added, nastily.
"Sorry, I'm sure. You were all arguing, so we cast a silencing spell. When I lifted it you were quiet; I just wondered if you'd killed each other."
"Do not tempt me, Lupin," Lucius snarled. "I still have my cane."
"Yeah, and there's two of us, mate," Ron growled in reply.
"Please don't start fighting again," Remus begged. "We need to get you out quickly, and to do that you need to cooperate with each other and help us. Now, how do I contact Severus, Malfoy?"
"Very well," Lucius agreed, sounding suddenly animated. "Use the Floo. The address is 'Snape, Spinner's End'."
Harry was already on his knees before the fireplace, Minerva's tartan tin of Floo powder in his hand. "Go ahead," Remus said.
"Snape, Spinner's End!" Harry shoved his head in the fire, waited for the spinning to stop, and peered through the green flames to the room beyond. It was surprisingly small and down-at-heel, but unsurprisingly the walls were lined with bookshelves. A pair of long, black-clad legs stretched out on the rug in front of the hearth and Harry let his eyes travel up their surprisingly shapely length to the man seated in front of the fireplace.
"Potter! How did you get this address?" Snape sounded outraged.
"Lucius Malfoy told us. But never mind that; come through to the headmistress' office at Hogwarts. We need you."
Snape raised one brow. "I've no doubt you do. However, I am not foolish enough-"
"Severus, please listen to him." Remus Lupin's voice drifted urgently through the Floo from behind Harry's head. "It's not a trap; Malfoy needs your help, as do we."
"Now I know something's wrong," Snape sneered. "You and Lucius do not belong in the same sentence, Lupin. Why would you want to help him?"
Remus sighed. "It's complicated, Severus, but it has to do with that book you sent us."
"Ah. I told you to be careful with it," Snape said reprovingly.
Remus, back in Minerva's office, winced, but at least Snape couldn't see him and have the satisfaction of knowing his 'I told you so' had hit home.
Severus made up his mind in a hurry and stood up. "Get back, Potter, I'm coming through."
If Severus Snape was surprised at the state of affairs in Headmistress McGonagall's office, he did not show it. Instead, he walked around the desk looking at the book from all sides. He extended a long finger and ran it along the weave of the Universal Safety Net, humming in approval. "Really, Lupin, you should have read the book under this net in the first place. I told you to be careful," he said again, and it was apparent he was enjoying chiding Lupin on his (lack of) Dark Arts defence skills.
"Yes, yes," Remus said, exasperated. "I could do without all these 'I told you so's just now."
"Never mind all that," Harry snapped. "Ron and Hermione are in there!"
"More to the point, so am I."
Severus gasped. "Lucius? What in Merlin's name..."
"Severus. I do not know whether to be pleased to hear your voice or to curse you. If my wand was working... but never mind. Briefly, when you took this book through my wards you triggered protective magic-"
"Which I disarmed."
"-and in so doing you reversed it so that I, the book's owner, was the one to become trapped. Inside the warded object you had stolen, namely, this book. I have been here altogether too long already, and while I very much appreciate the new knowledge I've acquired in here, I am more than ready to leave."
"Ah. I had not foreseen that, I confess. I am sorry, old friend. I was merely borrowing the book for a while."
"Why didn't you ask me for it?" Lucius' voice was full of suspicion.
"Naturally I assumed you would not want to let a book that strongly protected off your property, even to lend it to me. So I merely sought to... borrow it. Temporarily, of course."
"Of course," Lucius drawled. "And to save time I will not ask, at least not yet, why you then gave it to that mangy werewolf."
"Naturally, he purloined it from me," Snape said smoothly. "It seems he is as sneaky as I am, and that is saying something."
Ron and Hermione could clearly see Lucius' expression, which Snape of course could not. Lucius did not believe his old friend for a second. They exchanged fearful looks, aware the Order needed its spy.
"This is all beside the point," Lucius said, agitated with the delay. "We need to get out. Our best hope is for you to take the book back to the manor, thus reversing the theft, if you will."
"I object to the word 'theft'," Severus said sharply, "but I agree with your course of action," he continued, more mildly. "I shall do that right away, providing these people do not prevent me leaving. But as they want their friends back too, I doubt that they will."
Remus closed the book, cautiously took the net from it, and stepped back. Snape stepped forward and with a quick wandless spell protected himself before picking up the book.
"I'll be off then."
"Not without us, Severus," Remus said. "We need to be there when they're set free. Malfoy could cause a few problems."
"You plan on coming to Malfoy Manor with me, do you? Don't you know who spends most of his time there these days?"
Remus' face fell. Harry groaned.
"Besides, with me and your friends there, Lucius should be containable. I will simply cross the wards, release them, leave the book on the property and Apparate them all back here. Will that suit?"
Harry looked dubious. "How do we know-?" he began.
"We have to trust Severus," Remus urged. "Albus used to tell us that, time and again. I think it's about time we started doing it."
Snape gave a small twitch of his lips; it was the nearest thing to a smile Harry had ever seen on the man's dour features. He was very uncertain, very scared about all of this, but he had to agree. They had to try; Ron and Hermione would die in there if they didn't get them out. How long could a person survive without water anyway? Something like three days, wasn't it?
Severus, carrying the book and with it, three people, disappeared through the Floo, calling out his own address as he went. Harry went to follow, but Remus held him back. "He'll have sealed his Floo behind him, you can be sure of it. Severus wouldn't want us poking around his bolt-hole. If you rebound from a blocked Floo it's painful, take it from me."
Harry nodded, knowing Remus was right. "I think it was his home, Remus. It wasn't very nice," he added, thoughtfully. It had looked about as pleasant as his own room in Privet Drive, and he wondered at that. He'd never really considered where Snape might live. During Snape's time as professor, Harry had assumed he lived at Hogwarts, as if he was part of the castle. It was a child's viewpoint, he now realised. Spinner's End was no Malfoy Manor though, that much was certain.
Severus tumbled out onto his hearthrug, sealed the Floo behind him and hurried out of his front door. His long legs quickly took him to a bridge over the canal, and he walked down onto the towpath beneath it. It was dark and deserted under the bridge, and it smelled of urine and the dank waterway. That didn't matter; it was an excellent place from which to Apparate and only moments from his door. Severus expertly cast a Disillusionment spell over himself and, seconds later, he was gone.
Severus aimed for just outside Lucius' wards at the edge of a small wood. Crossing back onto Malfoy property, he was far enough from the house to avoid notice and with his Disillusionment spell in place it was very unlikely he'd be detected. He put the book down on the ground, the action symbolically returning it to its owner. Then he crouched beside it, waiting for three trapped people to emerge. After quite a while nothing had happened, so finally Severus sighed, exasperated.
A muffled reply required him to open the book, which he did, extremely carefully.
"Have you done it?"
"Yes, we're inside your wards."
"Has anyone seen you?"
"No. But I don't want to stay here long. Can't you get out?"
"Nothing has changed in here. The boundaries of this place remain fixed. Granger and Weasley are examining them now. Well?" this last was addressed to his fellow prisoners.
"There's no change; no way out, Professor," HermioneGranger called.
"Not your professor now," Severus mumbled, but added, "then I presume it hasn't worked. Any ideas now, Lucius? Do I have to get it back to the library?"
"No, that shouldn't make any difference." Severus heard Lucius sigh heavily. "There might be another way; a more... thorough way. It's difficult, but may be possible."
"Then tell me!"
"Not here." Lucius sounded reticent. "No, it's best for now that you get us back to somewhere safe. To Hogwarts."
"You want to go to Hogwarts?" Ron asked, amazed.
"It would seem wise, while I explain about the... er... alternate method."
"Very well." Severus flicked his wand to close the book, picked it up and straightened, before striding quickly beyond the manor boundary. He was back under the canal bridge in no time.
"Oh no, not again!"
"Please, just a quick word."
"I have nothing to say to you, Malfoy."
"You don't know what I'm going to say."
"Of course I do. You want to tell me you're not like you seem. You want to ask me out again."
"Look, just give me enough time to explain..."
"What can you explain? Why you're such a git to me and my friends; why you're so cruel about my family?"
"Yes, I mean, no, I mean... Oh, Merlin, please, just talk to me."
"No. I'm not letting you make a fool of me. And anyway, why would you think I'd be interested in you?"
At this, Draco Malfoy looked genuinely confused for a moment, and Ginny Weasley snorted. "Oh, right," she cooed, "because everyone's after a piece of you, is that it? You're just so irresistible."
Malfoy looked momentarily encouraged, until he saw she was sneering. "I-"
"Stow it, Malfoy. I might give you a chance if I'd ever seen a glimmer, just the tiniest hint of a real human being in there. But I haven't, not in six years. Now sod off and leave me alone!" And Ginny put out a hand and pushed him, hard, in the chest. Malfoy stumbled into the wall behind his back, and by the time he'd straightened up, she'd gone.
"Merlin! She's stubborn," he breathed, then grinned. It was definitely part of her allure. Only part, mind you. Ginevra Weasley was a damned fine witch in all respects: clever, beautiful, brave, athletic... Draco's eyes unfocused as he considered the memory of Ginny on her broom, playing Seeker for her team whenever Potter was otherwise engaged. Which was quite a lot of the time lately. When his eyes had focussed again, he realised he was no nearer to getting her to go out with him though, and he scowled, turned on his heel and hurried off to his next class.
Three professors (both current and former), namely Severus Snape, Remus Lupin and Minerva McGonagall, and one lone student (Harry Potter) sat around a square table in the headmistress' office at Hogwarts, finishing an impromptu dinner that had been served by the house-elves. While the rest of the school's occupants ate in the Great Hall, these four were far too busy, not to mention too agitated or too notorious, to go there, and so they ate their chicken and ham pie, new potatoes and vegetables around the table while they discussed the problem that had beset them all. There was a certain amount of fork-pointing and goblet-thumping, but so far they hadn't fallen out with each other.
Harry was determined to get on with Snape if he could, because he couldn't help feeling sorry for the plight of his best friends, stuck inside an old book with Lucius Malfoy and unable to eat anything. He'd insisted the book should be closed while they ate, in case the smell of the food or the sound of cutlery scraping on plates disturbed the unfortunate captives, most especially Ron, who Harry knew was in love with his meals. Harry had been loath to face up to the situation, as he really had no idea how to proceed, but he knew they must get to it, and soon. Lucius Malfoy seemed to have a plan, and while Harry was inherently distrustful of anything suggested by a Malfoy, he recognised that he was out of ideas.
"I believe," Severus said, setting down his cutlery some minutes later, "that it is time to reopen the book."
Harry frowned at the remaining portion of food on his plate, but shrugged and set his knife and fork aside too. McGonagall had already finished – she seemed to have the appetite of a bird, and a small one at that – and Remus was wiping his lips on his napkin, having just finished his meal.
Remus Lupin put down his napkin, leaned over to the book which had been set in the middle of their table, and opened it. As the house-elves bustled in to remove the empty plates, then returned with coffee and biscuits mere moments later, Lucius Malfoy's voice was heard floating up from the pages.
"Well, well, Headmistress, you've kept me waiting. Is what I have to say so dull that it does not interest you?"
"Oh, shut up, Malfoy," Ron groused at his fellow-captive before Minerva could answer. "The whole world doesn't revolve around every word you say, you know."
"Not in a hurry, Weasley?" Lucius drawled.
"We're all in a hurry," Hermione snapped. "Now stop bickering and messing about and get on with your story."
Harry knew how demanding Hermione could be in that mood, and it certainly did the trick, as Lucius began right away: "When I was a young man of about my son's age, my father told me of the wards that protect our most precious possessions. Not everything in Malfoy Manor is so charmed, for things like chairs and writing implements are of no exceptional value. But as collectors of ancient and esoteric artefacts the Malfoys have amassed a large number of items we would sorely miss, and alas, there are covetous and light-fingered individuals in everyone's social circle."
Lucius paused, and Severus knew that if Lucius had been standing in the room in front of them, a chilling, ice-blue glare would have settled upon him right now. Severus maintained his poker face, however, and unless he wanted to appear vulgar – and as a Malfoy that was unthinkable – Lucius had no recourse but to continue.
"The items are tied into the wards surrounding the manor, so that should any of them be removed through those wards, a trap would be sprung. The thief would find himself trapped in a dungeon deep below the centre of the house. And not just any dungeon, mind you; this one is door-less, windowless, and quite inescapable. The only way into that dungeon is by an esoteric Dark spell that protects our property; the only way out is by death.
"Such charming people, the Malfoys," Ron said clearly. Hermione snorted and Lucius said no more for a while.
"Pray continue, Mr. Malfoy. Your fate depends upon it." Minerva sounded as if she'd had quite enough of the personality conflicts within the book that lay on the centre of her table.
"Now, as you have no doubt realised by now," Lucius went on, "the book you have in your possession should never have been removed from the Malfoy library. That my old friend chose to do so without asking me first is... unfortunate."
"Shouldn't Snape be in the dungeon under your manor right now, then?" Harry interrupted. "And for that matter, why are you in there?"
"Indeed he should, and I will get to my plight in a while, if you will stop interrupting." Harry had the grace to look abashed, which Lucius could not see, but it surprised Severus. Lucius continued with his story. "Now, my father went on to tell how a particularly... sneaky and cunning mage... might circumvent the spell-work on the wards and on the item he was stealing-"
"I was not stealing it!" Severus barked, unable to keep silent any longer. "I have already told you-"
"Shut up!" Harry snapped right back. "This won't get them out. Just let him continue – he will anyway. Malfoys can't help it, they have to be sarcastic. I thought you'd realise that by now, spending as much time as you do brown-nosing up to them."
"Harry!" The headmistress sounded quite shocked. "Such language! And in my office! Really!"
"Sorry, Headmistress," Harry mumbled, but he was still glaring at Snape, his resolutions forgotten for now. "But this is just wasting time, isn't it?"
Severus sneered at Harry; the brat was quick enough to chide others for what he kept doing himself, but he managed not to say it, as time was, indeed, running out.
Minerva frowned but fell silent at Harry's words, and so Lucius picked up his tale. "To cut a long story short, somehow Severus managed to turn the spell-work inside out, so that instead of him being trapped by the magic protecting the book, I, as the book's rightful owner, have ended up trapped inside it instead."
"What?" "How?" "Eh?" and other interrogatives came from various listeners more or less at once.
"And what about us?" Hermione piped up.
"Why, you were simply caught in a magical web triggered by handling the book once it was outside the boundaries of my property. I presume you were reading it at the time?"
"Hermione was," Ron said. "But I wasn't really touching it."
Lucius chuckled, sounding darkly amused. "Then I must presume you were touching her, Weasley. Really, the males of your family cannot keep their paws off their females, can they?"
"Now look, Malfoy-"
"Shut up!" Harry repeated. "Let him speak. Just filter out the insults; I've told you, Malfoys can't help it. It's in their genes or something."
"Jeans? Isn't that those Muggle trousers? What's trousers got to do with it?" Ron was totally bewildered now, but Hermione put her hand on his arm and shook her head.
"Later, I'll explain later," she whispered. Probably much later at this rate, she thought ruefully.
"Now we're all up to speed on the situation, even if we don't understand the workings of the spell completely," Remus prompted a little ruefully, "can we please get to the point of this, Malfoy? What is this alternate method you mentioned before?"
"Possible alternate method," Lucius hedged.
"Yes, yes, man. What is it?" Minerva snapped, and her Scottish accent, which only got thicker as she became agitated, was almost indecipherable, for by now her patience with the entire company was sorely tried.
"You won't like it..."
"Just tell us, or so help me I'll use one of Albus' less ethical instruments on that book," Minerva warned.
"You really won't like it..."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake! I've never known a more vexing man!"
Lucius could be heard chuckling now. The four occupants of the headmistress' office glared at the book, which might well have combusted under the combined wattage of their glares had it not been so well protected by Dark magic and the Universal Safety Net. Lucius recovered his equilibrium, and spoke: "You surprise me, Headmistress. Forgive me, but I thought you were well acquainted with Severus Snape."
Harry couldn't help grinning at the black-robed man seated opposite him. Even Snape's friends found him hard to take, eh?
"Can we just get on with it?" It was Ron's turn to sound quite pained now. Harry wasn't surprised; Ron didn't take kindly to missing meals.
"Very well, as you all insist, I will tell you."
And he did. Lucius Abraxas Malfoy came up with just about the most humiliating saga any of them had ever heard. A rite, a ritual no less, that was in very dubious taste and most likely illegal. According to Lucius, Harry Potter had to go through a Dark ritual to release the book's prisoners, as it was a Dark book that had trapped them. And, even worse, he would have to do it with Severus Snape.
"Why Snape?" Harry yelled, springing to his feet.
Minerva put a restraining hand on his arm and pushed him back down into his chair, shaking her head so he wouldn't interrupt Lucius again and drag this out even longer.
"Because he is the one who laid hands on the book and started this unfortunate chain of events, of course," Lucius drawled, as if Harry was being very dense.
Harry looked across the table to see that Snape had a sneer on his face at that, no doubt sympathising entirely with Lucius' opinion of him. Harry scowled across at him, but this merely made Snape smirk.
Lucius was continuing. "I assume that Severus is the one who gave it to you, Potter. He thought he was being so blasted cunning. Well, Severus," he called loudly, "your duplicity has backfired on you now, old friend."
Snape's brows contracted, his scowl outmatching Harry's earlier effort. Harry, meanwhile, jumped up again and this time Minerva could not restrain him. "Why blame me? He sent it to Remus!" he yelled to the room at large.
"To be precise, Harry," Remus said, his head turning to follow Harry's progress as he paced around the table. "Severus sent it to 'the occupant of 12 Grimmauld Place'. We both occupy that house; that much is true, but you are the owner. Therefore, in wizarding law, and as far as the magic is concerned, he really sent it to you as the master of the house, and therefore the senior occupant regardless of our ages and stations."
Harry spun around and looked at Remus aghast, but upon seeing the seriousness of his ex-professor's expression, he groaned.
"Sit down, Mr. Potter," Minerva said.
Her tone held a note of sympathy that threatened to undo him, so Harry did. "What is this blasted ritual exactly?" he asked, his voice full of defeat.
"Severus will tell you, no doubt," Lucius drawled. "It's a ritual of reversal, and a powerful one. Severus will know the one I mean, and will realise how powerful it will be, given your status, Potter. That is, if Draco's reports about you have been accurate."
"Oh, move over!" Hermione's voice snapped from within the book. "Really, you can't help teasing him, or Professor Snape, for that matter, can you?" she snapped at Lucius. "Look, Harry," she called, "I know about this ritual, it's here in the book. It's... not good, I'm afraid. The most powerful ritual of reversal requires full-blown sex magic. And that comment by Malfoy refers, I imagine, to the fact that if one or more of the celebrants is a virgin, the ritual is more powerful still. Hopefully that will give us a good chance of getting out of here."
Harry's face had turned as pale as milk. Minerva cast a worried glance at Remus, who put a bracing arm around Harry's shoulders.
Harry opened his mouth to say something, but no more than a pitiful croak emerged.
"Look, mate," Ron said. "I know you're a virgin –"
"What?" Harry squawked. "Ron! How could you! I'm here with the headmistress, Remus and Snape, for Merlin's sake."
"Yeah, well, I'm sorry, mate, but time's running out and your modesty has to take a back seat. I'm bloody starving! And Mione needs the loo. What's she supposed to do, just go in the corner or something? How would you like it? She's the only girl in here."
"Oh, Circe, Weasley, I am not going to look at your girlfriend urinating," Malfoy said, sounding horrified.
Which made Remus frown, for how much worse could that prospect be than some of the Death Eater activities the man had no doubt taken part in?
"No, you're not, you old perv!" Ron's voice sounded very belligerent. Harry could imagine his face being quite scarlet, even his ears, but he found he could summon little sympathy for Ron at the moment, given what they were talking about and the way he'd just outed him as the only virgin in the room.
"Shut up!" Harry yelled again, but his yell was much quieter this time. A lot of spirit seemed to have drained out of him at the words 'sex magic' and 'Snape' being spoken in one sentence, and so close to his name.
"Listen, Harry," Hermione called, and her voice sounded so fucking reasonable and in control that Harry immediately felt his blood pressure rising. "Your being a virgin just makes it stronger – makes it all work that much better. I know it's a lot to ask, but it's the only way we'll get out of here."
Severus hadn't said much all evening, and that was because he'd been having the greatest difficulty processing everything he'd heard. He knew the ritual Lucius was referring to, and now he was feeling almost apoplectic that he would have to do it... and with Potter! He finally joined in the discussion: "This is out of the question," he said in clipped tones. "Completely impossible."
"Please, Professor," Hermione begged from a distance of mere feet away that in magical terms was in another universe entirely, "we need your help."
"So what else is new?" Severus snarled and sprang to his feet and began to pace around the table, much as Harry had done before, but in Severus' case it was in a midnight swirl of billowing black cloth. "Someone always needs my help; there's always a good reason why I have to put my life or reputation on the line for someone else's benefit, isn't there? But will I get any thanks for it? Will I be treated as a respected member of wizarding society? Oh, no, I-"
"Severus!" Minerva cried, completely out of patience now and shooting up from her seat in a flurry of tartan robes like an avenging angel rising from the pit. "That is quite enough! This is wartime! People have to do unpleasant things every day. Putting aside your personal objections-"
As Severus opened his mouth to respond she spoke even louder, and Harry winced. "I said putting aside your personal objections, this remains the only way to save three lives. Now, are you going to refuse to do that? Because it strikes me that whichever side you are on in this war, and believe me, I am completely mystified about that at this moment in time, you have someone to save. Now, stop bleating like an infant, man, and get on with it!"
Three pairs of eyes looked at Minerva McGonagall with equal degrees of shock. The silence from inside the book was deafening too, telling of the occupants' similar reactions. Severus, visibly wilting under Minerva's gaze, gave a curt nod and sat down again.
"Right then," Remus said, clearing his throat, "we need to give the ritual to you and Harry. No one else needs to know the details, I think," he added, aiming for discretion.
"Sadly, that's not the case, I'm afraid," Lucius said, and for the first time he sounded genuinely regretful.
Severus, however, believed the tone of regret to be entirely bogus. "I am not having that ritual paraded before the occupants of this room, or those within that book!" he said, thumping his fist on the table and glaring most unpleasantly.
"Too late," Ron said, sounding rather smug. "We know all the contents of this book from cover to cover; it sort of happened when we got trapped in here."
Lucius' aristocratic chuckle had the veins in Severus' temples bulging.
"Besides, there is another who needs to be involved in the ritual," Lucius said.
"And who is that?" asked Minerva with trepidation.
"Why, my son."
"Malfoy!" Harry yelled.
"No, I mean, you mean Draco?"
Lucius took a while to work this out, because Potter seemed to have lapsed into some kind of gibberish. "Ah, yes, I see what you mean. In view of my current imprisonment inside these pages, Draco is de facto master of Malfoy Manor, and hence the temporary owner of this book, which I trust you are keeping in good condition, by the way."
"Lucius," Severus snarled, sounding most affronted, "when did you ever know me to mishandle a book?"
"You used to write in margins a lot," Harry said rather spitefully. Severus' eyes widened, and it was obvious he was about to rant again, but Lucius chimed in from the book and the situation was – temporarily – defused.
"So Draco, Severus and... Potter," Lucius spat the final word as if Harry was the last person he wanted involved, "must get together and go over the ritual as quickly as possible. Once you have memorised it, and it shouldn't take long as I believe it is quite...ah... basic, you can perform it. The sooner, the better."
"Yes, please!" Hermione called. "I'm getting rather desperate."
Harry wasn't sure, but he thought he might have caught the sound of Ron's stomach agreeing with her.
"I'm really not sure about this," the headmistress said, pacing the office. "Dark rituals in Hogwarts! Whatever next? Of course I understand the need, but really... sex magic?" she trailed off weakly. "Hogwarts does not teach the Dark Arts, we stand firmly against it, and now you're saying we have to perform a Dark sex magic ritual in order to free my students?"
"I'm afraid so," Remus said. "Think of it as a necessary evil, Minerva. After all, Albus had to face his fair share of those."
"Yes, well, I'm not at all sure what the governors will say, let alone the Ministry." Minerva pressed a hand against her narrow chest, as if her heart was labouring.
"Surely you are not foolish enough to tell either?" Severus Snape, still on his feet, gave the headmistress a withering look. "If so, your intelligence has deteriorated in the months since I left the school."
"Left?" Harry squawked, shooting up from his seat to join the others standing around the table, in order to defend his headmistress. "You ran away!"
Severus whirled on him, spots of colour staining his normally sallow cheeks. "Do not... just do not bring up that night, Potter, or I shall have to hex you."
Remus stepped between the two men. "Severus, I agree," he said, surprising both adversaries. "There is no need for any of us to bring up such unpleasantness. I realise you did what you had to do."
Severus, shocked, took a step back. His breath was coming fast now, as if he suspected a trap. "What?" he rasped.
"I realise you did what you did for a reason; probably some plan of Albus'."
Severus' eyes widened. "You do?"
"Yes." Remus stepped closer to Severus and held out his hand. "I'd like to have you as a friend, Severus, if you will do me the honour."
Harry had gone very pale. "What do you mean, Remus?" he asked, as if his ex-professor had taken leave of his senses. Harry trusted Remus, the last of his father's friends save the traitor, Wormtail. Remus was one of the few adults he could still rely on. The thought of Snape doing the dreadful thing he had done for a reason – a good reason – was almost beyond him. He sank back into his seat and put his head in his hands, feeling so conflicted his head was whirling. The headmistress patted him bracingly on the shoulder.
"There, there, Potter. Let's hear Remus out, shall we?" Minerva too, had had her doubts about what exactly had happened during that dreadful night in June. At the time she hadn't wanted to believe it, had hardly credited it. She had worked alongside Severus Snape for many years, had acknowledged his dedication as Head of Slytherin House, and seen him work tirelessly to help Albus and Madam Pomfrey over those years. True, his classroom method had been... unfortunate... but Severus was also a skilled Healer in his own right, if not recognised by any diploma. Yes, he also had an awful personality as a colleague, but he had done a good job, far better than many others who had turned their hand to teaching, and she had always suspected he was a good man beneath the acidic exterior.
"You're on our side, Severus; you're in deep cover working with Voldemort, aren't you?" Remus continued, ignoring Severus' wince at Voldemort's name. "I'm sure you're doing all you can to undermine him and his plans. I admire you; you're a brave man. I couldn't face that man, if you can still call him a man, as you must do nearly every day of your life. The thought of lying to him is beyond my endurance. Thank you, Severus."
Harry was making small snuffling noises now. Minerva stood closer to him. "Do you need to see Madam Pomfrey, Potter?" she asked quietly.
"It can't be, it just can't..." Harry said weakly. "Not Snape, not him."
Severus merely snorted. "For Merlin's sake, Minerva, leave him to his maundering! Let's get on with this, before we all get old and the people we're trying to rescue are no more than illustrations in that grimoire! We'll face the truth after they're out. Of course, we'll have some other things to... sort out then." Severus was thinking of Lucius and what the man would do once he got out; he must have heard Severus' cover being blown sky-high. But Severus wasn't overly worried yet; Lucius had been getting very uncomfortable in the Dark Lord's service ever since Voldemort had regained a body and Severus had often suspected that Lucius had been happy while Voldemort was little more than a memory. The restoration was Wormtail's doing, of course, along with that madman Crouch, and although Lucius had never said as much, Severus thought Malfoy had wanted Voldemort's return about as much as he and Albus had. Now their Dark Lord was living in Malfoy Manor, no less, and it was far too close for Lucius' comfort. No, everything was not quite lost yet.
Harry pulled himself together at Snape's words; for a while there he'd forgotten Ron and Hermione! "Yes, let's get on. I'm sorry, I'm okay now. I'm not saying I believe that he's on our side for real, but I'm ready to do whatever I can to get my friends back."
"Good lad," Remus approved.
Severus merely snorted again, and at that same moment a sharp rap came at the outer door.
"Who is it?" Minerva called.
"Ah, come in, Mr. Malfoy."
And he did. Six feet of slim, blond wizard with a practised look of disdain on his pointy features. "You sent for me, Headmistress?"
"Yes, Mr. Malfoy. Please sit down; I think you'll find you need to before long."
Draco glanced at the others in the room; his eyebrows rising at the sight of Snape being among them. Seeing Potter looking shaken and sitting quietly for once was also odd; Draco knew something serious must be happening. He took the chair between Snape and Lupin, moving the chair closer to Snape and away from the werewolf. He observed Potter seated opposite him with frank disbelief. Potty never got in such a state. This must be bad. Draco turned to the headmistress, and she began to speak.
"I'm afraid there has been an accident involving your father," McGonagall said.
Draco paled. It was normally difficult to detect Draco paling, what with his milk-white skin, but the shock was so bad this time that it could be seen quite clearly for once. "F-father?"
"Draco!" the elder Malfoy called.
Draco's head turned from left to right in an attempt to find the owner of that voice, but his father wasn't in the room. "What is this?" he cried, shooting out of his chair. "Where is my father? What have you done to him?"
"Calm yourself, Draco," Severus snapped. "Sit down and we will explain."
Severus took the time to tell the tale to Draco, acting the Head of House again as far as Minerva could see. She was impressed with the combination of discipline and caring she saw Severus use on Draco, but despite that Draco was soon in a similar state to Harry.
"We must get him out! Tell me what to do, Professor. There must be a way."
"There might be a way," Severus said carefully. "Your father has advised us to enact a ritual; that is, myself, you and Potter here. It is a very old rite and uses both blood magic and sex magic. Your role will be quite a minor one," he assured Draco, who looked like he was going to faint. "Most of the magic will be woven by me and Potter, as we are the..." Severus cleared his throat. "...most involved."
"I wish you'd never done it, sir, oh Merlin, how I wish that," Draco moaned, staring at Severus and lamenting the theft that precipitated all this. "Me, in a sex magic rite with Potter? That's just sick."
"Oi!" Harry snapped. "What about Snape? Isn't that worse?"
Draco turned to look at him with an expression of disgust on his face. "No, it isn't. Quite frankly, if I touched you with a bargepole it would be too intimate."
"D'you think I want to touch you then, ferret-face?" Harry yelled, firing up.
"You tell him, Harry," Ron shouted out from the book.
"Oh, shut up, Ron!" Hermione snapped. "Let's get on with this! If you keep interrupting we'll be here all night!"
"I fear that will happen anyway," Lucius lamented over Ron's grumbles, and he sounded truly downcast.
The headmistress cleared her throat, bringing the group's attention back to her. "The first step is for Professor Snape, Mr. Potter and Mr. Malfoy to go and study the ritual," Minerva announced, using Severus' old title almost without thinking. "As Mr. Malfoy senior said, it shouldn't take long, it is rather basic. I will go now to begin preparing an area for this to be carried out. There are some deep levels below Hogwarts where legend has it that this kind of thing once went on centuries ago. First I must talk to the castle, let it know what we are doing before you start the ritual, or we will be in trouble. We don't want you trapped like your friends, now do we? Now, it shouldn't take all night to talk to the castle about which area to use, but it will take some time, so Remus, would you stay here with the book, please? If anything untoward happens, send my owl; she will find me." Minerva gestured to the owl perch by the window, where a barn owl perched, seemingly fast asleep with her head under her wing.
Remus nodded. "Of course."
"Now, Severus, Harry, Draco," Minerva said, softening her voice and using their first names, "please come this way."
The three men followed the headmistress out of the office and into a side room, none of them looking very keen to go. "This book should have all you need; there are many rituals described in here and I am fairly sure the Ritual of Reversal is there too; it is intended to reverse an earlier piece of magic, of whatever kind. But of course that is often not easily accomplished if the original spell-weave was powerful, which we know this one to be. However, if the ritual is not there, Severus, you must go back to Remus and he will take a copy of the correct ritual from inside the book in which our friends are trapped, but that might take a while with the Safety Net in place and really, I'd rather not disturb the pages any more than necessary. By the time I return, you should be ready. Call a house-elf if you need refreshments. Oh, and my private bathroom is through there." She pointed at a door leading further off the main room.
"Very well." Severus' tone was serious. When the headmistress retreated, he turned to face the two younger men. "Well, well, this is a pretty pickle, but we must get on with it or face the headmistress' wrath. You all know we have no choice if we wish to rescue those trapped within the book. Now, I will give you a brief description of the ritual and you can then read the relevant section in this." He tapped the book Minerva had given him.
"Briefly, what will happen is this: the deflowering will take place on an altar of stone. Not very comfortable for you, Potter, but I imagine the headmistress will cast some form of cushioning charm on it for you. If she has time, that is.
"Draco, you will be in charge of all the accessories, including candles, an athame, and, of course, the lubricating potion." Draco still looked pale, but he nodded. It didn't sound like he was being asked to do anything too terrible, after all.
Harry hated the matter-of-fact tone Snape was using, and his face flamed at the explicit words his hated ex-professor was saying. He would never have imagined this in his wildest dreams – or nightmares. "Lubricating potion?" he said faintly.
"Unless you wish your first time to be agonising, then yes, a lubricating potion. I have some in my own private store-" Harry snorted, but Severus continued unabashed, "-and will add numbing agents to one of those to make it easier for you. Merlin knows why I should bother, but I have never been into rape."
"You surprise me," Harry muttered.
Draco perked up and looked wild then. "Potter, you git, he's trying to help you! Merlin knows why, but he's being nice, and all you can do is insult him!" he yelled.
"He's a Death Eater!" Harry yelled back, immediately falling comfortably into more familiar territory by arguing with Draco. "He probably rapes people all the time!"
"Being a Death Eater has nothing to do with rape!" Draco snarled back, then he got the strangest expression on his face, looked stunned, and stepped away from Harry, his cheeks flaming.
"Yes, as you say, Draco," Severus drawled. "Nothing to do with rape; or at least it shouldn't be. However, maybe you have learned a little more about the organisation by now and realise how foolish your last statement was. I, however, have managed to avoid such... unpleasantness... by dint of my Potions knowledge for many years. It is ironic that Potter here should understand the organisation your father is such a prominent member of far better than you do, or did until recently. But this is not moving us forward; at this rate your father will be in that book until doomsday. Now, back to the ritual.
"You, Draco, will be the altar servant, and will undress us. You will assist Potter onto the altar..."
"I can get up by myself," Harry muttered.
"Doubtless," Severus continued seamlessly, "but this is a ritual, Potter. A ritual. All the movements are prescribed by the rite and are part of the spell-weave, so we will follow this-" he tapped the page he was reading from, "-to the letter. Think of it as following stage directions in a play, if you will. Now, Draco will also apply the lubrication, first to you, Potter, as the virgin, by opening and preparing you for me..."
Harry gurgled and put his head into his hands to hide his flaming cheeks. Draco could not sneer at him for it though, for he was just as upset by the thought of opening Harry for sexual penetration by his ex-Head of House. It was just too surreal. He wanted to leave, but couldn't think of a way to do it with Snape looking so fiercely at both of them.
Severus cleared his throat, and after allowing the boys a moment to compose themselves, continued: "Then you will apply it to me, Draco, preparing me to enter you, Harry, should I not be aroused at that point."
"Ugh!" Harry said again, genuinely feeling bad for Draco now, and it amazed him that he could feel that way.
Draco glowered at Harry, again on Snape's behalf, before losing his outrage and feeling quite faint again. Harry saw it and offered him a wan smile of condolence, which amazed Draco in the small part of his mind that could process it. The rest, the majority of Draco's mind, was silently panicking. Severus merely sighed.
"We have to get past this, Potter. You will be penetrated, do you understand? According to Lucius, and I must say I agree with his reasoning, it is the only way to empower a spell strong enough to remove the magic trapping your friends in that book."
"Oh, of course. Never mind my father, let's all rush around to rescue his friends!" Draco, who had tuned back into the conversation again, sounded insulted. "Who is more important than the Weasel and the Mudblood, after all?"
"Shut up, Malfoy!" Harry bellowed. "Don't call them that!" It felt good to deflect his panic into anger, it was the only way he'd found that helped with coping with this dreadful conversation. He did not realise that Draco's sniping was his own defence mechanism.
"Indeed, it is not helpful," Severus said repressively. "You will be polite, Draco, or we will get nowhere."
"Sorry, sir." Draco always hated disappointing Snape, so he felt bad for what he'd said now. And perhaps Ginny had a point about him bad-mouthing her family, which made him feel really uncomfortable when he considered it. Thinking about her now, in the middle of this discussion, well, it seemed wrong, somehow. Of course, it was all this that was wrong, not Ginny...
"Well then, once you have slicked me," Severus continued in his lecturing tone, "you will line me up to enter Potter."
Really, Draco thought, it was just like listening to him teach Potions, until you processed what he was saying.
At Harry's discomfited splutter, however, Severus lost his detached, lecturing tone and snapped, "I assure you I do not need the assistance, Potter. However, as I explained earlier and you apparently immediately forgot, this is all very ritualistic and the movements are prescribed in the ritual which has been handed down over the centuries." He tapped an ink-stained forefinger on the book.
"I didn't forget!" Harry snapped right back. "Forgive me if I find this just a bit upsetting, right. The thought of you sticking your cock inside me is bad enough, but to have his hands all over me too... ugh!"
"I am afraid you have no choice in the matter." Severus managed a smirk, which might not have been entirely wise given Harry's state of mind.
"No, maybe not," Harry growled, furious now, "but neither do you, you greasy git!"
Severus' nostrils flared at that, his eyes widened, and he went a very strange shade of not-quite-pink, which was no doubt due to the yellowish hue of his skin. "You will show me respect, Potter!" he bellowed, spittle flying as it always did when he was enraged.
Harry, undaunted and long past considering what was wise, stepped forward, one finger jabbing Snape in his bony chest, but whatever pyrotechnics might have followed such impertinence were mercifully forestalled by a knock on the door.
Three heads turned and looked at the ancient oak. The knock had sounded like the knell of doom to all of them.
Minerva took the three men back into the main part of her office, where they were reunited with Remus and the people in the book.
Harry sank into a squashy armchair. If he was honest with himself, he wasn't feeling so good; he was beginning to worry that the quick dinner he'd eaten might have upset his stomach, because he was starting to feel sick. There was an odd buzzing noise in his ears, too; he felt chilled and his hands were shaking. McGonagall, Snape and Remus were speaking together, their heads were nodding and sometimes they'd glance across at him. Harry couldn't hear what they were saying because of the damned buzzing noise, like a fly had got into his ear! Harry briefly wondered where Malfoy was and turned his head. Malfoy was seated in another soft chair, cradling his head in his hands. His shoulders seemed to be shaking... was he laughing about all this? Or... Merlin! He couldn't be sobbing. Not Malfoy. The git should enjoy the prospect of humiliating Harry, shouldn't he? Or perhaps Malfoy really hated him so much that the thought of touching Harry intimately was as bad for Draco as the thought of being buggered by Snape was to Harry. Harry thought he definitely might be sick.
"Here, Harry, drink this."
Remus put a mug into Harry's hands and Harry got a nostril full of ginger-smelling steam. Amazingly, just the smell of it made his stomach settle a bit. He lifted the steaming drink to his lips and drank it down, despite it being too hot for his mouth. As he felt it burn its way down to his stomach, he realised that it was working, he was beginning to feel less sick. "Thanks, Remus," he said.
Remus smiled at him. "This is a shock, I realise that. But you'll be all right. You've done much worse than this."
Harry really wondered about that. He supposed facing Voldemort in a duel might be worse; having his blood taken forcibly probably was too. Battling Voldemort-in-Quirrell, then the diary-version of Tom Riddle, not to mention a basilisk and a dragon... well, he could go on. He nodded weakly.
"Good lad," Remus said, and squeezed his shoulder bracingly.
Yeah, Harry thought bitterly, I'm always a good lad when I'm doing what they need me to. He remembered Snape's earlier words that showed that he felt that way too, and for the first time Harry felt a real link between them. Then he felt selfish for considering himself, because Ron and Hermione were trapped and depending upon him, their only hope of escape before they died in that book from lack of water.
Harry glanced up to see Snape's black eyes fixed on him, and his stomach lurched again. How was he going to do this? With Snape? He wasn't even gay!
Suddenly Harry shot to his feet and made for the door, ignoring the calls of the others as he pounded down the spiral stairway, hardly waiting for it to turn. He leapt off the bottom step, nearly crashing into the guardian gargoyle, and headed for the Entrance Hall at a dead run.
"Harry!" Remus yelled from the office doorway. The spiral stair had gone down and he had no way – short of sprouting wings – of getting down there until it came back up again. "Harry, wait!"
There was no answer. "I suppose that was to be expected," a deep voice said from behind him.
"If you had been less confrontational with him, Severus-"
"Oh, yes, blame me. Tell me, Lupin, would you have looked forward to doing what I have to do? The boy was my student."
Remus coloured at the thought. "No, you're right. But still, it must be devastating for him. The lad's a virgin."
"Yes," Severus said, his voice full of resentment, "and it falls to me to make his first time bearable. Me, his hated ex-professor, in the middle of a Dark ritual with the participation of his schoolyard enemy, who will watch everything we're doing. Sometimes I really envy myself," he drawled, and turned back to Minerva, who was watching anxiously, wringing her hands.
By the time the stairs returned and Remus descended, there was no sign of Harry. Remus hurried to the main entrance, but there was no figure to be seen legging it over the lawns, no sign of a fugitive student at all. He shook his head. Harry might have had his cloak in his robes; he might have detoured to Gryffindor Tower to fetch it, along with the Marauders Map too, most likely. For if Harry didn't want to be found, Remus doubted he would have much chance of finding him.
Harry had reached the front door well before Remus, but instead of running through it he'd veered sideways and entered a corridor. There, he'd pulled out his Invisibility Cloak, which he kept shrunken and stowed in his pocket just in case of these sorts of emergencies, which seemed to happen to him quite often. Once satisfied no one could observe his progress from the castle, Harry hurried out onto the grounds. He headed for the Quidditch Pitch. From the broom stores he took his Firebolt. He mounted and kicked off.
The first rush of air was always accompanied by a rush of adrenalin. The air was always cool, at the very least, and often downright chilly. It drew the blood to his cheeks and quickened the breath in his lungs. It was good, and it was pure, and Harry never had to worry about flying. He did it instinctively, always had, and he loved it. He revelled in the feel of being airborne as he flew, his body knowing the direction he wanted to go in, even as his mind hardly noticed what he was doing.
The feelings of flight fully occupied his mind and headed off the worries that pounded inside his head, worries that he couldn't ignore on the ground. But he knew, even as he flew so freely, that this flight, like all flights, must come to an end; that those worries would still be there, and they had to be faced. Harry touched down on a rocky ledge outside a cave, crouched to avoid banging his head on the overhang as he entered, and propped his broom on the side wall. It was cool and calm in here, and almost unbearably nostalgic. Harry sat at the back, where his godfather had once sat, and sighed.
The thoughts whirled around in his head as he sat there, and he gave them free rein. He had to let them play out because before he could really think about them, face them, and put them into perspective he had to let this parade of desperate images dance behind his eyes: images of himself naked on an altar, perhaps tied up and unable to move, being touched by Draco Malfoy... and being fucked by Severus Snape. Harry let out a sob, his shoulders shaking like Draco's had earlier, and he shook his head, trying to deny his breakdown, but it happened anyway. His own desperation filled the air around him, and Harry wept alone. It was the only way he could bear to break down.
"Time is running out, Minerva!" Severus yelled. "The people in the book have no food, no water, and your golden boy has gone running off like a ten year old!"
"He won't stay away," the headmistress averred, but she sounded doubtful even to her own ears. "Harry will do his duty, I'm sure of it."
"So much for Potter the hero! You don't see Draco running like a scared rabbit." Severus was sneering to cover up his shame and fear. "He has to do this too."
"It's hardly the same thing, Severus," Remus chided. "He only has to assist you. Harry is the one who has to... well, allow you to..."
"We all know what he has to do," Minerva said, briskly cutting off Remus' attempt to find decent words for an indecent situation. "Talking about it will not find Harry."
The adults were standing in the Entrance Hall, frankly at a loss. Minerva had sent the house-elves to search, and asked the portraits too, but none had found any sign of him. Remus had fetched the Marauders Map, which much to his surprise had still been in Harry's trunk, but Harry did not show up in the castle or on the grounds. Severus had sneered and ranted some more, but he, too, was frantic. They needed to do this; surely Potter knew that as well as any of them. Did Potter think it would be easy for him, Severus, to do this? Did he really think the Greasy Git had no feelings?
Severus himself had been feeling rather ill. He was walking a knife's edge here; indeed, even by coming to Hogwarts, he had risked capture. Lucius would owe him, big time, when all this was over; he'd better not mention his stolen property! Potter would owe Severus too, though he doubted the boy would see it that way. Severus was going to have to do things no right-minded teacher should have to face, all to rescue Potter's idiot friends, who should not have been included in the study of the book anyway. Hadn't Severus told them to keep it between themselves? But of course that was too much to ask; Harry Potter had to follow his own rules, no one else's. Severus realised that although he was no longer a teacher at this point in time, he had been one for most of his adult life, and he still felt like one. The strict code that went with the job had become a part of him, and the prospect of fucking any student – let alone a male student – ritualistically, was making him feel decidedly queasy.
Severus had told Potter he was not a rapist, and nor was he. He avoided any sexual unpleasantness as much as possible, and Voldemort did not keep him in his inner circle for that purpose anyway, but for his intelligence and potion-making abilities, and so hardly cared whether Severus joined in with the gang-bangs. Severus was a single man; he had sexual experience, of course he did, but not a huge amount of it. His life had always been filled with too many other concerns to leave much time for a love life, and his looks and personality were against him; it had never been easy. Despite his confident words to Potter about not needing the help, he was secretly pleased that Draco had to be the one to prepare Harry. And as far as fucking Potter was concerned, well, fucking was fucking, wasn't it? Severus could just pound away and eventually he'd come. He got little enough sex that the stimulation would probably bring him off quite quickly.
Severus considered the wisdom of taking an aphrodisiac potion, or giving Harry one; but the ritual did not mention it, and it was best to stick to magical instructions to the letter, and certainly with so much at stake. Deviation could be disastrous; this applied not only in his own discipline, Potions, but in many others. No, there would be no assistance from chemical means; it would just be himself, Draco Malfoy and Harry Potter alone in a room. At least they wouldn't have a wider audience, unlike some of the Death Eater activities. Severus shuddered at the memories; he'd not managed to avoid being present every time.
In the end it would all come down to Severus taking Potter's virginity. Potter would be spread out for him like a sacrifice, a sweet, virgin sacrifice ready for Severus Snape to enjoy. It was the stuff of fantasies, and the most alarming thing was that even as he thought of it, he felt a sharp surge of desire stab through his belly, and that was not to be borne.
Merlin, who would have dreamt of such a thing? Even Minerva, despite her care for her Gryffindor hero, had agreed to it, and she was even providing the venue! No wonder she was looking rather green at the moment; she was currently playing host to Death Eaters in her school – Severus himself, whom she at least thought might not be a traitor after all, thanks to Lupin's words; Lucius, who definitely was a Death Eater, even if he was only in Hogwarts by proxy as it were; and his son, who Minerva likely suspected of being a trainee Death Eater.
They were all under stress. Probably Lupin was getting off lightest. Typical! He had no real role in the drama to come, and could afford to speak mildly and try to calm them all down. Bloody werewolf!
In the midst of all their anxious musings and the kerfuffle caused by Harry's flight, no one noticed Draco Malfoy leaving quietly.
Draco slipped out one of the back entrances of Hogwarts, and walked around the perimeter of the grounds heading for Hogsmeade. It was quite a long walk this way, but he didn't want to be seen and it would give him time to think. The dusk of the summer evening would help conceal him, but he should get to his destination before it got dark. And besides, with Potter gone, there was no hurry; they couldn't do the rite anyway.
The rite, oh Merlin, the rite! It would have been bad enough last year when Draco hadn't been nursing finer feelings, feelings that were alien to him when it came to girlfriends. But now, well the timing couldn't be worse. He wanted, no, he needed, to convince Ginny that he was serious, that she wasn't just some kind of joke, a dare or a wild fling. He knew he'd have no chance with her if she suspected any of those things. Hell, that's why he'd got nowhere with her so far, simply because she was convinced that was the case, that she could not credit Draco with any kind of sincerity, and Draco supposed, grudgingly, that given his past history she'd got a point. But how could he just go off and have sex now – because even if he was just an 'assistant', it was still sex – with Potter and Snape? She was sure to get to hear about it from Potter, sooner or later.
"Oh, Merlin," he moaned as he skirted the lake, aiming for the wall that lay behind the Quidditch pitch. The houses of Hogsmeade could just be made out in the distance and were luring him like a siren's song. He had somewhere he could stay there, somewhere he could think without fear of the adults manipulating him like they did so often with Potter. Draco was feeling real sympathy for his rival for the first time, realising that Potter had run off because he couldn't cope with the manipulation. But he'd be back, Draco was sure of it. Potter was such a heroic little Gryffindor.
It was an awful situation. Draco wanted Ginny. For the first time he wanted a girl who didn't seem to want him; his previous conquests had hardly been worth the name as they'd fallen very quickly, and very gratefully, into his lap. And onto his cock. But if he was ever to have Ginny he desperately needed to assure her of his good intentions: to be faithful, to have a serious relationship that was not some kind of joke. But now the headmistress, no less, wanted him to have sex with his ex-Head of House and his bitter rival – who were both men. "Merlin!"
Draco gained the boundary wall and hurried along, the Quidditch Pitch on his right. He was invisible from the castle now, and anyway, they probably hadn't even noticed he was gone. They were all worried about Potter; not one of them had considered that he, Draco Malfoy, had been just as upset by the demands they were making of him as Potter was. Oh, no. He sneered as the front gates loomed before him, and hurriedly slipped through, unnoticed. Hogsmeade was close to the school gates, and Draco lost no time heading for his bolt hole.
"You want a room, Mr. Malfoy?" The landlord's voice was polite, he even looked sympathetic. Draco realised he must look dreadful.
Aberforth Dumbledore gave Draco Malfoy a key inscribed with the number seven. Draco smiled; it was the nice quiet room under the eaves at the top of the Hog's Head. Perfect. He slipped up the eccentrically winding stairs, feeling the security of his regular hiding place surrounding him. He always came here when he needed time and privacy to think. Unlike most other students, he had money enough to pay for it, as well as House mates who would cover for him.
Potter would go back, but probably not immediately, and that gave Draco time. He knew he needed it, because the choice that faced him was no choice, but accepting it was proving more difficult than he could have imagined: he had to be unfaithful to Ginny before he even began a relationship with her, or leave his father trapped in that book. The choice should be easy, it should be a no-brainer, but it wasn't. If he went through with the rite, he'd never be able to convince Ginny – even if he ever got to have that conversation with her. He knew she'd see it in his eyes when she quizzed him about his intentions. Draco was not that good an Occlumens that he'd be able to conceal such an earth-shattering experience, and although she was a Gryffindor and he a Slytherin, Ginny was going to see through anything less than total honesty. Add to that his recent state of celibacy due to his reluctance to have sex with anyone except Miss Ginevra Weasley, and it was all boggling his mind. Draco did not want to face the implications of his feelings; quite frankly, he doubted he'd survive it.
"Merlin help me," he muttered, and laid down on the bed and covered his eyes with one up-flung arm.
Harry couldn't face it; he just couldn't. But he couldn't not face it. He had to do it; he knew he had to do it! Time was running out, Harry knew that too, knew his friends would be suffering even now, and soon it would get much worse. But how could he just go ahead and do this? Hand himself over to Malfoy to be pawed at, then spread his legs for Snape – Snape, for Merlin's sake! – to be fucked. His first time... it shouldn't be like this, it really shouldn't be like this. Everything about his life had to be difficult, didn't it? Every bloody last thing. His childhood at the Dursleys'; his role in the wizarding world; his passage through Hogwarts with its new, desperate situation to be faced each and every year; and now his bloody first time! As if being a teenager wasn't bad enough already – he'd never expected this side of his life to be so awful!
The cool air of the cave wrapped itself around Harry like a clinging blanket; it chilled and eventually dried the tear tracks on his cheeks. It was getting dark outside, but Harry hardly noticed. His eyes were closed, his head rested on his knees.
"You look worried, Headmistress."
The soft voice from beside her startled Minerva. She turned to look at the speaker. "Oh, Miss Lovegood. Shouldn't you be in your common room?"
"I just came out for a walk; I felt there was something I had to do. Do you ever get that feeling, Headmistress?"
Minerva looked into dreamy blue eyes. A shiver ran down her spine; perhaps Luna Lovegood was here for a reason. "Aye, that I do, Miss Lovegood. Tell me, do you know where Harry Potter goes when he's upset?"
"Harry Potter? Why yes, of course. Harry's a very quiet boy sometimes. We go on walks together around the lake, into the forest and up into the hills. He needs a lot of time to think because of all the worries that beset him. He has a difficult life, doesn't he? He was born under a very bad conjunction of planets and his early life was destined to be difficult. Has Harry gone off again then?"
"I think so, and we are getting quite worried. If you could tell me where he might be?"
"I don't think Harry would like me to tell all his secret places," Luna mused, fingering one of the amulets that she wore on a chain around her neck.
Severus bit his tongue. He wanted to hex the vapid Ravenclaw where she stood, but he had no business intervening between the headmistress and her student. He had no place here; his presence at Hogwarts was on sufferance only and there would be a scandal if the girl blabbed. He readied his wand hand to cast a wordless memory alteration charm.
Minerva's face fell, disappointment written large on her narrow features.
"But I could go and look for him, if you like."
"If you think you know where he is..." Minerva sounded doubtful.
"I could fly; it wouldn't take long. I'm sure he'd come back with me. He trusts me, you see."
All three adults felt her words like a slap. Each of them carried their own guilt about Harry, their own unworthiness of the boy's trust.
"If you could, Miss Lovegood, we would be grateful."
"I'll go now then," Luna said, and with her strange, faint smile still playing on her lips, she turned and headed out towards the Quidditch pitch and the broom shed.
"I hope I did the right thing," Minerva fretted. "It's getting towards twilight... what if she gets lost?"
"She can't." Severus smirked.
"Whatever do you mean, Severus?"
"I cast a tracking charm on her. If necessary, I can find her."
Luna saw Harry at the back of the cave; he was sitting with his back against the smooth rock, as if he was staring into the gathering gloom within. So as not to startle him, she coughed as she stood by the cave mouth. Harry didn't stir. Luna shook her head slightly; poor Harry. He was so conflicted, she could feel it; the air was tense with his anxiety. She walked into the cave and approached, making sure her feet made some noise on the loose stones and dirt of the cave floor. "Harry?"
He looked up then, and Luna saw he looked dreadful. He'd obviously been crying earlier. "Let me help you, Harry Potter," she said.
"You can't," he said hoarsely, his throat still sounding tight.
"I think I can," she disagreed softly. "I know all sorts of ways to make things easier. Tell me what's troubling you."
He sighed then, and something seemed to give way inside him, and it all came tumbling out, words pouring from his lips like a torrent. Luna's eyes widened as he told her of his plight. He was very nearly right; it was a very difficult thing he faced, but not insurmountable.
"You need to learn how to get through it," Luna said. "If you can dissociate your mind from what's happening, learn to think of some happy place and go there in your mind, you'll find you can get through anything. I do it all the time when I'm being teased. It really works."
"How do I do that?"
"There must be somewhere you feel really good – somewhere where you feel at peace, happy. Where would that be, Harry Potter?"
"My secret place on the edge of the wood, overlooking the lake," Harry answered instinctively; he hadn't had to stop and think about it. He'd never thought of his secret place like this until she'd asked about it. "I sit with my back to a big tree and watch the waves on the surface of the water. I imagine myself floating among them, just drifting with the current. It's peaceful and calm and nothing is expected of me." Harry surprised himself more than Luna when he said all of this; he'd never have spoken like that to anyone else, but knew he was safe voicing such thoughts with her.
"Then close your eyes and think of that place; see it in your mind."
Harry's eyes drifted shut and he took a deep breath.
"That's right; breathe slowly and deeply – not too deeply. Just let your body relax, as if you're floating on the surface of the lake and the waves are lapping against your hands and face, pushing you back and forth gently. Everything is peaceful, everything is calm. There's nothing for you to worry about, you can just lie there and let it happen."
Harry's breathing had slowed, and Luna watched as his arms and hands become relaxed, the clenched fists opened and his fingers now curled gently. She smiled as she watched it happen. She'd long since learned to relax like this; it was something her mum had taught her when she was quite young. It led to a wonderful, dreamlike peace, where time lost all meaning. She knew Harry would be listening to the sounds of the wind in the trees and his mind would provide the lapping of the waves, just as if he was floating on the lake.
"The lake just supports you, it takes you where it will and you're happy to go with it," Luna told him. "It makes you happy to float like this; and you can do it anytime, Harry. Whenever you're hurt or angry, frightened or overwhelmed, just sit quietly, or lie down if you prefer, and visit the place that's your special place, your place of peace."
Harry's mouth had quirked into a smile, and Luna smiled along with him. "That's right, Harry. It's good to smile, because the lake always makes you feel good. And remember, you can do this whenever you need to just by closing your eyes and imagining it, and you're there."
Harry nodded, his eyes still closed. Luna waited a while, watching him enjoying the peace; Harry so needed this. But eventually she had to call him back, because it had become even darker in the cave and they needed to get back to Hogwarts.
"But now it's time to come back, Harry, to come back with me to the school. Open your eyes now, that's right, open them and come back to me. Look around. We're here in a cave, and it's getting quite dark; it's time to go back."
Harry's eyes opened and he let out a sigh. "Yeah, I know."
Luna smiled at him. "Yes. But you'll be all right now, Harry Potter. You'll see."
She extended her hand and Harry took it, standing up. "You know, maybe I will," he said quietly. "If I can just get through it... that will be enough."
"You will – trust me; I know you're strong enough. And don't worry, I won't tell anyone about what we've talked about. You're my friend, Harry Potter."
Harry squeezed her hand, and smiled. "Did you come by broomstick?"
"Yes, it's here with yours."
They picked up their brooms and headed back to the school. The air was considerably cooler now, and the wind was against them, making their passage slower. It was almost totally dark now, and Harry found it was harder work to return than it had been to flee.
Ron slipped his arm around his girlfriend, and Hermione leaned into the comfort. They were sitting close now, and this gave Lucius a chance – he slipped into the gap left at the other end of the plush sofa, appreciating the soft seat with a purely mental sigh so he wouldn't disturb them. Ron still glared at him behind Hermione's back though, his blue eyes standing out more than usual as his face went quite pink.
"I mean nothing by it, Weasley. I would not touch your girlfriend deliberately," Lucius drawled.
"Yeah, because you think she's a Mudblood, right?" Ron said confrontationally.
Lucius sighed. "No, because I am a gentleman."
"Yeah, right." Ron was still staring fiercely at Malfoy.
Hermione joined the conversation with a loud, heartfelt sigh. Boys! Even when they were men they were still boys. Instead of remonstrating with them though, for she knew it would do no good, Hermione said for the umpteenth time: "I really need the loo."
"Go in the corner behind the couch, we won't look," Ron said earnestly. "I'll make sure he doesn't."
Lucius glared at Ron this time, though the effort of glaring did not make Lucius go pink. Before anything more could be said, however, Hermione whined: "I can't wee on the floor, Ron!" Though she sounded less definite on that subject than she had earlier.
"Yes you can. Don't be prissy, Herm. We've done worse."
"I've no doubt you have," Lucius said snidely. "Does your home even have indoor plumbing, by the way?"
Ron shot to his feet, reaching for his wand. Lucius had his out of its sheath inside his cane and pointing at Ron's chest before Ron could get his fingers around his. Lucius' technique was enviable.
"They don't work, remember?" Hermione said exasperatedly. "Oh, for Merlin's sake! We'll have to work together if we're going to get out of here before we shrivel up like mummies. Let's just try and keep this civil, shall we?"
Lucius looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Really, she wasn't as unbearable as Draco had implied. He was finding himself reluctantly admiring her during this enforced proximity, and that was an uncomfortable feeling for a man with his convictions. The Weasley boy, however, was a nightmare on all levels, just as he'd expected. The whole family was a disgrace to the name of pure-blood. He'd already known that, of course, but it was uncomfortable being locked up with one of them. "I am quite willing to be civil," Lucius said to Hermione.
"Really? Well let me know when you start," she snapped. "So far you've both been scoring points off each other the whole time, and frankly, it's getting old. We all know what's needed to get us out, and we know how difficult it will be for Professor Snape and Harry. How can we expect them to get on with it if we can't even get on here for a few hours? It's not like we've got to go through anything like they have."
"Thank the gods for that," Lucius muttered, but Ron had the goodness to look shamefaced at her words. He knew it was true, and that if they were going to get out, it would be because of his best friend's sacrifice, nothing less. He sat back down next to Hermione and resolved to ignore Lucius Malfoy, whatever the blond might come out with in future.
"And don't forget my son's role in it, either," Lucius snapped, sitting at the opposite end of the sofa from Ron as Hermione disappeared behind the sofa. "He has to take part too."
"Yeah, but Malfoy's doing the easy bit, as usual," Ron sneered, and his resolution of just a few seconds earlier was nowhere in evidence. "He always gets off lightly. At school he gets his cronies to do his dirty work; now it's Harry who's got the hard job while he just tinkers about on the sidelines. And Snape's hardly going to suffer either, is he?"
"My son's behaviour at school merely sounds like that of a consummate Slytherin. However, I am sure Severus is not looking forward to his part in the ritual," Lucius said, but his lips twitched in evident amusement.
Ron's eyes opened wider, and then Lucius could not keep the smirk from his lips.
"You don't think that at all!" Hermione yelled from her corner behind the sofa, reacting to the hint of amusement she'd heard in Lucius' tone. The sounds of underwear being pulled up hurriedly and robes being adjusted drifted forward to the men's ears. "You think he's going to enjoy it. He'll humiliate Harry, and so will your son!"
"Oh, I doubt that," Lucius drawled, but Hermione and Ron thought otherwise.
"Anyway," Hermione shot back at him as she rounded the sofa and plopped between them again, "you needn't think you're staying on this sofa any longer, either of you. I'm going to lie down now, so you can just make yourselves comfortable on the floor." It was a petty revenge on Malfoy, but revenge all the same.
Ron groaned, and Malfoy looked positively put out, which made Hermione feel so much better. Even if it would do nothing for Harry, it was going to be good watching the aristocrat having to sleep on the floor. Hermione doubted he'd ever done such a thing before in his life.
"Minerva." The warm, gentle voice of Professor Sinistra, the Astronomy teacher, made them all turn towards the dungeon steps.
"I'm afraid we have a problem. Mr. Malfoy is missing; he was not in his bed when I did the dormitory checks, and no one has seen him in the common room this evening either."
"Och, no..." Minerva took a step back as if Sinistra had hit her, which in a way, she had. "Not both of the boys! How will we manage?"
Aurora Sinistra did not understand the comment and gave the headmistress a curious look. McGonagall was not easily flustered, so something must be very wrong. Add to that her strange companions – Remus Lupin she remembered from his teaching stint, and it was odd to see him back again, for he could have no business here since his werewolf status had been leaked to the whole community. But the other man's presence was the most difficult to reconcile – it was her predecessor as Head of Slytherin, Severus Snape, a man who was certainly persona non grata at Hogwarts, if not actively on the run, as he had murdered Albus. "Can I help? I'll have the prefects search the castle if you like."
"No, no, that will not be necessary," Lupin interposed, and Sinistra's eyebrows rose at his intervention. "We will search Hogwarts, thank you." Remus meant to use the Marauders Map again; it was still in his robe pocket. "Come along, Minerva; let's have a nice cup of tea. We'll soon find Mr. Malfoy, never fear."
"Aye, perhaps you're right," McGonagall agreed. As she turned towards the steps to her office, she swayed a little on her feet, and Lupin supported her. Snape remained tight-lipped and never said a word.
Sinistra watched the odd party walk up the steps. She shook her head and returned to her quarters. If they wanted to take the responsibility of tracking down her errant student, who was she to argue? And as for Snape's presence... well, she had plenty of other concerns. If the headmistress wasn't worried, that was good enough for her.
Back in her office, Minerva could not settle to her tea. Instead, she paced frantically. Remus had just told her that, like Harry, Draco was not present within the Hogwarts wards. "Are you sure that map shows everything, Remus?" she asked, wringing her hands.
"Aye, er, yes," Remus answered, somewhat alarmed to notice he was picking up her accent. He cleared his throat. "All but the Room of Requirement, and Severus is checking that now. As far as I can see, Draco is absent from the school and its environs."
As if summoned by Lupin's words, Snape entered. "No luck; the room was empty. On my entrance it offered me a nightshirt, a very luxurious bed and a cosy fire. I must say I was tempted. But it failed to deliver Mr. Malfoy."
The headmistress did not smile, but Lupin managed a wry grin.
"There is always his father," Snape suggested. "Perhaps Lucius has some idea where his son would go. Hopefully not back to the manor, although that is too far for Draco to Apparate, I believe, as he is not very good at it; and it's too far by broomstick, surely."
"The Knight Bus?" Lupin suggested to Snape, sotto voce, hoping Minerva would not hear.
Her hearing, unfortunately for him, was acute. "I hope not!" she cried. "Och, this is a nightmare. Now we have only one participant in the rite here, and there have to be three."
Lupin badly wanted to tell her that she was only restating the obvious, but he bit his tongue to prevent the words spilling forth. Snape, for his part, was feeling very annoyed. Worse than that, inside he was mortally embarrassed. Obviously neither young man could face the prospect of sex with him, and that was not a pleasant fact to have pushed into the open. Talk about airing your dirty laundry! Snape had always kept his private life very private. He knew what the students and many adults said about him: Greasy Git, Bat of the Dungeons, as ugly as sin. He'd heard them all, and hated them all, and the knowledge that everyone knew that it was his lack of appeal that was putting everything in jeopardy was just rubbing it in.
"Of course, we can ask Mr. Malfoy!" McGonagall bustled over to the book set out beneath the Safety Net, happy to have something she could do. She cleared her throat. "Mr. Malfoy?"
"You're having some problems, I hear," Lucius drawled. "I presume you want my help, otherwise I doubt you'd give me the time of day."
Minerva had the grace to look embarrassed, but she rallied well. "Well, it is your son that has gone missing, you know."
"Draco?" Lucius' voice was sharp now; the three in the office had the mental image of him sitting up and taking note. "When did this happen?"
"We're not sure," Minerva admitted. "His absence has just been reported by his Head of House; he was not in the Slytherin common room or his dormitory where he should be by now."
"When was he last seen?"
"The last anyone saw of him, as far as we can tell," Minerva said, "was at the time Harry left."
"Ah," Malfoy said, then added rather spitefully, "when he ran away, you mean."
"There is no need for that, Malfoy," Minerva snapped, dropping the honorific, "seeing that your son has done exactly the same thing."
Lucius huffed, and the three in the office heard Ron Weasley chuckling at the man's obvious discomfiture. Lucius snapped, "Be quiet, you oaf! Before I continue my talk with the headmistress, I require your assurance that you will be quiet. I cannot concentrate on anything with your ridiculous braying at my shoulder!"
"We promise," Hermione said. "Shush, Ron, you just have to be quiet. How many more times must I say that?"
"Oh, blimey, Hermione. Can't you see this is the opportunity of a lifetime? How can you expect me to let him go without some kind of teasing after the way he keeps having a go at me?"
"I am sure you will rise above it," Hermione said loftily. "If you wish me to regard you as an adult, that is. Which I know you do," she added with satisfaction. The hint towards Ron's frequent attempts to persuade her that they were mature enough to have sex was enough to quieten him, for now.
"Thank you," Lucius said primly to Hermione, and returned to his conversation. "And how do you expect, Headmistress, that I, stuck inside this book, can possibly help you find Draco?"
"You are his father. I assume he talks to you, tells you things. Like where he goes to when he wants to be alone, perhaps?"
"Hm," Lucius hummed, considering. "Draco does indeed tell me things, as you put it, the majority of which do not show the school in a flattering light. However," he hurried on when he heard her drawing breath to respond, "Draco has never mentioned such a place. Not as far as I can remember, although I will continue to think on it, if I can just get comfortable."
"You're not having the sofa." Hermione sounded adamant. "You can find a nice place on the floor. After all, I let you have a couple of cushions."
Lucius sighed. "So kind of you; you Gryffindors are so selfless." Sarcasm oozed from his voice.
"Indeed we often are!" Minerva bristled, defending her House. "Mr. Potter is a great example of just that. Look what is expected of him!"
"Yes, and look where he is now," Lucius replied bitterly. "Absent when he's needed."
"As I said earlier, so is your son!" Minerva yelled, losing her temper with the entombed aristocrat.
"Blimey, Hermione, it doesn't say much about old Snape, does it? They've both run away rather than face sex with him," Ron said in a stage whisper. "Not that I can blame them," he added with feeling.
"Will you shut up, Weasley," Lucius growled.
"And this is getting us nowhere," Severus said, more than fed up with what he was hearing from the book. "If Lucius has no information, the best thing we can do is wait for them to return. It's night now and full dark outside, I think everyone should think about taking a break at this point. We'll all be able to think better afterwards. Then I will consider following Miss Lovegood, who has not returned either. Who knows, perhaps she will have found Potter, though I for one doubt it."
"Well, you can take a break if you want, Severus," Minerva said turning to her ex-colleague. "But I will stay up until these students are found; I will go and wait in the Entrance Hall. I certainly cannot just go off to bed with a hot water bottle and a selection of Edinburgh rock as if nothing was amiss."
Severus was rather startled by the reference to the confection, and he stepped back at her brisk tone; Minerva was all efficiency again and to be this close to her was rather uncomfortable.
Remus, seeing their mutual discomfiture, intervened. "I think I could do with a brief rest alone too, Severus, perhaps even lie down for a couple of hours to clear my mind. If the headmistress wants to wait up, well, it doesn't take all of us to do that."
Severus nodded, and they all left the office together, Remus heading for a guest room in Gryffindor Tower which Minerva had arranged for him, Severus heading off for another in the dungeons. Minerva continued on towards the Entrance Hall, hoping beyond hope that someone would return soon. Miss Lovegood was still out there looking for Mr. Potter, and Mr. Malfoy was off somewhere alone, Merlin-knew-where. It was very unnerving.
After freshening up, Remus Lupin lay down on his bed, fully clothed except for his shoes. He had no idea when the next crisis might come, and he had to be ready to spring up. He was trying to relax; to recharge his batteries for the next disaster, which he felt sure was just around the corner. Besides, the current situation was quite enough to make him need to lie down for a bit.
Harry was missing; it was pitch dark outside, with not even enough decent moonlight to illuminate the grounds as it was only two days after the new moon. Remus hoped he was safe, but there was the ever-present threat of Death Eaters wherever Harry went, not to mention the dangers inherent within the magical landscape around Hogwarts.
This whole episode, and Harry's unfortunate part in it, was just another reminder of how Remus had failed his friends. Harry was not safe; Remus had done little to keep him safe, and now the threat to his person had changed from being simply a physical one to a sexual one. Merlin, how had they all come to this? To accept that a young man, only just of age, should have to take part in a Dark rite as his first sexual experience? How sickened would James and Lily be at their son's fate? Remus felt sick himself, and for once it wasn't the moon that was at fault.
And then there was Severus. Merlin, that had been disconcerting too! From the moment the postal crow had arrived, Remus had been all a-flutter. At first with excitement, and yes, with joy at learning that Severus was not the traitor everyone had assumed him to be. And then when they'd discovered the solution to releasing their friends involved Severus in a sexual role, well, Remus had been worse than discomfited; he'd been jittery. For how many years had Remus Lupin harboured a secret desire for Severus Snape?
"Too many," Remus said to the empty room.
Of course there are no such things as truly empty rooms in Hogwarts Castle.
"You can never have too many, mate," squawked a voice from behind him. Remus turned his head to see a wooden griffin carved into the headboard of the four-poster, its wooden eye observing him beadily.
That eye... it must be a knot in the wood or a trick of the light that makes it look like that, Remus thought.
"Though you can certainly have too few," the griffin continued. "So don't complain, old chap, just look on the bright side." The griffin tilted its wooden head on one side and looked at Remus in a rather sly fashion. "Things could be worse – it could be the full moon."
"Thank you for that," Remus said stiffly, "but I'd really rather appreciate it if you'd shut your beak. I came here for some peace and quiet. Or I could Petrify you, if you'd prefer?"
"All right, all right," the griffin answered quickly, seeing Remus' hand move towards his wand on the night stand. "I'll be quiet. Stone is sooo last year, don't you think?"
Remus shook his head at it, and the griffin returned to its original position, shutting its beak with a surprisingly melodious, wooden clack that sounded like a xylophone being struck. Remus glanced at the clock on the night stand: ten-fifteen. They needed to find the missing students soon, but as there was nothing he could do to help with that right now, he let his eyelids drift closed. He'd think much more clearly after a little nap.
Harry and Luna touched down on the Quidditch pitch. It was completely dark now, and well past curfew, with only intermittent candlelight shining dimly from a few castle windows. If it hadn't been for the brighter flaring torches in brackets fixed at the front of the castle and by the pitch, left for them by Minerva to guide them home, then they'd never have found their way back to the broom sheds. The two hurried to put away their brooms, then both took out their wands and cast Lumos to light the path from the pitch to the castle. The grounds appeared quite unfamiliar to them: an alien place in the dark. When they finally hurried through the entrance doors they ran into an anxious headmistress, who seemed to have been waiting exactly where Luna had left her several hours earlier.
"There you are at last, Potter," Professor McGonagall said. "Thank Merlin for that! We've been quite frantic – it's already dark."
Her obvious anxiety brought Harry's friends' plight back to him again, and he felt awful for running off. He coloured with embarrassment.
"I was just about to come after you," said the silky voice of his nemesis, Severus Snape, from right behind him, and Harry wondered where Snape had been lurking to be able to approach without being seen; he certainly hadn't been in the Entrance Hall when they stepped in. Probably in some dark alcove or behind a tapestry; Snape had always loved creeping up on Harry when he'd been a teacher at Hogwarts, and he obviously hadn't kicked the habit.
Harry felt a shiver run down his spine at the tone of Snape's voice, just as if someone had dropped an ice cube down his robes. "You wouldn't have found me," he said quietly but firmly.
"You think not? Let me assure you, Mr. Potter, I could find you very quickly, at any time."
Harry shivered; almost sure that was the truth. "Yeah, well, I came back, didn't I?"
Minerva looked closely at her student, and she was not happy with what she saw. Miss Lovegood was standing beside him, holding his hand and looking very serene, as she so often did, but Harry... there was something different about him. It hadn't been like him to run off like that. It was understandable, though. Sex with a same-sex partner was beyond many people, let alone with a third participant as well. And for it to be the boy's first time, well, it was just unfortunate. Bad enough if he had been able to choose his partner, but this way was cruel. Severus Snape was a harsh man, a man difficult enough for his fellow mature wizards to get along with; many of them had failed to understand or accept him. As an example, Minerva couldn't help thinking of Sirius Black and his reaction to the sarcastic ex-Potions professor. And he hadn't been the only one. To expect Harry, a mere youth of seventeen, to be able to work this closely with Severus, well, it was asking a lot.
"Come up to my office, Potter, I'd like a quiet word with you," Minerva said taking his arm. "Severus, you take Miss Lovegood to the kitchens and get everyone some cocoa."
Snape shot the headmistress a disbelieving look at being sent on such an errand when she could just as easily have summoned a house-elf, but on seeing her sharp expression he went off with the girl, grumbling to himself. Luna, however, was quite unaffected by Snape's mood, and followed him wearing the same serene expression she'd had since arriving back at the school.
Once in her office, Minerva faced Harry. "This is an awkward situation, Potter," she said, finding it just as awkward to talk about.
Harry shrugged and looked down at his hands which he'd clasped in his lap. He hunkered further into the squishy armchair.
"I know this must be difficult for you..."
"Yeah, well, everything is, isn't it?"
Minerva looked sharply at him; Harry sounded very bitter. "I agree it seems that way. However, I cannot help but think there is some reason behind all this."
"Reason? Whatever reason could there be for such a random event?"
"It's possible that we will gain strength by meeting together. When you and Severus are..." Minerva coughed and went a little pink, "... closer, it can only be a good thing for the fight against You Know Who."
"Yeah, well, it seems like overkill to me," Harry said sulkily. "Look, I know what you mean. He's a powerful wizard and all that, and few people know Voldemort like he does, but surely we could get together without having to-" Harry came to an abrupt halt, his face flaming this time.
The two looked anywhere but at each other for a few moments, before Minerva started again. "Yes, as I said, it is most awkward. But we must take the good from every situation; that's the only way we'll defeat the Darkness. And who knows? Maybe the Malfoys will end up helping us somehow, whether they want to or not."
"I think the only reason Lucius Malfoy hasn't killed Ron and Hermione yet is because his magic won't work in that book," Harry said sourly. "How long do you think that will last once he's free?"
"He'll not get the chance, I assure you." Minerva slapped her hand on her desk. "Remus and I will have our wands trained on whoever comes out of that book. And once your friends are out, they'll have him covered too."
"And what will Snape and Draco be doing during all this? They might turn on us too."
"Mr. Potter, it seems to me you're being uncharacteristically pessimistic about this situation. You usually play your luck and win; what makes you think it will be different this time?"
Harry swallowed a lump in his throat. Sex, he thought, that was what made it different. Duelling he could do, at least he knew a bit about that, but sex? He had no idea. Alarmingly, Harry felt his eyes start to prickle. His hands trembled and he clasped them tightly together, hoping the headmistress hadn't noticed.
But it seemed that she had. "Now, now, Potter, it's not as bad as you think. I'm sure Severus will take proper care of you; he won't be cruel."
Harry looked up, aghast. "Not cruel? In what universe is he not cruel? He's spent years being cruel to me in his classes; he loved doing that. He'll find all the ways he can to humiliate me and hurt me, and it seems to me in this situation there are just too many of them." Tears began to spill down his cheeks, and Harry had had enough. He couldn't look at his headmistress' face, on which pity was written large, any longer. He got up and turned away; swiping his hand over his cheeks to dash away the moisture, angry with himself. Harry Potter never cried, and he sure as hell didn't want Snape to be the one to make him, even if the greasy bastard wasn't here to revel in his triumph.
"Och, Potter," Minerva said, standing and going over to him and putting her hand on his shoulder in support. "It's understandable you'd be upset. But believe me, Severus will not do those things. He is, underneath it all, a good man."
Harry's shoulders shook; he genuinely feared he was coming undone. The lump had returned to his throat and it felt ten times bigger. He swallowed, feeling sick; tears were still welling up as if from an uncapped spring. Damn Snape, damn him to the lowest pit of hell!
"If you really cannot face it, Potter, then-"
"Please, Headmistress, don't dissuade him." The gentle words were spoken in a rather dreamy voice. Luna had entered the office so quietly neither had noticed. "Harry needs to help his friends."
Harry looked up at Luna and managed a watery smile. She understood; Luna was so good at that. They'd had a special link ever since Harry's fifth year and he blessed the day she'd come into his life. Seeing her now, Harry remembered her lesson in the cave, and he tried it out, visualising that special spot by the lake where he could be at peace. His breathing became slower, deeper, and he heard the soft lapping of the waves in his mind, seemed to smell the scents of the woodland at his back, and his panic receded, surprising him with how quickly it disappeared. His weak smile turned into a grin, and Luna smiled back.
"Where is Professor Snape, Miss Lovegood?" Minerva asked worriedly.
"The professor wanted to stay in the kitchen a little longer; he said he'd be up with the cocoa in about ten minutes. I think he needed a little time alone," Luna replied perceptively.
Minerva turned back to Harry. "Well, if you're sure you're going ahead, Potter, I promise you that I will protect you from any interference from the Dark side. I can do that much, even if I am not present at the ritual, though I have to tell you I'd rather be there to make sure nothing bad happens."
Harry blanched at the thought of Professor McGonagall watching while Snape buggered him. Nothing bad happens... what a joke!
Minerva, seeing Harry's reaction, sighed. "Och, well, I can see you wouldn't want that, and I do understand. First thing tomorrow morning I am going to prepare a chamber for the ritual in the lowest level of the castle. It is in the oldest part of the building, the part that was the Founders' original castle that has been built over and extended through the centuries. Rituals have been enacted there for over a thousand years, and some of them would now be classed as Dark. The castle will allow the ritual that you must perform to happen down there, but nowhere else. By doing it within Hogwarts itself the protection of the wards will cover you and you will be safe. I have ensured that neither Mr. Malfoy, should we find him – and pray Merlin that we do, both for his sake and the ritual's – nor his father, if he is freed there, will be able to use any Dark magic against you."
"Find Malfoy?" Harry asked, confused. "What do you mean?"
"Mr. Malfoy, like you, Potter, went missing this evening. We have not yet found him," Minerva admitted. "Though rest assured we will not stop looking until he is found. Really, the ritual cannot proceed without him."
Harry shook his head. "Merlin, this is all such a mess."
Minerva opened her mouth to agree fervently, but Luna got there first. "It will be all right, Harry," she said serenely. "You'll see."
Minerva gave Luna a rather odd look, but decided to go ahead with her explanation to Harry. It was getting late, and he and Miss Lovegood should both be in their beds. "Furthermore, Potter, I have had to guarantee Professor Snape's safety. So I have vowed to him that he will be able to come and go from Hogwarts without let or hindrance in future, and have adjusted the wards appropriately. Professor Lupin assures me he is working for the Order of the Phoenix; and that, together with Albus' insistence that he should be trusted, is good enough for me. Truly, I believe that if this works out well, our side will be the stronger for it," she said bracingly, her tone encouraging. "We will have regained Professor Snape's help, and you and he will have joined your magic in a very real way. That can only help too."
"And Malfoy? Will his magic be joined to me as well? Because I have to tell you, Headmistress, he's not on our side in any way, shape or form. He's a Death Eater, and a real one – just like his father."
"Aye, well, you may have a point. But his magic will not be allied to yours or the professor's except in a very peripheral way created by his assistance in the ... er... proceedings. But because Professor Snape will, er..."
"Please, Headmistress, just say it like it is. Beating around the bush just makes it all seem ten times worse," Harry begged, cheeks flaming again.
"Aye, mebbe you're right, Potter. Well, as I was saying, or trying to, Professor Snape is the one who will do the penetration, which is how your magic will become aligned. It is impossible for participants in a sex magic rite to remain unaligned magically, at least to some extent. That, as I said, can only be positive for our side. The Dark side, however, will gain nothing from it."
"But they'll know Snape's on our side once Malfoy tells them, and his position with Voldemort will be at an end. That can't be good for the Order."
"There are ways to make sure the news does not get back to him," the headmistress said, and Harry was surprised at the grim determination in her voice. "But do not worry about that for now. Let us see how this plays out. I've a feeling none of it is as simple as we think."
"Something like that," she agreed with a nod.
Luna had looked serene throughout their conversation; now she smiled and fingered her amulet of Isis. All this fitted into her world view very nicely.
Once the odd party had finished their cocoa in her office and departed for their rooms, Minerva stood up, looking determined. She had told Severus earlier that she could not just go to bed and ignore missing students; even though there was only one still missing, that was one too many. She had another way to find people, a way she rarely let anyone know about. In the blink of an eye, Minerva transformed.
The heavily-marked tabby cat ran across the Entrance Hall and squeezed through a cat flap set low down in the door. Hogwarts was a familiar-friendly castle and there were cat flaps, owl windows, and rat and toad tunnels in various places around the vast building. Minerva ran into the grounds, mewing loudly. Before long, she was surrounded by a diverse group of animals, all of whom understood she posed no danger to them, regardless of species, and who offered her that assurance in return. Really, Minerva thought, it was amazing what animals saw; no one ever considered that wherever they walked, however silently they sneaked about, they were observed by birds and beasts. Their observers did not usually pass that information on, but when Minerva called them to her, they did. They understood that Hogwarts was her domain and she was its mistress, and so they helped.
Minerva took the short route to Hogsmeade, straight down the gravel drive to the front gates. She was following a little owl, whose small shape fluttered before her close to the ground, leading the way into the village. Soon, the owl flew up and perched on an inn sign.
Minerva transformed. "Of course, the Hog's Head," she said with satisfaction. "So simple, really. Thank you, Sylvia." The little owl hooted and flapped off to resume her night's hunting. Minerva knocked on the inn door, unrepentant at waking Aberforth at this, the witching hour.
"I'm coming, keep yer hat on!" The voice arrived before the man, who opened the door and peered at his visitor. "Headmistress, what brings you here in the middle of the night?"
"It's not that late," Minerva said wryly. "And as if you did not know why I am here, Aberforth Dumbledore," she said, brushing past him into the inn. "Which room is he in?"
"He?" asked Aberforth, playing for time by hovering and coincidentally blocking the stairway to the guest rooms with his considerable bulk. Aberforth was not fat, but he was a large wizard and not scrawny, and the stairway was narrow.
"Oh, come now. I'm here for my missing student, Draco Malfoy, of course."
"Ah. It seems that if, and I say if, such a person was in my inn, he would have a right to privacy, for isn't Draco Malfoy of age?"
Minerva's eyes narrowed. "His age is not at issue. Whilst he is enrolled at Hogwarts, he is my student, as you very well know. And as such he should be in his dormitory, safely tucked up for the night. Now come along, Aberforth Dumbledore, tell me where he is, or I shall be forced to wake every one of your guests in my quest to find him, and you will not stop me."
"Keep your wig on, Minerva," Aberforth said, finally stepping aside. "I'm still not sure you have the right of it, but I don't want my regular guests disturbed, that I don't. And it's too bloody late for all this flap. Believe it or not, I need my sleep too. I work bloody long hours, what with the inn and the goats..."
"Aberforth!" Minerva warned, sensing he was still hedging.
Aberforth sighed. "You might want to try Room 7."
Minerva put her foot on the first step and turned to look at him. "You never said a truer word, by the way. I'll be glad enough to find my own bed tonight without anything else going wrong, I don't mind telling you. I've had the day from hell." That said, she hurried on up the twisting, narrow stairs.
Minerva didn't knock when she reached the door of Room 7. Instead she took out her wand and cast a particularly vicious universal unlocking spell. Draco's more standard locking spell fell immediately. "Mr. Malfoy, there you are," she said, walking in on him.
Draco was lying on the bed, on top of the covers. He was still awake, staring blankly at the ceiling, which he could make out quite well in the light of the single candle. He'd not managed to come to a decision, for he remained incapable of facing the truth of his feelings.
"Now, tell me what this is all about, because I can see I'm missing something," Minerva said more kindly, seeing the state her student was in.
Draco looked at the Headmistress. He didn't want to say anything about his problem, but what came out was: "I can't do the rite... it would ruin my chances with someone important to me."
Minerva nodded, as if it was no more than she suspected, and sat down in a reasonably comfortable old armchair beside the bed, which she pulled even closer before looking seriously at Draco over her spectacles. When she spoke, it was with obvious empathy. "Tell me about it, Mr. Malfoy."
And Draco, much to his surprise, did.
"I fail to see your problem," Minerva said when he'd finished.
"What? But, but... how can I go and do this sex ritual and expect Ginny ever to speak to me again?"
"Has she spoken to you so far?"
"No. Because she cannot see any good in you, Mr. Malfoy. She cannot believe what you are telling her, because you must realise that actions speak louder than words, and your actions to her family and friends have always been far from sympathetic."
Draco's face, already long, lengthened a few more inches.
"But if you do this and rescue her brother, I think there might be a chance that she will listen to you."
"She'll say I'm only doing it to rescue my father," Draco said plaintively.
"Aye, she might. But at least she will be able to admire your sacrifice for a loved one. She's never seen you do anything so selfless before, now has she?"
"You have a point," Draco admitted. And for the first time he felt ashamed of his self-centred behaviour. Yes, it was Slytherin behaviour always to make sure to get the best for oneself, but it didn't preclude helping others. Draco had only just realised that.
"Well now, as I can see you are settled in for the night, and as I know where you are, I will leave you here to think a little longer. But do not forget to sleep, Mr. Malfoy. You'll need your energy tomorrow. I expect to see you back at Hogwarts for breakfast, and thereafter in my office. Naturally you are excused lessons for the day."
Draco looked up, surprised by her reasonable attitude. "Thank you."
"Good night, Mr. Malfoy."
"Good night, Headmistress."
As the door closed behind her, Draco lay alone on the bed in Room 7. He couldn't quite smile, that would be too optimistic, but for the first time in many hours, he felt a little encouraged.
"Professor McGonagall, this is unbelievable!"
Minerva McGonagall found herself engulfed in a swirl of crocheted shawl and a pair of soft but surprisingly strong arms. She didn't really need the comfort, but obviously Molly Weasley did. Minerva patted her back, unsure how to deal with an overwrought mother she couldn't make eye contact with, as the much shorter Molly's head was currently buried at chest height in Minerva's tartan robes.
"Now, now, Molly, we're doing all we can. Things are in hand, and we've every hope of getting your son out of there."
"Come, Molly, let the headmistress explain."
Arthur Weasley's voice, always calm and dependable in a crisis, was welcome to Minerva's ears. Molly sniffed, gave a great shudder, and released the headmistress, stepping back into her husband's embrace. He led her to a chair and sat her down. Minerva immediately called for tea.
"Now, Molly and Arthur," Minerva began, "we are just awaiting the arrival of the Grangers, and I will bring you all up to date on the situation as I know it. I'll not beat about the bush, it is a crisis we find ourselves in, but we have the best experts on hand to help resolve the matter."
"Who?" Arthur asked succinctly.
"I'll tell you all of it when our other guests arrive," Minerva hedged. She hoped, and knew it was probably in vain even as she did so, that the mention of Severus Snape would not cause too much outrage. As if in answer to her wish for a distraction, a knock sounded on the heavy oak of the office door as the griffin door knocker announced the Grangers' arrival. Minerva stood and hurried over to greet them.
"Come in, come in, Mr. and Mrs. Granger, it's so good to meet you in person, though I abhor the circumstances."
"You say there's been an accident?" Mrs. Granger was obviously panicked, and her husband looked almost as upset.
"Yes, but rest assured your daughter is unharmed at this moment in time, and we have every hope of getting her and her friend out of the situation none the worse for wear. Please, come in and sit down."
Minerva led them to office chairs and gave them both some tea laced with Calming Draught. It was not entirely ethical to dose Muggles without informing them, but desperate times led to desperate measures, and it would be in their best interests for them to listen quietly to what she had to tell them, and be in a reasonable state of mind to process the information.
"Now, as I explained when I first contacted you, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley," Minerva said formally, "and you Mr. and Mrs. Granger, your children have been involved in a magical mishap. Such occurrences are unfortunately quite common in the wizarding world, as I'm sure you can appreciate," Minerva said, looking at the Grangers. "Just as in the Muggle world there can be mishaps, so it is in our world, and in troubled times the amount of magic being used increases, and that makes it all the more likely, I am afraid."
"Yes, we understand that," Mr. Granger said brusquely. "We are not blaming you, Headmistress; we merely want to know what's happening."
Minerva nodded, pleased. "Well, it seems that Ron and Hermione were studying a book – a very old, obscure book."
Mrs. Granger nodded at this, unsurprised that all this had to do with Hermione's habit of investigating books that were probably beyond her class's level. Her husband also sighed and nodded in understanding.
"What book, precisely?" Arthur Weasley asked suspiciously. "Was it in the Restricted Section?"
"Er, no." Minerva didn't want to go into this, but she knew there was no way the Weasleys, particularly Arthur, would let her prevaricate. She feared she'd been rumbled. Gathering her courage, she continued. "It was a book from the Malfoy library-"
"What?" shrieked Molly. "Minerva, you know what the last book from that library did to my daughter. Now something has happened to my youngest son because of another from the very same place!"
Arthur was frowning; the Grangers looked alarmed all over again. Minerva just sighed.
"Yes, I know. Unfortunately, this particular mishap occurred away from school property. Had it taken place at Hogwarts, I like to think it wouldn't have happened... and yet, Remus Lupin was with them when they read it. Harry Potter was there as well."
"Harry? Is he involved? Is he safe?" Arthur sounded, if possible, more alarmed.
"So it's not just Hermione and Ron?" Mrs. Granger asked, almost simultaneously.
"Well, as far as I understand it, Remus made Harry promise not to touch the book or even go near it. Harry was less than pleased, as you can imagine, but Hermione insisted she was the best person to research the book."
"However did they get a book from Malfoy's library?"
Minerva winced. Arthur Weasley always got to the heart of any matter without delay. It was one reason he was such an invaluable Order member. "It was sent to them."
There was nothing for it... "Severus Snape."
Minerva stood up. "Look, I will explain this as far as I understand it, but I would appreciate it if you did not interrupt, or we will be here until doomsday."
The parents were obviously irritated by this, but they also seemed to see sense. They sat back quietly and waited, but they were clearly far from happy.
"Now, Severus sent the book to Remus Lupin as it apparently contained... certain information that Harry and his friends needed. Lupin wanted to research it for them, but Harry, and Hermione too, insisted it was best if she did so as she understood what they were looking for, whereas Remus did not. And no, Arthur, I've no idea what precisely it is, except that it is something Albus has charged them to do. Now, as I was saying, Remus checked the book, casting every class of detection spell upon it before letting them anywhere near it. He was also in the room while they studied." Minerva knew it was stretching the truth to call the library at Grimmauld Place a room, for Remus had been on the second level quite far away from the students; but it wasn't an outright lie, and she needed to get through this without further interruptions.
"The book, it seems, had similar properties to the diary Ginny became possessed by in her first year."
Molly let out a cry and Arthur tightened his arm around her, his face pale. The Grangers, who had never heard of books that could possess their readers, as Hermione had not mentioned the dreadful events of her second year, looked confused and frightened.
"So... Ron and Hermione were somehow... sucked inside the book. That is where they are now."
"In a book?" Mrs. Granger sounded incredulous. "How is that possible?"
"Magic, my dear," Minerva said gently. "Dark magic, to be sure."
"Dark magic..." Mrs. Granger's voice faded away.
"So what do we do to get them out?" Arthur asked, getting to the heart of the matter.
"Well, I have sought expert advice, as I told you, Arthur. Remus knows a fair bit about the Dark Arts, as you know, and we also have help from... Severus."
"Snape? You're joking!"
"No. He is – and I can see no way to keep this from you, though I must insist it goes no further than this room –" Minerva said with a sharp look at each of them. On receiving their nods in reply, she continued: "– a spy. He is undercover, as I believe the Muggles say. It appears that he murdered Albus on Albus' own orders." As Arthur Weasley looked like he was going to interrupt again, Minerva added, "Needless to say, you will repeat this to no one, Arthur, and that goes for you too, Molly. Not even to the rest of the Order. Severus' cover is tenuous; if Voldemort found out, his life would be measured in seconds, or at least his safety would be." Minerva paused, as images of all sorts of horrific deaths that might come Severus' way entered her mind. She shook her head as if to expel them; such thoughts made her feel nauseous.
Arthur Weasley stared at Minerva McGonagall. "Do you have a plan? Some spell that might help?"
Minerva hated this conversation; it was bad enough knowing what had to be done, but to repeat it... "There is a ritual that might help, a way to reconcile the thief, the recipient and the owner of the book, and by so doing reversing the... sucking-in spell."
"Is Lucius Malfoy involved then?" Arthur's tone was pure steel; his hatred of Malfoy was legendary, especially after their fight in Flourish and Blotts.
"Er, in a way..."
"What way?" Molly asked, seeing Minerva was hedging. "Tell us, Minerva, please. All of it. However bad it is, we need to know."
"Yes, please. Even if we don't understand it all, we need to know what the chances are of getting Hermione back," Mr. Granger begged.
Minerva nodded. "Very well. Lucius Malfoy is involved because he is... in there with them."
"In the book?"
"Yes, Arthur, in the book."
"He might kill them!" Molly cried.
"No. They cannot use magic in there, their wands are useless. There are two of them and only one of him; as I told you at first, I honestly think, for the time being, that they are safe."
Molly sighed in relief and Mrs. Granger joined her. The two women looked at each other, and understanding passed between them in that gaze.
"But you said the owner was involved in getting them out. How can he be, if he has no magic in there? How can he be in a ritual?"
Arthur Weasley should have been top of his class, he was so astute; Minerva couldn't quite remember if he had been. "In his absence, legal and magical ownership of the book passes temporarily to his son."
"Draco Malfoy," Molly said, her shoulders slumping.
"He will help, Molly," Minerva assured her. "If for no other reason than he will want his father out of there."
"So let me get this straight," Arthur said. "Draco is the owner of the book; Severus the thief, and Remus is the recipient, yes?"
Four pairs of eyes looked at the headmistress.
"Harry Potter is the owner of Grimmauld Place, thus the spell sees him as the recipient."
"Precisely, Molly. Harry again."
"And the ritual?" Arthur asked with a sinking heart.
"Is an old one, and it is borderline Dark at least; it involves..." Minerva cleared her throat, her face turning slightly pink under the scrutiny of the parents, "...sex magic."
"Absolutely not!" Molly cried, jumping to her feet. "Harry, with Draco Malfoy and Severus Snape? That is obscene."
"I quite agree," came a voice from behind them. Four heads turned to see Harry entering the room. "Unfortunately, it's the only way out for Ron and Hermione. Do you think I'm going to leave them in there?"
"Ah, no... Harry," Arthur groaned.
Molly fell back into her chair, pressing her hand over her face, unable, for the moment, to look at the world. Arthur was shaking his head and the Grangers were wide-eyed, their mood a mixture of panic and confusion. Minerva thought it wasn't quite as bad as she'd been expecting, really. She caught Harry's eye and had him sit beside her, facing his friends' parents.
"What will he have to do?" Molly spoke brokenly into her hand, but everyone heard her quite clearly.
"I have to have sex with Snape, and Draco has to help," Harry said baldly.
The Grangers gasped. "Who is this Snape? Is he related to that Professor Snape Hermione used to talk about? And how old is he?" Mrs. Granger asked.
"Snape is a man, I take it?" Mr. Granger added.
"Yes, and he's nearly forty, I think." Harry frowned. "He was in the same year at Hogwarts as my mum and dad."
"Oh no!" Mrs. Granger's soft exclamation about summed it up, Harry thought, but she didn't yet know all of it.
"Even worse," Harry added, "he is that Professor Snape, and he was my teacher until this year. Oh, and he hates me."
"Oh dear," Mrs. Granger said faintly, leaning on her husband. "Oh dear, oh dear."
"And is this absolutely the only way our children will be freed?" Mr. Granger asked, sounding just as shell-shocked as his wife.
"As far as we can ascertain, this is our best – most likely our only – chance of getting them out," Minerva answered apologetically. "The magic that took them is ancient and woven from several individual spells. We do not really know exactly what it involves; only what it does. We have to use an equally ancient type of spell-weave to release them. Even then, we are merely using our best judgment as to what might work. Nothing is certain."
Seeing their defeated expressions, she added, "But we are hopeful. There is a good chance this will work. Mr. Malfoy and Severus are agreed on that, and Remus Lupin is too. If anything can get them out, it's this ritual."
Arthur felt the odds sounded rather slim, and they were putting a lot of trust in Malfoy and Snape, which didn't seem wise even on Remus' say-so, but he pasted his best bracing expression onto his face. There was no point in worrying Molly even more than she already was. "Well, what can we do to help?"
"It's all in hand, Arthur," Minerva assured him bracingly. "Harry is prepared, as best he can be, and I will make the room ready as soon as I can. We are just waiting for Mr. Malfoy's arrival and we can get started."
Harry rolled his eyes; trust Malfoy to cause a delay. He'd love the drama, and the fact that he was needed would make him feel good. Harry would struggle to keep from sneering at him when he arrived, but that would only be counter-productive. Draco would be involved in his 'preparation' during the ritual, there was no point annoying him before that any more than was necessary; it would just hurt more.
The arrival that followed, however, was not Draco's, it was Ginny's. At the knock on the outer door Minerva rose and hurried over to answer it. Ginny stood there, escorted by Remus. "Come in, Miss Weasley, Remus."
Ginny entered and her eyes widened when she saw her parents. "Mum, Dad? Is this something to do with Ron? He's missed a few meals, but I thought he was out working with Harry." Ginny didn't know why the trio had special dispensation for their movements, but she had accepted it since the start of term.
Molly got up and rushed over to her daughter, grabbing her into a hug. "Oh, Ginny!" was all she managed to say.
"Let her breathe, Molly," Arthur said, prying his wife's arms from around his daughter. "Come and sit with us, Ginny. And yes, it's about Ron."
"And Hermione? She wasn't at meals either, though I saw Harry this morning."
Minerva made sure everyone was seated and fresh tea was served together with biscuits for anyone who was up to eating them. "I will leave you to talk things over. I have to go and make some preparations for the ritual," she told the company. "Remus will be available to answer any questions."
She shot Remus an apologetic look, but he just smiled back. "You go on, Headmistress, it's important you get the chamber prepared. I'll look after these good people."
"Yes, yes, I'm sorry to have to run," Minerva said, heading briskly for the door. "It's a delicate task to get the castle to cooperate with the preparations and it might take some time. But you're in good hands; Remus used to be the professor for Defence Against the Dark Arts, you know." With that, she was gone in a flurry of tartan robes.
Ginny Weasley was gobsmacked, on so many levels. The news about Ron and Hermione was awful, but the news about Harry... Merlin, it was a good job she'd got over her crush or she'd have been devastated! However did he put up with everything that happened to him? She shook her head.
Even more mystifying was the fact that the Malfoys were involved, and apparently cooperating with McGonagall and the others. The Malfoys! Ginny didn't want to admit that Draco was anything more than a waste of space; the young man had been pestering her for quite a while to go out with him. Last term she'd been convinced it was a joke; but recently she was having trouble dismissing him. He was being very persistent, far more than she'd expect if it was just a silly prank. And now he was going to help Harry through his ordeal? Well, maybe it was just to get his father back, but still, she'd have expected him to be as difficult as possible. Frankly, she was surprised he was still around; Ginny would have expected him to go missing, to hole up in Malfoy Manor, perhaps, along with the other Death Eaters. But like Harry, Draco had been at breakfast. He'd smiled at her, as he did every morning when she glanced over at him. Of course she only looked over to make sure he was there, just in case he was creeping up on her or something. She wasn't interested, even if he was devastatingly attractive. Merlin! Why couldn't he look like Crabbe or Goyle, then she'd have no problem ignoring him? Not that she was considering him, not at all.
Ginny was back in class. Divination was routine and boring enough that she had time to think. As long as she kept out of Trelawney's eye line it was possible to coast during the class. Ginny was used to life throwing up some unexpected, and usually awful, surprises, so it probably affected her less than it would have many others, but she couldn't help feeling edgy. Until her brother was safe, and with him Hermione, of course, she wouldn't be able to relax. And Harry, although he wasn't trapped inside the devilish book – and Ginny shuddered, remembering her own interactions with Riddle's diary – had quite enough on his plate without this added on top of it. Having to do a Dark sex magic rite! How awful. And Ginny knew Harry was inexperienced. She was connected to the gossip network, if only because she couldn't avoid overhearing the conversations of the girls in her dorm. No one had been out with Harry in ages, not since Cho, and everyone knew that had ended after only a few snogs. Okay, Cho hadn't said much about it, but that in itself was telling. Harry was just too conflicted with his fight against Voldemort to have time for romance. Now it had hit him over the head – that is, if you could call sex magic with Snape 'romance'. Ginny's thoughts slid sideways around the fact that Draco was involved too. Her parents had said that Draco was just there to 'assist' them, which Ginny presumed meant looking after the robes and candles and whatnot, and possibly chanting a bit. The thought that he might have to do more than that made her feel uncomfortable; and that was wrong. Because if she felt that way, it meant she already thought of Draco Malfoy as hers.
Ginny sighed and stared down at her tarot spread.
"That looks like a fascinating spread," Trelawney said mistily. "What do you interpret from it, Miss Weasley?"
All thoughts of her family and friends, as well as her potential boyfriend, disappeared as she concentrated on saying something that would convince Trelawney she'd been pondering the spread deeply, not just slacking off.
Severus Snape was dressed in a simple summer robe of black cotton without a belt or cloak. The journey to the chamber where the ritual would take place away from prying eyes had been a cool one. Whatever the time of year, these lowest levels of the castle remained at the same temperature, much like a cave system, which is very much what they resembled. Severus wondered if that was what they really were, if Hogwarts at its inception had been a collection of natural caverns adapted by the Founders. Now, he stood in an alcove taking in the preparations Minerva had made for this evening's ritual: the torch-lit room contained chairs set around the walls, and a table off to one side held items set out in readiness for Draco's arrival. Braziers were set at intervals around the room and the temperature in the chamber was far warmer than in the other rooms he'd passed through, and Severus blessed the headmistress' attention to detail. The centre of the room was starkly occupied by a stone altar made of dark granite. It screamed of ritual and sacrifice, and Severus was relieved that the only sacrifice that would be taking place here today would be of Harry's virginity. Blood was necessary for the ritual, but it need only be a small amount from each of them to release the magic, to redress the wrong Severus had done to the Malfoys, and which Harry had too, even if inadvertently, by accepting his pilfered gift.
The room smelt thoroughly un-sinister though – it smelt of the outdoors, of the scent of the Highlands in the brisk fresh air of autumn, and this was due to the pine cones added to the braziers, the cones adding their aromatic resin to the smell of the woody smoke. The braziers had been a thoughtful touch for those who would be naked today. It was also important to try and defuse the obvious Darkness that would be enacted here; Harry would be nervous enough. Severus snorted, for truth to tell he too was feeling less than blasé about all of this. Partly due to his appearance, and partly to his nature, Severus had rarely needed to perform sexually for another person, and never in front of an audience. The fact that the audience today was composed of two of his ex-students made everything ten times worse. And the boy he'd have to bugger was a virgin! Merlin, it was like some kind of sick cosmic joke.
Severus looked up as Draco Malfoy bustled in through the outer door into the chamber. He looked thoroughly agitated, as if he was to be the virgin sacrifice, not Harry. Except Draco Malfoy was many things, but he was certainly no virgin. Severus knew of Draco's reputation within Slytherin and beyond, and hadn't been surprised by it. The young man was good-looking, if you liked that icy, blond type. Severus didn't; he'd had enough dealings with the slippery Malfoy senior, and his superior wife for that matter, to know the older man was too self-serving to be trusted completely even by his friends. It had quite put him off any attraction to blonds. Because of his unique position in the war, Severus needed, above all else, to be able to trust his sexual partner, which was another reason why he'd had none in the last few years.
Draco saw Severus, and started. "Professor! I didn't realise you were already here."
"You are prepared?" Severus asked.
"Yes, sir." Draco walked over to the table and looked down at an athame set next to a jar as he answered. "It's all here. And yes," he added as he saw Severus frown at his answer, "I'm mentally prepared too. At least as much as I can be. I needn't tell you again that I don't like this."
"No, you needn't," Severus snarled, hoping Draco wouldn't start whining again. It was understood that none of them wanted to be here, and Draco was getting off the lightest of the three of them.
Draco didn't seem to know what to do with himself now he'd looked at his materials, so he walked over to a chair by the wall and sat down. He stretched out his legs in front of him and crossed them at the ankles, jiggling one foot. Severus found it irritating, but at least Draco wasn't complaining, so Severus fixed his attention on the door, waiting for Harry's arrival; that way he wouldn't have to watch Draco fidgeting, and wouldn't snap at him.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake, boy, sit still!" So much for his intention. Draco was making a tense situation ten times worse.
"Nervous, Professor?" Draco asked in what Severus would have sworn was a tone of mock-concern.
"Don't be ridiculous; I've seen and done far worse than this. I merely wish this to be over with quickly so we can all go on our way. What a fiasco!"
"One thing's for sure," Draco drawled, "you won't be taking anything from the manor again in a hurry."
Severus whirled to confront the annoying man, but at that point he heard the door opening and turned back to watch Harry's entrance.
Harry stepped into the room, took a quick look at Severus where he was half-hidden at the back of the chamber and turned to shut the door. Severus knew the sight of him was probably the last thing Harry wanted to see, yet here Harry was, ready, as always, to do whatever it took, in typical Gryffindor fashion. Severus would have snorted, but suddenly doubted he had enough huff left to do it. His lungs felt oddly empty, his chest unable to expand enough to breathe in any way but shallowly. He stepped back into the alcove where he was to stand for the start of the ceremony.
Harry turned back and approached the altar, and his face looked as pale as milk in the torchlight. He, too, was wearing a simple dark robe. Severus doubted Harry owned such a garment; Minerva had probably transfigured it for him. Draco stood and went round to the other side of the altar, and spoke the ritual greeting:
"Be welcome here, and come to me,
Free of guilt, and of your own free will."
Draco held out his hands, and Harry extended his own, saying: "I am free of guilt, and give myself gladly into your hands."
Severus doubted it, but Harry had spoken without stumbling or sniffling. His actions seemed oddly detached; lacking the extreme emotion Severus had become used to seeing in the young man. It looked like this might work after all – it had to work.
Draco let go of Harry's hands then reached up to take off his glasses, which he slipped inside Harry's robe pocket, before unfastening the robes. Severus half-expected an outburst, but Harry stood quietly and let Draco peel away the concealing fabric from his body, exposing a pale, perfect form, starkly obvious in the nearly empty chamber. Severus' eyes opened wider as he took in the vulnerability of the young man, standing naked before Draco and himself. It was almost unspeakably erotic; all that pale flesh exposed in this dark, stone chamber, lit only by the sporadic light of fires and torches around the room, the light flickering over Harry's skin in little bursts and waves of illumination interspersed with shadow. Harry's body looked so warm and alive, just begging to be touched, the flesh asking for the caress of fingers – Severus' fingers – the stroke of his hand. Severus, and it seemed Draco too – for the young man had paused – just watched and appreciated the play of flickering light illuminating Harry's back, his buttocks, and, from Draco's viewpoint, his chest and thighs. Severus wondered what Harry's cock looked like, and desperately wanted him to turn round. He felt himself hardening, and wondered at it, because he really hadn't expected to be so easily aroused in this situation, but something about the ritual, and Harry's meek acceptance of his fate, was incredibly exciting.
Draco seemed to come back to himself, and stepped away, going to retrieve the jar from the table. "The gift of your flesh is accepted," he intoned, unscrewing the jar and dipping his fingers into shiny, lubricant gel. "Be made ready for your master."
The word sent a thrill down Severus' spine. Your master – Severus was Harry Potter's master only because he was to offer a sacrifice to the gods of this place, in penance for his sin of stealing Draco's book. But yes, to be that, and to be acknowledged as his master by the impudent boy, how pleasurable it was! And Harry accepted the words with no demur, and Severus' heart sped up again. Besides, watching Draco's fingers was adding further to his excitement, for Draco was slicking them thoroughly. That done, he gave Severus even more pleasure by turning Harry around so that he was facing Severus, and now Severus could see Harry's cock.
A surprisingly thick patch of dark pubic hair; tight, young balls, and rising from the centre, already half-erect, a lovely young cock, peachy-warm in the firelight, the foreskin beginning to retract and giving a glimpse of the flushed head. Merlin, it looked wonderful, and Severus caressed it with his eyes, wishing he could diverge from the ritual long enough to stroke and taste it. But no... he had to follow the script as much as they all did; too much depended on this. Still, the thought of feeling that cock in his mouth had his groin tightening further – he was far harder than Harry.
Draco was doing something behind Harry, and Harry spread his legs at Draco's urging. Despite his so-far admirable sang-froid, Harry gasped, and Severus assumed that Draco was starting the 'preparation' by slipping a finger inside. Now Severus wanted to be around the other side, but he couldn't be in two places at once and he had to stay here, in the designated, partly hidden alcove, where Harry would not see his master clearly until the time came for him to be taken. Frustrated, his cock beginning to throb with need, Severus directed a wordless, wandless spell at the cave wall behind Harry, and the roughness of the stone smoothed out. The rock became shiny, like polished granite, and Severus could see a surprisingly clear reflection of what Draco was doing to Harry.
Malfoy-pale fingers were sliding inside Harry's arse – two of them now, if Severus wasn't mistaken. He glanced back at Harry's face and saw that the young man's eyes looked glazed, his pupils unfocused, as if he was looking into a far distance beyond this chamber. Whatever mental discipline he was practicing – and he had to be doing something, this calmness was so un-Potterlike – it was working. Draco was moving his fingers with little resistance now; Harry's muscles must be loosening up for him. The realisation that he would soon be buried deep in that tight, perfect arse made his heart jump in his chest again, and Severus had to fight not to moan aloud. Gods! This level of arousal was more than he'd expected to feel. Harry's meek acceptance, despite his obvious innocence, was bringing out Severus' dominant streak, and he wanted nothing more than to enter the boy, to engulf him with his body, impale him on his cock, and fuck him until he begged for mercy.
Draco's fingers were moving in a scissoring action, opening Harry as efficiently as he could. Severus knew the time was close, and pressed his hand against the base of his cock, trying to stave off his arousal for a while. He couldn't afford to lose it too soon. Draco took a step back then, withdrawing his fingers.
"You are ready to give the gift of your body,
If you are willing, lie down for your master."
Harry seemed to come back to himself a bit as he heard the instruction, and he turned and mounted the altar, with Draco standing nearby ready to assist, but it wasn't necessary. Draco took a couple of pillows from where they were propped against the altar and positioned one beneath Harry's head, the other beneath his hips, tilting them up for easier access – and easier viewing for the man waiting in the shadows. He then arranged Harry's limbs carefully, first stretching Harry's arms above his head and slipping conjured leather bindings around each wrist so Harry could not oppose his master in any way. Next, Draco took one ankle and pushed it towards Harry's body, making Harry raise his knee and also pushing the knee to one side, exposing his raised backside. Once satisfied with the position, Draco muttered a spell and Harry's ankle was strapped into position. The same process on the other side, and Harry was spread out, looking very much the virgin sacrifice. Draco then turned and walked towards Severus.
Severus did not watch him approach; instead he was watching Harry's face. The boy looked nervous now, his mental discipline beginning to fail under the weight of the circumstances in which he found himself. Severus prayed to all the gods of the underworld, to whom he felt close down here beneath the castle, that Harry wouldn't lose it. He wanted Harry, wanted to fuck him, but he didn't want it if the young man was screaming rape as he did so.
"Be welcome here, master," Draco said to Severus, pulling him back to the ritual and asking for the prescribed response.
"I come to make a sacrifice to the gods of this place, in reparation for our guilt."
Harry's eyes snapped to where he heard the voice, as if he had just remembered that Severus was even in the chamber. Severus stepped forth from the shadows and Harry saw him up close for the first time. Harry's green eyes looked brilliant in the torchlight without his glasses to obscure them, they were opened wider and their colour was more obvious. Severus had to admit how much he loved those eyes, and the thought seemed strange, quite alien in this setting. Draco led Severus to the altar, where he quickly removed the older man's robe. Harry couldn't take his eyes off Severus' lean form, and Draco's eyes also widened when he caught sight of Severus' arousal. Severus could see Harry swallow, and prayed Harry could keep his composure a little longer, just a little longer until he was inside him, until it was done, because it couldn't last long, not the way he was feeling right now: as hard as nails and hot and throbbing, so needy he feared a single touch would set him off. Get a grip, he told himself. They're the teenagers, not you.
Draco had stowed Severus' robe with Harry's and picked up the jar again. Before Severus had time to consider what would happen next, Draco's slick fingers were wrapped around his erection. The coolness of the gel was a shock to his hot flesh, and it helped him a bit, gave him a little more time. Plus, Draco was being quite clinical in the way he was touching him; no doubt he must be embarrassed at such contact with his old teacher. It was not as if Severus needed arousing, so the touch was mercifully brief, and Severus was soon slick and dripping with lubricant.
"Come, take this gift, offer the sacrifice of virginity to the gods of this place." Draco's voice shook as he spoke the ritual words, and Severus spared him a glance. Was he nervous? Aroused?
Severus really didn't need encouraging at this point, so quickly he mounted the broad altar at Draco's prompting. What he'd forgotten, what took him by surprise at the very last moment, was when Draco grasped his cock and lined him up with Harry's prepared entrance. He gasped at the grip of fingers, but more at the feeling of Harry's tantalising entrance, tight with muscle, however prepared it had been, promising to be hot and grasping at the same time. Severus could not help a groan escaping and Harry's eyes, which had been closed, probably in an attempt to calm himself, snapped open and connected with his. As Severus began to move forward, encouraged by a push from Draco's other hand on his arse, their eyes held each other and both were aware in the most preternatural, raw fashion, of just what it was they were doing. Severus Snape sank into Harry Potter, millimetre by millimetre, the heat and gripping pressure a shock, however much he'd thought himself prepared for it. Anal sex was something Severus enjoyed, something he'd had all too little of, and he didn't need any urging to enjoy it. He did try his best to keep it civilised, keep it restrained for the young man beneath him, on whose face he could read shock, some pain, and a healthy measure of disbelief.
"Be hallowed in your joining!" Draco cried as he took the athame and marked Severus' back, three lines in the sign of the rune Haegl , symbolising transformation and completion.
The prick of the knife, the feel of the blood trickling from the cuts, shockingly hot on the cool skin of his back exposed to the cavern's air, acted as a strange kind of stimulus and Severus began to lose the little control that remained to him. His blood was pounding in his ears; his heart was racing, his cock throbbing in time with his fast-paced need. His balls felt heavy and he needed to thrust, to subdue, to pound Potter beneath him, to master him until the impudent boy would never back-chat him again, never doubt that it was Severus who was his superior, his controller, his master. He thrust harder, deeper, and Harry grunted under the assault, if such it could really be termed. For somehow they seemed shockingly immediate – here and now – and yet oddly elsewhere at the same time, as if they were far in the past, and centuries into the future, poised at one pivotal moment, the act timeless, prescribed, ritual. In that moment they were themselves, and they were everyone else who had done this, all actors in the Rite of Reversal.
Harry squirmed beneath him, thrust back as if to throw him off, pressing his heels tight against the stone table top that formed the altar, his thighs flexing with muscles formed by gripping and directing a broom during hours of Quidditch games. Harry grunted and swore, and the movements of his body excited Severus tenfold, and he felt sweat form on his forehead, trickle down his temples and drip onto Harry beneath him. Oh, masterful! He felt so much in control, a force so strong he was undeniable. Harry was tied down by the hands and feet, that much was true, but he was thrusting up now, no longer opposing, not seeking to unseat Severus. No, he was using his bonds to grip and gain purchase so that now he was thrusting in rhythm with Severus, joining in with the building power, the rush to orgasm that Severus himself was hurtling towards headlong.
"Be hallowed in your joining!" Draco said again, the words echoing deep in Severus' mind; but to his ears they were oddly distant, almost inaudible. Severus saw the silver blade cutting Harry's shoulder, inscribing the rune, and he watched, fascinated, as the deep red trickle of blood formed a pattern as esoteric as the symbol as it ran down Harry's pale flesh. He shuddered, suddenly overcome by his climax, and felt the pulsing of his cock, the rush of fluid through and out of his body, and his eyes flickered closed, the shape of the sigil still glowing behind his eyelids like a seal on their joining. Harry cried out beneath him; it was almost a cry of pain, and a rush of warm fluid coated Severus' chest and belly, and dripped down onto Harry beneath him, to mix with their sweat and blood. And it was perfect in a purely primitive way that honoured the old gods still present in and under this harsh, granite rock that lay beneath them, the foundation bedrock of Hogwarts School.
"Dear Merlin!" Severus gasped as he opened his eyes.
Harry was looking up at him, his pupils dilated, his chest heaving, for he too, had been running a race – a desperate dash towards completion. "Severus," Harry gasped, his voice so breathy that Severus doubted even Draco could have heard the gift of his name on Harry's lips, for Draco had turned away as if he could not bear the sight of their completion, and was busying himself gathering up their robes.
Draco threw Severus' robe around him as he pulled out of Harry's body, for the master's modesty came first, whereas the sacrifice's ritual humiliation precluded such thoughtfulness. Severus stood and Draco fastened the robe around him, treating him with respect, which pleased him. Severus walked off a little way, almost merging back into the shadows, and watched as Draco banished Harry's bonds. Harry groaned as he stretched out his legs, and brought his arms down again, rubbing at his wrists. He'd pulled against the restraints as he'd been taken, first no doubt in panic, then in denial, but finally in passion. Severus noted the red marks, and felt a rush of renewed arousal at the sight, and was amazed. He was not a young man, not as these things went, and hadn't expected to be aroused again.
Draco helped Harry up, and once on his feet Harry pulled away from Draco's hands, denying the need for aid, or perhaps just denying Draco. Draco, unfazed, performed his final task and wrapped the robe around Harry and fastened it. Harry took a deep, calming breath which Severus clearly saw, forcing himself to act the role once again. Once clothed though, Harry's eyes roamed the room until he saw Severus standing back in the shadows, watching him. His lips pulled back then, as if he was angry, looking quite livid, in fact. His part done, Harry Potter pulled his robes tight around him and rushed, unceremoniously, for the door.
Surprised by Harry's quick exit, the young man was nearly out of the chamber before Severus found his voice. "Potter!" he called, not wanting it to end like this, not wanting that look – that almost feral, hate-filled look – to be the last thing he remembered of this rite, and not sure why it was important to him. Except it was. "Harry, please-"
But Harry was gone, the door banging shut behind him, a gust of air the only evidence he'd been here just moments before.
Draco, now allowed to speak freely at the ending of the rite, looked at Severus. "Doesn't look like he enjoyed it much, does it? You must be losing your touch, Professor."
Severus whipped away from him. It was either that or strike Draco where he stood, lash out and hit him like a mere Muggle – like his own wretched father would have done. Snarling, as angry as Harry had been mere seconds before, though for a very different reason, Severus strode from the chamber, the door banging shut for the second time in as many minutes.
Draco watched him go, and shrugged. He'd had to suffer to be here, why shouldn't they too?
Hermione woke, and the first thing she noticed was that she was no longer on the sofa, but lying very uncomfortably on a wooden floor. All she could think was that Malfoy had somehow swapped places with her. "What-?"
Ron's voice came from behind her head, and Hermione spun around. Her boyfriend was virtually spooned up to her; she could just make out the shape of his red hair fluffed up like an eccentric halo around his head.
"We're not in the book anymore," she suddenly realised.
"Too right," Ron grumbled. Wherever they were his long, lanky body was extremely uncomfortable on this particular floor, transmitting a series of aches and pains that were demonstrating the structure of his bones far more immediately than any anatomical chart could have done. But still, he was quite enjoying being this close to Hermione. Back in the book, he'd been curled up on the floor with a couple of cushions to make it more comfortable, stretched out alongside – to his extreme discomfort – Lucius Malfoy. Here, he was close to his girlfriend, and that was a real improvement, even if the hardness of the floor here, wherever 'here' was, felt far harder than in the book.
Ron shifted to make himself more comfortable, but Hermione had had enough of lying on the floor. She scrambled to her feet. It was nearly pitch-black, with just a little moonlight spilling through high windows, but it was hardly enough to make out their surroundings. Hermione whispered, rather belatedly, realising they might be somewhere they'd rather not be. Somewhere dangerous... like Malfoy Manor, perhaps. "Get up, Ron," she hissed.
Ron got to his feet and peered at her in the darkness. "We need light."
Hermione pulled out her wand, on the off chance it might work here, and whispered: "Lumos Minima." The resulting pale glow illuminated a wide room that seemed to stretch up high to horizontal windows far above. The room consisted of two levels, and each and every wall was filled with bookshelves. There was a huge desk near them, and she spotted a spiral staircase off to one side. "We're back at Grimmauld Place," she declared in a normal voice.
"We are?" Ron looked around. "Yeah, we are; in the library again. This is where we disappeared from, and we've reappeared here. You know what this means? Harry must have done it, Mione! He must have done the ritual!"
Hermione just stood and thought about that. She was relieved beyond measure to be out of the book, and it was even better to be back here with no Lucius Malfoy in sight, but what did she feel about Harry doing the ritual? She knew all the ins and outs of the ritual described in the book, and it was uncomfortable to think about; having Harry in proximity with Dark magic – sex magic, at that – was just awful. "Oh," was all she managed to say.
Ron put his arm around her and squeezed. "He'll be all right, Mione. He's Harry Potter."
"Yes, he is. It always comes down to him, doesn't it? It's not fair on him, Ron. Think about it."
Ron looked serious then, and nodded. "I know. But what can we do? With people like Malfoy and their dodgy Dark magic about, he's always going to be in the firing line. Not to mention You Know Who," he added, looking glum.
"Well, at least we can do something about that now," Hermione said determinedly. "I know the spells."
"Which spells? I mean, I remember a ton of spells out of that book. Most of them are pretty grim." Ron looked uncomfortable. "Which ones do you mean?"
"Do you know the spell for creating Horcruxes? Conscindo et Posito Animum?"
"And so you probably know the one to destroy them, too. Because I do."
"Yeah, Eradico Animum." Ron's face twisted as he said the words; just the knowledge of the spell felt bad, like an alien presence inside his mind. Of course, the whole subject of Horcruxes was unpleasant, especially when he knew there really were such things in the world, not just written about in some rotten old grimoire, and now he, Ron Weasley, had somehow become responsible for them, if only as part of a team. "We need Harry, then we can get rid of those things in the headmistress' safe, for a start."
"Yes, Harry. But it's the middle of the night right now and I doubt Harry's feeling quite himself at the moment, so let's get sorted out and go to bed; there are spare rooms here."
"Kreacher!" Ron called.
A pop heralded the house-elf's arrival. "Kreacher is here," the elf rasped, adding in a nearly-inaudible mutter, "Nasty blood-traitor brat, what does it want in the middle of the night?"
"Bring jugs of water and a pot of tea to two of the bedrooms, Hermione and I will be staying the night. And don't disturb Remus."
"Remus Lupin – the filthy, bloodthirsty werewolf scum – is not here. He is meddling with things at Hogwarts."
"Then hurry up, we're thirsty," Ron bellowed, his cheeks going red.
Hermione put her hand on his arm to keep him from upsetting Kreacher further as the old elf shambled out, to Ron's eye dragging it out as long as he could.
"It is the middle of the night, Ron; he must have been asleep. You can't expect him to be very cheerful about being called at this time."
"Cheerful? That elf has never been cheerful in his entire life, if you ask me."
Hermione had to agree, but she did so silently. She really didn't want to upset the elf any more than necessary. She felt an indefinable sense of sadness around him, and it was nothing to do with the generic sadness she felt for all the enslaved elves. However, she was far too tired to make much sense of it, and Ron's idea of taking tea in their rooms before sleeping was brilliant. Hermione leaned up and kissed him gently. "Come on, bedtime."
If Ron found that provocative – and he did – he managed not to show it as he followed her out of the library and up to the guest bedrooms, knowing that Hermione had not meant it that way.
Chapter notes: Conscindo et Posito Animum means (as best I can make it, and I'm no expert) 'I tear in pieces and deposit a soul (fragment)'
Eradico Animum means 'I destroy the soul (fragment)'.
It seemed that Lucius Abraxas Malfoy's bad day had continued. He woke up lying on a woodland ride, with a twig sticking painfully between his shoulder blades and quite a lot of damp leaf litter insinuating itself where Lucius would rather not have it, thank you very much. He growled – literally growled – as he picked out a large, damp leaf from halfway up his sleeve. He hated to think what kind of insect life might infest such a substrate, but there it was. At least he was home.
Lucius had immediately realised what had happened, for he had a better idea of how such Dark magic worked than either of his young companions in the book. The ceremony must have been effective, the spell had been reversed. Lucius was in the same spot he'd been snatched from, so to speak, but this time sans horse. He got to his feet and shook his robes thoroughly, hoping to dislodge any forms of life that hadn't been there before he'd arrived in the West Woods, but without any light other than moonlight he didn't hold out much hope on that front. Lucius immediately wondered where his cane was. He expected, and hoped, it had been returned with him. He'd been sleeping with the cane beside him, within reach of his wand hand. Yes, he knew it hadn't worked in the book, but it would back here and he definitely didn't want Weasley or Granger to get hold of it. Lucius shuddered at the thought of his beloved snake-headed cane being polluted by their hands. It was a proud Slytherin artefact, passed to him by his father and his grandfather before him, and should not be sullied by Gryffindors. Not seeing the cane immediately, Lucius concentrated and cast a wandless Accio. He was gratified when the cane flew up from the bridleway and he caught it deftly, despite the gloom. He always felt better with his wand in his hand, even when it was still sheathed inside the cane.
Rather than hare off back to the manor house, Lucius stood and thought awhile. Back there, he knew, there was not only Narcissa waiting for him. Sleeping in Malfoy Manor was an assortment of individuals, most of whom he would be heartily glad not to see again. "Never is too soon," he muttered to the wood and any nocturnal animals that might be listening to him. The Dark Lord and some of his cronies had taken up residence in one wing of his manor, and Lucius was treading a fine line. If it became obvious that he did not want them there, well, who knew what that insane monster might do? And yes, Lucius was willing to admit that by now Lord Voldemort was both insane and a monster. He was accompanied by that unpleasant creature known as Wormtail, who was by his side at all times unless sent off on some mission where his Animagus form would come in handy. Lucius shuddered; he hated rats. Vermin. Even the Muggles knew that.
So, maybe he could manipulate his current situation a little. He'd been trapped with Granger and Weasley, and while it had been unpleasant, it had been nowhere near as unpleasant as being in Lord Voldemort's company. His son, Potter and Severus were likely all still at Hogwarts. Most importantly, Lucius had free access to the school, and no one but those few people – Draco, Potter, Severus, the Headmistress and that damned werewolf, Remus Lupin, as well as his fellow captives – knew that he was free. Maybe, just maybe he could make that work for him. Deciding to go with the twist of fate that had plucked him out of his normal environment and given him contact with the leaders of the other side, Lucius Apparated away.
"Father, you look dreadful!"
"Why, thank you, Draco. I am pleased to see you safe and sound, too."
"Well, yes, of course I'm pleased you're safe. The ritual was quite disgusting, but at least it worked and you're out of that book. It must have been awful, stuck in there with the Mudblood and the Weasel."
Lucius' eyes opened wider at hearing Draco's nicknames for Granger and Weasley, but he disagreed with the statement. "No, Draco. While they would not be my first choice – or my hundredth, for that matter – the situation was not as dreadful as it is at home."
Draco's face fell. He nodded morosely. He hated having the Dark Lord at the manor too. The man carried a chill air of menace around with him. His red eyes were unearthly and inhuman; Draco wondered what that meant. The saying 'the eyes are the mirrors of the soul' was true, and those eyes seemed to speak to Draco either of a soul so evil it was unbearable to look at, or else of the absence of any kind of soul. Worse, the Dark Lord seemed to like Draco, in an entirely disgusting fashion. He thought the young man inept, incapable of fulfilling the only order he'd given him, but he also seemed to like getting close to him. Draco shuddered at the memory of those cold hands stroking his face, the red eyes gleaming as he looked into Draco's eyes, promising things that Draco really did not want to think about, not in this lifetime or any other.
"Isn't there anything you can do, Father? I can't bear the thought of coming home for Christmas if he's there. He... he ogles me."
Lucius, far from looking amused at his son's outburst, looked grimmer. "I confess I cannot, Draco. I am helpless before his power. If we try anything, he will kill us all. Sometimes I have no idea why he keeps us alive. He has our house, he values none of us as far as I can tell, and frankly I fear him asking for access to the family vaults at Gringotts. It is only a matter of time..."
Draco looked as if he might cry. Lucius put a hand on his son's shoulder to brace him. "But there just might be a way, as unthinkable as it might seem."
"What?" Draco dared only speak in monosyllables, his throat was so tight. If he tried a whole sentence he feared he might cry.
"Potter knows how to destroy him, Draco, I know he does. And do you know, I think he might just be able to do it."
"How do you know?"
"I learned many things in that book, many important things; I know what they were looking for. And now Granger and Weasley have that knowledge, Potter does too. That is why I came here, choosing to be trapped in the dungeons of Hogwarts, but that means I am safe at least from our lord."
"But what about Mother! How is she managing back at the manor?" Draco was genuinely worried; he loved his mother.
"We must trust she is well, for now. He has never shown animosity towards her; the blame always rested squarely on me, as it will do again if I fail to return. No, there is nothing more we can do. Unless..." Lucius trailed off, looking thoughtful.
"You want to help Potter, don't you?" Draco's voice was conflicted. He wanted to be rid of the Dark Lord. Now he'd met him he seriously wondered why his father had ever got mixed up with a man like that, powerful or not. But Potter. The thought of cooperating with him, being on the same side, was bitter.
"I wouldn't go that far," Lucius said, and Draco felt honestly relieved. "But I might just fail to impede him," Lucius added.
Draco frowned, then answered, "Yes. I think that would be a good idea, Father. And if we're here, for all the Dark Lord knows we've been captured by the Order of the Phoenix, and even if Potter fails we can't be culpable."
Lucius smiled. "Exactly. Then we are agreed, are we, my son? We will stay here, and be as content as we can, trusting your mother will be well. I am sure Severus will pass the right story on to our lord, and he will look out for Narcissa too, for he is fond of her."
Lucius patted the sofa next to where he was seated. The dungeon rooms were part of the Slytherin quarters, kept for guests and very comfortable. He was far from imprisoned, as he had voluntarily put himself into Minerva McGonagall's hands, and she had immediately offered use of this suite. He was so happy to be back with his son and safe, at least for the foreseeable future. He loved Draco more than he loved anything on this Earth; the boy had been his most precious possession from the time he first saw the light. His inability to protect his son from Voldemort's impossible task, and then from his lord's predatory gaze, was a failure on every level. If he could not keep Draco safe, then what use was he as a father? His presence here was as much for his son's sake as for anything else. Lucius would be able to watch over Draco, to keep the Dark Lord from getting his unpleasant hands on his son.
Draco slid onto the sofa next to his father, happy to be close to him again. When his father's arm came around him and held him close beside him, Draco smiled. He loved his mother, but he loved, admired and idolised his father. It was the most marvellous feeling to be close to him again, especially in term time.
"Your mother's sister is high in the Dark Lord's favour," Lucius continued, "which hopefully cancels out Narcissa's perceived failure as my wife and your mother."
Draco hoped so; he really did, but recognised that having the two of them away from Voldemort was probably the best they could manage while the Dark Lord was still alive. And if his father thought Potter had a chance of finishing him, well that was good enough for Draco. He snuggled closer to Lucius, who slipped a comforting arm around his son. Draco let his eyes drift shut, and smiled when he felt his father's lips on his hair, kissing the top of his head.
"So, the ritual was awful, you say?" Lucius' voice had an amused tone. He knew exactly what the rite demanded, and knew his son would have had a very good view of proceedings acting as the assistant in the ritual.
"Well, it wasn't that it was so awful," Draco admitted, colouring slightly and burying his head in his father's shoulder. "It was just.... uncomfortable seeing Severus doing that to Potter. I don't think Potter enjoyed it much, to be honest."
"And that was a problem? I wouldn't have thought you'd have cared."
"Well, no, I don't, er, didn't. It's just, well, seeing Severus doing that was odd, Father; it was sort of exciting, to be honest. And it shouldn't have been, should it. I had trouble concentrating on my part in the rite, on what to do next. I just wanted to... er..."
Lucius' arm squeezed his son, offering encouragement and some much-needed stability. Draco found his voice again. "I wanted to join in," he confessed, face flaming as he looked up at Lucius. "And I'm scared that means I'm gay."
"Hush boy, do not be so foolish. It's just sex; it means you were aroused by the sight of sex, nothing more. There is nothing unusual in that. Anyone would have found it arousing, Draco."
Lucius' voice was deep; his words comforted Draco, who leaned into his father's embrace, grateful for the security and comfort of both his presence and his words. Speaking to his father about sex had never been easy for Draco, he'd always been aware that he'd have to perform well; he was his father's heir and the fate of the Malfoy line lay on his shoulders, and it was a heavy weight to bear at times. It was part of the reason – but only part – why he'd had so many girlfriends; it had been practice for the time when he'd be married and the Malfoy patriarch. Now, thinking about his reaction to the explicit sight of his ex-professor shagging his classmate, he'd panicked and been really worried that it might mean he was gay, and that would mean he'd be unable to father the next generation, and he felt anxious about his sexuality. But surely that was ridiculous, for Draco had had lots of girlfriends... but watching Snape and Harry together had been amazingly hot, and he hadn't been able to ignore his reaction. His father's words were so comforting; Draco raised his face to Lucius' and kissed his father's cheek.
"Shh, Draco. It's all right," Lucius said, gazing down into eyes the colour of the Atlantic on a bright day. "We're safe here, and your fears are groundless. Be at peace, son."
And Draco, for the first time in over a year, believed him.
Harry stumbled out of the dungeon chamber and fled, heading for the upper levels, and sanity. What had happened was dreadful, shocking, and so he knew it was understandable that he should feel so shaky, so panicky, so much in need of putting distance between himself, that chamber, and Snape. And Malfoy too, he thought belatedly; he'd been there too, had touched him intimately; Draco had watched everything that happened. And yet it was Snape who was affecting him like this, Snape who seemed to be following him, running after him, haunting him, so much so that Harry could hear footfalls pursuing him along these passageways leading away and up from the lowest levels. It was Snape who was after him, in reality or only in his mind, and it really didn't matter which it was, because the man was close – too close. Harry could still feel him inside, deep inside of him. And that was, yes... too fucking close.
Harry's breath came in harsh pants as he sped along, heart beating in a mad rhythm to match the one his feet were pounding out along the passageways, the noise echoing clearly from the stone walls of the old castle. He headed almost blindly for Gryffindor Tower. He needed the privacy of his bed in his own room; he needed to be away from this madness, this latest 'special case' that had to involve Harry Potter. He... just ... needed... to think. Panting, red-faced, he rushed past the entrance to the headmistress' office, not wanting to stop, not wanting to hear their commiserations, or congratulations, or anything that might make this ordeal last longer. He just wanted to forget it, get away from it, so he hurried along, ignoring proper behaviour and school rules about running in the corridors. Soon, he reached the Fat Lady's portrait, puffed out the password and pushed through almost before she'd opened enough for him to squeeze through.
It was well past curfew and no one else was awake as he passed through the common room and up past the doors to the dormitories. Harry, in his agitation, was far from silent, but the other students were too deeply asleep to be disturbed by his panting breaths as he passed by, and his hurried undressing and rush into bed were accomplished in private.
With trembling hands he pulled his pillow close to his chest, trying to still both his tremors and his thoughts. His mind was whirling, intent on replaying the sex blow by blow. How the hell was he supposed to get any sleep? Damn! It had hurt at first, and it had been Snape. He remembered being tied up, being helpless, but he had voluntarily offered himself for that humiliation by accepting Malfoy's words and answering them so it could take place. Without Harry's agreement and willing participation the magic would never have worked. Now, knowing he'd handed himself over in that compliant way, knowing he'd reacted to Snape's body joining with his own, and that yes, after the shock of the penetration and the initial pain had dulled into virtually nothing, it had, almost beyond belief, morphed into a sharp, rough pleasure. And knowing that he'd enjoyed it made this so hard to bear. Because Harry did not want to remember it with pleasure, he needed to hate it; it was perverted, depraved, and he'd been a victim. A willing victim, perhaps, but nevertheless Harry had been the virgin sacrifice that had transformed the magic from mere words and actions into a working spell, and he'd done it well enough that it had broken through the powerful enchantments that held his friends captive. Anything less would not have worked, Harry knew.
Just how was he meant to sleep after a night like that? How could he lie here, clutching his pillow, staring up at the canopy which he could not even see in the darkness of his room, and clear his mind enough to settle down. There were few enough hours left before dawn, and Harry needed some sleep or he would be useless in class tomorrow. Damn Snape anyway! The man was a murderer, and meant to be in Azkaban, not having sex in Hogwarts with one of his ex-students. It was still hard for him to accept the truth – that Snape had merely followed Dumbledore's orders, much as he, Harry, was now doing in his quest to destroy the Horcruxes. And really, Harry could not condemn him for that, because he understood it as well as anyone. And if Harry couldn't forgive Snape, what chance was there that the rest of the wizarding world would do so?
But no, despite those awful events it wasn't that side of Snape that was getting to him; it wasn't even the memories of years of sarcasm in the classroom. Harry wasn't entirely sure what it was about Snape that was still here with him in his bed, that had followed him from the chamber as he fled, that he had been unable to outrun. It was just... Snape. "Oh, gods," Harry moaned, "Severus."
And yes, he'd called him that, hadn't he? Just before he'd fled, he'd called the man by his given name. "Oh, gods," he moaned again.
Amazingly, Harry did sleep for a few hours. His mind had finally replayed Luna's words, her soft voice directing him to find his peaceful place, and he'd managed it. Yes, amazingly. So it was already light and the Gryffindor boys were beginning to bustle about outside, noisily heading for the showers and talking about the day ahead, when Harry opened his eyes again.
"Hurry up, mate!" Ron stuck his head around the door to Harry's room. "You'll miss breakfast if you don't get a move on."
Ron laughed. "Yeah, well. I'll see you in a bit; just off for a shower."
Harry sat up, realising he needed a long, hot shower too. Remembering exactly why he needed a long, hot shower. And why hadn't he taken one last night? Ah, probably because it was something like 1am when he got back to the tower, and running the shower at that time might have woken someone up. He quickly slipped into his dressing gown and slippers, grabbed his toilet bag and a towel, and hurried off after Ron.
Wait a minute... Ron? He'd just been talking to Ron as if it was a normal morning! Ron was out of the book and acting as if nothing had happened, and for a brief moment Harry wondered if it had all been some kind of insane dream. Until his arse twinged as he hurried along, and he knew it was real.
"Hey, Ron," Harry called through the shower stall to his best friend. "When did you get back?"
"We came back early this morning. Last night we found ourselves back at the library where we researching before we, um, went away, so we Flooed back to the headmistress' office this morning. I've already had one breakfast, but I could easily eat another. I've had nothing to eat for nearly two days, you know."
Harry grinned, happy that things seemed to be working out. He turned on the water in his shower, and sighed happily. There was nothing as heavenly as hot water and soap, Harry decided, as his body came alive under the rush of the shower. And yes, it felt good... and no, he wasn't going to consider what else felt good, because it hadn't felt good being fucked by Snape. No, it certainly had not. There had been no meaning to it beyond a ritual; it had been cold and mechanical, a performance, with nothing to do with partnership, relationship, or – Merlin forbid – love. It had been a form of magic, nothing more. Harry gritted his teeth and turned off the water. He wrapped his towel around his hips and headed over to the basins to clean his teeth and try to tame his hair before breakfast, a daily task at which he knew he was destined to fail.
Harry rinsed his mouth, feeling as clean as he could make himself. He straightened up and looked in the mirror. His hair stood on end and he fought it down with the comb, and of course bits of it sprang up again. He growled in frustration, and Ron, at the next basin, laughed again, incredibly cheerful now he was out of his prison. Harry frowned at mirror-Harry, ran his hand through his dark locks, and froze.
He put his hand to his head and rubbed at the mirror with the other hand, trying to dislodge a smear or find some fault with the glass, but nothing changed. "It can't be..."
"What? You mean you've finally got it to stay down?" Ron smirked.
"No, Ron, look!"
Ron stared; Harry was pointing to his forehead. To his unmarked forehead. "What?" he spluttered.
"It's gone. My scar's gone! How is that possible?"
"No idea, mate, but we've got to show Hermione. If anyone will know, she will." Ron grabbed Harry's arm and pulled him out of the bathroom.
Hermione peered at Harry's forehead. The three of them had grabbed a few breakfast items and left the hall to find an empty classroom where they could talk before their first lesson.
"Well," she began thoughtfully, "the ritual you took part in was a Ritual of Reversal aimed at reversing previous magic, namely the spells that held us in the book. Which we know it did, successfully. And thank you, Harry, by the way, for enduring what you did to get us out. We're very grateful."
"Yeah, mate," Ron said. He felt rather bad that he'd not said anything earlier, but he'd thought that maybe Harry didn't want to think about it, and so he'd tried to act like it was just another day. After all, if it had been he, Ron Weasley, who'd had to do that ritual, he'd certainly want to forget about it.
"Well," Hermione continued, "maybe it was powerful enough to have reversed the scar, or the curse that caused it, that is."
Harry frowned. "But that was sixteen years ago, Hermione. I can't believe it would do that. Would it?"
"Well it must have been very powerful, Harry. The magic it reversed for us was meant to be foolproof, so Mr. Malfoy told us."
"I'm still surprised he didn't kill you," Harry muttered, not wanting to talk about just how powerful the sex magic ritual had been. He remembered not only the sex, but the shooting pain that had speared through his head as he climaxed. He'd briefly panicked that perhaps Voldemort had been watching what was happening, but now he knew better. The pain had been the death of a soul, or part of one, at least.
"Hmm, he wasn't that bad," Hermione said, tapping her lip with her finger as she continued to think about Harry's scar. "Well, I think this is much better than I could have hoped; you see, Harry, I think we're one step closer to our goal. I can tell you now because it's gone; I hadn't said anything before because I wasn't one hundred percent sure, but I nearly was."
"What?" Harry asked, exasperated. "What can you tell me?"
"Your scar was a Horcrux," Hermione said, and Harry and Ron goggled at her with identical expressions of combined disbelief and horror.
"Oh, my God," Harry said, and quickly sat down on a chair before his legs could do what they were threatening to do and give way. "Oh, no."
"Yes, but it's gone. I'm pretty sure you won't be getting any more of those awful Voldemort dreams, Harry. You know, when he got into your mind all those times, and you felt all that suffering, all that anger. That was why he could do it. And remember when you were inside Nagini, that time when Mr Weasley was attacked? Well, it confirms that Nagini is a Horcrux too, doesn't it? Yes, it explains so much, but I just didn't want to tell you before now."
"Mate, I've said it before, and I'll say it again." Ron put a hand on Harry's shoulder, offering his strength and support. "I really don't envy you."
"I don't envy myself," Harry said quietly, shaking his head. His mind, treacherously, began to replay his latest sacrifice, and he wondered if he was going to go mad. Because sometimes, that wasn't true... because today he did envy the Harry Potter of yesterday. And that was sick, surely.
Snape, pushing forward. Snape's cock, pressing against him, pushing into him. Snape, inside him, looking down at him with burning blackness in his eyes – and how the hell could that be, such a contradiction in terms? But it was, and Snape was impaling Harry with his eyes, boring into his mind just as he was impaling his body on his cock, pushing hard and fast, faster, his hips working, sweat dripping, breath rasping and chest heaving. Gods, it was bestial, and earthy, and the best fucking feeling in the world. To have a man's cock inside him – who knew? Who knew it could be so perfect?
"Ahhh!" Harry cried, and came back to himself in the middle of Transfiguration, to heads turning to look at him; to the Slytherins' sniggers (but not Malfoy's), and to Professor Flapp-Doodle, McGonagall's replacement as Transfiguration teacher, staring shocked at his outburst. "Sorry," he mumbled, and looked back down at the chapter he was supposed to be studying. Merlin, he was going mad. And thank the gods there was still some time before the end of the lesson, because he was as hard as nails and he really did not need to be on his feet where someone might notice. That would be a gift to the Slytherins, as if he hadn't already given them one with his performance so far. It was a mercy that he hadn't ejaculated here in the class... now he just needed his erection to subside.
After dinner that evening, the three friends met with the headmistress in her office. Hermione and Ron had told Harry that they knew the spell and he was eager to destroy the two Horcruxes stored in McGonagall's hundred-warded safe. So Harry arranged for them to go to the Headmistress' office that evening.
At Harry's request, Minerva opened the safe, which was keyed to her magic, and Harry and Ron levitated the Horcruxes onto a table set ready nearby. The golden cup and locket looked blameless enough, but Harry wasn't fooled. These objects were more dangerous than anything he knew, and he stood far enough away to avoid any influence from them. He certainly did not want to touch them. Thankfully the magic Hermione now knew did not call for it. If only Professor Dumbledore had known this, so much would have been different.
"Thank you, Headmistress," Harry said. "If you'd just leave us to it for a short while..."
"Aye, well, I've a few things to do in the Staff Room. I'll be about an hour."
Professor McGonagall left a little primly, no doubt she was distressed at not being let in on their secret, but Harry was aware that Remus now knew, and Professor Dumbledore had told him to tell nobody else apart from Ron and Hermione, so he couldn't just tell her. Once they were on their own, Hermione pointed her wand at the locket. With a complex gesture she spoke the spell clearly: "Eradico Animum."
The locket sprang open accompanied by an unearthly wail, and a foul, thick smoke coiled up from the gold, forming a black and evil-smelling cloud. Everyone covered their noses and Hermione cast an air-freshening charm. She had to repeat it three times before it worked to dispel the foul miasma left in the office by the destruction of even a seventh part of such an evil soul.
Harry and Ron coughed, and Hermione looked as if she might be sick. "It's really disgusting, isn't it?"
"Did you expect anything else?" Ron asked grimly.
"I suppose not," Hermione said. "But it's rather sad, isn't it? That anyone could have such an evil soul."
"I do not know about sad, Miss Granger, but it is certainly dangerous."
"Yeah, so let's do the other one," Harry said. "The sooner the better."
Hermione repeated her actions over the cup, with the result that the cup buckled under the force of the spell before giving up its soul fragment.
"What a shame, it was a lovely reminder of a gentle lady," Hermione said.
"I bet it can be restored though," Ron said. "Bill works with cursed objects of great age all the time, and most of 'em are older than this; they're often restored after the curses are out of them. I think I remember him saying that this crumpling is typical of the darkest curses. It's quite interesting work."
Hermione looked fascinated. "It sounds it. I'll have to have a long talk with Bill sometime."
Harry and Ron exchanged amused glances.
Harry was less amused that night when, in bed, he awoke at some god-awful hour with his whole body seeming to throb, the blood pounding through his veins and his cock so hard he just couldn't ignore it this time. "Fuck!" he gasped, and grabbed at himself and, with two or three hard, fast strokes, spilled into his pyjamas. The mess was easily fixed with a cleaning charm, but his mind was less easily sorted out. Because it had happened again – the sense memory of Snape, touching him, fucking him, staring so deeply into him. Oh, gods, it was just unforgettable. And yes, he had to admit it now, it had started off bad, but fuck, in the end it had been good! And Harry did not want, ever, to have to admit that to anyone else. Bad enough he'd had to admit it to himself.
Did Snape know? Had he sensed how much he was affecting Harry? Surely he must have guessed, because it had been Harry's first time, so how could he not have been affected by it? And that was all it was that was making him feel like this, Harry told himself, his first time. And he refused to consider the word 'bond'.
But what about Malfoy? Did he know, or suspect there was more to it? Why hadn't he sniggered at Harry's outburst in class today? Any other time he'd have been deliriously happy to see Harry making a fool of himself. But not today, not after the ritual. Harry somehow knew Malfoy hadn't told the Slytherins either, because it had all been for his father's sake just as much as Ron and Hermione's, and Malfoy now owed him. Pure-bloods like Malfoy took such things seriously, so no, Harry didn't think the rest of the Slytherins knew anything about it.
Had the ritual affected Malfoy too? And if so, how? Harry's stomach lurched at the thought that Draco, too, might have been aroused by what they'd done. Oh, Merlin, no...
Severus Snape woke in a sweat, his nightshirt sticking to his body. Nightmares were nothing unusual for him, and had come more frequently since he'd been forced to kill Albus, but this morning's rude awakening was for a different reason. Quickly, Severus took his cock in hand and finished himself with a few firm strokes, until warm semen spilled over his hand. He sighed.
In his thirty-eight years, Severus had not had many genuine chances for unforced sex, and none at all recently. Outside Death Eater circles he was too notorious, and he did not wish to indulge within the ranks, as it were. Those men were just too unpleasant, even for him. Added to that, the country was in the middle of a wizarding civil war in which he was destined to be perceived as being on the wrong side. When he'd performed the ritual with Draco and Harry, he hadn't realised what it would do to him. Severus hadn't expected that he'd want to have such glorious sex again, because he'd expected it to be anything but glorious. A humiliating episode, that's what he'd thought it would be, for all of them. For Harry particularly, of course, but for him almost as much. And yet it hadn't worked out that way; Draco had been respectful for the most part, and Harry had been... delicious. The image of Harry, tied up on the altar, accepting his fate, accepting Severus' cock, was a heady one; an image he'd never forget and was fairly sure Harry Potter wouldn't, either.
Severus picked up his wand in his left hand and cast a cleaning spell to banish the evidence, the semen a messy reminder that yes, he wanted to feel that way again, because it had been... perfect.
If only the boy hadn't been so sacrificial, such an obviously brave but willing victim as he lay there tied to that altar. But he had, and it had triggered something inside Severus. That something was a need that Severus was ill-equipped to deal with, for he despised those who were desperate enough to have recourse to the few male prostitutes who plied their trade in Knockturn Alley, or worse, their Muggle counterparts who could have no real idea of who he was or what he could do... He'd found that most of those men were hard-bitten, cynical characters who gave the minimum to their clients – a quick fuck against a wall or a skilled but mechanical blowjob. How did he know that? Severus shuddered as he remembered his more youthful period of desperation, and the depths he'd sunk to then. Never again, he'd sworn that to himself. Severus had thought he was safely past those urges, too mature to feel that burning, almost animalistic need, but apparently he was not. Potter, that eternal nuisance and thorn in Severus Snape's flesh, had resurrected it. And Potter, he decided, would have to banish it.
Severus had access to Hogwarts now. As long as he came and went without calling attention to himself he was, if not welcome, then at least tolerated as the bearer of potentially vital information and as a strong, skilled Dark wizard who could help them when they needed his knowledge or his magic. Yes, he was back at Hogwarts, in a way. But he had no business being here tonight, no information to offer the head of the Order of the Phoenix behind closed doors. Instead, he was bending his steps towards Gryffindor Tower. Severus' face twisted, his expression growing sour as he realised just what he was doing: entering the den of his beloved House's rivals. Yet it had to be done. And no one else saw his expression as he moved along; Severus knew he was Disillusioned so completely against the stone walls that when he moved all but the sharpest observer's eyes would have failed to pick him out, and only then if they'd known where to look. Severus had had ample practice at such sneaking about; he could have outdone any of the foolish Marauders, who had always prided themselves on their skill and, moronically, boasted about the fact.
Severus knew Potter had his own room up here, had heard from Minerva's own mouth the special arrangements she had made to keep Harry and his friends safely at Hogwarts while they did their research and Harry followed Albus' plan. All he had to do was find Harry's room, and that should not be too difficult; there were a finite number of private rooms in Gryffindor Tower, after all. Severus knew the location of the Head of House's rooms, he'd visited Minerva often enough while she'd held that post, and so he skirted that door and moved on to the next. The private rooms were through the common room, their doors opening off the corridor that led to the dormitories. The brats were all asleep by now, or at least abed, which was good enough, so Severus dropped his Disillusionment spell. He met no one on his journey, and the tower might as well have been deserted, at least until he unlocked and opened the first door beyond the head's quarters.
Late though it was, Hermione Granger was sitting up in bed, reading. Really, the sight would have been funny if he'd had time to appreciate it, but he had to move quickly to Obliviate her and leave. The memory spell would only wipe out about ten seconds of time from her mind, so Severus cast it quickly and stepped out, continuing on his way. It wasn't until he was outside the second door along the passageway that he allowed the grin to break over his face. What else would Granger do in bed but read? Certainly nothing remotely sexual. Although he hadn't thought so originally, he now realised that his dilemma could have been worse – if things had worked out differently he might have had to do the rite with her instead of Potter. Still, in that case he doubted he'd be creeping along the Gryffindor corridors right now, because he certainly wouldn't have wanted seconds. Quite apart from the fact that he preferred men, he also preferred his partners to have some passion inside them. He would wager that Granger's soul was made of parchment, and that was saying something from a bibliophile like himself!
Severus put his hand on the second private room's door knob, and wondered, briefly, what it would have been like to have had to fuck Ronald Weasley instead of Harry. Really, he doubted he could have done it without chemical stimulation, because the boy was just... Severus shuddered, unsure why he had such antipathy to the Weasley boy, whose two oldest brothers were downright attractive. Severus had admired them at Order meetings on the occasions they'd been there, though he'd carefully kept his admiration from showing. At the time, he'd taken care to avoid giving Black ammunition to fire at him, though that wasn't a worry these days. Really, Molly and Arthur should have stopped when they were winning. The next boy was that god-awful Ministry drone, and he was followed by the twins who surely came from some strange kind of hyperactive hell. And then they'd produced Potter's friend – Ronald. And as if all that wasn't bad enough, their final child was an obnoxious, over-confident female who thought she was God's gift to men and had set about showing Potter as much. Ha! As if Potter cared.
Severus refused to think that maybe Harry had cared. Focusing on his task again he cast a strong unlocking spell and turned the door knob, hoping this wasn't Ron's room, and found he was in luck. He sighed, purely mentally, in relieved satisfaction, and stepped inside.
Potter was asleep, or so Severus thought, but as he closed the door behind him, virtually inaudibly, he had to give the boy credit for being wary because Potter's head shot up from his pillow and he looked across the darkened room and pinned Severus with his gaze. The single candle glowing in a wall sconce alongside him meant that Severus could not hide in the shadows, could not hope Harry would fail to recognise him.
Harry dived for his wand on the night stand, and Severus cast a quick spell of his own devising, a subtle variant of Expelliarmus, before Harry's fingers could close over it. Harry had been quick, Severus was pleased to see, but of course Severus was quicker, and he pocketed Harry's wand, for now. Harry turned on him then, green eyes flashing, and Severus felt a jolt of excitement shoot through him, and a feeling like quicksilver ran through his veins. "Not fast enough, Mr. Potter; not nearly fast enough."
"Why are you here?" Harry snapped, but although his tone was sharp, his face betrayed not merely anger, but curiosity.
Severus, confronted by the question, a question he'd avoided asking himself, had no reply. He just stared back until Harry spoke again.
"Are you here to kill me?"
"Hardly; would I have given you the means to kill the Dark Lord in the form of that book if I had wanted to kill you? And by the way, have you managed to do any of that, to get closer to his total destruction by destroying Horcruxes along the way?" Severus stepped closer and sat on the edge of the bed; he needed to keep an eye on the boy, he couldn't have him yelling and waking up the rest of the tower. Though as he hadn't done so yet, Severus couldn't see him starting now; but to be sure of it, he cast a quick silencing spell on the door as he waited for Harry's answer.
Harry sighed. "So, you know about his Horcruxes. Of course you do."
"I know bits and pieces, and worked out the rest. There wasn't much else it could be, after all. Albus was remarkably close-mouthed about it, but I knew the stakes were high; the highest. He and I paid a terrible price to get you this far, Potter. You need to finish it quickly, but you need to keep safe until the end, too."
"Quickly? You think I don't know that?" Harry sputtered; annoyed at being told the obvious when he ate, drank and slept the damned Horcruxes. "I'm working as quickly as I can, Snape, and yes, we destroyed two Horcruxes earlier today. Hermione cast the spell; she's better at learning new spells and getting them right first time."
"Hm... that's very wise," Snape mused, and Harry was rather insulted that he sounded so impressed by such simple forethought. "So, what is left to do?"
"From what the headmaster told me, it's just Nagini now, and then Voldemort himself."
"Are you sure that is all, Potter?"
"Quite sure. Professor Dumbledore always reckoned Voldemort would have split his soul into seven parts, that being such a powerful number."
Severus frowned again, calculating. "That makes sense, knowing how he thinks. So, what are the seven, then?"
Harry grinned. "Ring, diary, locket, cup, Nagini, something unknown and
Harry paused as Severus winced, remembering the awful stench and sight of Albus' blackened, curse-burned hand when the old wizard had come to him for help with containing the Dark magic inside it. And Severus had done it, and he'd done it better than anyone he knew could possibly have done, so much so that Albus had lived another year. Albus was as cursed, though, during that final year, as was Severus himself when he took the DADA job. Bad things awaited both of them, and both of them knew it.
Harry didn't like the uneasy silence or the grim look on Snape's face, so he spoke to banish it. "The diary was destroyed in my second year down in the Chamber of Secrets. After that, I gave it back to Lucius Malfoy when I freed Dobby; though what he did with it then I've no idea."
"It's in his library," Severus interposed. "The Malfoys never throw away anything that might have some magical value, or be kept merely as a curiosity. They are pure-bloods, the guardians of tradition and wizarding posterity."
Harry snorted, and Snape smirked. "Well, he's welcome to it now; it's no longer a Horcrux, just an old diary that's not been written in. So that was two; we had the locket and the cup in Minerva's hundred-warded safe. They were destroyed today, making four down."
"That was a good place to keep them," Severus said approvingly.
"Why, thank you, Professor," Harry said, perking up and smiling cheekily. He was basking in Snape's approval and suddenly feeling more upbeat about their chances at defeating Voldemort. Having Snape on their side certainly helped, he could see that now. Having Snape sitting on his bed while he was in it, however, was very strange. Harry was deliberately not thinking about what it might mean.
Severus was bemused to see the boy appeared to be playing with him. Where did that come from? Potter had always loathed his guts, but now he was being civil. He shook his head, confused. "The next in your little rhyme was 'something unknown'. How can you know what it is, and thus how can you possibly know that you've disposed of it?"
"There's visual evidence that it's gone."
Snape looked really confused now, and Harry was quite enjoying it. "Look." Harry lifted up his fringe of hair and showed Snape his unmarked forehead. Snape's reaction was gratifying – he goggled.
"Wh... what happened?"
"Hermione reckoned, though she didn't tell me this beforehand, that my scar was a Horcrux accidentally formed when Voldemort tried to kill me when I was a baby. It explains a lot about it, about why it used to hurt me like it did and how it provided the link between his mind and mine." Harry shuddered, but Severus looked like a light bulb had come on in his brain.
"Yes! Of course, that would explain it. Your scar hurt when he was close to you presumably because the two fragments were trying to unite. It's all so simple, why did I not think..."
"And the scar was gone yesterday morning. I got up and showered, looked in the mirror to do my hair, and ... there it was, gone!"
Severus shook his head at the boy's light-heartedness, but he was unable to blame Harry for being a little high; the relief of being free of Voldemort's presence in his mind must be amazing.
"So that leaves..."
"Nagini and Voldy!"
Harry almost bounced in his bed, and Severus put out a hand to steady him, gripping his arm. Harry's arm felt warm and pleasant, and Severus badly wanted to touch more of him, preferably without the pyjamas in between. For now though, he forced himself to concentrate on their discussion. "I will help you with that."
"Look, I have to kill Voldemort, you know that."
"No, not him, though of course I will aid you where I can when it finally comes to that. No, I meant with Nagini. I can help you with that."
"Oh, thanks." Harry's voice sounded strange, a bit croaky. He could feel the heat of Severus' body where he was sitting on the side of the bed, close by. Severus was leaning closer, as if drawn to him like a plant to sunlight. "Look, just why are you here? I mean, it's odd, you coming to my room at night and all."
"I came to talk about your mission, of course."
"Really?" Harry's green eyes were intense, fixed on Severus' face, looking for answers.
Severus leaned even closer, now he could feel Harry's breath and the warmth of his face. "No, not really."
Severus' lips descended, but Harry, startled, put his hand on Severus' chest and held him back in the instinctive reaction of one who'd rarely been touched before, except in a hurtful way. Severus seemed to understand the gesture for what it was, though, and his eyes were just as intense as Harry's as they gazed at each other, each unable to look away. Severus saw something deep in those green eyes, and he had no intention of letting the moment pass; he took hold of Harry's hand, stilling it, holding it, and moved into the kiss again. And this time, Harry allowed it.
Their lips touched gently at first, then pressed firmly. Their mouths opened and they began to taste each other, both eager for the sliding warmth of their tongues, the joining that was somehow, shockingly, even more intimate than what had happened during the ritual. Because this was personal: they were truly doing this of their own volition, both of them, and both of them knew it. The kiss became harder, more passionate. They held each other all the time, gripping with hands, pulling closer with their arms, until they were trying to get closer with every part of them: mouths and hands, and yes, bodies and legs. Bed covers were irritably kicked out of the way; pyjamas and robes were grasped and struggled with in the desperate quest for more of the delicious closeness they'd both shown they wanted.
When Harry's hands finally got past cloth and onto Severus' body, he started stroking skin, pinching muscles and gripping bony prominences. At this, Severus started to lose control. Harry was wild in his arms, beneath his lips, their kisses had awoken something primal and desperate, and the younger man was taking control now, completely unfazed by what he was doing. It was such an unexpected turnaround that Severus drew back. "Gods, no..."
"Damn it, I want you, Severus."
Severus' breath caught in his throat at Harry's husky tone. Surely Harry didn't mean... He shook his head.
"You say no," Harry said, eyes glittering and his voice hard, almost a snarl, "but you mean yes. I can see it in your heart, Severus. You want me; you've wanted me for a long time, haven't you, and now you've finally admitted it."
And it was true; Severus knew it, knew it in his heart, just as Harry had said he could see. And he could only nod, dumbfounded. Because yes, he did want Harry; he had no chance of just standing up and walking out of here; it was his wanting, his need, that had brought him here tonight. Nothing else. But this wasn't how he'd imagined it, this deviated from his mental script; he'd come here for a repeat of the ritual, to pound into a subdued Potter, to be that much in control. But of course he should have known better, for nothing ever went as expected with Harry Potter, and that was part of the excitement, he realised. And then his chain of thought was distracted, for Harry was spinning him over and pushing him down onto the bed beneath him.
Severus struggled under Harry's weight, feeling uncomfortable, unused to such capitulation. He'd never done this in bed; everything had always been within his control. Every part of his life had to be within his control, because otherwise it all spun away from him in a flashing, whirling maelstrom of panic. Except... except, this was Harry, and Harry wasn't Voldemort, he was the antithesis of Voldemort and all he stood for, and so it wouldn't be like that. And Severus fought to relax, to stop fighting Harry, because he wanted him, and he recognised that what Harry had said was true; he'd wanted him for a long, long time.
Severus gasped as he felt a sudden burst of warm slickness between his arse cheeks, and Harry's voice rasped in his ear.
"Gods, I need you, Severus."
Lubrication. Harry must have cast a lubrication spell wordlessly, and wandlessly for that matter, and why did Severus care anyway? Because now he could feel Harry's erection sliding between his cleft, and it was hard and warm and threatening... No! It was Harry, it was safe. "Why?" he rasped between panting breaths, and his nervousness was a bright thing inside him, fear and excitement and a wild need twined into a braid of emotion that was so strong it was surely unbreakable.
"No idea," Harry panted, "but I do. Severus, just let me do this... I need to."
And Harry's fingers slipped between Severus' cheeks alongside his cock, insinuating themselves, entering him, spreading him and stretching him. And somewhere along the line those fingers stroked over his prostate, and Severus groaned at the ecstasy of it. It truly wasn't dreadful being in his lover's control, nor was it anything to panic about, not with Harry. It was something he could let happen; he could hand over the responsibility to the young man atop him who was bold enough to master him like this, because Severus trusted him. He trusted Harry Potter. So Severus could lie here and let it all happen, and he was enjoying it as Harry teased him, preparing him with lubricant and gentle but firm strokes over that inner place which gave him such pleasure. Oh, Merlin, it was good, so good that Severus hardly noticed when Harry's fingers were replaced with his cock, until that rigid shaft was inside him, and its blunt head was stroking his prostate, and Severus no longer cared that he was bottoming for the first time in years. Because yes, he could admit it now: it had happened before, and it had been hell that time, but this was a glimpse of its antithesis: of heaven.
Harry wasn't too big; he was young and was always going to be a small man. As a result he was sized so that he didn't cause Severus any pain. Harry had been as thorough as he could be, while being swept away by a yearning so strong he'd had to give in to it. He'd wanted to be inside Severus, to make himself a part of him, in the hopes of leaving part of himself inside Severus in just the way Severus had done to him. Harry worried that Severus didn't want him, for he had denied him verbally at first. But he was sure now, as he plunged repeatedly into the lean body beneath him, that he had been right to insist, that Severus did, truly want this, because Severus was making the most delightful noises beneath him. Those sounds spurred Harry on to keep going, to thrust and plunge just so to make Severus squirm and cry out in pleasure, and it was the best bloody feeling in the world. Yes, just like when he'd been fucked by Snape, this time was the same. To fuck someone incredibly special, or else be fucked by them – either way it was pleasure – more pleasure than Harry could have guessed at. But now he'd had it, he wanted it again, and again, and again, and he nailed Snape's prostate every time as he rode him, slipping his hand around Snape's cock meanwhile to bring him off, consciously trying to give the man underneath him as much pleasure as he was getting, so that Snape would want him. Again...
"Ah, yes!" Harry yelled. He wanted to say a lot at that moment, but he had no words... Snape had even fewer, and his response as he came, shooting warm pulses of semen between them, was nonverbal, a cry of utmost pleasure. "Yes," Harry whispered, his cock throbbing as he emptied himself deep inside Severus. "Again."
April 18th, 1998.
THE WAR IS OVER!
You Know Who killed by Harry Potter.
Surrender of the Death Eaters.
The Daily Prophet is both excited and delighted to bring you the news story of the century! Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived to become the Chosen One, has fulfilled the destiny we all hoped he could achieve. In a short but vicious battle in the grounds and house at Malfoy Manor in Wiltshire, Mr. Potter, 17, finally killed He Who Must Not Be Named, the wizard who styled himself Lord Voldemort.
Potter was backed by several of his friends, principally Miss Hermione Granger,
How such an alliance came about, and what exactly Snape's status is now, as well as his current whereabouts, are just some of the fascinating questions Harry Potter has promised to answer in a full and frank interview with the Daily Prophet, to be given tomorrow at Hogwarts School. The Prophet promises to keep you abreast of the news, so for all the latest information on the story of the century, don't miss tomorrow's edition!
For now, we can all rejoice and rest easily in our beds. The Death Eater organisation is no more, its members either captured, surrendered, or under house arrest! Keep reading your Daily Prophet for all the latest news!
Severus folded the paper and put it down, before seating himself at the breakfast table. "What will you tell them?"
"The truth, as little of it as I can get away with. How I allowed myself to be taken to the Dark Lord, having been 'captured' by you, my erstwhile enemy. How, while Voldemort gloated and paraded me in front of his minions, you killed his familiar with a fast-acting poison injected under her scales, thus destroying the last Horcrux. You then responded to his demands to attend him closely and observe his triumph, for hadn't you, his most faithful Death Eater, facilitated it by bringing me into his presence? And how, while he strutted about in front of his sycophants and taunted me, turning his back on both of us, I saw you turn on his followers, stealing their wands with an un-shieldable spell of your own devising and disabling those closest to you. In the ensuing mayhem, I cast Avada Kedavra on him."
"Yes, that should just about cover it. And how did you get away?"
"That was you again, wasn't it? And don't worry, Severus, British witches and wizards are going to learn just how much you did at the end – and throughout the years too. Their deliverance wouldn't have happened without you. You worked just as hard as I did, hell, you probably worked harder! And if they think they can get away with putting you in Azkaban, well, they've got another thought coming. I'll make sure you get the recognition you deserve!"
"My, you are vehement," Snape said, though not mockingly. "All I did after that was to cast the strongest shield around us that I could and Portkey us back to the headmistress' office. In other words, I ran."
Harry snorted. "Hardly. The Order members and the Aurors had arrived by then, and anyway the Death Eaters had no stomach for it. Lucius legged it when he saw the way the wind was blowing, and he wasn't really against us anymore anyway; he'd only gone to the manor to keep Narcissa safe during the battle. Draco was lying low at school. The oddest death was Pettigrew's, and I can't say it wasn't deserved. His silver hand throttled him when Voldemort died. Bellatrix, meanwhile, finally went irredeemably insane at the sight of Voldemort's death, for she'd truly believed he was immortal. She's in St Mungo's secure unit now; I think they're the only ones who can cope with her, short of the Dementors."
"And it may yet come to that," Severus interjected grimly.
"Yeah, well, that's up to the Wizengamot, I suppose. I'll be happy to be done with it once I get this interview out of the way."
Severus looked sceptical; he seriously doubted if Harry would ever be anything but a celebrity, but then, Severus had long ago realised that, even if he'd only recently managed to come to terms with it. "The others are either in Azkaban, or those that gave themselves up without a struggle are under house arrest," Severus added.
"Oh, by the way, where did you get the Portkey?" Harry asked, intrigued. "It's well known that you can't Portkey into Hogwarts castle." He smiled, remembering Hermione quoting that – and many other facts – at him from the pages of Hogwarts, A History.
Severus snorted. "It was an emergency Portkey Albus created and gave to me nearly twenty years ago when I started spying – I'd saved it all this time. I doubted I'd ever have a use for it after that night on the Astronomy Tower though; I was less welcome at Hogwarts than an outbreak of dragon pox. But like Lucius, I suppose, I've never been one to throw anything away. After all, you never know when it might come in useful."
Harry looked up at him and flashed his incredibly cheeky grin. "Like that jumbo-sized bottle of lube you said you found at the back of your store-cupboard?" Harry knew damned well it was freshly brewed, but one thing he'd discovered since they'd been together: he loved teasing Severus, and Severus, surprisingly, seemed to love it too.
Severus Snape smirked, his expression as defining as Harry Potter's grin. "Precisely. I always believe in being prepared for any eventuality. Though I must admit, a future with you was never something I'd considered an option."
Severus snorted. "I have a feeling that a life with you will involve a fair number of surprises, Harry."
Harry tried to look innocent, failed, and could only shake his head and laugh. He'd hardly stopped smiling since he'd given in to his desires and got together with Severus. Sometimes his face ached with it. He thought, on the whole, that it was about time.
Serpenscript's original prompt was:
(First choice prompt) While researching about Horcruxes, Hermione and Ron fall unconscious reading a book. When the professors examine the book later under heavy wards and shields, they discover Hermione, Ron, and Lucius are inside the book and can alter the text on the pages to communicate. Trapped inside the book they can offer any written knowledge ever to exist....but they can only leave if Snape and Harry, assisted by Draco, can do some depraved rituals to free them. First time, top! and bottom! Snape, (threesome Snape/Harry/Draco). Bonus for outraged/protective!Minerva, supportive/helpful!Luna, and angry Weasleys. This plot bunny snagged from nowhere! o_O