Title: Everybody Knows
Word Count: ~28,000
Pairing: Erm, Snarry?
Warnings: Harry is 17; bottom!Snape; graphic violence
Disclaimer: This story is all mine, but is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: Harry has grown tired of the wizarding world. He just doesn't have a good enough reason to sacrifice himself.
Author's Notes: This is AU from mid-HBP; beta admirably performed by H; greatest of thanks to the Snarry Holiday mods!
Ch 1 Before It Blows (1)
It is said that after one kills, the soul is fractured. That is how the Dark Lord created his Horcruxes. Yes, I know that he has created one, at least one. Albus plays his cards close to his chest, but an idiot could glean from the headmaster's questions that he'd suspected the Dark Lord has managed to remain alive through the benefit of some Dark Arts ritual. But I digress… Though not in the service of creating a Horcrux, I have also killed, on the Dark Lord's direct orders, and with Albus' tacit acquiescence. While in the creation of a Horcrux, the soul is split irreparably, it is assumed that with 'normal'—less dark and ritualistic— murders, in time those fractures are healed.
But the memories remain.
There was the home of a Muggle-born witch, her wizard husband, and their three children. Their torture was excruciating, bouts of the Cruciatus Curse interspersed with physical and emotional torment. The Death Eaters present howled with laughter as the Imperiused witch sodomized her husband with a dagger, her eyes wide with hysteria and self-loathing. The children were in a corner of the same room, screaming in terror before they were themselves silenced by the witch's blade, tears streaming from her eyes as she tried to fight the Curse. When the Imperius Curse failed for a moment, the witch tried to turn the dagger on herself before she was disarmed by a cackling Bellatrix, who wanted a few more hours of fun with the 'mudblood.' Finally, I was given the honor of dispatching her, with a quick, soul-splitting, merciful, "Avada Kedavra."
The memories always remain.
Severus entered his chambers, his black robe dusty, spattered with blood, his white mask balancing almost elegantly on his fingertips. He divested himself of his robes immediately, and they fell to the floor, forgotten, as he strode quickly through to the bathroom, desiring only scalding hot water, strong soap, antiseptic, something, anything, to remove the stench of death and madness, of brutality and anguish. He turned on the taps of the shower, and stared into the mirror, gazing at his reflection through the thickening steam. He looked at his eyes, through his eyes, into the hell, the revulsion in which he dwelled.
"Severus?" He started. Looking at the clock, he realized that he'd stood there for almost two hours, water pouring in the shower, mist clogging the air, still steeped in his filth and depravity.
Listlessly, he pulled on a dressing gown as he returned to his sitting room. In his fireplace floated the head of Albus Dumbledore among the green flames of the Floo call. Just about to call out again when he caught sight of the Potions Master, Dumbledore stopped himself and smiled gently. "How are you, my boy?"
Feeling the weight of his superior's compassion settling about him like a suffocating heavy cloak, Severus stood before the hearth. His thoughts, numb and unmoving, refused to form, and he responded, dully, "Fine, Headmaster. Shall I come through to your office to report?"
Taking in Severus' weariness, his inability to hide his self-disgust with a sharp glance, Dumbledore said, quickly, "Only if there is something pressing that you feel I need to know tonight. If not, just write it on our special parchment, and I'll ask Fawkes to retrieve it from you in the morning." Severus nodded absently, catching a glimpse of his hands, surprised that they were so clean after the foul deeds of the evening.
"Severus?"……"Hmm? … yes…." He answered softly, having drifted into contemplation of his hands. They were thin and pale, with fingertips and nails stained by years of chopping and preparing potions ingredients. Why can't I see the blood I feel dripping from my fingers? How could I create such a perfect glamour, one in which I am not blooded like the champion of a hunt? Is the cruelty which suffuses my spirit that disguised? Hmmmm, I wonder if I've spelled them to appear so clean?
"Severus!" Startled, he realized that Albus was apparently awaiting a reply.
"My apologies, Headmaster." Severus gave himself a mental shake, sardonically amused that he wasn't as jaded as he thought: I can still be astonished at my own corruption. "There is nothing of note, simply the continuation of previous plans of which you have already been apprised. I will have the report ready for you in the morning."
"Very well, then, his boy. Is there anything else you would like to talk with me about?" Dumbledore asked, hopefully.
"No!" They were both surprised at his vehemence. He continued, more smoothly, "I'm fine, Albus, I simply wish to take a shower. I had been cleaning my classroom when I was summoned, and it has been a long day."
He really needed to spend some time reconfiguring his Occlumency shields. His controls were fraying, dissolving around him, as he spiraled closer and closer to the bliss of insanity. It was late, and his first class in the morning was double Potions with fourth year Slytherins and Gryffindors. He was so very exhausted by his evening. He was so very disenchanted with teaching almost indistinguishable bumbling dolts who were not only indifferent to the unalloyed beauty of the art of brewing potions, but often incapable of simply following instructions for a boil salve. He was so very world-weary with the thought of beginning yet one more day in a long line of strangling days, weeks, and years, that he wished for a moment that he still had the ability to cry—he would weep for his deathless, endless, all-encompassing ennui. Instead, he turned from his hearth, took a brief shower (will I ever feel really clean?), renewed his mental barriers, and went to bed.
"Do you know what I think, Potter?" said Snape, very quietly. "I think that you are a liar and a cheat and that you deserve detention with me every Saturday until the end of term. What do you think, Potter?"
"I—I don't agree, sir," said Harry, still refusing to look into Snape's eyes.
"Well, we shall see how you feel after your detentions," said Snape. "Ten o'clock Saturday morning, Potter. My office."
"But sir…" said Harry, looking up desperately. "Quidditch… the last match of the …."
"Ten o'clock," whispered Snape, with a smile that showed his yellow teeth. "Poor Gryffindor…fourth place this year, I fear…" (2)
Severus swept into his chambers, fear and fury creating such a spike in his magic that his locking spell shuddered the door and adjoining walls. How dare he use my spells against someone I'm bound to protect? Just like his worthless father, stealing my inventions to turn them against me…
Severus stopped himself mid-rant, and drew in a deep breath, then another. What was going on with Potter? Why would he use such a dark spell that had become associated with Inner Circle Death Eaters? Severus remembered what he'd seen in the boy's memories as he sneered, Pathetic, really! That boy cannot close his mind to intrusion to save his miserable life! He saw the boy poring over his potions book, copying instructions and spells, actually excited about finally—what does he mean, finally? I've been trying to cram knowledge into the little monster for five years!—learning why potions were so thrilling. Even though that was not the book in his bag, Severus knew that somehow the reckless imbecile had gotten his copy of Advanced Potion-Making. Why had Severus written about Sectumsempra in that thrice-damned book?
Something is going on with the 'Chosen One,' Severus mused. Well, he'd think about it more after he'd taken more dittany up to Poppy Pomfrey.
Ch 2 The Dice are Loaded
The hospital wing was shadowed, the only light shed by a squat, guttering candle that Madame Pomfrey left whenever there were overnight patients. Harry made sure the silencing spell he'd cast on his feet was still effective, adjusted his Invisibility Cloak, and made his way swiftly to the only occupied bed.
Draco Malfoy lay asleep, his pale skin highlighted by the faint scars criss-crossing his face, neck, and chest. Harry could actually see the blue lines of veins through the pale golden glow that was the result of hours of Quidditch. He was relieved to see that the scars were even fainter than they had been when he last saw the boy, as Snape was carrying him to the infirmary.
Harry was appalled at the events that had taken place in Myrtle's bathroom. Hermione had castigated him all year for using the unknown spells he'd found in the Half-Blood Prince's book. Even he knew better! What the hell did he think the inscription, 'For enemies,' meant? It didn't say 'schoolboy rivals' or 'prank victims,' it said 'enemies'! He'd tried to feel betrayed. He'd wanted to think of the Prince as a beloved friend or mentor, but he knew that the person who'd scribbled in the margins of the potions book had an acerbic view of the world and a mocking wit. It wasn't the responsibility of the person inventing or copying the spells to ensure that they were used responsibly. What if Snape had not been nearby? He gasped as he imagined Malfoy bleeding to death while he watched, frozen.
Harry drew back further into the shadows as he felt the boy stirring in bed. Opening his eyes, Malfoy called out, "Who's there? Madame Pomfrey?"
Well, I wasn't sorted into Gryffindor for nothing, Harry thought, shrugging off his cloak and stepping forward. Holding his hands in the air to show that he wasn't holding his wand, Harry said, "Hello, Malfoy."
Glancing around quickly at Madame Pomfrey's closed door and the empty beds around them, Malfoy eyes lighted upon his wand, which was on the bedside table, but closer to Harry than himself. Tensing, he spat, "What do you want, Potter? Come to gloat, or to finish off your handiwork?"
Harry, sensing that Malfoy had deduced his disadvantage in this situation, sniggered. "We both know you were going to cast the Cruciatus Curse but I got you first. Though," here, Harry paused, thoughtfully, "you probably don't have the power yet to give me more than a queasy stomach."
"How dare you, you dull-witted, half-blood lout!" Malfoy lunged for his wand, which Harry snatched up and held out of reach.
"Unh, huh," he said, good-humoredly. "Now, we can't have you trying to perfect that Unforgivable, can we?" He got his own wand out, pulled a chair slightly out of arms reach of the bed, then sat down with both wands held lightly in his hand. "Look, I didn't come here to argue, just to see how you were, but you woke up…."
Still tense, but trying to conceal it, Malfoy leaned back slightly in bed, snorting. "So the noble Gryffindor came to apologize? You're so sorry, but you just didn't know what big, bad, DARK curse you were using?"
"Who told you that?" Harry asked surprised.
Shocked, Malfoy blurted before thinking, "Snape did. Why, was it a lie? Did you really know what curse you were casting?"
"No, I'm just surprised that he would say it. Look, about that apology, Malfoy…" Draco sat up expectantly as Harry continued, "I've decided to give up fake social niceties when they aren't necessary. Let's be clear—you cast first. I cast a curse to protect myself. Mine landed, yours didn't. I won't apologize for that. I will say that it was stupid of me to cast something I hadn't practiced before, because that curse was much more extreme than I wanted."
His eyes still fixed on his wand, Malfoy retorted, "Well, I must say that this is certainly a different side of you, Potter."
"Yeah, well…. If you think of it this way, say you'd managed to actually produce a viable Unforgivable in Hogwarts, it would have set off the protective wards, and you'd be expelled now, so maybe I did you a favor?"
"What kind of twisted logic is that?" Malfoy scoffed.
Harry chuckled as he stood. "The kind of logic you get after 2 a.m. I'm happy to see that you're better, because next time, I want to kick your ass in front of a better audience than Moaning Myrtle." He tossed Malfoy's wand on the end of the bed table, but kept his own in his hand, twirling it carelessly as he picked up his cloak.
"In your dreams, Potter!" Malfoy tried to sound menacing, his efforts thwarted by a long, loud yawn.
"Oh, that reminds me!" Harry turned back to the drowsy boy. "I have a little something for your dreams, Malfoy. Think on this, as you drift off to sleep tonight. Were you aware that your Master," Harry sneered, "is also a half-blood? His mother was Merope Gaunt, a descendant of Salazar Slytherin, but his father was a Muggle, Thomas Riddle of Little Hangleton."
He smiled at the horror and disbelief on the blond boy's face. "Pleasant dreams, Malfoy!"
Carrying the small bundle of dittany up to the hospital wing and placing it in the potion ingredient storage cabinet, Severus took a quick look to check up on Draco. He was surprised the see the boy awake, gazing at the ceiling with his wand in his hand. He walked over to the bed, gratified to see that his presence had been noted. Good to see that this boy has all his wits about him, he thought, smugly.
"How are you doing, Draco?" he asked, pulling the chair closer to the bed and seating himself.
"Fine, sir," the boy responded absently.
"Why are you awake so late at night?"
"Potter just left—" he began.
"Potter!" Severus snarled. "Is everything alright? What did he want?"
"Nothing in particular, just to see if he'd damaged me beyond repair." Draco said, vaguely. He was obviously thinking about something else.
What did that misguided idiot mean, coming in the small hours of the morning to see the person he'd cursed? Gryffindors! Both James and Harry Potter, Sirius Black and all of their ilk! Hopelessly bumbling through life, not caring who they injure along the way, then saying, "Sorry!" as if it could make everything better. Charmed fools, every one of them, Severus thought, though his conscience squirmed at the fact that both James Potter and Sirius Black were dead, and Harry Potter was an orphan. He tried to convince himself that those situations were obviously by-products of reckless Gryffindor behavior. He again took another deep breath.
"Professor….." Draco paused, obviously choosing his words carefully. "What will happen if I am unable to complete my task?"
Severus stilled. This delicate line that he walked daily with his Slytherins was laden with peril. He had to let them believe that he was still loyal to the Dark Lord while trying constantly to dissuade them from joining up themselves. It was obvious that he'd failed with Draco, who had already taken the Dark Mark, but there was still much work that he could do with the rest of his house.
"If you fail to complete your task," and Severus would be damned if he would admit that he still didn't know what the task was, "Then your parents will be killed by our Master. Since I took an Unbreakable Vow, I would then be duty bound to complete it, or I would die, too."
Draco paled more than Severus thought possible. He'd known the consequences, but hearing them stated so baldly impressed upon him the fact that his task was almost hopeless. He tried another question. "Professor, do you know anything about the Dark Lord's family?"
Severus' eyes narrowed. This had to have something to do with Potter's visit. His answer vibrated with warning. "His origins are shrouded in mystery, I'm afraid. It is well known among our circles that it would be ill-advised to inquire too closely. Therefore, I must know: why do you ask?"
"Oh, no particular reason." Draco's airy manner couldn't mask the trepidation that leaked into his voice. The combination would be laughable if Severus were not so concerned.
Ch 3 Roll With Your Fingers Crossed
Harry carried the Prince's copy of Advanced Potion-Making under his arm as he made his way to the dungeons. He was preparing himself to eat some crow. How could he have been so blind? It was obvious from the picture Hermione had found that Eileen Prince was related to Severus Snape. He'd spent all of his free time that afternoon going through old copies of the Daily Prophet, and he was sure that he'd come to the correct conclusion. What was curious was how the book had gotten away from Snape. Well, Harry knew that such information would not be forthcoming, but he could still ponder, couldn't he? Anything to keep his mind off what was about to occur.
Harry had made a duplicate copy of the book, and was planning on coming clean (relatively speaking, of course) about it. He was also going to throw himself on the mercy of Severus Snape and beg for another chance at Occlumency lessons. He was going to grit his teeth through insults about his father, Sirius, his intellectual shortcomings, and his lack of work ethic because Snape had something that he wanted: the ability to shield his mind from both Voldemort and Dumbledore.
He checked his watch. It was still Snape's office hours, though they ended in 10 minutes. Perfect! There would probably be no one else there, plus Harry could make a quick getaway, if necessary.
Reaching the door, Harry knocked.
Pushing the door ajar, Harry stepped into the room.
"Why, Mr. Potter, couldn't wait until your detention to see me again? Whatever could this mean?" Snape's silky, dark voice wafted from the shadows. Forcing himself to not make a fool of himself by trying to peer into the corners of the room searching for the Potions Master, Harry simply walked up to the front of the room and tossed the book on the desk.
"I came here, sir," he began, "to admit that I lied last night. The spell I used was written in the margins of this old book that Professor Slughorn loaned to me at the beginning of the year."
Snape smirked knowingly, then, actually seeing the book, snatched it up in spite of himself, his fingers moving restlessly over the old, familiar cover as he leafed through the pages. He snapped, "Lying and stealing? Twenty points from Gryffindor, Mr. Potter. Why would the noble Boy-Who-Lived lie about having this book? Didn't you buy your own copy when you realized that you could indeed take N.E.W.T Potions?"
"I did buy my own copy, sir, but you—" Harry caught himself before he let on what he knew, then continued more cautiously as Snape's eyes narrowed in suspicion, "—have to admit, if you were to look at some of the suggestions, that many of the comments are dead useful. Whoever had written in their amendments of Borage's spells was a genius! For the first time I began to understand why things worked, and it was fascinating! Yes, I was doing so much better in potions class, but it was like having a tutor, no one was doing the work for me!"
A genius? Severus was stunned. He knew that he should have been finding out how much Potter knew about the spell and whether he had tried other spells in the book, but his curiosity was overruling his logic at the moment, and he was loath to curb it. "So, your egotism at having put one over on your Head of House and me aside, Potter, why did you decide to tell the truth now?"
Harry took a deep breath, then looking Snape straight in the eye, responded, "Two reasons, sir. One is that I wanted to ask a favor of you, and the other is that I thought you'd want your book back."
Snape, his body suddenly still, with one finger frozen at the point of turning a page, glanced sharply over and hissed, "What makes you think that this is my book?"
Yes! Gothcha! Harry would have leaped up and punched the air if he weren't standing in the snake's den, trying to out-Slytherin the Slytherin Head of House. He smiled slightly, leaning his hip against the desk, relaxing his arms by his sides. "Hermione found your mother's name and a picture of your mum in the school yearbook. I must say, the resemblance is uncanny, sir, but I searched many of the copies through an extensive period of dates, and there's no record of any Snape attending Hogwarts."
"That's no proof," Snape scoffed.
"Ah, you're correct, sir. Actually, it was just a stab in the dark, but your reaction told me my hunch was right." Harry crossed his arms over his chest, grinning like a cat with a mouth full of cream.
"I have said nothing about it being my book!" Snape bit out through clenched teeth.
"No, but you're holding it like it's your child," Harry said, amused when Snape set the book down hurriedly, "and you knew to ask about the book after I used the spell. How else would you have known where I'd gotten it, if you hadn't invented it? As I said, it was just a guess.
"And I don't know if it is just the way you explained things to yourself, as opposed to a class of 'dunderheads,' but it has made me think more about how magic works, and I've gotten better in all of my classes, though my improvement in Potions was the most noticeable. I have never excelled at schoolwork." Harry held up a hand to still Snape's ready retort, then quickly continued, "At the Dursleys' I was punished if I did better than my cousin. When I met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, I really wanted to fit in with him, as he was the first friend I'd ever made. He wasn't concerned about schoolwork, so I made sure I wasn't either." Harry hadn't planned on being so forthcoming, but Snape didn't seem as spiteful as normal. He was looking almost like Harry was a potion, and Snape was trying to decide the next step to take in his brewing.
Interested in spite of himself, Snape asked, "What about your friend Granger? Why couldn't you have picked her to model yourself after?"
"Well, she only started hanging around us after the troll incident at Halloween. By that time, I'd already gotten the name for being an average to indifferent student. I was lazy, I admit, so it was just easier. Besides, you must admit that she is really not the type of student anyone else wants to be known as." Harry's wide smile was infectious, or would have been if Severus knew how to truly smile. He quickly decided to get the conversation back on track.
"So," sneered Snape, "what favor could Hogwarts' own cover boy want that is not being showered on him already? Your own scribe to take notes in class? Perhaps someone to help clip your newspaper articles?"
Here goes, Harry thought, choosing his words carefully. "Professor Snape, would you give me Occlumency lessons again if I promise to make learning it my priority?"
Without pause, Snape's head snapped up, and he answered. "No. I have better things to do with my time. It would be a waste, as I find it difficult to believe that even with your new work ethic you would ever improve enough to make a difference to your well-being."
Harry leaned back again, but his serious expression was a marked contrast to his previous amused smile. "Perhaps not, sir, but what about yours?"
Interesting, he actually know how to negotiate? What else is the embodiment of Gryffindor hiding? Severus asked himself as he sat gracefully in his chair. "What are you suggesting, Potter?"
Harry shrugged slightly. "Simply this, sir. You're not thinking what you can get out of this. My learning Occlumency means that Lord—" Snape hissed, and Harry caught himself, "Lord Whats-His-Name can't learn of your work for the Order from me. It's self-preservation on your part."
Severus laughed maliciously, "How very Slytherin of you to mention that, but the Dark Lord already knows that I am in the Order, and there's nothing new your mind could reveal to him.
Harry sagged with disappointment. He'd tried everything he knew. He would have to learn Occlumency by himself. Turning towards the door, he said, "Very well, sir. Thank you for your time. Good night."
Surprised, Snape sputtered, "That's it? No pleading for me to do it for the 'greater good?' No appeals to my 'better nature?"
"With all due respect, sir," Harry snorted, and Snape realized that he'd never heard that many 'sirs' emanate from the boy's mouth in all of the years he'd taught him, "We both know that you don't have a 'better nature.' As for the 'the greater good—'" he spat, incensed, then took a moment to calm himself. "Well … as I said … Oh, forget it…. Thank you for your time. Good night."
He again turned towards the door, and for the second time, was prevented from leaving by Snape's interjection, "So the Golden Boy has finally decided to do what he should have done years ago? It figures that you would put your mind to it now, after willfully disobeying orders from your headmaster, deciding in your arrogance that you knew better than everyone else, yet again following your foolish Gryffindor instincts, and—" here Snape paused. He'd started to say something about getting Sirius Black killed, but not even in his loathing for the Potter spawn would he add to the idiot's well-known feelings of guilt. He continued, "—after your dogfather's death.
"Well, well, well, it seems that I have something that you want desperately, hmmm…..?" Snape rose from his desk, and slowly stalked around Harry's frozen frame.
"Very well, Potter. We shall resume your Occlumency lessons. They shall be instead of your Saturday morning detentions." Snape waited, spitefully, for Harry to mention the Quidditch match again. "No complaints?"
"No, sir." Harry shook his head, not wanting to appear too hopeful.
"Then, I shall see you at 10 am sharp. Good night."
Ch 4 The Poor Stay Poor, The Rich Get Rich
Harry returned to the common room. Hermione and Ron were waiting up for him in their favorite spot, the sofa by the fire.
"Harry! Where did you go? We were so worried!" Hermione hissed quietly, her exasperation evident, though she tried to keep her voice down. His fellow Gryffindors were quite disgruntled that their captain had gotten himself barred from the pivotal match of the season, so she and Ron were trying to not to draw attention to Harry.
"I went to see Snape." He answered, throwing himself down on one side of the sofa.
"See, I told you he was alright— wait, what?… did you say Snape?" Ron asked, aghast.
"Yes, I took him back his book, and—"
"Oh, Harry, you did the right thing, I'm so proud of you!" Hermione interrupted, approval glowing in every word. She's also happy because she thinks she'll be tops in class again, Harry thought with amusement.
"Are you mad? That book was the only thing getting us through potions!" Ron said, angrily.
"Not to worry, I duplicated it." Harry snapped. "Anyway, that's not the main reason I went to see Snape, that was just to soften him up—" He was again interrupted by Hermione.
"I can't believe that you'd still want to use that book, knowing how dark some of those spells must be!" She frowned, apparently not having gotten all of her "I told you so's" out of her system.
"If anything, Harry, I thought it would be more of a turn-off knowing who'd written in it! I mean—Snape?" Ron wondered.
"Who better to amend and improve potions, Ron? Think about it, he was doing that when he was the same age as us!" Harry whispered back, avidly. He looked around at all the eyes turned in their direction, then waved his wand slightly and muttered, "Muffiliato."
"Whoa, Harry, I know that you've always thought of the Prince as a sort of friend, but it almost sounds like you're in love!" Ron chortled, leaning back on the sofa.
"Ok, maybe it does sound that way, but really, I've talked with Flitwick about how people become spellcasters, and it's terrifically difficult. You have to know, really know runes and arithmancy, as well as have an innate understanding of magic. Snape was doing this at sixteen! I know I can't do it, but I don't pretend to be the brightest candle in the room. But could you have done that, Hermione?" He turned to her excitedly.
"Well, no, but the very fact that he was not concerned about following the instructions sort of tells you that he thinks outside of the rules, that he doesn't care how different or dark something is, as long as it's effective." Hermione said calmly, her censure deepening.
"Is it the fact that he's not following the instructions that bothers you," countered Harry thoughtfully, cocking his slightly as he gazed at his angry friend, "Or the fact that at the same age as you, he was improving potion recipes and inventing his own spells?"
Hermione spluttered, "How can you say that! I…it's because—I wouldn't……"
"Hey, Harry, Why were you asking Flitwick about spellcasters? I thought we were both going to become Aurors?" Ron glommed onto the only part of Harry's statement that he felt he understood, leaving the rest to Hermione.
"I wanted to be an Auror because my father and Sirius were, and I had no idea the vast number other careers there were in the wizarding world. I don't know what I want to do, but I was just exploring other ideas." Harry's rejoinder was sharp, as they were getting off track.
He loved his friends, he really did, but could they be any more limited? All Ron could think about was the two of them living the high life as Aurors, without thinking about all of the hard work that would have to go into the training. On the other hand, all Hermione could think about was schoolwork—well, schoolwork and learning all of the rules, so that she could learn how to operate within them. He was beginning to doubt his ability to get them to think outside their little worlds to the larger questions that had begun to plague him.
"Look, forget about the Auror business right now, I wanted to ask you about something—" Harry began again.
"It's not that I don't like innovation or inventiveness," Harry clenched his jaw as Hermione interrupted again. "I was just concerned that you were using a book that spells and notions were written in when you didn't know who the writer was. Now that I know it's Professor Snape, it just reminds me that he joined Voldemort—oh, please, Ron, get a grip!" She snapped when Ron flinched at hearing the name. "when he was just a little older than we are now. It's obvious from the spell that he was already exploring the Dark Arts."
"OK, fine, I understand your viewpoints now. Let's move on shall we?" Harry bit out between clenched teeth, trying to regain control of the conversation. He almost groaned as both Hermione and Ron, their eyes wide with surprise, glanced at each other and then nodded their heads. He wasn't sure if it was his investigation of other careers, his less than whole-hearted agreement with Hermione regarding the darkness of the Sectumsempra spell, or his calling her on her pedantic attitude, but they were obviously beginning to realize that Harry was no longer the innocent, naive boy that he'd been. Time to up the ante….
"What is the Order of the Phoenix fighting for?" Harry asked, gently.
The two initially seemed stumped, then Ron replied, "They're fighting against Voldemort."
"Yes," he said dismissively, "He's what they're fighting against, but what are they fighting for?"
"I guess the rights of Muggle-borns to be a part of wizarding society, and to keep Muggles from being killed." Hermione joined in.
"Ah, the rights of Muggle-borns…. Did you know, Hermione, that no Muggle-born has ever been a part of the Wizengamot? That there have been no Muggle-born Ministers for Magic? That no Muggle-borns have ever been in top Ministry positions?" At her stunned expression, Harry changed topics. He needed to know how Hermione and Ron stood on issues that were important to him.
"And what about the rights of other magical beings? Did you realize that no one has appealed the changes made in werewolf legislation by Umbridge and her ilk last year? That means that all werewolves have to register, that all known werewolves may be legally rounded up on the day of the full moon, and put in holding pens together! Do you know what'll happen when they transform?
Hermione whispered in horror, "Wholesale slaughter! If a pen is holding more than one alpha male, they will challenge and fight each other and any other werewolf that interferes."
"Yes, and did you realize that if someone is attacked by a werewolf, any werewolves within fifty miles may be legally rounded up and put to death?" Both Ron and Hermione were gaping, she at the fact that Harry knew these details when she hadn't, and Ron at his unexpected passion.
Harry paused, and continued, his voice pitched much more gently, "That legislation has not yet been acted upon, but it's still on the books, for any member of the Wizengamot to call upon when he or she develops a grudge, say, against Remus Lupin." Watching their incredulous expressions, he resumed his dogged questioning, "What about goblins? Centaurs? Giants? What are their rights under the current Ministry? And I don't mean the current Minister—they come and go, hell, I'd be surprised if Scrimgeour lasts much longer if Voldemort continues to grow in power—but the Ministry structure hasn't changed in over 350 years! Why do you think that magical beings are so seduced by Voldemort's promises?"
Ron blurted, gormlessly, "Are you trying to say that V-V-Voldemort—" he managed finally, "is right?"
Harry snickered, though with very little humor. " Of course not, Ron. I would never support Voldemort or the Dark. I merely point out that the status quo is far from perfect, and perhaps there is some justification for those who want serious change in wizarding society. The status quo might be what everyone is used to, but that doesn't make it desirable."
Ron, fixing on the last part of the conversation that he seemed to understand, asked quickly, "What does this have to do the Prince's book?"
Harry, frustrated, sighed, "This has nothing to do with the book, and everything to do with why I returned it to Snape! I've been trying to tell you that I'm willing to fight and die to save my friends, but I'm not going to fight so that people like the Malfoys can have Buckbeak put down just because Draco Malfoy's an ass who wouldn't listen to instructions! I'm not going to fight so that people like Fudge or Scrimgeour can throw Hagrid or Stan Shunpike in Azkaban just to be seen to be doing something, while Lucius Malfoy can just waltz out after killing and torturing people!"
Hermione responded, urgently, "Harry, that's exactly why we should be focusing on our studies, doing our own work," she huffed at Ron, "so that we can do well on our N.E.W.T.s. That way, we can get good positions in the Ministry or the Auror corps, so we can make the changes that we all agree are needed!"
Harry just rolled his eyes, observing her eyes glowing with the thought of both Harry and Ron joining her varied crusades, with S.P.E.W. just a shot across the bow of the wizarding world. "Haven't you ever heard the quote, "Any sufficiently advanced bureaucracy is indistinguishable from molasses?" (3) Think! Historically, has anyone ever changed an entrenched system from within? Ever reduced its size or power with legislation?"
He was almost laughing: Hermione was near tears, and Ron was trying to decide if he should comfort her or figure out what they'd been discussing. "Again, you want to operate within the rules. But the rules are constructed to maintain themselves and those who designed them. They are also, coincidentally, constructed to keep people like you, Miss Hermione Granger, out of the system!
"Look, I don't mean to upset you, but I'm expected to defeat the worse Dark Lord in centuries. Isn't it reasonable that I reflect on why and for whom I'm doing it?"
The next night, Harry again made his way to the hospital wing and Draco Malfoy. As he strode quietly under his cloak, he thought back on the conversation with his two best friends that had gone long into the night, with Hermione trying to argue for 'reform from within,' and Ron just arguing against anything that reeked of change or growing up. Harry sighed as he realized that they were still so young, with faith in what they were told by their elders. In contrast, he'd had the scales ripped from his eyes with every tragic incident, every horrific encounter he'd experienced. He'd finally ended their discussion by just going to bed, saddened that he felt so much older and world-weary than his friends.
"Why, Potter, back again? Any more visits, and I will start to think you care." Malfoy was awake, staring up at the ceiling, as if Harry's face was imprinted there.
Squinting up, Harry answered, grinning, "Yeah, well… Actually, I have a couple of questions to ask you, Malfoy."
Listlessly, Draco asked, "And what makes you think I'll answer?"
Harry seated himself in the chair by Draco's bed, noting that tonight, the other boy had his wand resting on top of the bed covers. "I don't care if you answer. I just want to ask them. You can always just go to sleep if this becomes too boring."
Draco sat up, intrigued. "Like I can sleep with you jabbering," he sniped.
"Hey, no worries, I have detention with Snape at 10 this morning. I'll make this quick."
"A detention for nearly killing me?" Draco asked, incredulous.
"Detention until the end of term, Malfoy. If it makes you feel any better, I am also missing the last Quidditch match of the season." Harry said ruefully, as he leaned back in his chair. He thought it better not to share that he would be having extra lessons with Snape.
"Yes, it does. You deserve it and more, for what you've done to me, Potter!" Draco sat back, satisfied.
Harry sniggered. "Yeah, well. First question, Malfoy. Why do you serve—" Harry, knowing that Malfoy now bore the Dark Mark, decided to have a little mercy, "—Lord What's-His-Name?"
The blonde boy sputtered in sudden anger before Harry put up his hand in entreaty.
"I'm not asking you to answer me, remember. But you might consider thinking about it, and give yourself the answer. The second question may have a similar answer, but I think it's important that it's asked. What does your Master say he'll provide that you don't already have?" He gazed at the thoughtful boy in the bed before him, then grabbed his cloak to return to Gryffindor tower, only to be stopped by a barely whispered question as he reached the door.
"Why are you doing this?" An almost inaudible, plaintive voice carried through the still silence of the Infirmary.
Harry paused, almost deciding to not respond, then without turning answered, "I'm sick of how things are, and I wonder if anyone else is, as well."
Ch 5 People You Just Had to Meet
What is redemption? When one has committed a horrific crime against another, how does one redeem himself? How much care, mentoring, listening, or other help can be given to ameliorate a relationship born of jealousy and resentment, fear and loathing? How can such a relationship be righted when its very underpinning is that of deceit and treachery? Why is it, after so many years of toiling for Dumbledore, that working with Potter could almost allow the feather-breath of a thought that I could dream of redemption for even one moment?
Severus stood before his mirror as he prepared for breakfast. He could hardly believe that he was the same man that had stood there just a few weeks before, steeped in self-hatred and the dreariness of his existence. He was tainted, yes, but now he had a task, a puzzle to solve, a reason that he was still serving both the Dark Lord and Albus Dumbledore, still teaching, still getting up day after tedious day. This had nothing to do with what he thought he needed to do to atone for his transgressions, and everything to do with something good that he wanted to do. How could such a short time with a child that he'd resented for years change him so much?
Severus had been working with Potter for just four weeks, and they'd already made more progress than they had in the previous year. Their new educational paradigm had been set in the first lesson, which had begun the same way as those futile sessions had during Potter's fifth year. Severus had despaired of anything changing, when Potter, panting from his kneeling position on the floor, whispered, haltingly, "Professor, you don't have any children, do you?"
Snape, agape at both his presumption and with wonder at where this conversation could possibly be going, answered sharply, "I can assure you that between serving two masters, brewing potions for the Infirmary, teaching bumbling, intellectually-challenged dolts, saving your neck at least once a year or saving someone from you, the thought of reproducing has been the farthest idea from my mind. Unless," he smirked, "you want more people around like me?"
Potter actually chuckled as he attempted to right himself on the floor. Severus stretched out a hand, which Potter stared at thoughtfully for a moment before he grasped it and pulled himself up. "Hmmm … no, sir. Just one of you is more than adequate for the world at present." He straightened his robes, picked up his wand again, then turned his pensive gaze towards the potions master. "The reason I ask is this: if you had a sixteen-year-old son or daughter, someone that you cherished, and whose intellect you respected, how would you begin to teach them Occlumency?"
Severus, taken aback, stared at the boy, seated himself heavily in his chair, and then said something that he'd never thought would emanate from his mouth. "Mr. Potter, I owe you an apology."
Apparently, the blasted boy never thought he would say it, either. He opened his mouth to say something, changed his mind, but apparently forgot to close his mouth. Finally snapping it shut, he blinked, gawked a moment more, then asked, "What?"
Manfully ignoring the dull-witted simpleton act before him, Severus continued, "I pride myself on giving my best effort, in maintaining my reputation as a perfectionist, yet I was far from perfect in my interactions with you during Occlumency lessons last year." Thinking quickly, he turned towards the door that led from his office to his private sitting room, and gestured, "Would you join me for tea?"
They then sat and discussed, hour after hour that Saturday, various meditation techniques, theories of mental control, the effect such control would have on restraining one's emotions, the mental link between Potter and the Dark Lord, and then, just general magical theory. He sent Potter back to Gryffindor tower having continued the discussion over lunch and well into the afternoon.
What was intriguing was how insightful Potter could be when not around that Weasley sluggard. Potter was quick-witted, with a highly intuitive grasp of magic. In fact, now that he was actually putting in the effort, his magical skill was quite impressive. Granger may be better equipped intellectually, but Potter was sure to surpass her simply because of his immense raw magical power and instinctive ability to manipulate it.
Unfortunately, he reminded Severus of another formidable wizard. Both Harry Potter and the Dark Lord were gifted, charismatic, and shared a deplorable lack of respect for the long-established ways of conducting affairs in the wizarding world. Their minds immediately leaped to less conventional means of accomplishing their goals. They were alike in other, more worrisome ways, as well.
They both had great natural magical power, were the products of loveless Muggle childhoods, and were often ostracized by segments of the wizarding world. They both wanted control over their own destiny and to throw off Headmaster Dumbledore's manipulations and the expectations of wizarding society. The Dark Lord traveled further and further down the path of the Dark Arts to achieve his objective, becoming less human with each ritual, each spell, and each procedure to which he subjected himself.
How was Harry—Harry?.... Where did that come from? I meant to say Potter! How was Potter to be kept from being seduced by the Dark Arts? Just his connection to the Dark Lord alone would predispose him towards exploring them, just as he was a Parselmouth. He was able to wield the Sectumsempra spell like it was the Lumos charm. No one could do that without an expansive magical core, and the ability to wield Dark magic. How was Potter to be kept from being seduced by his own immense power?
Dumbledore says Potter's greatest power (or weapon?) is love; he can love while the Dark Lord cannot. Bollocks! That might be the case if he remained a naïve, vacuous boy, but to learn what he needs to even get close enough to his adversary, he would have to wise up, to toughen up, to learn more about the cesspool that is human nature in order to combat it. He would have to learn enough about the Dark Arts to defend against them.
Hell, what Potter has seen already—in his visions of the Dark Lord's pursuits—has not only ripped the blinders from his schoolboy's eyes, but has lain his soul open to the powerfully dark emotions of vengeance and terror. It is only a matter of time before he succumbs to the seeming protection that powerful, dark spells offer. Just a matter of time before it seems that such spells are the only way he could prevail over such an overwhelming opponent.
The only difference between Harry Potter's situation and the Dark Lord's when he was the same age, Severus thought with a fierce intensity that he'd only ever brought to his brewing, is that Harry Potter has me.
Harry lay in his bed, connecting another set of dots. Malfoy's task has to be something so important and yet so dangerous that he could not even breathe a word of it to his friends. Harry snorted, as if Malfoy has friends! More like minions or associates. It has to be something that only he, and not any of Voldemort's other followers has access to…. Harry shot upright. How could he have been so blind? Of course! The one thing that Voldemort wanted was to stay at Hogwarts, his first true home. It has to have something to do with getting control of Hogwarts! Or … he thought quickly, it could have something to do with Dumbledore, the only wizard that Voldemort feared. The necklace, the Christmas mead from Slughorn, those were certainly clumsy attempts that could have had Dumbledore as their target.
He lay back, his spinning thoughts belying his relaxed posture. Why couldn't it be both? From whom could he get answers, well, other than from Malfoy himself? Snape didn't know at the time of Slughorn's party, but that was months ago, and if he was half the spy Harry thought he is, he'd gotten the truth since then. Of course, he'd never been a font of information for Harry.
He almost leaped up to go down to the common room to discuss his theory with Hermione and Ron, then he remembered two things. First, they thought he was obsessed with Malfoy being some sort of agent for Voldemort and would just consider his musings more of the same. Second, and more important, what did it matter? He could see himself going to Dumbledore with his suspicions, just like he had to McGonagall. The headmaster would smile, his eyes would twinkle, he would say something like, "Not to worry, my boy, I will take your concerns under consideration," and then Harry would be patted on the back and sent on his way.
Everyone kept telling him to not worry, the adults had it all under control, so maybe for once, he'd just let then take care of it! Harry stilled, frozen by his last thought. He'd been sent mixed signals during the whole time he'd spent in the wizarding world. He was called the Boy-Who-Lived, the Chosen One, but he was also told to not worry about learning any special dueling tactics or defensive spells. He had some sort of 'power the Dark Lord knows not.'
What if he sat and did his own interpretation of the prophecy? Or bugger it all, what if he just ignored the prophecy? Icy shock shot down his spine as he just sat with that thought. What if he just decided for himself what was right for him? What if he decided that it didn't matter what was best for the 'greater good?'
He thought, I don't have to sacrifice myself if I don't want to! He stared up at his bed curtains, but the warmth that spread throughout his body at that idea brought with it a deliciously heady languor, and he fell into the best sleep he'd had in months.
Long, elegant hands were caressing his thighs. He lifted his hips as his pajama bottoms were pulled off, then he moaned as he felt lips nuzzling the juncture between his thigh and groin. He sniffed deeply the pungent fragrance of sweat, lust, and liquid seeping from his cock, and the sound was echoed by a groan vibrating against his erection.
A long sweep of tongue up his hard length, and a mouth captured the very tip, forcing him to arch his back off the bed into that sweet, moist heat. Too soon, he felt his balls tightening, and when the mouth captured his entire length, lips brushing the curls at its base, he felt his release spurting out of him in long pulses and he keened. Feeling the last drops of come cleaned from his softened, extremely happy member, he compelled his languid arms to pull his partner up, meeting those delightfully skillful lips with a hard, passionate kiss. He felt those exquisite hands carding through his hair, and used his own to run them over the lean, wiry flanks, taut belly, and firm, masculine chest of his lover….
Harry woke as if doused with icy water, to twisted bedclothes, a moan caught in his throat, and sodden, sticky pajamas. He hadn't had a wet dream in years. He grinned ruefully, but the smile faded as he realized that his lover wasn't Ginny, nor the more improbable Cho, but a man. As if his life wasn't complicated enough! He grimaced wryly, checked to make sure the silencing charm was still on his bed, grabbed his wand and vanished the mess, turned over, and went back to sleep.
Ch 6 The Fight Was Fixed
That wet-dream set off a train of thought that occupied most of Harry's free time during the next day. By dinner, he'd come to the conclusion that the fantasy explained a lot. Earlier in the year, he'd begun to think that he had some vaguely romantic feelings for Ginny, but nothing much had come of that. He thought she was a great Quidditch player and a funny, witty friend. However, he remembered how he'd felt during her very public, very suggestive hug after the last Quidditch match of the season. He'd felt really awkward and pressured; he'd wanted to give her a quick clasp as he would have with Ron or Dean, but she had pushed her breasts into his chest, put her hands around his neck and given him a big kiss on the lips.
There were some incredulous reactions from the others in the common room, but after that point, she'd considered herself 'broken up' with Dean and 'with' Harry. He kept trying to explain that he wasn't interested in her that way, but she just smiled as if she had made up her mind and eventually he'd come around, Ron would give a small grin like he thought they were perfect together, and Hermione just beamed as if she'd known it all along. It was daunting how little what he said meant to his friends when they decided they knew his feelings better than he.
His musings were interrupted by Neville sitting next to him and pulling over a platter of ham. "Hey, Harry, could you pass the pumpkin juice? Thanks."
"Sure thing, Neville. Oh, you have a spot of—" he sniffed, then choked, "Ugh, is dragon dung on your cheek?" He asked, moving his plate further away from Neville's.
"Oh, sorry!" The embarrassed boy took his napkin and swiped at the offending spot, then held it up haplessly, looking around for a convenient place to dispose of it. Harry muttered as he vanished it, rolling his eyes at Neville's thankful smile. "Thanks, Harry, you're the best! I was just getting in some fertilizing and pruning in the greenhouses. Professor Sprout would really like me to take my N.E.W.T.s early so I could officially start my apprenticeship now, but we have to wait and let me sit them at the end of term with the seventh years."
"Oooh, Neville, did you just say that you're sitting your N.E.W.T.s early?" Hermione joined them, Ron ambling behind her. "How did you manage that?" she asked, calculatingly.
"Well, Hermione, I'm not sitting all of them, just Herbology, and it's hardly ever done. You have to have the sponsorship of a Herbology Master, which in this case is Professor Sprout, though she rarely uses her title. You also have to have a completed and filed apprenticeship contract. If that's in hand, they'll let you sit the next official testing cycle."
"Why has no one ever said this before? Had I known, I might have tried to prepare early, too!" she exclaimed, her eyes flashing with tears of anger and dismay.
"Because, my dear little Muggle-born," Harry leaned in, murmuring derisively, "You'd be hard-pressed to get a Master to agree to take you on!"
"Harry!" both Ron and Hermione were scandalized. "How could you say that?" she continued, tearfully, "You don't think I'm good enough to apprentice to a Master?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Hermione!" Harry snapped, "You are the tops in our year, and the most intelligent person I know, how many times have I said that?"
"But—" whispered his friend.
"But, it doesn't matter how smart you are, or what your class rank is, or how highly recommended you are, if you are not of the proper lineage," he jeered, "No Charms master, no Transfiguration Master, no Potions Master, no Runes Master—in short, no master of anything—will take you as an apprentice!"
"Is that true?" Hermione turned to Ron.
"Blimey, I don't know, Hermione." Ron answered, flushing. "Maybe it is, because I know when Bill was thinking about getting his Mastery in Charms, our family didn't have the connections to get someone for him to apprentice with. I would guess it would be harder with a Muggle-born, who would have absolutely no family connections."
Neville, the only other pure-blood at the table, joined in, "Now that you mention it, I don't know of anyone with their Mastery who is not either of a well-positioned family, associated with one, or has the protection of someone with connections like Slughorn."
Hermione sat back, defeated. Harry hated seeing her so hurt, but he knew of anyone, she would appreciate the truth. He wanted to console her, but there was little to be said. As he cast about his mind for something positive to say, Professor McGonagall approached.
"Mr. Potter," she began, but catching sight of Hermione, exclaimed, "What is the matter, child?"
"Professor, do you remember at my career counseling session, you mentioned a number of important Ministry positions?" Hermione began, stony-faced.
"Why, yes, Miss Granger."
"Why did you not encourage me to go for my Mastery in any of the fields in which I was doing well?"
"I should think that I was not discouraging in the slightest, young lady." McGonagall responded, offended. "Had you mentioned that you had discussed an apprenticeship with someone, I would have certainly supported it. With whom are you intending to work?"
"No one, yet. I mean…. I haven't talked with any Masters about apprenticing,." Hermione stammered, "but…"
"Usually by fifth year, students who are excelling in a specific area have asked their families to make inquiries with people who might be open to taking on an apprentice. My impression was that you were more interested in learning the widest variety of topics possible rather than focusing on one. Was I in error?" Professor McGonagall continued.
"But I didn't know! No one told me!" Hermione cried. "I thought the best way to get ahead would be to be good at everything!" Harry snickered quietly to himself. Just like Hermione, trying to play by rules without even recognizing what they all were.
"My apologies, Miss Granger. You discussed with me your ideas for making some reforms within the Ministry of Magic. My advice was based on those ideas."
"But I didn't know about masteries! I would love to have one or two!" Hermione was almost sobbing.
Ron, Neville, and Harry all laughed at that, while their Head of House tightened her lips to keep from smiling. As Hermione glared at them, Neville responded, "You don't get 'one or two' masteries, Hermione. It's a hard job just getting one! You have to contract yourself to your Master for a minimum of five years. They set your curriculum, and decide when you can be tested by your Guild.
"In some cases, it's almost indentured service—you cannot do anything not approved by your Master, and often all of your work while apprenticed is credited to them. Even after you have completed what they consider all of the work necessary to prepare, if you don't pass the Guild exam, you still will not get your mastery, so unless they consent to keep you and help you to try to retest, your years could have been spent in vain. That's why it is a serious commitment, and Masters do not take apprentices lightly.
"In fact, Professors Flitwick, Snape, Sprout, McGonagall, and Dumbledore are all Masters, and of them, only Professor Dumbledore has ever taken an apprentice before. I'm the first one at Hogwarts in over fifty years." Neville said, proudly. Harry beamed and gave him a thumbs-up.
"Who was the Headmaster's apprentice?" Hermione asked, dispirited.
"Me, Miss Granger. Apparently, I put him off taking anymore." McGonagall winked, then turned to Harry, "I'm afraid I got side-tracked, Mr. Potter. The headmaster would like to meet with you immediately after dinner. The password is "Liquorice Allsorts.'"
Ch 7 Got This Broken Feeling
Harry walked quickly from the Headmaster's office and down the spiral staircase. His mind was oddly clear all of a sudden. He knew what to do. (4) Dumbledore was leaving the school just as Malfoy had found the solution to whatever problem he had been trying to solve all year. Harry realized that he no longer had faith in the Headmaster. The great old wizard was so obsessed with the chess game that he was playing with Voldemort that he was again riding roughshod over the safety of people under his care. He was repeating the same mistake of pride in his own cleverness that took Harry from the wizarding world for ten years to be abused his 'family,' that used the Philosopher's Stone as a lure for the disembodied Dark Lord, that forced Harry to participate in the dangerous Triwizard Tournament, that kept Harry in the dark about the prophecy while simultaneously using it as a lure for the Death Eaters. Harry may have been a little more important than a pawn, but he was still just another piece on the board. He had to take care of himself, not count on Dumbledore, the Ministry, or the Order to do what was right for him.
He also had another piece of the puzzle that was his life and destiny. It had been Snape who overheard the prophecy and passed on what he knew to Voldemort. Snape had been partially, though unwittingly, responsible for the deaths of his parents. What, though, did it mean for Harry? How does that explain or belie Snape's behavior of the past six years towards the son of his murdered school friend? There was no time to think about it now, but later….
Arriving at the common room, he raced up to his dormitory, quickly informing Ron and Hermione about Malfoy in the Room of Requirement and about him going with Dumbledore to search for a Horcrux. He talked over their gasps of horror and questions, sensing the minutes flowing rapidly past, finally advising them to use the Marauder's Map to watch over the school.
As Harry hurried toward the entrance hall, he made one last check of his Occlumency shields. He had no intention of looking Dumbledore in the eye, but if by chance it happened, he wanted to ensure the privacy of his thoughts. Seeing the powerful, shrewd old man by the massive oak doors, he threw his cloak over his shoulders, and with one last prompt, "Remember, Harry, that you promised to obey me without question," they set off into the quiet summer night.
That had been the last peaceful moment of the evening. The harrowing ordeal of the cave, in which Harry had forced the weakened headmaster to drink cup after cup of poison despite his pleas and protests, was crowned by the horrific battle with Voldemort's army of Inferi guardians, and quickly followed by the harrowing, panicked broom flight to the Astronomy Tower. Now Harry, initially immobilized by Dumbledore's spell, was frozen in disbelief at the sight of Severus Snape, his visage twisted with loathing, killing his headmaster, friend, and benefactor.
It's not possible… I must be dreaming…No! ….
The disappearing figures broke his horrified trance, and he battled his terror and incredulity as he fought against other Death Eaters while tearing down the Tower steps. He threw Petrifying and Stunning curses, Impedimenta hexes, following the fleeing Death Eaters, trying to distinguish the figures of Malfoy and Snape among them, wanting to catch them, those two, above all. Passing through the melee in the room at the base of the tower, he jinxed the Death Eater fighting Ginny, who lifted questioning eyes towards him and then quickly entered the battle between Ron, McGonagall, Lupin, Tonks, and at least the same number of black-cloaked, masked forms.
Hearing screams and cries echoing through the castle, he saw he would never catch the two Slytherins. Apparently, the way to the Room of Requirement was blocked, and they meant to escape through the front doors. He took several shortcuts, and came out immediately before the stately wooden doors and directly into a cluster of Death Eaters. "Stupefy!.... Expelliarmus!" he shouted. Using the element of surprise, he manage to stun and disarm two before sprinting out the doors, quickly zig-zagging as he ran, thanking his instincts as he heard curses scream past him on either side. Taking a jinx to the leg, he fell, but rolled quickly to his feet, and swung back briefly, hitting one more opponent with another "Impedimenta!" He ran into the shadows to the side of the castle entrance and cast a hasty healing charm on the cut opened by the curse.
The battle was being fought outside on the main lawn as well, with screams and flashes of light around Hagrid's hut. Squinting into the contrasting inky blackness, he could see three shadowy forms getting closer to the main gates and the apparition points, and forced his toiling lungs and exhausted legs to greater exertion. He saw Snape, Draco, and sent two stunners, which missed them both. He cursed to himself when he heard Snape shout, "Run, Draco!" They both saw the blond boy take a great heaving breath, fling himself through the gates, and disappear.
The third Death Eater cast another curse at Harry, who dodged to the right. It caught his right side, however, causing him to crumple into the grass, before Snape shouted, "Have you forgotten? Potter is the Dark Lord's! Leave him and get away while you still can!" The other Death Eater ran, and Snape turned to follow, but Harry flung himself and quickly caught and edge of his billowy robes, causing the older man to stumble, before righting himself and whirling back toward Harry.
Seeing the wand that killed the Headmaster turn towards him, Harry's face twisted, but he conspicuously kept his wand pointed down and called out, "Wait, Snape! We need to talk." He motioned, "Let's go into the forest behind Hagrid's hut—Now!" he screamed, when the older man paused skeptically. Snape nodded curtly. They made their way quickly, ignoring the voices and curse lights piercing the summer air, keeping each other in their peripheral vision.
Upon entering the still, dark forest, Snape turned to Harry and smiled grimly, "What, no reproaches? No cries of horror or of my treachery?" Despite the seriousness of his situation, he leaned against a tree, staring at Harry intently, keeping his wand loosely in his hand.
"I'm not sure what your game is, but we both now this is not the time for sniping. I assume you need to get Malfoy to safety?" Harry said urgently, in a low voice.
Snape, stunned, nodded again. Harry continued, "Then we need to meet again when there's time to talk." He shook his head, looked Snape straight in the eye, and continued, "I have no idea what's going to happen, but in three days can you meet me at this time here in the forest—say, at the spot you argued with Quirrell my first year?"
Snape seemed speechless for the first time in his life. He nodded once more. Harry gazed steadily at him. The man looked worn, distraught, and agitated. Good, Harry thought, I shouldn't be the only one!
"Potter," Snape gulped something that was suspiciously like a sob, then closed his eyes, sagged, and said quietly. "How do I know that this won't be a trap, that I won't be captured by Aurors?"
"You don't!" Harry snapped. "Just as I won't know whether you are planning to have Death Eaters capture me for your master!" he sneered.
Snape flinched, then after shuddering for several seconds, finally nodded one last time. Glancing around quickly, he said, insistently, "Potter, whatever you do, you must take care every minute, without fail. You must believe me when I say that many of the protections over you here at Hogwarts have been lost tonight. You must be on your guard constantly, and do not trust anyone."
Harry snorted gracelessly, "That's one lesson I believe I learned tonight, thanks, Professor." Snape, winced, looked at Harry again, and lifted one hand, almost as if in entreaty. Then straightening his shoulders, the teacher and spy said quietly "Saturday evening, at ten pm, then?" and with Harry's gesture of agreement, faded into the dark night.
Ch 8 Now or Never
"Severus…please….." The memories remain. My memory of the night on the Astronomy Tower was of green light. There is the memory of the light shooting from my wand and ending at Albus' breast intermingling with the light from the Dark Mark. There is the memory of the green haze over the battlements. There is the memory of that same green in the eyes of Potter as he stared at me with revulsion in the Forbidden Forest. There is the memory of the antipathy and loathing that has taken up permanent residence in my soul.
The memories always remain.
Severus slouched against the tree in the suspiciously still glade. It was still almost a half hour before his meeting with Potter, and his agitation was gradually overwhelming his Occlumency barriers as well as his natural emotional controls. What did the 'Chosen One' think about the events on the top of the Tower that night? What could he possibly want from this meeting? This can only end in calamity.
Hearing a rustle from behind him, he twisted rapidly, whipping up his wand. Infernal green eyes gazed at him steadily, and then the rest of the annoying boy appeared from under that thrice-damned Invisibility cloak. The air grew charged between them until Severus quirked his eyebrow.
Potter smiled briefly, then gestured for them relax against the trees. "Thank you for meeting with me. I wonder if you'd answer a few questions and I'll do the same for you, if you'd like. I would ask, however, that we allow ourselves the benefit of free access to each others memories."
Severus gasped in indignation. Free access…. How dare he? Severus' concern for his privacy was legendary, the fact that impudent whelp would even suggest it….
"Professor, I mean no offense. I watched you kill Albus Dumbledore on the Astronomy Tower of Hogwarts, before five Death Eaters. I am about to say some radical things about wizarding society, Dumbledore, and …" Potter made a small gesture of acquiescence towards Severus and continued, "Lord What's-his-Name. This meeting could take just a few short hours, all night, or never be adequately finished unless we take a few shortcuts."
Severus began to pace irritably around the small glade as he thought. He really needed to get back to his hideaway without too much delay. Draco was distraught with fear for his life and that of his mother, and his irrationality made it only a matter of time before he would overreact in some disastrous manner. Severus needed to continue to protect the selfish, misguided youth, not only out of genuine concern for a boy he'd known since a baby, for one of his House, but also because of his Unbreakable Vow. The wording was just general enough that it was still his duty to protect Draco.
He stopped and stood before someone he'd long thought to be another selfish, misguided boy. He'd begun to suspect over the past few months that he'd allowed himself to be blinded by long-held resentment and fear. Now he knew his resentment of James Potter had long been outstripped by his fear. He'd feared for many years the moment that he intended to bring about tonight. He was going to face the hatred and disgust of Lily's child when he learned that it was Severus who had notified the Dark Lord of the prophecy.
"Very well." He inclined his head slightly, and sat next to Potter.
"First of all, are you and Draco alright?" Potter asked.
Astonished, Severus turned quickly to the boy, forgetting momentarily to settle his neutral expression. "Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Malfoy's task was to kill Dumbledore. He was unable to complete his task, and though you—well…." Severus took a long shuddering breath, then realized that Potter was uncharacteristically waiting for his reaction to end before continuing.
He brought his eyes up to Potter's, and was momentarily lost. Severus saw many emotions that he couldn't name, but among them was understanding and identification. Lifting his head, he indicated that Potter could go on. "At any rate, while the Dark Lord's goal was met, he obviously didn't think that Malfoy would be able to accomplish it. I thought that he would have been killed on sight. I am happy to hear that didn't happen."
Severus muttered, "I have not allowed Draco to return to the Dark Lord's presence for that very reason. I have him hidden at my childhood home. It is in a Muggle neighborhood, so he should be safe for awhile."
"A Muggle neighborhood? Draco Malfoy?" Harry laughed, then grimaced. "That would be a sight to see!" He sobered. "How long can you keep him from Riddle's headquarters?"
"Malfoy is low priority right now, so it won't be an issue for a while. Right now, the Dark Lord's goal is the infiltration and subordination of the Ministry and Hogwarts. My goal, and the last desire of Dumbledore, is that I remain in good confidence of the Death Eaters so that I can pass along quality information."
Potter nodded and looked directly into Severus' eyes. The Potions Master felt a gentle nudge at his Occlumency barriers and relaxed them. Memories of those anguished minutes on the Astronomy Tower raced by, while torment and self-loathing flooded his soul again. He felt Potter's mind leave his gently, and he closed his eyes while he struggled to regain control of his emotions.
"I thought so!" Potter said, relieved. "I didn't believe you had the ability or motivation to kill Albus Dumbledore in cold blood. How could he ask that of you?"
Severus laughed bitterly. "Very easily, Potter. He did not want Draco to become a murderer. The Headmaster was slowly dying from the curse he'd taken last summer, and I had made an Unbreakable Vow to Narcissa Malfoy to complete Draco's task if he was unable to. I was already a killer, so my soul was already ravaged. It was no great matter for me." He started as a hand clasped his shoulder firmly, and he relaxed for the first time in days.
"What are your immediate plans?" Potter asked.
"Fortify my position within the Dark Lord's Inner Circle, establish contact with the Order as soon as I can and quickly try to explain in the seconds I have before they kill me."
Potter paused, then suggested, "Might I suggest that you send a message to Professor McGonagall soon? She's worried sick about you."
"And why," Severus asked, suspiciously, "would Minerva McGonagall be worried about the murderer of her friend and mentor?"
"Because, Professor Snape, no one knows what happened on the Astronomy Tower that night but Malfoy, the Death Eaters, and us." Potter answered, quietly.
"You didn't tell anyone about me killing the Headmaster?" Severus demanded, in shocked disbelief.
"I simply said that I had been on the Tower, and was cursed, rousing only to see Professor Dumbledore's body falling. The Aurors checked my wand to ensure that I wouldn't be under suspicion and left it at that. After the hysterical distrust of my reports at the end of my Fourth year, there wasn't even a thought that I wasn't telling the truth, and so no one questioned me more stringently.
"Look, Professor, you were forced to kill Dumbledore. While the Death Eaters know what you did, you are obviously of more use to Lord Whatsis with your cover intact. I see no reason to add another layer of complexity to an already muddled, horrendous situation. If it becomes necessary, if for instance, knowledge of your role in this leaks out, between your memories and mine, we can establish the mitigating factors that forced your actions. Until then, I don't want to get involved in the situation. Quite frankly, I have other issues and refuse to become embroiled in debates of your innocence or guilt."
Severus, thunderstruck, muttered, "You are almost Slytherin thinking in your calculation of effort and compensation, Mr. Potter."
Potter laughed cynically. "The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin. It said something ridiculous about Slytherin helping me along the path to greatness. Unfortunately, I'd met Draco Malfoy twice at that point, and he had been Sorted there, so I talked it out of the notion."
Potter in Slytherin House? Severus winced at the implications.
"Sir?" Shaken from his musings, Severus looked up.
"Why haven't you tried to verify what I've said so far?"
Severus quirked his eyebrow. "Aside from the fact that your face displays every thought, every emotion you experience, I have no reason to mistrust what you've told me so far."
Potter murmured, chuckling, "You'd be surprised. Well, you might like to take me up on my offer after I tell you what's on my mind. First of all, I would like us both to promise that we will keep our discussion tonight a secret between us."
Severus was surprised, but holding his wand, spoke the ritual words: "I swear on my magic that I will not speak of anything discussed tonight without Harry Potter's permission."
After Potter had done the same, he continued, "I know that Dumbledore and Riddle have decided that he and I will meet in some epic battle, but I'm not convinced that they've taken into account the role that free will plays when they made their weighty interpretations of the prophecy. I've—"
Severus interrupted, seeing no better opening for his confession, "Potter, before you continue, I have to tell you something about the prophecy that may change your mind about dealing with me." He took a moment to compose himself, to prepare himself for the fall out that would follow his….
"Professor, I already know." Potter was looking at him, with an unreadable expression in his eyes.
Severus, pained, almost pleaded to resume before he lost his nerve. "I don't think we're talking about the same topic—trust me, you would not be this calm. I did something unforgivable that resulted in the death of your parents." He was halted by a hand that hovered near his face.
"Trust, me, we are. I now know why you have always protected me. I'd always been suspicious of Dumbledore's reasons for trusting you. You have to admit that you can be quite opportunistic when necessary." Potter's smile was brief and apologetic as he continued, "But now I know that you were the person who told Tom Riddle about the prophecy."
Severus' heart suspended its beating. There was utter silence in the forest. As far as he could tell, there was no wind to rustle leaves high in the trees, there were no small animals moving around the forest floor, no birds settling their feathers in sleep above them. There was inescapable stillness, while he tried to absorb the words he'd just heard. He dared not look up at the boy while his thoughts whirled. Potter knew? Potter knew that I was responsible for the events of Halloween 1981, and hadn't yet drawn his wand? He didn't want revenge on his parent's murderer?
"You have been teaching here at Hogwarts, spying for the Order, and looking out for me for all of these years because they are all your way of atoning for that one, dreadful, life-altering mistake." In the motionless air, the boy's words drifted, almost floated past Severus unbelieving ears.
"But you had no way of way of knowing how Riddle would interpret the prophecy." He could barely perceive what he was hearing, let alone accept that it came from Harry Potter.
The hand that had paused Severus' words moved through the still air, unhurriedly but deliberately, and rested again on his shoulder. Potter's other hand came to rest on his other shoulder, and the boy looked intently at the Potions Master, who returned the gaze. They stood that way and Severus sensed that gentle nudge against his mental barriers again.
He opened them, almost welcoming the other presence, waiting for the boy to decide what memories he wanted to peruse. Instead, he felt a soothing query against his mind, followed by the projection of amity and forgiveness. He can't, he can't, just like that, forgive me. It's impossible! Incredulous, he began to sag as the serenity of that moment, the liberation that the boy was offering him began to peel away his protective armor, to dispel his resentment and bitterness, and dissolve his self-hatred and disgust.
As Severus regained his awareness, he realized that Potter was holding him in a quiet embrace, just enfolding him in a sphere of tranquil warmth. The older man was speechless, and the potential awkwardness of the moment caused him to stiffen, thinking hastily of how to extricate himself from this situation with at least a piece of his pride intact.
"Don't worry, Professor, it's all right," Potter murmured. His breath against Severus' neck evoked an intense shudder, garnering him a sharp glance as the boy released his hold.
"Look, sir. We've both made many mistakes over the past years when it comes to each other. Can we start fresh, here, tonight? Clean slate?"
Dazed, Severus nodded. Right now, his brain was immobilized by his emotional excesses, and he would have to think more about this later.
"Good, because I need your help. Over the next few months, I have to find and destroy some items Lord Thingy had created in his attempts to achieve immortality. I also need to continue my Occlumency instruction, because he cannot get any inkling about what I am doing."
Severus felt something like hope. "These items, will they help you to defeat him?"
"Yes." Potter waited a few seconds, gathering his thoughts, then said, "If I decide I want to defeat him."
Ch 9 The Good Guys Lost
"And will you, to the best of your ability, protect him from harm?" (5) That damnable Unbreakable Vow!
His mind reeling, Severus had returned to Spinner's End and Draco Malfoy. Usually the young fool had free rein of the house. Whenever Severus left the house, however, he'd left the boy in the secret room that not even Wormtail had known of, with strict instructions to remain quiet and still, in case they were visited by Death Eaters in his absence. Upon his return, the house was preternaturally silent, without even the normal rustles or creaks of an old house.
The hairs pricking up on his neck, Severus swiftly strode to his false wall, muttered the password while sweeping his wand in a unique pattern, eyes darting as the wall melted into a cupboard of cleaning aids, buckets, and old boxes. Turning a preset number of bottles counterclockwise, the back of the cupboard creakily shifted to the left, revealing a staircase to the hidden basement. Conjuring a torch, he descended, knowing before he even reached the room that it was vacant. His eyes lit upon a small piece of parchment affixed to the wall, and he held the torch to see the ornate, neat script:
Severus, I'm sorry, I cannot hide here any longer without knowing that my mother is safe. I will be a stealthy as can be, and will return as soon as I can. Draco
Damn! He'd known that Draco had no self-discipline. The boy was arrogant, self-serving, and blinded by pure-blood rhetoric. Severus had known that eventually, the idiot boy would do something incredibly foolish, but he had hoped…
After the series of visits that Potter had made to Draco, Severus had thought that he'd seen evidence of self-reflection that was unexpected from the young Malfoy heir. There had been signs that he was actually beginning to rethink notions of which he had been convinced since childhood. He was cautious in his discussions with Severus, of course. Having learned from experience that it was dangerously imprudent to ever trust a Malfoy, Severus had never shared his true loyalties with the boy. He hated the fact that his role as a spy kept him from being able to convince his young Slytherins to think for themselves and kept him from sharing the ugly, humiliating facts of what service to the Dark Lord really entailed. They all thought it was a glorious company of nobles, bound together to restore the wizarding world to its former grandeur. He couldn't say otherwise without risking his position, but he'd thought Draco was beginning to discern the truth—of course, too late: he had already taken the Dark Mark.
Cursing the vow that made him return to the hotbed of intrigue, treachery, and violence, Severus quickly exited and resealed the hideaway, moved outdoors to the end of his wards, and Disapparated. He appeared in the narrow lane that led to the ornate wrought-iron gates of Malfoy Manor, and raising the arm bearing the Dark Mark, he passed through them as though through mist. He quickly paced up the wide, gravel driveway, bordered on either side by high yew hedges, toward the imposing entrance door, which swung open as he drew near. He moved briskly, putting on an air of haste as he approached the men standing guard at the door to the drawing room.
"Ah, good evening, Snape. Have you been summoned to our Lord's presence?" Walden Macnair leered.
Thinking hurriedly, he remembered his earlier discussion with Potter. "No, Macnair, but I have some time-sensitive information for him. Do you mind inquiring if it would possible to talk with him?"
"You know how he hates being interrupted," Macnair griped, looking uneasy, "I'll have to wait for a safe moment to ask."
Severus nodded gracefully, and leaned back against the wall. He heard a brief burst of pained screaming over a buzz of muttering and sadistic laughter as the door opened and shut. His thoughts reeled, belying his relaxed stance. Had Draco been discovered? And if so, how much does the Dark Lord know about Severus' role in hiding him away? He cursed the impetuous boy again. How did that brat ever get sorted into Slytherin? Barging about like Potter, rushing around without thinking, how much damage will be caused tonight due to his stupidity?
The door opened, and Macnair beckoned Snape into the room. Checking his Occlumency shields, he shoved those detestable Astronomy Tower memories to the front of his mind. They would, out of all of his recent memories, put the Dark Lord in the most favorable mood, as Severus knew that his feelings of loathing and bitterness would be attributed to the Headmaster
Entering the drawing room, Severus directed his eyes toward the throne-like chair at the far end, but saw, in his peripheral vision, the figures of Lucius and Draco Malfoy. His heart plummeted as he took in their rigid posture and frozen faces, Lucius expressionless and drawn, Draco's brow strained, his eyes hollow. As he drew closer to Voldemort, he caught a glimpse of Bellatrix Lestrange kneeling to the right of the ornate chair, gasping and quivering from the aftereffects of the Cruciatus Curse. As her head shifted slightly, the motionless body of Narcissa Malfoy was revealed on the floor next to her.
Severus' favored status became apparent when he moved to kneel before the large chair, but was instead halted by a thin, long-fingered, white hand, which gestured towards a lower, plain chair to its right. A cold, high voice asked, "Severus, what is too important to wait for our next meeting?"
"My Lord, Minerva McGonagall has stepped into the vacuum formed by the death of Dumbledore. She is worried about my well-being, and is most anxious to meet with me to hear my details of the tragic event," he sneered, seating himself. "You hadn't thought that my role in the Dumbledore's death had been detected, and your wisdom has been confirmed." Severus injected a note of fervor into his voice.
Voldemort's lipless mouth spread widely. "This is felicitous news, Severus. While I know you are most unhappy with the amount of time you must spend among the warriors of the light," he paused as mocking laughter trickled around the mass of bodies, "it seems you might still be useful there." He stared fixedly into Severus' eyes, sifting lazily through his immediate memories, then inclined his head.
Severus smiled and leaned forward eagerly, "I only await your instructions, my Lord. Since the old man is dead, some of your reason for my presence at Hogwarts is no longer necessary. If they are still as trusting as they were, however, there may be more information to be gained, particularly in terms of the plans for Harry Potter."
"Precisely, Severus. I am pleased at your reasoning, and you, of all my servants, have been the most productive over the last few months." Severus could hear Bellatrix gulp back a sob as she cast a look at him that reeked of malevolence. Stirring, the Death Eater's subtle reactions to their master's praise thickened the atmosphere with acute attention and wary envy. Voldemort continued, "Make your appointment with the new Headmistress as soon as possible, and report back to me."
Nodding his acquiescence, Severus swiftly strode out of the room, slowing his momentum only once, briefly. It was imperceptible to anyone watching, but he paused and flinched when he heard Voldemort's languid, "Avada Kedavra," and the sound of a body thudding to the floor. He straightened his shoulders and continued on his way.
Ch 10 It's Moving Fast
I am still alive. I've managed to keep my wits about me yet again, and please the Dark Lord enough that he overlooked—at least until he decides otherwise—my keeping Draco from attending him. Draco is safe, though he no longer cares. In the Dark Lord's eyes, Draco is a failure, just like his father. The fact that he was set up to be a failure was of no import.
What is important is that the boy's fears were realized, and both Narcissa and Lucius were killed before Draco's eyes. Narcissa was tortured first, for daring to subvert the Dark Lord's plans for Draco. His father's death was symbolic of the Dark Lord's contempt for the shell of a wizard that had been the proud and elegant Lucius Malfoy. There was no speech, no torture or taunting, just a lazy curse that sounded almost like the Dark Lord had just remembered his threat.
One second, the House of Malfoy possessed a head and heir, the next, there was only an orphan, a spoiled young man poorly prepared for a life of service to a half-mad, dark monster. It was obvious that the Dark Lord kept Draco alive only to maintain control over the Malfoy home, the accounts in Gringotts, and the political connections. Draco was ignored, an adjunct in his own home, a morass of terror and apathy, drifting apathetically through each day.
How I've failed him and Narcissa. No, I can afford to be honest. They failed each other. Their obvious love for each other was ineffectual against ambition, the hunger for status and power, and the need to maintain their pure-blood superiority that tainted their lives. I fulfilled the letter and the spirit of my Vow. I am free of its statutes, but I will never be free of my own guilt.
Severus appeared in a shadowed alley between Wisteria Walk and Magnolia Crescent in Little Whinging. He quietly walked the block to number 4, Privet Drive in the fading evening light. He remembered the house from guard duty two summers previous. It was a mid-size square house, indistinguishable from the hundreds of similar houses in the housing estate. How can they bear their house duplicated block after block? He snorted. I wonder if they ever get lost?
He knocked on the door, which was quickly opened. Potter stood in the door, and Severus stared, his mouth suddenly dry. The boy was wearing a pair of worn jeans low on his hips and a thin summer-weight T shirt which stopped an inch short of meeting the tops of the jeans. The pale skin gleamed in the last scarlet glints of the setting sunlight, throwing into relief the very tops of his hipbones, which peeked out from between the strips of fabric.
Severus tore his gaze upward, past the slightly muscled chest and shoulders, and it promptly caught on the plump pink lips that were in the process of being moistened by the tip of a wet, quickly flipped tongue. Severus shuddered, closed his eyes momentarily, and then sneered, "Mr. Potter, shall we conduct your lesson on the doorstep, or would you prefer we just move out to the middle of the street?"
"What? Oh, sorry." The gorgeous little twit moved aside, allowing Severus into the hallway. "The Dursleys are out for the evening, and I'm not really allowed in the house when they're not here, so let's go up to my room," he mumbled, leading the way of the staircase. Severus studiously averted his eyes from the boy's ass in the tight jeans preceding him up the stairs.
Arriving at the room, Severus stared bemusedly at the locks on the door—on the outside of the door? They entered a small gloomy room, and he took in the shabby cot, thin blanket, the wall haphazardly covered with a Gryffindor banner and calendar, and the shelves filled with broken toys, baffled. He looked at Potter, who was avoiding his eyes, tense and silent. This is where the Golden Boy grew up?
He thought about some of the memories he'd glimpsed during Occlumency lessons, and waited while his world shifted yet again. Just when he thought he'd grasped the enormity of his misconceptions when it came to Harry Potter, he'd have another painful moment of lucidity when he was forcibly reminded how blind and deluded he'd been. He had trained himself to almost preternatural levels of observation and analysis of the most insignificant aspects of any situation, yet not only had he missed the fact that Potter's home life wasn't ideal, Severus had treated the boy like the spoiled brat he'd imagined for years.
Sensing the boy's discomfiture, Severus said, briskly, "Before we begin, have you been practicing the meditation techniques we'd discussed before—….the end of the school year?" He twitched. He'd hoped to avoid the topic of Dumbledore's death at least until later in the session.
"Yes, and I think my shields are actually much stronger than they have any right to be, considering the amount of time I've practiced," The boy responded, sitting on the cot, and gesturing Severus toward to the only chair in the room, a rickety metal contraption. He looked at it warily, then sat gingerly on the edge. Hearing a snort from the bed, he slid back, then smirked at the exasperating brat.
"Explain. How much stronger?"
"Well, actually, just test them yourself." Potter looked into Severus' eyes. He was lost for a moment, caught in the wash of green before he focused and gently nudged, stopped by a smooth, reflective wall. Concentrating intently, he put more pressure in his next attempt, sharpening the point of his phalanx as he attacked. Again, he was not only stopped, but the smooth surface kept him from finding a weakness to exploit.
He pulled back and smirked. "I am impressed, Mr. Potter; you've managed to turn your mental vacuity into an actual defense formation. Well done."
Potter snorted again, then muttered, "Thanks, I think. Actually, since we don't have to worry so much about my Occlumency, may I ask a question about something else?"
"You already have, but I suppose you may ask another." Severus' smirk felt like it might become permanent. It was such fun winding the boy up. Potter rolled his eyes.
"Whatever… I have noticed something strange happening when I talk with people." His eyes dancing, he held up a hand to forestall Severus' ready insult. "Yes, I know, consider the insult inserted here… Anyway, yesterday I asked my aunt if she would take me to get my eyes checked, and when she said that she would, I felt magic stirring in the room. The impression I have is that we almost made a binding promise. Does that make any sense?" he asked, perplexed.
"You could actually detect the magic attracted to the promise?" If it weren't for his legendary self-control, Severus would have been gaping. A sixteen-year-old-boy could sense the conversion of magic? "Can you see any changes when you do a spell?"
"Erm, Professor, remember, summer—underage?" Potter asked pointedly.
Severus shook his head, ruefully. "Right. Hmmm… Let's try an experiment recreating the situation from yesterday. I will ask you to promise something, shall I?" The boy nodded.
"Mr. Potter, do you promise to try your best to stay out of trouble this evening?" Severus, knowing the irrepressible brat's tendency towards disaster, tried to keep the promise limited.
Harry chuckled, "I will do my best, sir." His eyes widened, and even Severus felt a powerful surge sweep around them briefly. Potter closed his eyes, shamelessly exulting in what the older man assumed was a sensual experience of magic sealing his promise. Watching the bliss encircle the boy, Severus drank in the sight, his cock jerking in attentiveness. He shook his head to clear it of the pleasure it was imagining: Potter, rapture imprinted on his face, looking down at him before bringing his lips to touch—
Severus suddenly stood up, shoving his chair back, then stilled. Just at that moment, he'd remembered something—he'd read about it ages ago… What was it?... Yes!
"Potter, you're a pangimagus!"
"Really? Wow! How cool—wait, what? I'm a what?" the pretty imbecile blathered.
"A pangimagus is a type of wizard who can craft and impose magical bindings and contracts and vows at will, without the need for spells or incantations. The name comes from the Latin, pangere, "to fasten" as well as pax, "binding together by treaty. I believe your birthday is at the end of the month?" he asked, though because of the prophecy, he would never forget it. After the little idiot nodded his head gormlessly—how can he be so obtuse and so exceedingly attractive at the same time?—Severus continued, "You are obviously coming into your magical inheritance. I wouldn't be surprised if it is a Potter family trait."
He started to sit back down on the chair, but as it looked even more unsound with each passing moment, he cocked an eyebrow towards the bed, and getting the boy's permission, sat back on the opposite end.
"You mean like some people are animagi or metamorphmagi, I'm a pangimagus? Why couldn't I get a cool power?" The boy slumped, disappointed, on the sagging cot.
"I am heartily sorry that developing a magical talent that is almost non-existent in the wizarding world is such a 'downer' for you. Honestly, only a Potter would sniff at being able to hold anyone to their word." Severus uttered in disgust. Gryffindors!
"Really? I can do that?"
"Potter, what part of 'craft and impose magical bindings and contracts and vows at will' is escaping you?" He asked, exasperated.
"Wait, you mean I can make Vold—sorry, I mean—Lord Moldyshorts promise me something, and when he breaks the promise, he'd lose all his magic?"
"That's essentially the idea, though the Dark Lord would be too canny for something like that. However, I see endless possibilities for the judicious use of your ability in many encounters with Death Eaters." They continued to discuss the ways in which Potter could potentially utilize his ability. Severus promised to bring any books from the Hogwarts library that might give the boy more information, then they turned to other areas in which Severus could give instruction.
"When I get to Grimmauld Place, perhaps we could start some defense work? I remember Dumbledore's duel with Riddle last year in the Ministry, and it was something to behold. It served to remind me that I would basically be just a lamb for the slaughter in a duel right now." Potter said, glum and disheartened.
Severus felt a tug, which he shoved down repressively. He was not going to comfort Harry Potter! "Remember, that once we've collected and destroyed the Horcruxes, he will be mortal, and you have been improving." He paused, then continued, "If you don't mind, we need to discuss your actual transfer to Grimmauld Place. Regardless what Minerva may advise, it would be best to not wait until your birthday, as that would be an obvious time, and the Dark Lord will be looking for that. I would also caution against the use of Aurors. We should move you quietly, with very little extraneous people or activity." He could see the wheels turning in the boy's head.
"So the Ministry has been infiltrated?" He got it in less than three seconds. It took Minerva over an hour before he'd convinced her.
"Yes, and Floo, Apparition, and Portkey activities are all monitored. Believe it or not, I would suggest Muggle travel. Now, are you sure you want to go to Grimmauld Place? The Headmaster had the wards at the Burrow fortified, thinking that you might spend the summer there—"
"No!" the boy interjected quickly, then repeated, more calmly, "No. I want to be there for Bill and Fleur's wedding, but I don't really want to spend weeks there. I can get more research done on how to find and destroy the Horcruxes without the distractions and scrutiny at the Burrow."
Severus was surprised, pleased, and somewhat worried. He needed no more evidence of the growing maturity of the boy, yet Dumbledore had been unequivocal in his assertion of Potter's need for his friends to be able to succeed in his tasks. Narrowing his eyes, he wondered, was there something driving the Golden Trio apart?
"Look, I don't want to talk about it now. Let's finish our plans. We will be meeting at least once a week, yes? Promise?" Potter drawled the last word, his eyes twinkling.
"I will never use that word with you again, you impertinent brat!" He smirked in response to the boy's cheekiness. "But yes, I plan on our having a lesson once a week. And it would indeed be easier to keep the nature of those lessons undisclosed were we to meet at Grimmauld Place."
"Thank you, Professor." Potter had sobered a bit, and he looked at Severus earnestly. "I really appreciate your giving up time in the summer to help me. I promise you," he smiled grimly, "I will never forget how much you've helped me and I will do my best to extricate us from this mess."
Severus could feel the magic swirling around them, binding Potter to his welfare. The boy moved closer, raising his hand and clasping Severus' cheek. They looked at each other intently, the heat building between them, and Severus knew that he shouldn't, he wouldn't move towards the youth. He was his student, he was under his care, and Severus wouldn't abuse that.
Potter, though, sensing his hesitation, apparently didn't care about the reasons. He closed the distance between them, putting his arms around the Potions Master, and bringing his cheek to rest on Severus' chest, clasped him tightly, their bodies aligning perfectly. Severus could feel himself growing aroused, and recognized the firm bulge against his thigh. Neither made any further move, however, savoring the close feeling of their bodies, the rich heaviness of the magic around them, and the warmth of their growing understanding of each other.
Severus finally, reluctantly, pushed them apart. "One other thing, Potter and this is most important." He waited until he had the hormonal teenager's full attention. "I know that you take pride in being able to say the Dark Lord's name, but a Trace has been developed and will be put into place soon by the Death Eaters in Ministry employ. It will alert them if anyone says it. That means shouts it, utters it in a normal voice, or even whispers it. You realize the implications of such a Trace?"
Potter paled, and replied, his voice subdued with horror, "He can find me wherever I am. He knows I am one of the few who says his name. It was developed to capture me."
Ch 11 You've Been Faithful
Their meetings continued. After he'd spent the requisite two weeks at Privet Drive, Snape and Kingsley Shacklebolt had moved Harry to Grimmauld Place using a combination of rental cars and taxicabs to obscure their trail. In the meantime, he learned enough about his pangimagus abilities to construct intent-reflective wards around the house on Privet Drive that would reinforce themselves using ambient magic. The Dursleys had never been good to him, but he wouldn't want them added to the number of people who had died because of their association with Harry.
With Snape's help, Harry was gradually accepting how misplaced his survivor's guilt over the deaths of his parents, Cedric, and Sirius had been. The fact that his guilt had been manipulated by Dumbledore to control Harry's behavior had not been lost on either of them. Snape had begun to see the reasons for Harry's growing disaffection with the wizarding world, though he was heartened to see the boy still dedicated to learning how to defeat the Dark Lord.
Harry and Snape had delved even deeper in the Horcrux search. He'd learned of Kreacher's role in the retrieval of the locket, and tracked it down to the shop in which Mundungus had pawned it. In discussing ways of destroying it, Harry saw how impressed Snape was with his adventure of the diary and vanquishing the basilisk. He was amused at Snape's reaction to the fact that there was a basilisk carcass under Hogwarts, and watched his eyes grow calculating as he questioned Harry about its size and weight, and how cold he thought it might be in the dungeons.
Finally, Harry promised to take him down in the Chamber when they had the free time. They both sat back, eyes hungry as they felt the now familiar swirl of what they'd begun to call Oath Magic. Harry was becoming adept at directing it, and could apply it to objects and had begun, with Snape's tutelage, to learn to use it with people. As an experiment, he'd charged his professor to tell only the truth for three minutes, then asked the man how he felt about Harry.
Severus' lip curled. "You are an exasperating, annoying young man with more hormones than brains, whose intent, it seems sometimes, is to drive me to an early grave."
Harry smiled at Snape's adroit management of his enchantment, then asked, "Aside from that, sir, do you ever think about me in relation to yourself?"
Severus struggled, then bit out, "Yes," through clenched teeth.
Harry leaned closer, licking his lips, watching delightedly when Snape's eyes locked in on and followed the movement of the tip of his tongue. "Hmmmm, I don't believe that is enough detail."
"Harry…." Snape warned.
"Oh, it's 'Harry' now, is it?" He was enthralled by the small spots of pink coloring Snape's cheeks. "What do you think about my body when it's near to yours?"
Beads of sweat sprung out on Snape's forehead and his body quivered as he tried to suppress an embarrassing reaction. Giving up, his eyes glaring, he let the words gush out with relief, "I think of how soft your skin might feel as I glide my hands and mouth over it. I think that your body is the perfect height to fit neatly with mine. I think that you are the only man that I've wanted to embrace, not just fuck. I think that I want you to fuck me silly."
Harry sat back, rather surprised. He'd felt the attraction growing between them, and knew that Snape felt it, too. He had no idea, however, that his tutor was going to be so graphically candid, and he felt a warmth pooling in his groin at the images evoked by the man's words. Waving his hand, he cancelled the spell.
Snape leaped up, turning his back quickly. "How dare you take advantage of me in that way?"
"I actually had no idea that you felt so strongly about me. I'm sorry that I put you on the spot like that." Harry shrugged apologetically, watching the other man's wand carefully. It had been dangerous, and he didn't like the fact that Snape was embarrassed, but the information he'd gotten, totally unintentionally, was incredibly worth it….
Harry thought back to that incident as he and Snape sat in the aftermath of his promise about the Chamber. Since that time, his erotic dreams had kicked into high gear, all of them featuring
Snape. If this had happened even a couple of months ago, he would have been appalled. Now, he just used them, as well as the memory of Snape talking about his body, as high-quality wank material. He shook his head, and they returned to their plans regarding the Horcrux.
"Well, it seems that there are three ways that I know of to destroy a Horcrux," Harry said.
"Three?" Snape wrinkled his brow. "Just when I begin to think that I've underestimated you, Potter, you go and show me how wrong I am. We've discussed basilisk venom and Fiendfyre, which add up to two." He spoke slowly and enunciated his words as if he was talking to someone hard of hearing or mentally slow.
"Well." Harry loved it when his professor snarked, now that he knew not to take it so personally. "Actually, I had a theory that one reason Gryffindor's sword is so powerful is that it takes on the qualities of each of the foes it vanquishes. Therefore, since I used it to kill the Basilisk, it probably shares the characteristics of basilisk venom." He sat back, enjoying the sight of Snape working through a problem.
"Hmm, well, the nature of the metal has been debated for centuries…." Harry could tell the man was thinking furiously. "some of the discussions indicate…." Snape gracefully rose to his feet, "…theory …. may have some validity," here, he began leafing through some of the books from the Black library. After a moment, he looked up at Harry with something akin to amazement in his eyes.
Smiling, Harry hummed and stretched before rising, striding over to his professor, and leaning on the table that held the books they were currently using. "Sounds like my theory might work?" At Snape's suspicious glance, his smile widened, and he asked cheekily, "Does this mean I get a kiss?"
The book snapped shut, and Harry found himself flung across the room and bound to an overstuffed armchair. "I guess not," he said ruefully, "Unless you're suggesting something a little more adventurous?" Before he could finish his statement, he found the door to the room slamming shut on the room in which he sat alone. He muttered to himself, "OK, kinkiness is definitely NOT on offer tonight."
Harry awoke to the vision of twin black bottomless pits, into which he immediately fell. Hearing a loud snort, he blinked, and realized that he was gazing into the eyes of his tutor, who was standing by the banked fireplace gazing at him. He was still in the chair, though the conjured ropes had disappeared. He glared across the room.
"You're a git for leaving me tied up all alone!" he snarled at Snape.
While quiet, Snape's voice bubbled with laughter. "My apologies, it seemed you were quite taken by the position when I last saw you."
"Yes, well, the fascination wore off after the first hour." He was trying to ease the kinks out of his neck, so he didn't see Snape's appreciative look, but he did hear a burst of genuine laughter. He moved over to the table and began sorting the books into piles that would be easier to return to the library shelves. He put his parchment, quills, and his personal books to the side, and Snape asked, "What is that?" looking at the desk.
Harry cursed, and replied, "It's the copy I made of your Advanced Potion-Making." At Snape's confused expression, he explained. "I wanted to get you your copy back, but I was hardly going to allow myself to go without all of the assistance that book has provided over the months."
"How very—Slytherin of you, Potter."
"Thanks—I think…" He picked up the parchment on which he'd written the list of Horcruxes and their possible locations. Snape had figured out that Bellatrix Lestrange had been given Hufflepuff's cup for safe-keeping. They'd decided that a combination of a Receptivity Draught and the Imperius Curse would overcome her natural mental defenses, and she could be easily Obliviated after she'd retrieved the cup from her vault at Gringotts. But they needed to wait until he could slip her the potion undetected. They'd yet to determine what artifact of either Ravenclaw or Gryffindor the Dark Lord had used, but they'd made a horrific discovery that could actually be used to recover the remaining Horcruxes.
They'd concluded that on the night that the Dark Lord came to Godric's Hollow, he'd planned on using Harry's murder to create his last Horcrux. He'd done all of the spells to prepare, and when his Killing Curse rebounded on him, the part of the soul that would have gone into the Horcrux lodged in the recoil point on Harry's forehead. His scar was actually a Horcrux.
Upon learning that, Harry was devastated, and collapsed in distress, and Snape had spent hours holding and murmuring to him, alarmed by his torpor. Once he'd recovered, he surprised both Snape and himself by his composure once he'd faced the news. Still, he was especially heartened when they'd realized that utilizing his Horcrux and his Oath Magic, he could sense the bond between him and the other Horcruxes. Using that connection, he'd ascertained that a diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw hidden in the Room of Requirement at Hogwarts contained a soul fragment, as did Nagini.
Nagini had been created while the Riddle was still a disembodied spirit after leaving Quirrell's body, and she represented the reason that once they destroyed all of the Horcruxes, the Dark Lord would be quite vulnerable. Harry couldn't quite grasp Snape's reasoning at first. As he explained, Harry remembered how sexy Snape looked when he went into lecture mode:
"Potter, it's quite simple. Remember that after a 'normal' murder, the soul is split, but given time, it repairs the fracture, closing the separation between the estranged parts. In the creation of a Horcrux, any connection between the separated parts is severed, allowing roughly one half of the soul to be secluded in the receptacle. Now, say the Dark Lord murders again to create another. How much of his original soul does he have at this point?"
"Oh, I see!" Harry's eyes glowed in ominous excitement as he saw where this was going, "He now has only half of his original soul."
"Indeed, and he puts half in the receptacle and now has how much left?" "One quarter."
"And after he has created three?" "One eighth."
"So after he inadvertently created the Horcrux that you bear, he only had one sixty-fourth of his original soul. Not knowing he already had divided his soul into seven parts, including himself, he tried to complete his unholy task when he regained his body, and used the snake. At this point, though, he now had divided his soul into eight parts, because at the time, the diary had not yet been destroyed. Not only was that the most the soul had ever been divided, but it was probably almost the utmost number into which it could be." Snape ended, pedantically.
"He doesn't have enough of his soul left to divide! So if he were to discover what we're doing, and tried to make more, he wouldn't be able to!" Harry ended triumphantly. He gripped Snape's shoulder as if they'd reached the end of an arduous battle, his eyes focused on some vision of victory.
"In fact, he would expend all of his efforts just protect the ones he had. He recognizes that if he were to try to create another, it would not only be ineffective but he risks extinguishing the small fragment of soul left in his body." Snape replied, energized by Harry's excitement.
"Wouldn't it be great if he could save me the bother by snuffing himself?" Harry laughed, his skin acutely alert to the proximity of the other man. One hand smoothed the Potions Master's sleeve, then continued to stroke his arm. He wanted to stop before he got hexed, but couldn't, and he exulted inwardly when Snape leaned into the caress for a moment before reluctantly moving away.
"So, could the sword be used to carve the Horcrux off my head?" Harry asked, hopefully.
"Hmm, that's certainly possible," Snape said pensively, "It would definitely be safer than trying to wield Fiendfyre or basilisk venom. I wouldn't want anything to happen to the host, as I've grown used to him littering my life." Harry smiled. From Snape, that was practically an admission of undying devotion.
"However, Potter, I would rather pursue the possibility of you using your magical inheritance to divest yourself of the Horcrux." Snape looked up meaningfully.
"My inheritance—Oh, I get it! Since basically the spells Riddle uses bind the soul fragment to the receptacle, I could use Oath Magic to dissolve the connection—the binding, as it were—between the scar and my forehead. Once it's removed, it can be destroyed like the others!" He looked at Snape with welling eyes. He could be freed from the Horcrux!
Sobbing with relief, he flung himself into his mentor's arms. He could feel Snape's embrace as he prepared help Harry compose himself. Lifting his head, he looked into the older man's eyes and kissed him, hard, on the lips.
Snape stiffened, then opened his mouth with a groan. His tongue darted out and licked against Harry's lips which immediately parted, welcoming the hot, firm intruder. It thrust against Harry's own, causing him to whimper as his trousers quickly became way too tight. He used the tip of his tongue to tease Snape's with light, quick jabs, and they both pulled away for air, panting heavily. Snape's face fell, "Potter—Harry…. I can't…" his voice was anguished.
"Please, please. I need this." Harry whimpered pleadingly. "I need you…. Please, you don't have to say anything or do anything, just let me hold you…. Let me love you…." He moved slowly, nuzzling his nose against Snape's neck. Getting no response, he looked up. Obsidian eyes gazed at him, as Snape stood, quietly, saying nothing. Harry was puzzled at first, but remembering his words, smiled slowly, lowered his head, and kissed the soft skin at the juncture of the man's neck and shoulder. He heard a soft gasp as his bit gently, then licked a trail up to Snape's ear.
Recognizing that Snape would not initiate any contract, but wasn't going to stop Harry, he snaked a hand between them stroking up and down on the man's chest, while teasing them both by lightly grazing his bulge against Shape's. Their breathing quickened even more as Harry brought both hands around to grab Snape's ass roughly, slamming their groins together.
As he began grinding their hips together, he was entranced by the sight before him: Snape, his head flung back, mouth stretched open though only sighs and gasps emerged, flanks quivering with his arms tight to his sides, fists clenched tight. It sent him over the edge with a cry, and his hips reflexively thrust several more times as a wet heat pulsed in his trousers. His cry startled Snape's eyes open, and dark with lust, the man stared fixedly at Harry while a long groan poured from his mouth, and he thrust his pelvis against Harry forcefully, ferociously, several times and stilled.
They held each other up in the aftermath of their climaxes. As their breath returned to normal, Harry could sense Snape begin to distance himself, and he held the older man tightly for one long moment. He said the first thing that came into his head, but after hearing it, he thought it appropriate for the occasion, "Remember how right this feels. I want you." Squeezing the man once more, he moved away. As they put themselves to rights, backs to each other, each muttering cleaning charms, he concluded, "Don't let my youth or your past keep us from getting what we both want. We don't need artificial obstacles, Severus, we have enough already. Just let things happen as they will."
Ch 12 You Love Me, Baby
Harry appeared in the country lane that led to the crooked house that was home to the Weasley family. As he reached the back door, Molly Weasley opened the door, pulled him into the warm, homey kitchen, and folded him into her ample bosom, exclaiming the whole while about his thinness. They were joined in short order by Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. After much hugging and backslapping, the young people were seated at the kitchen table enjoying one of Molly's bounteous breakfasts.
They spent the next two days helping Molly get the Burrow ready for the wedding. The Delacours were to stay there, which meant that not only the outdoor wedding area needed to be prepared, but the whole house was to be cleaned as well. Molly was beside herself with preparations, and kept them busy. Harry was happy to spend time with his friends after the weeks at Grimmauld Place with only Severus' visits to break up the solitary hours. He did not regret his decision to go to Grimmauld Place rather than the Burrow, however. He quickly became overwhelmed by Ginny's attempts to spend time alone with him, Hermione and Ron's almost continual bickering, and Molly's efforts to control every waking minute.
Never having had a mother figure in his life, he'd learned to be self-sufficient, and he found it quite stultifying to have someone constantly telling him what to do—well someone besides Hermione, who was also beginning to irritate him. He found Ron's presence rather calming in comparison, though he was confronted with a different frustration when he attempted to discuss anything more serious than Quidditch, chess, or how he'd rather be spending his days doing anything but cleaning constantly. All in all, he was again confronted by the reality that he'd been forced to grow up prematurely. His friends, however, were still free to enjoy the small pleasures of childhood. It wasn't a revelation, though, that made life with them any easier.
Harry greeted the day of the wedding with a sigh of relief. He was so ready to leave the Burrow that he hoped he'd manage to make it to the cake-cutting without blowing up. Though it had been gradually been growing more strained, the situation with Ginny had gone pear-shaped on the day of his birthday.
The Delacours had arrived the day before, and Harry had been pleasantly surprised to see a more grown-up, engaging Gabrielle. She was delightful: droll and quick-witted, naturally elegant with poise beyond her years. He had been going through a few French charms books, and decided he'd put his quite elementary French conversation to the test. Since Fleur and Madame Delacour were caught up in wedding preparations with Molly, that left Monsieur Delacour and Gabrielle at rather loose ends. They were quite happy to help Harry, and accompanied him as he went about his tasks, laughing at his attempts, correcting his accent, and teaching him naughty French words.
Even though he was always with the both of them, Ginny simply saw the situation as the beautiful, quarter-Veela Gabrielle moving in on 'her' boyfriend. The youngest Weasley had finally cornered him in the backyard while he, Ron, and Hermione were putting out chairs for lunch.
"I can't believe that little chit is hanging around you, batting her eyes, and speaking in her 'cute' little accent. She's just like Fleur!"
"Hmm, I hadn't really noticed." Harry was hoping to get out this by just keeping his head down. It was not to be, however.
"Not noticed? Not noticed her flinging her hair about, pushing up her sleeves because it 'eez so 'ot'?" Ginny asked sharply. She narrowed her eyes, and put her hands on her hips.
"No I hadn't. I was just practicing my French with her father and her. They have been very helpful."
Hermione chimed in, unable to contain herself. "Harry, I didn't know you spoke French! I learned a little a few summers ago, when my parents and I summered there. We could have been conversing all this time, and I wouldn't have forgotten so much!"
Harry smiled. He loved Hermione, she was so predictable! In this case, he was grateful for her interruption, as he turned away from Ginny towards her and said, "So, join us when I go back to polishing the silver. They are really great with correcting my mistakes and their laughter never makes you feel stupid. If you'd like, we can continue to practice when we get back to Hogwarts."
"Harry, let's take a few minutes to go sit down. I'd like to give you your birthday gift in private. I'm sure Ron and Hermione don't mind carrying on here without you for a few minutes." Ginny caught his wrist, and insinuating herself into the close space between Harry and the stacked chairs, moved so that her lips were close to his neck, and her bosom was pressed insistently against his side. She placed her hip so that he'd have to plaster himself up against her to get out of his spot. Ron looked alarmed at her maneuver, and Hermione was also taken aback by her assertiveness.
Harry pursed his lips and bit back a retort. He'd had enough! The atmosphere around the Burrow was already close, almost claustrophobic, but Ginny was making him feel stalked. He took her hands in his, moved them away from his body, stepped to the side, and slid away from the tight spot. "Ginny, please stop before you embarrass us all. You seem to think that we are a couple. I have said on a number of occasions that you're seeing something that simply is not there. I am not your boyfriend, and I have no intention of being anyone's boyfriend for the foreseeable future." That was true—what he wanted to be for Snape was a lot more than a 'boyfriend.'
Harry walked away from the backyard before he said any more, his senses on guard for a flying hex from behind. He was tired of trying to spare Ginny's feelings when she had no qualms about dictating what his feelings should be. He had been trying to keep quiet about it until after the wedding, but if necessary, he'd just return to Grimmauld Place and come back tomorrow for the wedding. As he marched off toward the small orchard at the side of the Weasley property, his heart thudded as he heard her wails and the sound of wood splintering. He winced as he thought of his wasted effort stacking the chairs.
Ron had joined him later. He was angry, but when Harry said he was gay—and Ron was assured that Harry didn't like him 'in that way'—he accepted the fact that they would never double date. The redhead was a mortified that he'd not noticed before, and haltingly tried to talk about what being gay was like, but Harry quickly mentioned the upcoming Keeper try-outs the Chudley Cannons were holding, and, relieved, their conversation moved to safer waters.
Ginny avoided Harry for the rest of the day, and he had barely seen her today, which was just fine by him. As he smoothed a non-existent crease in his dress robes, he wondered if Snape would attend the wedding. He knew that the dour spy had been invited as a member of the Order, but rarely attended social events.
Harry was quite pleased, therefore, to see the black hair floating in a sea of red when he and Ron began seating the guests in the large tent. He would watch him from the corner of his eye, snickering at the empty seats on either side of the Potions Master. He took pleasure in coming up behind Snape's chair to whisper in his ear, "Good afternoon," watching him shiver. Snape's presence was the only thing that kept him going through Molly's tears, the twin's antics, Ron's juvenile wedding night jokes, and Ginny's glowers. If he could have seated himself beside the snarky man, at least he would have enjoyed listening to his snide comments on the proceedings, but knowing that the only reason Snape attended was because of Harry was enough to make his day.
I disgust myself.
I have killed, I have tortured, and I have created depraved potions that had no redeeming qualities whatsoever other than the fact that their poisons were quick-acting. I have, quite rightly so, experienced personal degradation due to my choices, and while I operate in the dark for the betterment of the light, I know that I have dark recesses in my soul that I would never want another soul to view. In short, I am reprehensible.
Yet in all my years of the most loathsome acts and cruel, malicious behavior, I have held unfailingly to only one standard: I have never laid a hand on any of my students. Regardless of their appeal or their pathetic attempts at seduction—yes, even the greasy Potions Master has had his share of awkward propositions, albeit from gauche boys and pocky girls with an overdeveloped reverence for authority figures—I have never succumbed to the charms of a fresh-faced youth. Until now.
As I put on my dress robes, and pulled the invitation to the Weasley-Delacour wedding from the rubbish bin in which it was tossed and retrieved at least eighteen times, I remind myself why I should not have sex with Harry:
1. He's a student, and under my care and authority
2. He's young enough to be my son
3. He's the son of James Potter (OK, that's a rather spurious justification, because the idea of fucking James Potter's son is so delightful it makes my teeth ache)
4. Oh damn! That means he's the son of Lily Evans-Potter!
5. (The most important reason) I am degenerate and evil, tainted not only by my acts but by the darkness within me that could make them possible
6. (The next most important reason) He's vulnerable, looking for affection and approval for being himself rather than an icon or symbol.
All good reasons, and I am proud of—though not surprised by—my logic. Unfortunately, my logic at the moment is held down, bound and gagged, and being pummeled by my heart, which has created its own inventory: reasons why I should have sex with Harry:
1. He is mature and powerful, makes me feel cherished
2. He's the son of James Potter (I love this reason!)
3. He's loving, humorous, curious, and intelligent
4. He has his own share of darkness, but manages to remain uncontaminated by it; he understands mine and lifts me above it
5. He's the son of James Potter (this is so good, it should count twice!)
6. He's sex incarnate—a beautiful, coltish youth whose every move is lissome and erotic
7. I understand his vulnerability, and want nothing more than to love Harry for himself, because simply, he is all I need
8. Oh yes, he's the godson of Sirius Black (I can't believe I almost forgot!)
I watch him in his dress robes, his lithe form gliding among the graceless clumps of Weasleys. He stops to talk with the part-Veela girl, who lights up when he takes notice of her. I can appreciate her reaction. I, too, blossom under his attention, like a plant under the rays of the sun.
Every time he passes, I make a snide comment about his robes, his hair, his awkwardness (which I in reality find endearing) when he dances with Hermione Granger, the sister of the bride, or a Weasley aunt. I notice that there is a tension between him and the youngest Weasley: they have been avoiding each other all day. Thank Merlin! Many of the faculty thought that she was still unstable from possessed by the Dark Lord, and her possessiveness towards Harry was unpleasant at best, and offensive at worst.
Of course, I'm one to talk about possessiveness: I can barely keep my hands off of that magnificent body, accentuated by the silken robes cupping and wrapping around it. I want to leap across the room, rip off all of the brat's clothes with my teeth, and beg him to fuck me over the cake table. Perhaps that would alert the bint that she not only isn't in the running, she's chosen the wrong race.
He approaches as the festivities draw to a close, and mutters, "God, these people or driving me mad. Fancy a shag?"
I gather him in my arms and Disapparate.
Ch 13 Give or Take a Night or Two
They appeared in Grimmauld Place. Severus released the boy and looking at him straight in the eye, asked, "What do you want, Harry?"
The boy sputtered, "You're asking me… You mean I can say whatever I want?"
The older man smirked. "You keep demanding to be treated like an adult. Very well, young man, take some responsibility!"
A smile spread slowly over the irrepressible brat's face. It fell slightly, uncertainly, as he thought, then plucking up his vaunted Gryffindor courage, said, "I really want to fuck you. I want to hold you, and turn and twist your body to meet my demands, and fuck you."
Severus stared, stunned. Carefully observing the hormonal idiot, it was obvious that he expected to be laughed at or hexed. Time to turn the tables, Snape thought. Quirking his eyebrow, he said gravely, "It appears that great minds think alike," and waited for the light to break.
The smile widened as the Harry took the hint. Bright boy, there's a lad! He took Severus' hand and led them quickly up the stairs to his bedroom. They stopped several times on the stairs to kiss, their hands moving restlessly on shoulders, hips, arms, and backs. Reaching the room, Harry beckoned his soon-to-be-lover to the center of the room, and waving his wand, divested them of their clothing.
Severus stood still. He knew that his body was far from perfect, with thin legs, pale skin untouched by the sun, and scars littering his back, buttocks, and chest. They didn't matter to him, but to a younger, perfect physical specimen, would it be enough to overturn their months of camaraderie and connection? He looked over at the nude Harry Potter, his golden skin covering taut, lean muscles, tight, pink nipples peeking out from the sprinkling of fine hairs over his chest. The hair thickened to a mass of curls surrounding a thick, flushed cock standing proudly away from the beautiful young faun's body.
"You're perfect!" Harry sighed, his hand caressing his belly absent-mindedly. Severus snorted, "You're blind." "It's true, you are!" the alluring young man retorted. "You look just as I imagined in my fantasies." Fantasies? He fantasized about me?
"Well, right." Harry looked around, considering his surroundings. "Severus," he said, softening his voice and reaching out slowly as one would before a skittish Thestral, "Would you come over here, please?" The voice, thoughtful and sensual, ripe with implication, did it. Severus was undone. He quickly glided over, dropped lightly to his knees, and wrapping his arms around Harry's hips, swallowed him to the hilt.
"Gnuhhh!" The lusty youth moaned, his hips bucking. "Oh, Merlin, Severus!" After but three sucks, Severus was rewarded by a mouthful of tart-sweet fluid. He sucked and swallowed until the pulsing stopped, then licked and nuzzled the softened, heavy cock until it began to stir again. Merlin, the vigor of youth!
"Severus, what are you doing to me?" he heard, the plaintive voice growing thick with recovering lust. He smiled and hummed, and the vibrations caused an interested twitch in his mouthful. "I just took the edge off so that you can last longer than two seconds."
"Thanks," was the dry response. He felt a hand slide down from his hair, over his shoulder and under his arm, lifting him from the floor. The hand swept behind his head, capturing it and crushing his mouth against Harry's. They stood there nibbling and sucking each other's lips and tongue, oblivious to the passing of time. There was no telling how long they would have stayed there, until a drop fell from Severus' leaking cock onto Harry's foot. Chuckling, he grasped his lover's erection, relishing the gasp as the hand tightened, and tugged Severus to the bed.
He nudged Severus down until he was prone on his back, then lying beside him, Harry lay on his side, his head resting on his hand, gazing at the body before him. He ran his free hand over Severus' belly, down his flanks, and up the inside of his thighs, his eyes drinking in the sight of his lover. The expression on the younger man's face moved Severus beyond words. He had never been looked at like that. He felt whole, purified by the presence of his miraculous young lover. He felt as if his crimes were transmuted into the strength he would need to take care of Harry.
Red lips descended to his, and the hand moved to his weeping erection, stroking slowly up its length, the thumb sliding over the dripping slit, then sliding back down. It became almost painful how infernally slowly it moved. Severus tried to buck his hips. He wanted to encourage Harry to move faster, but the impudent whelp slid a leg over his thighs, pinning him to the mattress. He whimpered against the lips pressed against his, and Harry's tongue took control there, as he was controlling Severus' body below.
Severus lost his grasp on his physical surroundings. His world narrowed to just those two points of sensual delight, as if his all of nerve endings moved from their original zones to his mouth and cock, concentrated, intensified, and focused. His pleasure, his release, the very parts of his body which attracted attention, were all out of his hands. He rested in the will of the exquisite creature that loved, pleasured, and redeemed him.
Nearly weeping from the overwhelming waves of emotion sweeping over him, Severus almost missed the whispered lubrication charm, but he felt its effects immediately. "Yesss…." He hissed, moving to get to his hands and knees, but was stopped. "No, love, on your back. I want to see your face when I fuck you."
The words started a shiver that coursed down his spine and hardened his cock even more. He fell back and grasped the back of his knees with his arms, savoring the shameless view he was presenting. "Yesss…." He said again, drawing out the sound, "I want you in me. Now." He was rewarded when the green of Harry's eyes darkened as they swept over his body, open and waiting for the boy's stiffened organ.
Harry brought his finger down to Severus' lubricated entrance. He inserted one finger before Severus jolted, moaning, "No! No prep… I want your cock, please, now!" He stared imploringly at Harry with widened eyes, panting, his chest heaving.
Harry slid the head of his cock into Snape slowly, and paused for a moment. Severus whined, "More, please…" before Harry grunted, "Shut up, or I'll come." Severus chuckled, bringing one hand to Harry's cheek, caressing and stroking the luscious skin. He lay back as his lover—my lover!—gathered himself, and sighed as Harry slid his entire length in Severus' entrance.
"Oh, gods, yes. So full, so long, it's been so long," Severus sighed, writhing under the boy. Harry pulled out, shifted his angle, and then pushed in again. Severus howled. The blasted boy grinned as he memorized the angle, and Severus rode the waves emanating from his prostate as he was pounded by his student, friend, fellow soldier, and lover. His breaths grew shorter and quicker, his back coiled and unfurled, his toes curled, and he listened to the music pouring from the mouth of the stunning, mercurial creature.
"Yes, so hot, so tight," the wanton youth whimpered and groaned and whispered, "Gods, Severus, you're like silken glove on my cock." He continued hissing something in Parseltongue, and Severus' balls grew even tauter. He drowned in the sounds, in the smell of sweat and spunk and musk, the sight of lust, need, passion, and peace whirling across his lover's face.
"Oh, Severus, yes, my love…" Harry whimpered as he bent over and licked Severus from his Adam's apple around his neck up to his ear, gnawing on the earlobe as he pushed and shoved himself into the man's body, fucking and loving. Then, Severus felt his cock grasped and tugged firmly while a tongue licked one of his outstretched ankles.
With a thumb playing over the angry purple head of Severus' erection, he heard, "Severus, come for me… come… for… me!" and his eyes shot open, dazed and unfocused, as he groaned, long and deep, in a rumble that shook the bed, "Fuck, oh, I'm… Oh Harry, yesssssss…" His body froze with his hips arched off the bed, his arms still in the air though no longer holding his legs, and long ribbons of white spurted from his prick, covering his chest and Harry's belly with steaming jism.
Severus was mesmerized by the sight of his body being pounded by Harry, driven by his need and lust. He watched the sexy young man shatter from his orgasm, his eyes rolling back as quivers overtook his body, and that one spot where he was joined to Severus bursting into spasms of piercing, fiery pleasure.
Harry collapsed onto Severus, who promptly wrapped his arms around him and attacked Harry's mouth. Turning his head to the side to grab some much needed air, he felt Harry snuggle into his side, and nestle his nose in Severus' neck. He felt joy, peace, and serenity for he first time since he was a boy, and rested in the arms of his lover and savior.
Severus tried to sleep. He wanted another experience to remember this time by when it ended, as it certainly would. He knew the good-looking little idiot was loyal to a fault, but eventually the Weasleyette or some other girl or boy would start sniffing around. Harry would remember that he was only a teenager, and move on to be with other people his age. Along with their conversations, lovemaking, magical experiments, and efforts against the Dark Lord, Severus wanted to be able to remember just sleeping with the boy. As the hours passed, however, sleep eluded him and he ended up watching Harry slumber.
Waking just before dawn, Severus noted that Harry gazed at him and grimaced. He flinched and released the superb body—So soon?—and watched silently as it jumped out of bed and raced into the toilet. Hearing the sound of piss hitting the porcelain, Severus snorted and relaxed a bit, and then even more when Harry dove back between the bedcovers, pulling them over the two of them.
"Thanks." He recaptured his spot on Severus' chest and wriggled, getting his hands and knees back in their former positions. "I don't think I've taken a piss since this morning, or is it yesterday morning? Well, since before the wedding began." It seemed the younger man was trying to see if he could snuggle just a little bit closer without actually sliding under Severus' skin. Finally, Harry noticed the silence. "What?"
Severus hesitated. "I wasn't sure how you'd react to what we did once the heat of the moment was over," he said carefully. "If you want to chalk this up to experimentation—"
"Severus, don't be an ass." The beautiful youth yawned, and slid, if possible even closer, Severus smiled, closed his eyes, and slept.
He awoke to Harry watching him, a small smile on his lips. Smiling back, Severus took his turn to dash to the loo, hearing Harry's bubble of laughter follow. Returning to the room, his heart dropped when he saw the bed was empty, but he heard sounds of stirring below, and grabbing his trousers and shirt, slipped them on before going downstairs.
He stopped in the doorway, absorbing the sight of his young lover in just trousers, a slight sheen of perspiration coating his chest. Harry had begun breakfast, gesturing to a steaming pot of tea. He was preparing himself a cup of coffee, and Severus sniffed at the plebian beverage. Grinning, Harry just shrugged, and after sipping, sighed in satisfaction and turned to the cooker. Severus watched as he cracked eggs, stirring them in a pan while turning slices of toast in the broiler.
Severus moved over to the cheese on the cutting board, asked, "Shredded?" and at Harry's nod and grunt, prepared that as well as slicing tomatoes and peaches. He brought the cheese and tomatoes over, and Harry sprinkled it over the eggs, turning off the flame with the wave of a hand. Severus noticed that over the course of the summer, as he got closer to reaching his maturity, Harry's power had grown even more, even as his control over it became more disciplined and refined.
Levitating the hot toast to the table, Severus buttered it, and put it and the fruit on plates. He put out napkins and flatware, and they sat down to scene that was warming in its domesticity. After several moments of silence they both began talking at once, "Severus," "Harry," then paused in confusion.
Smiling, Severus continued. "Harry, I wanted to say that I really enjoyed last night. I would like to continue as long, and only as long as you want. I should say, though, that we should make every effort to be discreet."
"Yes, I know, the Dark Lord and all—" Harry began.
"Well, yes, that too, but even if he weren't to be considered, there is your reputation. I am, after all, a former Death Eater, and—"
Harry interrupted quickly, "My reputation is one of the things that I want to discuss with you Severus. I know that it is going to surprise you, but I have been thinking….."
They talked for hours in the kitchen, making more tea, finally preparing a late lunch/early supper. Harry told Severus his thoughts about the wizarding world and the fickleness of public opinion. He shared his feelings that he didn't want to be a sacrificial lamb for a world of which he was growing increasingly tired.
He asked Severus, "Will getting rid of Riddle really make the wizarding world a good place in which to live and raise children if you aren't in the top echelon of society? Look, if I were to off Lord Whatsis, I will be granted anything I want, but what about the deserving Muggle-borns who fought but don't have my fame? Will things change measurably for them?"
"Well, I'd image not having to worry about not being tortured and killed might brighten their day a bit," Severus murmured. Harry snickered, then continued.
"But the way things are run will not have been affected. What about you—do you honestly expect to be recognized for your sacrifices during both wars? Will the corruption of the Ministry and the Wizengamot change? Will justice be the same for all, or will only the rich and powerful get what they want from the current system?" he asked, leaning back against the table. Distracted by the expanse of beautiful scenery, Severus murmured, "Hmm…. Oh, what?"
Pleased at how Severus' eyes were devouring him, Harry snorted, "Give me a good reason why I should bother."
Looking into Harry's eyes, he thought, Well, hell, that's actually a good question. I spied for Albus to atone for my many crimes, but what has Harry to fight for? Sitting down heavily, he asked, "Well, what, then, do you want to do?
Ch 14 A Shining Artifact of the Past
One morning, late in October, Neville Longbottom awoke with a thick roll of formal-looking parchment on the pillow next to his head. Summoning his wand, he cast a number of revealing and Dark Magic detection spells. While they disclosed an immensely powerful magical signature, that of his former dorm-mate and friend, Harry Potter, there was no indication of how or why it appeared inside his chambers.
He sat up, yawned and scratched various parts of his anatomy, and glanced outside his window. His quarters, as Madame Sprout's newly-minted apprentice, were adjacent to hers and to the greenhouses of Hogwarts. He could see it was going to be a glorious autumn day, one of the last of the season that far north in Scotland, and decided to read his letter outside in the bright morning sunshine. Dressing quickly, he grabbed a cup of tea and an apple and walked outside to one of the small hills overlooking the main lawn of the school.
Another powerful yawn, a few wriggles, and a hasty cushioning charm later, he was comfortably ensconced on a copse of grass. Taking a sip of tea, he saw signs that other people were moving about the castle. Draco Malfoy walked out of the side doors from a staircase leading up from the dungeons into the small crenellated rose garden. Neville, pensive, stared at the altered young man while munching his apple. Everyone believed that Malfoy had something to do with Dumbledore's death, particularly since it was discovered that Harry Potter had been monitoring him for suspicious activity all year, but in the absence of proof, nothing could be done. Over the summer, Malfoy had apparently lost his parents to You-Know-Who, and had become a shadow of the arrogant pure-blood who had terrorized Neville in the past. Now, the new head of the Malfoy family was quiet, rarely speaking without first being addressed. He, too, was carrying a roll of parchment suspiciously similar to the one in Neville's hand, and the Slytherin quickly found a sheltered stone seat in one of the niches in which to read it.
Intrigued, Neville turned to his own letter, but paused again when he saw Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley exit the main doors of the school, both carrying similar letters. Everyone was amazed but pleased that Headmistress McGonagall had managed to reorganize and reopen Hogwarts. Few were surprised to learn at the Welcoming Feast that Harry Potter was not among the returning students, assuming that he would be a part of the underground resistance against You-Know-Who. Everyone, however, was shocked when his two friends returned to school without him. It had been assumed that wherever the Boy-Who-Lived was, they would be there also. Although, Neville mused, it did seem as if they had been drifting apart in the last few months before the end of school.
Shrugging, he Vanished his apple core and turned to his letter. While it was addressed to him, it quickly became clear that it was one of many sent that morning. Staggered at the type of magic that could accomplish such a feat, Neville began to read.
Dear Mr. Longbottom,
I have sent this letter to every magical being above the age of majority in magical England. I am Harry James Potter, also known as the Boy-Who-Lived, and by various other epithets. I have also been hailed as the "Chosen One," the person who will rid you of Lord Voldemort, also known as Tom Marvolo Riddle, as well as He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, etc. This communication is to inform you that as things stand at present, I have no intention of doing that for you.
Why, indeed, should I?
Some say that I should rid the world of Voldemort because he killed my parents. I would answer that my parents were members of a paramilitary organization organized by Albus Dumbledore known as the Order of the Phoenix. They were dedicated to defeating Voldemort, and had in fact faced him numerous times before Halloween, 1981. They were essentially soldiers. Many of you lost loved ones to Death Eaters in the last war, yet none of you have sought out and taken revenge on them. I see no reason why I should be expected to do so. You depended upon the Auror Corps and the courts to extract punishment. It was a dark time, and my parents knew that they risked death every time they faced Voldemort or his Death Eaters. Until I was born, it was a risk they were happy to make.
For reasons that I will not explain in this letter, Voldemort targeted me for death. That Halloween night he came for me, and my father died trying to give my mother time to get me to safety. My mother died trying to bargain for my life. I know, because I relive the memory every time I am near a Dementor, that Voldemort was not after my mother, and in fact, gave her the opportunity to step aside, as he only wanted to kill me. Naturally, as a mother, she refused. It was then that he killed her, and attempted to do the same to me. No, revenge is not a good enough reason to risk my life—isn't that what the Aurors are supposed to do?
Some say that I should rid the world of Lord Voldemort for the 'greater good' of the wizarding world. I would answer that the wizarding world, at least in Britain, I can't speak for anywhere else, is a corrupt, stagnant, credulous herd of sheep. This is a world in which the highest judicial body is concerned only for its own preservation and how much power and money its members can get for themselves. Positions on this body don't go to people of great magical strength or superior intelligence or diplomatic skills. The positions are hereditary, passing down along family lines regardless of talent or ability. The Minister for Magic is elected by brokering agreements, handouts, and influence, essentially buying the necessary votes among the Wizengamot.
This is a world in which talented individuals like Muggle-borns or wizards from families with few connections have limited employment prospects. At best, they can only look forward to dead-end positions in the Ministry, have little hope of moving into positions of authority, and have little say in how their world operates. This is a world in which many magical beings—werewolves, elves, and goblins, for example—endure institutionalized discrimination. This is a world in which innocent people like Rubeus Hagrid and Stan Shunpike are put in prison without recourse to trial, Veritaserum, or Pensieve testimony, while people actually convicted of crimes like Lucius Malfoy can use their money and clout to walk out of Azkaban without consequence.
This is a world in which innuendo, gossip mongering, and lies take the place of real journalism. The Ministry or a rancorous columnist can skew a story any way they want, without having to submit to fact-checkers or observe journalistic guidelines for accuracy and truthfulness. What is simply astonishing is the number of people who know this about such media as The Daily Prophet, yet still believe every word it prints.
This is a world in which public opinion is swayed by such doubtable journalistic sources. The wizarding community is remarkably free of independent, reflective thought. People jump on bandwagons, and believe one thing one moment, and the total opposite, the next. I am a case in point. I can't count the number of times opinion has swung from thinking I am a savior, to thinking that I am the next Dark Lord. It sickens and frightens me that people of such power give that power away to the mud rakers and hacks without a thought.
The Ministry, the media, the justice system—nothing is held accountable for the wreckage they make of our lives. Oh yes, people whinge; they say, "Isn't it terrible? How can they get away with such travesties of government?" But no one does anything to force constructive change. So we get an entrenched, selfish, inefficient government because that is what the people allow. That is the government that we've earned.
This is the greater good? I'm supposed to fight for this? I don't believe I will. I refuse to die for a community as irrational, ineffective, discriminatory, and dishonest as this. I will leave it first. I've come to the conclusion that if I don't care for myself properly, no one else will.
Some say that I should rid the world of Lord Voldemort to protect myself: kill or be killed. I don't think that he will be as quick to come after me, now that he knows he's hanging onto immortality by a spider's thread. He's already tried a number of times, I think he's finally realized it's not as easy as it would appear. But just because it is difficult for him to kill me is not a good reason why I should seek him out.
Some say that Voldemort is evil, and should be stopped. I agree. The question is: who is going to do it?
There are myriad choices, but I see only two or three viable solutions. I present the following for your consideration:
First of all, I should mention that Voldemort has conducted several rituals to prolong his life, almost achieving immortality. Over the past few months, I have sought and destroyed the magical objects to which he connected his life force. Because of the unique characteristics of the Dark rituals that he employed, he cannot duplicate them. The only object that still exists is his snake, Nagini. If she is destroyed, he is as mortal as anyone else.
So the first option is, your Aurors can use all of their resources to discover, decipher the warding system of, and storm the headquarters of Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Once the Aurors have achieved that goal, it is simply a matter of overcoming the Death Eaters, killing the snake, and then capturing or killing the Dark Lord himself. The problem with this choice is that if they could have done it, one would assume they would have already. Thus, we can safely say that this is a low-probability-of-success scenario.
The second option is one that I dream of, but don't believe you people have the bollocks for. This is similar to the Muggle's volunteer patrol system. Every wizard and witch would set up an instant communication system with members of their town using magical objects. If one person is attacked, they would alert others, who would then alert the Aurors. Then everyone would come to the aid of that person. Death Eaters may know a lot of dark spells and curses, but they are people just like you and me. There are only 250 of them at the most generous reckoning versus over seven thousand British wizarding men, women, and children. They win many of their battles through intimidation, surprise, and the timidity of their victims. If people banded together, they could defeat Voldemort's forces through sheer numbers. The only problem with this option is that it is reactive, not proactive: you are not actively searching out Voldemort to destroy his organization, you are just dealing with his attacks.
The third option is that you hire me to take care of him. I believe that I have the magical power and skill to defeat him, but my price will be high: if I defeat Voldemort, you must agree to restructure the British wizarding government.
I'm sure that a number of you are probably thinking, 'He's a boy, still of school age. He has a lot of nerve!' And you're right, I do. I have the nerve to do what many of you should be doing, which is stating that something is wrong, it needs to be taken care of, and then doing something about it. I may just be a boy, but I'm a boy that many of you expect to vanquish the worst Dark Lord in centuries.
You can read some of my suggestions and discuss if they make any sort of sense. You are under no obligation to do so. I would like to bring to your attention, however, a few facts before you make your decision. I am a pangimagus, and have the ability to create and enforce magical contracts. If enough people agree with my ideas, we have the unique opportunity to change the British wizarding community into something that is vital and growing, that fosters equality, freedom, and justice. It will be a society in which terrorism will not have the chance to develop because everyone has the expectation of equal access to the benefits and rewards of an ethical, responsive government.
First of all, I will have nothing to do with this new government, short of approving its structure and charter. It will be responsible for creating the new laws reflecting the changes in society and government. In my opinion, it should be a representative meritocracy. By representative, I mean representing the reasoning magical beings native to England. That would be wizards, werewolves, centaurs, elves, hags, banshees, vampires, and goblins. The representation would reflect the relative numbers of each group in the country, with the largest number of seats held by wizards, evenly divided between pure bloods, Muggle-borns, and Squibs. There could be a couple of at-large seats held to represent Veelas, sirens, and dwarves, who are not native to Great Britain.
By meritocracy, the positions on the governing council should go to the most worthy representatives. They will first have to pass tests of magical ability, intelligence, knowledge, and experience. From all those possessing the requisite qualities, a divining ritual will choose those who will serve for that term, using purity of intention and level of good will as the deciding factors. The positions should last for no more than ten years, and will rotate so that there are always representatives with experience and those with fresh viewpoints on the council. I wouldn't want to impinge upon your creativity by being more prescriptive, but it should be clear what can be done.
Second of all, I remind you that the choice lies with you. You may decide that you want nothing to do with this type of government. It might be too different, too difficult, too much trouble to establish. I would not wish to force my views upon you. But I am quite serious in that the choice lies with you: all of the reasoning magical beings in wizarding Great Britain should have received this letter today. This parchment is also a voting ballot. Every magical being who has reached their majority has the opportunity to vote on my proposal by holding the parchment and saying "I accept—or I do not accept—the responsibility of building a new magical government." You have until midnight next Saturday to decide and vote.
If the vote is to reconstruct the government, that is when the actual work begins, I will designate a place in which the details can be hammered out. It will be a long, demanding process, but I have ways of streamlining the process. It will be open to anyone who wishes to have a say in creating this new society. If people do not wish to participate in this possibly lengthy process in its entirety, they will have no say in the structuring of the government. There will be no easy outs, no just rearranging the same Ministry we have now. Remember that as a pangimagus, I will enforce the intent of the planning enclave with magic, and such magic is powerful and merciless, so the writing of laws and processes has to be done carefully.
If the vote is to maintain the current government, I will immediately withdraw from British Magical society. I will also open, for a limited time only, admission to the countryside I've acquired to anyone else who wishes to leave behind the corruption that is the current magical civilization of Great Britain. Generous living space in this land is offered to anyone who is willing to throw out the old paradigms and build a new, honest community based on the principles I've outlined. The rest of you will be left with the problems you've made, to extricate yourself to the best of your ability, but without my help.
Remember that you have until midnight next Saturday to decide and vote. It is my fervent hope that you are willing to risk the old, non-workable non-solutions for a brave new world. At any rate, I thank you for your attention.
Harry James Potter
Neville closed his eyes for a moment, then opening them, looked around, taking in the magnificent castle, its ancient stones seeped in the magic of its founders and students. He thought of the dreams and needs of all of the children that had gone through its halls, whether Muggle-born, half-blood, or pure-blood. He thought of his parents permanently ensconced in St. Mungo's and other victims of the first war. He thought of himself, thought to be a Squib as a young child, and barely above that when he first started at Hogwarts, and the kind, patient boy who had encouraged and taught him in those clandestine defense meetings. He thought of the sacrifices demanded of that boy, he thought of his own battles at the end of the last school year and the school year before.
He saw Hermione and Ron arguing fiercely, waving their letters in the air. He saw Malfoy, deep in thought, though sitting straighter on his seat. The blond boy clutched his letter tightly and said something, and though Neville couldn't quite make out the words, he could tell the other boy felt better after having said them. He wondered if others would make their decision as quickly as the Slytherin and he had, or if they would debate the issue in the newspapers, the Wizengamot, Hogwarts, and the streets and pubs of magical England. He wondered what the outcome would be. Would there be a brave new world in magical Britain? Or would there more of the same here, and a brave new world wherever Harry settled?
Shrugging his shoulders, he glanced at the letter again to be certain of the wording. Holding it tightly in his hand, he sensed a powerful trace of magic beginning to emanate from the parchment and swirl about his body. Taking a deep breath, he began, "I, Neville Longbottom, accept …."
It was Sunday morning, the day after magical Britain cast its vote about its future. Harry sat on the swinging bench on his front porch. His view was magnificent, with towering pines hiding the distant peaks that were already snow-covered in October. He reveled in the sensation of his magic acting on the decisions made by wizards, witches, and goblins; werewolves, centaurs, and vampires; hags, banshees, and elves. He hadn't wanted to know the results yet, rather enjoying the last few minutes of serenity.
What would be the response to his ideas and thoughts about magical cooperation? Would he be going to England to set in motion his final campaign against Voldemort or would he be going there to start the emigration to his new home/community? He had no real investment in either outcome, recognizing that it was not his role to judge or force folks to follow his beliefs. He could only take care of himself and those he loved. Releasing the shutters over his awareness, he let the enchantment enter his consciousness and smiled at the final tally of the vote.
He heard noises from the kitchen, and the aroma of freshly-ground coffee floated through the open window. Hearing the voice of his lover, he smiled, stood up, and moved towards the door for his morning cup. "Morning, Severus!" he called out as he entered the house.
It was going to be a long but beautiful day.
(1) The story and chapter titles are taken from the song "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen and Sharon Robinson.
(2) Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (US edition), p328.
(3) Author unknown, at least to me. Feel free to send me a citation in your review!
(4) Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (US edition), p551
(5) Excerpt taken from Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince (US edition), p36