Title: Shadow on the Snow
Author: It's a seeeekrit!
Word Count: 15,000
Warnings: forced bonding, creature fic, EWE AU (and Snape was never dead)
Disclaimer: All Harry Potter characters herein are the property of J.K. Rowling and Bloomsbury/Scholastic. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: Hogwarts' wards are acting up and the ward-expert on duty is none other than Harry Potter. But broken wards and cranky professors aren't the only things waiting at a Christmassy Hogwarts for Harry...
Author's Notes: Ziasudra, you wanted EWE AU clichι fic/scenario at Hogwarts, with a bit of forced bonding, happy ending and loads of interaction between Snape and Harry. Of course those are only some of the things that you like and I didn't manage to include all of the stuff that you mentioned, but I hope nevertheless that you enjoy the story. Happy Snarry Holidays!
Loads of thanks to my absolutely wonderful beta, D!
It was a bright, sunny winter's day when Harry arrived back at Hogwarts for the first time in five years. It was fitting he found; his home-coming accompanied with weather that suggested happiness. The snow crunched under his feet as he marched through the High Gates towards the castle and a couple of yards off the path there was a squirrel jumping through the snow, only stopping to glance at Harry with keen scrutiny before racing off.
Harry paused and, shielding his still bespectacled eyes from the sun, looked up, taking in the whole castle at once. It had been so long since he had left it his first real home. Right after the war and after graduation, when everything had been so new and foreign still. He remembered staring at the castle through slightly smudged train-windows until it had vanished from his view. Maybe he should have come back here sooner, just like he had promised himself. Instead he had lived at the Weasleys' until he had been able to rent his own flat two streets off from Diagon Alley, Grimmauld Place being to dark and oppressive to live in, especially after the war.
And then there had been his apprenticeship no Auror training for him, no matter how much Ron pleaded and all the new things he had been learning . . . he had been busy.
The castle doors opened without so much as a sound and revealed none other than Professor Dumbledore, who was still wearing purple robes and his half-moon glasses.
"Harry, my boy," he said and extended his hand towards Harry. His grip was still strong despite his age and the rumours that he was preparing for his own death.
"Hallo, Headmaster." Harry gave him a smile. "Good to see you."
"Same to you, my boy. Thank you for coming on such short notice." Dumbledore stepped aside to allow Harry entrance to the castle and they fell into step, walking towards the stairs.
"You'll have to thank Master Vilnus for that, Sir. He was the one to send me here. I'm afraid he couldn't make it himself. You probably really wanted his service he is, after all, far more experienced than me," Harry said, referring to his boss and master. He had already finished his apprenticeship with Master Vilnus, but had been granted a job in his small company. This was to be his very first big contract.
"I have the feeling that you are exactly the right person for this,
Harry," Dumbledore said and Harry, looking at him, wondered if the
Headmaster's eyes had indeed been twinkling or if it had just been the
reflection of the torches that he had seen.
Dumbledore's office hadn't changed much. Fawkes was still sitting on his perch, waiting for Harry to come over and stroke his feathers, the pensieve-cupboard still wasn't properly locked, and the former Headmasters and Headmistresses were still looking down on Harry, showing more interest than he liked. There were a couple of new knick-knacks in the room, including a weird metallic construction that was moving and buzzing constantly.
Harry sat down in one of the two cosy leather-armchairs that were facing Dumbledore's desk.
"So, what exactly have the wards been doing? My boss only told me you said they were behaving strangely and erratically," Harry asked, shaking his head to decline a lemon drop.
"They have had trouble with re-admitting people to the castle. We had confused students wandering around in Hogsmeade, not knowing how to get into Hogwarts again, because they had forgotten its location." Dumbeldore sighed and popped a lemon drop in his mouth before going on. "Then there are some parts in the dungeons, under the lake, where the wards began to leak. And some professors have had problems with the wards not accepting their passwords."
Harry rubbed his forehead. This didn't bode well. It seemed like the whole ward-system was infected, then, and needed to be de-looped and de-knotted before being put together and into effect again. And this would take quite a while; probably till after Christmas at least.
With a sigh he told Dumbledore so, but the old man just smiled and, without even a hint of worry knitting his brow, said: "We will have your quarters ready by this evening, my boy."
Harry nodded, getting up. He had better start working right away, before the castle started locking out even more people. But first he had to do some inquiries. "Sir, could you make a list of the people who have been victims to the wards' behaviour? I'd like to talk to them."
"Of course. Why don't you start with the professors while I compile the list?" Dumbledore took a roll of parchment and a quill out of one of the many drawers of his desk and smiled encouragingly at Harry.
"That might be a good idea. Who are they?"
"Just three: Professor Sprout, Madam Hooch and Professor
Snape. Of course bloody Snape had to be on the list. Harry agitatedly ran a hand through his hair and paced back and forth in the corridor, which was precisely one turn left, two turns right and another two turns left away from Snape's office. He had been at this place more times than he could think of, pacing, just like he did now, either working up the courage to enter Snape's lair or trying to release some steam after a particular terrible detention. And now he was back again, wondering why the hell he had to see Snape again. He had finished school, had been happy to be away from this situation . . . and worst of all: it was close to Christmas, a time he felt especially weird and vulnerable. Restless. Discontent. Snape would probably be able to sniff that out and then mercilessly snark and bark about it.
Harry actually jumped, then turned around in trepidation and anger mainly
focussed on himself and the fact that he had let Snape scare him like
"So it is you. And here I thought I had nightmarish hallucinations from the disaster that the third years brewed today. To what owe we the displeasure of your presence?"
Harry's hands clenched and unclenched rapidly, whilst he told himself it would be a bad idea to lunge at Snape. "The wards," he growled, grinding his teeth. How could a single man make him so angry, make him vibrate? Twitch?
"The wards? I was told they would send an expert. Don't tell me that they sent you instead, Potter."
"They did. If you would stop being a prick about this -"
"Look, I'm no longer your student -"
Snape examined his finger-nails they were short and his fore- and middle finger had purple stains on them. "Well, you don't look much different from any of the urchins here. Smaller than most seventh years, maybe, and lacking the uniform."
"Fuck you!" Harry snapped. He was not small. He maybe wasn't tall either, but to be compared with seventeen-year-olds ... well, that was just too much!
"Would you shut up for a second?!" Harry ran a hand through his hair, trying to collect his thoughts and calm down. He really shouldn't let himself get so worked up by Snape of all people. The man probably gained satisfaction every time Harry's face contorted in anger. Slowly Harry let out a long breath. "Dumbledore told me that you had problems with the wards."
"That is correct."
"Tell me what they were," Harry said and, at Snape's affronted looking raised eyebrow, he forced out an added "Please".
"I went to my office four days ago, mentally preparing myself for the torture that is correcting the fifth year essays on the use of wormwood in healing potions, and told the statue that guards my door the password as usual. Instead of stepping aside and revealing the entrance as it was supposed to do, the statue turned its head and tried to attack me."
"Attack?" Harry blinked disbelievingly. He had never heard of any of the statues in the castle actually attacking anyone without the headmaster's direct order. This one had acted without anything of the kind even though Harry could see how tempting the thought of attacking Snape was, he knew that Dumbledore would never have done that.
"Yes. I'm afraid that my reaction to the attack on my person was rather destructive." Snape left a dramatic pause at this point, then went on after Harry's impatient foot hit the ground for the fourth time, "I blasted the statue."
"You blasted it," Harry repeated flatly.
"Are you deaf? Yes, I blasted the ugly thing into millions of little pieces. And thanks to the whole affair my office is currently unguarded and only locked and restricted by various spells that will hopefully keep everyone outside." Snape looked into the general direction of his office. "And now, Potter, you will excuse me. I have far more important things to do than chat with you. Try not to get killed while repairing the wards, will you? And hurry." And with that he turned on his heels and stalked away, his robes doing the usual sharp swish.
Harry stared down at the mess of parchment that covered the desk in his new rooms. True to Dumbledore's word they had been ready after supper (which he had taken in the kitchen to avoid seeing Snape again the man had ruined his mood enough for one day already). The rooms were quite nice big bed, en suite bathroom with a tub that looked very inviting, and a small working area. They didn't help at all regarding solving the problem with the wards, unfortunately.
"This is making no sense!" Harry mumbled for the third time already, wishing there was someone to at least agree with him. Why did his first case have to be so difficult? He should've got something simple, something usual. Some ward problem where you just went to the house, started some re-calibrating spells, had a cup of tea while waiting for the spells to finish, did some fine-tuning, and then left with the good feeling of success in your stomach. All he got here was a weird churning of said region and a feeling of restlessness.
The data was wrong. The wards weren't only confused or malfunctioning; they were, in fact, acting on their own will. A guarding statue was not supposed to attack. It was supposed to block the entry to a room and activate an alarm, if necessary.
Harry had scanned the wards, had cast diagnosis spell after diagnosis spell onto them to find out what the hell was wrong. The results were confusing and varied with each spell. It wasn't logical. It wasn't supposed to be like this!
He rubbed his eyes tiredly and glanced at the window. It was already dark outside and from the illumination inside he couldn't see anything but darkness. But somewhere out there, Harry knew, was snow. Fresh, white snow, that would glisten and crunch under the steps of any brave individual, who dared to go out on a cold Scottish winter night.
Harry pushed back the chair and walked over the window. With a short movement of his hand the candles in the room flickered and went out and his fingers touched the cold glass. There were icy flowers decorating the window.
As his eyes got used to the darkness Harry could make out the forest first, then the frozen lake and the snowy white ground. It was as if his fingers were moving on their own, up, up, up till they unlatched the window. Cold night-air flooded the room, snowflakes dancing and landing on Harry's nose. A light smile grazed his lips and he closed his eyes, breathing in deeply. It even smelled of snow!
Slowly he turned around, looking towards the door, then back. The shortest
way outside was three stairs down and a couple of turns to the right. He would
be able to make it in no time. Maybe he should go out for a stroll. Just a
short one. . .
Harry narrowed his eyes at what appeared to be the wall in the West Wing, fourth floor, close to the library. He was just starting to focus on a place were someone had carved their initials (B.W.) into the stone, raising his wand for a poke, when suddenly a all too well-known voice made him jump. Again.
"Potter. Weren't you supposed to be working?"
Harry closed his eyes briefly and tried to collect all the calmness he had sought with yesterday night's stroll in the snow. It didn't work, so instead he gripped his wand tighter and turned around. "I am working, Snape."
"I'm not your student anymore."
Snape's face darkened. "And yet you will pay me the respect that I deserve."
Harry raised an eyebrow in an imperfect imitation of Snape's trademark. Then he sighed and shook his head. "Whatever. Professor."
Snape sniffed disdainfully and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "For your information, Potter, staring at a wall is not what one could call working."
"What I'm doing is testing the wards, taking samples," Harry told him exasperatedly. "I haven't been able to find anything concrete yet, though. The wards are behaving . . . well, weirdly. Nothing of the whole thing fits into any pattern."
"You think someone worked a spell on them then?"
"I can't say anything definite yet. It's a possibility though. Another one is that the wards react 'allergically' to something -"
"Like an organism?" Snape sounded a bit surprised at that, even blinking once in confusion.
"Precisely. But I need to do more tests to be able to tell you more."
"Then what are you waiting for? Go on." Snape sounded so much like he had when he had been Harry's teacher, snapping insults and instructions, that a shiver ran down Harry's spine. Harry looked at him expectantly, waiting for him to leave, but Snape just did that damn eyebrow thing again and didn't move an inch.
Shaking his head Harry turned around, bending down slightly, and closed his eyes. Master Vilnus had often said that Harry had an uncanny ability to feel the wards, to console them, to get them to calm down and go back on track. He breathed in deeply, trying to concentrate, and pictured the wards. They were hard to grasp for some reason. Maybe it was because they were so extensive all the other wards Harry had worked on so far had been restricted to a house or a normal one-family property. But the Hogwarts wards didn't only stretch through and around the castle those were just the inner layers, the ones for protecting single rooms, dorms, offices, and the security wards around the castle but also around the whole grounds of Hogwarts, bordering to the forest and Hogsmeade.
Pearls of sweat formed on Harry's forehead, one slowly making its way down over his temple, then his cheek, until it dropped from his chin. He felt a spark, something he might communicate with, but suddenly it dimmed and was gone.
He opened his eyes slowly and turned around explain what had happened to Snape
not to justify himself and his failure or anything but Snape had already
left and Harry was alone in the corridor.
If Harry had been the academic type he would have shouted something along the lines of "Eureka!". As he wasn't, he just gave a whoop and punched his fist into the air, followed by quickly glancing around in case anyone had seen him.
He had found the reason for this whole mess and with that the solution. With a spring in his step Harry hurried towards the staff room.
He found Dumbledore sitting in a brightly coloured armchair reading a book
on theoretical spell-work regarding dragon's blood. Harry cleared his throat,
barely able to conceal his bouncy excitement.
"This is the staff room, if you haven't noticed, Potter," Snape snapped from the right, where he was sitting at a small table, bent over a stack of books that bore the tell-tale scribbles of Snape's hand. Apparently he had still not got rid of the habit of writing in books, improving the recipes.
"Severus," Dumbledore admonished Snape with a very light frown, before turning to Harry. "Yes, my boy? You wanted something?"
Harry nodded and tried not to feel like an overeager student who had just successfully completed the extra task that his teacher had given to him (though he hadn't done that since primary school, where he had soaked up every ounce of affection and attention that he could get). He didn't quite succeed. "I just wanted to let you know that I found out why the wards have been acting like this, Sir."
"Oh? How good of you. I knew you were going to find out what was wrong, Harry."
"Pfft. Potter couldn't find his posterior with both hands," Snape mumbled. Harry pretended he hadn't heard and flopped into a seat.
"The thing is, Sir, the castle got termites." At least that got Harry the undivided attention of Snape and Dumbledore, who were now looking at him with raised eyebrows. "Magical termites, to be precise. They're tiny and nearly invisible as they are non-corporeal beings. They attack wards, feed on them. Usually that means that the wards will lose their effectiveness after a while, but in this case they caused an allergic reaction."
"So you were right," Snape said.
"You don't have to act so surprised about it." Harry crossed his arms in front of his chest and gave Snape a hard look only to be stared down by the other man. Those black eyes ... it was as if he would be pulled into them, like into a black hole, and once he was down there would be no going back ever again. Harry shook his head. "Anyway, the wards' behaviour is indeed the result of an allergic reaction, which caused the wards to get sick, so to speak, to start deconstructing themselves, which left the ward-system confused and scared." Harry reached back to his neck and tried to knead the cricks out of it. "I know it's hard to believe that wards can actually feel something, but imagine a castle with wards that are, at least partly, nearly as old as the castle itself. Then imagine hundreds of generations of students, teachers, and other staff, ghosts and magical creatures living here, sometimes even spending their whole life on the Hogwarts Grounds. They are bound to acquire at least some ... well, I wouldn't say proper feelings, but something akin to that. Something like basic instincts."
Snape even nodded thoughtfully at that. Harry was so surprised that he nearly fell out of his chair a reaction that didn't stay unnoticed. Snape expression hardened quickly. "What are you going to do about the problem then, Potter?"
"I'll have to dismantle the wards until I reach the infected places. Then I have to get rid of the termites with a combination of a sort of termite-annihilator and disinfectant spells. Afterwards I'll have to un-knot the confused parts, slowly put them back together and rebuild the layers." Harry scratched his chin and waited for the other men to speak. When no-one did he added: "It will take me about two weeks." Which meant that he would be staying here over Christmas. He didn't know if that was a good or a bad thing. It certainly was going to be a lot of work.
He was so in need of a good, strong cup of tea now. Remembering that the house elves had always been more than adequate at brewing a proper cup, Harry looked around, finding cups and tea-pot a couple of feet away on a side-board. Lazily he raised his wand, casting a gentle summoning spell with just a flick of his hand. And then he felt it. The electric jolt of spell meeting spell, racing down from his hand through his arm, down his spine and up to his head, exploding there like fireworks. Every hair on his body was raised, he could feel his nipples harden, his eyes suddenly sparkling. A gasp broke lose from his throat and he opened his eyes that he couldn't remember of having closed. He found Snape sitting there, staring at him with his wand raised, pointing at the tea-pot as well.
Harry's blood raced to his head, colouring his cheeks crimson and he lost
the ever so slight concentration that he had used on the spell immediately.
Suddenly he had lost his appetite for tea. He hurried out of the staff room and
just before the door fell close he heard the tea-pot crash on the floor.
He had worked until exhaustion set in, trying to find the right place in the castle to begin the process of dismantling. For his work it wasn't only important that he knew the correct spells he also had to know where to apply them. Every part of the wards was different. In some places you needed to have special allowances, like in the classrooms, in others you needed restrictions, like the dorms and the bathrooms. You had to find the right place to start, where all the layers of the wards were effective and where you could apply your wand and the spells like using a key in a lock.
Even for someone as well trained as Harry was Hogwarts proved to be quite a
challenge. He hadn't been able to find the right place today yet and had more
or less just dragged himself into his rooms and to bed, not even bothering to
undress or brush his teeth.
He was walking in darkness. It was all-consuming, wrapped around him, but yet not cold or threatening, but warm and comforting. It reminded him of something, but he couldn't pinpoint what it was.
Harry continued walking, not feeling tired at all anymore, but the more steps he took, the easier it walking became for him. There was snow under his feet now, but for some reason it didn't feel cold against Harry's naked feet, nor did it make any sound.
He continued to walk, his feet leading him somewhere. He knew, somehow, that this was okay, was even good, even though he couldn't grasp the concept of the why behind it.
Then he heard it. A faint tingle of bells, like when a soft, cold winter's
breeze brushed against the branches of a Christmas tree and caused all the
little Christmas balls and bells to tinkle. Then there was a smell, so faint
that he could barely grasp it, but so good that he greedily inhaled. He
continued walking, hoping to find what he was looking for. The tingling
intensified and suddenly he could make out the shape of a man. He was coming
closer to Harry, his step brusque and determined. Harry stopped and waited in
anticipation, his heart fluttering, because this was it - this was IT.
And the shape cleared, the darkness was slowly melting away . . .
And Harry was sitting upright in his bed. He groaned with a mixture of
exhaustion, exasperation, and longing and rubbed his hands over his
sweat-covered face and forehead. Grimacing in disgust at the wetness, he swung
his feet out of bed and walked into his bathroom. Splashing his face , he
returned to his bedroom with a glass of water. Why did he have to have this
dream again? Was it because he had returned to the castle? He had thought he
had left it behind for good during his last year here. How could he still have
the same bloody dream with the same bloody shadow? After Hogwarts he had had
enough relationships (two or three dates with blokes he had never seen again,
to be precise) to get rid of that obsession with his supposed Prince Charming.
Why then still the dream? Why again on Christmas?
Another day of more or less unsuccessful searching for the right spot had passed. Harry had been able to avoid Snape the whole day by taking his meals in the kitchen and working as far away from Snape's classroom as possible. It was vitally important to stay away from Snape after a dream like he had had the night before. He had learned that quickly enough when they had started in 7th year. Not only did it seem that Snape was able to sniff out his confusion, his vulnerability, but Harry himself suddenly started hearing bells at the weirdest moments, making it impossible to defend himself against Snape's snark. And the incident with the teapot yesterday gave all the more reason to avoid Snape, of course.
Back then Ron and Hermione had, of course, noticed that there was something wrong. But Harry hadn't told them about the dream and they had soon and with way too much pity in their eyes for his liking written it off as having to do with it being Christmas time. Harry had agreed. Christmas had never been easy. Not with the Dursleys, not even at Hogwarts or with the Weasleys.
But one thing you couldn't deny, Harry thought as he looked around. Christmas at Hogwarts was bloody beautiful, Little Fairy-Light Fairies were flying around, chasing each other and laughing in their high little voices. Their colourful light was brightening up the halls and that, accompanied by the scent of fir and cinnamon, oranges, baked apples and the sticky sweet smell of sugar canes, with mistletoe was making up the ultimate incarnation of Christmas.
Harry breathed in deeply. He had missed this.
"Potter!" Hours of peace were wiped away by the sound of that voice. And suddenly the bells were back as well.
Harry turned around and both he and Snape just barely managed to side-step an attacking spring of mistletoe.
"Sod off, you useless twigs or I'll send you to the hell you belong to with a well-aimed Incendio," Snape growled, watching with satisfaction how every frond of mistletoe in their vicinity fled.
"Can I help you?" Harry asked, trying to be as polite as he could in hopes he would bewilder Snape so much that he would leave,.
"In fact, Potter, you can. I want to know when you will be able to restore the blasted guard to my door. Two 6th years have tried to break into my office already!"
"Of course." Only Snape would manage to be proud about an attempted break-in. "My personal protection spells caught them, naturally, but I would prefer not to send my students into the Hospital Wing every other day." Harry opened his mouth at that, but Snape cut him off before he had even the chance to suggest something, "And don't you dare to suggest I should apply milder spells those imbeciles would probably be able to try and break into those. At least that way the will be too scared to try again until tomorrow."
Harry unwillingly snorted at that. "I'm still in the process of locating the best place for a ward penetration, but I'm confident that I'll solve that problem soon. Once that is done it shouldn't take more than a day or two until your wards are restored albeit just temporarily, because I need to take down all of the wards before the whole system can function properly again."
"As long as it keeps the brats out," Snape muttered. He looked at Harry and for a moment it seemed like he wanted to add something. In the end he didn't and just nodded his head before walking off, leaving Harry to wonder what this had been about.
"Don't let yourself be distracted by him," Harry told himself
sternly. He looked around, wondering where to go next. His eyes stopped at the
great doors that led out onto the grounds. Maybe he should go and check there.
Besides, a nice evening stroll in the snow was just the perfect thing to
do before retiring for the night.
The great doors themselves were closed already, but there was a small door at the side that could be opened with the correct password. Harry had obtained it right the first evening when he had arrived here, knowing that his love for snow and the need to get out of the sometimes oppressing castle-walls would catch up with him sooner or later.
It was a cloudless night and as Hogwarts was located far off from any big city there were no electrical lights or smoke that could obscure the view of the stars. Orion was waiting, just like Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Minor, and Canis Major Sirius' namesake star a part of the latter. Harry smiled up at them as if they were old friends, happy to be able to see them. Even though Astronomy had never been his strongest subject, he enjoyed looking at the stars they were a constant, would be there for all his life and not change. They had been there before him and would also be there after he was already long dead. Knowing that was comforting, somehow.
His wand out, quietly scanning for the right place, Harry walked through the snow. Slowly his steps led him over to the greenhouses, then beyond, still not straying too far away from the castle's walls.
Harry let his thoughts wander, let the day pass through his head once again. It felt so strange to be back at Hogwarts and yet, thanks to the work he had with the wards, there had barely been any time to really reminiscence about it all.
He looked up at the sky again, scanning for clouds that he finally found coming closer from the South-West. Maybe it would snow again later.
Harry's feet were crunching the snow a sound that was nearly alien in this silent landscape. The dream and how he had walked barefoot over the snow in it came to his mind again. What would it be like to feel the snow under his feet, his toes buried in white? It hadn't felt cold at all in the dream, but it surely had to feel like that in reality, right? Maybe he could try. Just once ...
Looking around and checking if there was anybody close, Harry quickly walked
over to a spot where he couldn't be accidentally observed by anybody in the
castle and banished his shoes and socks with just a flick of his wand. The
first touch was shocking, like a jolt. It was cold, yes, but it felt so very
different to what he had expected. He would have thought it would be wet from
all the snow melting under his feet, but the only things he could feel were
cold and softness. But before he had time to actually concentrate more on this,
his wand gave a twitch the sign that he had just touched the perfect spot for
"Don't lose the spot, focus, open the gap wider," Harry repeated the words that had been Master Vilnus' mantra for him. "Focus. Focus." He moved his wand slightly to the left, then to the right, gently pushed with his magic until he could feel the first layer of the wards give way slightly and open up a bit more. It felt like mentally pushing a spoon through long-set honey, but it worked and he actually could feel the layers reacting.
Harry smiled, sent out more of his magical energy, and slowly started
pulling back to make the wards soften before he would plunge in again. Only he
couldn't. He was stuck.
"What the . . .?" Harry frowned and concentrated more of his energy on the wand, trying harder. With a sudden jerk his arm was raised up high above him to the point where he nearly had to stand on his tiptoes in order not to rip off his arm. He tried to struggle physically to get free, but the wards held fast, not even giving an inch. He tried to let go of his wand, but even that didn't work. He couldn't even lift a finger. And then the wards started pulling themselves started pulling on his energy.
Trying to move his wand correctly Harry ground out every ward-controlling spell that he knew, followed by an attempt to light a signal fire and whatever else came to his mind, but all of them died before he had completed the casting.
"Don't!" Harry cried out, twitching. "I'm not your enemy!" But the wards didn't hear him and ignored whatever message he tried to send to them through his wand. What was happening? Why did the wards do this?
He felt his legs tremble, felt how his knees grew as weak as butter. Don't,
he told himself, you've got to be stronger. But his knees gave way and his
lower half sagged down. He could feel the bone of the shoulder jump out, how
the muscles tore, could hear the pop. And as pain burned its way through his
body his world went black.
The pain was still there, not burning anymore unless he moved though, but glowing. His breathing was shallow and he tried to keep it that way, too afraid that he would move too much or that he would fall into panic otherwise. He didn't know how long he had already been hanging there, but there still wasn't a streak of light on the horizon and the owls were still flying out on their hunts.
Carefully he tried to focus on his wand again, but all that he could feel was the pain in his arm that intensified with every spark of energy that he sent in the direction of his wand.
He sagged again, feeling defeated. It was so cold and he was so tired. Maybe he should close his eyes. Just for a bit.
There was snow again and he was barefooted. The stars were shining above him, illuminating the world around him. It was a nice night and it wasn't cold. He could see the Shadow again, walking in the starlight, then obscured from view by blackness. Soon, he knew, soon he would know.
Harry smiled and extended his arm, stretching until he couldn't go any further. Snowflakes, tiny crystals of a beauty he had never before been able to observe, touched his skin, stayed there without melting. Soon his Shadow would be there and he would kiss them away, would make them flow between the two of them.
His heart was singing. His Shadow was close and soon they would be together. They would touch. Kiss. Love.
Gentle hands touched Harry's aching body, lifted him, cradled him close. He was feeling so cold, but there was warmth enveloping him. He heard someone speak, his barely existent consciousness told him. He liked the voice, because it reminded him . . . him of some . . .
He couldn't think. He was hurting and he couldn't think. But there was warmth. A voice. His feet weren't cold anymore.
"- accomplished that you . . . kill yours-" said the voice. The tone was angry, but not hateful and Harry tried to smile, but he couldn't quite feel if his lips were moving or not. He hoped they were, because the voice his saviour deserved a smile.
He felt like he had been in a storm or maybe the storm had been in him; he didn't quite know. But now it was calm and the wind had gone. The pulsing of his blood, the loud, thundering heartbeat was now calm. Still there and audible, but quiet because something someone more important was blocking it out.
This is what peace must feel like, he thought before even the last
bit of consciousness fled and he sank into welcoming, warm darkness.
Harry woke up to two familiar voices talking. He didn't open his eyes though, just listened and tried to remember what had happened. He knew he had gone out into the snow and then, driven by some weird feeling or memory or just insanity he had pulled off his shoes in the snow. Worried Harry wiggled his toes. At least everything down there still seemed to be normal and attached to him.
And after that . . . right, he had found the penetration spot for the wards and had started casting the appropriate spells, but . . . Harry frowned. Something had gone wrong. The wards hadn't listened to him, hadn't let him work with them. Instead they had worked against him, as if he had been an intruder, an enemy trying to hurt the school and its charges. And then . . . nothing. Fuzziness. Pain. And someone coming to save him.
"The monitoring spells he is awake," he heard Madam Pomfrey say as she bustled over, heavy steps following her. "Mr Potter? Can you hear me?"
Harry rasped out a confirmation, glad of the glass of water someone set to
his lips. He drank greedily.
"Try to open your eyes, dear."
At first Harry pressed his eyes together, then slowly started parting them. His eyelids felt heavy, as if they'd prefer to stay shut for a while longer, but Harry continued nevertheless. Someone had dimmed the light in the Hospital Wing the smell made the room easy to identify and pulled the screens around his bed to protect him against curious faces. Harry blinked.
Madam Pomfrey stood right next to him, a stern, but well-meaning frown on
her face. "I don't know what you were playing at outside there in the
snow, but you still managed to nearly kill yourself. Got yourself tangled up in
those awful wards," she tutted, sounding as if he had just scraped his
knee due to his clumsiness.
"I . . ." Harry halted and ran his hand over his face. "I was about to repair the wards."
"Well, that didn't quite work out now, did it?" She waved her wand over Harry and nodded contently at Merlin knew what. "Got yourself in a nice state of hypothermia with not wearing any shoes what were you thinking?! - and nearly ripped out your shoulder."
Harry quickly looked at his shoulder, but it was still there, looking normal. There was a dull throb that told him that he had been dosed with a good, strong painkiller. "What happened?"
"Severus found you this morning." Harry's eyes flew to the quiet man who was standing to his right, his arms crossed and an unmoving expression upon his face. Their looks met, holding each other, not judging, not hating, while Madam Pomfrey kept talking, "He was on his way to check up on an experiment that he is doing in the Greenhouses and found you, hanging there. If he hadn't saved you. . ."
Harry gulped, didn't blink, didn't move, just sank deeper into the depth. "Thank you, Professor," he pressed out finally. Snape just sneered and, without even having said a single word, he whirled around and stalked away.
Harry sank back into his pillows, feeling suddenly exhausted. "How long do I have to stay here?"
Madam Pomfrey tutted. "I wish you wouldn't see your stay here as a punishment. But be it as it may, I'm afraid you're going to have to stay for a few days. Four at least. I suggest you get comfortable."
"What?" Harry stared disbelievingly at her. "Four days just for the arm and the hypothermia? You must be joking!"
"I am not." Madam Pomfrey actually seemed to be rather affronted by that suggestion. "And if it were only for the arm and the hypothermia you wouldn't have to stay longer than tomorrow morning. You, dear, suffer from loss of magic. And that takes quite a while longer to cure than something simple as a nearly lost limb."
"What?! My . . . my magic is gone?"That couldn't be true! The magic was inside him. He could feel it, it was always thrumming through his veins, pulsing, living, making him what was essentially Harry. Only . . . only it was not. Not at the moment. There was nothing but silence, emptiness and exhaustion. He felt utterly hollow. "Where is my wand?" he squeaked.
"Safe with me. Now calm down. Breathe and take this potion." Madam Pomfrey held out a flask containing some ochre- and pink-striped, vile looking potion and Harry just took and drank it without any protest. "That's a good boy. Now, Professor Dumbledore will be here shortly and explain everything to you. Why don't you sleep a bit until then, hmm?"
Questions shot through Harry's mind. Why him? Where did his magic go to? What made it go away? Why was all of this something that Dumbledore would explain and not Madam Pomfrey? But somehow he felt so tired again. It was strange, because he had just woken up. Had she dosed him with something?
Harry blinked slowly, trying to focus, but the pillows were soft and his
eyelids were as heavy as if they were made out of lead. What had he been
thinking about again? Madam . . . Madam Pomfrey had said something about sleep,
hadn't she? Sleeping sounded like a good idea, Harry decided and
When Harry woke up next time his bedside was occupied by Professor Dumbledore. Dumbledore wasn't exactly twinkling at him, Harry thought, but he looked suspiciously chipper for someone who had to talk about the loss of magic to someone else. And a chipper Dumbledore was something that, for some reason, was very disconcerting to Harry.
Slowly, and only using his uninjured arm, Harry propped himself up. He would be able to take whatever was coming.
"Harry, my boy." Dumbledore smiled at him and Harry felt his stomach drop. Whatever it was it must be bad. But he would handle it, just like he had handled everything else that had been thrown at him.
"Madam Pomfrey said. . ."
"Ah, yes, the loss of your magic. It's only temporary, of course, but quite bothersome."
Harry nodded. Temporary. Temporary sounded good. "She said you could explain. . .?"
"Of course. You see, Harry, the wards sucked out your magical energy."
"But why?"Harry shook his head. Master Vilnus hadn't prepared him for any of this. Usually Harry couldn't be shocked by stuff that hadn't been in the books, because most ward behaviour could be explained by logic and intuition, but the Hogwarts wards did nothing that Harry could have anticipated. Or had he missed something? "I thought about it, but nothing I know would explain behaviour like this. I didn't attack the wards. They might have interpreted my work with them as an intrusion, but my spells and my communication with them should have taken care of any problem that would have arisen from them. Is there something about the wards that you didn't tell me about? Maybe a trap or a trigger that can only be deactivated by a password?"
"Oh, none of that. They simply repel creatures whose signatures haven't been incorporated into the ward system." Dumbledore said and took a lemon drop out of the depth of his pockets. After a quick examination he popped it into his mouth and hummed in satisfaction.
"Maybe I should start at the beginning. Have you ever heard of the Claiteag?" Harry shook his head. "They are ancient people some say they are related to the fae. There is a legend about the Claiteag that tells about their origin and their very being.
At the beginning of time there was nothing but the moon and the stars and the earth. Virginal, untouched and covered by pristine snow it was lying there. But the moon knew that this peace wouldn't last, for he had heard whispers about change, about new creations coming to life that would bring chaos and war humans. Knowing that the time of goodbye had come he bent down and kissed the earth, shedding four tears that froze into snowflakes before they even touched the ground. The time came when the creator breathed life onto the earth and before men even uttered their first desolate cries life began to fill up the frozen tears until they burst. And suddenly, out of four tears four different beings were created, each unique and shining like snow under the full moon. They called themselves Claiteag - snowflakes to honour their origin. For snowflakes they were, drifting off into the world."
"Why did they drift off?"
"Legend has it to find their Destined."
"Destined? Destined to what?"
"Love, Harry. They drift out to find their other half, the one that will complete them, the only person they will truly love."
"Did they ever come back?"
Dumbledore nodded. "They did. When they drifted off into the world humankind was still in its infancy, so they returned each spring to the place of their birth, only to set out with the first snow to find their loves."
"Why didn't they walk around all year? They would have done it quicker that way, wouldn't they?"
"Certainly, if not for a small detail. Claiteag can only find their mates during winter. They would search as long as it takes, going into the world year after year."
Harry rubbed his forehead. "Why are you telling me this? It is a nice legend and fits very nicely into the whole Christmas setting, but what does it has to do with the wards?"
"The Claiteag are counted as magical creatures, Harry." The sound of Dumbledore's voice suggested that he was trying to tell Harry something, something that Harry should be able to get but still didn't. It didn't help.
"And?" He drummed his fingers on his leg. Sometimes the old man could be really infuriating.
"You are one of them."
Harry's fingers stilled. "What?" Dumbledore was joking. He just had to be joking. Harry was a perfectly normal wizard, if one overlooked the whole Voldemort debacle. He was not a magical creature, for Merlin's sake!
"You are one of the Claiteag."
Harry shook his head violently. "That's not true!" he said hotly. "My father was a Pureblood. And my mum was a Muggleborn. Neither of them were magical creatures of any kind."
"Your mother was."
"It is true. The traits of the Claiteag are dominant. And while they only rarely namely through both parents being members of the Claiteag - manifest in the appearance, the characteristic traits, the heritage and behaviour of the Claiteag are always there."
Harry shook his head again. This couldn't be happening. He wasn't a creature. He was a human being, damn it.
"You are wrong. I never set out to find my Destined. I never drifted through the world like a snowflake," he spat.
"Oh? So it wasn't you who left the castle every night to take a walk in the snow? And you didn't feel restless at all, didn't have strange dreams?"
Harry's hands balled into fists in the blanket. "How did you...?"
"I saw you. And your mother told me about the dreams back when she started having them. She was worried that she was going crazy, because she kept dreaming about someone she didn't like at all."
Harry looked up, his eyes growing wide in understanding. "My father? So that's why she suddenly changed her mind about him? Why she started going out with him? Because that Claiteag heritage made her do it?"
"It is only one of the reasons. But her heritage didn't force her,
Harry. You see, they were destined to be together. It was his fate as much as
it was hers. It didn't make her like someone she usually wouldn't like, because
her unintentional interest in your father changed him as well. He became more
grown-up. Less of a bully and really quite reliable. In short: He became a man
that your mother could love. He was one half of a match and both sides gained
something from their partnership."
"But why does this happen to me now? Mum was so much younger!"
"When did your dreams start, Harry?"
"My -?" Harry took a deep breath. The dreams. They had started in seventh year, but nothing like this had ever happened, not even when he had left the castle wards. But of course back then he hadn't poked at the wards, hadn't tried to work with them.
"You weren't ready yet, back then." Dumbledore's soft voice startled
Harry out of his thoughts. "But now you are."
"And my mate? How will I be able to find . . ." Him?
"In my humble opinion your behaviour would suggest that your mate is here."
"At Hogwarts?" Oh dear God, please don't let it be one of the kids. Not one of them. Harry looked at Dumbledore. And please not him.
Dumbledore chuckled in amusement. "No, Harry, I think not. But yes, your mate is most likely here at Hogwarts. Or have you had these dreams somewhere else?"
Harry frowned. He had been at the Weasleys' the year before and there hadn't been any weird dreams. Just an incredible sense of restlessness. That had had him walking around aimlessly in the snow for hours. But who was here who had been here during his seventh year? Who could be the one he was dreaming of?
Nibbling on his lower lip, lost in thought, Harry didn't even notice how
Dumbledore quietly left the room.
The hospital wing was silent. Madam Pomfrey had long ago retired to her adjoining rooms, fully expecting Harry to succumb to the fatigue he was supposed to feel due to the loss of magic. But Harry didn't feel tired at all. His foot was twitching under the blanket and the darkness was pressing down harder and harder upon him. There was a faint light coming from between the curtains that covered the window.
The moon, Harry thought and remembered the story that Dumbledore had told. It was hard to believe that anything should have originated from tears that the moon, of all things, had shed, no matter how poetic it was. How much of that legend had actually been true?
Harry slowly pushed himself up and out of the bed. The stones under his feet were cold, feeling so different from the snow outside. The hospital gown that was slightly too big for him was brushing against his calves as he made his way over the window. Harry pushed the heavy velvet fabric to the side and peeped outside. It must have been snowing during the day, because the white looked untouched once again. Inviting.
He looked back over his shoulder at Madam Pomfrey's unmoving door and,
coming to a decision, nodded to himself. On tiptoes he crossed the room and
opened the heavy oak doors to the corridors as quietly as possible, slipping
out. His hand twitched, searching in vain for the reassuring touch of holly. He
felt weird walking around without his wand in hand, even though it wouldn't be
of any use. He was exposed to a school full of adolescents who would hex first
and think later he himself had been the best example for that. Harry walked
If truth be told Harry had hesitated for a couple of seconds just in front of the doors to the grounds, wondering if it was prudent to leave the castle clad in nothing but the hospital gown. The thought of pristine white snow and the fresh air outside had been victorious in that little battle though and Harry had been out there quicker even than Nearly Headless Nick would have been able to.
And now he was standing there, looking down at his feet in the snow, slightly sunken into white. He wriggled his big toe, just testing, and smiled in satisfaction as he could still move and feel it without any problems. His arms were crossed in front of his chest and he was shivering slightly, but didn't even notice it. It was a beautiful night, once again. The moon was about to hide behind a cumulus cloud and -
Suddenly he felt warm. He looked down again and found himself wrapped in a thick blanket.
"I don't know what this idiocy means, Potter, and I really don't want to know, but if you don't move your sorry arse back inside this instant I will hex it off."
Snape's voice, sounding closer to Harry than it had any right to, startled him and he turned around, making the blanket swish. "Snape!" The cloud moved and cloaked Snape in darkness, making him one big, dark shadow. Harry shivered.
"At least you haven't lost your mind," Snape snorted and then swished his wand towards the castle doors in what could only be called a very much no-protest-allowing manner. Grudgingly Harry started moving.
"What are you doing out here?"
"Apparently saving idiots again."
"Ha bloody ha."
"If you must know, I was about to check on my experiment again." Snape closed the doors behind them and locked them quickly with a spell, sending a wry look in Harry's direction. "It seems as though I will, once again, not be able to finish my work."
"And that's supposed to be my fault?" Harry huffed. "I didn't ask you to make me go back inside."
"No, you didn't. And from the looks of it you would have stood out there for hours until you had even worse hypothermia and your feet would have been frozen off."
"Don't try to argue with me, Potter. You will lose anyway."
"Git," Harry muttered into the blanket. They rounded a corner and started climbing the stairs, which immediately started moving. Usually Harry would have been able to sense the magic vibrate in them, but today there was nothing, not even a tingle. It was as if you came home to a place where you knew every nook, every corner and hidey-hole, every single stone, and now found yourself unable to navigate around. As if you had lost your way on streets that you knew as well as you did yourself. Harry frowned.
Snape opened another door quietly and only after Harry had passed through it he did notice that they had reached the infirmary already. Slowly he walked over to his bed, not even risking a glance at the window, and climbed in.
Snape lifted the duvet with a whispered spell and made it settle over Harry tightly, tucking him in gently. Harry raised his eyes and looked at Snape, who was still standing close by the door.
"It will come back, Potter," he said and left Harry to
Harry had slept surprisingly well for someone who had been out in the snow during the night. There had been another weird dream about his Shadow, though. This time he hadn't seen him walk towards him, but he had been able to watch him do something from afar. It had been terribly dark and not even the moonshine had helped. All he had been able to see had been silhouettes and nothing concrete.
Dumbledore had brought him a book that morning. It wasn't particularly thick or scary in appearance, but it contained all of what was nowadays known about the Claiteag - which wasn't really that much. Apparently some wizard named Gizborough had found inscriptions using the Oghum alphabet in stone monuments, dating back to the sixth century. They gave some rough information about the legend of origin, dream scapes and mate-finding, but that had been it. The rest consisted out of hear-say and what other Claiteaghad added themselves, sometimes even in scribbled into the book itself.
Flipping to another page, Harry shoved a spoonful of soup into his mouth.
The Claiteag will dream of his Destined until they have formed a union. Then, and only then, the Claiteag feels completion and will not need the guidance of the shadow of his mate anymore. Later dreams of the mate that might occur usually have a different meaning; and apart from that the shadow around the dream scape mate will lift as soon as the union has been formed.
Harry sighed and pushed the empty bowl of soup away. Why did his life have to be so complicated? He had only had a couple of more or less normal years. It wasn't fair. He wondered how his mother had reacted to all of this. Surely she couldn't have been too excited about the whole thing. And her parents his grandparents? One of them must have been a Claiteag as well, even though they probably never got to know about that fact. They probably had thought they were going crazy or mad with love. How long might they have wandered around till they found their true love? He had heard that they had been quite old already when they had had his aunt and his mother. He didn't want that. Didn't want to spend his whole life looking, searching and hoping.
The door to the Hospital Wing opened and in came Snape, walking straight towards Madam Pomfrey, who was standing next to a cabinet full with potion vials.
"Poppy, I brought you the new batch," Snape said in a tone that was surprisingly friendly. Harry raised his eyebrows. He was discovering completely new facets of the man first yesterday night's behaviour and now this!
"Wonderful timing, Severus! I'm nearly out of the heating and flu potions." Madam Pomfrey gratefully levitated the new stock of carefully stoppered and labelled vials into the shelf. "I needed most of them for a certain someone." Both she and Snape looked over to him.
"How is his hypothermia, by the way? Do you need more potions for reawakening his cells or are you still settled with the last ones that I brought?"
"Oi!" Harry called from the bed. "I'm in the room!"
Snape snorted, crossing his arms in front of his chest. It made him look even more like a great bat. "We know, Potter. You're hard to overlook."
When he turned around again Harry felt his forehead for fever. It had to be either that or something had been wrong with the food, because he had imagined that Snape was looking at him for two seconds longer than the usual look of disdain and general disapproval was supposed to be.
Harry tried to focus on the book again, but his eyes wouldn't and couldn't stay away from Snape's form. There was something nagging at the back of his mind, something that he should know but didn't. It was the most annoying feeling and it got only worse the harder he concentrated on trying to remember what it was. It was only when Snape left that he managed to actually look at the text again.
Finding the destined mate has proven to be difficult even for Claiteag who had known of their origin beforehand, but those who only got to know about this immediately prior to the start of their mating cycles or not at all have had even a harder task in this. There are certain ways, though, to recognize the Destined.
Harry perked up at this. He needed all the help he could get. And if his mate was here at Hogwarts all the better. He would find him quicker this way and then this whole mess was close to being finished.
A Claiteag will know his mate not only by his dream, which sometimes might be confusing and not very clear, but they will also feel safe around them, will find satisfaction in being around them, and touching them even. But while those might be misleading factors there is one hint that will show clearly that the mate is nearby: The sound of bells will be heard.
Harry slammed his head onto the book. "Bloody blathering bleeding hell of a bugger!"
This had to be a really bad joke. Dumbledore must have had his funny day of the month again or completely gone off his rocker, but this couldn't be true. The book was a sham and nothing in there was true. It was the fabrication of a deluded, senile mind. Had to be. Had to.
Harry slammed his head onto the book again. Of course he had heard those bloody bells. They were still ringing faintly in his head, had, in fact, been ringing loudly just until moments ago. Snape had been in the room at that point. The bells had been chiming in the corridors, in the Potions classroom, even outside and the only constant in all of these scenarios had been Snape. He was the one that the book was talking about. He was the one it called Harry's mate. Clearly the book was wrong. Yes. Of course.
Harry rapidly turned the pages, looking for a proof of his thesis. Panic was
bubbling in him the closer he came to the end of the book. It couldn't be
wrong, could it? And Dumbledore would never have lied about something as
important as this, right? And even if he had, Harry hadn't mentioned the bells
to anyone. Dumbledore surely couldn't have thought about hexing Harry in
seventh year already and making him hear bells. Not even he would be so
Harry hung his head.
"This will change both of you. You were made for each other," Harry told himself for the sixth time now, hoping that it wouldn't take that much longer till he believed himself. Especially seeing that he was about to do something that might be called foolish.
There had to be more to Snape. There had to be more than what Harry had seen during his school-years here. The man couldn't be just mean and cruel and bat-like. He wasn't. Harry had, after all, already seen sides of Snape that he hadn't known of before, and if there were those then there had to be more new things about him. Harry couldn't be destined for someone who he couldn't stand, could he? This was proof alone. He just had to find out what those other new facets were and then accepting this . . . this thing between them would be easier to grasp. Maybe he would even be able to understand why he and Snape . . .
And Dumbledore had said that this being-made-for-each-other thing would change both partners. Maybe . . . no, he just couldn't imagine that Snape would change.
Harry shook his head and then breathed in deeply, knocking at Snape's door.
He nearly got knocked back when it was opened. "What?" barked Snape. He was holding his wand at the ready. So not in a good mood then. . .
"Err. . ." Harry started and promptly forgot what he was about to say. Carefully planned opening lines vanished out of his head and instead the stupid ringing bells got even louder.
"Potter? What are you doing here?" Snape frowned. Then, after a quick check of the empty corridors, he grabbed Harry by the arm and pulled him inside. "Didn't I tell you not to walk around the castle alone? At least this time you're not trying to freeze yourself to death out in the snow. But coming down into Slytherin territory without a wand or means of defence? Really, Potter, I thought you were smarter than this."
Harry didn't quite have an answer to this that wouldn't have given this whole confusing mess away, so instead he looked around. Once, he thought, this room had been just the office of the Potions Master. But Snape had apparently done some remodelling to the room, expanding it and putting up a laboratory behind what must have been a security ward that would keep fumes and disasters in the lab and students and other unwanted beings in the office.
Snape, noticing his looks, shrugged his shoulders. "It's more convenient this way. And I don't have to wait till the detentions are over to complete a project."
Harry nodded in understanding. Snape had always complained about not being able to do that thanks to Harry, who had so often landed in detention. Once Harry had suggested to Snape that he maybe shouldn't hand out detentions so quickly then it had only landed him in another. And Snape had been in an even fouler mood than before.
"What brings you here?" Snape went back to one of his working tables and started examining some powder that looked suspiciously like Unicorn Horn. Harry just stood there, barely inside the lab, having crossed the barrier, not knowing what to do. He fiddled with his hands.
"Couldn't sleep." It wasn't the best kind of excuse, but it was
the only one that presently came to Harry's mind. He ran a hand through his
hair. Maybe he should help Snape. Chop something. He reached out to take a
"Don't touch that!" Snape looked at him sharply, then sighed in exasperation. "For Merlin's sake, Potter, just sit down. And don't touch anything. You're likely to get yourself killed."
Harry pushed himself up onto a high stool that was standing next to yet another workbench. His legs were dangling freely and, still wearing nothing but that hospital gown, he felt like a child. "What are you working on?"
"Look around, Potter. What ingredients can you see?"
Oh Merlin, this is going to be a potions lesson!, Harry thought in dismay, but looked around nevertheless. "I can see the Unicorn Horn that you are looking at. Seaweed is lying right next to that kettle over there and the jars to your right hold toads' legs."
"That is correct. At least you haven't lost your ability to see. So tell me, Potter, what potion can be made out of these?" Snape looked up at him now and held his gaze. "And I give you a hint: It's something you should never run out of."
Harry frowned, trying to go through the list of potions that could be of any use for him. It wasn't a warding potion, that one was for sure. Those never held any toad legs, because they softened the stability of wards too much. It sounded like a more complicated potion, but not one that caused any sweat to Snape, or he would have never allowed Harry to come in. They might have had the potion in their last years at school, but what potions had they studied that could be of use to Harry?
Slowly he blinked. "A wound-healing potion?" he asked, trying not to sound too unsure about his guess.
Snape replied with an acknowledging nod of his head that nearly could have been called appreciative. "For flesh-wounds to be precise."
Harry snorted. "I don't need them as often as you think. I actually don't usually get hurt while doing my job."
Snape raised an eyebrow at him. "Not? I would have thought that this is a daily occurrence. You have a talent for it, after all. Or is this," he waved at Harry's hospital attire, "just a display for my benefit?" He coughed slightly and added maybe a touch too quickly, "This whole nearly freezing yourself to death and dislocating your arm disaster."
"Guilty as charged. Just did it so you could save me again,
Professor," Harry mumbled. Snape said nothing, just stirred quietly in the
cauldron in front of him. Tension was heavy in the air, Harry's words hovering
there, nearly visible, despite not being the truth.
After several minutes of complete silence Harry slipped off the stool and quietly left the room.
The next day Harry moved out of the Hospital Wing. Madam Pomfrey wasn't amused what so ever, but could hardly protest, as Harry's hypothermia and the remnants of it had been cured and she could already sense sparks of magic in Harry's aura.
"You should watch yourself your magic might react erratically as it
returns to normal. If I were you I'd stay in my rooms. Especially with all
those children running around," she said before Harry left.
"Good thing that they are leaving today then," Harry replied with a grin and slipped out of the door.
And just as he had practically expected he couldn't stay long in his room, no matter how much space there was to pace. The walls were oppressive and not even the open window helped. It only made him shiver and freeze until staying there became unbearable. Thoughts of Snape were haunting him, questions of how to go about this thing not letting him find any rest. Should he try to talk to him? Explain the situation? But no, he couldn't see Snape just saying 'Oh, all right, if this is my fate I'll be glad to comply!'. Snape would fight against it with all he had. And Harry wasn't so sure he could actually handle that. Maybe if he flirted with Snape . . . But what if Snape didn't react to that? Or he could just get him drunk and kiss him. Harry shook his head. No, Snape would probably hate him for that.
Donning his robe Harry left his rooms.
The hallways were just too tempting, being empty of fizzing school-kid spells, but full of Christmas cheer. The quiet was like balm on rough skin to him; he finally had the time to enjoy the place, which he had called home for seven years, during daytime.
Harry tried to stay away from any doors leading out onto the grounds, but it was as if he was magically drawn to them. No matter which way he took whether he went upstairs, trying to visit Gryffindor Tower, or deep into the belly of the castle, towards the kitchens for a snack he always wound up next to a door leading outside. In the end, when he reached the front doors for the second time, he couldn't resist anymore.
"At least I'm wearing a robe this time," Harry mumbled as he left
the castle once again and stepped into the snow. He felt better being outside,
he decided and breathed in deeply. The air was fresh and promising what
exactly Harry wasn't able to tell. Happiness, he supposed, but he couldn't
quite determine which form it was going to take.
Putting his hands into his robe pockets he felt for the wand that Madam Pomfrey had given back to him this morning. He could feel the magic vibrate though it, waiting, begging to be let out.
"Finally," he breathed and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on the magical core within him. He focused and then, slowly, he was able to make out a flicker deep down inside himself that got stronger with every heartbeat. Harry smiled; getting his magic back was like being reunited with a long lost part of himself.
After a couple of minutes Harry let his senses flow outwards, tried to find everything around him and connect it to his consciousness. He could feel the distant echoes of beings in the area, but his own energy wasn't strong enough to determine if they were magical beings or rather just animals crawling through the woods. And then he could feel the wards. He could feel them, if only faintly, trying to test him and weigh him. So far he wasn't a threat after all he barely had any magic and he wasn't trying to tinker with the wards and they would leave him in peace for the time being.
There had to be a way, though, to repair them without having to call in Master Vilnus.
He would have to consult his books again on magical creatures. Harry sighed.
"Potter, drink this," Snape growled into Harry's ear and pushed a cup filled with a red, steaming liquid into his hands. At Harry's questioning look Snape rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Don't look at me like I'm trying to poison you. It's mulled wine and the only way you're going to survive this affair." Snape nodded his head at the room and its occupants.
They called it the Christmas Eve Staff Party, Dumbledore had told him as he had invited Harry to this occasion. The few pupils who were staying over Christmas were herded into their common rooms, the entrance doors locked without them knowing, and had been given butterbeer, hot chocolate, and cookies to keep them happy and occupied for the night. The Staff Party itself so far consisted of everyone standing around and chatting, and Harry really couldn't see what was so bad about that.
"Believe me, it will get even worse," Snape said, a dark look on his face. "In half an hour's time Albus will suggest that we all play a game. Some idiot will suggest something that would lead to everyone being naked, but thankfully he will be stopped by Minerva. She, in turn, will suggest some puerile party game that she learned in her younger days and you can imagine, Potter, that these days have long, long been over -"
Snape looked even more interesting close up like this, Harry thought and listened with half an ear to the ringing of the bells. He was close enough to touch and Harry's fingers itched to move into action. Desperately Harry clung to the hem of his robe. Snape also smelled differently today. Sure, he had showered, but then Harry had barely seen him with greasy hair during the last days. It was something different, some mix of several scents, combined into something that made Harry's knees go weak, made him wish he could just lean into Snape and do nothing but inhale these aromas.
"- this will then, undoubtedly, lead to Sibyll dancing on the table again and Rolanda suggesting that all of us sing Christmas carols together." Snape shuddered at that. "You see, Potter, there's really just one way to be able to bear this: Get drunk as quickly as you can." And with that he emptied his own cup of mulled wine, letting it float over to the buffet-table to refill itself afterwards.
Trying to hide the smile on his lips Harry took a sip and let the hot wine flow over his tongue, let it tickle every single taste bud, before sighing happily. "It's good."
"I suppose so, Potter, but it's not what it's here for." Snape looked at McGonagall, who had just started popping a candy cane into her mouth, with distrust. With a shudder he turned back to Harry. "And, have you found a way to help us with the wards yet? Without getting yourself killed that is."
"Why, Professor, are you worried about me?" Harry grinned, the cup no longer able to hide it. It was such a nice thought, having Snape care about him. It was a like a flicker no, like a torchlight of hope being held up in front of him. An opening that was just waiting to be widened, a. . .
Snape snorted. "Certainly not. I still have bothersome Slytherins, who will return en masse after Christmas, to worry about. That is enough, don't you think?"
No. Harry emptied his mug quickly, hurrying it away for a much needed
refill. And this was really the one fate had picked out for him? Snape himself
didn't seem to be the least bit enamoured with him. His mum and dad he could
see James had been crazy about Lily and Lily, once she had learned about her
roots, had started to pay more attention to James and had seen all the good
things that he had in him. And here? While Harry could picture himself with
Snape and actually longed to feel Snape's lips on his, Snape had never shown
much of an interest in Harry. At least not more than was needed for
psychological sadism and being a bastard.
Harry sipped on his new wine, the heat burning the inside of his lips and the tip of his tongue. No, he should probably take that back. Snape had shown more than that and he wasn't a sadistic bastard anymore. A bastard still, but one who had saved Harry's life countless times, had put him to bed and had allowed him to sit in his sacred laboratory.
"I suppose so." Harry cleared his throat. "Well, in fact I found a way to resolve the ward problem. Dumbledore has to incorporate me into the wards which I hope they will be able to accept in their state and after that they shouldn't see me as a threat anymore. At least not for the first five layers. Then I will have to communicate with the next ward layers, will have to use the Ritual of -"
Snape waved his hand up and down, while sending his cup to be refilled again. "Technicalities, Potter. All I care about right now is whether it will work."
Harry blinked slightly surprised. He had always thought Snape to be a stickler for details. "Err . . . yes, it will. I will probably be finished in two days."
Snape nodded at that without saying anything. But Harry fancied that he saw
a slight frown mar Snape's brow.
Three hours and uncountable cups of hot wine later the unthinkable had really happened and Harry had seen more of his former teachers than he had ever wished to. And the only one whom he had ever been interested in was currently sitting next to him, still clothed, and trying not to sway too much.
"'s funny," Harry said and tried to focus on something that looked like a giant blob, but was in fact Hagrid.
"Wha's fun- funny?"
Harry had long ago stopped registering that both of them slurred their words something terrible. Or that none of them had even bothered talking to any of the other teachers. Or that he had lost his glasses when he had tried to mimic a Wronsky Faint without a broom to impress Snape (which he hadn't been; he had, in fact, called him an idiot and had then offered him another drink).
Harry shrugged. "I don't now. 's just funny." He let out a laugh, then swayed a bit more and proceeded to slip a little to his left, until his temple gently collided with Snape's shoulder. "'re bony," he remarked and snuggled closer. Bony, but also terribly comfortable. Snape just answered with a snort and moved his arm, which had been squeezed between him and Harry until then, into a more comfortable position.
The following morning was a good deal less nice than the evening had been. For one thing Harry had a major headache when he woke up, coupled with the extreme desire to never come close to anything like mulled wine ever again. And then there was also the fact that Snape woke up -
- or rather jerked up, displacing Harry from his shoulder and knocking him right into the back of an unfortunately placed chair.
"Ow!" Harry rubbed his head and blinked up at the blurry shape that was Snape. "What was that?"
"Why were you drooling on my shoulder, Potter?" Snape growled, crossing his arms in front of his chest.
Because you were cosy. Harry summoned his glasses, which were slightly crooked now, and shrugged. "How should I know? I was asleep. Why was your arm around me?" He could still feel its comforting weight on his side, phantom heat burning through his clothes and into his flesh. He hadn't realised how cold he had felt before.
The room was void of people apart from Harry, Snape and what seemed to be Sibyll Trelawney lying under a table still clutching an empty bottle of sherry.
Snape grunted something unintelligible and then said more loudly "This
will not happen again" before whirling around although slower than usual
and walking towards the door.
"What if I want it to happen again?" The words were out of Harry's mouth before he could stop them and tie them to the back of his throat.
Snape turning back around could have been taken straight out of one of the vampire movies that Dudley had watched secretly in the middle of the night. "What was that?"
Harry turned scarlet and looked down to the floor. Snape wasn't supposed to act like that now, was he? If he was really Harry's Destined, shouldn't he be pleased? Shouldn't he flirt back? But then again this was Snape and Snape never did what you expected. "I just said -"
"I heard what you said, Potter. I suggest you keep your thoughts to yourself next time before I have to be sick all over your robes. If you'll excuse me now, I I have work to attend to." And with that he left Harry to stare at the place he had just vacated.
Harry just blinked and started to smile slowly. Snape had said next time.
Harry attended the traditional Christmas lunch and dinner that day, just like he had done when he still had been a student at Hogwarts. The food was still as delicious as it had been back then, if not better, and he felt well and truly stuffed afterwards.
Unfortunately those two meals were the only times he actually saw Snape. Pacing up and down in front of Snape's laboratory hadn't earned him an opening of the door, nor had walking outside in the snow resulted in Snape coming to his rescue.
That afternoon Dumbledore included him into the ward-system as a registered magical creature, which allowed Harry to follow through with his plan. He managed to take down most of the normal top-layer wards and only stopped when his magic started acting up again, telling him that it was time to go to bed.
"Just one last try," he thought as he passed the kitchens on his way back from the grounds to his room. After all, the night they had spent drunkenly leaning onto each other just had to mean something. Had to mean that Snape wasn't disinterested in being . . . well, at least something more than just an acquaintance to him.
Two cups of hot, steaming chocolate in hand he kicked the door to Snape's
quarters and waited for it to be flung open. He wasn't disappointed.
"What?" Snape, apparently already ready for bed, judging from the clothes he was wearing, was glowering at Harry.
"I thought I could stop by and -"
"What's that?" Snape interrupted him.
Harry frowned. How rude! "Hot chocolate. Now if you -"
Snape's hand was quicker than Harry's words, grabbing one of the cups and managing to take it away from Harry without even spilling so much as a drop. "Thank you, Potter, and good night."
And the door was closed.
It took Harry three blinks to start kicking it again, yelling "Hey!" with every blow, followed by "Bloody hell!" because his feet somehow he had lost his shoes on his way through the snow again were hurting. "Snape, you bastard, open the damn door! You can't just lock me out!"
"I can, Potter, and I did. Now go to your bed and leave me to mine in
Harry heard the first words of a two-way silencing charm being chanted and then there was nothing but silence. He could do nothing but give up for the night.
The next morning Harry went out into the snow again to work at the wards. The critical phase would start as soon as the first of the remaining layers were taken down, but he was sure that after the first successful contact with the wards the rest would be quite easy.
Slowly he raised his wand, trying to find the penetration point in the wards that he had used before. He started with letting some of his energy, bundled up in healing and other positive spells, flew through that hole so the wards could recognise him as being friendly, then concentrated to widen the hole slightly. He could feel the wards give way and let him through, let him dismantle the last top layer.
He changed the flow of his magic to a gentle touch, more like a light patting of the wards. I'm friendly. I don't mean any harm, he whispered to them and opened up his consciousness, letting them scan him in hope they would see the truth in his words. He tried to tell them that there was something wrong with them, that he knew they were frightened and that he knew that the spectral termites were hurting them. That he would make the termites go away, that he could heal them and make everything all right again.
At first the system tightened its nets around Harry's magic, nearly forcing him out, nearly cutting him off. But then it softly gave way to him and allowed him in. With the utmost care Harry started dismantling the ward layers, all the while putting up provisional wards to keep the remaining ones from going off because they thought the castle was unprotected.
Then finally he managed to get to the infected layer and to the termites. The annihilator spell and the disinfectant spells weren't hard to cast, only needed a while to work. Harry withdrew carefully from the ward system.
"Are you done?" Harry whirled around and found none other than Snape standing there. He shouldn't be so surprised, he told himself, what with this being Snape's habit and hobby. Snape had done it so often already that Harry should, in fact, expect it to happen.
"Nearly," Harry answered, patting down his clothes that were covered by a fine sheet of snow. It was already dark outside he must have spent hours working on the wards without even noticing. And then he heard his stomach growl. "My spells need the night to work effectively, but the headmaster should be able to re-install the wards with me tomorrow morning. Everything should get back to normal afterwards."
Snape was wearing a weird expression an unreadable one that might have disconcerted Harry once, but only intrigued him now.
"What are you staring at, Potter? Are you waiting for praise?" The oh-so-familiar scorn was back on Snape's features. Really, it wasn't supposed to be like this. They weren't even making real progress whenever Harry thought that things between them had improved they took a step backwards. The situation was practically screaming for action!
Harry shook his head and took a step towards Snape. "Actually . . . I was waiting for something else."
And another one. The bells rang louder, sounding like they belonged to a sleigh out here in the snow. Something in Harry was calling out, but Harry couldn't make out what it was. Longing? Desperation? A warning?
"I was hoping . . ." Harry stretched out his hand, touched the
collar of Snape's black robes. He was hoping, but what for? All of this was
still so new to him, still so difficult to comprehend. He could feel his blood
speed up and pulsate hotly through his body.
Snape roughly pulled Harry's hand off of his robe and let it fall. "You don't know what you're saying. Don't know what you're getting into."
Harry shivered, suddenly feeling cold with the loss of contact. "No, I don't," he said, but extended his hand nevertheless again. "But I know that I need that I want . . ." His fingers closed around Snape's collar again and he stepped closed before Snape could stop him. "There is something between us."
"Potter," Snape rasped out, then cleared his throat and growled with a steady voice: "Potter, you can't want this!"
"But I do."
Two strong hands grasped Harry's wrists, but made now attempt to dislodge them this time. "I know what you are."
Harry's eyes widened as he stared at Snape. "You -"
"I was your mother's best friend. I know how to interpret the signs. You out in the snow, without shoes, you being restless. And then you get caught in the wards. I can put two and two together, Potter."
"But if you know, you must also know about the mates and -"
"It ruined your mother!" This time he did push Harry away, made him stumble back so abruptly that Harry nearly landed in the snow. "As soon as she and you father got together her life was marked as being over! She changed completely, didn't care for much but your father. And not long afterwards she died!"
"Because Voldemort killed her!" Harry exclaimed hotly. How could Snape think that this had anything to do with her being a Claiteag? "It wasn't her origin that did that!"
"But it took her free will! It made her a slave!" Snape turned
around, his shoulders shaking.
"Do I look like a slave to anything to you?" Grabbing Snape's shoulder he tried to make him turn around, but Snape just stood there, unmoving. "Look at me, dammit!" Harry stepped in front of Snape again, looking up at him and forcing him to look back. "I am not a slave. Knowing what I am doesn't make me feel anything that I haven't felt before. I was born like this, you understand?"
Snape's voice sounded awfully broken when he replied: "That just means that you have been a slave from birth. And you are now consenting to being one."
The tips of Harry's hair stroked over Snape's chin as he shook his head. "No, that's not true. I think that even if I hadn't been born to be like this I still might have fallen for you." Snape snorted at that. "No, really. You might not see it yourself, but I for one think you're pretty amazing. Brave and smart."
"You forgot the bastard part."
"Yeah, well, nobody is perfect. But you're a bastard with a heart. A good heart. And you saved me countless times."
"That was my duty. My conscience."
Harry sighed. How could someone be this stubborn and blind? Couldn't Snape see that he was being honest? "Can't you feel it?" And again he extended his hand, putting it over Snape's heart. Snape's pulse was going fast, faster and more alive than anything that Harry had ever felt.
"I can," Snape whispered.
"Because I . . . both of us have been slaves to others. It has been enough for a lifetime."
"But I want you."
"You think that you do."
"I know." Harry reached up, his hands leaving Snape's chest to hold Snape's shaking head. "Don't you like me?" Please, please tell me that you do like me. Please don't let me be wrong with this. Not this time.
"I like you too much."
Harry's heart soared and he allowed a grin to spread out over his face. "Then don't fight it anymore. I want you," he repeated. Their eyes locked and Snape, while not smiling or nodding, widened his eyes just the tiniest bit. It was all Harry needed and he surged forward, meeting Snape half way.
And as their lips touched and opened, as their tongues came together and
their hands clutched at each other, trying to get even closer, the bells ended
in a crescendo.
"You will leave tomorrow," Snape noted a long while later, after having cast a warming charm on the both. Their hair was in disarray and they were sitting on wet snow, but neither of them cared one bit. Snape's arm was around Harry's shoulder, possessively holding him close, while Harry's was around Snape's waist, clutching at Snape's robe.
"But I will come back," Harry replied, looking up at the stars, then back at Snape. "We can spend New Years Eve together and I'm sure I can get Master Vilnus to give me some extra days off. Recuperation, you know." He pressed a kiss onto Snape's chin and whispered against the skin: "We can make this work."
Snape didn't say anything, just tightened his hold on his mate.