Severus Snape scowled in disgust as he watched the children eagerly line up to see a glimpse of their futures. After the debacle at the Ministry and Black's death, the Headmaster had decided that a party would cheer up those who had had such an unpleasant experience. Read: Harry Potter. Who was not likely to be appreciative of anything the Headmaster did or said right now.
At least the term was almost over. A few more hours were all he had to endure of Potter and his classmates. Then, blessedly, he would be free until the autumn.
Fudge, being the obsequious prat that he was, had come for the leaving feast, and brought the Mirror of Posterus, which showed the observers a moment or two of happiness in their future. Or, as Snape understood it, a possible moment in the future.
It was an artifact from the Department of Mysteries. Albus had heard about it and Fudge had assured him that it would be harmless fun for the children. In hopes of ingratiating himself with Albus, Fudge had readily agreed to provide it for the leaving feast.
It galled Snape that once again Potter was being coddled. The boy needed to learn from his mistakes, not be rewarded for them. But Albus was not in the mood to listen. Not that he ever was these days.
Snape sighed as yet another fifth year laughed at whatever image she saw in the mirror. Granger, Potter and Weasley were standing together not far from him.
"It will be fun. Go on, Harry," Snape heard Granger encourage the sullen Potter.
"If it's so much fun, why didn't you do it?" Potter turned to glare at her. But he seemed unable to maintain his ire.
"I don't want to know my future. I'd rather be surprised." Granger put her hands on her hips, but she sounded like she might be afraid of her future.
"And why should I?"
"It's supposed to show you something good. Maybe it will be something that might give you some answers...." She trailed off, her face going red.
"I already know my future. And there's not much happiness in it." Potter's voice was filled with painful certainty.
Even as much as Snape disliked the boy, he winced at the sound. No one his age should sound so defeated. Even Snape himself hadn't been like that at fifteen.
"Go on. Maybe you'll see something brilliant," Weasley said. He looked more hopeful than Potter did.
"I doubt it." Potter moved to stand in front of the mirror.
Even from where he was standing, Snape could see the surly expression on Potter's face and he wanted to smack it off.
Potter sighed heavily, and lifted his wand. "Fine. Show me everything you know," he whispered.
As his wand touched the mirror, Potter cried out and the entire room seemed to turn as one to look at him. The mirror's glass surface swelled outwards. Slowly, Potter fell forward into it, disappearing completely. The glass returned to normal with a soft pop.
Potter was gone.
For one second, there was stunned silence. Several of the students screamed, Lavender Brown the most loudly. A few more started to cry.
Granger and Weasley both gasped, and being an imbecile, Weasley reached out to touch the glass.
"Don't touch it, you moron," Snape roared at him, rushing over to them. The boy didn't have the sense of a Crup.
Weasley shrank back, startled.
Both Albus and Fudge stared opened-mouthed at the mirror. Minerva started, and then said, "Everyone please return to your common rooms."
There was a general murmur of disagreement, but most obeyed, albeit slowly. Snape glanced at the Slytherin prefects, giving them a curt nod. They knew what to do.
"I don't understand what happened?" Granger was on the verge of tears. "This was supposed to be harmless." She looked at Fudge as if expecting him to explain it to her. To make it better.
Fudge looked embarrassed, to be sure. "This hasn't happened before."
"Just how many times have you used the mirror?" Minerva's tone was clipped. She was keeping an eye on the slowly exiting students.
"Its use should have been perfectly safe." Albus' tone was accusatory. Surely he knew what the mirror would do before he allowed its use.
"I thought it was," Fudge sputtered.
"How does the mirror work? I mean, where does the image come from?" Granger asked, sounding angry as well as confused.
Fudge turned to Albus, ignoring Granger. "After you asked about it, I checked around. It was created as an amusement for the children. Nothing more. It was supposed to --"
"We know what it was supposed to do," Snape snapped, annoyed that Fudge could be so incredibly stupid, but not surprised in the least. "What we need to ascertain is what it did do."
"If we knew how it did it --"
"Brilliant deduction, Granger. Except that is just what I said."
Minerva made a point of looking around. All the students had vacated the Hall. Only Weasley and Granger remained -- so typical of Gryffindors to disobey.
"I think you both should return to the common room," Minerva said, and her voice brooked no argument.
As the two of them started to move away, the mirror bowed, pushing outward, and then, as if it had a sour stomach, it belched out Potter.
Looking stunned, Potter faced the mirror, blinking for several seconds. His eyes focused, and then widened. He touched the image of himself. His hand flattened against the surface, and he let out a low soft moan of such grief and loss that Snape was surprised a fifteen year old, even Potter, could make such a sound.
"No...no..." Potter whimpered, smashing his fist against the glass. "No...Please no." His voice had a sob in it. A sound Snape had never heard him make, no matter what the cause. For another moment, Potter leaned his head against the ornate frame of the mirror, breathing in and out audibly.
Slowly, he turned his head to look at those gathered around him. His eyes filled as he took in Albus. "Professor Dumbledore?" Potter whispered.
Albus looked askance at the tone, but nodded.
"Oh, sweet Merlin!" Potter launched himself at Albus, clutching him tightly and burying his face in the front of Albus' robes. Albus' expression was incredulous. He had a right to be surprised, given the cold shoulder he'd had from Potter the past few days.
"Harry, it's all right. You're back." Albus held him for a moment more, and then gently eased him away. "Do you know what happened?"
Potter looked up at him, and shook his head, clearly dazed.
"Do you remember going into the mirror," Albus asked softly as if he were afraid to startle him.
Again Potter shook his head and then his brow creased, and he looked back at the mirror. "Mirror?"
"You disappeared into the mirror," Fudge said. "Do you remember that?"
Potter was silent, looking like he was working out an Arithmancy problem in his head. Which, of course, he couldn't do. "Is that what happened?" he finally asked. "I went into the mirror this time?"
"This time," Fudge asked, his voice sharpening, as if looking for a weak point. "Have you gone into a mirror some other time?"
"What are you talking about, Cornelius?" Albus' tone was incredulous, but it was clear that he knew something more was going on. Snape wasn't sure what to make of it, though.
"Well, he just said he'd gone into the mirror this time." Fudge looked accusingly at Potter.
And Potter looked at him like he was mad. "Which time?"
"Did you or did you not say that you went into the mirror this time?" Fudge's voice was annoyed and his expression was sour.
And rather surprisingly, Potter cringed, as if he were afraid, but something registered in his eyes, something calculating. "Did I say that?"
"You most --"
"Let him be, Cornelius. Can't you see the poor boy is confused?" Albus patted Potter on the shoulder. "Take your time, Harry. Can you tell us what happened to you?"
Almost imperceptibly, Potter's eyes flicked to Fudge, and then swept the room and settled on him. Snape was stunned to see the momentary...softness in Potter's gaze when it rested on him.
When Potter looked back at Albus, his expression was completely blank. "I'm kind of tired. Can we talk about it in the morning?"
"We need to know what happened," Fudge insisted in that imperious tone he had.
Potter yawned. "Please, sir. I'm not up to talking about it yet."
"Harry?" Granger and Weasley pushed past everyone. Granger pulled Potter into her arms.
"Hermione?" Potter looked stunned to see her there. There was something in his tone, surprise, grief, something that Snape couldn't quite identify.
It was out of place in this context, and that concerned Snape.
"Of course. Who else would it be?" she gently chided. "We were so worried when you disappeared into the mirror."
"Yeah, mate. Are you okay?" Weasley said, punching Potter lightly on the arm.
Potter nodded, but it was more than clear that he was anything but all right. His face was pale and his eyes darted between Granger and Weasley.
Fudge said, "Harry, why don't you --"
"I think Harry needs to see Madam Pomfrey," Granger said, interrupting Fudge, and then looked up at him as if daring him to argue with her.
"I think Miss Granger is quite correct," Albus said.
When Fudge would have opened his mouth to argue, Albus shook his head. "Harry's health is too important to risk."
That closed Fudge's mouth, for the moment, anyway.
"I'll escort you out, Minister," Albus said, and stepped back. "Professor Snape, if you would see Mr Potter to the infirmary. And Professor McGonagall, if you would take Miss Granger and Mr Weasley back to their common room?"
He and Minerva nodded.
Fudge looked like he might argue, but Albus didn't give him the chance. He took Fudge's arm and led him bodily from the Hall. He really should have done that a couple of hours ago, long before all of this happened.
"We'll wait for you there, Harry," Granger said. Both she and Weasley knew they were outflanked, and went along meekly, or as meekly as any Gryffindor ever did.
Harry nodded, still looking as if he were in shock. "Sure."
"Potter." Snape held out his hand and Potter preceded him to the main entrance way. As soon as they cleared the Hall, Potter stopped and leaned against the wall, breathing in and out.
"Do you need to go to the infirmary?" Snape hadn't thought he was in that bad a shape, but clearly the boy was not well.
"No. No. I assume that Professor Dumbledore wants to see me." Something in his voice wasn't quite right. There was a touch of firmness or surety or something Snape could not quite put his finger on, but it set off alarm bells.
"If you're all right, then we'll proceed to the Headmaster's office and wait for him and Professor McGonagall to return."
"How long was I gone?" Potter's tone was quiet, thoughtful.
It didn't set well with Snape. But again, it was nothing he could put his finger on as wrong. "About twenty minutes."
Potter looked back at the mirror through the open doors of the Great Hall, his face profoundly sad.
Harry went into Dumbledore's office. It felt so odd to be in it again. Everything felt odd, out of place. And it was. Or rather he was.
The baby Fawkes looked up at him. Harry smiled, and held his hand out to the small bird. "Remember me?"
Fawkes hesitated for a moment. He cocked his head and studied Harry, as if deciding whether or not Harry was who he was supposed to be. Finally, he climbed onto Harry's hand. "I guess you do remember me."
"Why wouldn't he? You were in this office just a few days ago," Snape asked. "As a matter of fact, you made quite a mess of the place."
Yes, now that he knew where he was, he remembered trashing Dumbledore's office. He winced. "I'll explain when everyone else gets here."
Snape looked like he might want to argue with that, but fortunately, he thought better of it. Harry wasn't up to doing this twice.
He petted the bird for a few minutes, trying to prepare his explanations. Nothing he was going to say would make sense. They weren't going to believe him. And given the circumstances, he wasn't sure he'd believe what he was going to tell them, either. Of course, he'd lived his life and he knew that the events he'd describe had indeed happened. That didn't mean he was going to be able to convince anyone else of it.
Before he could make a decision on how best to approach the unapproachable, the door swung open.
"Harry. Can you tell us what happened?" Dumbledore asked as he and McGonagall came into his office.
Harry took a deep breath. "I can only guess. I believe I was thrown into an alternate universe after I went through the mirror's surface, or perhaps a parallel universe might be a better description." From the looks on their faces, it was clear they were already having some trouble believing it. That was okay: Harry was, too. "There's more. I lived twenty years there."
"That's preposterous! Surely you aren't going to believe this rubbish, are you, Headmaster?" Snape's entire countenance was outraged.
The bluster made Harry want to smile. It had been a long time since he'd heard Snape go off like that. It reminded him of better times. "It's true. Besides, I can prove it."
"How? You don't look any older than you did when you went into the mirror. Why would we believe you?" McGonagall asked.
"As you well know, looks can be deceiving. This body hasn't aged. But I have. In my reality, the mirror didn't show me anything. I remember it swelling outwards, towards me, but I stepped back and nothing happened. It just reflected my face back at me. It was rather disappointing. I went home the next day and my life went on."
They were looking at him, waiting. This was the part where he took a gamble. "There are things you need to know. Things that must be done so that you can avoid the fate of my time."
"The Dark Lord won?" McGonagall asked in a horrified voice, her face paling.
"No. I killed him. But it took years to find all the Horcruxes, even with Professor Snape on the inside feeding me and the Order information."
"You know about Horcruxes? How? I haven't told you yet." Dumbledore's tone was shocked.
"You told me in my sixth year. Merlin, so much has happened since then." And so much had to happen if this timeline were to avoid the fate of his. For a moment, Harry was nearly overwhelmed with the sheer enormity of what he was going to do. The things he needed to tell them. "Let's start with the most important information, first."
"And just what would that be?" Snape asked, nastily.
"For now, two things," Harry replied. He kept his tone mild. Over the years he'd gotten pretty good at avoiding Snape's attempts to bait him. "The first thing is that there are seven Horcruxes, not six and --"
"That can't be right," Dumbledore said. "It's not possible to make that many."
"We thought that too. Unfortunately, we were proven wrong. It caused us no end of trouble." And it nearly cost him his life.
"Are we really going to give credence to this --"
"Severus. Please. Let him finish," Dumbledore said. His voice had a note of some emotion that Harry couldn't identify.
Snape glared at him, his face red, but he said nothing else.
"There's more. And it's worse." Harry rubbed the back of his neck, surprised at how short his hair was. "I don't want to go into every detail of everything now. There is so much that needs to be accomplished."
"I think we need more details, Mr Potter. If we're going to believe what you're telling us." It was clear from McGonagall's tone that she was starting to believe him.
"As I said, it took years to track down Voldemort's Horcruxes. By the time Hermione, Ron and I got them all, Voldemort was quite mad. Lucius Malfoy was out of prison and running the Death Eaters. So much so that killing Voldemort was anti-climatic. It didn't make that much difference.
"After that, the Death Eaters stepped up their killings and other 'Muggle-cleansing' actions. It got harder and harder for the MLE to keep control. The whole Wizarding world was overtaken by civil unrest. We came very close to outright civil war."
"That's ridiculous," Snape said, but his voice had lost its assurance.
"It's not. It's all too likely," Dumbledore said. "Go on."
"It took years after that to kill Lucius Malfoy and disband the Death Eaters. By the time the mirror spat me out into this universe, we had been at peace for only a few years."
"Oh Merlin," McGonagall whispered, her voice choked.
"That can't be true," Snape said.
"There's more. The main reason that everything fell apart so quickly was a well-timed attack on Hogwarts. In what would have been my seventh year, one hundred and fifty students died when the Death Eaters attacked, and the wards protecting the school collapsed."
"I didn't think that was possible," McGonagall said, her face pale with shock and disbelief.
"It shouldn't be." Dumbledore looked right at him. "How?"
He met Dumbledore's eyes. "The heartstone that anchors the wards has a minute crack in it."
"That's not possible," Snape said.
"Unfortunately, Sev...Professor Snape, it is. Tom Riddle found the physical stone, which is accessible through the Chamber of Secrets. He put the crack in it."
"I assume there is a way to fix it?" McGonagall asked.
"You're not considering trusting him, are you? This clearly isn't Harry Potter." Snape's tone was scathing. He glared at Harry, folding his arms over his chest. But beneath the bluster, Harry could sense his fear. That bothered him more than he could say. He hadn't considered that reaction when he'd started this conversation.
"Oh, I am Harry Potter. I'm just not your Harry Potter, anymore. For one thing, I'm thirty-five, almost thirty-six. And I've lived through twenty years past the time that you knew me." Harry smiled sadly at them.
"Albus?" McGonagall looked at Dumbledore with uncharacteristic uncertainty.
"I think he's telling the truth," Dumbledore said. But it was clear that even Dumbledore wasn't completely convinced.
"How could he even know about the heartstone?" Snape directed his question to Dumbledore.
Harry answered anyway. "My fifteen year old self didn't know. Ron and Hermione and I had left school by the time Voldemort attacked Hogwarts, but many of my friends died that day." The pain had dulled as the years passed, and he'd moved on, but at the time he'd been devastated. One of those who died was Ginny Weasley, whom he'd loved dearly. "I can fix the heartstone. More than that, I want to. No one needs to die because of that."
Dumbledore looked doubtful. "What makes you think you can?"
"I managed it at nineteen. I think it should be easier now." Harry was assuming his magic was going to work the same way as it had in his time and reality, where he was physically older. He could feel it coursing through him, the same way it always had. That didn't mean it would be exactly the same, but the power of an adult wizard was still there.
"If you're Harry Potter, then you're fifteen," Snape said, making a point of looking down at him.
It wasn't that easy to intimidate him these days, and he smiled back at Snape. "My body is fifteen. My mind and my magic are thirty-five."
"Albus, I think that if the heartstone is cracked as Mr Potter has said, then we should allow him to fix it, if he can," McGonagall said.
"And if he's not Potter, then he could damage it or damage it further." Snape's eyes bored into his, as if he could see who Harry was just by looking hard enough. "Perhaps that is his plan."
Dumbledore shook his head. "If it is damaged, then it must be repaired --"
"If it can be repaired. I can do some research on it." Snape looked ready to leave.
He should have remembered just how challenging Snape could be. Under most circumstances, Harry found it amusing rather than irritating, but right now he was too tired to deal with Snape in full difficult mode. "Shall we go and have a look at it? You'll be able to see the crack. I know how to open the chamber."
"There's actually an easier way in than the third floor toilet." Dumbledore smiled at him, and gestured toward his door.
"How would you make the attempt to fix it?" Snape obviously didn't believe he could do it at all.
"We need four anchors for the wards. One for each direction, two wizards and two witches. I'll cast the magic to fix the stone and then the four reset the wards." The proof would be in the doing.
"Could I do it?" With good reason, Dumbledore didn't sound like he wanted to do it.
"Even as powerful as you are, it would still drain you badly. Do you want to risk it? I know you have no reason to trust me, but I will do my best for you." It was asking a lot for them to trust him, and he wasn't sure he'd do it were the situation reversed. Still, he hoped his sincerity was clear.
Dumbledore was silent for a moment and then sighed. "Perhaps not. If you can, then we should allow you to do so."
"Surely not," Snape said. "We have no reason at all to trust him. And very clearly he's not the Harry Potter who went into the mirror this evening. Who he is beyond that, is a mystery."
What could he say to convince him? Harry looked at Snape. "I am Harry Potter, though. Does anyone else know about the Pensieve memory of my father that I saw in your office in my fifth year?
Snape looked a little sick and choked out, "Anyone who was there."
"Severus?" Dumbledore clearly wasn't following. Neither was McGonagall.
"During the Occlumency lessons, Potter stole into my Pensieve."
Dumbledore rubbed his beard. "That might be a way to know. Will you allow someone into your mind?"
That would not be his first choice on how to prove his loyalty. He didn't want anyone mucking around in his mind. Beyond that, he also felt compelled to point out, "I've become as skilled in Occlumency as Professor Snape. You'd only see what I wanted you to see."
"There is no way to know for certain then." Snape seemed pleased, as if it proved his point.
He'd forgotten how petty Snape was during this period of his life. And not without good reason. Harry knew that, but it didn't make him easier or more pleasant to deal with. "You'll have to take my word for it. The wards will fall."
"Why are you telling us? Aren't you afraid of changing the future?" McGonagall wrung her hands. Clearly she thought that the future was a set thing.
"I want to change the future. We spent years at war. Too many people died. Too many of my friends." It had taken years for Harry to be able to think about it without his chest hurting.
"Always the Gryffindor," Snape sneered. "Perhaps you'll make it worse."
"It's possible, but maybe it will be better. I know that what did happen was awful." And really, Harry would rather take the chance.
"It can always be worse." Snape made it sound like a threat.
"No doubt. But I have to try and make sure it isn't the same." A different set of events might not be better, but it would give them other options. The ones from his time were too grim to allow them to happen again.
"It's not your decision to make, is it?"
"I've already made it."
"What right do you have to do so?"
"Just being a wizard in this world gives me the right to try and save it. It's something you should know about, given your role here, Professor Snape." Harry smiled at him.
Snape scowled back. But perhaps his expression wasn't as mean-spirited as it might have been.
"We should go down to the Chamber and see the crack." That would be the best way to start convincing them. But he rather thought that they were half-convinced at this point.
Surprisingly, Dumbledore shook his head. "I think it can all wait until the morning. After the students have left."
"I'm supposed to return to the Dursleys' in the morning." He'd never been able to bring himself to forgive them for their years of abuse. And now, he didn't want to think about how he might react to their hatred. Too much had happened in his life to be able to put up with that much ugliness without cursing one or all of them.
"I think that you should go home. We can look at the stone in your absence." Dumbledore seemed to be on firmer ground, trying to put Harry back in his fifteen year old place.
He'd hoped that Dumbledore would be more convinced than this, but Harry wasn't going to allow him to send him away. Whether they liked it or not, they needed him. "The wards are magical. I'm fifteen physically, but magically I'm far too old. The blood magic will know I'm past the age of protection."
"You don't actually know that. You don't know that you have any magic at all." Snape, being Snape, would also no doubt hold out as long as he could, continuing to believe that Harry was an upstart child.
After all these years, Harry knew how to deal with Snape. "Perhaps not with absolute surety, but I can feel the magic at my control."
"That you can feel your magic is a good sign that it's there." For whatever reason, McGonagall wanted to believe in him. He smiled gratefully at her.
"Nonetheless, I think we would be wise to see to your protection," Dumbledore said, obviously not ready to concede.
Challenging Dumbledore outright was not an ideal choice of tactics for convincing them he was trustworthy, but he also wasn't going to be pushed into something he didn't want or need. "I will not return there. You told me once that some wounds never heal. I didn't appreciate at the time how right you were."
"You can be forced." Snape's expression said he was eager to do it, too.
Harry folded his arms over his chest. "No. I can't be. Even you would have a very hard time forcing me to do anything I didn't want to do."
"Enough. You're right, we can't force you," Dumbledore said, conceding at last. "I'll owl your relatives and alert them that you won't be returning tomorrow."
"Or at all. I have the means to buy a house of my own. Which I'd like to do." Harry wondered if the house he'd bought when he'd been eighteen was on the market yet.
"Whatever you might be in terms of your mental age, you are still only fifteen in the eyes of the Wizarding world. You can't buy anything," Dumbledore said.
Snape smirked at him.
Harry supposed not. This was going to be amazingly inconvenient. How was he going to get anything done? "Can I have myself declared a legal adult, responsible for myself?"
"Not until you're sixteen. And it's only in the rarest of cases that the Wizengamot will grant that. You would have to tell them why and I don't think it would stay a secret after that," McGonagall said, her tone apologetic.
Keeping it a secret, at least from the general public, was paramount. There was nothing he could do about it, then. He needed to think about this, and he was too tired to even begin considering it. "All right. I'll worry about it later."
"I think it's time you returned to your dormitory room." Dumbledore made it a request, but really, Harry had no choice right now.
He turned to go. Oh, fuck. He turned back, feeling particularly stupid. "I'll need the password."
McGonagall started. "You're joking."
"No. It's been twenty years. Do you expect me to remember it?"
"Do you remember where it is?" she asked, her expression slightly amused.
"Yes." He'd been back to the castle since he'd left it at the end of sixth year.
"The password is Mimbulus mimbletonia," McGonagall said, shaking her head.
"Thanks, Professor." He started out of the office.
He turned back to look at Dumbledore.
"I think it would be best if you didn't mention this to anyone."
"I'll think about it," Harry said, going out.
Harry said the password to the common room and went inside. Hermione and Ron were asleep on the sofa, clearly having waited for him.
They were so young. So innocent. Still unmarred by the Dark Magic that would eventually taint them both, just as it did him. The world hadn't yet changed them into adults, more quickly than they could process.
He felt ridiculously protective towards them. And yet, he knew they would and did stand with him through everything that came, good and bad, for all the years that he needed them. His Hermione and Ron.
Sitting down with a sigh, Harry couldn't look away from them. Hermione had a book across her lap. They were still children. He couldn't reconcile them with the memory of his battle-weary friends.
A wave of grief went through him. His Hermione and Ron were lost to him. He'd never see them again. Nor his godchildren. Nor his lover.
His eyes suddenly stung. Putting his face in his hands, and biting back a sob that threatened to tear him apart, he fought to control himself. Dear Merlin, he'd lost everything. Every relationship he'd ever had, everything he'd ever worked for, his world, imperfect though it was. Everything was gone in a heartbeat.
How had this happened to him? What were his friends and family doing and saying right now? Did they even know? Did that world even exist anymore?
His chest squeezed tightly. He wanted to go home. To his remaining friends, to his lover, to a world where he wasn't going to have to start all over again.
"Harry?" Hermione whispered, surprise and sleep coloring her words. "Are you thinking about Sirius?"
"Sirius?" Harry blinked at her. Oh. He hadn't thought of Sirius in years. Well, except in passing. There would always be a special place for him in Harry's heart. But there had been so many losses since then. He shook his head, hoping to clear it.
Hermione leaned forward, and used her thumb to gently wipe the tears he hadn't realized he'd shed.
"Sorry," Harry said, feeling stupid for saying it, and more so for dropping his guard.
"What happened?" she asked.
"Too much." He couldn't begin to explain it to her. That Dumbledore told him not to say anything didn't have much impact on him. Protecting people was all well and good, but he'd found that lying to them, and keeping them in the dark, made things harder in the end. Keeping secrets had, in most cases, done far more harm than good.
Still, did he want them involved, and possibly hurt by what was to come?
"Were you hurt? What did Madam Pomfrey say?"
"I didn't go to see her."
Her look was nostalgically disapproving. "I thought --"
"Professor Snape took me up to Dumbledore's office." Harry paused, still not sure what he should tell her.
Hermione wasn't patient about the wait. "And?"
"And nothing. Why were you waiting? Madam Pomfrey might have kept me all night?"
"We didn't think she would. Not on the last night of school," Ron said, sitting up and yawning.
That was a pretty fair guess.
"You're not going to tell us, are you?" Hermione folded her arms over her chest. She didn't expect him to say. At the end of fifth year, he might not have.
Harry stood, giving himself another moment or two to come up with something. If he'd lost his Hermione and Ron, then those two had lost their Harry as well. Because who he was now was not who they expected him to be. His throat closed and he breathed out hard. "It's complicated."
"Isn't it always, mate?" Ron's grin was both amused and resigned.
"You have no idea." Harry sat back down. "This is going to be hard for you to accept."
Both of them looked at him, wide-eyed, expectant. And so innocent, but still ready to take on the world at his request.
Merlin, how he loved them. He'd never have his friends back, but maybe there could be new ones. Not the same, no, but perhaps in time, close. "When I went through the mirror, I lived another life."
"But you were only gone twenty minutes. That wasn't long enough --" She cut herself off, and Harry could see her working it through in her mind.
Even at sixteen, she was one of the smartest witches he'd ever known. Although he had a good idea of what would happen, he would still need her skills and the ones she would acquire to make sure that they knew what they needed to know about each task. But this time, he could keep her safe. Keep both of them safe.
"For each one of those minutes, I lived a year."
Ron's face went pale. "Twenty years? Blimey, Harry, you don't look --"
"Any older, I know. But I am." Harry touched his finger to his head.
Hermione's eyes were wide with fear as she stood up and backed away a step before stopping. "You're not Harry Potter, then."
Her reaction cut into him like a knife. "I am. I'm just not your Harry Potter."
"Where is our Harry Potter?" She asked, her hands on her hips, but her voice shaking.
"I don't know. I lived those years." The idea that he might have changed places with the fifteen year old gave him pause. Was there a younger version of him now living in his reality? With his lover? He couldn't bear to consider the possibility. Harry pushed the thought aside, and focused his attention again on Hermione and Ron.
"The mirror brought you back to this time." Ron ran a hand through his hair. "I don't understand. You look the same to me."
"My body is the same --"
"But your mind. You know what's going to happen." Hermione was afraid, but she stood her ground. "You can't tell anyone or you'll change --"
"I want to change things. I don't want anyone to live through the years of war and strife that we...I lived through. I told Dumbledore the same thing. I want it to be better than it was in my time."
"How can you know it will be better?" Ron didn't look or sound as scared as Hermione did, but Harry thought that was because it hadn't hit him yet.
"All I know is that it will be different. And I want that." Harry hoped he'd make things better, but to not try, to do nothing was not an option for him. He couldn't let things just happen as they had when he'd had no choice about it.
"It might be worse." Hermione clearly thought it would be.
"She's right. You can't simply muck around with the future because you want to," Ron had clearly started to understand what this meant.
But Harry couldn't let that stop him. "It's mucked around with me and I have to think there was a reason for it. Besides, I've already changed things. I have to try and fix what I know will go wrong. I won't let the people I love die, not if I can do anything about it. And I can. That's all there is to say about that." Harry hadn't meant to be so forceful.
Surprisingly, Hermione nodded, relaxing a bit. "That sounds like you."
They knew him and maybe for all that he'd changed in the years, the essential part of him was still the same. Harry smiled at her. "It is me. I'm still going to need your help, too."
Although he suspected that the age gap between them would be too great to forge the same friendship they'd had, he hoped that over time they might find common ground. If nothing else, he'd protect them. Perhaps having them at hand would ease some of the pain of the loss he felt.
"We're with you, Harry. Whichever Harry you are. You know that." Ron glanced at Hermione and she nodded, too.
"What do you want us to do? We're leaving tomorrow," Hermione said, ready to take on the world at his command. While that wasn't going to be necessary, he did truly appreciate it.
"First, I think I need to know as much about the mirror as you can find out. I want to know why it did this to me."
"I should be able to do some research at home. What about Ron?" Hermione's brow creased, and Harry could tell she was already working out ways to get access to what she needed.
"Yeah. What do you need me to do?" Ron asked with a note of fear of not being included in his voice.
And right now, Harry was afraid that was just what he was going to do. "Now? There really isn't anything for you to do. I'm sure there will be in the future. Maybe in a couple of weeks."
"Unless you want to help me research the mirror," Hermione suggested with a smile. She clearly didn't think Ron would be interested in that.
Something of the seriousness of the situation must have made an impact on Ron. He nodded. "Sure. If you think it will help. I'm not nearly as good at that as you are though."
"I'll divide up the books I find, and send you half. Okay?"
"Thanks," Harry said, including them both. "I'll contact you both at home. I'll be staying on here."
"Dumbledore agreed to that?" Ron was clearly surprised.
"He didn't have much choice, did he? I'm nearly certain the blood magic won't work now." Harry didn't care if it would, either. But he wasn't going to challenge Dumbledore's authority directly with them. They would still be students after he was gone.
"Blood magic?" Hermione seemed confused by that.
For a second, Harry didn't understand why she didn't know. But of course, he hadn't told them yet. Dumbledore had only told him a few days ago in this timeline. "My mother's love for me and her sacrifice protected me when I lived with the Dursleys."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, of course it would."
"That's why Dumbledore made you go back every year?"
"Yes. He didn't bother to tell me that until the end of fifth year." It was one of the things that annoyed him about Dumbledore when he thought back on it. Not that knowing would have changed anything, but knowing might have given some meaning to his having to suffer the Dursleys each summer.
"This is the end of fifth year," Ron pointed out, laughing.
Harry grinned sheepishly. "It is, isn't it?"
"You're really thirty-five?" Hermione asked.
"Yeah. Really." He could see her absorb the knowledge. Soon she would realize what it would mean.
"I think you're right. I think the blood magic would see you as an adult."
"What happened to us?" Ron asked.
"No! Don't tell us. Or at least, don't tell me. I don't want to know."
"Is that why you didn't try the mirror?" There was a touch of scorn in Ron's tone.
"I don't know what telling you would matter. But for now, I won't." Harry yawned. It was time to get some sleep.
"Let's go up," Ron said. "I'm beat."
Dorm beds. No privacy. Oh, joy. Harry hoped he was tired enough that it wouldn't matter.
Later, lying in his bed, he could hear the snores of his roommates. It wasn't enough to distract him from what he was missing. He reached across the expanse of his sheet without thinking and found only cold cotton. This would take some getting used to.
Thinking about his lover aroused him. Too quickly. Harry sighed. His body was fifteen. He could ignore the call, insistent though it was. But why bother? He needed to sleep and he wasn't going to get any until he dealt with the problem.
He pulled the drapes to his bed closed. Drawing his wand, he cast a Silencing Charm. Fortunately, his magic came easily to him. Another wave of his wand, and he was naked. After everything, he didn't have the heart to draw it out. He came quickly, not allowing himself to think of anything besides release. If he started to think about what he'd lost, he'd be hysterical. And really, he had too much to do to allow histrionics. Later, maybe, when he'd finished what he'd set out to do.
A hand reaching for him, trying to shake him awake had Harry on top of his attacker with his wand to his throat before he had any time to think about it. By the time he was completely aware, he was sitting naked on top of Ron, feeling like a total prat.
Ron didn't look pleased at all. And the rest of his dorm mates looked appalled.
"Oi, Harry. Since when do you sleep starkers?" Ron asked before he thought better of it. Then he looked quite sheepish as the memory of last night came clear in his eyes.
Harry stood up, wondering if he should act embarrassed. No, he didn't think it would matter one way or another. They'd all forget by the time they saw him again next year.
"Sorry. Nightmare," he said. One that lasted for too many years of war. He pulled his dressing gown from his trunk. "Need a bath."
The other boys nodded. Harry hoped they would be gone by the time he got back. None of them had survived the attack on Hogwarts in their seventh year. Only Ron and Hermione had survived in Gryffindor. And Draco and a few other Slytherins who weren't there had survived for their whole year.
"Are you okay, mate? You're staring at Neville like you've seen a ghost," Ron whispered.
Harry shook himself. "Sorry. Can't quite get that nightmare out of my head."
"Don't you need to pack?" Neville looked at him and then his trunk, as Harry started to move towards the bath.
"I will when I get back. Why don't you guys go down to breakfast without me?" Harry suggested.
As soon as they had all left, Ron turned to him and said, "This is hard for you, isn't it?"
That didn't even begin to cover what Harry was feeling. Too many what ifs. Too much to think about. "It's only until noon. It will be fine. You'd best get going, too."
Ron nodded, wanting to believe him. "I'll see you before we leave?"
"Yes. I promise."
After a long morning, the students' carriages eventually left, heading towards the train station in Hogsmeade. Harry heaved a sigh of relief as he rode the stairs to Dumbledore's office. Snape and McGonagall were already there.
"I take it we are to continue this farce," Snape said as soon as he saw Harry. "Remember your place, boy."
As if he were likely to forget it, dressed as he was in his school uniform. Harry could have put on the clothes he'd had from the Dursleys, but he'd rather wear rags. One more thing he needed to take care of as soon as possible.
"You know," Harry said, refusing to let Snape's bad temper get to him, "you'd think you'd be in a better mood with the chattering little buggers gone."
"You aren't gone. And for peace to reign supreme, all of the students need to be gone." Snape glared in his direction.
"Ouch." Harry laughed. "I know what you mean about peace, though. I only had to spend the morning with them. I can't imagine trying to spend a lot of time listening to that."
"Get used to it," Snape sneered. "You're still a student at this school."
Harry shuddered at that. He'd have to think of something, because being a sixth year was not something he wanted to repeat. It had been too horrible the first time. Now wasn't the time to worry about it. "No, thanks. I think I'd just as soon skip the whole thing."
"Just how do you plan to avoid it, Mr Potter? As Professor Snape pointed out, you've got two more years of school." McGonagall looked like she was trying not to smile.
"I haven't thought that far ahead yet." It was going to be a problem. Maybe he'd get lucky and things would work themselves out before he had to worry about it. Yeah, not likely.
"Typical Gryffindor. Never thinking of the future," Snape muttered.
"I've had so much time to think about this, haven't I? Ignored it all in favor of sleep."
Snape scowled at him. "You might wish to watch that cheek, Potter."
"I might. But in all likelihood, I won't," Harry snapped, forgetting for a moment that he wanted to be polite. And he knew better, especially with Snape.
"You are as rude as you ever were. Pity the years didn't teach you any manners at all," Snape said through his gritted teeth, his anger clearly on a boil.
Harry knew better than to bait someone who might explode. All things considered, he was going to need Snape on his side. Harry inclined his head. "Forgive me, sir. I was joking. I meant no disrespect." The sincerity in his voice must have carried, because Snape, and McGonagall as well, looked shocked to their toes.
McGonagall recovered quickly and cleared her throat. "I think we should check on the heartstone. Not that I think Mr Potter is wrong --" McGonagall looked pointedly at Dumbledore, who was still shifting papers on his desk.
Dumbledore looked up as if he could feel their eyes on him. "Fine. Fine. We can take the north stairway all the way down to the chamber."
"That's not on the map." Harry had memorized every crevice on the map.
"Do you still have it?" Dumbledore asked.
"No. It was destroyed during the war." Along with so many other things that were precious to him.
"Pity," Dumbledore said.
"You have it in this time, don't you, Potter?" Snape's look was expectant. And harsh. He wanted the map.
"I haven't checked yet. I'm sure I must. I remember having it at the end of fifth year." Harry had no intention of letting Snape get his hands on it. At least, not anytime soon.
"Let's go," Dumbledore said impatiently, cutting off whatever else Snape had planned to say. He stood and the door to his office opened.
Snape looked down at the pulsating heartstone. Even cracked, it was a remarkable piece of magical work. The power that radiated from it was impressive.
It also served as final proof that this Potter, whoever he was, was not the Potter Snape knew. Whatever else Potter might be, and Snape wasn't going to speculate on it, not without more observation. He already knew he wasn't going to like this one any better than he'd liked any of the other Potters he'd been forced to deal with in his life.
"What needs to be done to fix it?" Minerva stared at it, her face showed her trepidation.
"What I said before. I can fix the crack, but we'll need to bring the wards down completely to do it."
"Which isn't the problem," Albus said. "The difficulty comes with replacing them."
"Damnably difficult," Potter agreed.
It would take a tremendous amount of power to fix the stone and then secure the new wards. Someone with much more power than he, himself, could bring to bear. While he was sure that this Potter had the power, he was still an unknown. He could also destroy Hogwarts.
"Not only that, but we'll lose all the protections that each of the previous headmasters and headmistresses have woven into the wards for the last hundred years," Albus said, regretfully.
"Is it worth it? To do this now will mean that the school will be weakened. Perhaps it might be better to wait. The heartstone has held so far." That was wishful thinking. He could easily envision what an attack by the Dark Lord would do to the wards.
"The wards will fail," Potter said quietly, but with absolute confidence.
Even if he were right, Snape hated that attitude in Potter. That bloody Gryffindor pride that said he was always right. "So you say."
"So I know."
"And tell me again why we should listen to you? You might be leading us into a trap." Not that he actually believed that anymore.
"I think you know that whatever I am, I'm on the side of the Light. That I mean you and this school no harm."
"I don't think we have any choice but to do as Mr Potter has suggested. The crack is apparent." Minerva's tone was firm.
Sighing, Albus looked tired, care-worn. "I agree with Minerva. We must do this, as soon as possible."
As much as it went against his better judgment to believe in this Potter -- or any Potter for that matter -- they didn't have a great deal of choice. "When did you wish to do this? I'd like to return to my home as --"
"You might want to rethink that," Potter said. "Voldemort is going to ask Peter Pettigrew to spend the summer with you. He doesn't actually trust you."
Bloody Hell. He'd been looking forward to a few weeks peace and quiet. He needed to be alone for a while, to recharge for next year. "Do you think I'd allow that creature into my home? You're deluded."
Even as he said it, he knew with dreadful certainty that if the Dark Lord insisted, he'd have little choice.
"Voldemort wants to keep an eye on you," Potter said.
The very thought of Pettigrew in his home made him want to vomit.
"I think we should discontinue this discussion for the moment. You can work out your summer arrangements once the heartstone is repaired." Albus leaned against one of the pillars with an almost studied casualness. Snape wanted to ask him what was wrong, but daren't do it in front of everyone.
"We'll need the four corners that I mentioned last night. Professors Snape and McGonagall can stand as north and south. But we'll need to find east and west."
"Whom did you use, before? In your time?" Minerva asked.
"Both of you and Ron and Hermione."
That illustrated quite clearly the grimness of the circumstances at that time. Granger made sense. "At eighteen or even twenty, I doubt Weasley would have been strong enough."
"He wasn't. It knocked him on his arse for a week. I don't think he could do it now, at all. It would probably kill him. I think Hermione could do it. She's very gifted magically. But she's young."
"Miss Granger is young, but that is in her favor," Albus said.
Minerva nodded. "I agree Miss Granger has the raw power and the potential to add to the wards as she gets older."
As much as he hated that know-it-all, he had to agree with their assessment. "Fine. Who else?"
"Perhaps Remus Lupin?" Albus ignored the fact that Snape had turned down that suggestion last night when they'd talked about it.
"Good choice," Minerva agreed.
"Not Lupin." Snape hated having to be in his presence at all. And to be tied to him by the wards for the school was unthinkable. Unfortunately, everyone else's expressions said they weren't going to listen to him.
"I think Remus might be a good idea. I'll Floo to Grimmauld Place and talk to him." Potter's agreeing with them put the final approval on it. Though, surprisingly, he didn't sound like he was looking forward to that conversation.
"Shall we set a tentative time for the end of the week?" Albus closed up the vault where the heartstone lay.
"I'll contact Miss Granger's parents and secure their permission for her to return to school. Perhaps we can connect their fireplace to the Floo Network for the trip." Minerva started back for the stairs.
"I'd like to talk to Remus this afternoon," Potter said as they walked back. "Where shall I be staying?"
"What's wrong with the dorm?" Special accommodations for Potter would be a nuisance, given the dire circumstances they found themselves in. He smirked to himself, thinking of an adult Potter having to live in the dorms.
"I'd rather not trudge up there. Besides there are visitor quarters on the second floor that are much better. Only until I secure a place to stay."
"And how will you do that, Mr Potter?" Something in Minerva's tone stopped Potter.
"Oh. I see what you mean. I'll need one of you to secure it for me, won't I?" Potter sighed.
"With what money?" Snape asked, hoping to put an end to this right now.
"Well, I actually have quite a bit. My parents left me a tidy sum. And I inherited, or rather am going to inherit the Black estate."
Snape sucked in a breath. Even with the downturn of their circumstances in recent years, the Black estate was one of the richest in the Wizarding world. If he hadn't already hated Potter as much as he possibly could, he'd hate him more, now.
"I'm sure we can arrange something for you," Minerva said. And Snape had no doubt she'd help him with whatever he wanted.
Snape had no intention of doing more than he absolutely had to do. With a bit of luck, he'd get all of this over with by the end of the week, and then retire to Spinner's End for a short holiday.
"Thanks, Professor. I appreciate that." Potter's tone was sincere.
Harry tumbled out of the fireplace at Grimmauld Place and sat there for a moment. No matter how many times he'd Floo'd in his life, he never managed to do it gracefully. He'd always suspected that a wizard needed to learn that at a young age to get it right, and twelve just wasn't young enough.
"Harry? What are you doing here?" Remus came into the room, wiping his hands on a dishtowel.
"Rem...Professor Lupin," Harry said, remembering at the last minute that this Harry still called him by the honorific. He stood, dusting himself off. "I need to talk to you about something important."
"Does Professor Dumbledore know you're here?" Remus' expression was suspicious.
Harry supposed he had good cause, no doubt remembering how he'd orchestrated the incident at the Ministry. "Since I used his Floo, I'd say he did."
"What did you want to talk about?" There was ever so slight a reluctance in Remus' voice. He probably thought that Harry wanted to talk about Sirius.
"There are a couple of things, actually. Why don't we sit down?" Harry moved towards the sofa, but Remus stood looking at him, his head tilted.
Remus seemed to shake himself and then he smiled, waiting.
"Last night, at the leaving feast, Professor Dumbledore and Minister Fudge brought out a mirror that showed a glimpse of the future. It was supposed to show a happy moment."
"Did you see something that disturbed you? The mirror doesn't show a certain future. Only what is likely." Remus' voice was soothing, relieved.
Harry took a breath and squared his shoulders. "In a way. I'm not sure how to say this so that you'll one, not think I'm mad, and two, believe me. The mirror took me in and kept me for about twenty minutes. I lived another life in that time."
Remus looked at him, disbelief written plainly on his face. "Have you spoken to Professor Dumbledore about this?"
"Yes. He was there when I went into the mirror. And that's where the second part of the reason I'm here comes in. When I was living that other life, the one that I think of as my own --"
"Did you really tell Professor Dumbledore about this?" Remus asked again and his tone was a bit sharper. The teacher tone. Demanding an honest answer.
In another place and time, Harry was sure that his fifteen year old self would have responded to it. Now, he sighed, closing his eyes for a moment. "Yes. I did. I lived twenty years in that other life. My life. But I have fairly good knowledge of what is going to happen in this time."
"If that's true --" and clearly Remus thought that it wasn't, "you shouldn't tell anyone. You don't want to change things --"
"Actually I do. And I have. The heartstone that anchors the wards at Hogwarts is cracked. Tom Riddle put the crack there when he was a student."
"I didn't know there was a heartstone anchoring the wards," Remus said, thickly.
Oh. Harry hadn't considered that when he'd started talking. "I guess I expect everyone to know these things since in my time, everyone did." He went on to explain just how the wards were anchored to the heartstone. "The crack needs to be repaired and the wards then reset. I want you to stand as one of the anchors for the wards."
Remus looked a bit sick and still pretty unsure of Harry. He tilted his head. "Are you sure that it's cracked?"
Harry explained what he knew about it and by the end, Remus looked even sicker.
"Professor Dumbledore believed you?" Surprisingly, Remus still sounded as if he didn't.
He would have thought that Remus of all people could look past the way he looked to hear what he was saying. "After he saw the crack in the heartstone, it was a little hard to doubt me."
"You still look --"
"I know. Like my fifteen year old self. I'm not fifteen though." Harry knew he shouldn't be so frustrated with people's disbelief. People saw what they wanted to see. And unless you gave them something else to believe, then they kept seeing it.
"This is all very...remarkable."
"Perhaps I can prove it." Though Harry was loath to show off, he could probably come up with something.
"WHERE IS THAT FILTHY BLOOD TRAITOR OF A SON OF MINE?" a screeching voice asked.
Harry sighed. "I'd forgot about her."
"I wish I could. She goes off all the time now. She won't believe me that Sirius is gone." Remus' voice cracked. "Not that I blame her."
Harry put a hand on Remus' shoulder. "I'm sorry."
Remus looked at him, shock on his face. "Don't you care?"
"Of course I do. But for me, it's been a long time. I've dealt with it. And far too many other deaths as well."
That didn't sit well with Remus, but before he could say anything more, Mrs. Black's portrait screamed again.
"I wish there was something we could do about her." Remus sounded like he was a bit more stressed than he'd let on.
"Actually, I think I can help you there." When he'd wanted to sell Grimmauld Place, Harry had dealt with the portrait in his time. He went out into the hall, wincing as her invective became louder and uglier.
Harry raised his wand and she laughed at him. "TRY IT BOY. YOU'LL PAY FOR IT. THE MAGIC REFLECTS."
"I don't think so," Harry said quietly. "Obscurum Abeo."
She went silent, and her face showed her surprise, and then her fear.
Harry didn't care. "Tabula Abeo." The canvas she was on went white and she disappeared.
Remus' mouth hung open. "What did you do? How? Where did you learn it?"
"As I was saying, I lived through this before. In my timeline, Hermione researched what needed to be done to shut her up. The first spell cleaned all the Dark Magic that held her to her portrait. And the second cleared the paint off the canvas itself. We never did get the frame off the wall, though."
"That's...impressive." Remus was looking at him as if he had two heads. "You're not Harry Potter, are you?"
"I'm not your Harry Potter. I'm not fifteen and I'm not a student at Hogwarts. But I am Harry Potter. Really." Harry knew he was going to have to say that over and over to everyone he ever knew in this timeline. It could take years.
Remus turned around and went back into the sitting room. Harry followed, watching as Remus poured himself a drink.
"Me, too. If you please." Harry wanted to laugh at Remus' look, but he did fix Harry the drink.
"How old are you?"
"Merlin, you're the same age as I am." He paused, probably trying to digest that bit of information. "What happened? Did You-Know...Voldemort win?"
"No. But in the end, it didn't matter."
"So, all of this was for naught?"
"In my timeline, we worked for a long time to finally win our peace. But it came at a desperately high price."
Remus closed his eyes, his expression hurt, tired, some other emotions that Harry didn't recognize. "Tell me about the wards. I assume we'll fix them soon. Who are the other anchors?"
Harry told him.
"Hermione?" Remus asked, sounding surprised.
"She is a good choice. A trustworthy and available choice. She has the magical strength to do it. And her age is a plus, for the future."
"I still hate to see her have to do it."
"No more than I do. But I know she'll want to help. Even with my knowledge of the future, we're still going to need her research skills and the spells and charms she's going to develop. But maybe this time, I can protect her better."
"She and Ron, and I, were all tainted by the Dark Magic that we encountered. Me most of all." A sliver of darkness lived in him, pulsating, wanting to get out, to spread. He kept it locked away, but that didn't mean it was dormant.
"I sense no darkness in you."
"Oh, it's there. I've killed. It leaves a stain on your soul no matter what you do to cleanse it. I've done things I wished I hadn't. It all takes a toll."
"I know." Remus looked down. "When? For the wards?"
Dumbledore met him at the door to his office. "Harry, come in."
"Thank you. I got the impression at lunch that you wanted to talk about the Horcruxes?" Dumbledore hadn't actually said anything overt, but he could convey a thought without saying a word. Harry had always admired that about him. He took a seat by the fire.
Dumbledore took the seat beside him. "Yes. Very good. Do you want some tea?"
What he'd like was a drink, but he wasn't going to ask for that. He suspected Dumbledore didn't quite see him as an adult yet. After he fixed the heartstone tomorrow, it would be a lot easier. "Tea would be very nice, thank you."
A tea service arrived at the snap of Dumbledore's fingers and he poured.
"I'm not sure the Horcruxes will be the same in this timeline. Or even that there will be seven rather than six."
"I have to admit I'm quite curious about the seventh one." Dumbledore took a sip of his own tea. "I can't imagine how he split his soul into eight pieces. Seven is the most that was supposed to be possible for someone to create and remain alive."
"That's what I had heard as well. Not that Voldemort is much more than partially alive. Or more than partially human, for that matter."
"Very true. How did you find out about the seventh?"
"I tried to kill him with Avada Kedavra and he didn't die." It had been humiliating to his nineteen year old self. "He laughed at me and Apparated away. He later bragged to Snape -- who was with him at the time -- that he'd made another Horcrux when he'd murdered Amelia Bones."
Dumbledore choked on his tea. "Amelia Bones is still alive."
Harry stood up, but there was no place for him to go. "You must contact her immediately and tell her to get out of London."
"Yes. Yes. That's an excellent idea." Dumbledore knelt by the fire, throwing down some Floo powder, he stuck his head into the flames. "Amelia, dear. It's Albus Dumbledore."
There was a response, but Harry couldn't hear it.
Dumbledore's body sagged. "Oh. Yes. I see. Thank you." When he sat up, his face was ashen. "She's dead. I spoke with Kingsley Shacklebolt. It happened last night."
"There was nothing in the papers."
"The MLE kept it quiet so that they could investigate. He said the murder was gruesome. And that the evidence suggests she was killed by Voldemort himself."
"I'm so sorry. If I'd said something sooner. Even that first night."
"Hindsight is always clear, dear boy. But you didn't know. We'll need as much information as you can give us. Do you know what the Horcruxes are?"
"What they were in my timeline, yes. I hope they are the same here."
"The heartstone is cracked, just as you said. I suspect even if things aren't exactly the same, they will be close enough to help our cause."
"I hope so. They were: Tom Riddle's diary, Marvolo Gaunt's ring, Helga Hufflepuff's cup, Salazar Slytherin's locket, the service award Tom Riddle got, Rowena Ravenclaw's wand, and Godric Gryffindor's cloak pin.
"And you know where they are located."
"I'll write down what I know and give it to you. One or two are more tricky than the rest, but most of them are hidden in plain sight."
"The best hiding places are generally that way. And thank you for the information. And your help tomorrow."
McGonagall, Dumbledore, Remus and Snape were all there, waiting for them when Harry led Hermione into the Chamber.
"Where have you been? We've been waiting for you." Snape's scowl made Hermione wince, but Harry was getting used to it.
Harry wasn't going to rise to the bait. They had more important things to do than argue. He moved over to the uncovered stone. "Why don't we get started? Professor Dumbledore, can you take the wards down."
Dumbledore nodded, drawing his wand and pointing it at the stone. He mumbled a few phrases that Harry didn't quite catch and the heartstone's bright white glow dimmed noticeably. It was still pulsing, but the crack was dark and gaping.
Harry raised his wand and concentrated. It wasn't that hard to close the fissure, but it took precise use of his magic. He chanted softly, drawing power from the castle and the earth and the air. The crack closed slowly, much more slowly than Harry would have liked. It was deeper in this time than he'd remembered from his own.
Finally, the crack was closed, the stone pulsated, and the light emanating was brighter.
Remus smiled at him. "Well done. Shall we set the wards, now?"
"That is what we're here for, isn't it, Lupin? Or did you just come down for the scenery?" Snape's tone was nasty, cold.
Hermione giggled nervously.
"Ten points from Gryffindor for being childish."
"You can't do that!" she said, furiously.
"Don't worry, Miss Granger. He didn't mean it." McGonagall assured her.
"Yes, I did," Snape said, glaring at McGonagall and then turned back to Hermione.
She met his stare, but Harry could see it was an effort for her to hold it. She was strong-willed, though, and managed.
"Yes. Why don't we continue?" Dumbledore said, tiredly. It seemed that taking the wards down had exhausted him.
Using chalk, Harry drew a box about five feet across and around the heartstone. "Each of you take a point. Professor Snape and McGonagall, across from each other, here. Rem...Professor Lupin --"
Remus laughed. "Go ahead, you can call me Remus, Harry."
"Thanks. Remus." Harry smiled at him. "You and Hermione, here and here." He pointed to the east and west corners of the box.
"Do you even know if these corners are pointed in the correct direction?" Snape asked nastily.
"Of course he does, Professor. Can't you feel the directions?" Hermione asked as if everyone could feel magical directions.
"I can." Snape looked down his nose at her. "Whether or not Potter can is another story. I'm merely making sure he's not making a mistake."
"Wouldn't want me to make a mistake, now would we?" Harry said, holding back a smile at how childish Snape was being. As bad as what he'd just accused Hermione of, if not worse.
"Smart-mouthed brat," Snape muttered.
"Sorry, sir. I meant no offense." Harry said it sincerely. No matter how childish Snape might act, there was a fine line beyond which Harry would not go.
"Each of you needs to create the ward for your direction and then cast it on the stone. As you do, I'll secure it." Harry watched as each of them nodded. "First North. Professor Snape?"
Snape created the ward, and infused it with charms for protection and defense. He wrapped it around the heartstone with delicate care, more so than most people would have believed him capable. It didn't surprise Harry. Nor, Harry noticed, either McGonagall or Remus.
Harry secured the ward and then turned to McGonagall. She created her ward, adding strength and fault tolerances. When she was done, Harry secured that one, too. The heartstone glowed much brighter now.
Remus went next. His ward also added strength and defense. Hermione's ward was nearly as strong as Snape's. Though it lacked his delicate expertise, it made up for it in raw power. She sagged a bit as she wrapped it around the stone.
Harry bound each ward separately and then all together. The stone glowed brightly, clear white light filling the chamber.
When it slid into place, everyone was smiling, even Snape.
Harry's heart hammered, painfully and he looked away. He'd forgotten what Snape looked like when he smiled.
"Well done," Dumbledore said, clapping Harry on the back. "Very well done."
"Thank you, sir." Harry could not help but be pleased. He had every reason to believe that he'd be able to wield his magic as easily as he'd always done, but until he'd actually done it, there was the chance, slight though it might be, that he would fail.
"Yes. That was brilliant." Hermione smiled at him, her shoulders dropping, and her eyes half closed with exhaustion. "I am quite hungry."
"I am too. And everyone else should be as well," McGonagall said. "Let's go up to lunch."
"It's well past lunch time, my dear," Dumbledore said, he held his hand out for them to precede him out of the chamber.
Snape was quiet, but as he passed Harry to go up the stairs, he whispered, "Well done."
It was quiet enough that Harry could have believed he imagined it. Except that Remus was smiling, too. "He's right. Very well done."
After lunch, and seeing Hermione Floo home, Harry thought about taking a nap, but seeing Dumbledore took precedence.
"Professor?" Harry said as he came into the office, carrying the parchment with all the Horcrux locations, or at least the ones he was certain of. "May I speak to you?"
"Come in, my boy. What can I do for you?" Dumbledore was sitting in one of the big chairs by the fire. And unfortunately, Snape was with him.
Harry wasn't up to dealing with Snape right now. "I can come back, if you're busy."
"I'm not. We were just discussing your situation." Dumbledore's tone was surprisingly pleasant.
"Actually, I was going to ask you about that. And give you this." He handed Dumbledore the list. "There is still a lot of research that needs to be done to actually find some of them."
"So I see. We'll start to work on it immediately."
Harry nodded and waited, glancing at Snape.
"As always, you've created all manner of problems for us," Snape said, but his normal sneer was slightly less harsh.
"I know. I'm just so thoughtless, showing up uninvited, giving you information you need," Harry quipped, with a smile. "I was thinking that maybe I could have another look at the mirror."
"Why?" Dumbledore clearly didn't think that was a good idea. Why though? What could the mirror do to him now? Except take him home.
"Now that I've changed things, given you the information you need to make sure it doesn't happen the way it did in my time, maybe it can send me home."
Snape snorted at that. "I doubt it."
"Why not?" Harry looked at him, wishing he could see the man as he was now without the filter of who he'd become overlaying it.
"You've no doubt changed your timeline enough that you can't slip back into it. In all likelihood, you've destroyed it."
Harry's stomach twisted. That made far too much sense. "I'd like to try anyway."
"I suspect there is more for you to do here," Dumbledore said, glancing at the list in his hand.
Harry thought so, too. But if there was a chance he could go home, then he'd take it. "Where is the mirror? Did you send it back to the Department of Mysteries?"
"No, it's upstairs in one of the empty classrooms."
"I'm going to go up there, all right?"
"Professor Snape will go with you."
Harry looked at Snape, who scowled at him. "As you please."
Standing before the mirror, Harry sent a silent prayer that it would work. He touched his wand to it, and felt...nothing. Opening his eyes, he saw himself reflected and then it clouded and he saw Snape standing with him. Not quite his Snape, nor the Snape from this time, either.
Disturbed by the image, he turned around. Snape was behind him, not quite in the position he'd been in the mirror, but the glass was distorted. He looked into the mirror again, and it was simply a reflection of himself and Snape.
"Bloody Hell," he snarled at the mirror. Frustration washed through him. He wanted to go home. Without thinking, he flung a bolt of angry magic at the blackboard across the room. It hit and sparkled. There was some satisfaction in watching it start to melt.
"Temper, temper, Potter." Snape's tone wasn't quite as contemptuous as normal, probably startled by the unbecoming display.
Feeling foolish, Harry cast a clean up spell, restoring the blackboard to its former state. He knew better than to let go of his temper.
"Pity you're still here." Snape looked disappointed, but under it, Harry could almost see the speculation about his power. He hated when he reminded anyone of how powerful he was. Although, Snape could hardly have missed it, given the demonstration he'd put on that morning.
"Getting rid of me would only bring my fifteen year old self back. I can't see how that would make you any happier. And I can help you avoid some of the mess that's coming this year."
"Such as?" The level of curiosity in Snape's voice was higher than it had been since Harry had come here.
Harry didn't want to do this in an empty classroom. The truth was he didn't want to discuss it at all. Unfortunately, that wasn't an option. He moved away from the mirror. "This is better done over a drink. You're not going to like what I'm going to say."
"Adult or no, you're still Harry Potter, and I don't like you. I'm not drinking with you. Tell me what you have to say, and be done with it." Snape folded his arms over his chest.
Snape was such a bastard sometimes. That never changed. Except that in his time there were other compensations and Snape was rarely a bastard to him anymore. "Very soon, Professor Dumbledore is going to go after Gaunt's ring, which is one of the Horcruxes. He destroys it, but not before it poisons him."
"If you know this with any certainty, why have you not spoken before?" Snape asked, his face going more pale than it already was.
Much to Harry's annoyance, Snape was right. "When exactly have I had the time? Why don't we try and work together to help him? In my time, Hermione was able to find a way to reverse some of the magical taint of Dark Magic with a White Spell. I don't think she has time to do it now. As it was, you managed to keep him alive with several potions after he'd been cursed." Perhaps he should start Hermione working on the spell now. Actually, that would make a good summer project for her.
Snape turned to him. "Do you know what the curse is? I can have whatever is necessary on hand."
"No. I'm sorry. By the time I saw Dumbledore again, he had been cursed already." Harry would never forget the sight of Dumbledore's blackened hand when he came to the Dursleys to get him.
"And how long did it take Miss Granger to come up with her White Spell?"
"About two years. But she was hampered by the fact she'd been tainted herself. It's hard to wield pure White Magic if you're not pure yourself. I couldn't do it at all."
Snape raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised you'd admit to that."
"It's hardly something I can lie about. And I still won't be able to do it." Harry looked at Snape, and wondered, "What about you?"
Snape's expression was somewhere between surprised and appalled. "What about me? I'm as tainted with the Dark as any Death Eater."
"Then, you'll have the same problems I do. I suppose we'll let Hermione do it. Maybe Remus can supervise her."
"The werewolf? Surely he's tainted by the Lycanthropy?" Snape said, his tone lacking the bitter distaste it usually had.
"White Magic works on intent. It doesn't care what you are as long as you haven't killed or had deliberate contact with Dark Magic. He can supervise Hermione while she works. Maybe McGonagall can help too."
"Possibly. I shall not be of any help. You were going to tell me what is going to happen this summer."
"I was, wasn't I?" Harry said, putting the sheet back over the mirror. There was a part of him that wanted to melt something else, but he kept that part carefully under control. He'd deal with his grief later. "I need a drink. Let's go into Hogsmeade."
"Are you insane? You can't leave the school like that. Aside from everything else, it's not safe. What if we're seen together? No matter how old you get, you still never think about the consequences!"
"I suppose you're right." Fighting a blush at his own stupidity, Harry nodded once in concession. The lack of free movement was going to get annoying very quickly. He walked out of the room.
Silently, Snape followed him back to the Great Hall. Harry sat down at the end of the Gryffindor table and smirked as Snape sat down across from him.
"Dobby?" Harry said.
"Dobby is here." Dobby popped into being. "What can Dobby get for --" The elf's ears went up. "Who is you? You is looking like Harry Potter, but you is not him." Dobby backed away, his liquid eyes wide with fear.
Harry opened his mouth to say something, but Snape said, "Dobby. It is Harry Potter."
"No! No! He is not being Harry Potter." Dobby's tone had become a screech. Fear radiated off him in waves.
"Dobby," Harry said, softly. "It is me --"
"No. You is not. Harry Potter's magic is...less. You is looking like him, but you is not feeling like him."
"I'm...well, from the future I guess. But I am him. Or rather, he is me. Can't you sense me, beyond the magic?" Harry continued to project calm, hoping Dobby would start thinking clearly.
Dobby stopped and stared at him and then sighed. "You is Harry Potter. But you is not my Harry Potter."
Harry couldn't help but smile at that. "Yeah, I guess that would be true."
Dobby seemed to digest that and then said, "What is you wanting?"
"Can you get me a bottle of Ogden's finest?" Right now, Harry's nerves were raw and he needed something to relax him enough that the muscles in his back and neck would loosen.
"Students is not allowed to have spirits." Dobby's stance and expression showed his uncertainty.
Harry wanted to reassure him, but what could he say that wouldn't sound mad? "I'm not a student, anymore. I'm a grown-up now. It will be all right."
"Dobby is understanding. Dobby is bringing Harry Potter spirits." Dobby popped out and then back in again with a bottle and two glasses.
"Thank you," Harry said as Dobby popped out again. He poured a finger-full in each glass. "Cheers."
Snape tipped his glass in salute. "Now, if you please, I'd like to know what you so obviously don't want to tell me."
All of Harry's muscles tensed again. "You're not going to like it."
"I gathered as much. There's little chance I'd ever like anything you have to say." Snape took another sip and glared at him over the rim of his glass.
Harry gave him a sad smile. "Oh, I don't know. Would it surprise you to know we got to be friends after Voldemort's death?"
"That I survived at all comes as a great shock." Clearly, so was the idea that there could be anything other than enmity between them.
"Yeah, it was for a lot of other people as well."
"I'm sure." That didn't seem to bother Snape. "Do go on."
"As I mentioned before, Voldemort had, or will have, Pettigrew staying with you this summer."
"He wasn't pleased when I told him I'd be staying on a few weeks this summer and that it had something to do with you also staying on." Snape's tone said that was an understatement.
"To prove his loyalty, Draco Malfoy is given the task of killing Dumbledore."
Snape choked on his whiskey. "I sincerely doubt that."
"Not only that, Bellatrix and Narcissa will come to see you, and wring an Unbreakable Vow out of you, that if Draco can't do it, you will."
"That's absurd. I wouldn't do that." But there was ever so slight a note of doubt in Snape's voice.
"From what I understand," only because Snape had told him, "you didn't know what you were swearing to. And that Narcissa asked you was good enough for you."
"Why would that matter?" Snape asked insouciantly.
Harry played one of the cards he was holding. "Because you've had a crush on her since you were sixteen or so."
Snape's eyes narrowed and his thin lips flattened. "And how exactly would you know this?"
"Well, it might have been that you told me." Harry gave him a little grin that probably seemed far too self-satisfied, but it was true.
"Not in this lifetime."
That was the gist of it, wasn't it? "It wasn't in this lifetime. I'd avoid making any Unbreakable Vows, if I were you."
"I am reasonably certain that whatever else he is, Draco Malfoy is not a killer. Are you going to tell me how I got out of killing Dumbledore?" There was more hope than belief in Snape's tone. It was clear that he wanted it to be true.
Harry was desperately sorry to tell him, "You didn't."
For one second, Snape closed his eyes and looked defeated beyond words. Then he put his glass carefully on the table. He stood and walked away.
"That didn't go well, did it?" Harry said, pouring himself another shot.
"Not at all well."
Harry jumped, standing up, and drew his wand without thinking. It took a second for the adrenalin to die away. Fighting a blush, he took another breath and mumbled, "Sorry," as he put it away.
"Those are nicely sharpened reflexes, Mr Potter." McGonagall sat down, helping herself to some of the Ogden's.
"How much did you hear?" Harry asked, half-hoping that he wasn't going to have to get into it all now.
"Enough to know why Severus left the way he did."
He should have known better. She always did have sharp hearing. "You didn't take it as well when it happened. At least at first."
She tipped her glass towards him in salute. "I expect not. But I know that he would not have done that without a good reason. No, more than that, without Albus forcing him."
"Pretty much, that's what happened." Harry took a sip of his drink.
"And what else happens?"
"With you. With the school? With Severus."
Harry looked down at his drink. He didn't want to get pissed. "With me? After we found the Horcruxes and I killed Voldemort, Hermione, Ron and I sat our N.E.W.T.s. I scored well enough that I was allowed to start my Auror training. I also took over as head of the Order of the Phoenix. Ron and Hermione worked with me. With you? You took over as Headmistress the year after Dumbledore died. You were at an Order meeting when the attack came."
"I survived it?"
"Yeah. It took two years for all the damage to be repaired and for Hogwarts to open again." The ache in Harry's chest never completely faded, even after all the years that had passed. "At first, we all go on mostly out of a sense of duty, I think, more than anything else. It's how Lucius Malfoy got his hold on so much power. People were devastated. They weren't paying attention."
"I'd say so." McGonagall's face was pale as she looked down at her drink.
"But we continued to persevere, and as people do, slowly we recovered."
"Stays with Voldemort until his death. When he's freed from the Dark Mark, he came back to work with us, bringing Draco with him."
"Mr Malfoy turned against his father?"
That had surprised everyone at the time, too. "Yes. He was quite loyal to Professor Snape."
She nodded and reached for the bottle, pouring another half-glass. "And?"
"There was a power vacuum. The Ministry slowly crumbled. There were pockets of people who managed to get things done, but mostly nothing happened. The skirmishes continued, and Lucius tried to take over. He almost succeeded, but couldn't quite win enough of a following of the people he needed. It dragged on for years until Lucius was finally killed and the Death Eaters disbanded."
"And you think that you can stop that from happening?"
"I think I've changed things. The wards won't fall when Voldemort attacks. I hope Snape won't make that Unbreakable Vow. Or at least, he'll know the consequences if he does. Maybe Dumbledore will survive."
"And what were the consequences for Severus personally?" It sounded as if she had a good idea of what would happen to Snape.
"As you might guess, he never forgave himself. And spending three years living with the Death Eaters didn't do him any good either. I know for a fact that both of those things haunted him his whole life."
Harry closed his eyes and tried to block the memories of Snape's screams as nightmares plagued him night after night. Even Ron, who'd clung to his hatred of Snape longer than the rest of them, had felt some pity for how haunted Snape had been by what he'd been forced to do.
"And you knew him quite well, didn't you?" McGonagall asked softly, her gaze meeting his.
Something in her tone made Harry wary. He didn't care for the knowing look in her eyes. "What are you asking me?"
"I'm asking you how close you were to Severus?" She certainly didn't mince words, did she?
"He and I are...were friends." Harry was quite pleased that he'd managed to keep his voice perfectly level. It appalled him that she could still make him feel like a recalcitrant little boy at thirty-five.
She raised an eyebrow, and saluted with her glass. "As you say."
But it was clear she'd seen something, and Harry wondered what he'd let slip. He hadn't meant to mention his relationship with Snape at all. It was gone. Like everything else in his life. Resolutely, he took a deep breath. If he spent too much time dwelling on the past, he'd fall apart. "I don't wish to talk about it, all right?"
"Quite all right." Her tone held a lot of sympathy. "But if you'd like to, at some point later, you know where to find me."
"Thanks. I might." Or might not. It was more than kind of her to offer. "Is that why you've been the one to accept this, me, so easily?"
"I know that you would never have looked at him as you do now -- especially when you think no one else is looking -- when you were fifteen."
Harry snorted. "I had wondered about that. I mean, why you were the easiest to convince. You've treated me like an adult since I got here."
"After years of dealing with all sorts of children, it's fairly easy to recognize an adult when I see one."
"Nice to know I present well." He grinned at her.
McGonagall chuckled. "I think everyone, including Miss Granger, treats you differently now. You act differently, so it's only to be expected." She put her glass down. "I'm going for a nap before dinner."
Harry poured himself another glass.
Harry asked Snape and McGonagall to meet him in Dumbledore's office after supper.
"Thank you all for coming. I want to set up a base of operations --"
"Base of operations? What nonsense are you talking about, Potter?" Snape's tone was incredulous.
"Severus --" McGonagall started to say. She was ready to defend Harry, which pleased him, even as it wasn't necessary.
"It's okay." Harry wondered if he were going to fight a battle every time he saw Snape. Oh, this was Snape and in all likelihood he would have to put up with that and a lot of other crap as well. "I'm talking about looking for the Horcruxes that we'll need to destroy before we can kill Voldemort."
"I'm aware of that." Snape looked at him, his whole attitude disdainful, nearly affronted, though Harry couldn't understand why. He was probably still upset about Dumbledore and taking it out on the messenger.
"What did you have in mind, my boy?" Dumbledore said. "Do you know what you'd like to do?"
"I'd like to rent a house for the summer. Someplace I can have Hermione and Remus work on the White Magic spell. I'd like to ask Ron as well."
"Why would you want Weasley?" Snape asked, his disdain of Ron clear. "The boy is nothing special."
"He is to me --"
"Not this Weasley. Not anymore, anyway." Snape's tone hadn't changed.
"Ron is a master strategist." Or he was by the time he was twenty. "He might not be now, but I won't leave him out. He has the potential and I want to see it realized." And without Ron's planning and tactics, they would not have been able to hold off Lucius Malfoy and the Death Eaters for as long as they had.
"Fine sentiments. But he's young and untrained. It's possible he could be hurt in other ways," McGonagall said.
He met her disapproving glare with a stubborn look of his own. "I can watch over them. Keep them close. Out of trouble. We need Hermione." There was no arguing with that. At sixteen or at twenty, she was as brilliant a witch as had ever lived. They weren't going to be able to do this without her.
Snape shook his head. "It still seems like too great a risk --"
"I realize you don't like either of them --"
"Or you --"
Telling him that his ire was not appreciated would only serve to give Snape more impetus to be unpleasant. Sometimes, dealing with Snape was like dealing with a spoilt child. "Or me, but this is how I want to handle things."
"And what makes you think that we'll simply follow along with your plans? You might be in charge in your time, but here, Albus is still head of the Order." Snape's expression was spiteful.
Harry conceded the point, by inclining his head towards Dumbledore. "Professor?"
"Why don't we hear what Harry has to say?" Dumbledore suggested, his eyes briefly twinkling with some inner amusement. Harry wondered if it were just their squabbling or something else.
"Why should we?" Snape was difficult, but he wasn't stupid.
"I know what's going to happen. Think about how much I can help --"
"If you're right. If what you know is actually our future. If it's not, then you could bugger up our entire world, worse than your own was."
"So far, I've been correct. Admittedly, that can and probably will change as the future changes. But that's why we need Ron. He's part of this."
"Only if you choose to make him so." Clearly, Snape was against that.
Too bad, Harry thought, folding his arms over his chest. "I do."
"I want to know everything, in detail," Snape said, after several moments of silence.
"This summer, as I've said, Professor Dumbledore finds Gaunt's ring and is cursed by it. I think, I hope, that Hermione can work out a White Spell to wash some of the Dark Magic out of it. The spell also does the same thing with many other Dark curses." Nothing could wash the Dark completely out of what had been tainted with it.
Dumbledore nodded. "Even knowing what the curse was would be of great value."
"I never knew. When Hermione, Ron and I went after Helga's cup, Hermione's hand was cursed. She was able to work a spell that slowed the progress -- much like Professor Snape was able to do with you, with what happened, will happen, to your hand. Unfortunately, even though she eventually found a way to undo much of the curse itself, the original damage could not be undone. She never regained complete use of her hand."
McGonagall looked shocked. "Never?"
"Dark curses are notoriously hard to reverse and impossible to completely recover from." Dumbledore rubbed his own hand.
"You should let me or Professor Snape accompany you when you go after the ring." Harry thought he should go himself, but he doubted that Dumbledore would agree to that.
"I agree," Snape said.
"No. Aside from the fact that I'm not willing to risk either of you at this point, it's actually a one person job. The ring is in Guant's vault. It's a very small space and only one person can fit into it. I've also studied the wards around the location, and they aren't that complicated, but they will require concentration." Dumbledore was adamant.
"I appreciate that, Albus --"
"No. Severus, I need you to be here. I'm convinced I can get in and out without being cursed. Especially since I know that I'll need to be that much more careful."
"Minerva, I'm quite capable of dealing with this. It really isn't that complicated. I'd ask for help if I believed I needed it." Dumbledore smiled faintly at her.
"You must be careful, Professor. The Order needs you." Despite Dumbledore's confidence, Harry did not have a good feeling about him doing this on his own. He wished he knew what the old man was thinking. "Are you sure you don't want us to research --"
"Harry, I've done all the necessary research that is possible. You will have to trust that I do know what I am doing."
It wasn't good enough. He had to let them help. "Professor --"
For a moment, Dumbledore looked quite cross and then he sighed. "Even if one of you were to come with me, you'd have to wait outside while I retrieved the ring. Now, I plan to go tomorrow and get this done. Shall we move on?" Dumbledore clearly didn't want to argue about it anymore.
"Why not give Miss Granger some time to come up with something that could help you, if the worst happens," McGonagall suggested.
"For one thing, I'm hoping that it won't. For a second, I don't think she's going to have enough time to do everything that needs to be done," Dumbledore said. "There are many Horcruxes to find. Let's begin with this one."
Both McGonagall and Snape looked as if they wanted to continue to argue with Dumbledore, but Harry knew there would be no chance of convincing him. He kept his mouth shut.
After a moment more, McGonagall turned to Harry. "You said you wanted to rent a house for the summer. What were you planning to use for funds?"
"Between what I inherited from my parents and what I should get from inheriting the Black estate, I think there should be enough. I'll need someone to help me retrieve it."
"I hope that both Minerva and Severus will be willing to help you with that," Dumbledore said, clearly glad to be off the topic of the ring.
"I know of several people you can contact about a place. Where were you thinking of?" McGonagall looked like she'd enjoy finding the house for them.
"When I was eighteen in my timeline, I bought a home in Leeds. I'd like to have that property when it comes on the market. For now, somewhere with a lot of space. I think we'll have several people there for the summer."
"I think we should be able to arrange something."
"Why don't we simply stay at Hogwarts? At least here there's someone to cook and clean," Snape said with an unfortunate whine.
"Severus, must you be so difficult?" McGonagall asked him, sharply.
Snape glared back at her. "Why yes, Minerva, I must be difficult. It's my nature."
"It is at that," McGonagall snorted. "Harry, Since Severus was already planning to go to Diagon Alley tomorrow, I think he can take you to Gringotts."
If Snape were startled by the request, he hid it well, simply nodding. "Nine a.m., Potter. I'll leave without you if you're late."
At 8:55, Harry was waiting for Snape at the front gates. He'd taken care to be on time. Although sometimes Harry wanted to just watch the show Snape put on, today would not be the day for it. He needed Snape's cooperation to get several things done.
He'd slept poorly last night, tossing and turning, going over his plans. And his fifteen-year old body's hormones, which he could keep at bay during the day, had ambushed him again. He'd had to take care of the problem twice before he could settle down for the night. That was too annoying for words.
Snape arrived at 9:00 on the dot, dressed in all black. "Potter," Snape said, looking at him with disdain. "Don't you have anything else to wear?"
"Actually, no," Harry muttered, glancing at Snape and then stopping for a longer look.
As much as he would have preferred not to notice, Snape looked...not good, but appealing to Harry nonetheless.
That was the very last thing he needed to be thinking about right now, but his fifteen year old prick twitched and started to fill. He was appalled at how easily he became aroused. How did anyone in their teens ever get anything done?
"We'll walk down to Hogsmeade and Floo from the Three Broomsticks." Snape took off at a brisk walk, his long legs eating up the path to Hogsmeade.
Harry had to hurry to keep up with him, which served to take his mind off his other problem. "Whatever you want."
"You're quite agreeable today."
Yeah, and if he weren't, no doubt he'd hear about that, too. Wisely, Harry stayed silent.
Once in Diagon Alley, Harry followed Snape into Gringotts. The goblins were helpful in their abrupt way, and Harry was able to secure a draft for what he needed for renting a house for the summer.
Snape had been strangely silent after their descent into the vault.
"Something wrong, Professor?" Harry asked as they exited the bank.
Maybe Snape was annoyed at seeing all the money he had. On the other hand, Snape was always bad-tempered. Before they had gone more than a few steps, Harry put a hand on Snape's arm. "I'd like to buy some clothes, if you don't mind?"
"I do. That wasn't what we discussed." Snape glared at his hand until he removed it.
Harry wasn't in the mood to argue about it in the middle of the street. He needed clothes and had every intention of getting them. Being out of Snape's presence for a while would no doubt do the other problem some good as well. "You go back to school then, I'll be fine on my own."
"You're not yet sixteen. You are not fine on your own!" Snape sneered at him, and tugged on his arm when he would have stepped off the curb.
"Then come with me." Harry glared back.
"I do not wish to linger here." Snape made a point of looking around.
Oh. Harry needed to act like a fifteen-year old. "Please, Professor. I need clothes. Like you said, I can't wear my uniform every day. I want to get something else to wear. Please?"
For a second, Snape looked approving. "What's wrong with the things you had before?"
Harry adopted a petulant expression. "Aside from the fact that it's all several sizes too large --"
Snape sneered at him again. "A wizard can fix that --"
"It belonged to Dudley Dursley first." He didn't have to fake the anger at that.
"Too good to wear hand-me-downs then, Potter?"
He frowned and met Snape's eyes. "Too good for these, you can be sure."
"Choose one store."
"Alabessa's Clothes for Wizards, then." He was more likely to be able to get most of what he needed at her establishment. "But I'll need boots, too."
"Your taste has improved." Snape walked away, leaving Harry to trail after him.
Madam Alabessa agreed to have Harry's purchase sent to Hogwarts only after glancing at Snape to get his okay. Harry found that infuriating and there wasn't a blessed thing he could do about it either.
"I need boots," Harry said, not caring if Snape wanted to go with him or not. He wanted this done as soon as he could manage it.
Surprisingly, Snape said nothing, following after him. He found two pairs of boots that he liked and arranged to have them sent on as well. "I'll need a robe or two." Harry knew he was pushing his luck, but he could not wear his student robe all summer. For one thing, it was wool.
"Fine," Snape said, wearily.
"Can I buy you lunch for your troubles?" Harry asked as they left Madam Malkin's.
"Are you insane? If the Dark Lord were to find out --" Snape's whisper was ominous.
"He will have done already. We've been in four shops today, as well as the bank. I know you've got an excuse lined up. You could even tell him the truth. Dumbledore made you squire me around. And me being such a brat, insisted on having lunch out."
Snape looked at him as if he were mad. "Do you think this is funny?"
"Not funny, no. I think you're just looking for an excuse to be annoyed."
Like a serpent eyeing its prey, Snape smirked at him. "I don't need an excuse when I'm with you. You annoy me."
Playing along, Harry hung his head in mock shame. "I know. It's sad, isn't it?"
"Quite so," Snape said, and his mouth twitched just a bit.
"The three B's?" Harry asked as a compromise. He wasn't ready to go back just yet.
Harry followed him into the Leaky Caldron. Once back in Hogsmeade, they did have lunch at the Three Broomsticks.
"You were kind of quiet most of the morning," Harry said tentatively, wondering if Snape would even talk to him.
"I had nothing to say."
"I know that a lot has happened in a short time --"
"Nothing has happened yet. It's all still speculation." But clearly Snape was starting to believe it would happen. "We can't be sure. You only have a possible knowledge --" Snape stopped and looked around. "We should not be discussing this here."
The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and Harry had to force himself not to look. "We should go."
He and Snape walked back to Hogwarts in silence.
"I think we should make plans to go after Helga's cup," Harry said after they had passed through the gates.
"Why would you think I'd go with you?" Oh, but it was clear that Snape knew Harry wasn't going to go without him.
"Well, it's you or the children. It's a two person job to get through the maze that's around it. And I don't intend to let them near it."
For a moment, Snape looked like he might object. "All right. What is necessary?"
"The cup is hidden in a maze. Rather like the one from the Triwizard Tournament, but not so innocuous as that. It took us thirty-six hours to get through it in my time, and Hermione's hand was cursed by the cup."
"I'd rather think not."
Harry opened the door to the Great Hall and nodded for Snape to precede him inside. "We'll need to take a few things with us, to fight the various...monsters in the maze. It's not complicated or difficult. But knowing what to have on hand will make it that much easier."
"Having done it once before should also be to our advantage."
"Yes --" A sound at the other end of the hall startled them.
Dumbledore stumbled through the door at the other end. Harry raced over to him. "Professor?"
"I'm..." Dumbledore started to sag, and Snape reached out to catch him, but Harry pushed him out of the way.
"You can't touch him. He's been cursed. Many Dark curses spread to anyone who touches the cursed person until it's neutralized. Look at his hand."
Snape nodded, his face white.
Dumbledore sat down on one of the benches. His hand, which had the ring on it, was greenish black. Faint tendrils of black, like a spider's web, were starting to move up Dumbledore's wrist.
"We need to get the ring off him and destroyed," Harry said. "Let's get him upstairs to the infirmary. Is there something you can do to neutralize the curse?"
"I have some Potions that will help. They are already in the infirmary." Snape said, and cast Mobilicorpus on Dumbledore as they both hurried out of the hall, Dumbledore following behind them.
"Where is Madam Pomfrey?" Harry asked as they came into the darkened infirmary. Before Snape could answer, he held up his hand. "Never mind. I forgot. She was always around when we needed her even after Hogwarts fell."
"She survived, too?"
"She, McGonagall, and Hagrid were all at an Order meeting. The rest of the teachers died as well as..." Harry didn't need to say it again.
Snape nodded once and waved his wand to lower Dumbledore onto the bed. "I'll get him something to keep the curse from spreading."
"Nice to know you believed me well enough to have it all ready." Harry would have expected nothing less.
"It never pays to be short-sighted. I may not care for you, but I'm not stupid." Snape whirled around, his robes flaring, and moved across the room to the locked potions cabinet.
"Not only prepared, but up here as well."
"Where else would I have put it?" Snape returned with a red and a green bottle of liquid. Careful not to touch him, Snape held it to Dumbledore's mouth and forced him to drink it.
"Thank you, Severus." Dumbledore sagged back to the bed and closed his eyes.
"He should sleep for several hours," Snape said, vanishing the bottles with a flick of his wand. "And he'll need to stay in bed for a few days."
Before he could respond, McGonagall came in. "I was in Albus' office, one of the portraits said he'd been hurt."
"He got the ring." Harry nodded towards Dumbledore's hand.
McGonagall's eyes tracked his and widened. "And was cursed anyway. The stubborn old fool."
"I should have known that something needed to change beyond just knowing that the possibility of the curse existed. One of us should have gone with him." Even if there was no way to force Dumbledore to do something he didn't want to do, Harry wished he'd insisted a little harder.
"There is no use worrying about that now. We'll need to find a way to treat him." McGonagall directed that towards Snape.
"Without knowing the curse, there is only so much I can do." Snape's hands were clenched into fists.
"How is he?" McGonagall looked down at Dumbledore, concerned.
"He's stabilized," Snape said. "Which means we've stopped the active curse. Touching him won't infect anyone else. As for the curse itself, I don't know."
"There's no way to know. His hand looks better than it did when I saw him that fall." Harry would never forget how black and dead Dumbledore's hand had been.
Snape nodded. "He'll sleep for a few hours. But he'll be weak from the curse."
"For how long?" McGonagall asked.
"Forever." Snape sighed sadly.
She sucked in a breath and then let it out slowly. "All right. Until he wakes, we're not going to know anything more." She turned to Harry. "I've found suitable housing for you, or rather for us."
Snape snorted. "You are going to stay with him? You're braver than I thought."
"So are you, Severus. In the eyes of Wizarding Society, he is still a child. He needs guardians."
"Oh no, Minerva. I'm going home to --"
"What about the cup?" Harry said, annoyed that they would talk about him as if he weren't there.
"As I've said, I will go with you to get it. But I don't need to live with you. I do think that is above and beyond anything that should be asked of me."
"Too bad," McGonagall said. "We're going to have two children to deal with as well as Harry. And they will need supervision."
"Let Potter deal with them. They are his friends."
"Really, Professor, I can supervise Hermione and Ron." He wasn't sure he liked the idea that Snape would be living in the same house as him. Another wave of hormones hit him at the thought, and he wanted to groan. And find a few minutes alone to take care of it.
"I've promised Miss Granger's parents that she will be well chaperoned." McGonagall folded her arms into the sleeves of her tartan robes. "You will stay there."
Snape's face hardened. "You can't tell me what to do."
"I just did."
"And if I choose not to obey you?"
"You will. Because you know I'm right."
It was fascinating watching them fight. They were like a mother and grown son. He wondered why he'd never made the connection between the two of them before. Until this was resolved, he wasn't going to open his mouth.
"I know nothing of the sort," Snape said, but it was clear that he was going to do what she wanted. "The Dark Lord will have my hide for this."
McGonagall smiled at that. "Perhaps not. Albus has ordered you to stay the summer with Potter and his little friends. You can tell him all about what they are doing."
"It would be better than having the rat in my home all summer." Snape's brow creased, and then he sighed, resigned.
"Right then. I was thinking we'd move there in a couple of days."
"Where is there?" Harry asked. Because really, this was supposed to be his base of operations and things were already getting out of hand.
She looked at him as if she'd forgot he was there. "Oh, sorry. I found a manor house near York. It should not be out of your range of affordability."
Harry doubted anything was out of his range of affordability.
"A manor house," Snape sputtered, looking quite appalled.
"No sense in not being comfortable. It's going to be a long few weeks. I suspect we'll have to take Albus, as well."
"I'm not sure the Headmaster will want to live with us," Snape said.
McGonagall looked at him sharply. "Why not?"
"For one thing, he needs to recover, for another, there will be students around. He won't care to be seen in such a state."
She nodded slowly. "You have a point. I don't like the idea of him alone."
"He won't be, I'm sure."
"What about Ron? Did you contact the Weasleys?" Harry asked.
"I've not done anything with him. I am hoping you'll give up the notion of having him with you," McGonagall said in a tone that could not be more disapproving.
"I want him there. It would destroy him to be left out." Harry understood Ron's needs very well and he would not be a party to hurting him. "I'll go speak to the Weasleys." It would no doubt be a chore to convince them of who he was now, but if he'd managed several times already, he could do it one more time for Ron.
Harry approached the Burrow with some trepidation. He had no doubt that Ron hadn't told his parents or anyone else about what had happened. Actually, he wasn't entirely sure that after having had time to think about it, Ron hadn't just written it off as a lie.
Bill opened the door to his knock, and started to greet him. A second later, his face changed to outrage. Harry was jerked inside, and a wand pressed to his throat.
"Who are you?" Bill hissed.
And then, it was already too late to do anything about his reaction. Harry's rage and reflexes took over and it was as if he were watching from somewhere else. He moved quickly, disarming Bill and throwing him to the ground with a stunning hex.
There was a loud scream of, "No! Harry, don't," behind him. Somehow Harry managed to pull back and not kill him. He blinked back his rage. Shaking and sweating, he was sitting on top of Bill's back, his wand pressed to the back of Bill's neck, an unuttered curse just behind his lips.
Everyone in the room was staring at him. Arthur and Molly had their wands drawn, but neither seemed sure whom they should be pointing them at. Ron and Ginny looked...stunned.
Closing his eyes, he took a deep breath and fought for calm. "Really, that wasn't a good idea," he told Bill as he stood.
Slowly, Bill rolled over and stared up at him, fear and anger in his eyes. "Who are you?"
"I'm Harry. But --"
"No. I know Harry Potter. I know his magic. Yours doesn't even come close to matching his."
Forcing calm, Harry took another breath. "There's more of it, but it's the same. Concentrate on it."
Bill sat up and closed his eyes. When he opened them, the fear and anger had been muted, but were not entirely gone. "Who are you?"
"Just who I said I was. I'm not fifteen anymore."
"You certainly look fifteen." Bill's tone said he was thinking about it, working it through in his mind.
"That mirror they had at the leaving feast --"
"The one that told the future?" Ginny asked. "It didn't work with everyone."
"Yes. That one. It...took me in and I lived another life." Harry explained again, in as few a sentences as he could manage.
Arthur breathed out when he was done. "That's incredible. Especially about the wards."
"You're really thirty-five?" Molly looked him over, no doubt trying to conflate his childish looks with his adult mind.
He understood just how hard it would be. "Yes. I can prove it."
"I think you already did, mate," Ron said, glancing at Bill who was still sitting on the floor.
"You okay, Bill?" Harry asked, offering him a hand up.
Bill hesitated and then took it. "You're right. I can feel it's you. But not you. Not the kid. You're older than I am." And then Bill smirked, and there was something in his gaze that Harry felt in a way he knew he shouldn't have done. Not now.
Harry looked away, feeling disconcerted. He was fairly sure that Bill would never have looked at him like that if he were fifteen. As it did with alarming regularity, his fifteen year old body responded to it. "I'm the same age as Snape and Remus."
"Well, you're still part of this family, fifteen or thirty-five," Molly said. "Do you want to stay for supper?"
Her words warmed his heart. "Yes. Of course. But I actually came here for another reason. And after everything, I'll understand if you say no."
Arthur looked at him, and there was a wariness in his eyes. "What would that be, Harry?"
"I'd like Ron to spend the summer with me. Helping me find the Horcruxes that Voldemort created --"
"Exactly what is a Horcrux?" Arthur asked, and there was a slight note of something in his voice. Fear perhaps. Maybe he'd heard of them. Though it wasn't likely.
If Molly and Arthur didn't know all the details, then they couldn't make an informed decision. So for many of the same reasons he'd told Ron and Hermione everything, Harry explained what Horcruxes were and how Voldemort had used them.
Molly's face was white when he was done. "And you expect Ron to help you find these...things?"
"Yes. I think both he and Hermione will be invaluable to me." Harry could almost see them thinking, wondering about using children, their child, for this. "Hermione and Ron will also be working on a White Magic spell, too."
Ron stood. "I'll just go up --"
"Why can't you do that spell yourself?" Arthur didn't look like he approved of anything that Harry had said.
Harry could understand that. "I'm....I've touched too much Dark Magic in my life."
"How dangerous is that going to be?" Molly asked. "I don't want Ron hurt."
"That won't happen! I can take care of myself." Ron looked at Harry, pleadingly.
"I know you can, mate," Harry said. "But you've got to have your parents' permission to stay with me."
"Why don't you go up and pack for a week, Ron?" Arthur said. "We'll see about longer."
Ron raced up the stairs two at a time.
"Ginny," Molly said, "Why don't you go start dinner?"
She looked like she might disagree, but reluctantly stood. "You never let me stay."
"There's a reason for that. Now go," Molly ordered.
"Come on, Gin. I'll help you," Bill said, giving Harry a smile. He slung an arm around her shoulders and walked her out of the room.
Harry cast a quick privacy spell. "All right, ask."
"What are you not telling us?" Molly asked, her eyes boring into his. He wasn't sure how, but she knew something was going to happen.
"I'm not sure what you mean. I'll answer any questions you have." Being honest with them was the least he could do.
"Molly!" Arthur looked scandalized. "You don't want to know the future."
She met Harry's eyes again and waited.
Without going into a lot of detail, he told them about the school and the government and Lucius Malfoy.
"Why do you want Ron to come with you?" Arthur asked when Harry stopped talking. "I know my son. He's nothing special either magically or academically."
"That's actually why. He...he becomes more than he was destined to be by helping me. It won't be the same, but I won't deny him the chance to gain the confidence he needs." And this time he could make sure that Ron wasn't hurt by the Dark.
"He'll grow up too soon, and miss too much of his childhood."
"Yes. I know he will. The Ron in my time missed his entire seventh year at Hogwarts." He wasn't sure what else specifically he should mention, especially about the dangers. Nothing was certain and he didn't want to cause unnecessary worry.
"For which we're grateful." Arthur clearly had read between the lines of what he'd said about the school.
"Yes." Molly nodded. "I suspect I don't want to know who was in school then." She glanced towards the kitchen.
At least he could reassure them about something. "It's not going to happen here. We've fixed the wards. She's safe."
"But broken-hearted, I suspect." Molly smiled a little sadly.
"I know. I...." Harry didn't know what he could say to that. Even if he could remember how much his sixteen year old self had loved her, Ginny now looked like a cute little girl to him. He had no interest in her at all.
"About Ron? What are you going to have him do?"
"What he's good at. Strategize. He'll probably work with Snape, which he'll hate. But we all learned to work together in my time. I'm hoping it will hold true now." It would not be easy. Ron and Snape were like oil and water, but there was more at stake than their petty disputes and the sooner they both learned it, the better off everyone would be.
"How safe is it?" Molly still looked worried.
"As safe as I can make it, I promise. I wouldn't put him or Hermione in danger, if I could avoid it. I did that once already and...." Harry trailed off and took a breath.
Both Molly and Arthur were quiet, clearly thinking about it. Ron came back down the stairs with a bag over his shoulder. "Ready."
Harry gave them a quick glance. Arthur nodded.
Molly stood. "Dinner will be ready soon."
Harry couldn't sleep. Not that he ever slept well. Lying awake in bed, tossing and turning was counter-productive, so he hauled himself out, and dressed. The house was huge and quiet. More than enough room for everyone, and it gave him a bit of privacy.
A light on in the kitchen drew him to the door. Snape sat at the big wooden table, drinking tea. He looked up, startled, as Harry came into the room.
"Sorry," Harry murmured, reheating the pot with a flick of his wand. "You're up late."
Snape grunted, and blew on his tea before taking a sip. "The same could be said for you."
"I couldn't sleep. I've never slept well, as you might remember. But lately...." His own nightmares had got worse over the years, and he thought...knew that was true of his Severus as well. But this Snape was not someone he knew much about.
For several long moments, they both sipped their tea in silence. Snape rubbed his forearm through his dressing gown twice before Harry said, "Is he calling you?"
Snape's eyes snapped up and for one moment, Harry was sure Snape would say something blistering, but he shook his head. "Not yet. He will though, soon. A day or two at most."
"I haven't felt anything from him." Harry touched his scar, which didn't feel as raw as he remembered it feeling for most of his adolescence.
"Perhaps, your connection to him -- which is magical -- ended when you killed him in your time." Snape's brow creased as he thought about it. "If that were true, you would be able to act completely independently of him. But he would notice immediately."
Harry concentrated on the link. It flared into life as soon as he thought about it. Occluding his mind was automatic, but he felt Voldemort's thoughts turn in his direction. "I can feel him, now. But I can block him."
"He will notice if there is a change."
"I'm sure he will, but it's not something he can blame on you." Harry rubbed his neck and sighed. "You could tell him that Dumbledore has been teaching me Occlumency."
"If you suddenly can prevent him from entering your mind, he might get suspicious, especially if you are just learning it."
Fuck. Harry hadn't thought about that. "You're right. I can occlude some part of my mind, but let my surface thoughts remain readable."
"I didn't know that was possible for more than a very short amount of time," Snape said, sounding not quite disbelieving.
"It is. It takes a different kind of concentration than regular Occlumency. I can teach you, if you'd like."
"Perhaps, if we have some time. However, I suspect that any change in what he can read in my mind will likely make him suspicious or bring down his outright displeasure. That is something I would like to avoid."
"I can imagine that you would. I expect his displeasure will be unpleasant."
"You have a gift for understatement."
Harry gave him a wan smile. "How do you know he's going to call you?"
Again Snape looked like he might be deciding whether to answer or not. "It itches. It's irritating, but not painful. When he calls, it's painful."
He and his Severus hadn't discussed Severus' service to Voldemort in any more detail than was necessary at the time. Which was to say, not much. "How painful?"
"What difference does that make?"
"I'm sorry. I was simply wondering. Are you going to answer the summons?"
"It's not as if I have a choice." Snape's expression said he thought that was a foolish question.
"I thought you could resist the mark. My Sev...the Snape in my time could."
"But clearly didn't."
Harry looked away, not wanting Snape to see the emotions in his eyes. "We were always hoping he'd get more information from inside Voldemort's camp."
It was a major disappointment that all of Severus' sacrifices were for naught. "Voldemort never trusted you enough to really tell you anything --"
"Even after...." Snape looked away.
"Even then. It wasn't worth it," Harry said quietly. The Severus in his time never got past what he'd been forced to do.
"He's dying. I've given him a potion to slow the process, but even with that it's inevitable." Snape's voice was rough with sadness.
And Harry's gut clenched. There ought to be something they could do. "Maybe Hermione can --"
"She might be a smart little witch. But she's still only sixteen. She does not have the time to learn what she needs. She can't do it fast enough." There wasn't anything sneering in his tone. Only the pain of knowing someone he cared about was going to die, and there was nothing he could do about it.
"How long do you suppose?" Harry hated to ask, hated the need to know the answer, but they had to plan. Had to be ready.
"Six months, maybe eight. Possibly longer, but I don't think so," Snape said quietly, an edge to his tone.
"He lived until the end of my sixth year. But thinking back on it, I can see now that he was very weak. The Snape in my time was giving him something to keep him alive."
"As I said, I have several potions that will help him, but nothing that will ultimately be more than a palliative."
"There is still so much he needs to do. He died far too soon in my time and I didn't learn everything I needed to know from him. That was part of the reason it took so long to find all of the Horcruxes. And there was an extra one we didn't know we should be looking for." Harry looked down. He wasn't sure about talking about this, but he said, "His death was partly my fault, too."
Snape blinked at him, surprised. "What happened?"
He couldn't understand the impulse to tell Snape the truth. Even after all this time, just thinking about it made his stomach roil. "He had taken me with him to find the third Horcrux. It was in a basin with some kind of liquid...poison. He forced me to feed it to him."
"Ah, so you had some sympathy for me being forced as well." Snape gave him a withering look.
There was no use in denying the obvious. Harry had never been proud of how he acted then. "Not a lot, no."
"That doesn't surprise me." Snape's tone was full of hatred, but surprisingly, it wasn't directed at him, the Harry he was now.
"I was only sixteen. It's hard to understand there are shades of gray at that age. I hadn't the experience to understand." Especially for someone like the child he'd been then. It had been impossible.
Of course, the Snape he was dealing with now wasn't much better. His blind hatred of teenaged Harry was just as repugnant as it had always been.
"That is no excuse," Snape said.
Harry laughed because it was that or cry. "No, of course, not. The worst part of it was that the locket was a fake."
"The one that Regulus Black stole from Voldemort."
"And died for, I might add."
"I thought he died because he tried to leave Voldemort's service."
"If he'd been smarter he would have just left, but no, he had to make a show of it," Snape spat.
"You sound bitter." Harry could not imagine why.
"He and I were friends. I told him to just go. Typical Black. He wouldn't listen." Snape looked at him. "You didn't know that?"
Harry shook his head. "We...the Snape in my time and I didn't discuss it. Hermione and Ron and I found the real locket hidden in Grimmauld place. Ron was cursed, lost an eye. But Hermione had already figured out some of the White Magic spell, so it could have been a lot worse."
"And he couldn't have the eye replaced, correct?" It wasn't even asked as a question, since clearly Snape knew the answer already.
"It left him bitter. He lost his chance to become an Auror." Snape made it sound as if he'd done something wrong by doing that.
It made no sense at all to Harry. "I see. And yet, you went on to become one."
"What does one thing have to do with the other?"
"That might have been part of his bitterness." Perhaps Snape was right about that, but that was Ron's jealousy getting the better of him.
"He insisted. Besides, what else was I going to do?" Harry asked, annoyed by the implication. "I wanted to protect people. Help them."
"Are you still trying to save everyone you meet?" Snape's expression was an ugly sneer, as if trying to help someone was something to be ashamed of.
"You bet I am. I'll try and save you as well." He said it flippantly, but it was as much true for Snape as it was for Ron or Hermione. Maybe more so.
"As if I need saving. I'm damned beyond hope and we both know it." Grim and ugly as the words were, Snape believed them.
Harry would never accept that. "Actually, no one is beyond hope. No one need be damned unless they chose to be."
"So sayeth the great Harry Potter."
Harry met his eyes. "So knoweth the great Harry Potter."
Snape tipped his tea cup towards him. "Perhaps."
Snape knew it was going to be a bad session when the Dark Lord completely ignored his obeisance, and kept right on talking to a smirking Peter Pettigrew. After several moments, on his knees on the hard floor, Severus was gritting his teeth with frustration, and finally the Dark Lord deigned to look at him.
"Ssseverus, it has come to our attention that you were seen in Diagon Alley with the Potter brat, squiring him about as if he were a young Lord."
Snape bowed his head. He could tell already his answers weren't going to be accepted. With his heart starting to pound in dread, he tried anyway. "I was ordered to do so by Dumbledore --"
"Silence! You and he seemed to be getting on just fine. We heard you were clothes shopping? Why would he need clothes? Why would you take him?" The Dark Lord's sneer was particularly grotesque.
Closing his eyes for a moment, Snape reinforced his Occlumency. "Dumbledore has allowed him to stay at the school for some reason."
"That makes no sense. What reason could he have? The boy must return to his aunt's home." The Dark Lord's red eyes met his. "I want an answer."
Snape had none to give. "I don't know. He's letting the brat stay on the grounds of the school. He's asked McGonagall to stay as well as myself."
"I think you're lying."
Even though it wasn't going to do any good at all, Snape bowed even further, his tone as obsequious as he could make it. "I would not lie to you, my Lord."
Oh bloody hell! Snape started to scream as his body convulsed in agony so great that thought wasn't possible. It went on endlessly. And then stopped. Snape's face was against the floor and he breathed in and out sharply.
God, how he hated this. Perhaps Potter was right. They weren't getting enough information to make this worth it.
"Now, Sssseverus. You know it pains me to have to punish you."
Actually, Snape was sure he got off on it. "Yes, my Lord."
"Why has the old fool kept the boy?" His voice was so reasonable.
"I don't know. I can try --"
His mind went blank with pain, and he started to scream again. Unfortunately, this went on for some time. And then it stopped.
"Get out of my sight," The Dark Lord sneered at him.
Snape could barely stand. He stumbled out of the house where the Dark Lord had set up his latest camp. The location changed from week to week. He was grateful that Potter had insisted he take a Portkey with him. At least, he'd get back to Potter's before the Cruciatus reaction set in.
The Portkey deposited him in the sitting room of Potter's home, where he promptly collapsed in an undignified heap. As the world went black, he heard the know-it-all gasp. Maybe she'd do something.
"He's starting to shake," Granger said, as Snape was coming back to consciousness.
"We need to get him stripped and into the bath," Potter ordered.
Under most circumstances, that in-charge tone of Potter's annoyed the hell out of Snape. Right now, however, it sounded like heaven.
"Why would you put him in the bath? That doesn't make any sense." Minerva's tone was sharp with her worry.
"I know a spell that will help with the reaction, and it's better done in the bath, with hot water."
"We'll help," Weasley said. "You're not going to be able to lift him yourself."
"I can put a feather-light charm on him," Granger suggested.
"I think any magic will cause be excruciatingly painful to him, Miss Granger," Minerva said. "He's fairly sensitive to Cruciatus."
"Let's get him into the bath before he wakes." Potter's tone had an edge to it.
"Too late," Weasley said.
When Snape opened his eyes, Weasley was pointing at him. "Out," he said, trying for a snarl, but only emitting a croak. "All of you."
Both Granger and Weasley were already backing away. "Potter, you and Minerva as well."
"I can help you," Potter insisted with quiet confidence. It made Snape want to believe him, despite his better judgment on the matter.
Of course, if Potter were wrong, he'd be in much worse shape than he was now. "I think I'll stick to trusted methods." He held out his hand. "Accio Snape's remedy number forty-four." A blue vial came across the room to his hand.
Using magic had been a mistake. The vial nearly fell from his hand as the shaking got noticeably worse.
"This charm is better. Really." Potter's smile was bright and shiny. If he could have moved, Snape might have smacked him.
As it was, he glared at Weasley and Granger until finally, reluctantly, they both left. He turned his attention back to Potter. "Why should I trust you?"
Potter didn't hesitate. "Because I can help you."
As usual after Cruciatus, Snape could barely move. The thought of something that might actually help rather than dull the pain was tempting. "What does the spell do?"
"It deadens the nerves that are abused. It uses a cooling spell to reduce the inflammation. That's why we cast it in the bath. The water will keep you from becoming too cold."
That made sense. "Who developed this?"
"Why?" Snape asked before he thought better of it.
"Because prolonged use of the potion you are taking can be addictive. Besides which, it isn't good for your stomach."
The shaking and pain in his limbs were weighted against the idea of allowing Potter to do anything for him. Something he would likely owe Potter for afterward. Gambling on Potter still being too much of a Gryffindor to use it against him, he said, "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to try it. If it doesn't work, I'll hex you."
"I wouldn't expect anything less." Potter's confidence boded well for his recovery, but it still annoyed Snape.
Potter moved to the bed where he was lying. "Let's get you undressed."
"I think that won't be necessary." Snape wasn't going to go starkers in front of Potter if he had a choice.
"As I said before, the spell needs to be cast with you in the bath. What part of very cold didn't you understand?"
"Do as he says, Severus." Minerva was using her teacher tone.
"You will leave?" he asked her.
"No. I'm going to help Potter get you into the bath. And then I'm going to tell everyone I've seen you naked and that you have a two-inch pecker." She managed to say it with a straight face, too.
Even in pain, Snape couldn't help smirking at her. "Mean old Tabby," he growled when he could speak again. "You would, too."
"Of course I would. Let's get you into a standing position." She helped him to sit up, her hands gentle on his abused skin.
"Yeah, getting your clothes off will be easier if you're upright."
"You're very interested in getting me out of my clothes." Snape couldn't believe he'd just said that. It must be the pain talking. Under no circumstances would he flirt with Potter. He didn't like Potter.
But Potter laughed again. "Talk to me when you're feeling better, Professor."
Minerva just snorted and steadied him again.
It took both of them to stand him straight. And he was trembling so badly that he wasn't sure how long he was going to be able to stay upright, even with both of them holding him. With surprising efficiency, and thankfully no more jokes, they got him into the bath.
The water was almost too hot to stand. Potter cast his spell. Then, despite the water's heat, he was freezing. The charm started to work. It was almost as if he could feel the nerves and tendons releasing the pent up poison in them. The trembling eased a bit.
But he was cold enough that his teeth started to chatter. "H...h...h...how long does this last?"
"Usually about an hour. It's been twenty minutes. Shall I spell the water hotter?" Potter asked.
Snape nodded. The warmer water marginally improved the situation.
"I'll go check on the children," Minerva said a few minutes later. "I think you can handle things from here."
"Good idea," Potter said absently, his eyes almost blank as he stared at some unseen thing beyond Snape's ken.
Snape drew his knees up and wrapped his arms around them, prepared to wait out the cold. Potter didn't seem inclined to talk, for which Snape was more than grateful. He simply wanted to float on his thoughts and not worry about anything.
"How are you feeling now?" Potter's voice broke through his reverie.
"Better," Snape said, grudgingly. He hated owing Potter for this, but he was relieved not to spend the next day or two in bed recovering.
"Good. Did Voldemort do or say anything useful?" There wasn't a lot of hope in Potter's voice.
Which, all things considered, was a good thing. "He knows you're staying at Hogwarts, but not anything about this house. He also knew we were together in Diagon Alley. As I said at the time, he didn't believe my answers."
"I'm sorry. It had to be done, though." Potter sounded like he might feel a bit guilty and Snape hoped he did. It was his fault for demanding to go clothes shopping.
Though Snape had to admit, if only to himself, just taking Potter to the bank would have been enough to set the Dark Lord off. Beyond that, the clothes helped to remind him that Potter was an adult, rather than an annoying upstart child. No doubt that was the reaction Potter was attempting to elicit.
"Come on, Professor. Let's get you to bed." Potter held out a towel, and Snape stood to take it, rubbing himself dry. He was feeling so much better that the usual exhaustion that came with Cruciatus hadn't hit him at all.
He was surprised to see Potter's eyes run down the length of his body before he wrapped the towel around himself.
"Like what you've seen, Potter?" Snape snarled at him, hoping to cut off any comments about his body. He was well aware of what he looked like and what most people thought of it. It had long since stopped mattering to him.
"You have fewer scars than the Snape in my time." Potter met his eyes and there was nothing in them that would give away what he was thinking.
He'd learned by now that this Potter hid his emotions and everything else, very, very well. "You would know this, how?"
Potter chuckled. "We were at war together for a long time. False modesty seems out of place when you're grateful to be getting a bath after a week or two without one."
Snape conceded the point. But there was more there. He sensed it now, as he'd sensed it before on several occasions when Potter had looked at him with something other than anger or hatred. He was not one to let a question lie. "Is that all?"
"What else could there be?" Potter blinked at him, invitation delivered.
"You tell me, Potter," Snape said, because this was not something he would care to get wrong. It would be too humiliating.
"What if I said there was nothing to know?" But his smile promised that there was much to know.
"What if I said you were lying?" Snape asked, letting his voice drop a bit. He'd been issued few enough invitations in his life that he wouldn't refuse one out of hand, even from so dubious a source as Potter.
"What if I was?" The expression on Potter's face said he was going for seductive, but his voice wasn't low enough to carry it off.
For a moment, Snape wondered if he should pull back, just let the whole thing go. But Potter the adult was a far cry from the child he'd taught all year. "What was between the two of you?"
"Severus and I were friends."
Something in the way Potter always said that made him shiver, and in a very pleasant way. "More than friends, perhaps?"
"How would you feel about that?"
"It would depend on what you expected from me." Because that was the bottom line, wasn't it? He was not this Potter's Snape. Whatever Potter got from his Snape, in all likelihood, he was not going to be able to provide, not without being told exactly what it was, and possibly how to deliver it.
"I don't expect anything from you. At all." Perhaps he didn't expect anything, but Potter wanted it.
Snape was of a mind that he might be able to provide it, to both of their benefits. "Then there's your answer." He stepped out of the tub.
And Potter didn't move back. "Are you sure?" he asked, his voice lower than usual.
He looked at Potter. And saw, despite the clothes, the adolescent outside. He cringed inwardly. "I'm not attracted to teenagers."
"I'm not --"
"No. You're not. But you look like one. You look barely fifteen. Some men might find that attractive. I do not." Snape wondered why he was explaining at all. Except that he wanted it. Despite his better judgment, and with the knowledge that this could go so wrong, he couldn't help that he rather liked this Potter. Unlike the two Potters before him, this one went out of his way to be ever so slightly differential. This one was so very, very much more powerful than the other two combined.
"What I look like doesn't matter. Just as what you look like doesn't either. Close your eyes."
"Your voice has barely broken." But really, that didn't matter to him, and neither did what Potter looked like.
Potter touched his wand to his throat. "That can be fixed, too."
"Do you want me that badly?" Because Snape could not believe he was having this conversation. "I'm not who you want, not really."
"Probably not." But Potter still hadn't stepped back. The invitation hadn't been rescinded --indeed it was blatant and deliberate.
And it was starting to play havoc on Snape's senses. He hadn't been laid in years, and the thought of sex was enticing. The question was whether he wanted it badly enough to do it with a Potter. Even a Potter who was blatantly interested? If Potter had prior knowledge of what his Snape liked, then the chances of it being good were much better than with a random pick-up or a whore.
Still undecided, Snape started to step around him. "I think, perhaps, this would not be a good idea."
"Probably not," Potter repeated, looking up at him with hunger in his face. "But not everything has to be."
Snape took that as consent and gave in. Closing his eyes, he put a hand on Potter's soft cheek, leaning down to kiss him.
One of Potter's hands slid into his hair, and the other wrapped around his waist, gathering him closer with a surprisingly sure grip. The kiss deepened, Potter's tongue sliding into his mouth, his arms tightening. Warm sensations of rightness, of pleasure, of passion washed over him. Snape was aroused immediately.
Potter pulled the towel off and wrapped his hand around Snape's prick. "Not two inches, is it?"
"No," Snape panted. He'd been gifted with quite a bit more than that. One of his few physical gifts. Wonderful, maddening sensations jolted through him with each movement of Potter's hands on his flesh.
Chuckling, Potter continued to stroke him. "I want you."
Snape nodded, excitement twisting inside him at Potter's intense look. He allowed Potter to manhandle him into the bedroom and watched as he warded the doors.
"Nox," Potter said, and a moment later, he slid naked into the bed beside him. "Now you won't have to keep your eyes closed."
"I wouldn't have." There was no doubt in Snape's mind that this wasn't a teenager. Aside from everything else, he doubted there was a teenager alive who had this kind of confidence. Or so much magic. No teenager could possibly do this to him.
Potter's mouth touched his nipple, his tongue slipping out to swirl around it. Snape arched into the surprisingly sharp sensation, a moan of pleasure escaping him.
"Oh, lovely. You're sensitive," Potter said, his fingers tweaking just hard enough to make him feel it, but not enough to actually hurt him.
That Potter had known it and he hadn't was enough to give him pause, or it would have been, had Potter's teeth not started worrying his other nipple. The sensation shot straight through to his groin, and he couldn't catch his breath.
Slowly, Potter worked his way down his chest, nipping and licking. Snape gasped as Potter hit every sensitive spot on his body, teeth and tongue working in sync.
Rather than torturing him further, Potter concentrated his efforts on his hard, dripping prick. After one or two kisses on the spongy head, Potter opened his mouth, swallowing him down.
Swamped with sudden ecstasy, Snape wailed, his hips thrusting up into splendid wet heat.
Potter played him, wringing more pleasure from him than he would have thought possible. Snape moaned wildly, out of control. Pleasure tore through him, blinding him with its light. He came, hard. Harder than he'd ever come.
Panting, he took in great gulps of air, his heart beating so hard it felt like it might break through his ribcage.
Potter's hands slid across his shoulders, pushing him over onto his belly. Still breathing hard, Snape started. He wasn't sure he was ready for this.
"Don't tense up. I won't hurt you. I promise," Potter whispered, his hands stroking down Snape's sides and across his back.
Snape's mind still hadn't come completely back from where it had gone with the intensity of his orgasm and he wasn't sure about what Potter was going to do. Although, after what he'd done so far, Snape was willing to go along with it. Whatever else he could say about him, Potter had been experienced and skilled.
Potter's mouth slid down his back with the same precision that he'd used on his front, finding each and every patch of sensitive skin along his spine. That he didn't realize Potter's destination until he got there showed quite clearly that his mind wasn't functioning at a higher level.
His cheeks were spread and Snape fought not to blush at where Potter was putting his tongue. He could not believe that anyone would actually do that. He'd read about it, of course, and some part of him had always wanted it, but he'd never thought that anyone would do that to him.
His stomach tightened and his breathing started to hitch, as amazingly, wonderful feelings washed over him with each swirl and stab of Potter's tongue. He bucked back against Potter's mouth, making the most appallingly needy sounds, so far gone again that he didn't even care. The sensations whirled around him, drawing him in, coating him in ecstasy again. Snape panted, thought gone, willing to allow anything Potter wanted, if only he'd continue what he was doing.
The introduction of Potter's fingers happened so gradually that Snape was only aware of it peripherally, a sharp taste to the sweet pleasure of his mouth. By the time Potter's third finger was moving inside him, Snape was completely aroused again, aching with want and pressing back into Potter's hand, chasing it. He moaned with the loss when Potter withdrew.
Potter pushed into him again, this time, not using his fingers at all.
It hurt, too. More than he'd thought it would. It had literally been years since anyone had fucked him, and he wasn't entirely sure how he'd managed to end up in this position. He hadn't cared for it much the last time. And disappointingly, from the feel of things, he wasn't going to enjoy it this time, either.
Then Potter hit something inside him, and the world lit up like fireworks in the dark. He moaned. "Oh God, Potter."
Potter patted his arse and kissed his back. "Here we go."
Thrusting hard into him, Potter produced a flash of fire that tore along all of Snape's nerves with each movement.
Snape whimpered again. "Please...."
Whatever Potter had done, he continued to do, and Snape was incoherent with the pleasure of it. He came again, just as hard as before, wailing out his pleasure, not caring what he sounded like, or anything beyond the fiery sensations that rippled through his whole body.
When he finally caught his breath, Snape was fairly certain he'd never move again.
Potter shifting to a sitting position on the side of the bed made Snape open his eyes. The stiffness in Potter's back said he was upset, but despite the fabulousness of the sex he'd just had, and that he'd like to have a repeat performance or three, he wasn't sure he wanted to get into whatever was bothering Potter. Even though he could guess.
The silence dragged on and Snape sighed. "Not what you expected, was it?"
"No. I'm not sure what I was expecting...." Potter's voice trailed off into nothing and it was clear that he had been expecting something.
"How long were you and I...him..." Snape wasn't sure there was a proper way to refer to Potter's lover, who was him, but not him. "Lovers?"
"Six years. He was part of the reason I took the Defense job at Hogwarts."
"Long enough to know each other's tastes very well." And it was more than clear in the way Potter had touched him.
"Very well," Potter agreed, his tone soft.
"And I don't know yours. I'm not him."
"I know that. I knew it when we started."
"But I responded as he would have?" He must have done.
"You did. But that's not it."
"Then what is it?"
"I feel like I've betrayed you...him." The amount of pain in Potter's voice was startling. He cared deeply for...him.
Snape could think of nothing to say that wouldn't sound trite or worse, self-serving, which all things considered, he was.
After another second, Potter turned around to look at him. "I'm being ridiculous, aren't I? You're here and he's...gone." The words were brittle.
Growing more uncomfortable by the second, Snape did not want to deal with Potter's histrionics, but after the sex he just had, he also didn't want to alienate Potter. "Why don't you lie down and sleep? We can sort it out tomorrow."
Potter's eyes widened just a bit, but he did lie down and then rolled over, closer to Snape. Taking it as a request, Snape slung an arm over him, and gathered him a bit closer. Lovers slept close, or so he'd always thought.
He'd expected Potter to snuggle in next to him and was surprised when he didn't. Maybe he understood there were limits to what Snape could offer. Or perhaps the other Snape could only offer so much as well.
Snape pondered it for a moment, but he was too tired to deal with the question.
Harry woke to the feel of lips on his neck and Snape's hands sliding down his flanks. Moaning softly, he turned into the kisses, not quite awake. "Mmmm...Severus."
Snape's fingers touched the crease of his arse, and Harry couldn't help stiffening.
"Problem?" Snape's voice was low and deep.
It made Harry shudder with remembered pleasure. And remembered pain. "Um...not exactly. You haven't done this before."
Snape was silent for a moment, obviously expecting to be denied. "Are you saying I don't know how to do it?"
God, how did he put this so that he didn't insult Snape enough to hex him? "I'm saying, it takes you a few tries --"
"Which you would rather not go through again? If you tell me what you need or want, I'll try to accommodate you." Snape actually sounded reasonable.
Harry was surprised by the offer, delighted in fact. "I can do that. If you're willing to listen."
"I want to do this more than once." There was a surprising amount of eagerness in Snape's voice, something he wasn't even trying to hide.
That wasn't how his Severus reacted to anything. Of course, his Severus had been thirteen years older and a lot more weary than this one. "Okay. Why don't we take it slow? And I might be thirty-five in here. But this body is virgin."
"Don't remind me."
Unfortunately, that sounded like his Severus. "I have to. That was part of the problem. I didn't have that much experience."
"And I...he didn't respect that?" Snape sounded like he couldn't believe it of himself.
"It wasn't that, exactly. You'd...he'd never told me that he didn't have," Harry cleared his throat, "that much experience, either."
"Probably not much more than I have right now is what you're saying?" And clearly Snape was embarrassed by the whole conversation.
"I don't know. Severus, my Severus didn't talk about his experience at all, but it was clear --"
"That he or I didn't know what we were doing. I've never fucked anyone...well, not a man, anyway. I do want to fuck you." Snape's face was red, and he couldn't or wouldn't meet Harry's eyes.
"I already said you could." Harry supposed that if he were that bad at it, he wouldn't let him do it again.
"I don't want to hurt you." Snape gathered him into his arms and kissed him softly.
All Harry wanted was to lose himself in Snape's touch.
He leaned into the kiss, his tongue snaking out to lick at Snape's lips. Snape opened his mouth, groaning. His hands worked down slowly Harry's back, over his buttocks, stroking, gripping, touching.
Snape might not have that much experience, but he did seem to want to please. That in itself was novel, and very welcome.
That Snape wanted to explore every inch of Harry was also welcome and Harry moaned his encouragement. Snape slowly, steadily worked his way down Harry's body, his mouth making forays in different directions along the way. Harry writhed beneath him, loving the feel of gentle hands on his body, and a tender mouth on his skin.
When he closed his mouth over Harry's prick, it was clear that he didn't have a lot of experience, but he made up for it in enthusiasm. He didn't try to take more than the head into his mouth, but with his hand moving around the base, it didn't matter to Harry.
The pleasure built and he came, hard, moaning out Snape's name.
Snape eased him onto his belly, and Harry, still languid from his orgasm, spread his legs. "Use a lot of the lubricant," Harry said, and as Snape reached for his wand, Harry shook his head. "Use your fingers, like I did with you."
"Spells work fine when someone doesn't need a lot of attention, but this body will need quite a bit of preparation."
"Are you sure you want to do this now?"
Snape set to his task as he would have one of his potions. He was careful and slow, soliciting Harry's opinion many times until Harry was too incoherent to give it. Then he went on, torturing Harry with the preparations.
By the time Harry was mindless with need, and begging, Snape finally showed him some mercy and slowly eased into him. There was no pain, only the familiar pressure and slight burn of easy penetration. Harry sighed in relief and then in pleasure. Doing as he'd instructed, Snape hit his prostate on the first try. Then it was layer after layer of bliss, and fire and light.
In a short time, Harry was coming again, his body overwhelmed with ecstasy. Vaguely, he heard Snape cry out as he, too, was lost to the pleasure.
By the time Harry opened his eyes again, it was much later in the morning. "Ugh.... Severus. We need to get up."
Beside him, Snape stiffened and groaned. "I expect that we do. And you're not going to be able to call me that outside of this room."
"Because we have a fiction to maintain. And if I've learned nothing else, I've learned that the easiest way to maintain a cover is to remain within it at all times."
"Makes sense, Professor." Harry wasn't crazy about that, but he could see the logic behind it. "However, you're willing to sleep with me."
"Compensation." Snape kissed him. "We aren't going to be able to do that in the fall either. Not with you attending my classes."
"I'd rather not think about it now." Harry ran his hand down Snape's thigh.
Murmuring softly, Snape leaned into the touch. "It won't go away. Unless you plan to defeat the Dark Lord this summer."
"I'm not sure how we'd get rid of all the Horcruxes that quickly." Even knowing where they were or likely to be, it would take a lot of planning and preparation to go after them.
"We'll get some this summer. And the rest in the fall. By next spring, I think...." As unlikely as it sounded, Snape seemed to be trying to be encouraging.
Which served to remind Harry of the enormity of their task. "I'm not sure I'll last that long, going to classes."
Snape laughed. "You'll manage."
"I'm going to have to."
There was a sound from downstairs. "I do think we should get out of bed." At least Snape looked as reluctant as Harry felt.
With a groan of resignation, Harry sat up.
After a night spent in the magical maze, searching for and destroying the Horcrux, they arrived via Portkey back into the sitting room. McGonagall was waiting for them, sitting by the fire, with a cup of tea at hand.
"You were successful?" she asked.
Snape nodded. "We were able to destroy the Horcrux, yes."
"It didn't take you nearly as long as I thought it would," she said. "I take it there were no surprises."
"Unless you call spending eight hours battling monsters, ants, and Dark Magic a surprise." Snape's tone was wonderfully sarcastic.
Harry would have smiled, but both Hermione and Ron came down the stairs, clearly having just woken up.
"Where'd you go?" Ron asked, looking between him and Snape, his eyes narrowing with his dawning knowledge.
"I see that you didn't tell them what you were going to do last night." Why was McGonagall so disapproving?
Perhaps he should have said something. "Professor Snape and I destroyed Helga's cup and Horcrux."
"What? I thought we were going to get to go with you to do that." Ron's expression was disappointed, but his voice was sharp edged.
"Why would you think that, Mr Weasley?" Snape's tone was unnecessarily nasty, baiting Ron as usual.
Harry put a hand on Snape's arm and shook his head slightly. He hoped Snape understood that they should not get into a row with Ron.
Ron folded his arms over his chest and glared. "Because I did in the other time, you greasy --"
"Ron! Don't say it." Harry was not in the mood for this. He was dirty and tense and he wanted to relax, not explain his motivations to a cheesed-off Ron. He'd probably let Ron's bad attitude go on too long, but Snape acting just as juvenile didn't help matters. "He deserves some respect."
"So you say. But I don't think so at all."
"Ron!" Hermione said, sharply. "He's still our teacher."
With a satisfied sneer, Ron shook his head. "Not mine, not anymore."
"You don't know that, Ron," Harry said. Ron didn't know that Snape would be teaching Defense next year.
"I'm still a teacher at your school." Snape's tone was dark with a threat of detentions to come.
Harry squeezed his arm again. That was a mistake. Snape pulled it out of Harry's hand, glaring at him.
Great. Just what Harry needed right now. A battle on two fronts.
Ron gave Snape a withering look. "I don't care."
"Yes, you do. Just let it go," Harry insisted. Ron's disrespect and bad behavior were starting to wear on Harry's temper.
"Just because you're sleeping with the bast --"
"Mr Weasley!" McGonagall's tone said she was a minute from taking points. And even though it wouldn't matter if she did, it served to focus Ron's attention.
Closing his eyes for a second, Harry gathered his reserves, trying not to lose his temper. When he opened his eyes, he was ever so slightly calmer. "I know you don't like him --"
"Or he, me."
"You will speak to Professor Snape in a reasonable manner." Harry kept his voice low, and calming. This was Ron, he reminded himself.
"Why? Because you're sleeping with him. Merlin, I can't believe you'd do that." Ron shuddered.
"Mr Weasley, you will not mention your suspicions to anyone." Snape's look was hard, and Ron cringed a bit before squaring his shoulders.
"He's right, Ron," Harry said and held up his hand when Ron would have spoken. "Whether or not it's true, it's dangerous to tell anyone about that." Despite Harry's best efforts, his patience was starting to fray again. "Now, to answer your original question, I was not going to put either you or Hermione in danger."
"But you went."
"I'm an adult --"
"You sure think you are." Ron turned around and walked away.
Hermione cleared her throat, looking very uncomfortable. "I think he's finally realizing you're not our Harry anymore."
Harry knew that. It was the only reason he was putting up with this tantrum. He suspected both Snape and McGonagall felt the same way. And he was grateful that Snape not getting into it with Ron on top of that.
"It's taken him far longer than it should have done," McGonagall said and then sighed. "Someone will need to speak to him."
"I'll do it later. I need to get some sleep. Professor?" He smirked and cocked an eyebrow at him.
"Certainly." Snape followed him out of the room.
"Go on, tell me how badly I handled that," Harry said, as he closed the door to Snape's room.
"I'm quite sure I don't need to do that. You're not stupid enough to think that went well." Snape's tone was mild. Too mild for Harry's peace of mind.
"No. You're going to let it go without comment?" His Severus would have blistered the skin off his hide with his invective as soon as they were in private.
"I'd rather do something that we both would find pleasurable. And that doesn't include telling you you've said something foolish to Weasley." Snape reached out and stroked a finger down Harry's cheek affectionately.
Harry laughed, and leaned into the touch. Trust Snape to have his priorities right. "Ah. So, you think that if you're nice to me, you'll get laid."
"It was my hope. Am I incorrect in that assumption?" There was ever so slight a note of doubt. Snape didn't seem completely comfortable with it, with them.
"No. After last night, I could really use it." Harry took a step closer and shrugged out of his robe.
"I concur." Snape stripped off his own robe and came towards Harry, crowding him against the wall.
Harry's heart started to pound when he saw the determined look in Snape's eyes. In the short time they had been sleeping together, Snape had developed an uncanny ability to know just what Harry wanted. And for some reason, Snape went out of his way to give it to him. That never ceased to surprise or please Harry.
"Severus," he whispered as Snape's mouth descended on his, kissing him hard, possessively.
Snape's mouth fed on his, sucking and nipping while his hands stripped off both of their clothes.
After the evening he'd had, Harry needed the mindless passion to take the edge off his strung tight nerves. It was never good to allow the tension to build up inside him. Unfortunately, it had the tendency to come out in dangerous ways.
Finally naked, he was pressed harder into the wall.
Snape muttered a feather light spell and suddenly Harry was lifted. His legs were spread apart, one over each of Snape's arms.
"Limberness is one of the few very useful things about your adolescent body," Snape muttered, sliding one of Harry's legs onto his shoulder to leave his hand free.
Harry chuckled. "And here I thought it was being able to come three or four times in one night."
"I don't benefit from that quite this much." Snape punctuated his sentence with a thrust of his hips, his hard prick sliding teasingly along the cleft between Harry's arse cheeks.
A finger circled Harry's entrance, but without sliding into him. He was too dry and tight for that. "Accio lubricant," Harry said, and it floated to him. "You still need to use a lot."
"Of course." Snape shifted, pressing him further into the wall. He scooped out a bit of the lubricant as it floated in the air beside his hand and pressed a finger into Harry.
"How is that?" Snape asked as he crooked his finger inside.
Even in the unwieldy position, the feeling was amazing. Fire shot along his spine and into his groin. Harry moaned, "Mmmm."
A second finger slid in, playing with him, stretching him, fucking him. Harry tried to cant his hips into the motion, but the angle against the wall was too awkward.
Snape seemed in no hurry and after a time Harry was desperate. "Now, damn it."
"When I'm good and ready, Harry." Snape pressed a kiss to his mouth, probably to shut him up.
Harry was ready to go insane. "Now."
"Very well," Snape said, shifting him again, and then lowering him onto his hard prick.
Closing his eyes, Harry sighed in pleasure. "Yes. There."
Snape held him against the wall and pounded into him, moving harder and faster. Pleasure and white heat spreading through his body, Harry gave himself up to it, loving it, reveling in it. Damn, it was so good. So very, very good.
The world exploded into bright light and pleasure
When Harry opened his eyes, he and Snape were in a heap on the floor by the door. He shifted, and Snape looked up at him. There was something in his eyes, and it looked like it might be awe.
"Yeah," Harry said, kissing him. "Amazing."
"I said nothing." But Snape couldn't even conjure a proper scowl when he said it.
And Harry wasn't going to let him minimize what they had. "I can see it in your face."
Snape's face lost all expression, but he couldn't seem to hold it or perhaps, he didn't want to. "It was...adequate."
Harry laughed. In Snape-speak that was high praise. "Let's get into bed."
Snape grunted and lifted himself off the floor, then reached down to offer Harry his hand. Surprised, but pleased, Harry took his hand and stood.
They settled together in Snape's bed, lying close, but not touching. Harry would have liked to press against Snape, but so far, they hadn't slept like that, one or both of them moved slightly apart. He turned over, and was surprised again when Snape cuddled close to his back and put an arm around his waist.
Despite the lovely shagging, Harry only slept a few hours. By lunch time, he left Snape to sleep and made his way into the kitchen. Ron was sitting sulkily at the table, picking at his food.
"Where is everyone else?" Harry asked, sitting down next to him and taking a sandwich from the tray.
"Hermione is in the library with Lupin and McGonagall." Ron didn't look up.
Harry sighed. He'd better deal with this. Having Ron in a snit all afternoon would be annoying and counter-productive. And with as little sleep as he'd had, not a good idea. "You're angry at me."
Ron still didn't look up. "Why would I be?" Then he did and there was fury in his eyes. "You talked to me like you're a grown up. Like a teacher or something --"
There was nothing to say to that except the truth. "I am an adult."
"But you're not. You can't be. You don't look like...." Ron trailed off as if hearing what he was actually saying.
Harry didn't have to repeat the obvious. He was sure that Ron understood it. But maybe it wouldn't hurt to say again, "I'm still your friend."
"No. You're his friend. My friend is gone." Ron's voice broke.
"It's the same," Harry said, but both of them knew it wasn't. No matter what happened in the future, no matter how close they got, there would always be that gap.
"I know I can never be him. And you can't ever be my Harry. No matter how much I want you to be." There was a note of desolation in Ron's tone that Harry understood. He wished he could change what was, but he couldn't.
And now, he was committed to this course. There would never be a way back. Not that Harry had ever thought that was an option.
"We can be friends in a different way. I want to be." Harry meant it. He liked this Ron. No, not in the same way that he loved his Ron, but that might come in time and his Ron was gone forever, and as much as it tore a hole in him to admit it, he knew he'd never get him back.
"I don't understand why you would want to." There was such defeat in Ron's eyes and his shoulders were slumped.
It broke Harry's heart. "You're special, too."
"No. Hermione --"
"I would not have survived without you and your skills as well as hers. That's what I've been trying to tell you."
"I can't believe that." Clearly though, he wanted Harry to convince him.
Ultimately, the confidence would come from Ron himself or not at all. "Think about it. You're a master chess player now --"
"What does that have to do with anything? It's just a game." Ron was thinking about it, putting it together.
"It's a game that requires a tremendous amount of strategy to play well."
Ron looked at him, hope in his eyes. "Are you saying I helped you plan things? How can I do that when you don't let me do anything?"
"I'm not going to put you in danger, not if I can avoid it." Even having them here was a risk, but he'd calculated that it was small enough to be acceptable.
"You did before."
He was right, but the consequences were not small. At sixteen, he wasn't sure that Ron was ready to make those decisions. Of course, he'd made them at that age, or close to it, himself. There was no choice then, and maybe he should let Ron and Hermione have them now. "You know that it's dangerous? That you could be hurt or maimed or even killed?"
"What are you trying to tell me?" Ron was not without perceptive powers of his own.
It hurt to say it, to remember what it had been like, but Harry had to tell him the truth. "That you didn't come away from this unscathed."
"Both you and Hermione were touched by the Dark Magic. It hurt you. It changed you. After everything, you couldn't be an Auror." Harry wasn't going to go into details unless he was directly asked. He didn't want to create an expectation one way or another.
Ron looked thoughtful for a moment. "If I helped do what needed to be done, then maybe it was worth the trade."
Harry smiled. That was Ron. But living with his injury hadn't been that easy. He hadn't been as accepting when it actually happened. "I'm not sure you'll think so, should something happen."
"I take it I wasn't?"
"You had a right to be bitter."
"I'll try and remember this conversation when the time comes. I want to help." Ron sat back. There was a determination there that wasn't in the Ron he'd known at sixteen. But it hadn't been necessary then, either.
"I hope you don't have to. Or at least, not for long." It was two years from now that Ron had been hurt. With any luck at all, he could prevent it from happening at all.
"You'll clear it with my parents?"
Harry laughed at his hopeful look. "I think your parents will kill me if anything happens to you."
"Well, Mr Potter, what have you to say for yourself?" McGonagall asked as she sat down at the table a few minutes after Ron had vacated it.
"Mr Potter? Oh, I must be in trouble." Harry forced a laugh.
"You don't look especially worried, now do you?" She was clearly trying for a stern expression, but her lips twitching ruined the affect.
He'd never noticed the amused sparkle in her eyes before. Of course, when he'd known her past school, she'd had little enough to smile about.
"Is there a problem?" It concerned him that she didn't jump right in and berate him for whatever it was.
She sighed, her light manner fading. "I'm concerned about you and Severus. And yes, I know it's none of my business."
"It's not. But that wasn't what I was expecting you to say. I thought you'd want to talk about Ron."
"Mr Weasley is acting in a fairly typical fashion. He's jealous." That she understood was something of a comfort to Harry.
"I just tried to talk to him."
She raised an eyebrow, waiting.
"I told him that he and Hermione could continue to help me." That wasn't going to be negotiable, and Harry hoped that she understood that.
McGonagall's lips pressed together in a thin line. "You'll endanger them both. More so than you already have."
Her disapproval didn't surprise him. In some ways, she was right. He needed Ron and Hermione. And he hoped that he could keep them safe. Harry looked down and then back up at her. "We need Hermione. I don't want to see either of them hurt, but I also don't want to see Ron stifled. He has to be able to make his own choices."
"He's sixteen. And not a very mature sixteen at that." She wasn't wrong.
And Harry knew that. "He's never had a chance to be anything else."
"That's what I'm saying. You should allow him to just be what he is. A boy."
"I can't help feeling like he should have a chance to be something other than Arthur Weasley's sixth son. And if I help him, guide him, I can give him the opportunity to try."
"You can't force it, or him. You might also consider that perhaps this Ron Weasley isn't meant to be more than Arthur Weasley's sixth son."
That wasn't a possibility he wanted to consider. Harry folded his arms over his chest. "No one should ever be just that."
"Perhaps that isn't for you to decide."
She sounded so reasonable that he almost let it go. But this was Ron they were talking about and even if it weren't his Ron, Harry wanted to do his best for him. "If I can help him, I will."
"I'm not saying that you shouldn't. I'm just saying you should consider the danger and the risk. Before you ask a sixteen year old to do something he's clearly too young to do."
"It will be his choice. And if he makes it, then perhaps he's ready to do so."
"You've become more stubborn in your old age."
Harry laughed. "Hey, not so old. It took you this long to realize I was this stubborn?"
"I was hoping I was wrong." Her expression sobered. "About Severus?"
"What about Professor Snape?" Harry was very wary about discussing Snape with her. He knew his Severus hated being discussed, and he'd bet anything this Snape wouldn't care for it either. But she wasn't going to be put off.
"I'm concerned about how quickly you came together."
"Why? We're both adults."
"That's just it. You are an adult, and yet, you're not. Not legally. I don't want to see him hurt by that."
"I'll admit that's a sticky issue. But should it come to that, I'm sure I can prove beyond a doubt that I'm an adult. I won't let him suffer for it."
"I'm not sure you're going to be able to do much good. If the Wizengamot refused to accept your claim...."
"I doubt they could ignore it. Besides, it hasn't been that hard to convince anyone."
"That's because most people were inclined to believe you. Cornelius Fudge would not be so inclined and I'm sure he'd love to get his hands on you to help further his political career."
"Please...that's disgusting." But all too true of that prat. However.... "Give it a little time and Fudge is going to be out of a job."
"Good. I had heard some rumblings of a vote of 'no confidence' on the way." She looked at him and Harry knew what was coming.
"And about you and Severus?" she asked. "You can do him a lot of damage. I've never seen him respond to anyone quite the way he does to you."
"I suspect I'm an enigma to him." Harry wasn't sure why Snape responded to him in the way he had. Some of it had to be the sex, which was very, very good. But that wasn't all of it. There was more there and Harry wasn't sure what it was yet. Or how he felt about it. Everything was happening too fast.
"I hope you're not mixing him up with his older self. You're on the rebound from a terrible loss. It hasn't been more than a few weeks."
"I know." He did. He knew that he'd latched on to Snape, who was both like and not like his Severus, as a means of staving off the grief from the crushing loss. "I'm getting to know this version. I like him for himself."
"You loved the other one. I think you're still seeing him or using Severus as balm for your hurts."
"Perhaps. But this Snape is different than the one in my time. In some significant ways."
"Such as?" She looked quite skeptical, but under that, Harry thought she wanted to be convinced.
"Well for one thing, he's more flexible. He and I are closer to equals. I find I like that." It was something he'd never considered with his own Severus. Something that had never been possible, not with a twenty-year age gap between them. It was something that drew him closer to Snape faster than he'd ever been drawn to anyone.
"I have to say, I hadn't thought of that," McGonagall said.
"Neither had I." He was still working through his feelings about everything. He'd lost his life and gained a different one. But one thing stood out clearly. The sex was amazing and that was reason enough to continue.
From his vantage point, standing by the fireplace in the crowded Weasley sitting room, Snape watched with disinterest the antics going on around him. How had he ended up here? When Potter asked him to go with him to the birthday celebration, he was sure he'd said no. He didn't need or want to endure the spectacle of a Weasley gathering.
But here he was, watching Molly force food on everyone in sight. Watching Arthur sit in his comfortable chair with an idiotic grin on his face. And watching Bill flirt with Potter. Watching Potter laugh at Bill's jokes.
His insides clenched in a most unpleasant way. No doubt it was all the food Molly had forced on him rebelling in his belly.
How long would he be required to stay to satisfy Potter, he wondered. He also wondered if Potter was worth this much trouble. Snape sighed.
"Professor?" Potter said, breaking his reverie. Where had he appeared from?
"What?" Snape grunted.
"You're scowling." Did he have to smile while he said it?
"How would this be different from any other time?" He was in it for the sex, which made all the rest of the crap worth the bother.
Potter moved further into the corner with him, not quite touching him, but close enough that Snape could smell the slight smoky scent from the fire in his hair. He resisted the urge to lean into him.
"I was thinking of talking to Molly and Arthur again. Letting them know that Hermione, Ron and I are going to go after the locket Horcrux next week," Potter said.
"You have their permission, don't you?" Snape looked across at Molly who was looking back at them with a speculative gleam in her eyes. Fabulous. There were going to be no secrets from her.
"I do --"
"Then don't worry about it. You'll only cause them to worry more." And if they worried enough, they might come to their senses about the whole thing. And that would no doubt upset Potter.
Reckless, stupid Gryffindors, the lot of them.
"I don't want to give them a false sense of security."
"Just in case something unexpected happens? There are always going to be nasty surprises in life. You can't account for all of them."
"That's what I'm worried about."
Given the level of concern, Snape wondered if Potter knew something more than what he'd said. This Potter wasn't at all easy to read. "Are you concerned about something in particular? I thought you'd taken into account the possibilities."
"I can't take everything into account. And it's all been too easy so far."
"Weren't you the one who told me that it hadn't been that easy?" Snape was very much afraid there were any number of nasty surprises out there lying in wait for them. Even with the best of intentions, playing with fate was never a good idea.
"It hasn't been easy per se, but it's all going too smoothly. I'm worried."
"So much for believing in your Gryffindor luck," Snape said.
"Even I know that it can't last forever."
"What do you propose?
Potter shrugged. "That's just it. I don't know. We have to keep going, there is no choice."
"There, you have your answer. No matter what happens, we will keep going." Snape had nothing more to say. He looked down at Potter, surprised once again to see the adult superimposed on the teenager's face. Would he live long enough to see the adult Potter's face? Oddly enough, he'd like to.
Potter picked up his plate from the mantel. "I'll just take these into Mrs. Weasley."
A few days later, Harry, Hermione and Ron were gathered by the fireplace.
"Are we ready to do this?" Harry asked, picking up a handful of Floo powder.
"We've been over the plan three times," Ron snapped. "It's not that difficult."
"We're dealing with Dark Magic. Don't be so sure of that." Harry matched Ron's tone -- that attitude was annoying to him and he ready to call this off if Ron didn't start to behave.
"He's right, Ron. This could be...will be dangerous. No matter how many precautions we take," Hermione said.
"The whole thing feels staged. Give the kids something to do." Ron's tone was bitter.
Of all the Horcruxes, this one was probably the least dangerous. Harry had talked to Snape about it and had decided this would allow both of them to do something in a fairly controlled environment. That didn't mean it was safe by any means. "If you don't want to go, just say so. You can stay here."
Ron looked down and shook his head.
"Then I want you to understand that this is dangerous. You, all of us, must be careful. If you don't, if you do something stupid, I will send you home."
Ron's face went red and he nodded. "Fine."
"Let's go. Number twelve Grimmauld Place." Harry threw the powder into the fireplace and when it flashed green, he stepped in.
When the world stopped spinning, he was sitting on the hearth in the sitting room. He pushed himself to his feet and dusted off his robes, stepping away so that Ron and Hermione could arrive. They stepped out of the fireplace a moment later.
"It's in the attic," Harry said.
Remus came into the room. "I can't believe it was here all the time."
"That's why we're here. To deal with it," Ron said, sounding slightly less sullen than he had earlier.
Remus opened his mouth, probably to offer to help, but Harry shook his head slightly. Their eyes met, and Remus stepped aside. "Good luck."
"Thanks," Hermione said, as she went out the door.
"The attic?" Ron looked at the stairs.
The three of them trudged up the stairs to the third floor. A trapdoor let a ladder down.
"It's dusty up here." Ron waved his hand in front of his face.
"I doubt anyone has been up here since Regulus put the locket here."
Hermione looked down at the floor. "I was expecting rodents or something."
"No doubt there is an anti-rodent charm on the room. There could be any number of magical pests." Harry didn't mention the other magical dangers that could be up here as well.
The room was filled with boxes, trunks, furniture, and all sorts of paper and scrolls. A flying muris -- a mouse-like creature with very big teeth -- came at them. Hermione hexed it.
"I'm sure there will be more of those," Ron said, holding his wand noticeably tighter. "Their bite is painful, too."
"But fortunately, not deadly." Harry started to point his wand at one of the boxes on the floor.
"I bet it's going to be in one of those trunks," Ron said, nodding at four of them stacked against one wall. "That's where I'd hide something I didn't want found."
"I suspect we're going to have to go through everything until we find it." Harry started to touch the box. A wave of Dark Magic touched him. Calling to him. "I can feel a hex on this box."
"What can we do about it?" Hermione stared hard at the box, as if she could see the hex just by looking for it.
"How is your curse-breaking?" Harry asked with a smile.
"About what you'd expect for someone my age." Ron didn't return the smile.
Harry waved his wand over the box. "Pateo Abscondo."
The hex was shown above the box.
"Wicked! Can you show us how to do that?" Ron's eyes lit with excitement.
Harry cast a quick counter-hex and looked in the box. Disappointingly, there was nothing of value. "It's an easy charm. Ron, why don't you try it on that box there?"
Both Ron and Hermione were able to cast the charm easily.
"Use it on every box you are going to touch. No matter what."
Several hours later, they were still working their way through the boxes and trunks. Remus brought them lunch and then an afternoon snack. He taught them several counter-hexes for the ones they found, but they hadn't found the locket, yet.
By 8:00 that evening, Harry called a halt. They weren't going to be able to finish tonight.
"Why don't you know what it's hidden in?" Hermione asked as they made their way down the stairs.
"It's not the same in this timeline. I did look for the box -- it was wooden with a 'B' engraved on the top. I haven't seen anything like that." And that concerned Harry more than he was going to tell them.
Ron nodded. "I didn't see anything like it either."
"Then it's either in something else, or it's not in the attic."
"Where do you think it might be?" Hermione asked.
Harry had no idea. "I'm hoping it's somewhere else in the house."
"We'll have to start looking first thing tomorrow morning," Ron said, and there was now a note of excitement in his voice.
"Even so, it's going to take days to go through everything." Hermione did not seem anywhere near as pleased by that as Ron was.
"Neither of you has to come back," Harry said.
"No." Hermione shook her head. "I'm coming back with both of you tomorrow."
Later that night, Harry came into the kitchen to find McGonagall and Snape having tea. "You weren't successful?" McGonagall asked. It was clear she was surprised.
"No. And we should have been. Of all the Horcruxes, when we finally went to look for this one, it was easy to find," Harry said, not bothering to hide his frustration.
"What did you do differently?" Snape asked.
"I taught Hermione and Ron a charm to show the name of the hex on a box, if one existed." By doing that, he hoped to protect Ron from what happened in his timeline. And if that made the search a bit longer, well, he supposed it would be worth it.
Snape looked a bit startled by the charm. "Does it work on all hexes?"
"Not all, but most of the common ones. It will show that there is a hex, even if it can't identify it."
"I've been toying with something like that for a while now."
"I'm not surprised," Harry chuckled.
"Oh? Oh." McGonagall smiled. "Very useful."
"You'll show it to me?" Snape asked.
"You don't want to work it out on your own?"
"Apparently, I already did. No need to do it twice." He smirked, clearly pleased with himself.
Harry grinned back for a moment, and then sighed. "I'm not even sure the box is in there now."
"Perhaps not in the attic," McGonagall suggested.
He thought back on it now, and remembered that, "We actually searched several rooms before we found it in the attic. Among them both Regulus and Sirius' childhood bedrooms." It had been traumatic for him, then. He'd not dealt with Sirius' death, even two years later. The memories of that time came back so much easier now. Was it because he was thinking about it so much?
"What else happened?" Snape's voice cut through his reverie.
Harry turned to look at him, grateful not to get lost in the past. "Ron was cursed."
"And you're trying to avoid that this time," McGonagall said.
"Hence the anti-hex charm. If we'd had that then, maybe...." Harry couldn't say for sure that Ron wouldn't have been cursed, but it would have helped.
McGonagall nodded. "You do now, and that's all that matters."
"Right. We'll go back tomorrow." Harry started to stand and McGonagall waved him back to his seat.
"I spoke with Albus earlier."
Her tone made Harry's stomach tighten.
"What did he say?" Snape asked and it was clear he was feeling the same trepidation as Harry.
"As you no doubt know, he's not recovering," she said, sounding both upset and resigned to Dumbledore's condition.
"Of course, he's not. He's been cursed and it's killing him." Snape made it seem as if it were a personal affront. Not unlike Ron's whine when he was annoyed.
"There's nothing we can do," Harry said. "I had hoped that Hermione would be further along on her White Spell than she is."
"As intelligent as she is, she hasn't had the time or experience to be able to do this yet." At least, Snape didn't sound disparaging as he could. There was nothing any of them could do that they hadn't already done.
"She's doing very well with it," Harry felt compelled to point out anyway.
Snape scowled at him. "I didn't say she wasn't. I just said --"
"Enough of this," McGonagall snapped. "I had some other things I wished to discuss with you."
"And what exactly was that?" Snape asked in a tense tone.
"Albus told me that he wasn't able to secure Horace Slughorn to teach Potions. And given the time left, he's fairly certain that he won't find anyone. He asks if Severus wouldn't mind teaching it again this coming year." She looked at Snape, expectantly.
Snape sighed as if not having the cursed position upset him. "Fine. I wonder why Slughorn didn't take it. Didn't you tell me that he taught in your time?"
"He did. But I went with Dumbledore to ask him. Maybe that had something to do with it." Harry hadn't liked Slughorn at all. If Dumbledore wanted him for some reason, then Harry would see what he could do about convincing him to teach. "Shall I speak to the Headmaster about it?
"No. Albus has already sent out some inquiries for the Defense position. He usually finds someone." Except that McGonagall didn't look very hopeful.
"Yeah, everyone he found tried to kill me."
Snape glared at him. "I doubt I would have done that. Even considering how I felt about your younger self."
"Maybe not seriously," Harry said. He had suspected that if Snape had wanted to kill him that day, he would have been dead.
"Potter, rest assured, if I wanted to kill you, I would have done so." Snape's voice had a fine edge to it and it sent a shiver of not-fear down Harry's spine.
"No doubt. But at the time, I didn't know that."
"Albus is thinking of allowing another Ministry official to teach Defense." And clearly that idea outraged McGonagall.
Harry, too. He could not believe that Dumbledore would do that. Glancing at the back of his hand, he was surprised to see that the scar stood out in muted red on the back of his hand. He shuddered. "Good Lord, not another Umbridge."
"He says he's hoping for someone as incompetent, but more innocuous. It would help you in the coming year."
"He's hoping that you'll continue the D.A. With his approval, of course."
That would help his situation. He'd be in a nominal position of authority, especially if Dumbledore gave him any kind of sanction. "I could do that. Actually, it's a good idea. I can make sure at least some of the students are trained for what's coming."
"In between your adoring fans and your Quidditch schedule?" There was a familiar sneer on Snape's face. It had been absent for a long time. Perhaps talking about school....
"I'm not going to play Quidditch. I won't have time for it." What was Snape thinking anyway?
"Your fellow students won't appreciate that at all. They can, and very likely will, make your life difficult." McGonagall sounded as if she didn't approve either. Surely she wasn't going to worry about house rivalries at a time like this?
"You might both remember that I'm not actually going to be a student." He left school after sixth year and never went back. This wasn't about him actually having to be a student, just having to act like one.
Snape seemed to consider that for a moment, then shook his head. "Actually, you are. Harry Potter is a student. You're going to be passing yourself off as if you were the original Potter. I can't see how you're going to get around attending classes."
"I'll be attending classes and appearing as if I were a student, just like he would have done. However, I don't expect to actually have to work at it --"
"Your grades matter. Even if you're not Harry Potter. You will have to live with whatever grades you get." McGonagall actually believed that mattered.
Harry sighed. It felt as if they wanted him to actually be a student. "And it won't matter in the slightest in two years."
"It will. No matter what happens, you'll still be living in this life in two years."
There might be something to that, but Harry didn't want to think about it now. "I'm not playing Quidditch. What if we say that the Ministry hasn't lifted the lifetime ban on me?"
Snape snorted. "That works until someone's parents look up the records."
"It's still a start. I'm not playing." Harry could imagine few things worse than having to deal with teenaged angst over a silly game. Classes would be bad enough.
"Far be it from me to dissuade you from letting Slytherin win, but why are you so adamant?"
"I haven't played in years. I've lost my taste for it." With everything else that happened in his life since he'd left school, he couldn't imagine caring that much about a game.
Surprisingly, Snape nodded. "What else did the Headmaster say?"
"Nothing in particular." She looked at Harry. "You, Miss Granger and Mr Weasley will go shopping for school supplies next week." She handed him a list.
"I'm not taking all of these classes." Even if he didn't have to study, he would not have time to do anything else. "And Potions isn't on the list."
"You got an E on the O.W.L." McGonagall looked at Snape.
He turned to look at him, too. "Will you let Ron and me into Advanced Potions?"
"You. I can see that would be necessary. Weasley will have to ask. Nicely."
"Fair enough." Harry wondered if Ron would ask, nicely or not.
McGonagall chuckled. "What else do you want to take?"
"I don't know. It's not going to matter on my N.E.W.T.s, anyway. I can pass them with my eyes shut at this point."
"Are you so sure of that?" McGonagall looked startled.
"Of course. I was teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts when I was sucked into the mirror." Harry had got tired of being an Auror. Tired of everything related to the war. When the Defense teacher of the time had been killed, Harry was pleased to accept McGonagall's offer of the job.
She pushed her glasses up. "How long had you been teaching?"
"Five years. The instructor you hired after you reopened the school lasted for ten years. He was killed in a freak broom accident."
"Good to know. You do realize that you'll need to take your N.E.W.Ts again?"
There was too much space and time between now and then. He had to find the rest of the Horcruxes and kill Voldemort before he was going to worry about it. "Potions, Transfiguration, what else? Who else is in the Order?"
"Hagrid," McGonagall said.
"That works. Care of Magical Creatures. And if I remember correctly, he didn't give much homework."
"You need one more N.E.W.T. level class. What about Charms?"
Given the number of charms he'd developed over the years, that would work out well. "I'm probably better at it than Flitwick."
"I wouldn't tell him that if I were you," Snape said.
As if he'd ever be so rude, but that brought up another problem. "How are we going to keep my greater magical power from the rest of the teachers and students?"
"I don't think the students know how to recognize it," McGonagall said.
"And you'll blend in with the rest of the children when you're there."
Harry wasn't entirely sure of that, but he hoped it would be harder to pick out one magical presence with so many there.
Harry eased back into the bed slowly, sinking into the soft blankets and pillow. A naked and aroused Snape came down on top of him, covering him. With a sigh of pleasure, he wrapped his arms around Snape.
"Mmm..." Harry murmured as Snape moved down his body, licking him in that oh so perfect way he had.
As he settled between Harry's spread legs, Snape looked up and met his eyes. "Yes?"
Snape always asked. Harry found that interesting and wondered with his few working brain cells if Snape was still so unsure of his welcome or if he had some other issue that Harry didn't know about.
He shouldn't have worried about his welcome. Harry loved his attention to detail. No one Harry had ever met sucked cock quite as well as this Snape did, not even his older self. This Snape was one of the most generous lovers Harry had ever known. It said way too much about what Dumbledore's death, and the subsequent years with the Death Eaters, had done to his Severus.
There was no question that he still missed his Severus, but getting to know this one had been a nice surprise. Snape wasn't all the bad things that Harry remembered from school, some of them, to be sure, but there were some fundamental differences between his Severus and this Snape. If he could save this one from the traumas to come, he'd think the effort would be well worth it.
"God, Severus!" Harry arched up, moaning as Snape's hot mouth closed over him, cutting off further thought.
Warm, wet sensations washed over him as Snape's brilliant mouth sucked and licked and teased until Harry was mad to come. "Please...."
Snape made no reply, continuing with his task. And Harry was glad of that. Desperately glad. He thrust and moaned and thrust again. Finally, the world reduced itself to hot pleasure and he was coming.
Slick tender fingers breached him slowly, bringing him back from that languid place his mind had gone. Harry sighed and let them work their gentle magic on him.
That was another thing about this Snape: he was more aggressive in bed, especially about who topped. His Severus hadn't cared. This one did. And since he was amazingly gentle and caring in his preparations, Harry was willing to indulge him as much as he wished. The amount of sheer pleasure Snape could wring from him never failed to amaze him.
The fingers moving inside him hit pay-dirt and he moaned, thrusting back into them, his thoughts skittering away as pleasure built to new heights.
After teasing Harry for far too long, Snape finally eased into him. Harry sighed. It felt so good. Full and solid and comforting.
Snape moved on him, slowly at first, easing in and back out with care, making sure he was completely ready. It didn't take long for Harry to be moaning loudly. Snape moved faster, harder, in time to his own perfect rhythm. Harry was dancing with him, following him where he led, careening around and desperate for the next step.
The world was alight with fantastic pleasure and he was coming. Harry groaned as he came back to himself, his body realizing how it had been used.
"All right?" Snape eased out of him, patting his hip as he did so.
"Fine," Harry said, slipping under the covers. He felt a cleaning charm go over him and then Snape snuggled under the blankets beside him.
In no time, Harry was on the verge of sleep.
"You'll all go back tomorrow?" Snape's voice startled him back to wakefulness.
"Are you concerned?" Harry was too tired to have a coherent conversation.
"Only in that the circumstances have changed and things are much more dangerous. Perhaps you should consider --"
"I've said they could go back tomorrow. I think they will be fine." Harry knew that Snape was right. He shouldn't let them go, but he'd also promised. And he'd be there to make sure nothing went wrong.
"I think the danger is considerable."
"They want and need the chance to do something."
"I'm not going to be able to convince you, am I?" Snape sighed. "Typical Gryffindors, the lot of you."
"Are you concerned about something specific?" If he was, Harry would consider it, but a general unease was something they all had.
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"Perhaps we could put it off a day or two."
"I don't think that's going to help."
There was nothing more to say at this point. They had to destroy this Horcrux to move on. "Then we'll go back in the morning."
They rushed Ron to St. Mungo's, but it was too late to save his eye. Harry and Hermione sat by his bedside. Hermione had tears in her eyes and Harry felt as if he'd been kicked in the chest by a Hippogriff.
After all of their precautions, after trying to be so careful, the bloody box was cursed to attack. The preemptive spell set off the attack. Harry should have considered that possibility.
The Healer came in, followed by Arthur and Molly. "We need to know exactly what happened."
"We were looking around upstairs in Grimmauld Place and a box just attacked us. We didn't even really touch it." Harry kept his eyes down as he lied. Then he looked up at the Healer, who fortunately looked like he actually believed him.
"How is Ron?" he asked, quietly, a tremor in his tone.
"Yes. Please tell us how he is." Hermione obviously had the right amount of obsequiousness in it, because the Healer turned from Harry.
"He's lost the eye. And since it was taken with Dark Magic, it can't be replaced, either." The Healer sounded offended by that.
Molly looked stricken and Arthur looked sick. Neither of them were looking at him. Harry's stomach twisted unpleasantly. It was his fault. "I'm sorry."
Harry turned to face Molly as the Healer checked Ron and left the room.
She shook her head. "I didn't expect it this fast. I don't think that Ron should --"
"No." Ron's voice was weak, but clear.
"Ron? How do you feel?" She moved across the room to his bedside. "You're too young for this."
Ron struggled to sit up. "No. I'm not. I knew something really bad might happen. Harry warned me."
"And you did it anyway? What on earth were you thinking?" Molly sounded as if she were holding back, not letting her anger out. It was clear she was hurt. Harry couldn't blame her. She had every right to be angry with him. He'd been arrogant to think that because he knew what was supposed to happen ahead of time he could manipulate everything and make it work in his favor. "I should have --"
Ron shook his head. "I wanted to help. I begged to be able to do something. It was important. I knew that it was a risk and I took it."
"Do you feel that way now? Was it worth it?" Molly asked, her tone saying clearly that she didn't think it was worth it.
Ron looked right at his mother. "Yes. I do. I made a choice. The gamble didn't pay off, and now I'm going to learn to live with it."
There was acceptance and perhaps a bit of pride in Arthur's eyes. "You know that you're not going to be able to --"
"Be an Auror? Or play Quidditch at school or probably a lot of other things, too. Yes, I know. I won't say it doesn't bother me, but.... It was my choice and this was important."
Harry's throat was tight. Ron was being so brave. "I'm sorry --"
"You told me." Ron looked at his parents. "We can't blame him. I don't."
"We don't," Arthur said, but Harry could hear the prevarication. And they were right to blame him. He should have known better to risk anyone other than himself.
Molly cleared her throat. "They are going to keep you overnight tonight for observation."
"Why? There's nothing more they can do. I want to go back to Harry's." Ron sounded quite annoyed.
"Don't argue with me, young man. And you're coming back to the Burrow tomorrow." Her tone was stern and protective.
"We're not done yet." Ron turned to Harry. "Did you destroy it?"
"Professors Snape and McGonagall are taking care of it right now," Harry said. "Your mother is right. You're done for now. You need some time to recover before school starts."
"Ron, listen to your parents. They are right. Dark Magic hurts worse and takes longer to recover from than other magical injuries." Harry felt guilty enough.
"You're a fine one to talk." Ron winced, and closed his eyes, clearly still in pain.
"There will be more to do once school starts."
"Which is only a few weeks away." Hermione sounded like she was very much looking forward to it.
Harry was dreading it.
"You'll still be going to Diagon Alley next week for school supplies?" Ron asked.
"We'll meet there and get our supplies. I'll tell you about what else needs to be done then, okay?" Harry said.
"That's fine," Molly said. "We should all leave so that Ron can sleep."
Ron looked like he wanted to argue with that, but wisely kept his mouth shut.
Harry used the Invisibility Cloak to get into Ron's room later that night. He wasn't sure what prompted the return visit, but he had a feeling Ron wasn't all that sanguine about what happened as he'd made out to be that afternoon.
Despite the fact that the curse wasn't contagious, the fear around Dark Magic was such that St. Mungo's required isolation whenever anyone touched it, so Ron was in a private room. Harry had McGonagall see to it that Ron's bills would be covered.
When Harry came in, Ron looked like he might be asleep. Harry would have left, had he not seen Ron's shoulders shaking silently. His younger self would not have known what to do, and Harry wasn't sure that he did now, but he wouldn't leave a friend to suffer.
"Ron," Harry said, putting a hand on Ron's shoulder. He wasn't stupid enough to ask what was wrong. "Want to talk about it?"
Ron stiffened, and turned over, wiping his face on his pillow along the way. "I'm not."
"Okay. I understand." Harry smiled, willing to ignore the obvious.
"You don't, though. It hurts," Ron snapped, and then sighed.
But Harry did know that, better than he'd cared to. "It will. For a long time, too."
"You warned me." Ron's voice cracked and it felt like a knife in Harry's gut.
"Maybe not strongly enough."
"Or maybe you can't change everything that happened. Maybe some things are supposed to happen."
"I can't see how your being hurt by Dark Magic was supposed to happen."
Ron snorted wetly and looked like he was struggling not to cry. "It happened. And it can't be changed."
"I'm going to need you more than ever," Harry said, knowing Ron needed to hear that and hoping he could keep him safer this time.
"I'm useless. I've lost --"
"Don't talk like that."
"It's true." Ron's breath caught again. "I'm not going to be able to do anything."
"There are some things you're not going to be able to do, yes. But there are other things that you can do. Things that you can be very good at." Harry desperately wanted Ron to understand that while his life had changed, it wasn't over. Far from it, in fact.
"What? I can't play Quidditch. I can't be an Auror."
"Those are just two things in a lifetime full of things. And you can be a Healer, you can do Potions --"
Ron snorted again. "As if I'd ever do that."
"Actually, you might be good at that. You've never applied yourself to it, so how do you know how you'd do?" That was what his Ron had settled on, but it had taken a very long time and a lot of misses before he did.
"Not like I'm going to find out, either. That greasy git isn't going to let me in N.E.W.Ts Potions." But there was something in Ron's tone that said he was listening. That he might be willing to try.
"I might be able to do something about that. If you're willing to...."
"To ask him. Nicely."
"Bloody Hell! He's such a bastard. He'd torture me and then say no."
Given Ron's experience with Snape, that wasn’t completely out of the realm of possibilities, except that Snape had promised. "He'll let you into the class, if you ask nicely. It's your decision, but you might consider it."
Ron looked at him. And he could almost see him weighting the possibilities of what he knew and what he wanted. "He'd let me in? Even with an E on my O.W.L.?"
"He said he would."
"Okay. Let me think about it." Ron settled back into the pillow and sighed. "I'm going to miss playing Quidditch."
"I'm not going to play either."
"Why the hell not? Even if I'm not playing, I'd want to see you play." Ron sounded as if Harry playing would somehow make up for him not being able to.
"Keep your voice down," Harry said. "I'm not supposed to be here, remember?"
"Why aren't you going to play?" Ron's voice was considerably softer.
"I'm not going to have enough time to be playing games." He didn't say silly games, but he rather thought his tone implied it. Why was it that no one seemed to understand that he could lose interest in the game? He'd had too many other things on his mind for too long.
"We'll both be on the bench." Ron sounded depressed again.
"We'll be looking for the rest of the Horcruxes and destroying them. We're not going to lack for things to do." They weren't going to have enough time for everything. While he might not have to worry about his studies, Ron and Hermione would.
"And we're going to be doing this during that term?"
"Yes. I'm only there because I don't want to alert Voldemort that something has changed until I have to."
"I think he must know that something happened. You didn't spend any part of the summer with the Dursleys."
"But the less he can figure out, the better off we'll all be." Harry understood that the Death Eater children would report back to their parents. It was inevitable there would be changes in his behavior from last year. He hoped he could make a show of a slightly more mature Harry Potter, but nothing that would raise suspicion that anything else was wrong.
Ron was silent for a moment. "I don't know how well that is going to work."
People saw what they expected to see, so that would work in his favor. "I don't either. Are you okay now?"
"Yes. I'm going to have an eye patch. That's all they can do. No magical eye like Moody's."
"You'll look quite rakish with it." Although Harry wasn't sure that would be an asset at sixteen.
Ron laughed. "I hope so. But what if the girls don't like it?"
"Oh, they will," Harry lied. While women would find it attractive and intriguing, girls might find it scary. "You can charm them with tales of your bravery."
"Or scare them. We're not going to be able to talk about what happened, are we?"
"No." Harry looked away.
"Where the bloody hell have you been?" Snape asked quite a bit more sharply than he'd meant to as Potter came into the sitting room. He had disappeared several hours ago without bothering to tell anyone where he was going. While it was true that Potter could take care of himself, anyone could be ambushed.
Anger flashed in Potter's eyes before he could bank it. "I went to see Ron. Though why it should matter to you, I don't know."
It was an effort to speak without yelling. Snape took a breath. "Common courtesy says that when you live with other people, you let them know when you're going somewhere. You should know that. Why didn't you tell someone?"
Just as quickly as the anger manifested in Potter, it faded. He inclined his head, his expression changing to contrite. "You're right. I apologize. I should have said something. I was just going to check on him and get back quickly."
"I take it he's not dealing with this in typical Gryffindor fashion?" All things considered, that wasn't a surprise.
"Not exactly. He's scared and Dark wounds hurt more than regular ones."
"I'm aware of that." All too well aware. And it wasn't that Snape was unsympathetic to Weasley's plight.
"I tried to comfort him as best I could, which unfortunately wasn't much. He's going to have to learn to deal with his injury." Potter sighed, clearly thinking he should be able to fix all ills that happened to his friend.
There was more here than just Weasley being hurt. There always was another layer to everything. "I take it that he didn't do that very well last time."
"No. And he does seem to be adjusting better this time. Maybe knowing made the difference. Of course, Ron had chosen to help before. It wasn't as if he'd thought there was no danger."
"Be that as it may, you gave him certain knowledge that there was a risk and he decided it was worth the gamble."
"He said something like that, too."
Snape yawned. It was late and he was tired. "Let's go to bed."
"Yes. Good idea. Still annoyed at me?" Potter gave him a come-hither look that started a slow simmer on his senses.
"I was never annoyed to begin with. I just don't care to be inconvenienced," Snape lied smoothly.
"Of course not." Harry turned towards Snape, a serious look on his face. "After he was hurt, Ron got to be good at Potions."
He could not believe that Weasley was good at anything. "I've said I'd let him in, if he asks. Nicely. And I will." It was against his better judgment, but perhaps if Weasley wanted it enough to ask him for it, he'd want it badly enough to do well in the class. It wasn't common knowledge since it rarely happened, but if any student who got an 'E' on their O.W.L.s wanted to be in Advanced Potions badly enough to dare asking him for it, he usually let them into the class. When it did happen, they were usually excellent students.
"Thanks. I do appreciate that."
"How much?" Snape said, closing the door to his bedroom.
"How much what?"
"How much do you appreciate it?" Snape crowded him against the wall. "Enough to give me what I want?"
"I thought I always gave you what you wanted." Potter's voice was an approximation of low and sexy, but it was too high-pitched to truly be effective.
"You do," Snape conceded. He'd had few enough lovers, and none that were as flexible and generous as Potter.
"Was there something specific you wanted? You know that you only have to ask." Potter reached up and brought his face down to kiss.
Snape yielded. "You do all the work, tonight."
But really, it was Snape's pleasure.
A week or so later, Snape was reading in bed when Potter came in after being gone all afternoon. As Potter leaned over to kiss him, Snape caught a whiff of him. "Potter. You stink."
Potter laughed. "That's not the best way to greet a lover."
Lover? Yes, Snape supposed that they were that. Or something close enough to that it didn't matter enough to correct him. "You smell awful. Burnt." He sniffed again, and couldn't place the scent.
"I should have showered, but I was hoping to convince you to join me." Potter raised an eyebrow in invitation.
A wet and slippery Potter was definitely an attraction, but not if he smelled. "Not until after you're clean. What have you been doing, anyway?"
"Target practice." Potter shrugged, as if this were an every-day thing a wizard did.
"You know, with a Muggle pistol." He put his thumb and forefinger out and pantomimed shooting.
Snape had got the reference without the demonstration. "Where on earth would you even get one? And more importantly, why?"
"I got it in the States, yesterday. In New Jersey, to be exact." Potter's tone was insouciant. Apparently saying, an English wizard had nothing better to do on a sunny Thursday afternoon, than to go to New Jersey to buy a handgun.
Snape's shock must have been on his face because Potter laughed. "I took a Portkey to New York. I asked around the Wizarding community there -- they have a place rather like Knockturn Alley -- and ended up going across the river into New Jersey to buy it from a Muggle dealer."
Still the typical Gryffindor for whom the rules didn't apply. "Oh, just like that."
"Why not indeed? What are you going to use it for?"
"I'm not sure yet. But I don't want to get out of practice." The way he said it made it sound like he already was.
"It hasn't been that long."
"True, but I have a different body with a different center of gravity. It's going to take me a bit of time to get back the proficiency I once had."
Just how proficient did he need to be? "Why go to all the trouble?" Snape asked.
"When Lucius Malfoy took over, he set up a couple of very spectacular ambushes for the Order using magical dampening fields. A pistol was nearly always effective against wands, especially when the Death Eaters weren't expecting it. We lost several people before we figured that out."
"Couldn't they shield against it?"
"You can, but you have to use a powerful spell, and that can't be used with the dampening field."
"I don't know much about that time for you." And Snape was more than a little curious about it, too.
"Do you want to talk about that or do you want to help me take a shower." Clearly, Potter didn't want to talk about it.
Not that Snape blamed him. The story wasn't going away. And the alternative was likely to be much more pleasant too. Snape put his hand on Potter's cheek. Bloody hell, he would never get used to it being soft with peach fuzz. Potter didn't even have to shave yet. That was enough to take the starch out of his prick.
As if he could tell what Snape was thinking, Potter put his hand over Snape's on his cheek. "What?"
"Nothing," Snape lied, further repelled by the high pitch of Potter's voice. He closed his eyes, and felt Potter's unmistakably adult magical aura. Oh, that was better. That couldn't be faked.
Potter's soft mouth closed over his, and Snape let the kiss take him away. Yes, yes, that was it, keep his eyes closed, and he wouldn't mistake Potter for a child, even with those soft small hands divesting him of his nightshirt. Even with those same hands sliding down his body.
"Shower?" Potter took his hand and Snape allowed himself to be pulled into the shower.
"Professor Snape?" Weasley's voice was tentative and circumspect. None of his usual insolence. Not at all disrespectful.
It was enough of a shock that Snape looked up sharply and snapped, "What do you want?"
Weasley blinked. And Snape could see him gathering his courage for an attack, and just as quickly he took a breath, allowing his shoulders to relax. "May I speak to you?"
Snape turned to face him fully, crossing his arms over his chest. Even if the answer was a forgone conclusion, Snape wasn't going to make it easy for him. "Speak your piece, Weasley. And then leave."
"I wanted to ask...." Weasley took another breath, clearly forcing himself to go on. "If you'd let me take N.E.W.T. level potions."
"You didn't get an outstanding on your O.W.L. Give me one reason why I should allow you into my class."
To his credit, Weasley bit his lip, and didn't answer back immediately. "I believe I would do well in it."
"Better than you've done in my class previously?" Weasley had always been a marginal student. Given that all of his brothers had done fairly well, Snape knew it had more to do with lack of work than lack of intellect. He'd not tolerate that kind of laziness in Advanced Potions.
Again, Weasley didn't answer right away. "Motivation. I've been told I could do well in potions."
"And why would it matter? You can't be an Auror."
Weasley continued to gnaw on his lip, and Snape wondered if he'd draw blood before he answered. "I'd like to see if I could do it."
"All right. I'll allow you in this term on probation. If you don't apply yourself, I won't allow you back." Snape held back a smile as Weasley's eyes widened. He hadn't expected Snape to agree.
"Thank you! I can't believe...."
"I wouldn't finish that sentence if I were you."
"Right. So, thanks." Weasley looked around. "I didn't see Harry downstairs when I came through."
"Aren't you meeting him later in Diagon Alley?
"Not until this afternoon. I thought if I were buying my books today, I'd need to know which books to buy."
Snape nodded. That made more sense than he would have credited the boy with having. "He should be downstairs with Miss Granger. I believe they were working in the lab."
"Thanks." Weasley turned away and then back. "Thanks again."
"Don't thank me. N.E.W.T. level Potions is not easy nor for the faint of heart. You'll work hard. Or you'll not come back." Snape made it sound as ominous as he could.
Weasley didn't look concerned. "I'll work at it."
Snape was quite sure he would. "Get out."
With a nod, Weasley was gone.
Snape resumed his packing. He wanted to spend a night or two at Spinner's End. He'd been putting it off and now he was nearly out of time. He wondered if he could convince Potter to go with him. Probably not. After living here all summer, he suspected that his home would be something of a letdown.
When Ron, Hermione, and Harry exited the Leaky Caldron, they found Diagon Alley bustling with activity.
"Let's start with Flourish and Blotts," Hermione suggested.
Harry smiled indulgently at her. "Sure. We'll have to have the books sent back to the house so that we don't have to carry them."
"I spoke with Snape," Ron said. They started down the street towards the store.
Harry turned to look at him, raising an eyebrow.
"He said he'd let me into Advanced Potions." Ron's tone was incredulous.
"I told you he would."
"I believed you when you said he'd let me in, but I can't believe that he wasn't going to...ridicule me. Or something. He was decent."
"You asked nicely and he replied the same way," Hermione said, knowingly. Girls were more mature than boys at this age.
"The thing is, he never has before. Not once in all the time I've known him."
"Have you ever tried to be decent to him?" Hermione's tone was chiding.
"Why should I? He's never been anything other than a git. He's never treated you decently either."
"He hasn't. But given everything, I can see why, now."
"You can?" Harry asked.
"He's been decent, if a bit grumpy, all summer. So, there had to be a reason why he'd be so cruel during the year."
"I'm surprised you can see that." Harry wouldn't have given her the perspective or perception at this point. Later, absolutely, but she was only sixteen.
"If I hadn't worked with him this summer, I wouldn't have seen it. And once I did, it made perfect sense."
"I'm sure he'll be thrilled to know that you figured it out." Ron snorted.
"Oh, I'm not stupid enough to actually say anything to him." Hermione laughed and reached for the door to the bookstore.
A pretty girl, about their age, came out with a younger girl.
"Oh, Harry. Good to see you all," she said, smiling at him and then at Hermione and Ron. "Do you know my sister Azara?"
"I'm a first year, this year. We just got all of my books." Azara was clearly pleased with herself.
"Oh, isn't that nice." Harry had no idea who she was. It must have shown in his face because Hermione stepped in.
"Katie, how was your summer?"
Katie looked at Harry for one second and then smiled at Hermione. "It's been good. Too short, of course. How was yours?"
"Mine was great. I did a lot of research on the break from school."
"Only you would think it's a good thing. I still haven't got all of my summer homework done." She said it in such a nice way that Hermione didn't take offense.
"You know Hermione," Ron said with a laugh. "I haven't got my homework done, either."
"What happened to your eye?" Azara asked.
"Shush! That's rude." Katie blushed. "I'm sorry Ron."
"S'okay. I was hurt in an...accident."
"Oh." There was a second or two of awkwardness, and then Katie turned to Harry. "You'll be playing this fall, won't you?"
"Actually, I won't." Harry tried to look as if it mattered in the slightest to him. "The blasted Ministry ban is still in place."
Katie shook her head. "How can that be? I mean, Fudge lost the confidence vote. Scrimgeour is now Minster."
Harry cleared his throat. He'd always found staying close to the truth worked better when lying, but this might not be the case. "Um...Dumbledore told me that I couldn't play."
"You should appeal it. As a matter of fact, my mom works at the Ministry. I'll ask her to look into it, if you'd like."
From bad to worse. "No. Thank you so much. But Dumbledore is going to do that as soon as school starts." Harry was starting to feel very uncomfortable with this situation. And it was likely to only get worse. "We've only just started shopping. We should buy our books."
"Yes. That's true." Hermione smiled at Katie and her sister again. "It was good to see you, Katie. And to meet you, Azara."
"See you in a couple of weeks. And I do hope Dumbledore can get the situation worked out before the season starts." She smiled and walked away, her sister trailing after her.
Harry let out a breath slowly.
"This is going to be harder then you thought, isn't it?" Ron looked after Katie.
"Um...." Harry still wasn't sure who she was.
"Katie Bell," Hermione whispered.
The name triggered a memory that he couldn't quite get a hold of. What was it about her? "We can't talk about it now." He moved further into the crowded store.
They didn't linger over their books and were outside again quickly. Even Hermione seemed uncomfortable.
"I can't believe..." She trailed off, shaking her head. "I guess I never thought about it...."
"Yeah. How are you going to...." Ron sighed.
"You're both going to have to stick close to me for the first few days."
"We're not going to be in all the same classes. Neither of us is taking Care of Magical Creatures," Ron said.
It was not like he could hide in the back of that class either. And Hagrid still didn't know about him. Flying blind and without landmarks. "I'll just have to hope I can manage."
"Well, well, well. Look who it is," a tall blond boy said, with an ugly sneer on his face. "It's the Weasel, the Mudblood and Potty." He and his two companions laughed.
No doubt who that was.
"Draco Malfoy," Harry muttered to himself. Draco had turned into a relatively decent adult, but it had taken several years and some hard doses of reality. This Draco was a total arse, through and through. He was as callous and craven as any Death Eater's progeny.
"Let's go," Hermione said, clearly opting to ignore Malfoy completely.
"Leaving so soon? Oh, no. Maybe you're just practicing for when all of your kind are gone." Malfoy sneered. "I'm so looking forward to the day. It won't be long now."
Crabbe and Goyle both snickered.
Harry wanted to smack him. That boy needed to be taught a lesson. And even if it shouldn't be him doing it, Harry couldn't seem to help himself. "And just what kind is she?"
"Don't be absurd, Potty. She's a Mud--"
With a wave of his wand, Harry silenced him. Malfoy's mouth opened and closed, and his face turned purple with rage.
"I would think twice about insulting people who are more powerful than you are."
Hermione's hand was on his arm, pushing it down. "Harry, no. It's okay. You can't use magic without permission."
"Fuck. Finite Incantatem." He glared at Malfoy.
"You'll pay for this, Potter. I'll see that you do." The threat was real. And Harry knew he should have reined in his temper. But that kind of casual cruelty pressed his buttons hard.
"What were you thinking?" Hermione hissed as Malfoy walked away.
Her tone infuriated Harry almost as much as Malfoy had. "Don't speak to me like that."
Hermione shrunk back and Ron's eyes got wide.
"I'm sorry. But Harry wouldn't have done that. We're not --"
"I know. I shouldn't have used magic against him. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap, either." Harry breathed out, trying to let his anger go.
Ron forced a laugh. "At least you recognized him."
"It's not like I'd forget him. Malfoy survived. Most of the rest of them didn't. I haven't seen any of them twenty years. Him, I saw a few months ago. Though he didn't look like that."
"What are we going to do about this?" Hermione asked.
"Maybe we can start some rumors that something happened over the summer. We don't need to go into what it was..." Ron rubbed his neck and sighed.
Hermione pushed her hair back, away from her face. It slid forward messy again as soon as she let it go. "That's a good idea. Between Harry's memory and your eye, it's not going to be easy to explain."
"Especially since we can't. Not to anyone."
"We can say we were victims of some kind of Dark curse or better yet, not say it. Sort of imply it without going into specifics," Ron said.
"It won't be very far from the truth. Which makes it the best kind of lie. We'll talk to McGonagall and Snape about it tonight." Harry was pleased that Ron suggested it.
"I won't be there." Ron sounded disappointed.
"We'll owl you right away," Hermione promised.
"Do you want to get ice cream?"
"You're always thinking about food!"
Harry was hungry, too. He stepped off the curb and headed towards the shop. "Let's go to Fortescue's."
The ice-cream shop was closed. Boarded up.
"It just gets worse and worse." Hermione sighed.
"Let's get out of here," Harry said. He's had enough for one day.
Snape looked up from his book as Potter sauntered into the sitting room. Minerva and Granger were upstairs doing who knew what. He didn't care. "Is there a problem?" Snape asked, seeing Potter's pensive expression.
"There are several." Potter sat down across from him. "The first would be that I can't remember my fellow students' names."
"Can you remember the names of the seventh years from your class."
Some of them. Well, maybe not that many. "What are you going to do about it?"
"Keep Hermione and Ron close to me. I think we need to start a few rumors." Potter went on to describe his ideas.
"Very Slytherin. Plausible deniability from the staff, too. It could work."
"Yeah. But there's more. We ran into Katie Bell and her sister today. I didn't remember right away, but she was put under Imperius by Rosmerta --"
"You're joking. She wasn't a Death Eater."
"Draco Malfoy was. He cast Imperius on Rosmerta, so that she gave Katie a cursed necklace that she was to give to Dumbledore."
"That's rather circuitous. Why?"
"Remember that Unbreakable Vow? Draco tried several times to kill Dumbledore. Always using rather roundabout methods. Not very wisely or very well."
"Clearly not. What else did Draco try?"
"He sent poisoned wine to Dumbledore. Who gave it to Slughorn and he gave some to Ron. Only a quick use of a goat's bezoar saved Ron's life."
"I don't believe that Draco is a killer."
"Not a cold-blooded one, anyway. But he's not worried about who else he's going to hurt."
"You might have some sympathy for what he's going through."
"I do. Now. He eventually turned out okay. He did a lot for us in the latter part of the war."
Snape scratched his head. "We need to woo him to our side. And quickly. Events seem to be moving much faster in this timeline than in yours."
"You're right. On both counts. But I think we'll need to terrify him more than Voldemort does."
"And how do you propose to do that? Need I remind you who his father is?" Growing up related to Lucius Malfoy would tend to make anyone else seem innocuous by comparison.
"He overcame that with age. But not at sixteen." Potter sighed. "I'd hate to have to sacrifice him."
"No. That will not be an option."
"I never understood your relationship with Draco. My Severus refused to discuss it," Potter said.
The silence between them was expectant, but Snape wasn't going to address it.
"I have no idea what your Severus told you or didn't, but I won't sacrifice anyone who might have a chance." If there was the smallest chance that Draco could be saved, he would do anything necessary to see it happen. Draco had a lot of potential, and if he ever started to think for himself, he'd go very far.
Potter sighed. "What would sway him? The reason he eventually came over to our side was that Voldemort killed his mother in front of him after he failed to kill Dumbledore."
"Perhaps we can use Narcissa. If he loves her so well."
"Can she be swayed to our side?"
"I don't know. It's possible. I'll speak to her the first chance that I get. I was thinking of returning to Spinner's End for a few days. Perhaps I can set up a meeting."
"I want to be there."
"Not a good idea."
"I'll stay out of sight. When were you thinking of going?"
"Towards the end of the week."
"McGonagall leaves for Hogwarts about then. And Hermione is going to spend next week with her parents."
"Where are you going to be?" Snape asked.
"I'll stay here until the night before school starts, then go to a hotel near the train station. "Shall we go up now?"
"You do realize that this will have to stop once school starts." It didn't matter what age Potter was, he was going to be a student.
Potter just grinned at him. "School hasn't started yet."
He rather thought that Potter wasn't going to cooperate any more than the younger version did. The consequences could destroy them both.
The summons came in the middle of the night. The meeting was more crowded than usual and his report on Potter's activities was accepted without much question. Not that there would be any question since it was mostly the truth.
Snape stood off to one side of the dais, not in the first circle of followers, but not out of favor either. He had a good view of the coming ceremony.
Both the younger Crabbe and Goyle were brought forward by their fathers and took the mark. It was a tedious process, and quite painful. Snape's stomach turned to see both sets of parents, smiling, as their children were surrendered to the Dark.
Narcissa Malfoy, wearing a silver robe that spoke of money and quiet elegance, led Draco forward.
Even from where he was standing, Snape could tell she was reluctant. No doubt she was angry that the Dark Lord had promised to have Lucius released from prison at least twice and had failed to do so. Still, she knew better than to let her disappointment show.
Draco, for his part, did look eager, but the Dark Lord wasn't looking at him.
"My dear Narcissa," the Dark Lord said, as she knelt and kissed the hem of his robe. "You do not seem excited that your son will take my mark tonight."
"I am, my lord. I'm honored that you would choose my son," she said, but the words were perfunctory and without any feeling behind them.
The Dark Lord took hold of her chin, forcing her to face him. To Snape, she looked like a deer caught in oncoming headlights. The Dark Lord's expression turned ugly, and he pushed her away from him so that she stumbled back.
"You don't consider it an honor, do you? You ungrateful woman!" The Dark Lord raised his wand. "Crucio!"
Narcissa fell backward screaming, writhing in pain.
Some of those assembled around Snape gasped. This was Narcissa Malfoy under the Dark Lord's wand. If he would do that to her, what would he do to them?
As Snape watched, Draco's expression turned from shocked to murderous. The torture only lasted a few minutes, but it was enough to leave Narcissa with her robes hiked up to her hips and her hair and make-up in disarray. She stood up slowly, humiliated, her head down and her shoulders slumped.
"What a disappointment you are!" the Dark Lord hissed at her. "Instead of being grateful that I give your miserable son a place after his father failed me so badly, you wish him not to be touched."
Narcissa went to her knees again, but there was no submission in her eyes. "Forgive me, my Lord. I beg you. I meant no disrespect."
The Dark Lord turned towards Draco, ignoring her. "You will have to earn your right to join me."
"My Lord," Draco choked as he knelt before him, his face completely free of emotion. "What would you have me do? I'll do anything you ask...to make up for my mother, my parents."
"I would have you kill that old fool Dumbledore for me."
"My Lord, no! He's just a child," Narcissa wailed.
Snape wanted to groan at her stupidity. Hadn't she learned anything? She was a disgrace to all Slytherins.
"Mother!" Draco's tone was sharp with censure. "I can do that. With pleasure, my Lord." The fury in his eyes was well banked and only someone who knew Draco well could see it in his stance.
Narcissa looked horrified, but wisely said nothing else.
Afterward, Snape stood against the wall and Draco joined him. He didn't bother to conceal his fury. "I can't believe he did that to my mother."
"You should be grateful that it was so short. She deserved worse," Bellatrix said as she scowled at Draco.
"How can you say that? She's your sister." But Draco's tone had pulled back from his original fury.
"Don't sass me, boy, or I'll give you a round or two myself. Your mother knows better. She needs to get down off her high pedestal. She serves our Lord just like the rest of us do."
Snape met Draco's eyes and it didn't take much to push inside to his surface thoughts. His fury overrode almost everything else in his mind. Snape was nearly staggered by the onslaught. However, Draco's hatred eclipsed his fury. The Dark Lord had miscalculated. Draco would not forgive the humiliation of his mother any time soon or at all.
That would no doubt work in their favor when they tried to turn him. This would be the chance they needed. He'd talk to Potter about how to approach him as soon as he could get away.
"Your aunt is quite right, Draco. You should be grateful the Dark Lord is so generous as to give you a chance at all."
Draco blinked. "Yes. You're right, Professor. I apologize. I was upset. It won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't." Bellatrix stalked off.
It might be dismal and dark and shabby, but Spinner's End was home. Snape opened the door and breathed in the comforting scent of musty books.
"So what happened?" Potter asked, rising from the chair where he'd been waiting.
It didn't surprise him that Potter had got past all of his wards. What did annoy him was that Potter assumed he was welcome. Still, Snape wasn't going to do anything to disabuse him of the notion. There weren't that many nights left for them and he'd rather not spend time fighting. "It went far better than we had any right to expect." Snape explained.
"Now, the question is how to approach Narcissa," he concluded.
"What of Bellatrix? Draco?"
"She would sell out anyone who is not part of her crusade. And Draco will require special handling, most likely by you."
"I suspect so. Do you have any ideas on what I should do? I have none." Potter looked expectant.
But Snape didn't have an answer for him. "What did you do last time?"
"You did it. And he was overtaken by events. Voldemort killed his mother in front of him after he escaped Hogwarts with you."
"Draco was supposed to do it. Actually, I'm sure Voldemort wanted him to fail. No one asks a sixteen year old to kill one of the most powerful wizards alive and expects him to do it."
"Don't they? I rather thought it was a common request for teenagers."
Potter actually blushed. "I never made that connection before. But that's beside the point. We need an approach."
"We might just wait to see how it plays out with his fellow students." Slytherins were not the forgiving types. Draco's status would be damaged by being out of favor.
"I expect I'll have to, unless you can come up with something else."
A light knock sounded on the door. He glanced at Potter who was already heading for the stairs. They creaked under his feet as he went part way up, just out of sight.
Snape opened the door to find Narcissa on his doorstep. Alone. For one moment, he allowed himself to admire her beauty, but then he dismissed the notion.
"What can I do for you?" Snape asked as he stepped back to allow her in.
She was silent for a moment, clearly still shaken by what happened that evening. "I need your help?"
"What makes you think I can or would help you?"
"I would presume on your friendship with my husband."
"I have been out of favor with him for some years now." Even when he'd been friends with Lucius, it hadn't been an equal relationship. Lucius had sometimes deigned to protect him or support him or use him, but Snape had had no say as to which it would be.
She looked down. "What can I offer you then?"
"What makes you think I won't go straight to the Dark Lord?" But his tone said he wouldn't and he was sure that she knew it before she'd ever knocked on his door.
"I have reason to believe he suspects you of spying."
Well, that was hardly a surprise. Especially given what Potter had said. The Dark Lord might be mad, but he wasn't that stupid. "Then perhaps you should go to the Dark Lord with your accusation."
"I'd rather work out a trade," she paused and looked at him, as if gauging his reaction. "I have safe passage to Switzerland, but I can't leave Draco alone. He's just a child."
Snape didn't allow his face to change at all. "He's sixteen, almost seventeen. He will be at school from next week on. I don't think you need to worry about him."
She shook her head. "I think you know that you can make things much worse for him. I just ask that you...," keep him safe, she didn't say, but it could be heard just as clearly.
"He's a student at my school. Nothing more."
"Please. I will give you whatever you want."
"You're not in a position to give me anything." Not yet, anyway.
She knew it, too. "There might come a time when circumstances change and I might be in that position."
"Then I could see the advantage of your owing me a favor." Having Narcissa Malfoy owe him a favor could be quite a lucrative investment. Even if it amounted to nothing more than her good will and support when this was all over.
"Yes. That day may come. I shall not go back into the Dark Lord's presence. And Draco must remain unmarked."
"I can't see how I can be of help to you. Your son must complete his task before he can be honored with our Lord's mark."
"And if he does not?"
"Then our Lord will no doubt kill you. Or him." Or more likely, both. Sending Draco back into the Dark Lord's presence after such a failure was not the best option for a long life, especially if Narcissa was out of reach.
"It must not happen."
"I'm not sure how it can be avoided."
"I shall be gone. And Draco will be safe."
Snape said nothing. His promise of safety could only go so far. Potter would be a better one to make that promise, but he wasn't going to reveal his presence to Narcissa. "You must go now."
"I'm leaving within the next few days."
Snape held the door for her. "Good bye."
The following day, Harry accompanied Snape to see Dumbledore. He'd been expecting Dumbledore to look worse, but when he opened the door, Harry had to fight back a gasp.
Snape either couldn't or didn't. "Good Lord, Albus, you look dreadful."
"Thank you so much, Severus. And how are you?" Dumbledore stepped aside to allow them into his house. He moved slowly as he led them into a drawing room. It was surprisingly understated in neutral colors.
"Can I get you some tea?" Dumbledore asked as they settled into their seats.
"No, thank you, sir. We're here to discuss what we're going to do when school starts next week." That was going to be absolute hell, Harry knew it.
"I'm not sure I should even be there. It will upset the children to see me like this." Dumbledore waved his blackened hand slightly.
Harry couldn't agree more. It would probably scare them. "I wish Hermione was a bit farther along with her White Spell."
"I do as well," Dumbledore said quietly. "How much progress has she made?"
"She had a lot of help this summer, so she's made an amazing amount of progress. Probably nearly two years worth of work in less than eight weeks. I hope that in a few weeks the spell will be ready to try."
"I'm sure I'll survive that long." Dumbledore's chuckle sounded forced. "I shall take a leave of absence, I think."
"What about using a glamour?" Snape said, his voice tight.
"I doubt it would hold for long. The Dark Magic would break it down quickly."
That was something Harry could help with. "I know how to create a glamour that's undetectable and will last for eight to ten days without being renewed. In theory, it should stand up to a Dark curse as well."
Both Dumbledore and Snape were looking at him suspiciously, or perhaps it was just with disbelief.
Either way, it stung. He would have thought they trusted him by this point. "We needed it to infiltrate the Death Eaters. It took us years to develop it."
"We don't have years, Potter." Snape sounded impatient.
"Since I know how to produce it, we don't have to develop it, do we?" Harry tried to keep the irritation out of his voice, but it was hard sometimes.
"How does it work?" Dumbledore asked.
"It's a variant of Polyjuice. A combination of the potion, a containment spell, and the glamour spell. It also lets you modify how you look."
Snape leaned forward to listen. "How does that work?"
"You start with the potion and then cast the containment spell over it to maintain it. Once it's set, you can create and modify the glamour. And then you attach it to the containment spell. As long as the spell stays in place, so does the glamour."
"Who has to recast the spells?"
"You could cast them yourself. But the Polyjuice will be the problem. It takes nineteen days to stew."
"Unless you have a base of it in your permanent potions stores." Snape smirked at him.
Harry wasn't going to ask why he would keep that particular potion in his stores.
"Very good. After you get off the train, please come directly to my office," Dumbledore said.
"Yes, sir. On another subject, did you find someone to teach Defense?"
"Mr Ignatius Hartford will be teaching Defense this coming year. He's from the Ministry."
Snape scowled. "He went to school with me. Ravenclaw. He was one of the most passive wizards I've ever met. I doubt he'll be much better than Umbridge."
"He won't torture his students and he won't try and take over the school." After their last year, Dumbledore was right to think that was important. The guy sounded like a non-entity.
"He won't, but he also won't teach his students anything."
Dumbledore looked at Harry. "I'm hoping that you will continue your Defense club this year."
"I'll speak to Ron and Hermione about what they did last year. Having your sanction will make it easier."
"I'll announce it at the Sorting feast with the rest of the announcements. I do hope that you can teach the students enough to pass their N.E.W.T.s. Next year, we'll have a decent teacher."
Snape caught his eye. "You'll need to allow all the houses into the club."
That could be a problem. "If you can keep them from sabotaging things. And I'd rather not have to hex one of your Slytherins."
"I doubt most of them will be interested in the club. But it should be offered."
"I suppose you're right."
"Now, as to the real reason for your visit?" Dumbledore took a sip of his tea. "Tell me what you plan to do with school."
Snape didn't spend a lot of time thinking about how much he cared for Albus, but seeing that he was so obviously failing confirmed the fact that he would lose him sooner rather than later. Even though he knew it, had known it for some time, it was still something of a shock.
"He looked bloody awful, didn't he?" Potter said as if he could read Snape's thoughts.
"He's cursed. Of course he looked bad. Nothing can be done for the old fool that we haven't already tried." Snape could hear the frustration in what he'd said and no doubt Potter could as well.
"I hope that Hermione's spell works. It's not that long to wait."
"It isn't going to work well enough to save his life. You do realize that, don't you?"
Potter took a breath and nodded. "I do know it. I just wish...."
"What? That he hadn't been cursed?" Something about that infuriated Snape. "You're acting like a child," he snapped.
"If it's childish to not want to see a wizard I care a lot about die, then fine, call me childish." Potter's tone lacked the expected anger. It was sad.
And it too closely mirrored what Snape was feeling. He tried to shake off the mood, and smirked at Potter. "I don't want to argue about Albus."
"What would you like to argue about?" Potter folded his arms over his chest and glared at him, exasperated.
"I don't want to argue at all. There are better things for us to do." Snape raised an eyebrow in question.
"I expect that there are." The change in Potter's expression said he knew what better things Snape was talking about.
With a smile forming on his face, Potter approached him, his hand out. And Snape took it, raising it to his lips to kiss his palm. He felt a shudder go through Potter's frame.
"There won't be many more times for this, we should enjoy the opportunities we get."
Potter stiffened, but he said nothing as he reached for the buttons on Snape's robes.
He allowed himself to be stripped in a silence punctuated by the sound of Potter's mouth on his body and his own moans of pleasure at each touch.
Turned this way and that, Snape was eventually draped over the arm of the sofa. Potter moved in and out of him languidly, letting the pleasure, the pressure, the joy build. Finally, Snape could not bear it any longer and began to beg for more. Potter kissed his back, patted his hip, and continued as he had started, not picking up his pace at all.
Reduced to a mass of want, Snape couldn't think, couldn't even begin to know where he stopped and Potter began. He cried out as he came, the world shimmering with perfection.
Potter was tracing circles on his chest when Snape's eyes opened.
"I shall miss this," Snape said. It might not be the appropriate post-sex thing to say, but he wanted Potter to have no illusions when they returned to school.
Potter sat up, his expression annoyed. "You want to end this? I thought we got on rather well."
"It's not a matter of want, but of what will be allowed." Didn't Potter understand anything besides what he wanted?
"I can't see how it will matter. I'm not a student."
Despite everything, Snape could not agree with that. "You are."
"I'm not. I'm pretending to be a student. There is a big difference. Besides, I left school many years ago."
"That isn't going to matter to anyone --"
"I'm not going to let you go." Foolish, foolish man.
"You don't have a choice. I will decide with whom I will spend my time."
Potter's mouth tightened. "You're right, of course. I wouldn't dream of forcing you."
"Harry, try to understand. It's better if we stay away from each other. It will make it easier in class." And everywhere else, too.
"On whom?" Potter clearly didn't see the logic, but then he could sometimes miss the obvious.
"On both of us. I'm not going to be any different towards you in public than I ever was."
"I won't laugh at you. I promise." But he did smile now. Tentatively.
"That wasn't my concern."
"You didn't think that I'd take you seriously, did you?"
It seemed likely that he'd be at least a bit put out by the change in behavior. The cruelty, which came easily to him since he hated the younger version. No, he did not feel anything for the older one. It was about the sex.
"Severus, you don't have to worry about that."
"I still think --"
"Fine. Do as you please. You will anyway." Potter stood up and started to dress.
"I will. And whether you see it or not, it's for the best." Some part of Snape wanted to stop him, to pull him back and to explain. He wasn't happy about the thought of giving up sex, especially after he'd gone so long without it.
"So you've said." Potter picked up his cloak and walked away.
A second or two later, he felt the wards on the front door let Harry leave.
"Harry!" Ron called as he was just getting to the platform at King's Cross station.
He waved and waited for him. Ginny nodded to him, but kept walking.
"She's pretty upset about...." Ron made a point of looking around and then shrugged. "You know."
He did, but there was nothing he could possibly do about it. "Where's Hermione?"
"She's going to meet us onboard." Ron was already heading for the train.
"Let's get a compartment before they are all taken."
Harry tried to smile at all the people who said hello or waved. But not knowing their names or who they were made him paranoid about actually attempting a conversation. He breathed a sigh of relief when they were out of the general traffic and in their compartment.
After they got their luggage stowed, Hermione joined them. Her face was flushed with excitement. "I've been working --"
"Not until we're underway," Harry snapped, holding up his hand to cut her off. "You know better than this."
She nodded and subsided back into her seat, her face dull red. "Sorry."
"Think before you speak. Both of you. We've got to be very careful." He included Ron in his disapproving look. They both had to realize that one wrong word could endanger lives. Not only theirs, but everyone else who knew anything.
Someone opened the door. Harry reached for his wand. Ron shook his head and Harry forced himself to let go.
"What the bloody hell happened to you?" The question was addressed to Ron without even the slightest attempt at politeness.
"I can't talk about it," Ron said, his tone just as angry, but it wasn't in his face or his stance.
"Did you want something?" Harry tried to sound somewhat friendly.
"Yeah. I was looking for Dean," the boy said.
Ron winced. "Find Ginny and you'll probably find Dean."
"Fine." He turned in a huff and closed the door.
"Seamus Finnigan," Hermione said.
"I thought it might be Seamus." Harry remembered him from the dorm at the end of the term last year.
"The accent should have given it away."
"It's very slight. At least, I'll recognize Neville and Dean." This was going to be a problem until he'd matched all the faces to the names.
"Maybe we can say the name of the person when we're talking to them," Hermione suggested.
Ron looked dubious. "That might start to sound strange after a while."
"I'm going to need help. I won't get their names the first time either. I'll need to go over it." Harry watched a couple of girls go past the door and one waved at him. He waved back, clueless.
"Susan Bones. Hufflepuff. Our year."
"Wasn't her aunt murdered by You-know-who this summer? They say he did it himself." Ron said it as if it were some kind of honor.
"Susan was pretty supportive of the D.A. last year," Hermione added.
Harry shuddered at the mention of Amelia Bones' death. That was something neither of them needed to know. "Thanks."
The whistle blew and the train lurched as it pulled out of the station. As soon as they were on their way, Harry cast a powerful Silencing spell. "Okay. What did you want to say before?"
"Two things. One, I couldn't find out much information on the mirror. What Minister Fudge told you at the end of last year was almost all there was to know about it."
When Harry had asked about the mirror, he'd thought there might be a chance that he'd go home to his own universe. Now, it was almost certain that there was no home left to go to. At least in this timeline. "There's no way back through it, right?"
"Not as far as I can tell. It uses a simple divination spell. Anyone can cast it and maybe see a moment or two of their future. The glass of the mirror holds the spell. By touching it with your wand you trigger the spell."
"What kind of spell does the Mirror of Erised use, then?" Ron seemed a little taken aback by the concept.
"Some form of Legilimency spell?" Harry guessed.
"That doesn't explain what happened to Harry."
"I can't explain it. It shouldn't have worked that way." She seemed frustrated.
There wasn't much point in worrying about that now. It was a fact of his life, and Harry had to deal with it. "And the second thing?"
"I've made more progress on the White Spell. I think it's almost ready to start testing." She sounded proud of herself.
As well she should be. "That's wonderful. I'll speak to Professor Dumbledore about getting you some work space. Maybe Professor McGonagall has time to supervise you."
"I don't need supervision," she snapped, sounding insulted.
Harry bit back a smile. "Of course not. But we're going to have to follow school rules. She might be able to help, too. She did this summer."
"I know. I was hoping that Professor Lupin could work with me."
"I'll see what I can do about that." Harry wasn't sure how any of this would go over with Dumbledore. But at this point Dumbledore needed to have the spell cast on him, so Hermione was going to need a place to work on it.
Someone tried the locked door, rattling it. Hermione and Ron jumped. Harry waved a hand, unlocking the door.
"What's wrong with that door?" a boy asked as he pushed it open.
"What did you want, Cormac?" Hermione asked, and her tone was less than friendly.
"What happened to you?" The question was again directed at Ron and again without much courtesy.
"It's none of your concern, McLaggen. Did you want something else?"
"I heard you weren't playing Quidditch this year?" He scowled at Harry.
"I'm pretty sure the ban from last year hasn't been lifted. It was for life, you know," Harry lied without a thought.
"It must have been. Did you check?" McLaggen asked, clearing guessing that Harry hadn't bothered to check.
"Dumbledore was going to look into it this summer." Harry tried to make it sound final. This was going to get old very soon. "Was there something else?"
"No." And he turned around and left.
"We're going to need to come up with a story for Ron and for you." Hermione didn't sound very encouraging.
"I thought we were just going to be secretive about it." It would be much better than a lie. People would come to their own, usually incorrect, conclusions.
Hermione shook her head. "Even if we are, we need to have a story."
"So, some kind of magical accident involving Dark Arts. That is going to go over so well with this crowd. We won't be popular," Ron said.
"Are we ever?" It didn't seem to bother Hermione.
Ron, however, looked glum. "I'd like to be."
"We're here to help Harry, remember?"
"Actually, you're here to get an education, first. Helping me is only secondary."
"But you need our help. You've said so." Clearly, Ron was in favor of helping and sacrificing his studies.
Which wouldn't do at all. "Not at the expense of school. You need to work at Potions, remember?"
"I still can't believe I'm willing to take that with that greasy git."
"You might try to shock him by being good at it." Hermione's tone said she didn't think that was possible.
"How could I do that?" Ron asked, and it didn't seem like he was adverse to the idea.
"Why don't you read ahead or even look up some of the more interesting Potions in other books."
Ron looked like he'd eaten something sour. "Extra reading? For no reason?"
"You might learn something new," Hermione said.
"Or you can think about the look Snape is going to give you when you get it right. It would be worth it just for that." Harry rather thought he'd like to see Snape's face when Ron got it right.
"As if that is ever going to happen."
"Well, not with that attitude. I bet it would annoy the hell out of him." It no doubt would. As much as he liked Snape, Harry also knew that once he'd made up his mind about something, he had to be forced to change that opinion. Rather like a couple of Gryffindors that he knew.
"Which would make it worth the bother." Ron laughed.
"What about your studies?" Hermione seemed concerned about it. As if it actually mattered how he did in anything at school.
"I don't have any," Harry said. "I'm going to do as little as possible not to fail. But I've already done sixth year once. I don't have a future here."
"Of course you do," Hermione insisted.
"Not as a student. Since I can't return to my time, I'm going to have to figure out something else to do, once I kill Voldemort again." Harry wasn't going to discuss the details with them right now.
The Sorting feast seemed interminable to Harry. It was made longer by Dumbledore's announcement about the Defense Association as it was now being called. Several people stopped Harry on his way out of the Hall with questions. Ron and Hermione went to the library to look for Ron's extra Potions book. That left Harry to face the common room on his own.
The door opened and Harry stepped in, his heart beating a little faster. Could he really pull this off?
"Hi Harry. How was your holiday?" Neville asked, pleasantly. They hadn't had a chance to do more than smile at each other at the feast.
At least, Harry recognized him. There were still too many people in the room whose names he didn't remember. "My summer was good. How was yours?"
"Good. I'm actually looking forward to my classes this year." He smiled. "No more Potions."
"A good thing, I'm sure. Looks like I'll be taking it, though." Harry chuckled.
"I didn't think you cared for it, either."
"I suspect that I'll need it."
"Still thinking of being an Auror?"
"I don't know. Maybe." He didn't think discussing his future with anyone was a good idea. He didn't want to commit to anything or give too much information away.
Neville looked around and then back at Harry. "Um...did you think that Professor Dumbledore looks, you know...okay?"
The question startled him. The glamour had been in place. Harry had seen that at the feast. That Neville noticed something was amiss worried Harry. "How do you mean?"
"He...doesn't look sick...or anything really, but something doesn't seem right."
Hermione and Ron came into the room. Neville asked the question of her when she joined them.
Hermione, to her credit, didn't even blink. "I think he looks a bit tired, if that's what you mean."
"He did seem tired. Maybe he had a hard time over his holiday." This subject was triggering his paranoia. What had Neville seen?
A girl in a tight robe that displayed her large breasts joined them. "How would you know about his summer?"
"Lavender, he was just saying that might be the problem." Hermione's tone was scolding and filled with barely concealed dislike.
"She's right. It was just a guess." Harry placed her now. He remembered not liking her a great deal.
"And did you see his hand? It looked diseased," Lavender said.
"That isn't any of your business," Neville said, his dislike of her plain. Which was rather surprising, given this was Neville.
"What if he's contagious?" She looked a bit green.
"Do you think he'd expose students to something that was contagious?" Harry couldn't help the contempt in his tone. She was an idiot. A malicious one at that.
"He might not know it --"
Surprisingly, Neville snorted. "I think he would know. Better than you would."
"He's right," Ron joined them.
"What happened to your eye?" Lavender wasn't going to let anything go, was she?
"What about it?" Ron's tone was a touch too nervous.
And Lavender heard it. "Why won't you say what happened?"
"How do you know he won't?" Harry asked.
"Seamus and Cormac both asked him about it, and he wouldn't say." She made it sound reasonable, that she should be privy to all secrets.
"Maybe it's none of their business," Hermione said.
Lavender folded her arms across her ample chest. "Maybe he's hiding something."
"Like what?" Neville asked.
Harry groaned. That was never a good question to ask in this situation.
"I don't know --"
"Then maybe you should just shut your gob," Ron said, angrily.
"But it would have to be something bad. Why else wouldn't you say? Maybe it was Dark Magic," she said in a conspiratorial whisper.
The room went silent.
"Don't be ridiculous!" Hermione's voice rose a little too much.
Ron looked down at Lavender. "Why would you even think such a thing?"
"You could get into a lot of trouble accusing someone of using Dark Magic." Harry kept his voice quiet, but there was still ever so slight a threat in his tone.
Lavender paled. "I didn't accuse him of anything. I wouldn't. It was just a suggestion."
"A bad one. Very bad," Hermione snapped.
"Harry." Katie Bell came over and joined their group just as Lavender flounced away. "I talked to McGonagall. She said you weren't even going to try out for the team."
"No. The ban --"
"My mom checked. It's not in effect. You could be the captain, if you wanted."
"You'll do a much better job than I would." At least she had some interest in it.
"I'm willing to let you do it. We need you on the team."
"I don't want to be captain." He wasn't going to be goaded or sweet-talked into doing this. Peer pressure worked much better on someone who cared what others thought about him. That wouldn't be Harry.
"But you'll try out for the team, right?"
The room had quieted and Harry could feel their stares. "I don't know --"
"We need you. We won't win without you!" Katie insisted.
"Where's your house pride? Don't you want Gryffindor to win?" Cormac McLaggen said with a swagger to his tone, as if daring Harry to disagree with him.
There was nothing he needed to prove, and certainly not with this boy. He bit back a smile at that. "I'll think about it."
"Too good for us?" McLaggen's aggressiveness was starting to be annoying. He could barely remember the boy from sixth year.
"Don't be an arse." It was an effort not to reach for his wand. He needed to remember this was a seventeen year old boy, not a threat.
"Let's go up," Ron suggested.
Harry nodded and headed for the stairs.
As luck would have it, Harry's first class after breakfast was Care of Magical Creatures. Hermione and Ron had given him some quick instructions, but he was pretty much on his own for this one.
"Hi Harry," a boy in a Hufflepuff robe with a Prefect's patch said as they gathered in a make-shift classroom that Hagrid used for his lectures before they went on to the practical portion of the lesson. "How was your holiday?"
"Good. How was yours?" Harry couldn't remember what Hermione had said about the Prefects' names. It was too much information at one time.
"Good." The boy talked about various things and Harry laughed in what he hoped were appropriate places. Maybe this wouldn't be so hard.
The boy laughed and said, "At least this year we're not going to have to use those fake galleons to set up meetings."
Fuck. Harry had no idea what he was talking about. Then it clicked. Oh, damn, he'd forgot about the coins that Hermione charmed with the time and day of the meetings on them.
The boy looked at him askance. "Are you okay, mate? You remember the coins, don't you? It was Hermione's idea."
"Yes. Yes. Of course." He cleared his throat, and looked around. Fortunately, no one was watching him.
"When is our first meeting?"
Which meeting? Oh, the Defense Association. "I was thinking about the middle of September. Give us a chance to get classes settled."
"And see how much homework we have, too."
Harry laughed. "That, too."
"Ernie," a girl in Hufflepuff robe called out. "How are you both doing?" Like Ernie she was wearing a Prefect's badge.
He remembered who the girl was. "Good, Hannah. How was your summer?"
Before she could answer, Hagrid appeared and started his lecture. Harry pulled out a pad and made notes, but not on what Hagrid was talking about. He had some ideas about the next Horcrux that he wanted to jot down. And a few more questions he hadn't asked Hermione and Ron about last year's D.A.
At the end of class, Hagrid held him back.
"How was yer summer?" Hagrid didn't sound nearly as friendly as Harry would have expected.
"Fine. How was yours?"
"I 'eard you stayed a' school. But I didn' see yeh here when I got back after my trip." He probably expected Harry to have visited.
"When did you get back?"
"The beginnin' of August. But that's no' what I wanted to talk to yeh about." Hagrid seemed impatient, and that made Harry even more nervous.
"Why didn' yeh know Ernie's name?"
"I did," Harry prevaricated.
"No' until Hannah said. And yeh had to think about her name as well." Hagrid might not be magically gifted, but he was more observant than Harry or anyone else had given him credit for.
But that didn't mean that Harry was going to tell him anything. Hagrid was not good with a secret. "Why don't you talk to Professor Dumbledore?"
"I don' want ta burden him with questions. I'm thinkin' yer my friend and yeh should tell me if there's a problem."
"There isn't one. I promise you that. But stuff happened." Harry looked down and tried to go for innocent. It didn't work well for him at his age, but perhaps this time. "It's really complicated."
That seemed to placate Hagrid. He shrugged. "Isn' it every time? It's bad, right?"
Harry nodded. "Pretty bad. How can you tell?"
"Yeh usually tell me. Even when it's bad. I’m thinkin' it must be really bad."
"Please just ask Professor Dumbledore. He'll tell you if he can." Harry doubted he'd tell Hagrid everything, but he had to say enough to calm his suspicions.
"I guess tha's all righ', then." Hagrid walked away, his head down and his shoulders slumped as if he were disappointed.
If there was something he could say, he would. He didn't want to hurt Hagrid, but he also couldn't risk it.
Harry was late for Transfiguration. As humiliating as it was, he couldn't remember where the classroom was. McGonagall didn't use the same classroom that the teacher in his time had used when Harry had taught. If he'd been smart, he would have had Hermione or Ron show him where all of his classrooms were ahead of time. But he hadn't thought of it until it was too late and there was no one he could ask.
"So nice of you to join us, Mr Potter." McGonagall did not sound amused.
"Sorry, Ma'am. Hagrid kept me."
"Five points from Gryffindor for being late. It's a bad way to start the year."
Was it ever. Several people in the class gave him dirty looks, especially when he didn't seem very repentant. He ducked his head. When he'd taught, ten minutes was enough for a detention. And he should not be thinking about that now or he'd go mad. It was only the first day.
"Isn't that right, Mr Potter?" McGonagall's voice called him back from his reverie.
"Yes," Harry agreed, knowing that was probably not going to be his smartest move.
"Would you care to demonstrate?" McGonagall was supposed to be on his side.
Harry shook his head. "Which?"
The class snickered and beside him, Hermione groaned.
McGonagall didn't look any more pleased with him than she had when he'd come in late. At least she didn't take any more points. There were far too many of them who cared about that. "Change this galleon into a marble candle stick. We're learning how to transfigure one type of material into another."
He raised his wand and did as she instructed, adding a bit of flare by making it into a four-arm candelabra.
"Very nice. Ten points to Gryffindor for creativity." She turned her attention back to the class.
"Now. This is the wand movement." She raised her wand and showed them.
Harry fought a yawn. He could do this in his sleep. With a wave of his wand, he changed the galleon into a hamster. He transfigured his book into a cage with a wheel for the creature to play on.
"Stop showing off. Someone will notice." Hermione's tone was chiding and it irritated him, more so since she was right. He hadn't been that good at Transfiguration last year.
Maybe he could convince McGonagall to get angry at him and make him study in her office. Then he'd be able to do something other than waste his time with this rubbish.
As he woke from a dream of Snape, Harry reached across the bed and sighed. He was used to sleeping with someone. He missed it. Missed Snape. Convincing him to give in on the school rules wasn't going to be half as big a challenge as finding a few minutes alone with him to do it. There had been no time to talk to Snape about anything school-related, let alone something more personal since he'd got off the train.
He closed the curtains and cast a Silencing spell. It was galling how often he had to do this. Just getting through the day required several stops in the boy's toilet. How did teenagers get anything done?
They didn't. He sighed and took hold of his hard, aching prick, moving quickly and efficiently. There was no time or energy to waste on a prolonged wank. All he wanted was to get it over with and maybe get some sleep.
He thought about Snape, about his hand moving on his prick, long fingers wrapped around it, stroking. Quicker and quicker, Harry pumped his hand, driving himself to a hurried orgasm.
When it was done, he lay back, relieved, but empty. He wanted more than this.
A week later, nothing had changed. He followed Hermione and Ron into Charms. As he had last week, Flitwick came in and stopped at his desk. He didn't say anything, just looked at Harry with a peculiar look on his face.
"Good afternoon, Professor," Hermione said, no doubt trying to distract him. Bless her noble heart.
Flitwick focused on her and smiled slightly. "And to you, Miss Granger. Did you complete your homework?"
"Of course, sir." She pulled it out and started to hand it to him.
"I'll collect it after roll. Did you complete yours?" He directed the question to both Ron and him.
"Yes, sir," Harry said. Ron nodded.
"Good. Any trouble?"
Harry had helped Ron with it. He shook his head. "No."
Flitwick nodded and strode to the desk at the front of the room.
"What do you suppose he's on about?" Ron whispered as Flitwick started to call roll.
It could be anything. Flitwick clearly sensed something. Speculation at this point was useless. All Harry could do was hope he didn't recognize what it was. "Maybe someone said something to him."
"That's pretty likely with everyone gossiping about us," Ron said.
"It's not that bad." Harry hadn't heard anything, but he also hadn't been paying that much attention. Perhaps he should have been. There were too many other things to worry about.
"Everyone is talking about you and sometimes me and Ron," Hermione said and she didn't sound happy about it.
That it was all of them wasn't actually a bad thing. It did draw more attention, but it might work to divert suspicion from him alone. "We knew that would happen. We'll just have to ride it out."
"Would you care to share what you're talking about, Mr Potter?" Flitwick asked in a conversational tone.
Harry sighed. "No, sir."
"Detention this evening." Flitwick sounded annoyed. But not about the talking or he would have docked Hermione and Ron as well.
"Yes, sir." Harry ground his teeth. Another bloody waste of time.
"Why didn't he include us?" Hermione looked at Flitwick, and then back at Harry as if she expected an answer.
"Don't complain," Ron whispered.
"It's not fair."
"Leave it." This was getting out of control.
"Gather around," Flitwick said, beckoning the class to the back of the room. "We're going to start to learn simple household charms."
A stack of dirty dishes sat in a sink. "To wash a single dish, the spell is Abluo-Lanx. With this wand movement." Flitwick raised his wand and made a figure eight. A dish rose out of the water and a sponge followed, washing the dish. It stacked itself in the drying drainer by the sink. "Of course, washing one dish is useful, but when there's a sinkful, we need to use another charm. Does anyone know what the charm is called?"
"Purgo-Lanx," Harry muttered under his breath.
"What was that, Mr Potter?" Flitwick sounded on edge.
"Would you care to demonstrate?" There was a note of authority that Harry wasn't going to challenge in front of the class.
He raised his wand. "Abluo-Lanx." The plate performed as it was supposed to.
"And the charm for more than one?"
From the look in Hermione's eyes, he could tell that he probably should not perform this charm correctly. "What was the charm again?"
"I don't appreciate your attitude at all," Flitwick snapped. "Do the charm."
"Progo-Lanx." The plate rose and smashed itself against the sink.
The class found that very amusing, but Flitwick did not. His face got red.
"Detention tomorrow night as well. Would you care to make it three for three?"
"No, sir." Oh, bloody hell. He really, really hated this.
"What is it with you and Flitwick?" Ron hissed as they left class. Hermione hurried off to retrieve a book she'd forgot in her dorm.
"Don't know. He certainly has it in for me." Harry didn't remember him being this way when he was in school.
"Harry!" Katie Bell was making her way towards him. He looked around for a way to escape, but there was none. He sighed and held his ground.
"Why didn't you try out for the team? You said you would." She sounded personally insulted as if Harry had done it deliberately to disappoint her.
There had to be a way to handle this without making a hash of it. Unfortunately, under the best of circumstances, Harry wasn't good at dealing with people's expectations of him when he couldn't meet them. There was always some part of him that did want to meet them. Even when they were outrageous or out of the question. "I said that I'd think about it."
"Why didn't you? Don't you want to play?" Her eyes were wide and hurt.
"Yeah, Potter. Where's your house loyalty?" Cormac McLaggen joined them. Big and dumb as McLaggen was, Harry could do without a confrontation with him.
"We need you," Katie tried again.
"You'll do fine without me. I don't have time to play." Harry was getting tired of this constant nagging.
"If he doesn't want to play, what the hell business is it of --" Harry put a hand on Ron's arm to stop him.
"What are you doing that takes so much time?" Katie wanted an explanation, as if Harry's word wasn't good enough. And as if everyone knew that Quidditch was more important than anything else Harry could possibly be doing.
"I have other responsibilities. Things that don't concern you." Harry glared at her, daring her to question him.
"But how can you let us down like this?" Katie wasn't taking the hint.
"It's not that I don't want to. It's that I can't. Don't you get that?" Harry let his voice rise a bit.
"What we...I'm doing is important. Really. I can't take the time, not now," Harry insisted, and hoped she'd finally understand.
Clearly not, since she opened her mouth to say something else. Before she could, Harry concentrated and made the windows rattle. That startled her.
"Oh, right," McLaggen snorted and walked away.
She backed up a step. "Okay. Harry. I'm sorry."
As she walked quickly away, Ron shook his head. "You know everyone is going to know about that. You're going to make everyone nervous, or more nervous than they already are."
"I know. It might be better that way. Perhaps scaring them will keep them at a distance." Maybe he should try that with Flitwick. Except he didn't think rattling the windows would work with him. And what would work would possibly create more questions or get him expelled. Fuck. Why was there no easy way out of this?
"I don't know about that. I think it's going to invite people to challenge you." Ron was probably right.
That would cause more problems than he cared to think about. "That would be a mistake."
Harry came out of his last class, and turned away from the group. He wanted to get to the library. There were a couple of references he needed to check on the location of Rowena Ravenclaw's wand, which he was fairly sure was one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. At least, it had been in his timeline.
He turned the corner and Cormac McLaggen and Jack Sloper were standing in front of him. He wondered briefly if they'd followed him or were waiting for him. It didn't matter that much.
"Everyone may have bought that claptrap you fed Bell about you and You-Know-Who, but I didn't," McLaggen said. His chest puffed out and he stood close enough to Harry to tower over him.
What was it with this boy? Didn't he ever know when to leave well enough alone? Harry sighed. "So what do you think it is?"
"I think you're too damned good to play with us. Isn't that true, Jack?"
"Yeah," Jack Sloper said. He was taller and broader than McLaggen. And obviously gave McLaggen extra courage.
"Think what you wish. I don't care." Harry started to walk away and McLaggen grabbed his arm. Closing his eyes, and taking a deep breath, Harry managed to force back his automatic reaction to kill first and ask questions later. To lose his temper would only make the situation worse.
"I think you need a lesson in house loyalties." Clearly, McLaggen thought he was the one to deliver it. The boy had a death wish, that must've been it.
It was all Harry could do not to laugh in his face. "Let me go, you fool."
"Or what? There's no one here to save you." McLaggen's eyes glittered in the dim candlelight of the hall.
Harry tried one more time. He wasn't going to let this imbecile actually hurt him, but he didn't want to hurt the boy, either. "Did it ever occur to you that I might be able to save myself?"
"I don't know about that," Sloper laughed. "Maybe we should find out." He gave Harry a hard shove.
They were playing with fire. Taking another breath, he reined back the instinct to strike out. "You will regret this."
"Oh, we don't think so --"
Harry moved. In a split second, he'd cast Petrificus on Sloper and had McLaggen pressed against the wall with his wand under his chin. "Now, what were you saying?"
"What is going on here?" McGonagall asked, her voice full of disapproval.
"I was just having a talk with McLaggen and Sloper about manners," Harry said easily.
"Manners, you say?" McGonagall took in the situation and he could see her assess it in a second. "Let them go."
Harry released McLaggen, who slumped a bit, but remained standing. "Finite Incantatem," he said, and Sloper could move again.
"I suggest you both return to your dormitories right now, before I give you a detention for fighting."
"What about him?" Sloper dared as he got to his feet.
"Would you like me to ask him what really happened?" McGonagall smiled with that cat smile that anyone in Gryffindor knew to be wary of. Even Harry remembered it from his school days.
"No." Sloper backed away.
"Then I suggest you do as you're told."
Harry started to move away. He still had to get to the library.
"Not you, Mr Potter. I want to see you in my office, right now."
Great. That was the last thing he needed. "Yes, ma'am."
He followed her, grateful that they didn't meet anyone along the way.
McGonagall warded the door and asked, "What was that all about?" She pulled a bottle of Ogden's out of her desk along with two glasses.
"I don't know. It started out with them wanting me to reconsider being on the team. It somehow escalated to what you saw."
"Young lions that they are, I suspect they sense your power and are compelled to test it." She sounded quite amused by that.
Harry wasn't. "McLaggen seemed to be reacting out of fear more than bravado."
"I'm sure he was intimidated and resented it. You radiate menace."
"Then he should leave me alone."
"Like any seventeen year old boy would."
Harry took another sip of his drink. He hated being put into a position where he'd lose his temper. "I never realized how hard it would be to have my freedom so curtailed."
"Of course it is. And it's the only way to control a school full of teenagers who have more hormones than sense."
"Tell me about it. I'm constantly amazed at what they want to do. 'Oh, let's go up to the Astronomy tower and get drunk and see if we can walk along the edge. Because that would be so much fun. If we don't get killed, of course'." Harry shuddered. "What's worse? I remember when I would have been first in line to do some of their more idiotic stunts."
"I remember it too. Why it seems like only last year to me."
"Ha. Bloody. Ha." Harry drank down the rest. And then sighed. "You know, this stuff affects me more than it used to."
"You're younger. Physically."
Harry put his head in his hands. "Merlin, I'm losing it."
"No, you're not. You will not. You have a job to do."
That was all well and good for her to say. "You try living this life for a while."
"No thank you," she laughed. "I've already done it once."
"So have I! You should try spending every other night in detention with Flitwick. What the fuck is his problem?" Talking helped Harry relax, even if McGonagall couldn't do anything to fix the situation. He wished that Snape wasn't being such a prat.
"I don't know. He won't talk about it. I've given him a few subtle openings, but he's not responded."
"He's driving me mad. What a colossal waste of time."
"I believe that is the point."
Harry took a deep breath and pushed open the door to the Room of Requirement. There were more than thirty people in the room, and they all stopped talking as soon as he came in. Great. This was worse than his first day of teaching. At least then, he'd had some authority. Now, ostensibly, he was one of them and they could argue all they liked.
"I thought we'd start with --"
"Who said you get to decide what we're going to do?" Cormac McLaggen said, his tone an arrogant sneer. Jack Sloper was nodding, too. McLaggen had clearly taken a vow to make things as difficult as he could for Harry.
With a sigh, Harry straightened up and glared at him. "Professor Dumbledore asked me to do this, so that's why I'm in charge."
"And really," Hermione said, standing beside him. "If you don't want to learn what Harry has to teach us, then you shouldn't be here."
"Yeah. You don't know half of what he does," Ernie McMillan agreed. "You weren't here last year. So, shut your gob."
"Besides, he does know what he's doing. Unlike you." Neville's normally soft voice was hard as he came to stand beside Hermione.
That shut them both up. And Harry appreciated the support. Though it pricked his pride that he needed it. "Okay, a couple of things. Let's go around the room and say our name and our house. And maybe one spell or charm we're really good at and would be willing to teach everyone else."
"Why? I mean," Ginny asked, "we all know each other."
"Actually, I don't know a couple of you. Does everyone know everyone else's names?" He'd been briefed on who was who by Hermione and Ron, but they didn't know everyone. This would help.
Several people also said no, or shook their heads.
He caught sight of four Slytherins in the corner. "There's one more thing, too. I don't want any supporters of Voldemort in this club." There was no way he was going to teach proto Death Eaters anything that would help them hurt anyone else. Even defensive magic. Dumbledore turned a blind eye to what was going on, probably hoping that he could somehow sway those who had strayed from the path of Light back onto it. Harry had no such illusions.
"Just how do you intend to find out if someone supports You-Know-Who or not?" Blaise Zabini asked, pushing through the people around him to stand defiantly in front of Harry.
Harry glared right back at him. "When you introduce yourself, I want you to bare your left arm."
"You're joking," Hannah Abbott said, clearly horrified by the idea.
"If you've nothing to hide, then it shouldn't be a problem. I'm not going to work with someone who is a Death Eater." He'd always felt that Dumbledore needed to acknowledge the problem of Death Eaters in the school's ranks, rather than ignore it. And he wasn't going to let the other students here pretend it wasn't a problem, either.
Hermione's eyes were wide and she looked shocked. So did Ron. And nearly everyone else.
Leaning close so that no one else could hear, Hermione whispered, "I can't believe you're going to do this."
Harry looked hard at her, surprised. "You don't want --"
"No. Of course, not. It's just that no one else even acknowledges it." She smiled approvingly at him.
Oh, that made a lot more sense.
Surprisingly, the Slytherin contingent looked approving as well. Of course, they lived a lot closer to the danger than most of the other students.
"I'll go first." Harry took off his robe and rolled up his sleeve. "I'm Harry Potter. I'm in Gryffindor. I was thinking we'd start with a Shield Dome spell for those who were here last year. And for those who weren't, we'll work on Expelliarmus, and the Patronus Charm."
Stepping forward, his sleeve already rolled, Ron said, "I'm Ron Weasley. Gryffindor. I can cast an anti-hex charm that will show you if an object has a hex on it."
There were several oohs and ahs at that, and Ron flashed him a delighted grin.
Hermione went next, and then Neville, and the rest of the Gryffindors. Susan Bones started out the Hufflepuffs and Terry Boot the Ravenclaws. There was a second or two of silence as the last Ravenclaw finished up.
Millicent Bulstrode rolled up her sleeve. "Millicent Bulstrode. Slytherin. I can cast an invisibility charm."
"I'd like to see that," Harry said, smiling at her. "Is it a notice-me-not charm or a real invisibility charm?"
She smiled back, her cheeks pinking. "It's a real one."
"That is a very useful charm," Harry said and several people snickered. "Would you like to demonstrate it?"
Millicent blushed harder. She waved her wand and said, "Nonaspicio," and disappeared.
"Brilliant. That really could be useful," Ron said, excitedly.
There was some laughter at that.
"Very good," Harry said and pointed his wand, "Finite Incantatem."
She reappeared, smiling.
Would you like to teach that to everyone next time?" Harry asked. The group of Slytherins all looked pleased that one of their own had been singled out. It wouldn't ensure loyalty where there was none, but it would tell them that he was trying to be fair.
"It's pretty easy to learn," she said, looking at him like he'd just made her whole week. Unfortunately, it wasn't often that Slytherins were recognized for anything.
Harry cleared his throat. "Why don't the rest of us," he looked at the Slytherins who hadn't gone yet, "introduce ourselves and then we can move on."
The last few Slytherins did as they were asked, and bared their arms.
"Thanks," Harry said, giving them a pleased smile. "Why don't we break up in to two smaller groups. I was thinking that those of you who don't know the Patronus Charm would be in one group. Raise your hands."
Just over half the students raised their hands.
"The rest of us can work on the Shield Dome spell."
"I want to learn that, too," Zabini said. His whole attitude had changed from belligerent and protective to the beginning of something else, something that might be acceptance.
"We'll all learn everything. I promise. I'll work with the first group on the Shield Spell. Hermione, would you and Ginny work with the other group?"
They both nodded and led the second group to the far side of the room.
"Potter!" Snape yelled the following morning as he was about to go into the Great Hall for breakfast. He bore down on Harry with his robes flaring and his eyes flashing fire.
All in all, he looked good enough to eat. And Harry was quite put out that he couldn't do anything about it. "Sir?"
"What do you think you're doing with that little...club of yours?" Snape was in full righteous anger mode.
And there was no need to ask what this was about. He sneered at Snape. "It's more than time we decided what side we were on."
"You are not the one to make those decisions, boy!" He towered over Harry like a vulture over his prey.
Harry wanted to reach up and kiss him. But that wouldn't be the effect that he was going for. And really, he was still annoyed at Snape about what happened before school started. "As long as Dumbledore says it's okay, then you can't stop me."
"Did he say you could exclude anyone you wanted? I want you to let all the students in."
"No. I'm not going to ignore the fact that some of them might eventually want to kill me."
Snape muttered something under his breath that sounded like "not eventually." He also seemed to take notice that they were drawing a crowd. That was probably what he wanted. "Fifty points from Gryffindor!"
"You can't do that," Harry shouted. "I haven't done anything wrong."
"Prejudice is always wrong. Just ask Miss Granger." Snape stalked off.
"That is so unfair," Neville said beside him. "But what can you expect from a Death Eater."
Harry looked after Snape. "Do you really think so?"
"Of course. He's such a bastard, what else could he be?" Neville seemed very sure that a mean personality and being evil were related.
He'd learn better in time, Harry supposed.
After yet another detention with Flitwick that night, Harry went to Dumbledore's office. Dumbledore looked dreadful when he opened the door to Harry's knock.
"What happened to your glamour?" Harry asked coming in and sitting down by the fire.
Moving more slowly, Dumbledore sat across from him. His face was gray, his hand was completely black until it hit the white of his cuff. "I was just renewing it. I wouldn't have opened the door if it hadn't been you."
"You wanted to see me?" Harry asked, holding up the note he'd received.
"Yes. I am given to understand that you have barred marked students from your club?" Dumbledore drank the Polyjuice Potion and his face returned to its former healthy look. Or at least a facsimile of it. He still didn't look quite right.
"I'm not going to train someone who will ultimately face me and mine across the battlefield." It only made sense.
"I understand your logic, but we don't want to force the issue yet." Dumbledore cast the glamour over the Polyjuice and muttered the anchoring spell.
That was all well and good in theory, but Harry had seen too many people die to accept it in fact. "I'm sorry. I'm not going to do it."
"You might try and have some compassion for them. Most of those children were not given a choice about taking the mark."
Harry appreciated that they were forced by their parents, but that didn't change where they would stand when it came time for battle. "I understand that. But I'm not going to ignore what they will do to me or their fellow students."
Dumbledore turned to look at him. "I can see that you're not going to give in on this. Perhaps you can help to --"
"What? Change their minds? I doubt it. And they will think me a bigger fool for trying." Harry shouldn't find it so hard to believe Dumbledore was saying this, but he did.
"All right. I can't say I blame you."
"So, you're going to let me continue."
"I haven't much choice," Dumbledore said, sounding...defeated wasn't quite the right word since he could force Harry to disband the D.A., even if he couldn't force him to allow anyone who was marked into it. He seemed resigned to allowing Harry to continue.
He knew that Dumbledore felt a responsibility to help those who were forced into taking the mark by their parents. Now they would have to live with the consequences. "Hermione has made more progress with the White Spell. I think she's ready to cast it on you."
With his expression changing at all, he seemed relieved. "This is progressing faster than I anticipated. Perhaps it will help slow the curse."
How fast or slow had he expected it to go? Dark Magic was notoriously hard to predict. "I'll send her up tonight if you'd like."
"I'll send for her in the morning. It's waited this long, it will wait a few more hours." Dumbledore's tired sigh made Harry's stomach tighten.
"Next weekend is the first Hogsmeade weekend. I'm not sure what we should do about Draco," Harry said.
"I'll see he has a detention for at least part of the day and is banned from going," Dumbledore said. "Even with the situation with his mother, do you actually think you can recruit him?"
"I think now is the time. I need a chance to move in on him. Or at least, make a start." Harry had no idea what he was going to say to Draco, but he was ready to be approached.
"He's not going to accept an overture from you. Not right now, anyway."
"Give me some credit for finesse. I'm not going to jump in and offer him friendship and the keys to my heart first thing."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Of course not. I doubt he'd know what to do if you did."
"He'd hex me, I'm sure."
"On another subject, thank you for being so discreet with Severus. I would hate to have to try and explain to anyone why I am turning a blind eye to a student and teacher being involved."
He was not going to get into that subject with Dumbledore. Aside from everything else, it wasn't any of his business. "If we had actually been able to do anything of that nature, we would have been discreet about it. Unfortunately, aside from this morning, where he took points, I haven't seen him other than at meals and in class."
"The start of the year is always so hectic. I do expect that to change." Dumbledore sounded resigned to it.
Which, all in all, was a good thing. Harry expected Snape to give in at some point and resume their relationship. As a matter of fact, after this morning, maybe it was time for him to do something about it. His ever ready prick jumped up at the idea. "It would help if I didn't have nearly nightly detentions with Flitwick."
"I think he recognizes the change in you --"
"Has he said anything?"
"Not in so many words, but it's clear he's nervous."
"Then, I suppose spelling the lines tonight isn't going to help matters." It had been a necessity. Flitwick hadn't even bothered to supervise his last few detentions, just set him to writing the bloody lines and left.
"You can do that so that it doesn't look charmed?" Dumbledore asked, curiously.
It wasn't that difficult a charm. "Don't worry. I won't give that one away."
"Flitwick refused to join the Order. He said he preferred to remain neutral. I've never seen or heard of him being unfair to anyone, but I don't trust a wizard who won't make a decision," Dumbledore said, sitting back and closing his eyes.
"He's managed to stay neutral? That's an accomplishment." The gray area was not a thing that Harry had ever cared that much about. He agreed with Dumbledore on that.
"I think he holds certain anti-Muggle leanings, but I don't think he wants to side with Voldemort, either."
"In other words, I can't really trust him."
"Send him to me, if he asks something you don't want to answer."
"I'll do that."
With some trepidation, Harry knocked on the door to Snape's quarters. He could be the adult and make the first move. At this point, Harry was so frustrated sexually that he didn't care about anything else.
The door opened. In a flash of a second, he was pulled inside, slammed against the wall, his cloak ripped over his head and tossed aside. He never got a chance to utter more than a startled gasp as Snape's mouth came down hard on his.
Physically, Snape was taller and stronger than he was, but he was more limber and he had complete control of his wandless magic. With a flick of his wrist, their positions were reversed, and another second more they were on the floor.
"Fuck, I've missed you," Harry gasped when Snape finally let go of his mouth for a moment.
"You've seen me every day," Snape panted.
"I haven't been able to touch you." And Merlin, he wanted to so badly, had missed it so much. Odd that he'd become accustomed so quickly.
"Whose fault is that? I could hardly go up to your dormitory." Snape nipped at his neck, sending delightful sensations into Harry's groin.
"You said --"
"And you believed me? You're a moron." Snape took hold of his shirt, and pulled. The buttons flew everywhere.
He was a moron. He should have known better than to believe Snape. Trouble was that he had very little frame of reference for this Snape. "After that speech before school started, what was I supposed to think?"
"Since when do you think at all?" He slid Harry's trousers off his legs.
Harry knew a losing argument when he heard one. This one wasn't even one he wanted to win. He shut up and reached for Snape's shirt, deciding he needed to be naked, too. That accomplished, he rolled onto Snape and kissed him again, hard.
Only to have Snape roll him onto his back. Harry gave in. He wanted to come with someone else's hand on his prick. Someone's mouth would be even better.
Fortunately, Snape knew what he liked. And he didn't waste time on the preliminaries, his mouth covering Harry's prick quickly. Harry bucked up into wonderful, wet heat, groaning loudly as desire peaked, and he came.
He was turned around before he could even catch his breath. Snape's fingers, already slicked, breached him slowly, and Harry pressed back, his body already starting to respond again. "Oh, yes," he said, thrusting against those wonderful, lovely fingers that knew exactly where to press.
"Thought you'd like that." Snape's fingers went deeper, pressing harder, and Harry was sure he'd come from that alone.
"No, you don't." Snape withdrew and it was all Harry could do not to whimper.
And then, finally, Snape was pushing into him. Harry pushed back, moaning as his prostate was raked with Snape's prick. He wailed his pleasure. Merlin, Snape knew how to fuck.
His mind went blank as sensation after fiery sensation rolled over him. He tried to meet each thrust, wanting more, needing more and not quite getting what he wanted. On and on it went until he couldn't bear it anymore and then it broke, the world dissolving into sparkles of perfection.
A while later, he woke in Snape's bed with no memory of how he got there. "Brilliant. We shouldn't let it go that long again."
"As I said before, it was your choice."
"Let's not argue. I have to get back to the dormitory soon." Harry sat up and looked at him. "I thought you'd give me a detention or something. All you've done is take points."
"I expected you to show up here." Snape sounded nearly insulted that he hadn't.
"I did. Eventually." It was odd that Snape expected him to make the first move. And of course, he had. The dynamics between them were shifting again. And Harry wasn't sure what to make of it. "If I had known what you wanted...."
"Leave it alone," Snape said, his expression closing off. "You're here now."
Some part of Harry wanted to object to that tone, but it really wasn't the time to discuss their relationship. It would wait. They both needed some time to work out how they felt. "All right," Harry agreed.
"Did you have a reason to come down here?" Snape sat up.
"Not unless you want to discuss this morning?"
Snape looked at him with a strange expression on his face. "Personally, I applaud what you did. Politically, it was foolish in the extreme."
"Was there a compliment in there?" Harry asked, amused.
"Possibly. Did you want to discuss it?"
"No. The reason I came down here was to try and convince you to resume things." Harry laughed.
"I didn't require convincing. At least not after the first week."
"And you didn't even have teenaged hormones driving you. Why didn't you say?"
"This was..." Snape shrugged and two faint spots of color appeared on his pale cheeks.
"You were going to say my choice, right?" He glared at Snape until he nodded. "It's both of our choices."
"Mr Potter," Flitwick said as Harry attempted to leave class without getting another detention.
It was too good to be true. Harry sighed. "Sir?"
Flitwick put his twelve feet of parchment from last night's detention on his desk. "You charmed this."
"No. I didn't." He'd used wandless magic and that should've been untraceable without an Auror's spell on the parchment.
"Let me see your wand."
It took an effort not to step back into a battle stance. As it was, Harry's spine stiffened. Surrendering his wand held too many connotations for him. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to hand it over just as any student would when it was demanded of him.
Flitwick performed a simple spell to see what spells Harry had cast in the last twenty-four hours. Not that many, but one of them was a lubrication charm. He hoped that Flitwick would be embarrassed, but he didn't seem to even notice.
"I know you charmed this. I would have said that almost any student in this school, and I mean any student, couldn't have produced this with a wand, let alone without one." Funny thing was, he didn't sound angry. And really, he should have been.
Harry wasn't going to address that or what he'd said. Let Flitwick make the first move if he were going to.
"Furthermore, I've taught Harry Potter for five years and I would have said that while very powerful, he doesn't have the control to do this wandlessly." He looked right at Harry as if he expected him to confirm or deny it.
"I wrote it. Just like I said." Harry was beginning to get that sixteen year old whine down fairly well.
"You didn't. Even with the charm changing for each line, it's still too consistent. Even with all the inconsistencies." Flitwick stood back, his stance deceptively loose.
Harry remembered from his own student days that rumor had it that Flitwick was some kind of dueling champion. He straightened and looked down at him. "I wrote it."
"The Harry Potter I knew last year couldn't have had this conversation without erupting into angry hysterics."
"What are you saying, that I'm not Harry Potter? I am." Harry folded his arms over his chest and glared like what he hoped a sixteen year old whose dignity had been affronted would have glared.
It didn't look like it worked. Flitwick's stance didn't change, nor did he relax at all. "Why don't you tell me what's going on?"
As if, Harry managed not to snort. If Flitwick were in the Order or if Harry felt he could trust him, it might be different, but he couldn't take any chances. "Nothing is going on. I wrote the bloody lines. Okay?"
Flitwick just looked at him calmly. "Five points for profanity."
That was not a tactic that would work with him, but he scowled. "If you don't believe me, then I suggest you talk to the Headmaster."
That got Flitwick's attention. "Perhaps I'll do that."
"Can I go to class now?"
"Mr Potter. So nice of you to join us. Only ten minutes late. Detention tonight for holding up class," Snape said, his tone perfectly pleasant. Which was always a very bad sign. As if to punctuate that, a couple of the Slytherins snickered.
"You could have started without me," Harry muttered. It wasn't ten minutes, it was about three. What was his problem?
"And another for tomorrow night. Really not a good way to come into my class, Mr Potter." Snape smirked at him.
"Yes, sir." Harry looked down, trying to radiate anger and wounded dignity when he'd seen the sparkle in Snape's eyes.
"Today we will be brewing Draught of Living Death. It's a complex potion, and I have no doubt that none of you will even make a passing attempt at it. But it's part of the curriculum and on your N.E.W.T. next year. Turn in your books to page ten. No talking or helping each other."
Harry had no trouble with the potion. Vaguely, he remembered there were a couple of tricks to it, but couldn't be bothered to worry about what they were. It would be better if he just followed the instructions in the book and did a mediocre job of it. Everyone raced for the supply cabinet and Snape gave Harry a glare as he leisurely collected what he needed.
Hermione seemed to know just what she was doing. The surprise came when Ron asked her for her silver knife. Of all the things he had forgot about this time, to suddenly remember that crushing the sopophorous bean with a silver knife released more of the juice, seemed a bit bizarre. Well, Ron would get it right.
At the end of class, Snape made his way silently around the class room. He sneered at everyone's attempts as he went passed. Except Ron's. He looked, and then looked again.
"I will see you directly after class, Mr Weasley." That tone was as harsh and furious as Harry had ever heard him. He wanted to say something, but he'd best let Ron deal with this on his own.
Weasley stayed on as Potter and Granger filed out. It was an effort to control his temper. How had Weasley known what to do to brew the Draught correctly? It wasn't common knowledge. Potter must have told him. And after he was done with Weasley, he'd have a word with Potter as well.
Somewhere in the past few weeks, Weasley's attitude had become, if not completely respectful, then certainly less belligerent. His work had been better than any other year since he'd started in Snape's class, almost on a par with Granger's. Although he was nowhere near as good as Draco.
Now, he stood before Snape, his eyes blazing. Expecting to be chastised for something, and it was clear he had no idea what.
"How did you know to crush the sopophorous bean rather than cut it?"
Surprise was written all over his face. "How did you know I did that?"
Foolish boy. Snape folded his arms over his chest and glared at him. Whom did he think he was talking to? "It was obvious."
Weasley looked down and a surprising blush stole across his face. "I read about it."
"Where? That wasn't in the text book."
"Not in the book we used in class. I have another Advanced Potions book from the library. It said that if you crush the bean, it would produce more juice. But I thought that if I did it with a silver knife it might work better."
"Why would you think that?" Snape made it sound as if that were the stupidest thing he'd ever heard.
Instead of getting angry, Weasley looked at him closely. "It made sense if you take into account the purities in the silver working with the makeup of the bean."
Oh. He could not believe what he was hearing. It simply did not mesh with his world view, especially of this Weasley. "Why do you care so much?"
Weasley shrugged, his face still red, his back still stiff. "Harry suggested that I might want to read about the Potions I was doing and see if there were different ways to do them. I could maybe get extra points that way."
"And you listened to him? How unlike you." But against his better judgement, Snape was impressed with what he was hearing.
For a moment, Weasley looked as if he might blow up, and Snape was looking forward to the fight. Weasley would revert to form and he wouldn't have to change his opinion of the boy. But Weasley pulled back in a way that Snape found nearly impossible to believe.
"Anything I can do to help Harry, I'm going to do. Even if it means learning potions," Weasley said with righteous indignation flaring in his eyes.
"You can't think you'd be able to help him with something like that."
"Of course I can. Do you think you're the only one who can be good at it?"
Snape was speechless. If someone had told him that a Weasley, but especially Ronald Weasley, would challenge him on Potions for any reason, he would have laughed in their face. "All right, Mr Weasley. Let me see what you can do."
"When?" He looked ready to go head to head with Snape right now. Bloody Gryffindors!
"In class." He tipped his head. "Unless you'd like to join the Advanced Potions group that meets on Wednesday nights." Snape could not believe he'd extended that invitation. It was mostly for the Slytherins, and a couple of Ravenclaws showed up now and again.
Weasley's eyes widened. "Yes. I would. Thanks. Can I bring Hermione?"
Just when Snape was starting to think there was hope for him, Weasley proved once again he was an idiot. "No."
"Why do you think?" He shouldn't have to explain this to him.
"Then I'm not going either."
"Suit yourself, however, you could use the extra work." There was a spark of something that Snape had learned to recognize, and rare as it was, he couldn't bring himself to squelch it.
"What about her?"
"One, she doesn't need the help. And two, she has no real interest in Potions beyond being the best at everything."
"How do you know that?"
"I know interest when I see it. It's your choice." And for whatever reason, as unlikely as it was, Weasley had the interest and quite possibly the talent as well.
He straightened his shoulders. "I'll think about it."
"Do that. But not in my classroom." He jerked his head towards the door and was pleased that Weasley took the hint. As he approached the door, Snape said, "Oh, and Weasley?"
Weasley turned, his expression guarded.
"Ten points to Gryffindor for a perfect potion.
He loved it when their jaws dropped like that.
"You wished to see me, sir," Draco said perfectly politely and yet, Snape could hear the slight nervousness he couldn't quite hide.
"Yes. I understand your mother has gone for a holiday to Switzerland." Snape wondered just how much information Draco would be willing to divulge. Given the narrowing of Draco's eyes, he'd best not hope for much.
"How would you know about that, sir?" Well within acceptable parameters, Draco's tone nonetheless had a definite edge to it. Oh, he was worried about her.
"It is possible that she told me before she left." Telling him too much straight away would make him suspicious, but not saying anything at all could force him back to the Dark Lord.
"She told you? I don't think so."
Snape bit back his annoyance. The stupid boy didn't know who his friends were. But given everything, that shouldn't be a surprise. If he weren't going to talk about that, perhaps something else. "How are you progressing on completing your task?"
"Are you mad? You shouldn't mention that here." Draco's face went pale and his voice had lost all of its composure.
"A little respect, Mr Malfoy."
Draco dropped his eyes, seeming contrite, but the ire was also there. "I'm sorry, sir."
"As I was saying…" He left it open, hoping Draco would take the initiative.
"I can't get close to him," Draco said after a long pause.
"I don't doubt that." Dumbledore hadn't been present much this year. Less so than in most other years, especially for the beginning of the term. He was too weak from the curse. That wasn't likely to change.
"I'm not sure that I --"
"Can complete the task?" Snape hadn't expected Draco to admit that. He hoped he could appear sympathetic.
"I didn't say that. Of course I can," Draco snapped, but he reeked of fear.
"Perhaps you need to think about your options." And realize that maybe there are actually other options.
Draco met his eyes. "Perhaps I do."
Late on Saturday afternoon, Harry brought his broom down to the pitch. While playing Quidditch didn't interest him, he still chased a Snitch once in a while to burn off energy. These days, he had a lot of excess energy to burn off. Sex helped with that, too. But not enough. He'd been having a hard time keeping control of his temper.
Draco flew around the pitch, chasing his own Snitch. Maybe this was the opening he'd been waiting for. Harry mounted his broom and took off after Draco's Snitch. Draco looked startled to see him for one moment, but then sneered, and gave chase.
The speed and the wind and the cold all helped to focus Harry. He wasn't as fast, even with his sixteen year old reflexes. His mind didn't have the required abandon or will to win at any cost anymore.
Draco flew past him, and eventually caught the Snitch. Then he looked back at Harry. "Why?"
There were a hundred answers to that. None would satisfy Draco without pushing things into the foreground that Harry would just as soon let settle a bit more. "Why not?"
"Because I hate you and you hate me." The intensity was unyielding, as if it was this way and could never change.
"Perhaps things are not as black and white as they've always seemed," Harry suggested, deliberately using a mild tone.
"I doubt that. We don't change."
For a moment, Draco's face held a ray of hope. Then it faded to the belief that he knew what the world held for him. "No. We can't."
"So everything has to be the way it always has been? That doesn't make any sense." It also wasn't the attitude he was hoping to foster.
"I don't know about the world. But I do know about us, and we don't change."
"All right." Harry landed on the pitch floor.
"Why did you let me win?" Draco landed beside him.
Draco seemed puzzled. "My flying hasn't changed."
"Then mine must have done. Think about it." Harry shouldered his broom and walked away.
It was too cold outside to be doing this, but Harry brought Ron and Hermione to the lake and cast a silence dome over them. Then another spell to keep the wind out and warm the dome. They were less likely to be bothered out here.
"That is a variant on the spell you showed the D. A., isn't it? I want to learn this one, too," Ron said, face expectant.
Harry smiled at that. They were both all over learning anything new and different that he could teach them, especially if it wasn't in the school curriculum. "First, how did the White Spell work?"
Hermione sighed. "Not as well as I'd hoped. It worked the way I thought it should work and it did seem to dissipate some of the Dark Magic, but he still doesn't look good."
"He's not going to get better. I thought you understood that. All this did was delay the inevitable." Saying it still hurt. At his age, and with the time that had passed, he should have more distance. But it was happening again, and he couldn't seem to help himself.
For a moment, Hermione looked profoundly sad, and then she squared her shoulders. "I know. I do. But…I thought it would help more."
"What did he say?" Ron asked.
"That he felt a bit better. He did give me permission to Floo to Grimmauld Place to work with Professor Lupin on improving it."
"Oh, you should like that." There was an edge to Ron's tone. Though why it would bother him, Harry couldn't guess.
"I do like that. Thank you very much." Hermione scowled at him.
Whatever the reason for it, Harry was not up for their squabbling today. "Don't start. Either of you."
"I'm just saying. --"
Harry's look cut Ron off before he could get too far down that path. "Did Snape give you a lot of trouble about the potion?" Harry had meant to ask earlier, but he'd not had time to think of it.
"He wanted to know why I did what I did with the sopophorous bean and the silver knife. I didn't get it. It was like he was going to accuse me of something, and then he didn't."
"He might have thought you'd got hold of his sixth year Potions book."
Hermione looked up. "Why would he care about that?"
"He wrote a lot of helpful notes in the margins. It helped me get through sixth year potions." Not to mention the huge crush he'd had on the Half-Blood Prince.
"Wicked! Think we could find that copy of the book?"
It was wonderful to see Ron so interested in this. "I think you can do just as well without it."
"Snape asked me to join the Potions club. I'm not sure I'm going to do it, though." He glanced at Hermione. It didn't take a genius to figure out why.
Being a part of that club could make a big difference in Ron's life after school and Harry wanted to encourage him. "You should go to at least one meeting. That way, if anything comes up, you can report back to us."
"Wouldn't Professor Snape tell you?" Hermione asked.
"If he'd heard it, of course. But the students will talk amongst themselves, especially the Slytherins."
"I'm not crazy about seeing any more of Malfoy than I already do." There was something more there, something that made Harry want to ask Ron about it.
Snape sometimes paired them for potions. No doubt pitting them against each other was something of a joke to him. But surprisingly both Ron and Malfoy managed to work together without killing each other.
"After how much trouble he gave you at the beginning of the term, I'm surprised that Flitwick has let up on you," Hermione said, changing the subject. She didn't like Malfoy and given how he'd treated her for years, Harry didn't expect that to change.
"I'm not sure why, either," he said. Maybe Dumbledore had said something to Flitwick that satisfied his curiosity. When he had a moment, he'd need to check with Dumbledore about it.
"Don't complain about good luck." Ron chuckled. "I've never got why he was so hard on you to start with."
"I suspect that he senses something out of the ordinary with me. None of the teachers have said anything, so he hasn't asked them." Whatever it was, Harry was glad that Flitwick had backed off. Besides all of those detentions being a colossal waste of time, it had started to get to the point where biting back a retort was getting to be more and more difficult.
"The real reason I brought you both out here was to talk about the next Horcrux," Harry said, happy to be off the subject of Flitwick.
"Brilliant!" Trust Ron to have his priorities right. Adventure before anything else.
Harry tried not to smile or encourage him. "I think it's in the school."
"You don't know?" Hermione asked, clearly a bit startled by the idea that he wasn't sure.
Given the details that had already proven different in this timeline, it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that he didn't know. "It's not in the trophy case, as I expected it to be."
"So where might it be?" Hermione seemed to be considering the possibilities. "Somewhere else in the school?"
The trouble was that he wasn't sure. But it needed to be somewhere that Voldemort had found accessible and still be hidden. "Possibly in the Chamber of Secrets."
"When do we go look for it?" Ron asked, excitedly.
It was against his better judgement to let them help again when he could have Snape or McGonagall go with him. Unfortunately, both Snape and McGonagall were busy for the next several weekends. After some thought, he'd decided that this one might be safe enough to let Hermione and Ron fetch it with him. They were so eager that he didn't want to disappoint them. He could keep them safe. "I was thinking of the next Hogsmeade weekend."
"Next weekend?" Hermione asked. "What is it this time?"
"I believe it is the award that Tom Riddle received for service to Hogwarts. But when I looked at it, I could tell that the award in the case wasn't a Horcrux." The map had said that Filch was on his way, and Harry hadn't wanted to begin that explanation.
"And you think the real award is somewhere in the Chamber of Secrets?" Hermione seemed dubious. "It seemed like just a giant hall when I was down there. No place to hide anything."
"There are store rooms behind the statue of Salazar Slytherin. You can follow the path around to the back. See what you can find out about it, all right?
Hermione's eyes sparkled. "Of course, but why would you think it's there?"
"I think he'd want to hide it somewhere at Hogwarts. It would amuse him for it to be right under Dumbledore's nose, so to speak."
"Right. We should go down there and look around." Clearly, Ron was ready to go now.
"We will. Soon. A bit of planning won't hurt."
Hermione nodded, approvingly.
It had only been two days since the last time he'd been with Snape and already he was back to using the toilet between classes. How humiliating it was to be a teenager! Harry sighed, pushing open the door, hoping to get this over with as quickly as possible and get to class without being late.
The room wasn't empty. Draco Malfoy was leaning over the basin, his hands clutched to the sides. He was crying.
Something about this scene jogged another memory. Oh Merlin, he'd cast Sectumsempra on him in sixth year. That he'd cast that spell without any idea of what it would do still appalled him. He'd been such a bloody lucky fool. In all likelihood, he would have killed Draco without Snape's intervention.
Draco looked up and went for his wand. Harry cast a silent Expelliarmus; Draco's wand went flying and he summoned it wordlessly to his hand. Waiting for an attack, Draco glared at him, wiping his face with the sleeve of his robe.
Harry met Draco's eyes, and that was a mistake. Draco tried to push into his mind. Unfortunately, Harry wasn't expecting it and had no time to shore up the holes left in his Occlumency for Voldemort. That let Draco in. He managed to get a glimpse of Harry's surface thoughts before Harry pushed him out. Infuriated, he had his wand at Draco's throat in a second, ready to kill.
With an effort, Harry stepped back, breathing out hard. It had been a long time since anyone had breached his mind like that. He should have expected something from Draco. Merlin, he'd gotten lax.
"Who are you?" Draco whispered, fear heavy in his voice.
"I'm just exactly who you think I am, you idiot." He wanted to smack Draco hard enough to rattle his brains and was only barely able to rein it back.
Draco put a hand to his own throat. "No. I saw --"
It couldn't have been more than a few vague impressions. It wasn't enough to tell him anything since Harry's main thoughts had been his concern for the bloody fool. The rest of his mind had been Occluded. But what was there was probably enough to scare him. "What did you think you saw?" Harry demanded.
"You're not...Potter. You're someone else." Draco was panting, and there was a warble of fear in his voice.
A tiny bit of worry scraped at Harry. Maybe Draco had been able to perceive something past his imperfect Occlumency. "Don't be an arse. Who else would I be?"
"I don't know. You're...different." Clearly, there was enough doubt that Draco wasn't sure.
"I can help you," Harry said. He wasn't going to address who he was. Not if he could avoid it.
"Oh, like I'm going to believe that. No one can help me." Malfoy tried to pull away, but Harry stepped in front of him.
"Let me go. I have class."
"You've got nothing to lose. You might as well trust me." Before Harry pushed him too hard, he needed to give Draco time to think about his choices and to calm down. Right now, he was acting out of fear.
Draco's face was red, his anger blatant. "No. Just my life. My family's lives. I don't have any reason to believe you wouldn't betray me the first chance you get."
He had a point. From Draco's point of view, there was no reason for him to trust Harry or anyone else. Unfortunately, there wasn't much Harry could say to convince him. "I think it's much more likely that you'll betray us. I'm still offering you a way out."
Draco's attitude was even more incredulous. "Why would you do that?"
"Because I know what you've been asked to do." Harry wasn't sure that cutting to the chase would do much good, but he wanted to try and move Draco past his fear
"No. You don't have any idea. You can't even imagine it." As he insisted, Draco sounded as if he hoped that someone, even someone he clearly distrusted, knew of his burden.
Even so, this wasn't the moment to push it. Draco wasn't ready yet.
"Fine," Harry said, backing off. "I don't know anything. Go to class."
Draco eyed him suspiciously. "You're just going to let me go?"
He couldn't imagine what Draco thought he'd to do stop him. "Why wouldn't I?"
"I could tell someone."
Harry had to bite back a laugh. "What? That you illegally used Legilimency against me? Do you think anyone will even believe you?"
"I could try. Or I could tell --"
"Your Lord, perhaps? I suspect you don't want to go back into his presence if you don't have to."
At the mention of Voldemort, Draco looked sick. "I have to go to class."
Harry held his wand out. "I'm not stopping you. But think about what you're putting yourself through. There is a better way."
Draco grabbed the wand and fled.
"So, do we even know what we're looking for? And where did you say the other rooms were?" Ron curiously glanced around the Chamber of Secrets. He'd never been down this far before.
"This was Slytherin's personal space. Supposedly, it could only be opened by the heir of Slytherin," Harry said.
"It's not been explored since Slytherin left Hogwarts. According to Hogwarts: A History, after he left, no one came into the chamber. Well, not until You-Know-Who released the Basilisk."
"And blamed Hagrid for it." Ron sounded like he was still angry about it.
"According to the legend," Hermione said, "Slytherin had an office and storage space down here. If You-Know-Who hid the award, I think it would be there."
"Let's go around the path and start on the first room." Harry waved his hand in that direction.
"Why don't we split up?" Ron asked when they'd come to the beginning of a long corridor made of gray stone. Several closed doors lined each side.
"Right," Hermione agreed. "We'll get more done that way. We both know the anti-hex charm. And it's not like we'll touch anything we shouldn't."
Harry's first inclination was to stay together, but given the number of doors, they probably wouldn't get everything done today. "I think you and Ron should search together, and I'll go by myself."
Ron opened his mouth, no doubt to argue, but Hermione put a hand on his arm and he shut it again.
"That sounds reasonable," Hermione said. She pointed her wand at the first door, and said, "Alohomora." Surprisingly, it opened under her wand.
Hermione and Ron went into the first room, and Harry went into the second. It appeared to be a store room, filled with boxes that were stacked to the ceiling. Most of them were fairly unremarkable.
He started with the top one, casting the hex reveal spell. Nothing. The parchments looked like accounting receipts for the school. The second box had more of the same. And so did the third and fourth and fifth.
The job was infinitely boring. He supposed he should have expected that. Diligently, Harry searched through each box in the room. There was nothing. Not even the feel of Dark Magic.
"Harry!" Hermione called, excitement in her voice.
Harry put down the box he'd been going through and followed her voice. They were in the last room on the same side of the corridor.
"What have you found?" he asked.
"Look at that." Hermione pointed to a plaque hanging on the wall.
They had clearly found Slytherin's office. It wasn't nearly as large as Harry would have thought. And the wooden desk looked well-used. It seemed unlikely Voldemort would have just left it there, in the open. Of course, no one could have found it without knowing how to get into the Chamber.
"Have you used the hex finder charm on it?"
"First thing. But it showed that there were no hexes or anything else on it. But it feels...." Ron shrugged, his expression confused.
Harry knew that feeling. It was from a Dark curse. It was a good thing they hadn't touched it. He suspected that it was deadly.
"It seems too easy," Hermione said, stepping a bit closer to look at it. "Do you think it's another fake?"
"The award in the case wasn't a fake in my time, so I don't know. This has the Dark feel of a Horcrux." Each change between his time and this time made him all the more wary.
Hermione moved closer still, and Harry was about to say something when she reached towards it --
"Don't touch it!" Harry screamed.
But it was too late. Hermione was thrown across the room. She cried out, clutching her hand. When she looked up, there were tears in her eyes. "I couldn't seem to stop myself. I didn't want to touch it. I didn't mean to."
"It's okay," Harry said, calmly. "Can you let me see it?"
She bit her lip and held her hand out, a stump of blacked and bloodied flesh. Not something with any resemblance to a human hand. Harry wanted to cast a numbing charm, but it was too dangerous.
"Should I go and get Madam Pomfrey?" Ron asked, his voice tight with fear.
"We need to get you to the infirmary. Can you stand?"
She started to get to her feet, and stumbled. Ron reached out to help her, but Harry knocked him away. "She's been cursed. You can't touch her until we've neutralized the curse. Run ahead. Tell Madam Pomfrey we're coming."
Ron's eyes were wide and afraid. He hesitated.
"Go!" Harry turned to Hermione as Ron ran out. "Do you need me to cast Mobilicorpus for you?"
She nodded and sniffed.
"I know it hurts. I'm so sorry."
"Not your fault," she said through her gritted teeth.
He disagreed, but said nothing as he strode out of the chamber and she followed behind him, tethered like a balloon. He was never going to let either of them do anything dangerous again. What had he been thinking? Once again, he hadn't been. He'd given in to what they wanted without regard for their safety. He'd been impatient, and had not wanted to wait for another week or two for McGonagall and Snape to be able to go with him.
He should have bloody well known better. And sweet Merlin, what was he going to tell Pomfrey?
"Mr Potter!" Flitwick appeared in the corridor just before he got Hermione to the infirmary.
Fuck. This was the last thing he needed right now. "She's been hurt. Let's get her inside and then you can give me another detention, if you want."
"I want an explanation. Now," Flitwick demanded, but fortunately didn't try to stop him as he raced forward into the infirmary. Madam Pomfrey came rushing out as Harry lowered Hermione to one of the beds. Hermione was whimpering softly, still clutching her hand.
"A Dark curse," Madam Pomfrey hissed, her voice filled with fear. She stepped back.
"From where?" Flitwick's tone was just as frightened.
Harry couldn't believe they were both just standing there. "Do something for her!"
"She's been cursed. I don't have anything --" Pomfrey wrung her hands.
"Yes, you do. Check the supply cabinet." Harry started for it. Snape had replenished all of the supplies that were needed this summer for just such an eventuality.
"How do you know that, Mr Potter?" Flitwick had that look of both curiosity and disapproval on his face.
Ron came running in. "Sorry. I had to escape Filch. He wouldn't listen to reason."
"It's okay," Harry cast Alohomora and started to hand the bottles one by one to Pomfrey. "Give her this first. The whole bottle. This next. Half of the bottle. Then this third potion: half the bottle."
Pomfrey nodded at him and then shook herself. "What does this do?"
"It's going to neutralize the active curse. It won't help the damage that's already happened and it won't stop the progress, but it will make it possible to touch her without the curse spreading."
"Right." She headed back to Hermione's bed.
"Ron. Go find McGonagall and tell her what happened. Bring her here."
"She's in Hogsmeade."
Harry had forgot that both she and Snape were chaperoning. "Fuck. Can you find a Floo?"
Ron looked at Flitwick, and then nodded.
"Call Remus -- Professor Lupin and tell him to get here as quickly as he can."
"Right." Ron turned to go.
"Mr Weasley, don't you dare move." Flitwick's tone was his best authoritative teacher tone.
Ron looked at him, clearly torn.
"Go! There's no time to waste, if we're going to help Hermione." Harry would deal with Flitwick in a moment, when he was done dealing with the real crisis.
Ron started for the door again.
Flitwick opened his mouth and Harry said, "Go!"
Ron took off at a run.
"Who in all seven hells are you?" Flitwick drew his wand.
There wasn't time for this now. And really, Harry didn't have the patience for it. "Oh, for Merlin's sake. I'll explain as soon as --"
"Now. You'll explain now."
Harry didn't want to hex the idiot. Couldn't Flitwick see that he was interfering with what was going on? Maybe he was doing it on purpose, to stymie them. "Didn't you talk to the Headmaster?"
"He said nothing of value. Gave no reason why you should have the power of someone who is at least ten years older than you are. And the control of an adult." Flitwick was too bloody observant by half.
Harry sighed. But to Flitwick he said nothing.
Pomfrey finished feeding Hermione the potions and turned to him. "She's in a lot of pain. Is it safe to put her to sleep?"
"Yes." He turned back to Flitwick. There was nothing he could say that was going to satisfy him but the truth, and that was out of the question. "Maybe you should try to --"
"I'm not going to speak to the Headmaster again." Flitwick's frustration was clear.
Before he came up with anything brilliant to say, Ron and Remus came back through the door.
"What is going on here?" Remus asked as he took in Harry standing at wandpoint.
"I might ask you the same question." Flitwick's tone and expression were much colder. And he didn't lower his wand.
"Harry?" Remus asked, ignoring him. "The White Spell?"
"Yeah. I'm hoping it will clear the damage."
"It won't clear all of it." Remus looked down at Hermione with a soft expression. She whimpered in her sleep.
Remus raised his wand and said "Defaeco Malficus". A pure white light came from his wand and enveloped Hermione. It didn't stay white. First it went yellow around her hand, then slowly turned red, and finally black. Remus cast it again. This time it only stayed black for a few seconds and then faded to dull red and sickly yellow.
"Shouldn't it turn white?" Ron asked.
"In theory, if it had cleaned all of the Dark Magic, it would have turned white on the second casting." Remus frowned.
"And you can't cast it a third time?" Harry asked.
"No. Once to stop the progress and the second time to reverse it. Though I'm thinking it might be impossible to reverse Dark Magic completely."
"Of course it is. Did you develop this?" Flitwick scowled at Remus.
"I supervised. Hermione did the real work." Remus sounded as proud of her as Harry was. She'd done an amazing job with the spell and deserved to be recognized for it.
"How fortuitous of her to have developed her own cure. I'd like an explanation. Now." Flitwick's despairing tone tried to minimize the accomplishment and it annoyed Harry.
Harry had no intention of allowing this to go any further. "There is nothing more that I can tell you."
Hermione opened her eyes and smiled slightly up at Remus. "It worked, didn't it?"
"Not completely," Remus said, sadly.
She looked down at her hand. It was bright red, angry, and sore looking, but wasn't blackened. When she flexed it, it moved freely. "Well enough. But I'm still touched by the Dark. I can feel it."
"I'm sorry," Harry said. He felt awful. For expediency sake, he'd let them help again, thinking he could continue to tempt fate. Now, after the damage was done, he knew what a horrible mistake he'd made. Twice.
"I knew there was a risk and I chose to take it anyway." Spoken like a brave seventeen year old.
"Why did you touch it?" Ron asked, standing beside her bed.
Hermione's brow creased and her expression became nonplussed. "I couldn't seem to help myself. I was thinking that I shouldn't, even as I was reaching for it."
"Reaching for what?" Flitwick asked.
Harry had nearly forgot that he was there. Hermione looked at him and he shook his head minutely, telling her to say nothing. She blinked, clearly understanding.
Flitwick folded his arms over his chest and glared up at them. "You do know that if I were working for You-Know-Who, I'd have enough to arouse his suspicions just from what I could tell him."
He had a point. But Harry couldn't risk it. "You know nothing for certain."
"Don't be an idiot. I can put it together. And I will." He probably would eventually. But hopefully not before they got everything done.
"Don't." Harry mimicked him by glaring.
"One thing I do know. You are not Harry Potter."
"Of course, I am."
"He is." Dumbledore's voice wasn't as amused as it usually was, and he was moving very slowly. "Come along, Filius. I can tell you what's happened."
He took Flitwick out. Harry made a note to find out just what Dumbledore had told him this time.
After Hermione was asleep again, he went back to the dorm with Ron, but he'd been too restless to stay there. Snape hadn't returned from dealing with the award Horcrux when Harry let himself into his quarters.
A drink was what he needed.
After the fourth one, he lay down on the sofa, trying to rest and slowly sipping the fifth. His thoughts chased each other around, teasing him with what might have happened if he'd been smarter, if he hadn't put both of them in danger again.
How could he have been so stupid as to think he could continue to get away with playing with fate? Even if Hermione had been feeling better by the time he left, she was still touched by the Dark. It didn't matter that it was less than in his time. It wouldn't have happened at all if he'd just left well enough alone.
If he'd actually stopped letting them do dangerous tasks, even if they wanted to do it. If he'd actually made the decision to not allow them to continue to put themselves at risk and stuck to it. None of this would have happened. If he'd acted like the adult he was, then maybe he'd would've saved Hermione having to go through this.
There was no way that he could keep risking their safety and expect to get away with it. But no, he'd let what they wanted get in the way of what was best for them. He should have known better.
And next time he would.
"What are you doing here?" Snape's voice startled him out of his thoughts.
"I needed to rest."
"Last time I checked, these were my quarters."
Harry looked up at him, mind dulled by the amount of alcohol that he'd consumed. "I --" What could he say to that? "I needed something."
"To sober up, perhaps?" Snape when to his Potions cabinet and pulled out a blue bottle.
"Hiding from your problems and responsibilities will not make them go away."
Truer words were never spoken, but Harry wasn't up for logic now. "I know. I feel...like I should have done something else."
"I don't disagree. You should have waited for Minerva and me and we would have taken care of it. You gave into them again."
"I know." Harry sat up, and regretted it. He put his head in his hands.
"You will now have to deal with the consequences. Drinking will not help you do that." Snape put a comforting hand on his shoulder.
Harry smiled up at him. "I've learnt my lesson. No matter what they say, they are not doing anything else."
"It's a bit late for that, don't you think? Besides, they are Gryffindors. They excel at not listening to reason."
He was right, of course, but Harry had had every hope that he'd be able to control the situation with both of them. "I should have realized that I can't fight fate. That I shouldn't have let them continue to work with me. At least, in a physical sense. They were both still cursed. Just like in my time. I didn't change much."
"Quite obviously you have changed a number of things, or mitigated them. I shouldn't need to point this out to you." Snape pushed the blue bottle at him again.
This time, Harry drank it. Being drunk was hiding from his responsibilities, and as tempting as it was, he didn't have the luxury. "Merlin, that is foul-tasting."
"It's supposed to be. You do feel better now, don't you?"
"I wasn't to the feeling bad stage yet." Clear headed, Harry felt the weight of his guilt start to crash down on him. That was why he'd started to drink in the first place. "If I had --"
Snape was already shaking his head, looking disgusted. "At this point, second-guessing yourself serves no purpose. It's done and we must deal with it."
That didn't change the facts. "Hermione now has to deal with my mistake in judgment."
"Should I point out that no one forced her?"
Even as mature as she was, she was still far too young to be making those kinds of life-altering decisions. Harry damned well shouldn't have let her do it. "She's seventeen."
"Very true. But old enough to make her own decisions, just as Weasley is." Since when did Snape ever defend their right to do anything?
"They don't consider the consequences."
"Most teenagers don't. But they both had certain knowledge that this could hurt them. And after Weasley's injury, it was even more clear it wasn't safe."
Again, he was right, but it didn't help Harry much. "I should have had more sense."
"You should have. You're the adult. You did try to minimize the risk. It didn't help. Some things will simply happen no matter what precautions you take."
"I don't want to believe that everything I've done will not result in some changes."
"I suspect that things have been changed. The wards will not fall when the Dark Lord attacks."
"If he attacks."
"Oh, I think he will. He has always been focused on Hogwarts and his rivalry with Albus."
"The Headmaster will be gone after this year." And just saying that caused Harry's already tight chest to compress further.
"I don't think that is going to matter to the Dark Lord."
Harry was too tired and guilty to consider it. He looked up at Snape and raised an eyebrow. If he couldn't find peace, then maybe he could find oblivion.
"You're insatiable." But Snape was already pulling off his outer robes.
Snape looked up from the parchments he was attempting, rather unsuccessfully, to grade, as Draco sidled into his office. "Mr Malfoy?"
"I've heard that Granger was cursed by a Dark curse. Here at Hogwarts."
Good news travels fast, doesn't it? "Where did you hear this?"
"Lavender Brown is telling everyone that the Headmaster's hand is somehow contagious." Draco's scorn literally dripped from his words.
Not that Snape disagreed with the sentiment at all. He disliked most Gryffindors on general principal, but she was particularly unpleasant and foolish. "And you believed the idiotic Miss Brown?"
"No. But Granger's hand is bright red and if it were almost anything else, Madam Pomfrey would be able to cure it."
He'd always been quite bright. If only Snape could get him to think for himself. "It could be any number of other reasons. Magic can't fix everything."
"Most things." Draco met his eyes. "I've spoken with my mother. She says you're working for Dumbledore --"
"As a teacher in this school, I'd say that was obvious." Snape looked down his nose at him contemptuously.
"I meant as a spy. She also said to trust you."
Snape certainly wasn't going to confirm that. What would Draco do with that information, after all? "I'm touched by her regard."
"I could tell our Lord what my mother has told me."
And Snape was sure by his tone of voice that he wanted to negotiate that. "You could indeed. However, think hard whether or not that would be in your best interest. Especially if the information proves correct."
"Were it not correct, I suspect you'd be denying it more aggressively."
"I'm neither denying or confirming anything. I could, in fact, be testing you as I've been ordered to do." Or not, as the case may be. But he couldn't chance his cover, even for Draco. "Why are you here?"
The change was subtle -- only someone who knew Draco well would have noticed it. He straightened. "Do you know it hurts worse than anything I've ever felt? Worse than a broken bone, or even several bones. Worse then being beaten with a belt."
It didn't take a genius to figure out what he was talking about. He still had a few contacts and had heard about the meeting. "People have gone mad from prolonged exposure to it."
"He did that to my mother." The icy rage left no doubt in his mind that Draco would never forgive the insult.
"And your aunt did it to you. As just punishment for failing our Lord. For both of you."
Draco went white. His eyes narrowed to slits and it looked as if he were holding back an attack by a very small margin. "Do you actually believe that?"
Snape shrugged insouciantly, his hand surreptitiously reaching for his wand. "It doesn't matter what I believe. He has a right --"
"No one has that right. Not on someone who doesn't deserve it. Not at all." He was all but shaking with the attempt to keep his anger in check.
"And who deserves it? Don't you think Mudbloods deserve to be tortured? Their very existence is an abomination. Think of Hermione Granger. Don't you want to cast it on her? Wouldn't it feel good to have her writhe beneath your wand?" Snape probably shouldn't be pushing him in the state he was in, but perhaps he could get the fool to think.
Draco was silent for several counts and then shook his head slowly. "No. I don't want to cast that on anyone. Not even her. No one deserves that. It was...indescribably awful." He was silent for several more seconds, and then he looked up. "You work for the Light, don't you?"
"Do you think I'd answer that, even if I did?"
"Not if you were smart. But really, you already did."
"It is also possible that you misinterpreted my tone and my meaning. Think back on my words." Or perhaps he wasn't as smart as he thought he was. It was a risk, even what he'd said. But Draco's reaction gave him hope for the boy.
"I need to know --"
"Your mother said to trust me: will you take her word for it?"
Draco thought about it. "I'm not sure I can."
"Then think about it some more. Weigh your options." Snape had said and done all he could. The rest was up to Draco.
He wasn't leaving. There would be more coming. "What is Potter's problem?" Draco asked.
The non sequitur nearly threw Snape and he raised an eyebrow. "I didn't realize he had one?"
"Both him and the Weasel. And now that I think about it, that Mud...Granger, too."
Snape was relieved by the inclusion of the other two. "I don't follow you."
"They are all different this year. Potter's the worst. He walks around like he owns the school. But Weasley? He's suddenly a Potions expert. And that eye patch. What's with that? And now Granger is hit with a Dark curse? I don't understand what's going on with them." The teenaged angst in his voice was enough to make Snape smile.
"Are you upset that you have a rival for the best Potions student in sixth year?"
"Of course not. He's not that good." Draco tossed his head back, ostensibly to get his long fringe out of his eyes.
But it was enough to make Snape bite back a smile. "If he continues to improve as he has been doing, he could challenge you next year."
The color drained out of Draco's face, and he shook his head vigorously. "Never! I'll never let that blood-traitor --"
"Watch yourself. That particular phrase isn't going to win you their friendship."
"What makes you think I want it?"
"I think that you'll need allies in what's coming. And they --"
"Wouldn't spit on me if I were on fire." Draco didn't sound as if he wanted them to, either.
"Then go back to Mr Crabbe and Mr Goyle and be done with it."
Draco's shoulders slumped. "He'll kill me."
"Since your mother is out of reach for the moment, I'd say that was very likely."
"It's not worth my life."
"Then think about your other options and choose a different path."
"I'll consider that."
Maybe the boy had some common sense after all.
As had been true in every session of the D.A., a few more people showed up. Two from Slytherin this time: Vincent Crabbe and Draco Malfoy. Most of those gathered watched them suspiciously.
Harry wasn't surprised by either of them. "The same rules apply as always. Anyone can join in -- except if you're marked as a follower of Voldemort."
Crabbe's face went red. "You can't --"
"I most certainly can. Show us your forearm or leave. Both of you."
Crabbe looked at Draco. "We'll leave."
"Speak for yourself," Draco said, taking off his robe and rolling up his sleeve. "I have nothing to hide."
"You have to --" Crabbe started to say, but Draco sneered at him. Even though their roles had been reversed, Crabbe didn't seem inclined to challenge him publicly.
"Crabbe?" Harry asked, waiting. Ron and Hermione, but more surprisingly Ernie McMillan and Neville moved behind him.
For a second, Crabbe looked like he might fight, but the odds were so stacked against him that he obviously thought better of it. "You'll all pay for this," he said as he slammed out.
"Okay. I thought we'd work on the Patronus Charm again for those of you --"
"Not being marked doesn't mean that he's not a Death Eater," Seamus interrupted, his face hard and distrustful.
"No it doesn't. But we've decided that --"
"You mean you've decided. The rest of us never got a chance to say," Michael Corner said, his tone challenging.
"All right, I've decided." Harry supposed that he'd have to fight this battle every time. "As I said, we'll work in two main groups with everyone divided into groups of two after that. And I don't want everyone grouped by house, either. We need to work together." He pointedly glanced at the Slytherins off to one side. "All of us."
There was a low grumbling, and Harry heard someone say he was as bad as a teacher. But they all did as he asked.
"Ron, can you get Malfoy started on the Patronus Charm?"
Ron's expression changed to mutinous. Something Harry hadn't seen in a while. "Harry I --"
He gave Ron a look that shut him up. "I need you to do this."
"I'd rather work with someone else," Draco said. "Anyone else."
"You're behind. You don't get a say. Ron?"
"Who put you in charge?" Draco's challenge was not unexpected.
"Dumbledore." Harry waited for another challenge from him, but it didn't come. He nodded to Ron.
"Fine." Ron jerked his head towards the side of the room.
"Hermione, can you work with the other group?" Harry started for the first group.
"I'd like to speak to you." Draco's tone was caught between belligerent and pleading. He'd waited while everyone else filed out after the meeting.
Harry had been hoping he'd say something. He'd done very well during the session catching up and surpassing many of the students in one lesson.
Draco glanced at Ron and Hermione. "Alone."
If he'd been sixteen, he'd probably have told Draco that Ron and Hermione had to stay to show him who had the upper hand, but he didn't want to give Draco a reason to back out, especially if he'd come this far. "I'll meet you back in the common room."
"Are you sure?" Ron's expression and stance said clearly that he didn't trust Draco. Hermione looked the same way.
Not that Harry blamed either of them. "Yeah. I'll be okay."
After they left, Draco folded his arms over his chest in a gesture that was probably supposed to be menacing, but which told more of his internal struggle than Harry was sure he wanted to reveal.
"I don't trust you," Draco said after a moment more of silence.
"The feeling is more than mutual." Harry waited.
"Have you ever felt the Cruciatus?" Even knowing what happened at the meeting, Harry thought the anger and outrage was startling.
"More than once. In fact, Voldemort cast it on me at the end of fourth year."
"He cast it on my mother. As if she didn't matter. That half-blood bastard should be kissing her hem."
"I'm a half-blood."
Draco's face turned red, but he kept his head up. "I don't --"
"Spare me. You want to join us? Your mother aside, we have no reason at all to trust you."
"Nor I you. But...it's pretty clear that my...the Dark Lord isn't..." He left it there, and it wasn't enough.
Harry straightened up, but he was still a couple of inches shorter than Draco. Not that it mattered since he wasn't the supplicant. "What makes you think I'll believe you?"
"You've been courting me."
Well, he wasn't stupid, was he? "And what will you do for me...us?"
"What would you like?" Draco smiled what was probably supposed to be a come hither smile.
Harry laughed. "Don't be stupid."
"It was worth a shot. To be marked, I have to kill Dumbledore."
"I know. I also know you can't do it."
Draco bristled, as if not being able to kill in cold blood was something he should be ashamed of rather than a sign of his humanity. "I could. If I could get close to him. I just don't want to."
"Any information you have or can get for us would be useful. If you're not marked, how does he call you?"
"My aunt owls with a Portkey." Draco seemed embarrassed by the admission.
Though Harry couldn't understand why. Not having a direct connection to that madman should please him. "When do you expect to be called again?"
"Before the break, I think. And I need to have made some progress." There was a definite tremor in Draco's voice.
Pointedly ignoring it, Harry just nodded. "We'll see that you do."
"How? I can't get near Dumbledore."
"But you can get close to me. And I'm such a foolish Gryffindor that I'll start to trust you. So much so, that I'll get you in to see him."
Draco considered that for a moment and then smiled. "That might actually work. Maybe it will get Crabbe and Goyle off my back."
"One would hope," Harry said, holding he door open for him.
"Draco came to see me today," Harry said, fixing himself a drink. "Want one?"
Snape shook his head. "I've got papers to grade. I spoke with him. Did he have anything of value to say?"
"He didn't mention that he'd talked to you, but it does make sense. He's scared." Harry sat beside Snape on the sofa, and took a long pull on his drink. He let out a sigh as the alcohol reached his stomach. Maybe his muscles would unknot.
"As well he should be. The Dark Lord will murder him without a thought or regret. The Malfoy name and money mean nothing to him."
"False gods don't want competition. The irony is that Draco was ready to follow in his father's footsteps." Harry rotated his head, trying to ease the tenseness in his neck and between his shoulder blades.
"As you said, competition." Snape reached over and started to massage the sore spot.
He wanted to purr with pleasure as the tension finally released. "Lucius took over after Voldemort was killed in my time. Maybe Voldemort sees him as a threat."
"Draco doesn't have the need to control that Lucius does. Draco wants status, and acclaim."
"Voldemort isn't known for his perceptive powers."
"No. And fame and glory of the purebloods doesn't mean much in the face of torture, especially to a spoilt sixteen year old," Snape said.
"Not to mention the humiliation of his mother. That, I think, was the worst of Voldemort's sins in Draco's eyes."
"You seem surprised by that. If nothing else, the boy loves both his parents."
Stung for some reason, Harry pulled away, looking down. "I'm not one to judge that sort of thing. I told Draco that we'd work on getting him back into Voldemort's good graces."
Snape put a hand under his chin and tilted his face back, looking into his eyes. Whatever he saw, it made him lean in and kiss Harry tenderly.
"The problem is that he may wish to stay in those good graces."
"It's a risk, yes. But I suspect he'll see the advantages of being on our side, even if he doesn't believe in our philosophy."
"He's ambitious enough to consider it. Still, I don't trust him not to betray us."
"I'm very sure he's going to consider it. I think that Voldemort's instability and unpredictability is what's going to work in our favor with him. He can't trust Voldemort not to turn around and kill him."
"A distinct possibility."
"Can I talk you into putting off grading for a while?" Harry ran his hand up the inside of Snape's thigh.
Snape shuddered, canting his hips slightly. "Another distinct possibility."
Draco tried to still his trembling as he knelt to kiss the hem of the Dark Lord's robe. The summons had come from his aunt this morning, along with a Portkey. Without a return Portkey included. He wasn't afraid to die. Once you were dead, it didn't hurt anymore. However, the getting there was what scared him.
"Draco," the Dark Lord hissed. "I hope you have made more progress than the last time you were here."
"Yes, my Lord." He kept his head down and his tone subservient. He hated this. Hated being on his knees to anyone, but especially this mad half-blood. "I've been unable to make contact with the Headmaster --"
"And you call this progress?" The anger in the Dark Lord's tone was enough to make Draco's blood run cold.
"My Lord. I have been trying to get close to that...to Potter."
"Why would that be of use to me? The brat is useless until I'm ready to kill him, and then all he has to do is die."
"Exactly. But if I can get close to him, he may be able to lead me to the Headmaster. Rumor has it the old fool is ill. If I can befriend Potter, he might let me visit."
"You think you can convince Potter you're his ally?" Clearly the Dark Lord did not think that was possible.
And he was right. Under normal circumstances, he'd have a better chance with almost anyone else. But this Potter wasn't the same as the one from last year. Draco was still trying to figure out what happened. "I believe so. I have been courting his favor this past term."
"Why would he believe you?"
"I have let it be known that I'm not happy with my father's choices, with the views of my Lord. Potter is a Gryffindor. He wants to save people." Which seemed to be the truth as far as Draco could tell.
"Good thought. However, even if you get in to see the old fool, what can you do?"
"I only need a few minutes to kill him. Maybe not even that."
"And getting out again?"
Draco bowed his head so that the Dark Lord would not see his eyes. "I will gladly sacrifice myself so that I can complete my task."
"Excellent, Draco. You're doing well. Continue to do so and I will be very pleased with you."
"Yes, my Lord." Draco pressed his head to the floor. He hated the Dark Lord and everything else that had brought him to this moment. His father had a lot to answer for.
"Arise then." The Dark Lord was smiling, or what passed for it on his lipless face.
"Thank you." Draco stood beside him and tried not to shudder in horror as the Dark Lord's hand slid along his shoulder.
Later, he stood to one side making inane small talk while trying to listen to the conversations going on around him. His aunt appeared at his side.
"You're doing well. Better than I expected."
"Thank you, Aunt Bella." He smiled sweetly at her. There could be no forgiving her for casting Cruciatus on him. "I'm glad to have found favor with him."
"Continue doing this well, and we'll put the past behind us. I can see a future for you serving our Lord."
Draco repressed a shudder at the thought. "I hope that it is possible with all my heart."
"Have you heard from your mother, by chance?" Bellatrix's tone was oh, so very casual.
He dared not meet her eyes. She had taught him Occlumency. "No. But if I do, I shall let you know. I'm sure you're worried about her."
"Indeed, I am. She didn't need to run. He would have forgiven her."
Right. Draco wasn't fooled for a moment. His mother's life had been hostage for his good behavior. And would be forfeit if she came back to England before the Dark Lord was dead. "I'm sure he would have. She is a coward. And if I talk to her, I'll tell her that."
"See that you continue to work hard for our Lord's sake. Perhaps he might favor you with the mark, yet."
"I am eager to prove my worth to him."
"I'll be in touch. There may be another task for you."
Draco bowed his head as she walked away. Another task? He wasn't doing that well with this one.
It appalled him to be caught between his beliefs and that madman who shared them and the side of so-called Light. Whatever else he could say about them, the Light didn't torture their own, they didn't kill on a whim, but they also let anyone in. They thought Mudbloods were equal to purebloods.
Ironically, the Dark Lord was only a half-blood himself. And didn't that make him feel dirty to bow down to him. At least Potter didn't expect that.
It was snowing lightly. Despite that, Harry, Ron, and Hermione trudged out to the lake. Ron cast a perfect silence dome spell and then added a heating charm, and another to Banish the snow within the dome's circumference.
"Well done," Harry said, pleased at how easily he'd been able to do it. Quite a change from a few weeks ago.
Ron's cheeks turned red, and he mumbled, "Thanks."
"When are we going after Rowena's wand?" Hermione asked, almost as if she hadn't heard him say they weren't going last week.
"I thought I told you last week that Professor Snape and I would be doing this. It's no longer safe for either of you." Harry was rather surprised that they brought it up again. As far as he was concerned, the matter was closed.
"You might have said, but you didn't give us any kind of reason." Hermione sounded as if she expected him to justify it.
"She's right. We talked about it and we think you're wrong. That you should let us help," Ron said.
He could understand their anger, but that didn't change the outcome of this conversation. "As I said, it's too dangerous for you to --"
"As if that's stopped us before!" Ron put his hands on his hips. His cheeks were flushed again, but this time, it wasn't with pleasure.
"Don't you understand? That should have stopped you. Don't you understand that I can't risk either of you anymore?" Harry watched as both of their eyes hardened. "Why are you both being so stubborn about this? It's for your own good."
"Because we don't understand why all of a sudden you don't need us anymore!" Ron yelled.
Hermione nodded vigorously. "You do need us. You can't do this without us."
Part of Harry wanted to give in, to give them what they wanted. It felt wrong to exclude them. But that didn't change the fact that he couldn't risk them anymore. They were his friends and had proven themselves over and over. He wanted them safe. "I'm not going to argue about this."
A look of shock came over Hermione's face. And Ron's as well.
"Why are you doing this?" Hermione asked, and her voice broke. "Is it because I was hurt? I told you I didn't mean to touch the --"
"That's part of it. You've both been hurt. I don't want to see it happen again. Or worse, that you'll be killed." He met her eyes. "I couldn't live with that."
"It's not going to happen," Ron insisted. "And it's not your decision."
That was where he was wrong. It was Harry's decision and he'd made it. "I'm sorry. You both have to understand that I'm not going to put you at risk anymore. I can't."
"What about us? What we want? We're the ones taking the risk." Hermione put her hand on her hips and looked like she might stamp her foot.
Harry was frustrated with their inability to understand this was for their own good. "And I'm not going to allow it anymore."
Ron looked furious. "What if I say I'm not going to accept that?"
"You don't have a choice." Harry's temper was starting to fray. He hadn't expected this much anger or resistance. Why couldn't they be reasonable?
When he asked Hermione that, she laughed in his face. "Listen to yourself. You really think we'll obey you? How many times have we disobeyed our teachers when we thought the need was great enough?"
"You used to obey them." But even as he said it, he knew it wasn't true. And what was worse, he hadn't ever obeyed either. Not when he'd thought there was any reason not to.
Both Hermione and Ron laughed.
"Professor Snape and I are going after the wand this weekend." He held up his hand. "Neither of you can perform the charm required to move the wand out of the case at the same moment the fake wand needs to replace it."
Hermione opened her mouth, but Harry cut her off. "Even you. It takes a lot of control and power, which I concede that you have. But it also takes a great deal of time to master it. You don't have the time to learn it."
Her shoulders sagged a bit, and Ron didn't even look at him.
"I'll show you the charm after winter break. Not that I think you'll have much use for it." Even though it was irrational, he felt like he had to give them something to counteract their disappointment in him.
That brightened Hermione's expression, at least.
"We were thinking of staying for the break," Ron said, his voice still sullen.
There was no point and it would only emphasize the fact that they weren't going to go with him. "No. Go and see your parents -- both of you."
"What about you? Are you coming to the Burrow for Christmas?" Ron clearly expected him.
"Maybe for the day. If your parents will extend the invitation to Professor Snape as well." Harry wasn't going to go without him.
Ron didn't look as if the idea disgusted him anymore. "I don't think Mum will mind. Bill and Fleur will be there. Charlie, too. One more won't matter."
Probably not, but Harry wasn't about to presume his welcome. "Have your mum send me a note, okay?"
Hermione looked up at the sky. "We should probably get back before this turns into a storm.
Glancing up, Harry was surprised at the gathering darkness. When had it got so late?
Harry couldn't sleep. He rolled over and punched his pillow. With a sigh, rolled over again, pulling the blankets higher on his shoulder. He tried to force himself to relax. It didn't help. Nothing helped sometimes. And listening to his dorm mates' snores did nothing for his mood.
Maybe a walk.
The castle was almost peaceful in the depth of the night. He wandered aimlessly, avoiding Mrs. Norris and Filch with ease.
"Mr Potter. Should you be out of bed?" Avoiding McGonagall was another matter, it seemed. That was never easy.
"I expect not," Harry said.
"Come along, then." She waved a hand for him to go first. "My office."
Harry led the way. He should have used his Invisibility Cloak, but he hadn't wanted to open his trunk to search for it. A notice-me-not charm should have worked almost as well.
She pulled out a bottle of firewhiskey and held it up as Harry sat down in front of her desk. "Thanks," Harry said.
"How did fetching Rowena's wand go? Severus didn't say, and knowing you two, I'm never sure."
"Obviously, it didn't kill us," Harry said, smiling.
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "Beyond that?"
"It was rather simple. We transfigured another wand to look like Rowena's and magicked it into the case at the exact time we magicked the other one out. There were no hexes or other Dark curses on it. But it radiated menace."
"I've always wondered if the Muggles could feel that?"
Harry couldn't imagine that they didn't feel something, though Muggles tended to ignore what they couldn't explain. "I'm sure they must have. They sensed something, probably something strong and couldn't quite dismiss it. I suspect it frightened them."
"You had no trouble destroying it?"
"Wood burns." Harry took another sip of his drink. "I'll be glad when they are all gone and Voldemort along with them."
"I assume you have a plan for dealing with You-Know-Who as well?"
"I believe so. And no, I'm not going to talk about it now."
She raised an eyebrow.
"I don't want him tipped off in any way." Harry held up his hand before she could protest. "If no one knows, then no one can somehow let it slip to the wrong person."
"I can see the sense in that. When do you plan to go after the last Horcrux?"
"First we have to find it," Harry said with a sigh. That was the real problem, of course.
"Surely you must know what it is."
"I know what it was in my time, but I'm nearly certain it's not the same thing in this time." It was like fitting puzzle pieces together that were similar in size and color, but didn't quite fit. It was beyond frustrating.
"I assume that Miss Granger and Mr Weasley are going to help you?" She'd never approved of them helping him.
"Actually, I'm sending Ron and Hermione home for the break."
"They will not be very pleased to be left out. You've set a pattern of giving into them." McGonagall had never got over her disapproval of that. Well, she'd been right from the beginning, hadn't she?
"I hope to break it now. Before I do any more damage." Too little, too late, but at least she didn't say that. Though he thought she was probably thinking it.
"I had planned to visit my sister over the break, but I can stay if you think it's necessary." Her tone was hard to read and Harry wondered if she wanted to get out of the trip.
"No. Go ahead. I think Professor Snape and I can handle whatever it is." Harry was too curious not to ask. "You know, I didn't know you had a sister."
McGonagall accepted the change of subject with a knowing look. "Why would you? She's a coven priestess in Lincolnshire. She and I are both...dominant. We tend to clash if we're together for too long." But the affection in her tone was clear as well.
Harry laughed. "Color me surprised by that."
Later that night, or early in the morning, Harry crawled into bed with Snape. He had the password, but not an explicit invitation. If Snape wanted him to leave, he'd say so. Harry was betting that Snape wouldn't mind.
Before Harry could roll over, Snape snuggled up to his back.
"It's late. What are you doing here?" Snape asked, his arms wrapping loosely around him.
"Hoping to get some sleep." But the timbre in Snape's sleepy voice was enough to perk up his ever ready prick.
"Hoping for something else as well?" Snape's hips canted. A hardness pressed against his arse.
Harry's prick jumped. "Aren't I always?"
"You're remarkably consistent. I will say that for you." Snape nuzzled the back of his neck.
With a sigh, Harry leaned back into the kiss as Snape's hands reached down to stroke him. Too tired to do more than moan, Harry let Snape's hands move on him as he floated along, enjoying the sensations, letting the pleasure build. Snape had long since learned how to touch him with mouth and hands and prick in ways that evoked the most wonderful feelings. He was positioned, slicked, and fucked. All the while, he moaned his appreciation into the mattress.
Later, Snape's fingertips traced along the drying sweat on Harry's back.
"Feeling better?" There was a lot of amusement in Snape's tone.
"That always does help. I wish we had more time for it. Or could be seen together as a real couple would."
"If you weren't a student --"
"Don't I wish that? It won't be forever. We've one more Horcrux left to do and then Voldemort. Then, finally, we'll be free to leave and get on with life."
"You'll be free to leave here. In case you've forgot, I will still have a job to do." There was a definite note of irritation in his voice. It was clear that Snape didn't expect to leave with him.
Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. "I thought...that you hated teaching."
"I certainly hate some aspects of it."
"Like the students?"
"Not all the students by any means. I enjoy the advanced classes."
That was something he couldn't quite believe that Snape would say. He was in Snape's class. "You're not any nicer." Or a better teacher, he didn't add. No point in making Snape angry.
"Surely you realized that I'm not nice. Even under the best of circumstances, a teacher who does not maintain discipline can't hope to control his class."
He knew that from his own teaching days. No one got away with anything in his classes, but at least he was fair about it. "Point. However --"
"I see no reason to mollycoddle students."
They'd strayed from what he'd wanted to discuss. "I thought that when I left...."
"That I'd go with you? Don't be ridiculous. How would that look?" Snape scowled at him. Which might have been more effective if he'd not been lying in bed, naked and sated from sex.
Snape sighed. Loudly. "Potter...Harry. In the eyes of the world, you're sixteen. You can leave school now, but if one of your professors goes with you --"
"No one will care." Even as he said it, a weight started to form in his belly.
"Of course they will. And you know it, too." Snape's tone held his opinion of Harry's intelligence.
As much as he'd rather not admit it, Snape was right. "I still want you to think about it."
"I won't leave Albus, or more likely Minerva, without a teacher in the middle of the term."
What did it say about him that he'd never even considered that? "You're right, of course. Maybe after the summer term?"
"Possibly. I don't know what is going to happen then. Or what I want to do." Hedging his bets. That was so Snapeish.
Even if Snape wasn't going to go with him, there was no way Harry could ever stay. "One way or another, I'm leaving here as soon as Voldemort is dead. I want to be treated like an adult again. You know, a Muggle writer once said that the only two places a person has to ask permission to use the toilet are prison and secondary school."
Snape didn't get the reference. "Even if you leave school, it will be years before that happens. And in your case, it might not happen at all."
"I have always hated that people think they own a part of me." In his timeline, it had taken a lot of work at dispelling his image before the public reluctantly let go of it and he was allowed to live his life.
"Deal with it. Do you have any idea what the last Horcrux is, or were you simply going to tell me as we were leaving to retrieve it?"
That was another frustration. One he wasn't entirely sure how to fix, either. "In my time, it was Godric Gryffindor's cloak pin. I'm fairly certain that it's not that now."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because it was hidden in the Muggle museum where we found Rowena's wand. That was why I knew which spell to use to replace it and put the fake wand back."
"You didn't mention it at the time. You must stop keeping things to yourself," Snape said, annoyed.
And he had a right to be. Harry should have mentioned it sooner. But he was focused on each task and tried hard not to think about the other ones.
"If the cloak pin was found at the location of the wand in your reality, then where was the wand?"
"The wand was in the possession of a descendent of Rowena. An old woman who allowed herself to be charmed out of it by Ron and me and a promise of doing good for Wizarding Society." She had been delightful, and Harry had kept in touch with her until she died a few years later.
"And how did the Dark Lord make it into a Horcrux?"
"He stole it. And murdered her husband."
"How did the woman get it back?"
"She and her sister used a Summoning Charm that worked only for family heirlooms that had been stolen. Two or more direct descendents can call back a stolen object that's been in a family for generations."
"Do they know who stole it for certain?"
"No. All the spell does is return the property to the rightful owner. It's blood magic, though not really considered Dark."
Snape seemed impressed by that. "One of Gryffindor's descendents, then? Finding a specific ant in an ant hill would be easier."
"I'll have Hermione start on it immediately."
"The break starts in a few days. They are not staying, are they?"
"As I said, I don't want them around when we go after the last one."
"No doubt that will thrill them."
"I'm sure." Harry sighed.
"I've heard that Draco is no longer out of favor with the Dark Lord," Snape said as Potter sat down beside him. He supposed he should be annoyed at the way Potter had been treating his quarters as if they were his own, but he didn't mind Potter's presumption enough to risk losing his company.
"So, my plan worked. You sound like you don't believe that it should have."
"I don't trust Draco. He wasn't out of favor for long. And his motives are still suspect." Snape wasn't sure exactly where Draco stood on anything. And it worried him that he couldn't get a reading on what exactly Draco was doing.
"Do you think he'd betray us?" Potter wasn't stupid, or naive.
"Surely, you don't trust him?"
"No. I think he's an angry young man who has had his world knocked off kilter," Potter said. He seemed to have a lot more insight into it than Snape did.
"You're being very generous."
"Perhaps. I've fairly certain knowledge he turns out all right."
"In your timeline. Perhaps it doesn't happen here." Snape knew he'd been the one to say he'd not sacrifice Draco, but he wasn't quite as sure anymore.
"We don't know what's going to happen. Did you find out anything else from your source?" Potter's tone said he was more than curious about the source.
Snape wasn't going to address it unless Potter asked outright. Which he probably wouldn't do. It didn't matter that much. And he was entitled to have a few friends, such as they were. "Rumor has it that he's going to be given another task."
"What else could Voldemort ask of him?" Potter's brow creased. "Wait. He let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts in sixth year."
"Excuse me? You haven't mentioned that before." And really, he should have. His irritation with Potter went up another notch.
"I must have. When Dumbledore and I returned from the cave after finding the fake locket, Hogwarts was under attack. Draco had let them in. It was then that...." Potter looked away.
Snape nodded, acknowledging what hadn't been said. "I suspect that is what it will be. But it won't be the spring."
"Maybe we can work this to our advantage. We'll need to have the final Horcrux by then."
"Since we're not even sure what it is, I'd say it was unlikely."
"I'm pretty sure it's the cloak pin. Hermione says there were twenty five to thirty direct descendents to go through. I've asked her and Ron to stay an extra day and called an Order meeting with Alastor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt."
"You called it?" Snape seriously doubted that.
Potter looked frustrated. "I asked the Headmaster to do it. It's going to be the day after tomorrow. Ron and Hermione can take the afternoon train home after that."
"What are the children doing here?" Moody asked as he limped in and caught sight of Ron and Hermione.
"I asked them to stay," Harry said, sitting down at the long conference table to the right of Dumbledore, who looked like he was sitting upright by strength of will alone, despite the glamour. Under it, he must look like all seven hells combined.
"Since I include you amongst the children, I'd keep my mouth shut if I were you." Moody took a seat across from Harry and looked at Dumbledore. "I don't approve of having them here."
Fuck. He kept forgetting that he still looked like a child. And by the way McGonagall, Dumbledore and Lupin were looking at him, they had as well.
"I've asked Harry to brief us on his progress," Dumbledore said.
"With what? He's a student. He shouldn't even be here," Shacklebolt said, but he looked around at the others, taking in their reaction.
"While we wait for Professor Snape, why don't you go ahead and explain, Harry?" McGonagall suggested.
"Explain what?" Moody demanded.
Harry sighed and explained the circumstances of his being here in this reality one more time. During the explanation, Snape came in and sat down next to him. They exchanged a glance, but Harry continued on with his story.
"You don't expect me to believe that, do you?" Moody was on his feet, with his wand drawn as soon as Harry stopped speaking.
Oh, and that was a mistake. Harry's nerves were stretched to the breaking point from the last few months. He didn't bother to stand. "If you don't want me to take that wand away from you, then I suggest you put it away."
Moody bristled, his face red. "You think you can take it from me, boy?"
Harry slowly climbed to his feet, and put both hands on the table, leaning forward slightly. His eyes met Moody's. "I know I can."
For a moment, Moody looked closely at him. And then shoved his wand back into his holster. "I'm cautious, not foolish."
"You believed him. Just like that." Snape's tone was wholly incredulous.
"Not completely, no. But you and everyone else clearly believed him. And he believes that he can take my wand. That's half the battle."
"The other half is skill," Harry said. Moody might act in such a way to make other people think he was mad, but clearly he wasn't stupid.
"What happened to your eye?" Moody asked, nodding at Ron.
"Cursed by one of the Horcruxes."
Kingsley looked appalled. "What were you doing near one of them."
"My fault," Harry said, feeling a wrench in his gut. "I allowed them to help me."
"You, too?" Moody looked over at Hermione.
"Yes," she said without inflection, but it still sounded as if she were daring him to say something about it.
Moody simply nodded.
"Shall we start to discuss what we came here to discuss?" Snape sounded disdainful, as if he didn't want to hear it all again. Harry was more than grateful not to discuss it.
He started to talk about the Horcruxes, soliciting Hermione's input. When he was finishing up his explanation, he glanced at McGonagall, and she looked pale. "Professor? Are you all right?"
"I have it," she said, putting her hand on her heart.
"Have what?" Snape asked, sounding like he had no idea what she was talking about. Harry didn't either.
"Godric Gryffindor's cloak pin. It's been passed down from parent to oldest child since he gave it to his oldest daughter when she wed."
"Was it stolen?" Harry asked.
"Yes. Just as you described. My father was murdered. My sister and I called it back to us using a blood magic spell. I'm the eldest, so I still have it."
It couldn't be that easy. Harry met her eyes. "If it's the Horcrux, we'll have to destroy it."
McGonagall's eyes narrowed. "There is no Dark feel to it. I'd have noticed."
"Are you sure you'd even know what you're looking for?" Moody said, and his tone was condescending, as if McGonagall wouldn't know Darkness if she found it.
"Don't be ridiculous, of course I would," she sniffed at him.
"It doesn't necessarily have a Dark feel to it." But it wouldn't feel quite right, either. It was possible that this wasn't the correct object, too. Though Voldemort had been fairly predictable in what he chose to use.
Harry put his hand on her arm. "I'm sorry. I know this must be a cherished heirloom."
"If we must destroy it to stop You-Know-Who, then I'll think the loss worth it. However, my sister will be most annoyed."
"You won't be able to tell her the truth. At least not until it's all over," Dumbledore said.
"Of course not. I'm just not looking forward to hearing about it for my whole visit with her." Her tone implied that it would be a lot longer than that. At another, less stressful, time Harry might have made a joke about McGonagall and her sister's personalities.
"Was there anything else? I've got a meeting with Robards this afternoon," Kingsley said, clearly getting ready to stand.
"Mr Weasley and Miss Granger, you're both excused." McGonagall's tone brooked no arguments.
They both looked like they might chance it, but with a look from Harry, they both stood and left.
"One more thing," Harry said after the door closed behind them. "I believe Draco is going to be asked to allow the Death Eaters into Hogwarts."
"Didn't you say you'd fixed the wards?" Moody's face was flushed with displeasure.
"They won't be attacking the wards. Draco is going to get past that, and let them directly into the school. Or he did in my timeline." Harry quickly explained about the two Vanishing Cabinets.
"How do we know he's on our side and not duping us?" Kingsley asked.
"We don't. But I think it's an acceptable risk. In my time, Draco switched sides after he was marked. In this time, it looks like it's going to be sooner. He's not marked yet." Although he didn't trust Draco completely, he did believe that he was on their side.
"I think his prejudices are being overcome by the insanity of the Dark Lord. It is in his best interests to side with us," Snape said.
"And we'd take the opinion of a Death Eater --"
The unexpectedness and ugliness of that comment against Snape had Harry on his feet and over the table before he could even think about it. "You know, all things considered, I wouldn't finish that insult if I were you."
Dumbledore stood up, holding onto the table. "Harry! Let him go."
Harry took a step back, straightening Moody's collar. "Sorry."
Snape looked like he was trying not to smile. There were probably few enough people who rushed to his defense in this timeline, and in Harry's time, it had taken years before anyone believed anything good about Snape. It pleased him that would not be what happened to this Snape.
Moody folded his arms over his chest, remarkably unfazed by the outburst. "Good reflexes. Now to get back to Malfoy and his trustworthiness."
"Or lack thereof," Kingsley said. "We'll have a team of Aurors waiting. Do you have any idea when this might happen?"
"No. Probably not until Draco is actually given the assignment. I'm hoping it's going to be a few weeks at the least." They needed time to deal with the Horcrux and set up the two Vanishing Cabinets.
As everyone was standing to go, Dumbledore made a small sound, almost an oh, and crumpled to the ground.
Kingsley got there first and cast Mobilicorpus on him. "He needs to get to the infirmary." He was already heading for the door.
"Wait," Harry said. "Why don't we get him into his own bed? I think he'll be more comfortable there."
"Do you know what's wrong with him?" Kingsley stopped mid-step.
"We all do. Look at him now," McGonagall said with a tremor in her tone.
Kingsley looked back at him, and the glamour was gone. He gasped.
Even expecting what he'd see, Harry was still surprised by the changes. The Headmaster was dying.
"Sweet Merlin," Kingsley whispered. "How did this happen?"
"The second Horcrux, Gaunt's ring, cursed him." Snape's voice was low and tight.
"Can you call Madam Pomfrey, Severus?" McGonagall asked. "We should get him to bed."
"Right." Moody opened the conference room door and Kingsley propelled the Headmaster into his private quarters as Severus stepped up to the fireplace.
"Well," Madam Pomfrey said, coming out of Dumbledore's bedroom, her face grim. "I've stabilized him using Severus' potions. But I don't know how long he'll...."
"Are we talking weeks or days?" Even knowing this was coming didn't make it any easier to hear.
"With Dark curses there's no way to know how long it will take." She looked at Harry, her eyes sad.
"Thanks." Harry's chest felt like a vise had been put on it. It was only force of will that kept his head up.
"The children were also cursed by the other Horcruxes?" Kingsley turned to Harry. "If you're an adult, and you knew this might happen, why on earth did you let them come with you? They are still children."
"I've thought of that more than once. They wanted to help." When he'd been sixteen, and caught between being and adult and a child, it had been so much harder. He'd had to figure it out for himself.
"That's no excuse for letting them endanger themselves." Kingsley's rage was surprising. It might be a reaction to Dumbledore being cursed, but Harry knew it was not undeserved.
"In my time, they helped me. No matter what else happened, we needed Hermione. I wasn't going to leave Ron out." Out of patience, Harry put his hands on his hips and glared at Kingsley. "And I'll thank you not to second guess me. I know what I'm doing."
Kingsley looked shocked by the outburst, seemingly sifting through what he'd just heard. "Then perhaps you might show some sense."
"You're right. I'm sorry to have yelled," Harry said. Letting his temper get the best of him only caused him more trouble. Kingsley was right, too.
"That's fine." Kingsley turned to Pomfrey. "Is there nothing we can do to help him?"
She shook her head sadly. "No. I think it's only weeks."
"We'll need to start preparing the children. They have no idea what's going on. And this will come as a horrible shock to them." McGonagall's posture was still straight, but it seemed she'd taken on a new burden.
"Not quite yet, if you please. What if we let Draco take the blame for Dumbledore's illness?" Harry had been looking for something that would help Draco's standing even more.
"Why would you want to do that?" Moody's tone was accusatory.
"It will ingratiate Draco even farther into Voldemort's good graces," Harry said.
"It's a good suggestion," Snape said. "Draco may be able to take credit for...."
"The closer he gets to You-Know-Who, the more information he can feed us." Kingsley rubbed the back of his neck.
"If we can trust him at all. Which I'm sure we can't." Moody's tone was impatient, and said he wasn't ready to trust anyone.
"Let me set something up with Draco." Harry was tempted to just spring it on him after classes started again, but that had the likelihood of going too far wrong.
Harry looked down at the cloak pin, disappointed. There was no feel to it at all. No curse whatsoever. No Dark Magic. "I don't think this is a Horcrux."
"Are you sure?" McGonagall's usually unflappable countenance seemed shaky. With all that had happened that shouldn't have been such a surprise. The reality of Dumbledore's impending death was finally starting to hit her.
It certainly wasn't doing Harry much good, either. "No, I’m not sure. In my time, we knew it was the last one."
"How?" Snape asked, seeming more steady than either of them.
"Voldemort told you that he'd made it from Amelia Bones' death and that it was safely in a Muggle museum." Harry turned the pin over. There was nothing remarkable about it. Not in workmanship or metal. A plain masculine cloak pin.
"I'd hate to destroy it and then find out we were wrong." Harry turned it over again. And then set it down on McGonagall's desk.
"What else can we do with it? Is it possible that it might be something else?" She didn't sound like she believed it so much as hoped it.
"Do you have anything else that belonged to Godric Gryffindor?" Snape asked.
Her brow creased. "No. Albus has his sword and the dagger that went with the whole set was lost long ago."
"What dagger?" Snape asked.
"As I understand it, the dagger had the same hilt as the sword. It was stolen in my great-grandmother's time."
"But it was passed down in your family as the cloak pin was?" Harry had the beginnings of an idea.
"Yes. The dagger and cloak pin were family heirlooms. Whereas the sword went to whoever was head of the school."
"Is it possible to summon it? Like you did with the pin," Snape asked.
Brilliant. Harry smiled at him.
McGonagall, on the other hand, looked quite skeptical. "After all the years that have passed? I doubt it would work."
"It's worth trying it, rather than destroying the pin." Especially since Harry was almost certain it wasn't a Horcrux at all.
"I'll need to contact my sister, see if she can arrange travel --"
"Do you suppose we could try it? I'm also a distant descendant of Gryffindor on my father's side. I suspect that was why Dumbledore told me I was a true Gryffindor in second year."
Snape looked skeptical at that.
"All right. We'll need the incantation for it." McGonagall pulled a book from the shelf behind her desk. "Let me see...."
She paged through the book and finally put her finger on it. "Here. This is what we used the last time."
Harry stepped around her desk, standing behind her, and looked down at the words. "It's simple enough. Do we need to do anything special?"
"Just chant together. On three two one --"
"Sicam paternam arcesso, heres Gryffindoris."**
Harry held his breath.
A dagger appeared on the desk. McGonagall reached for it, and Snape knocked her hand away. "Don't touch it!" he hissed.
She jerked back. "I didn't think it would work."
"Neither did I," Snape said.
"That would be three of us." Harry levitated the dagger and brought it close. He could almost feel it calling to him, to take it, to hurt someone with it. It was easy enough to resist if you were looking for it. "This is it."
Snape nodded. "I can feel it, too."
"How are you going to destroy it?" McGonagall was still pale.
"I destroyed the cloak pin in an acid-based potion that ate gold."
"I've got something down in my lab that will do. Bring it down there." Snape strode out, leaving Harry to follow.
"Malfoy!" Harry yelled as he caught up with him. They'd been back from winter holiday for a week. And it was time to help Draco pave his way with the Death Eaters.
"What do you want, Potter?" Draco's voice carried a whine and his eyes a warning.
Harry was aware of everyone around them as he took Draco's arm and shook him. "Just what did you do to the Headmaster?"
Draco blinked, pulling away, and then smirked. "Nothing. I did nothing. What are you accusing me of?"
"He's --" Harry cut himself off, looking around and deliberately lowered his voice. "He's not well."
"Maybe it was something he ate. Old men should watch that. He's not as young as he used to be." Draco's tone implied that he wouldn't be getting any older.
"I know you did something to him." Harry advanced, growling menacingly.
Draco took a step back and glared at him. "Don't be an arse. Or more of one than you usually are. I only spoke to him for a moment."
"It was enough. You did something. I know you did. You're out of the D.A.!"
"You can't do that!" Draco's eyes flashed with so much fury that Harry wondered if it really was acting.
But he had to be. They'd gone over this. Harry snarled at him, "I just did, you bloody prat."
"I'll protest. I have as much right to be there as anyone," Draco yelled, his face going red and blotchy.
Harry wondered how he did that so effectively. He'd have to ask at some point later on. "Wrong. I'm in charge --"
"We'll see about that." Draco started to go for his wand, which wasn't in the script.
"Is there a problem, Mr Malfoy?" Snape's silky tone radiated menace as he glared at Harry.
"Yeah. This prat is accusing me of hurting the Headmaster. For no reason. I wouldn't do that." And Draco smiled a cold, calculating smile that said he would do it in a heartbeat.
"Of course not. Besides, the Headmaster is fine. I've just spoken with him." Snape smiled even more coldly than Draco had. "Ten points from Gryffindor for spreading malicious rumors."
"You're lying --"
"Ten more points and a week's detention for insulting a teacher." Snape looked positively gleeful.
"You can't do that."
"Yes, I can. You'll spend your nights and weekends cleaning my classroom."
"Bastard!" Harry muttered under his breath.
"What was that, Mr Potter?"
Harry stubbornly didn't answer.
"Another week's detention." Snape was having way too much fun with this.
As Harry turned and walked away, he heard Draco start to complain about the D.A.
"What would you think about letting Draco back into the D.A.?" Snape asked later that evening.
Harry was lounging on Snape's sofa, sipping a drink. "Why? It would negate what little authority I have with the students to do that."
"He doesn't want to lose the training. It's up to you, of course."
As it was, Harry was constantly challenged in small ways. "Can we train him separately? He's quite talented magically and we could work to exploit that."
"All right. It will be harder to arrange, but since I've given you a couple of weeks of detention, we can use that time to work with him."
"I was actually hoping to use that time for something else."
Snape smirked and moved a bit closer. "You want to study?"
"It depends on what you mean by study." Harry noticed how good Snape smelled, and his prick came to attention.
"I'm sure we can work together to find a study program for you." Snape's mouth made wet contact with Harry's neck and he shivered.
"I would be ever so grateful for that." With a sigh, Harry tipped his face up to give Snape more access. Merlin, he needed this, needed to feel Snape's hands' on his body, making him forget about the day.
"I bet you would be. The question is how gr--"
The door wards sounded. Snape pulled back, scowling. "It's Draco."
"And there is no possible reason for me to be here." Disappointment washing over him, Harry stood, and adjusted himself.
He nodded, leaving the door ajar as he went into the darkened room.
"Mr Malfoy," Snape said as he opened the door. "It's inappropriate for you to come to my quarters this late."
"I know. I apologize. I wanted to let you know..." Draco trailed off and there was a rustle of parchment.
"I see. Go then." Snape's tone was resigned. "I'm sure there will be information that I'll be interested in when you get back."
There was a moment of silence as Draco clearly hesitated. "I won't be back before curfew."
"I realize that. Go."
The door closed.
"Severus?" Harry didn't like the look on his face.
"There is a Death Eater's meeting tonight. Bellatrix owled Draco."
"And you weren't summoned."
"Not even an itch. Perhaps the Dark Lord wants to find out what Draco did to Albus."
"I told him that he gave Dumbledore a cursed necklace, which he touched, but dropped." Harry moved closer, catching Snape's scent again. "Now, what were we talking about?"
"The fact that the Dark Lord did not call me."
Changing tracks again, Harry told his prick to settle down, but it wasn't much inclined to listen. "We've known that he didn't completely trust you. In my time, even after...he never completely accepted you."
"He's been slowly losing touch with reality. I hoped that he'd trust me well enough to summon me."
"Maybe it's better that he doesn't. Can he torture you through the Mark?"
"Yes. However, it requires a lot of power and concentration. I'm not sure he wants to devote that much attention to me now."
"Which is a good thing. For the moment, anyway. We'll work out some way to shield you."
"It can't be done. If he wished, he could kill me through the mark." Snape shuddered as he said it.
"Do you want me to go back to my dormitory?"
Snape looked startled by the suggestion. "No. As a matter of fact, I thought we had other plans for the evening."
"You seem to have lost interest." Harry smiled.
"I'm sure you can help me find it. If you've a mind to."
"When am I not of a mind to?" Harry slid his arms around Snape and pulled him close.
As Draco knelt to kiss the Dark Lord's hem, he blanked his mind, swallowing his fear and pretending outward calm. How had he ever thought this...wizard was worthy of his service? More importantly, why had his parents believed it? His mother was obviously having second thoughts. And his father? Draco hoped that being left to rot in Azkaban was enough to give him pause, as well.
"Draco. What news do you have for us?" The Dark Lord hissed in what Draco thought might be a pleased tone.
"Good news, my Lord. I was able to get in to see the old fool." Draco forced brightness into his voice. He was happy. Thrilled to be serving his Lord. He wanted to retch.
"Through your friendship with the Potter brat?" The silkiness of his tone was an alert to Draco.
He sneered. "He is not my friend, merely a useful tool. The fool believed me when I said that I had to speak to the Headmaster. That the information was vital."
"What information did you give him?" Now, there was an edge of tension, or warning.
Fortunately, Draco had rehearsed his lines. "That there would be an attack coming soon. That it would be in Hogsmeade."
The Dark Lord let out a sigh. "Very good. What did you do to him?"
"I gave the Headmaster a cursed necklace. Unfortunately, he knew what it was and dropped it, but I still believe it will inflict a slow death on him." Draco tried to sound pleased by the notion, but he didn't care that much. Dumbledore meant nothing to him one way or another.
"Is there an antidote?"
"None. And there won't be time to develop one." Draco had been told the nature of the curse, and Potter had gone over the details with him. How Potter knew this much about it, Draco hadn't asked. But it added another layer of mystery to the one growing around Potter. When this was all over, he had every intention of demanding some answers from Potter.
"Not unless someone brews it for him," the Dark Lord murmured. He sounded as if he knew who would do it, too.
"And if he does, my Lord, then you'll have your answer on that, too," Bellatrix said, standing beside Draco. Her eyes blazed with maniacal glee.
"Good. Good. There's more planning to be done." The Dark Lord looked down at him.
Draco's blood ran cold. "My Lord. I'm happy to serve you in any way that I may."
"Do you think you can get my Death Eaters into Hogwarts itself?"
It felt as if a hand were squeezing his heart. What did that fool think he was going to do at Hogwarts? It was filled with defenseless children. "I don't know. It's warded...."
"From the outside, yes. I want you to think of a way to allow them in from within the walls."
"A Floo," Bellatrix suggested.
Draco swallowed hard. "The only Floo big enough for transport is in the main entrance area, but that's locked. Perhaps in Dumbledore's office. As you'll remember, most of them are used just for communication."
"Perhaps one of the teacher's rooms?" She sounded like she wanted to know something and Draco had no idea what it was. His aunt scared him with her mad devotion. She was capable of anything.
"Perhaps Professor Snape's Floo?" Draco had no idea that Snape would agree to it, but he couldn't possibly approach another teacher.
"His Floo is said to be closed to the outside. Do you know this to be untrue?" The Dark Lord's tone was tight with suspicion.
"I've never been in his quarters, my Lord. Only to the door, and then only a handful of times." Snape was such a prissy bastard. He'd never allowed any of the Slytherins into his private quarters. It was worth a detention to bother him there without a good reason.
"Then you'll need to find a way to open the main Floo." The Dark Lord seemed to feel this was easily accomplished.
Of course, he also thought that Draco had poisoned Dumbledore. "When do you wish to enter the school?"
"I'll let you know when all the arrangements have been made. Do this, and I will mark you as my own."
A deep shiver went through Draco. By this point, he would rather walk naked into Potter's camp and kiss Granger than be marked by that madman.
Every year Snape swore the essays could not get any more insipid than the previous year, and every year he was proven wrong. It was disheartening. If he didn't have one or two students that made it worth it to teach, he'd probably have quit by now. Or killed one of the little brats.
The first batch of essays after a holiday were the worst. They'd all had too much sugar during the break. It took forever for the students to settle down.
The door wards chimed. A distraction.
Draco stood on the other side of his door. "The Dark Lord says your Floo is closed to the outside. Is that true?"
"Why would it be of any concern to you? Or to him, for that matter?" It wasn't the Floo so much as the Dark Lord questioning his honesty in front of Draco. It said to clearly how out of favor he was. That was troubling.
"He wants to get the Death Eaters into the school." Draco sounded horrified by the idea.
Even knowing the Dark Lord was slowly going mad, that was bold for the Dark Lord. "When was he going to try this?"
"He didn't say, but I think it will be soon. The main Floo?"
"That would be too risky. You wouldn't be able to unlock it yourself, and if you did, it would be too hard to control the exit. They could start to roam immediately." That was even more troubling.
"Then how?" Draco's brow creased. "What about that Vanishing Cabinet? Isn't there one in the Room of Requirement?"
That was a good idea. Potter had said that was how the Draco in his time had done it. "You'll need a second one to move to."
"I remember there was one in Borgin and Burkes? It was there the last time I was there, this past summer."
"That could work."
"Right. I'll need to find out when the Dark Lord wants this arranged." Draco frowned. "Since I'm not in the D.A. anymore, are you going to work with me on Defense?"
"Yes. And I think Potter will be willing to work with you as well," Snape said.
"Why would he be better than you? He wasn't that good last year."
"Don't be ridiculous. He has always been an excellent Defense student."
Draco didn't look as if he believed that. His dislike of Potter was clouding his judgment. Typical of Draco.
One would think the boy didn't pay any attention to what was going on around him. "Consider what he's done over the years."
"I've heard some fairly outrageous rumors, but I've always thought them a bit unlikely."
"I suspect they are true."
"He did not kill a Basilisk in his second year."
"Actually, he did. And you saw what he did at the Triwizard Tournament."
Draco's eyes widened. "No --"
Snape wasn't going to argue about it. "We'll start tomorrow night. Be in the Room of Requirement at nine."
"Are you ready?" Snape asked. The Room of Requirement had been cut to a quarter of its normal size. They needed the Death Eaters to move out onto the landing of the stairs, where the Aurors were waiting for them, just out of sight.
Draco was about to let the first of the Death Eaters through the Cabinet. He looked nervous. "As ready as I'll ever be. I hope this works." He waved his wand.
Fenrir Greyback stepped from the Cabinet.
"Excellent. You've done well." Then he saw Snape. "What are you doing here?"
Snape despised the wolf in Lupin, but this...creature was an order of magnitude worse. Being in the same room with him was enough to make Snape's skin crawl. "Helping you, obviously. Go out the door and wait at the main staircase. No one will be up here today."
"I think I'll just wait here for the rest of our company." Greyback sneered. "You couldn't find someplace bigger?"
"This is where the Cabinet was stored," Draco explained, and Snape could almost smell his nervousness. He was sure that Greyback couldn't miss it.
"Go out to the main stairs," Snape said again. Greyback was too unpredictable, too violent. He should be put down like the rabid animal that he was.
"Who are you to give me orders?" Greyback bared his teeth.
Snape was not impressed with the whole alpha wolf routine. He could take Greyback in a fair fight, but that wasn't likely with a monster whose favorite target was children. "Do as you please. Draco?"
Draco waved his wand again. Snape did not recognize the wizard who stepped out. Nor the next one.
As the fifth Death Eater stepped out, Greyback sighed. "All right. We'll wait for the rest of you by the main staircase." He left with the others.
Snape breathed out a sigh of relief. He and Draco exchanged a glance. After five or six more showed up, Snape also directed them to the main stairs.
There was a loud crash that sounded like a body hitting a wall. The Death Eaters in the room looked at each other and then at Draco, who shrugged and waved his wand again. The three that were there went out to see what was happening.
Finally, the last of them had arrived. "This way," Snape said, leading them to the door. He followed them out and watched as a team of Aurors surrounded them.
"You lying blood traitor," Nott said, rushing Draco with his wand, attempting to cast some hex.
Draco was quick enough to cast the shield spell that Potter and he had been working on. Nice to see he'd actually learned something.
One of the Aurors took Nott down without trouble and led him back to the pack of Death Eaters.
Aside from that, the Death Eaters surrendered rather quietly. They were led away after their wands were confiscated and magic-dampening chains were placed around their wrists and necks.
"Well done," Snape said.
Draco frowned. "That was too easy."
"Don't complain," Kingsley said, and then frowned himself. He pulled a mirror from his robe. "Shacklebolt."
It didn't seem possible that a man as dark as Kingsley could go pale, but possible or not, he did.
"We'll be right there," he said grimly after a moment more. "The Ministry is under attack. Most of the employees don't have a clue how do defend themselves."
Snape's stomach dropped. "Bloody Hell! We'll use the Floo in the entrance way." He sent his Patronus to McGonagall as he started down the stairs.
Kingsley and those Aurors not immediately engaged in dealing with the Death Eaters pounded down the stairs after him.
Potter, carrying Godric Gryffindor's sword and his Muggle handgun, met them at the main fireplace, as did McGonagall, Weasley, and Granger. McGonagall unlocked the Floo.
"I've notified the rest of the Order," McGonagall said, scooping up some of the powder. "They will meet us there. I've left Flitwick in charge. He should be here in a moment." McGonagall tossed the powder down and stepped into the flames.
"You two...three," Potter gestured to include Draco along with Weasley and Granger, "are not coming with us. It's too dangerous. I'm serious about this." He nodded to Snape and stepped into the flames.
"Why does he get to decide that?" Draco whined.
"Why don't you get Weasley and Granger to explain it? I don't have time. If you so much as think about stepping foot out of this school, it will cost you a hundred points and detention until the end of the year." Snape wasn't sure that was enough of a deterrent, but it was the best he could come up with on short notice. He threw down the powder and said, "Ministry Atrium."
Draco stared after Snape, infuriated. "How dare they go off and leave us here?"
"My thoughts exactly," Weasley said. "Harry is pushing this too far."
He wanted to ask what it was about, but before he did, Granger smiled that cat-got-the-cream smile.
"They didn't lock the Floo." She pulled her wand and cast "Expecto Patronum!" An otter formed and then took off towards the tower. She sent off two more. And then glanced at Draco and sent off a fourth.
"We can't wait," Draco said. "They can follow us there."
"McGonagall said Flitwick will be here any second." Weasley picked up a handful of powder.
"Right, then. Let's go." Draco picked up his powder. "Ministry offices, level four."
He stepped out of the fireplace and Weasley and Granger followed him.
"Come on," Weasley said, "let's find Harry."
"He's not going to be pleased to see us." Granger didn't seem afraid of that.
Stupid Gryffindors. It was probably a mistake, but Draco followed them anyway. He didn't recognize most of the Death Eaters they slipped by. They should have been at least a little bit familiar and he wondered why they were not.
In the next corridor, they came up on two more Death Eaters, and unfortunately, these two were familiar.
"Why are you with them?" Crabbe demanded from behind a mask.
Fuck. Of the people Draco didn't want to meet, Crabbe and Goyle would be high on his list. He didn't want to hurt them, but he raised his wand and fired a binding hex at them. They both moved for cover in an open doorway, and the spell missed.
Draco had also moved to a doorway a bit farther down the hall, and Granger and Weasley were behind him.
"I can't believe you're a blood traitor," Crabbe screamed at him, his tone ugly, betrayed, as if it really mattered to him.
It annoyed Draco no end. "Oh, please. You don't believe all of that crap." He fired off a Petrificus and managed to get Goyle.
"Of course, I believe in our Lord's work. You deserve to die." Crabbe raised his wand. "Just like they do."
"Stupefy!" Weasley yelled before Crabbe could do more than open his mouth to say the spell.
"Accio Crabbe's wand." It came to Granger's hand. "He probably isn't good enough for wandless magic."
"It's harder when it's a friend." Weasley's tone was comforting.
Draco hated him for that. "Let's get out of here and see if we can find Potter."
They moved on and when they came to a stairway, Weasley pulled Granger to a halt. "I think I'll go find my father."
"I think that's a good idea," Granger said, sounding worried.
"Well, I don't want to find your father." He did not want to deal with any more Weasleys than he was dealing with now.
"I'm going. You can go on or come with us."
"Fine, then. I'll go by myself."
"I don't think that's a good idea." But then, Granger never did.
Draco didn't bother to answer as he stalked off. When he turned the corner, he saw a Death Eater hexing an unarmed wizard. Not very sporting of him, was it? It was too much like hexing rats in a barrel.
"Expelliarmus!" Draco shouted. The Death Eater went flying backward. The other wizard was already dead. Fuck. Draco kept going, hexing anyone in a Death Eater robe without asking for references.
Harry stepped out of the fireplace and was immediately assaulted by the smell of hexes and curses. His scar was burning badly enough for him to notice. Since he'd been using imperfect Occlumency, he felt a certain amount of discomfort, but had been able to mostly ignore it. Now it was fiery hot and there was a definite pull to it. Voldemort was close.
Two Death Eaters saw him and then looked at each other and nodded. They moved in tandem, but not fast enough. Harry threw up a shield. Walking right past them as they tried hex after hex, Harry turned, dropping his shield long enough to cast "Petrificus Totalus" on both of them. He picked up their wands and snapped them, leaving the pieces next to their paralyzed bodies.
The pull from his scar led him to a room right off the Atrium where he'd met Voldemort in his fifth year. Voldemort was there, standing alone. Harry had forgotten how ugly he was, lipless and bald, with black veins running just under his skin. He was the stuff of nightmares and had haunted Harry's for too many years.
The sounds of battle were all around, and Harry blocked the sounds out, concentrating on his quarry. No one around them seemed to notice them. He wondered if Voldemort had done something for that effect. It didn't matter.
"There's no one to save you now," Voldemort said, his tone cold.
"Perhaps I don't need to be saved." Harry put a bit of a warble in his voice. No sense in letting Voldemort know anything was different before it was time.
"We shall see, won't we?" Voldemort smirked. "I don't think you'll need that sword."
Harry felt the sword try to tug out of his hand. He tightened his grip. It wasn't hard to keep a hold of it. The tugging grew harder, and Voldemort looked puzzled and then clearly, he was concentrating harder.
When he judged the pressure enough, Harry smirked. "If you want it that badly, take it." And Harry let go.
Voldemort stumbled, but righted himself, snarling. He raised his wand. "No more politeness for you. You will die. Slowly. Begging for mercy."
"If it's all the same to you, I think I'll pass on that." Harry raised the Muggle handgun and fired several times, hitting Voldemort in the chest. Blood erupted from his wounds, splattering on Voldemort's white robe and the marble floor. Even though Harry'd known it would be red, it was still something of a surprise, as if someone who was so evil shouldn't be even that human.
With a perplexed look on his face, Voldemort looked down at the gushing blood. "You've shot me. How is that possible?"
"Muggle guns don't care about magical shields. All the Horcruxes are gone. And now you will be, too." Harry felt nothing but relief when Voldemort slid to the ground without fanfare, a feeling which intensified when the light finally faded from his red eyes.
An unearthly scream came from behind him and Bellatrix rushed at him, her hands curled into claws. "You killed him, you bastard half-blood. I'll kill you for that!"
Before Harry could react, someone shouted, "Petrificus Totalus." Bellatrix fell over, her mad eyes spitting her rage, but otherwise, she was neutralized. Harry took her wand.
Draco stood in the doorway looking particularly satisfied with himself and fingering his wand. "Part of me wants to cast Cruciatus on her."
"It would be akin to torturing a mad animal. There's no joy in that." Harry handed him her wand.
"There is revenge." Draco broke it into four pieces and tossed it down in front of her.
"It won't be worth it. I promise you that." Harry frowned at him. "I thought I told you to stay at school."
"And why do you think that would make a difference to me? Last time I checked, you were a student just like I am. I've no cause to obey you." But there was a world of questions in that assertion.
Harry wasn't going to go there right now. He toed Voldemort's body with his boot. Dead. Completely dead. He cast Incendiarus, which was a variant of, Incendio, and watched with satisfaction as it consumed the body. All that was left was a pile of greasy ashes.
"He's gone." Snape came to stand beside him, relief evident in his bearing and coming off him in waves.
"Good riddance to bad rubbish." Draco spat on the ashes and ground them beneath the heel of his boot.
"Did all of you come?" Harry asked.
"Apparently detention until the end of school was not enough to deter them." Snape sounded somewhere between amused and furious. Harry had no doubt he'd make good on his threat about the detentions. They all deserved it, too.
"This was too important to miss. Besides, I just saved Potter from my aunt." Draco puffed his chest out.
"You did more than that, didn't you?" Harry said. "Even if you weren't trained for it."
"I think that most of us held our own," Draco said, and there was sincere gratitude in his tone.
"We should see what's happening in the rest of the Ministry," Snape seemed to shake himself from staring at the ashes.
"Yes. I suspect so." Harry heard another scream and a rat ran by. "Petrificus Totalus." He picked the rat up by his tail and it was missing a finger on its paw. "I never got him. Last time. He escaped every time."
"Shall I take him?"
Why was he saying that? Pettigrew was his. Harry glared at Snape.
"He's not your Pettigrew. It wasn't your parents in this timeline."
Closing his eyes, Harry took a breath and handed the rat to Snape. "You're right, of course."
Draco looked on with wide eyes. "You're not him. Who the bloody hell are you then? And why are you helping him?"
"I am Harry Potter --"
"Harry, come quickly! It's Mr Weasley," Hermione called as she raced into the room. Her face was flushed.
"Go," Snape said and Harry followed her out.
She took him up several flights of stairs and around a corner. The office was small, with a big wooden desk dominating it. Arthur Weasley was lying on the floor with Ron holding his hand. But Harry could see that it was already too late.
Harry reached down and gently closed Arthur's eyes. Ron made a keening sound and doubled over, crying.
Harry put his arms around Ron's shoulders, his own eyes stinging. Fuck. He'd liked Arthur. This wasn't fair. Hermione leaned into him, also crying.
It took hours to sort through the carnage. Finally, the members of the Order met in Dumbledore's conference room. Before they could start, Pomfrey came in. Her face told the story before she could utter a word.
"No," McGonagall said softly. "Not now. Not without knowing we've won."
Pomfrey shook her head. "I'm sorry. It was quick. And as painless as it could be under the circumstances."
Harry felt his heart squeeze. He'd known it was coming. But damn, death was never expected. "We should debrief and then we can make arrangements. For everyone we've lost today."
"Harry's right," Snape said, his voice rough.
"What was the final count of our people?" Harry asked. Even if the news was awful, which it was, it would focus them. He wanted to get to the Burrow.
Kingsley wiped a hand over his face, his expression grim. "A hundred and twenty three wizards and witches were killed in the Ministry. There are thirty-two more injured. Twelve critically."
"What of the students who came in with Draco, Hermione and Ron?" Harry asked. He felt responsible for them.
"Of the twenty or so students, there were three injuries. None serious. The Death Eaters seemed not to want to hurt them," Kingsley said, but clearly he was surprised by it. "And they seemed better trained than most of the Ministry people."
"How is that possible?" McGonagall demanded.
Kingsley coughed. "Most of the Ministry personnel weren't able to defend themselves in a duel, and the Death Eaters all knew that."
"That's preposterous! They were all trained in school." Moody's expression was outraged.
"In most cases, that was years ago. The Ministry staff, by and large, doesn't use their wands for more than interoffice memos and stapling spells," Kingsley said, sounding disgusted.
It didn't surprise Harry at all. But it was too late now to do anything about it. "And someone knew that and exploited it."
"What of the Death Eaters?" McGonagall asked.
"All the Death Eaters at Hogwarts were captured without injury to anyone. Twenty of them were captured at the Ministry, and eighteen more were killed there, mostly by the Aurors or the students who came afterward.
"None of the students should have been there. I told them they were not to come." Harry knew he was beating a dead horse at this point, but it annoyed him that they hadn't listened, especially Ron and Hermione.
"Given your own history, you're a fine one to talk." McGonagall's tone was tart and amused, but there was an undertone of deep sadness in it. "Despite disobeying, all of them are going to be given an Order of Merlin, Second Class. Except Mr Malfoy, Mr Weasley and Miss Granger. They will be given a First Class as will you."
Damn. He did not want to be rewarded for killing. But that was another battle he was not even going to try to fight. "When?"
"Probably in the next few days," Kingsley said. "The Minister wants to get on with things as quickly as possible."
"Right. For once I agree with him. We need to start the healing process." It had taken much longer in his time --
He supposed it was time to start thinking of this "now" as his time, and the other timeline as the past. Or something that wasn't his anymore. It didn't hurt as much as it once had to consider it that way.
"Good," Snape was saying. "The Order of Merlin will go a long way towards paving Draco's way in the Wizarding world."
"Not to mention your own," Moody said, snidely.
"I earned it." Snape bared his teeth.
McGonagall cleared her throat. "As acting Headmistress, I'll be canceling classes for the next week to let everyone travel home. There will be many funerals to attend, not the least of which is Albus', which will be in two days."
"Life will go on," Harry said. "I'm going to be leaving as soon as Arthur Weasley's funeral is over this coming weekend."
"You can't just leave like that. We'll need help --"
"From me? A sixteen year old?" Harry hated to have to remind them. He hated the situation he was in. "There is nothing more that Harry Potter can do now. As I've been reminded too many times, I am not even a legal adult."
Moody blinked. "Bloody Hell."
"My sentiments exactly. Which is why I'm going. I can't stay here as a student and continue to act like an adult."
McGonagall nodded. "You're right, of course. You'd have to actually be a student, and follow the rules. As much as I'd like for you to stay to help with the students who will need focus now that they've lost so much, you can't."
"No." Every instinct he had said he should be helping rather than running away, but he couldn't stay at Hogwarts as a student.
"And to make matters more complicated, I'm going to have to get rid of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"Why?" Kingsley asked.
"He's useless. And without Harry to teach the D.A., the students won't have the training they will need to pass their N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s." McGonagall sighed. "What are you planning to do?"
"I expect I'll travel. Not stay in one place for very long." The thought of living out of a suitcase made Harry's stomach twist up. He wanted a home, and something to do every day, not years of travel.
"You still look like a child. A very recognizable child at that." Moody was right about that.
"A glamour?" Harry didn't like the idea of not being himself, but traveling as a child, even a sixteen year old, would be difficult. A glamour made sense.
McGonagall's brow creased. "If you're going to do that, I've got a proposition for you. I still need a new faculty member."
Harry looked at her. "You're joking."
"No. It would allow you to stay here and help us. As an adult."
Harry glanced at Snape who was pointedly not looking at him. He was on his own. "When would I have to decide?"
"Now. I'd like to get rid of Mr Hartford as soon as I can and start the children towards learning something useful in their classes."
"All right, then. Yes. I'll do it." Harry looked at Snape and he was smirking. What was he up to?
"How can a glamour hold for that long? Won't you have to constantly renew it?" Kingsley asked.
Harry explained briefly how the potion and spell functioned. "I can show you how."
"When you've done it, come by and I'll have you demonstrate it for my top team."
"And swear them to secrecy?" Harry didn't plan to tell anyone who he was. It was good enough that the Order, or some of the Order, knew.
"I thought you could demonstrate on one of them."
"Harry Potter can't disappear altogether," Moody said. "People will be concerned."
McGonagall nodded. "You'll have to sit your N.E.W.T.s. You'll need them when you want to be yourself again, someday."
"It's pretty unfair for everyone else. I can get an O on almost every subject without trying."
"How are you at Potions?" Snape asked.
"Good enough to get me into Auror training last time. I expect I could sit a Potions N.E.W.T. and pass without any trouble. Minerva, we can discuss all of this later, can't we?"
She smirked at the use of her first name. "Yes, fine."
"I want to get to the Burrow now." Harry stood. "Severus, are you coming with me?"
"Yes." Snape stood, too.
Harry could feel the eyes on their backs as he and Snape left.
"Mrs. Weasley?" Harry stepped into the kitchen, surprised to find her alone. The funeral had been well-attended.
Molly sniffed wetly, and nodded. "Fleur has been surprisingly helpful with everyone these last few days." She didn't say it as if she minded all that much. "Arthur thought that she and Bill would...."
"I'm so sorry."
"It wasn't your fault. You saved us all from that madman."
Harry shook his head, his chest tightening painfully. "It was my fault. I changed things. I should have known fate wouldn't let me get away --"
"With what? Saving a hundred and fifty children?" Her voice was stern.
"At the price of their parents? They need their parents. Some children lost both in the massacre."
"Some did. It won't be easy for them. But the world will go on. Just like I will."
"No buts, Harry. I believe that every one of the parents lost would have traded their lives for their children's. And I know that Arthur would have done." She sounded so adamant, so sure.
It didn't make it any better. "Everything still happened. Ron and Hermione were still hurt."
"And Ron has found something to compensate him. Severus Snape is in there now, paying a call that he would never have done if Ron hadn't been one of his best students."
It also helped that Severus was attached to him. But she wasn't wrong about Ron being one of his best students. Or how much Severus prized that.
And Molly wasn't done. "Hermione is a war hero. Just like Ron. She developed a spell that's already saved several people. And will no doubt save many others. This, while she was still a teenager. Can you imagine what she will do as an adult?"
Harry felt a bit better and smiled at her. "You know, I should be comforting you."
"You are. As much as I can be comforted. I know it won't be easy, but I'll survive and so will the rest of the Wizarding world."
"I'm leaving tomorrow."
"I know. I'm sorry to see you go. But I understand. I doubt most adults could have fared as well."
"Minerva and Severus helped a lot. I would not have made it without them."
"You'll be back?"
She hugged him. "Stay with us for a week?"
"I will. And thanks."
"For what?" She sounded puzzled.
"For every mum thing you ever did for him, and for me."
"I appreciate that you went with me today," Harry said, handing Severus one of the drinks he'd fixed.
Severus nodded his thanks. "Weasley is one of my students, and I knew Arthur. I was rather shocked that Draco showed up, though."
"That was more than a bit bizarre. I thought they hated each other." But Draco had sounded very sincere as he offered his condolences to Molly. Harry just couldn't figure out why he'd done it.
There was a strange look in Severus' eyes that said he knew something or suspected something. "Perhaps not. They work well together."
Harry could not imagine what, though. "I did notice you put them together a lot."
"Weasley can learn a lot from Draco."
"And the reverse is true as well. Though probably not about potions."
"I expect you're right." Severus stood. "Let's go to bed. Tomorrow will be a long day for you."
"I'm exhausted." Harry punctuated that with a yawn.
"Hopefully not too exhausted." Severus reached for him, kissing him deeply.
Closing his eyes, Harry let the sensations take him. "I'm never that exhausted," he said smiling against Severus' mouth. His sixteen year old body would see to that every time. Not that he was complaining just this minute.
He slid his hands up Severus' chest to his buttons, and started to undo them, one at a time. "I'm in a mood to draw it out."
Severus inclined his head. "As you please."
And so he would. Please Severus. The robe went first, and the shirt followed. Harry pushed him backward until they were at the side of Severus' bed.
"Up," he said, and Severus dutifully sat on the bed. Harry reached for the buttons on his trousers, and opened them, nudging him up so that Harry could pull them off with his pants, but had to stop to take off his boots and socks, first.
Naked and aroused, Severus watched him, waiting.
Without warning, Harry leaned forward and took him into his mouth, swallowing him down. He loved the taste of Severus, the musky smell under his nose. The feel of his hard prick sliding in and out of his throat.
Severus' made a sound that was halfway between a gasp of surprise and a moan. Good enough. It didn't take long for him to be on the brink.
Harry pulled back then. "Accio lubricant."
The jar on the bedside table flew into his hand. The smell of vanilla filled the room when Harry opened the jar and a quick floating spell let him let it go and push Severus' back onto the bed. He coated his fingers, and then slid two into Severus.
"Oh, yes," Severus hissed as Harry worked his fingers into him. He probably didn't need this much preparation, but it was clear he was enjoying it. Giving him pleasure was part of the pleasure.
Before Severus could come, Harry pulled his fingers out.
Severus looked up at him from between his spread, raised thighs. "You're not going to get far dressed like that." His voice was wonderfully breathy.
"I expect not." Harry snapped his fingers and he was naked, too. He rather liked that charm. And by the look of him, Severus did as well.
Harry positioned himself and pushed into Severus' warmth. Oh, it was so good. Felt so right. He was so relieved not to have to give this up.
And then all thought was lost in a blur of sensation, rhythm, and bliss. Harry pumped into him hard, fast, riding the crest, until he couldn't hold on anymore, until the world splintered into shafts of light and he gave himself up to it.
When it was done, they both lay panting, sweat still running into the sheets. Harry was content.
"What will you look like?" Severus asked, turning on his side to look at him.
"Plain, I think. Nothing to attract attention. Maybe older than my real age. Taller for sure. Nothing that will remind you of Harry Potter."
"Your students may recognize your teaching style. Or the way you speak."
"Hermione and Ron might. But most of them have been afraid of me this year."
"And if they ask?"
"I'll deal with it, if and when it comes up." Harry had a bad feeling it might come up sooner than he thought. But he could trust Ron and Hermione to keep it a secret.
"They will be hurt not to have known."
"I know. But it will also serve to set up a distance between us that I'll need to teach them." Harry smiled at Severus. "I'm going to openly court you."
"You're joking. Why would you do that?"
"Because I can. I'm tired of having to hide. Besides, we're not going to be able to suddenly be having an affair. We won't know each other."
"Point. And it might be amusing to be courted. Though we'll have to be discreet."
"Of course. It will be so good to be an adult again. I'm wholly sick of being a teenager." But instead of wishing he was back in his own time, he was glad that he was here. He no longer wanted to go back. That brought him up short. When had he stopped missing the past?
Severus laughed and slid a hand down their bodies to stroke his once-again hard prick. "No more?" Snape asked when Harry didn't respond to the play.
"No." Harry pulled away.
"What? What's wrong?"
How could he explain that he liked this Severus better? That this Severus was less damaged, more aggressive, and more his equal. "I guess I'm feeling guilty."
Severus raised an eyebrow and waited. Letting Harry find the words.
"You're my Severus now. And he's...."
"Part of the past?" Severus' eyes glowed with pleasure.
Harry nodded. "Even if I'm going to have some problems with it. Even if I have to hide my true self for a while, it's still my time now."
"Then your guilt is useless. Discontinue it."
That was easier said than done. Harry sighed. "I have come full circle, haven't I? I'll be teaching at Hogwarts and involved with you again. And trying to help rebuild our world."
"Just the thing for a noble Gryffindor such as yourself."
Harry wasn't quite sure if that was a complement or an insult. With this Severus, he wasn't always sure. It added spice to their relationship. "You bet it is," he murmured and snuggled closer to Severus.
The next morning Harry hefted his pack and kissed a still-sleeping Severus. He wasn't going to be gone very long and it had been a late night.
"When will you be back?" Severus asked, stretching and rolling over.
Harry smiled, admiring the naked flesh. "Late today. I'm going to Floo from Rosmerta's to London and then buy a Portkey to the U.S. I'll change there and buy another back to London and then take the train up with the returning students this afternoon."
Severus sat up, and pulled him in for a last kiss.
Harry walked up the stone steps of the dungeon and into the main hall. It was still too early for any of the students who had stayed this past week to be up.
As he went out, he paused on the top step to breathe in the cool morning air. The door behind him opened and Flitwick came to stand beside him.
"It was the mirror, wasn't it?"
"Very good. I thought you might figure it out." If anyone was going to, Flitwick had the intelligence to do so.
"Drove me mad until I did. I can't stand it when the puzzle pieces don't fit. How long? It must have been at least ten years. Though I'm not sure how."
"I'm not sure how either. At this point, I guess it doesn't matter. And it was twenty years."
Flitwick whistled through his teeth. "Sweet Merlin. I'll wager you're quite the duelist."
"Pity we'll never get to test that."
"It would have been interesting." Harry made a split second decision. "Maybe you'd enjoy a duel with the new Defense teacher."
Flitwick looked up at him, speculation in his eyes. "When will he be arriving?"
"Soon, I think."
"I'll speak with him about it. What was his name again?"
"Pennington. Ashton Pennington. I think he'll answer to Ash."
As Harry went down the steps, the sun came up over the trees.
4/3/06 - 3/31/07
**I call my ancestral dagger to me as heir to Gryffindor