Chapter 1: Through Clouds Descending
Potter lay on his face as Weasley Tertius thrust into him, wishing Weasley were someone else. Or he was, he wouldn't have minded which. He didn't mind the other things Weasley asked him to do - maintain his broom, make tea, clean his boots - but this...fucking...business just bored him. His position as head boy's fag gave him a few advantages - mostly somewhere to go when Lockwood was on the warpath - but there were disadvantages. Potter rather envied his friend Weasley Sextus his position as fag for Lockwood. Lockwood was the biggest bully in the school, but Weasley Sextus had a much more interesting sex life.
At last Weasley Tertius stiffened and Potter felt the fluid soothe him. He kissed Potter's shoulder, patted him rather as if he were a dog, and pulled out. "Done your prep?" Weasley asked. Typical of him.
"Yes, Percy." Well, he had done most of it, the hard parts, Potions and Greek. He only had to finish Herbology.
"Good lad." Weasley sat up. "Just think, Potter. You won't be a fag much longer."
"I won't?" Despite his boredom this wasn't welcome news and Potter knew his horror must show.
"Of course not; this year I leave, and next year's fifths will choose from the first years. Even if there aren't enough to go round they won't make a fourth year fag. They can't. Wonder which poor unfortunate bastard'll get Quintus and Quartus."
By this, Weasley Tertius meant his twin brothers, Fred and George. Potter felt a bit sorry for the lad, whoever he was. Quintus and Quartus made both his and Sextus' lives hell on a regular basis, until it was worth - more than worth - Weasley's attentions to get away from them.
"Mind you..." Weasley started to pull his trousers on. "You are good and I suppose one of the masters might want you. I hear Snape's boy's leaving."
Potter sat up. He felt his hands grow cold. "Snape? But wouldn't he want a Slytherin?"
"No. He never has one of his own house - or so I've always been told. And he doesn't like first years, he likes them broken in a bit. You'd suit him nicely."
He really hadn't meant any harm to his cousin, it had been a genuine accident, but Potter knew why his Uncle Vernon had sent him to this school. It didn't take a genius, after all. Potter would be at Hogwarts, this mausoleum of the unwanted, until he was eighteen. There were no holidays. Weasley Sextus went home at Christmas and in the summer, and the masters had time off now and again, though what any of them did with it was a mystery. But not him.
"Potter!" Lockwood pounced on him as soon as he arrived in the Gryffindor common room. "Well, if it isn't creepy little Potter, the Head Boy's precious pet."
"I'll tell Weasley." Potter struggled to free himself from Lockwood's grip.
"I'm sure you will, but after the event isn't much use. Kneel down." Lockwood shook him. "Kneel! Good boy. Don't move."
Potter gritted his teeth and tried not to wonder what Lockwood had planned for him. He looked around, trying not to be too obvious about it. He could see Quintus and Quartus, they were laughing at something Jordan had said. That was a small relief; he hoped they wouldn't get bored and join in. Longbottom looked as if he was trying to be inconspicuous, the black eye he sported could be down to Lockwood, but was more likely to be the result of the twins' attentions. His eye caught that of Weasley Sextus; Sextus was white, his freckles stood out like full stops. That didn't bode well, and he shivered.
"Potter? Harry?" There was a voice and Potter wished it would go away. He wanted to go back to wherever it was he'd been resting. "Harry?" It came again, and Potter opened his eyes, unwillingly. Weasely Sextus was standing over him. "Are you all right?"
He meant to say 'Yes, Ron,' but all that came out was a groan.
"I told my brother," said Weasley.
Potter tried to sit up, but his right
arm wouldn't hold him and he collapsed back down. "Oh! Ouch!" His voice sounded funny, too.
"Madam Pomfrey says your arm's broken," said Weasley. "She's given you something for it. She says you'll be better by tomorrow." Potter nodded to show he'd understood. "I'm really sorry," said Weasley.
"You couldn't have done anything." Again, Potter's voice came out scratchy. He remembered Lockwood had put something round his neck. "Did he hang me?" he asked.
"Yes. But Wood came along, and stopped him. Hit him really hard." Weasley rather worshipped the Quidditch captain, and it showed. "He said nobody was going to strangle his Seeker. Lockwood said he didn't care what Wood thought, and they had a fight." It must have been a good one if the expression on Weasley's face was anything to go by.
"I say," said Weasley Tertius. "I'm sorry I didn't get there quicker. Wood beat me to it, he heard the noise."
"I wish I wasn't so small," said Potter. He was in Weasley Tertius' study, making his tea; only the Head Boy and the Prefects had studies. "Then maybe Lockwood wouldn't choose me."
"If it wasn't that, it would be something. Lockwood's just like that."
"Here's your toast." Potter handed it to him.
"It would help if you didn't burn it," said Weasley, but he didn't sound angry. "Is there jam?"
"Um...yes, a bit. And here's your tea."
"Pour yourself some. And don't take all the jam, you little beasts are all the same." Weasley put his tea on the desk. "Did you miss many lessons?"
"Potions, but Snape was away, Greek and Herbology."
"Make sure you catch up. I talked to Lockwood, but I don't know how much good it'll do. Well, talked is probably the wrong way of putting it as for part of our interview he was facing away from me, at my request."
"Good." Potter brightened a little. The idea that Lockwood had been beaten by a Prefect, like a first or second year, cheered him immensely. On the other hand, "Weasley...?"
"Hmmm?" Weasley had opened his Latin text and was frowning at it.
"About Professor Snape..."
Potter came into the Great Hall for breakfast the next day; the first thing he saw was Professor Snape. He stood behind his place until the order was given to sit, but even when they were told they could start to eat he wasn't sure he wanted to. Truth was, Snape terrified him and always had; Potter supposed it was connected with the jolt of pain he'd felt in his scar the very first time he'd ever set eyes on the man.
And yet... Some of the masters - and Filch the caretaker - routinely used cane or strap to enforce discipline. Snape never needed to. As far as Potter could knew he'd never laid a finger on any of the boys, certainly not on him, but he had a way of making any miscreant feel that they would prefer to be in one of his horrible glass jars.
The summer passed as slowly as they always did, and nothing happened. Potter wondered if he would be better off with his Uncle and Aunt, but then he remembered his Uncle's cruel belt, his Aunt's disapproval, the silence round the dinner table, the cupboard he'd lived in until he turned eleven.
He knew that however bored he might be, however much he resented spending warm summer mornings learning Latin verb tenses or the many uses of fire lizard brains, it could be worse. There were days - many of them - when he dreamed of discovering he was the son of some foreign prince, and was taken away from this place to live with people who loved and wanted him. But he knew this delightful vision was merely that. A vision. He was Harry Potter who knew nothing about his parents other than that their last name was Potter and whose only living relations wouldn't have him in their home and thought him capable of murder.
He went back to his list of lizard brain uses and substituted his American millionaire fantasy for his foreign prince fantasy. The plot was basically the same, he just changed
The lesson ended at last, and the class was dismissed. Potter headed towards his dormitory to put away his books, but was stopped suddenly in his tracks. It was Snape. Potter jerked himself out of his dream world and waited.
Snape stared at him for a moment as if assessing him, and then said, "My rooms. Six."
Potter said, "Yes, sir." There was no point pretending he didn't understand.
He stopped outside Snape's rooms. They were on a dungeon corridor, dank and dark with just a couple of torches burning. Nobody in the common room had asked where he was going. With Weasley Sextus home for the summer, nobody cared.
Potter remembered that when he'd been sent to school his Uncle had just been about to have electric light installed. He supposed it must have been done by now and he wondered what it was like. Hogwarts didn't even have gas; had been boiling hot outside but the dungeon was freezing. He knocked. Before he could do so a second time the door opened and Snape stood back to let him enter.
He'd never been in Snape's rooms; he'd never been in the private rooms of any of the masters. He looked around, curiously. The study was big, bigger than he had expected. Beyond, through a set of open double doors, he could see a workroom. It was rather like Snape's classroom, which was the other side of the corridor, but somewhat smaller. The study had stone walls lined with shelves, and these were piled with books and scrolls. No potions ingredients, he supposed they must be in the workroom.
Snape was looking at him, brow quirked curiously, but he didn't say anything. He closed the door behind Potter and locked it, casually setting a charm to make sure it stayed locked.
"You know why you're here?" Snape asked.
"You've...chosen...me. Percy... Weasley Tertius... warned me you might."
"He recommended you."
Oh. That was what they had agreed, but it was surprising to be told.
"My rules are quite simple," said Snape. "These are my rooms, and you can come and go as you please. I think you will find that none of the other boys with bother you while you're under my protection but one never knows. In return you will please me to the best of your ability. Understand?"
Potter nodded. Pretty much what he'd had with Percy.
"Be clear on this: I will not be made sport of. If you drag me into any silly jokes or presume too much, I will beat you. Is that acceptable?"
Potter nodded again.
"What if I say it's not?" Potter asked.
"Then you leave and I choose someone else."
"Oh." Potter had expected to be told that he didn't have a choice. Lockwood had left, but he thought of Barnes and Chalfont, of Malfoy, of Weasley Sextus' two brothers, of Crabbe and Goyle. "Then I accept," he said.
"Yes, the school is rather like that."
Potter must have looked surprised, he'd never thought that any of the masters had noticed the things which went on.
"Don't imagine we are all fools," said Snape. "This way."
Potter followed him through another door, which Snape also shut behind them. This room proved to be dominated by a large four-poster bed with plain dark blue curtains. Potter got a confused impression of comfort and light, and an open fire despite the summer.
Potter felt Snape take him by the arm and turn him round. He looked up into black eyes, and then felt Snape's hands on his shoulders. They slid down to his arms and then to his waist. For a moment he wondered what Snape intended but realised just before their lips touched.
Weasley had never kissed him, but he remembered Weasley Sextus saying that Lockwood was much addicted to it. Potter opened his mouth, remembering what Weasley had said - if Weasley was anything other than completely compliant Lockwood would beat him.
It was...an amazing feeling, and Potter closed his eyes to enjoy it more. He moaned, softly, and raised his arms to put them round Snape's neck. Snape pulled away.
"You are affectionate..." he said.
"Is that bad?" asked Potter, unable to tell from Snape's tone.
"No. Merely unexpected."
Snape manoeuvred him to the bed without breaking contact. Potter pulled away, "Shall I take my clothes off?" he asked. Weasley had always required that he strip himself.
"No," said Snape. "I do that...when I'm ready."
"Oh." They went back to kissing. This was not the tolerant but bored compliance he'd offered Weasley. It was clear to Potter, even through his lust fogged haze, that he was no longer a passive vessel, he was part of this, this was part of him. He felt Snape's hands on his body, wanted them to touch his skin.
"Please..." he murmured.
Snape raised one eyebrow. "Impatient," he said.
He felt Snape's hands at the fastenings of his robes, and breathed in, softly. Snape's hands warmed his flesh, he felt them touch his chest, and rub over his nipples. It made him groan out loud. Snape reached for his glasses and removed them.
Snape gave a wordless 'Hm?' of enquiry.
"I want to touch you."
"If you like."
Potter hadn't expected that, Weasley hadn't liked any kind of reciprocation. He watched as Snape stripped wondering what his body would be like. Strong, well kept, smooth but very pale. Snape looked as if he'd never spent a day in sunlight, which was probably not far from the truth. Snape indicated Potter should get into bed; the bed was soft, a wild contrast to the hard cot Potter was used to. Potter held out a hand, and Snape lay on him, warm and heavy. It felt good, incredibly so, both the bed beneath him and the man above. He wasn't used to good feelings and he wriggled closer to get more of it. Snape kissed him again and he moaned, softly.
Potter didn't know what Snape used to open him up. Weasley had always used spit and it wasn't that. Whatever Snape had on his fingers it was very slippery, not greasy but wet and it worked extremely well, which spit hadn't. He yelped in surprise when Snape touched something within him which sent a burst of feeling through his body.
"You like that?" Snape asked.
"Yes... Oh, please. Yes." It happened again, and again, and Potter cried out, a long wordless wail he heard himself give with astonishment. He hadn't thought himself capable of a noise like that. "Oh, please," he said, again.
Snape manoeuvred him so that he was lying on his back with his legs on Snape's shoulders, his body supported on a feather pillow. He looked up at the oddly foreshortened angle of Snape's face, like the statuary with cluttered the corridors of the castle and tried not to smile.
"Don't touch yourself, don't cover your face," Snape said.
Potter nodded and lay on his hands to prevent temptation. He was expecting penetration to be painful, it always had been before. It wasn't. Snape's prick touched that extraordinary place inside him and he felt his mouth fall open. It happened again and he curled his hands into fists under him, feeling the nails dig in. The slight pain kept him centred until Snape took hold of his prick and started to pump it in time with his thrusts. Potter had occasionally done that to himself but no-one had done it to him before and it was quite different.
That was his one coherent thought before pleasure hit him.
He opened his eyes to find Snape lying beside him; his expression appeared faintly amused and Potter felt himself blush to the roots of his hair. Potter said, "Did I... was I all right?"
"You did very well."
"I wish you were that talented with Potions - but I suppose we can't have everything."
Potter sighed. He had wondered if part of their bargain would be trying harder at his most hated subject. What he said was, "Can I stay?"
"Of course. I said you can come and go as you please."
"Can I ask you something?"
"If you wish. What do you want to know?"
"Do... do all the masters have boys like me?"
"Most of them. Why?" Snape sounded a little surprised.
"Just wondered. The Headmaster, too?"
"Yes," said Snape. "His is Diggory."
Potter thought for a moment. Yes, he remembered. Hufflepuff prefect, doe eyed with perfect skin.
Snape's brow creased slightly. "Yes, his is Shaunessy," he said. Potter recalled a very elegant blue-eyed Ravenclaw with golden hair. Snape went on, "McGonagall's always had very good taste."
"Professor Black?" Secretly, Potter rather fancied Professor Black.
"Actually, no. He's entirely taken up with Mr Lupin, so obviously Lupin doesn't have one either." Snape paused, then said, "Black and Lupin are rather strange, and I advise you to steer clear of them."
"Oh." Potter lay back and closed his eyes. He moved closer in the bed to the warmth of Snape's body. He didn't open his eyes so he couldn't be entirely sure if he was right, but the movement next to him felt like surprise.
The day term started again, he found Weasley Sextus waiting for him in the Gryffindor common room. "Where have you been?" Weasley asked. "I got back ages ago."
Potter looked around. "Come up to the dormitory."
"We're not supposed to be up there during the day."
"First day - nobody's looking."
"Very well." Weasley followed him up the stairs. "What is it?" he said, as soon as they were alone.
"You know some of the masters have... boys."
"Yes, maidens they call them. Perce told me."
Potter took a deep breath. "I'm Snape's."
Weasley looked round-eyed. "Malfoy's going to hate that. He was sure Snape was going to choose him."
"What made him think that? Housemasters never choose boys in their own house."
"You know what Malfoy's like, thinks the rules don't apply to him. Stuck up little snot." Weasley grinned. "It's a good move, Potter, the masters can give you a leg up. You should have made it the Headmaster, though. I've got news, too."
"I've got a girlfriend."
"Ron!" Potter paused. "Honestly?"
"Yes, honestly. Her name's Hermione Granger and she goes to Hogwarts girls - you know, our sister school that the Headmaster talks about sometimes. She's very clever."
"Is she pretty?" Potter knew no girls, only to be expected shut up in a boys' school all year round, and he was curious.
"Very. I got a picture, look."
Potter took the photo. The girl had a lot of fluffy hair and rather large teeth, but she did look pretty.
"I've even kissed her," said Weasley, proudly. "She said I was a really good kisser." He stopped. "Mind you, I should be after all the practise I had with Lockwood. Does Snape kiss you?"
"Ugh! That must be..."
"I... It's rather nice. I don't mind."
"Potter, I've always thought you were strange, but now I know you are." Weasley sounded quite proud of the fact. "Come on, we best get out of here before someone finds us."
The first evening of term started with a feast; it was one of the few meals where they were allowed to talk, and the noise was ear-splitting. Potter had moved up the Gryffindor table to the fourth years position, and had taken the opportunity to sit where he could see Snape. Snape's attention was entirely taken up with Professor Black sitting on his right hand side and it was some time before he noticed. As soon as he'd been seen Potter gave him a half smile and then looked away. Weasley made a moue and Potter grinned but shook his head. The rest of the fourth year boys - the ones who noticed - looked perplexed. Potter looked at Snape again; the man looked grim and he looked down at his plate. The food was better than normal, but suddenly he wasn't hungry.
Potter entered Snape's rooms, not allowing himself to slow down. Snape was sitting behind his desk, writing. "It's you," he said, almost as if he had expected it to be someone else.
"Er... Yes," said Potter. He closed the door behind him, locked it, and set the spell. "I thought I'd get it over with."
Snape put the pen down. "It should really be Weasley, he was the one trying to be funny. I trust you will make it clear to him what his little display cost you."
That didn't sound good and Potter stayed silent.
"Go into the bedroom and undress. Then come back here."
Potter obeyed. When he got back to the study he found that the desk had been cleared of all objects and papers.
"Now bend over the desk. Yes, but put your head on your hands and open your legs a little wider. Remember that, Potter. In future I will expect you to automatically take the correct position."
It was cold and Potter shivered a little while he waited for the first blow. When it came it was a shock, harsh and heavy, more so than the occasional beating he'd been given by the prefects and that once by Professor Sinistra for dropping his astrolabe. He was given eight, exactly the same as the first. Potter hadn't seen what he was using, but it felt like the strap Uncle Vernon had always used.
He stood up when Snape indicated he could. To his surprise, the expression in the man's eyes wasn't triumph, or sorrow, or even lust. It was respect. Potter looked down, he could feel tears threatening; he was afraid Snape would think it was at the beating.
Snape said, "Go to bed, Potter."
"May I stay here?"
Snape looked surprised. "If you wish," he said.
Potter had been asleep, but he woke up as he felt Snape get into bed. He sighed and moved closer, and Snape pulled him into his arms.
Snape said, "You're a brave boy."
"Been beaten before," protested Potter. "You're different though. You like me. Nobody else likes me enough to give me rules."
Just before he slipped into sleep Potter distinctly heard Snape say, "You are the oddest boy," in a soft, wondering voice.
Potter just made it to breakfast on time, and then he had to collect his books. Transfiguration was over before they could talk.
Weasley said, "You were with him, weren't you?"
"Yes," said Potter. "Ron, please, you mustn't draw our... what I am to him to anyone's attention, not in public. Ever. He doesn't like it."
"What do you mean?"
"I'll show you. Come on." They ducked into a lavatory, and Potter locked the door behind them. "Ready?" He picked up his robe and turned round. "Look."
"Harry!" Weasley rarely used his given name, and that he did so now was enough to indicate his horror. "He did that to you?"
"Is it bad?"
"Quite bad, yes. You could go and see Pomfrey." Weasley reached out and touched it.
"Did that hurt? Sorry."
"It's not that. I don't want to show this to Madam Pomfrey - what'll she think?"
"That one of the masters has beaten his boy again. My eldest brother was Sprout's, Bill told me he used to take what Sprout did to him to Pomfrey all the time."
"Well, I don't want her to see this." Potter sighed, "I don't want her to think Snape's cruel."
"But he is."
"No. I disobeyed, and he beat me. It's what we agreed. Besides, I've had worse from my Uncle."
Weasley looked even more horrified.
"Ron! I can stop this any time I want to. But if I go to him it's on his terms."
"What about yours?"
"What about them?"
Potter had always known Malfoy loathed him, but didn't understand why. After all, what did he have that Malfoy, with his wealthy family, could envy? Or, at least, there had been nothing until now. Now there was... what he was... to Professor Snape.
Luckily Gryffindors had only two subjects with the Slytherins. Less fortunately these were Care of Magical Creatures with the gamekeeper and Potions under the eye of Professor Snape himself. Care of Magical Creatures was a misfortune because though Hagrid tried hard he simply wasn't a very talented teacher, and the nature of the class meant that there was ample opportunity for Malfoy to hiss obscenities. Potter was sure Hagrid heard a few, but other than a creased brow he said nothing.
Care of Magical Creatures was their last class of the day on Tuesday, and when he'd dismissed the rest Hagrid invited Potter and Weasley to his cabin for a cup of tea. Thankful to see the back of the Slytherins, they went.
Hagrid handed them their tea, and passed round little chocolate cakes in paper which made a change from the rock cakes he'd plied them with last year. Potter bit into one. They were not much nicer, he decided, chewing determinedly, but they were sweet and he ate sweet things so rarely perhaps he wasn't much of a judge. Still, it was extra food and that was good.
"What's got into you and Malfoy?" Hagrid asked.
"What do you mean?"
"If he'd said them things last year you'd have knocked his block off. So what's got into him that he's saying 'em now and why are you letting him?"
Potter sighed. Was he going to have to tell everyone? He exchanged glances with Weasley. He said, "Promise you won't interfere?"
"You know me."
Potter did, which was why he'd asked. "I'm... Malfoy's jealous."
"What's he got to be jealous of you about?" Hagrid looked pointedly at Potter's rather ragged old robe.
For a moment Hagrid looked blank. Then he said, "Oh." And then, "I get it." He took a swallow of tea. "Look," then he sighed, which from him was a gust of wind indeed. "I'll make no secret of it. I don't like what goes on in this here school and if I hadn't made a promise to someone who's dead, I wouldn't stay. I'd rather Snape had Malfoy instead of you - you're a good lad."
"Snape's... not bad. Really. I don't mind."
"You shouldn't have to."
"I don't have to." Potter spoke more sharply than he intended. "If I went to him tomorrow and said I wanted to stop he'd let me. But if I did I don't think he'd choose Malfoy. He'd pick Weasley here before he chose Malfoy."
Weasley sprayed tea over the table. "You won't, will you?" he said when he'd stopped choking. "Finish with him, I mean."
"When hell freezes over, Ron. You can rest easy."
"You mean that, don't you?" Weasley said, when they were on their way back up to the school.
"I'm afraid I do."
Potions was pure torture. Potter chose a place as far from the Slytherins as he could get short of being in another room and tried to concentrate on his own work. Weasley changed places to stand beside him. Potter saw Snape note the new seating arrangements, but he made no comment.
In class Snape seemed to favour the Slytherins as he always had; however he made no mention whatsoever of the condition of Potter and Weasley's over-thickened Bouncing Broth. Instead he pounced on Longbottom's, which was far too runny. Longbottom's eyes slid towards Potter as if begging him for help, and Potter gave him a smile, the best he could do in the circumstances.
As they crossed the courtyard Longbottom caught up with them. "How do you stand him?" he asked.
"Does the whole school have to know?" said Potter, quiet but very fierce.
"I share your dormitory - when you sleep there, which isn't often." Longbottom lowered his voice, "Keep him happier, maybe he'd lay off a bit."
"I doubt it," said Potter.
"Go fuck your mother," said Weasley.
"Can't," said Longbottom. "She's in an asylum."
Potter and Weasley exchanged glances as they watched Longbottom go. "Did you know about that?" asked Weasley.
"First I've heard of it," said Potter. He scratched his chin. "Explains a lot, though."
Mr Lupin always looked so tired, thought Potter, watching him over a tank containing a grindylow. He taught Dark Arts, mostly concentrating on dark creatures. Potter got good marks, always, but he didn't like the classes. For some reason they frightened him.
Mr Lupin leaned against the teachers' lectern and went on, "And that brings us to werewolves. If you recall - and I'm sure most of you don't - I asked you to prepare this lesson last week."
One of the boys put in, "How are you going to catch one of them, sir?" There was a general laugh.
"I don't need to, Thomas," said Lupin. "I am one."
Potter laughed, he couldn't help it, and Lupin's eyes went cold. Potter swallowed. Lupin said, "See me after class." He then went on, "Turn to page 374 in your texts. Now, who can tell me how the werewolf can be recognised when in wolf form?" He waited. "Come on! I can't transform at will, unfortunately. So you're going to have to tell me from the text. Unless of course one of you did your prep."
Potter raised his hand.
"Sir, the snout of the werewolf..." He had prepared the lesson. If nothing else, Snape made sure his whore didn't let him down in class.
Lupin looked pleased in a Lupinish way, which mean simply that he looked momentarily less tired. "Good, Potter," he said. He was one of the few masters who ever handed out praise of any kind.
In fact, Potter thought, now that Lupin's attention had moved on, the masters were a miserable lot; the Headmaster dressed in grey, with skin and hair to match - he didn't envy Diggory his place in the man's bed. McGonagall looked like a disappointed Scottish poet, all bones and nose. Professor Black had a vampiric look with eyes the colour of a stormy day. Hooch looked like a moulting vulture, Sprout was moulding and Snape looked like the personification of misery most of the time. In his case, looks didn't lie and Potter was surprised that even Malfoy envied him - unless he was after Potter's new clothes, which didn't seem likely.
Longbottom wanted to ask Mr Lupin a question, so Potter hung back. Lupin was always exquisitely dressed, but today's robe, bronze and black with a dull sheen, was quite the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen the man wear. His own new robes looked the same dull black as all the others, it was only in touching or wearing them that the differences became apparent, the feel of the cloth, the way it swung around him.
With Longbottom gone, Lupin turned to him. "Potter," he said, and sighed. He picked up a quill and wrote something on a sheet of parchment, then sealed it. "Give this to Professor Snape."
Potter took it. "I'm sorry," he said. "I wasn't laughing at you."
Lupin looked curious. "Do go on; what did you find so amusing?"
"They all looked so surprised. As if you'd hit them over the head with something."
Lupin smiled, "They did, didn't they?" Then he sobered. "Try to control your inappropriate sense of humour, Potter."
Snape looked up as he came in, but went back to writing as soon as he closed the door. "You're earlier than usual," Snape said.
"Finished my essay. I went to the common room but Quartus and Quintus were there setting light to the curtains. So we had a fight and they threw me out. I've got a note for you from Lupin."
"Oh, I see," said Snape. He took the note and read it. "Were you insolent?"
"I'm afraid I was, rather. I've apologised."
"So I should hope. He is after all a master here." Snape picked up a quill and wrote swiftly. As he did so he said, "Take this back to him. I've asked him to find some suitable punishment for you. I shall be interested to hear what he comes up with."
"You hate him," said Potter. "Don't you?"
"He's an inadequate, both as a teacher and as a person. But no, I don't hate him." Snape handed Potter the note, and took up his quill again.
"What are you doing?" Potter didn't want to talk about his own troubles.
"For our families?"
Potter was surprised. "Why?"
"The Ministry keeps tabs on everyone, Potter."
"Everyone. Except for the Dark Lord himself, I would imagine he's immune. But yes, me too."
"Who writes the report on you?" Potter strolled over and leaned against the desk.
"The Headmaster... Malfoy's father. Lupin."
"Is that why you suck up to Malfoy and hate Lupin?"
"I should never have encouraged you to ask questions," said Snape.
The truth was that fights always left Potter feeling restless and uncomfortable. He asked, "Did you know Lupin's a werewolf? Oh, you did. Is that why you told me to stay away from him?"
"I... No that isn't the reason."
"Because he's a Ministry spy, then?" Potter strolled over to the bookshelves and looked at the titles.
"Partly, but not exactly. Why are we talking about him?"
Potter wasn't listening. "I'm curious," he said. "Do you know of a potion which will make scars go away?"
"Depends on the scar."
Potter turned around. "This one on my head. I'm sick of it. Quintus calls me scarhead, like I wanted it. And... Sometimes it hurts for no reason. I want it to stop."
"Let me see."
Potter went to him, felt the soft fingers trace the curiously shaped mark which came from just under his hairline to just over one eye, forking over his forehead like lightning.
"How long have you had it?"
"I've always had it. My Aunt Petunia told me I had it when they found me. I mean... found me sounds like they came across me abandoned at a railway station or something like that."
"So what did happen?"
"Some man left me at a workhouse with a letter saying who my relatives were. Nothing else.
So Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had to pay to get me back and things went downhill from there. I was only a baby, so I don't remember anything about it." He waited for a little longer and then asked, "What about the scar?"
"I'm not sure."
"But what do you think? Can you remove it?"
"I don't think so. I'm sorry."
Potter leaned against Snape, resting his forehead on one shoulder. "Thought not. Never mind." He sighed. "Will you... Will you fuck me?" He had never asked before.
"If you like." Snape sounded surprisingly unsurprised.
"I just want to not think for a while. Being fucked is good for that. Better than Quidditch, even."
"I was never that good at Quidditch anyway," said Snape.
Potter kissed him. "But you fuck like a demon," he said.
Quartus and Quintus were waiting for him next time he went to the common room, "Sorry we hit you," said Quintus.
"Oh?" Potter was immediately suspicious, it wasn't like them to apologise. Whatever they had done they were usually supremely indifferent.
"Yes," said Quartus. "Very."
"What do you want?" Potter asked, wary.
"Why should we want anything? We're just sorry we beat up an old friend-"
"We have never been friends," said Potter. "Ron is my friend. What do you want?"
"There was something-"
"How did I guess? Well? What do you want me to steal from Snape's stores?"
"Bright boy!" said Quintus.
"Not really. So far I've had five Slytherins, two Hufflepuffs and a Ravenclaw ask me the same. Mostly for hemp - they smoke it - but one of the Slytherins wanted powdered dragon shit. Merlin knows what sort of hangover that would have given him. So? What are you two after?"
Quintus produced a slip of parchment. "This," he said.
Potter took it and read down the list. "Not bloody likely," he said. "This stuff's dangerous, I should think. Manticore teeth, yeti fur...ugh!...scrotum of pantire demon." He rolled up the scrap of parchment. "I think not."
"You did it for the others."
"Did I say that?" Potter looked them up and down. "I'd have to be insane to steal from Snape. You want this, you get it."
"We'll tell... about you and him."
"Please do. If you can find someone who doesn't already know." Potter turned on his heel and went up the stairs to the dormitory.
Weasley Sextus looked surprised to see him. "You all right?"
"Yes, why wouldn't I be?" Potter grinned, "Your brothers tried to blackmail me."
"Shits," said Weasley. "Both of them. How's Snape?"
Potter answered the unasked question first. "Gone off somewhere for the night. Otherwise he's tall, dark and brooding, same as always." Potter looked down and noticed he'd still got the scrap of parchment. He sat on the bed and dropped it into a drawer, he'd give it back to them later. Slowly, he unfastened his robe. He could sleep in Snape's bed, but somehow didn't like to when Snape wasn't there, and anyway he'd wanted to talk to Weasley.
"What is your... underwear... made of?" Weasley asked, then looked embarrassed to have been caught watching.
Potter looked down at his under robe. "Silk," he said.
"Black silk? And your drawers as well?"
"Snape's got a fancy for it." He saw Weasley's smirk. "Ron! I can't tell you what goes on in his mind, I just have to wear it."
"Looks good. Wonder if I can get Hermione some when I marry her." Weasley lay back.
"I didn't know you were that serious."
"I think so. Besides I don't know any other girls. Does Snape buy all your clothes?"
"Explains a lot."
Potter smiled, briefly. "Explains why I don't go around in rags any more, you mean."
"D'you think he'd buy me some?"
"Offer to suck his cock for him and find out."
"You don't! Do you? With him?" Weasley sounded horrified.
"Of course I do. Didn't Lockwood make you?"
"No? Percy didn't much care for it, either. But Snape... he's different. I don't mind."
"But he's so... Greasy."
"Is he?" Potter didn't think of Snape in those terms. He got into bed and stared up into the darkness. "Where are the other three?" Belatedly Potter had realised he and Weasley were alone in the dormitory.
"Detention. Longbottom knocked over one of the suits of armour and a poleaxe hit Professor Vector. So he's taken them up to the top of the astronomy tower. Finnegan's with them because he laughed and because Vector's trying to get his hand up Finnegan's robe, which is also why it's detention and not a beating, and Thomas because he was just... well... there."
Silence for a short while, then Potter said, "Ron... did you know they used to teach Divination here?"
"No, what would be the point of that? Anyway, how did you find out?"
"Snape's got a copy - an original copy not the version that's in the library - of 'Hogwarts, A History' in his study. It was in there. And there used to be girls, it wasn't always two separate schools."
"Weird. Anything else?"
"It wasn't always under direct Ministry control. The Headmaster used to be able to decide what to teach."
"I suppose so." Potter closed his eyes. It was odd, though.
Professor Black fixed the class with his peculiar pale stare. "Curses," he said, "are the province of executioners, inquisitors and the Dark Lord himself. However, it is important that you know them, or know of them, know how they work and can use them should the Dark Lord require you to participate in his Great Work. I therefore have to teach them to you."
Potter swallowed, suddenly afraid, though he didn't know what of.
Professor Black produced a box and from inside it he pulled a white mouse. This he placed on the table, were it stood for a moment seemingly too surprised to move. He pointed his wand at it and said, "Crucio!" His voice was harsh, strange. The mouse, which had started to move, stopped, its spine bent backwards in a bow, and it uttered a thin scream. Potter swallowed, he felt sick. After a few moments Black lowered his wand. The mouse collapsed, its tiny chest heaving rapidly. "That is the Cruciatus curse. Any volunteers?" said Black.
One or two of the boys smiled, but Potter realised that he wasn't joking. "No?" he said. "Longbottom."
Longbottom looked up. He'd gone white. "Crucio!" said Black. He only held Longbottom there for a few seconds, but it was long enough for him to faint. "Enverate!" said Black, his tone almost bored. "Now you try - on the mice, not each other."
Potter was sure he was going to be sick. They'd cut up live slugs for Potions, but it was hard to feel sorry for a slug. This was different. His hand shook slightly as he raised his wand. "Crucio!" The mouse he'd chosen looked at him, and continued to clean its whiskers, quite unconcerned. "Crucio!" he said, louder. The mouse scampered to the edge of the desk, down the leg and away.
"It's not how loud you say it." Black was watching him.
Potter thought perhaps he should be annoyed that the mouse had got away, but all he could feel was relief. "Sir?" he asked. "Can I...?"
"Have a new mouse?" said Black. "No you may not, mice cost money. Longbottom! Stop making such a fuss, it was only pain."
Black returned to the teachers' lectern and produced another mouse from the box. He held it up by the tail. "Perhaps the easiest of this group of curses is Avada Kedavra, the killing curse." Black put the mouse on the table and raised his wand. Potter saw him take a deep breath, and wondered why.
Black let go of the mouse and said, "Avada Kedavra!" There was a roar, a flash of green light, and the mouse lay on its side, dead. "Simple, eh? And nobody has ever survived it."
Potter swallowed hard on the bile which rose in his throat. Please, he thought; though what he was asking for he couldn't have said. The mouse he was given struggled against his hand as he carried it to his desk. He raised his wand and pointed it at the mouse, "Avada Kedavra." To Potter's immense gratitude, nothing happened. A quick look round confirmed that the others were having as little success as he was. Seeing Black's eyes on him, he concentrated a little harder, and there was a moment, like a click in his mind. "Avada Kedavra," he said. It was a strange feeling, the end of his wand lit with a green glow where he'd expected a flash, and he could hear nothing. The mouse shivered once, and collapsed. Potter's hand shook as he touched the mouse with his finger. He looked up into Black's cold, pale eyes.
Once again, Potter swallowed bile, he couldn't tell if Black's stare was approving or not, though he said, "Well done, Potter." Weasley's escaping mouse ran over Potter's foot, which distracted his attention.
"Bugger!" said Weasley.
"See me later," said Black. "I won't have language like that in my classroom,"
"Sorry, sir." Weasley went a trifle pale.
Potter had been the only one to successfully kill his mouse, and Black disposed of the body by matter of factly dropping it out of the window onto the flower bed below. He returned to the teachers' lectern. "And finally," he said into the expectant silence. "The Imperius curse; probably the most difficult." He pointed his wand at Finnegan. "Imperio."
Finnegan's expression went quite slack, and his eyes glazed over. He jumped on the desk and made a noise like a chicken. Everyone laughed. Black pointed his wand at Longbottom, who turned cartwheels round the room - something he could not possibly have done in his normal condition.
Potter saw the wand turn to him and his hands went cold. His mind was suddenly filled with a quiet peace; all he had to do was obey the voice in his head and all would be well. He stood slowly. 'Kneel' the voice said. Another thought intruded, 'But why?' Neither of them sounded like him, and he was confused. 'It would be better' said the first voice. 'Why would it?' said the second. Now he concentrated, the second voice sounded rather like Snape. He sat back down, head between his knees. He was cold and suddenly very tired.
Black's voice broke in, his real one, not the one in Potter's head. "You can resist it." He sounded surprised, insofar as Potter could tell.
Potter looked around the room, which was in complete chaos. Black nodded to him, and Potter said, "Finate Incantatem." At once, the noise stopped.
"Good," said Black. "Now you have to try to cast it."
The class left Potter shaking with nerves. He went to the masters' desk afterwards and Professor Black stared at him. "What do you want?"
"I've a note for Mr Lupin from Professor Snape."
"Oh." Black held his hand out.
"It is for Mr Lupin."
"Don't waste my time, Potter." Potter handed it over, and Professor Black casually broke the seal. Potter stared in astonishment. Black said, "Anything else?"
"No, sir." Potter went.
The Gryffindor common room was busy; Potter noticed Barnes and Chalfont had got the little first year, Creevey, standing close to the fire. He could remember two fifth years - Lockwood and Latimer, doing that to him in his first year, the aim was to see how long they would make him stand there before his robe caught fire. Creevey looked terrified, as well he might. The burns could be cured in seconds, but that didn't stop them hurting like hell first. He strolled over, looking on.
"What do you want?" Barnes asked.
"A word with Creevey," said Potter. "Is that a problem?"
"What'll you do if I tell you to fuck off and die?"
Potter produced his wand and twirled it thoughtfully. He pointed it at Barnes and said, "Imperius!" Barnes face went slack, and his eyes glazed over. "Go jump in the lake." Barnes stood up and walked to the portrait hole. Potter took a deep breath, calming himself. He felt suddenly as if he was ten feet tall. He wanted to do this, wanted to see how far Barnes would go, and at the same time he was ashamed, more so than he had ever been in his life. The whole common room was silent, watching them. "Stop!" said Potter. "Finate Incantatem."
Barnes stared at him. "What... You..."
"Didn't like it, did you?" said Potter. "Leave Creevey alone or I will make you jump in the lake - and I hope the squid eats you." He took Creevey by the arm, noting with some alarm that the boy had a worshipping expression on his face. He heard Barnes mutter something about Potter not being there all the time.
"That was amazing!" said Creevey. "Could you make him do anything?"
"Drown himself? Cut his own throat?"
"Can you teach me?"
"No." That at least he was sure of. He wasn't even quite sure how he'd made the curse work when all the other times he'd tried had been such abysmal failures. "You'll have to wait until you get to it in class. I... I shouldn't have done it. If anyone hears about it there will be trouble." He paused and sat down beside Creevey. "Who do you fag for?"
"Chalfont." Creevey's eyes darted across the common room where Barnes and Chalfont were deep in conversation.
"What if I can get it changed?"
"To you?" Creevey looked hopeful.
"I'm a fourth year. We don't have fags. I was thinking perhaps of Weasley Quintus."
"Nearly as bad."
"But not quite. And anyway, there's a favour he wants me to do for him."
Creevey thought about it. "It would be a bit better."
"Good," said Potter. And then less enthusiastically, "Good."
It took him a little time to find the twins, they were holed up in a strange room in one of the towers. To Potter's surprise Weasley Sextus was with them - but he realised that what with prep, Quidditch and Snape he wasn't around a lot of the time. The three of them looked equally surprised to see him.
He pulled himself properly into the room and looked round. "What is this place?" It was larger than he had expected and full of soft chairs.
"Don't know," said Quintus. "We found it a couple of years ago and tidied it up a bit."
Only a bit, thought Potter. It was still dusty and full of hangings and cobwebs. "Nice place," he said. "Useful."
"So, why are you here?" said Quintus.
"You know that thing you asked me to do?" His eyes flicked to Sextus.
"If I help you, will you take Creevey on as a fag?"
"Why would you want us to? Horrible snivelling brat hasn't stopped crying since he got here."
"Chalfont's going to kill him unless someone does something soon."
"I heard he and Barnes had been toasting him. Did you really put the Imperius curse on Barnes?"
"Yes. But don't tell anyone."
"Too late. Half the school knows," said Quintus. "Well, not the masters of course."
Potter dropped into one of the chairs. "Let's hope Malfoy never finds out. He'd be off to the masters with that little titbit right away."
Quintus looked at Potter, curiously. "So, when do you think you can get us the stuff, then?"
"It won't be as easy as that. I said I'd help, but if I take it Snape'll know it was me. I'm the only one who goes in the workroom where he keeps that kind of thing."
"Only one who'd want to," muttered Sextus.
"Exactly," said Potter. "And I want it done so that he doesn't even suspect me."
"Scared of him?" said Quintus.
"Wouldn't you be?"
"Very well, it has to be done so that no blame attaches to you. That's not going to be easy."
Potter stared at him. "I never said it would be."
Weasley Sextus shifted in his seat, then he said, "Wednesday afternoon."
Potter looked at him. "What?"
"Wednesday last thing we have double potions. Last three weeks you've stayed behind so Snape can shag you."
Potter felt himself flush. "Yes. But I don't see what good that does us. The first thing that happens is that he locks the door."
"Is it always him, or do you lock it sometimes? You're pretty good with locking spells, nobody's been able to open your trunk for about two years."
"Sometimes I do, yes. But I still don't see where that gets us."
"And he always takes you to his rooms?"
"Yes. Well, mostly."
"Good." Weasley Sextus looked at the three of them. "Look you dunderheads," he went on. "When Snape takes Potter into his room all he's got to do is appear to lock the door without actually doing so."
"Yes..." began Quintus.
"Does he always go to the bedroom."
"We don't always get that far."
"Well, make sure you do on Wednesday. Oh, and it might be best if you can get him so worked up that the question of locking the door doesn't arise. Less blame for you. Has that happened?"
"Yes, a couple of times." Potter felt sure his face must be scarlet by now.
"You'd never guess it to look at him, would you?" said Weasley Sextus. "So, when you and he are safely in the bedroom these two sneak in and take what they need. Is the stuff labelled?"
"I've never looked." Potions really were not Potter's thing.
"Check and let us know."
"Er..." Quintus started, thought about it and decided to go on. "How will we know how long we've got?"
"You'll know when he's done," said Potter.
"Take it from me, you'll know."
Lupin called Potter back just as he was about to leave Dark Arts on Monday, and he wondered for a moment why. Then he remembered Snape's note. "Sir?" he said.
"Meet me in the Trophy Room after dinner."
Potter was startled, he'd expected a beating, but what he said was, "Yes, sir."
Lupin was waiting for him; Potter had seen him leave the staff table a few minutes before and knew he hadn't much time. He hadn't missed, either, the look of deep dislike Snape had sent Lupin's way as he left, or Black's considering stare.
Lupin lit the lamps in the trophy room with a wave of his hand, and Potter looked around. He'd never been in this place before, and it was immense, with tall glass cabinets every few feet.
"What have I got to do?" Potter asked.
"Clean the trophies, or as many as you can between now and lights out. If I think you're slacking, though, you'll come back until you finish them all. Here's polish and rags," Lupin produced a wicker basket from under the table. "No magic."
"Oh. Right." The work didn't bother Potter, but the waste of his time grated. Luckily he knew what to do, his Uncle Vernon had had him clean the trophies in his gun room several times before he came to Hogwarts.
"Are you waiting for an invitation?" said Lupin. "Get on with it."
"Right." Potter went to the nearest cabinet and pulled out cups and shields at random. "I didn't know there were so many," he said. "I've only ever seen two awarded, the House cup and the Quidditch cup."
"It is a bit of a surprise, isn't it?" said Lupin. He sat down at the table and produced a very large, dusty book and opened it.
Potter took the hint and worked in silence.
After about an hour he heard Lupin say, "Potter?" He looked up to find a tray of tea and biscuits. Lupin smiled, gently. "Would you like some tea?"
"Thanks. How did you do that?"
"It's a useful little spell - I can teach it to you, if you like."
Lupin demonstrated. Potter grasped it quickly enough and soon they were surrounded by tea trays - which Lupin dismissed with a wave of his hand, leaving just the original tray. He poured out.
"Yes?" Lupin handed Potter his tea.
"Why don't you use a wand? Everyone else does." A look of grief crossed Lupin's face and Potter said, "I'm sorry. That was rude of me. Again."
"Not really," said Lupin. "You can't know. I had my wand taken away; werewolves were reclassified by the Ministry as beasts just after I left Hogwarts." His face twisted. "Beasts aren't permitted wands."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"Most people were pleased."
"But you can still do magic?"
Lupin smiled, "Not as much as I could with a wand, some spells require it, but yes. More than most wizards could because I'm used to working without."
"I see. What's it like being a werewolf?"
"Horrible," said Lupin, lightly. "I advise against it."
Potter smiled back, "I expect it hurts."
"Very much so. More than you can imagine, probably."
Potter thought of Colin Creevey and that brought back memories of the fire. He shuddered. Lupin went back to reading his large book.
"Oh," said Potter suddenly. "Here's someone with my name."
"Is your name James Potter?" Lupin looked at him, curious.
"Harold James, actually, but I don't tell people about the Harold part, I tell them it's Harry."
"Because it's a stupid name."
"Obviously your parents didn't think so. More tea?"
"Yes, please." Potter paused, then said, "Who cares what they thought? I mean, they both died and left me."
"I don't think they had a choice about that."
"What do you know?" Potter thought he saw a glimpse of something in Lupin's eyes, and suddenly the old pain was back as if it had never gone away.
Lupin asked, "May I see the trophy?" Potter threw it across the table, scratching the top. Lupin picked it up without speaking. He looked at Potter, then at the trophy, then at Potter again. "I don't know why I didn't see it before," said Lupin. "How very dense of me."
"This James Potter... He's...he was...your father. I think."
"You knew him?"
"Yes. I was at school with him. Here, at Hogwarts. I didn't know him well, I was mostly kept apart from the other boys, but I saw him fly in matches. He was good - I've heard you are, too."
"You should come to a match, then you'd be able to tell me."
"I can't. Werewolves aren't allowed." Lupin sighed, "Better get on."
Potter grinned at him, hoping to lighten the mood, "Do you get extra money for this?"
"No," Lupin shook his head, and Potter saw the silver in his hair catch the light. "I don't get paid, so there's no question of overtime."
"Who owns you?" Potter asked, after a moment's silence.
"It was in the book," said Potter. "Ordinance for the Control of Werewolves - all werewolves are someone's property."
"You did do your prep properly, didn't you?"
"Snape was busy that night."
"It's Professor Black. And I have the papers to prove it." Lupin reached into a pocket in his robe and produced a card.
'Remus Lupin,' Potter read. 'Property of Professor Sirius Black, Hogwarts Boys' School.' He handed it back. "That's...creepy," he said. "I thought it might be him when he opened Snape's note. Is he horrible?"
"Not compared to some of the alternatives."
"So, he is horrible."
"No, he isn't. I wouldn't want you to think that. He's really very kind to me. There are a lot of things I hate about my life, but he is as powerless to stop them as I am."
"I imagined Professor Snape told you."
"He's just said you're weird and I'm to stay away from you."
Lupin looked at him, considering. Then he said, "He's right on both counts, but then I would have said the same about him. All right, I'll tell you. I am an executioner for the Dark Lord."
Potter's jaw dropped.
"I thought that might surprise you," said Lupin.
"But you're so nice!"
Lupin blushed and looked down.
"You're the decentest master in this school. You... How?"
"The Dark Lord sends for me," Lupin's voice was just above a whisper. "Every full moon. He lets one of his prisoners loose in a forest near London; it's very well warded, there's no chance of anyone getting free. He tells the prisoner that if they can evade me, he'll let them go." Potter saw Lupin swallow, he was pale as death. "No-one ever has. Not... Not yet, anyway."
"Did you kill my parents?"
Lupin looked up. "No!" he said. Then added, "Something to be grateful for."
"So who did?"
"The Dark Lord did it himself." The lines in Lupin's face looked harsh, deep. "It's something you should be proud of, that your parents were considered that much of a threat." He stopped. "Lights out in ten minutes, we'd better clear up and go. Filch will be wanting his polish back."
Lupin hadn't asked Potter to keep what he'd said a secret, but he didn't feel it was anyone's business. Lupin had talked as if he hadn't had anyone to confide in for a long while, and Potter didn't feel he could take advantage of that.
Besides, he still had the Weasley Plan to go through with. He felt a bit sick when he thought of the many things which could go horribly wrong with it and land him out on his ear with Snape. For it was that which scared him more than any punishment the man could devise, he was terrified he might lose his protection. Several times he almost backed out - but then he'd catch sight of Colin Creevey. Quartus and Quintus were right, the boy was a snivelling specimen, but for some reason that made him all the more determined to get him away from Chalfont.
Snape's rules about drawing attention to their relationship - if that's what it was - meant that seducing him in a room full of other boys was an interesting prospect, but Potter had planned for it.
They were starting potions used for disguise and concealment, and the first of these was camouflage oil. Snape explained the purpose of this - to allow the wearer to take the colour though not the shape of any background he cared to stand against. It wasn't a true invisibility draught, that was forbidden knowledge to all except the Dark Lord.
He then caused the recipe to appear on the board - no messy chalk for Professor Snape - and let them start.
Potter considered the various ingredients - alum, pig's fat, lye, chameleon blood and bone, parrot entrails...yech...crushed dried neon fish. He sighed. No wonder he hated Potions so much, all these bad smells and blood. He read the recipe again, and started.
Before long he'd drawn Snape's attention to them, and he saw Weasley Sextus trying to catch his eye. He ignored it. They didn't dare talk, not in this class.
Snape stood over him, close enough for Potter to smell the slightly sharp citrus scent he had, it came from something he used in the bath. He shivered. He had to do this just right.
Snape said, "Are you a moron, Potter?"
He looked up but didn't reply. In the other corner of the dungeon he could hear Malfoy sniggering.
Snape went on, "I said wait before adding the chameleon bone. You will have to add more lye, and try again."
"Yes, sir." He saw Snape give him a suspicious stare before moving away to compliment Malfoy on the state of his solution. Oops, he thought, not too fast.
"What are you doing?" hissed Weasley as soon as Snape's back was turned.
"Trust me," Potter hissed back. "And shut up."
"And don't imagine I'm deaf, either," said Snape, without turning round.
Potter got on with his potion conventionally enough until the last quarter of an hour. Then he added the parrot entrails at least two minutes too late and over ground his neon fish. The result was that when tested on Longbottom - always Snape's choice du jour for testing potions - it merely made his robe very wet and smelly. Potter grinned to himself.
"Potter," said Snape. "Stay behind."
As soon as they were alone, Snape said, "Go and wait for me."
Better than perfect.
He went out and closed the door behind him. A quick glance up and down the corridor and he signalled to Quartus and Quintus and opened the door to Snape's quarters. "Now," he whispered, "I'm going to have to let him lock the door. The charm to get out is 'Defensa decina nox'. Don't forget. Don't move until he's gone into the bedroom. Hide, quickly, and don't make a sound."
Quartus and Quintus nodded and disappeared into the workroom.
Potter stripped off his clothes, and folded everything up carefully. He went to the bathroom, took a piss, and then went back into the bedroom. He got into the bed and lay back.
A few moments later, Snape came in and closed the door. He stood by the bed, looking down at Potter. He sighed. "My most annoying student," he said.
"The bane of my life," Potter replied, cheerfully.
Snape looked mildly amused, "Me or Potions?"
Snape sat down on the edge of the bed; he pulled Potter's glasses off and put them on the bedside table. Then he unfastened his own robes and pulled them over his head. Potter sat up and started to kiss his back and shoulders. He continued as Snape stripped off his underwear and the socks and boots he wore. Finally, Snape turned round to face Potter who fastened to his lips.
"Impatient," said Snape, when he could pull away. "Any normal boy would recognise this as a punishment."
"Would they?" said Potter. "I want you. I want you now."
Potter kissed him again, sliding his tongue into Snape's mouth, luxuriously. He'd been very nervous the first time he'd done that, but Snape seemed oddly pleased. He leaned gently on Snape who lay back obediently enough, but once they were lying down he rolled Potter over until he was on top. Potter moaned softly, feeling that weight and heat on him, and opened his legs a little, hoping Snape would take the hint. He did. Potter felt a warm hand take his cock and moaned louder. "Oh! Now!"
"What?" asked Snape. "What do you want?"
"Fuck me! Please!"
Snape ignored him and continued with his slow exploration of Potter's mouth and cock. Potter moved back and slid down Snape's body until he reached his nipples. He sucked on the one he could reach, feeling Snape above him take a sudden deep breath. At the same time he slid his other hand down to Snape's cock, now satisfactorily hard and needy. Snape rolled back to allow him to suck the other nipple, then Potter kissed down his chest and belly to take the hard cock in his mouth.
Snape yelled; if there were any words Potter couldn't hear them, not that he much cared. He concentrated on taking the thick cock in as deeply as he could, he gloried in the feeling of power it gave him to have that part of Snape in his mouth, knowing what he could do to him if he chose to.
Too soon Snape pulled on his shoulder, indicating that he should stop. He slid his mouth up with a last sucking lick and kissed his way back up Snape's body returning briefly to his nipples, then to his mouth. "How?" Potter asked.
"On your knees." Snape kissed him again, taking his time over it, then reached over to the table. "Ready?"
Potter nodded and moved to his hands and knees. He felt Snape slide what felt like two fingers into him, and reach for that place, deep inside. "Oh! More!" he said, as Snape found it. "Want you. Oh! Need you! Oh, please!"
Snape made him wait a little more, then Harry felt the fingers pull out and the much more satisfying bulk of Snape's cock take their place. With...that...inside him he felt as though he were lit up inside. He cried out with pleasure and pushed back to take more of it.
Snape thrust experimentally a few times, then abruptly started a driving rhythm which made Potter moan, then angled himself to pass over that...place...at each stroke. Potter felt his cock was weeping, he could feel it pressing against his belly he was so hard. He wanted to touch it, but knew Snape's tastes too well.
Just when he thought he'd pass out if he didn't rub his hands over himself, just once, Snape reached beneath him and started to stroke him in time with his thrusts. The feeling was so perfect that Potter gave a cry - almost a shriek - and came. He felt as if his orgasm came from somewhere in his brain or spine.
Numbed, Potter felt Snape take hold of his hips and hold him in place until he emptied inside him. Then he was allowed to collapse to the bed.
After a very long time Snape said, "Don't you have Quidditch practice?"
Potter glanced at the clock and groaned. "Yes. Two hours on a broom after a rogering like that."
"Why do you annoy me in class if you know it will lead to that?"
Potter looked at him, "Because I know it'll lead to that." It was nothing more than the truth.
"I shall have to learn to control my irritation when my instructions are ignored."
"I'd find another way."
"You could just ask."
"Where would the fun be in that?"
"Where indeed," Snape leaned over and kissed him. "You have just enough time to get something to eat and get to Quidditch. Go."
"What are you going to do?"
"Read. It's not as if I have the strength to do anything else."
He didn't get chance to speak to Quintus or Quartus during the practice, but he saw them making for him afterwards and slowed down.
Quintus said, "Have you always made those noises? Perce never mentioned it."
"Your brother wasn't much good. I don't mean to be rude."
"I mean, all that 'fuck me, fuck me harder' business?"
"Take the piss out of me - or him - and you'll wish you'd never been born." Potter stopped, and stared Quintus straight in the eye.
Quintus paled. "Oh. Right," he said. "Sorry."
"Did you get what you were after?"
"And left no hint that you'd been there?"
"Then I'll sort out Chalfont and Barnes." Potter strode off. He couldn't have said why he was so angry, it wasn't as if he didn't know what was said about Snape - or himself. Then he stopped and looked back. The twins were still standing there, and Quintus had a strange expression. As if he'd bitten into an apple and found half a maggot.
Creevey was pathetically grateful, which both pleased and irritated Potter. He took the earliest opportunity to slip off with Weasley Sextus.
"The plan worked?" asked Weasley.
"Yes, fine so far. Obviously I don't know yet if Snape knows if anything's missing."
"Fred and George said you enjoyed it."
"Did they? I hope they only told you, or I'll..."
"You wouldn't hurt my brothers?"
Potter scuffed his feet against the wall of the courtyard. "Probably not. Though if Snape finds out and gets rid of me I can't promise anything."
"You don't think he will, do you?"
"I don't think so. Besides if he does, I don't think he'll choose you." Weasley's expression was such an interesting blend of relief and offence that Potter laughed.
Potter had just started to relax a bit when he arrived at Snape's rooms one evening to find him carefully counting out jars of ingredients. Potter chose his usual corner and got on with his prep. He'd seen Snape in this kind of mood before.
He was deep in Professor McGonagall's prep on transfiguring water when Snape asked, "Have you taken anything from this cupboard?"
"No," said Potter. He'd answered without thinking about it, but it was the literal truth.
"I had a length of Merlin's Beard. It's gone."
"Is it important?" Potter didn't waste time asking if Snape were sure. He knew that Snape knew exactly what he had in his cupboards both in the classroom and here in his private workroom.
"Yes," said Snape. "Merlin's Beard is a plant, powerfully magical and used by healers. If a person is near death even a tiny sliver can restart the heart. But equally, if taken by someone who is well, it will stop the heart. It is very light and will travel on the air if the jar is opened. It kills in seconds."
"I see," said Potter. He returned to his work, feeling Snape's eyes on him.
As soon as he could, he went up to the Weasley's hideout in the old Divination classroom. They were there with Creevey and Weasley Sextus. He pulled himself up and closed the trapdoor.
"Evening, Potter," said Quintus.
"Where is it?" asked Potter. "The extra ingredient you stole."
"What do you mean?"
"You don't want me to make you throw yourself off the astronomy tower, do you?" Potter pulled out his wand. They looked at each other.
"He found out, then?"
"Yes. How could you be so stupid as to take the whole jar?"
"Couldn't get the lid off. Still can't."
"Let's thank our lucky stars for that."
"What is that stuff?" put in Weasley Sextus.
"Enough poison to kill the whole school, that's all. Starting with you, you morons. No way am I letting anyone into Snape's rooms ever again. What else could you have taken? The reason that stuff's in there is because it's bloody dangerous. I thought you realised that. And whatever you're planning, don't."
"Potter!" said Sextus. "You sound like someone's father. Snape's sending you mental."
"Give it to me. I'll make sure it gets back safely."
"Very well." Quintus handed it over. "But I think Ron's right. Snape's doing something to your mind."
Potter stuffed the jar into his pocket.
"Won't it be dangerous for you to take it back?" Creevey asked.
"He's already worked out that I had something to do with its disappearance. When it gets back he'll know I did, but I can't leave it."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'd best not say. Ron?" He looked at his friend.
Weasley Sextus looked uncomfortable. "I'll stay here."
Potter nodded, opened the trapdoor and slid down the rope.
As soon as he was out of earshot, he kicked the wall to relieve his feelings. A lump of stone fell out and hit him on the foot. "Bugger!" he said, hopping.
"Something wrong?" It was Mr Lupin. He looked merely curious.
"Has the wall offended you in some way?"
"No." Potter sighed.
"Come and have some tea." Lupin waited. "You don't have to confide in me. I just thought a hot drink might help."
"Thanks." Potter followed him down the corridor, round a couple of twists and turns, to another corridor Potter was sure he'd never seen before.
"I don't think Sirius is in, but I can never be quite sure. No, he's not. Come in."
The rooms were large and very comfortably furnished. Potter was quite taken aback as he'd never seen anything like it; Snape's rooms were ascetic in comparison. Lupin must have seen him looking because he said, "Sirius is independently wealthy."
"Why does he work?"
"The Dark Lord expects everyone to work," said Lupin. "Mind you, he seems to stop short at Lucius Malfoy. I'm not quite sure why, and I don't think I want to know."
"Is that Draco's father?"
"Yes. Please, sit down."
Lupin went out, and Potter looked around the room again. It was beautiful, elegant tapestries and thick carpets, the furniture was very dark, highly polished, and comfortably cushioned. There were books around in piles, books of every size, shape and description. It was warm, but not uncomfortably so. Potter sat back and closed his eyes, feeling the grief of Weasley's rejection recede somewhat.
Lupin came back carrying a tray, tea and little cakes. Potter sat up again. "English Breakfast, I hope that's all right."
"Yes," said Potter, though he wasn't quite sure what Lupin meant.
"Milk, no sugar? Right?"
Potter sipped his tea. Curiously, he did feel better, and he wondered what was in the cakes. "Why does everyone hate me?" he asked.
"Not everyone hates you. I don't. Sirius doesn't - though it's hard to tell what he thinks about anyone. And...Snape doesn't. Whatever I think of him."
"He doesn't love me, though." Sighing, Potter thought, why am I telling Lupin this? Too late to take it back.
"I think you're going to wait a very long time - if not forever - before he says so, but I rather think he does."
"What makes you think that?"
"Everything. The way he looks at you, the way he treats you. And the way he dresses you. He's had boys before, but not like you."
Potter considered this. "Why is everyone so scared of me?" He expected a reply like the last one, a comforting 'they're not.'
What Lupin said was, "That's a difficult one."
"They are frightened, then?"
"And with reason. It isn't every fourth year wizard who can use the Imperius Curse. Careful, you'll spill your tea."
Potter straightened his cup, and automatically took a sip. "I couldn't do it in class."
"I would have been very surprised if you could. But it came when you needed it." Lupin sat back. "That was a brave thing you did, rescuing Creevey like that."
"He keeps telling me how grateful he is. It makes me sick."
"He'll get over it."
"And now he's afraid of me, too. I think there are only two people left who aren't - you and Voldemort."
"Oh, sorry. I forgot we're not supposed to name the Dark Lord."
"I didn't know you knew his name."
Potter frowned. "I didn't think I did. I must have read it somewhere."
"If everyone is so frightened, why aren't you?" Potter put his cup down.
"I'm a werewolf with a death wish. Not much scares me any more. Which reminds me...do you have the jar?"
Potter looked surprised and pulled it out of his pocket.
"Make sure Snape gets it back safely. He's bound to guess, but I don't expect he'll punish you."
"Why not?" Potter put the jar away again.
"I'd think twice about punishing a wizard with your kind of raw power. You never know what might happen. He certainly will."
Potter thought about it. Then he said, "I think I'd rather be punished than not."
"At least then I know where the lines are."
Lupin considered this. "I see your logic," he said. "But I'm not sure I agree with it."
"If you'll forgive me for saying so..." Lupin stopped.
Potter looked up from his contemplation of the low table and the teapot. "Go on."
"It is the logic of a child. You are not a child."
"But I'm only--"
"I know how old you are, Harry. But you stopped being a child the moment you put the Imperius Curse on Barnes. You can't take childhood back now. I'm sorry." There was a tense pause. "And your relationship with Severus. That's his first name, by the way. I shouldn't imagine he's ever got around to telling you. He probably thinks it would seem a bit silly."
"No, he hadn't. Strange name."
"Oh. Go on."
"Your...what you are to each other," said Lupin. "It's hardly like a man taking a boy for his bed, is it?"
"How did you know?"
"Am I wrong?"
"No. Damn it, you're not wrong."
"There you are. He wouldn't give a child's punishment to a man. The man's punishment for misuse of the Imperius Curse, by the way, is a long stretch in Azkaban, so be careful about using it again. Besides you don't want to draw the Dark Lord's attention."
"I don't?" Harry grinned at him.
Lupin answered as if it was a serious comment, "The Dark Lord has killed every wizard able to challenge him for the last fifty years at least. You don't want to be one of them."
"As my father was."
Potter stood. "Thanks for the tea."
"Any time, Harry."
"Yours, I believe," said Potter. He put the jar on Snape's desk.
"Are you going to punish me?"
"No." Snape picked up the jar and put it away.
"Lupin said you'd say that." Potter followed him into the workroom.
"Did he? What else did he say?"
"He told me your first name. Severus."
"I don't use it much."
"I can't imagine why, there's nothing wrong with it. And anyway, when someone says, 'I saw Severus Snape today' they're not going to get the reply 'which one' are they?"
Snape looked at him. He could have been amused. "And I know your first names, Harold James, aren't they?"
"Harry. Harold is a silly name."
"It's considerably less silly than Severus. But if you prefer Harry then I'll use that. If you are going to use mine, that is."
"How about I call you Sev?"
"How about I feed you Longbottom's latest concoction and we see what you turn into?"
Potter grinned. Suddenly hugging Snape around the middle. "I love you, Severus. Everyone else hates me, but you're just the same." He let go, picked up his bag, and strolled out of the workroom.
Chapter 2: Fanfare for the common man
A year passed, then two. Winter or summer Potter's life was the same. He studied, he played Quidditch, he spent time with Snape. He didn't talk to Lupin again, not alone, and though occasionally he saw those odd eyes on him he couldn't tell if it was in curiosity or pity. 'You're a man,' Lupin had said, if not in those exact words.
He only saw Weasley Sextus in class; the silence between them was opressive.
Potter was treated every day like a boy still. At times it was comforting, mostly it was simply annoying but at least he had words for his formless anger.
He studied in the library, and one evening he looked up to find Draco Malfoy standing opposite him. "Mind if I sit down?" said Malfoy. He'd done so before Potter could reply.
"Be my guest," said Potter. He went back to his Arithmancy, silently cursing the Headmaster for making it compulsory. Numbers and charts meant nothing to him at all, and he kept having visions of himself spread under Snape, which didn't help his concentration one bit.
"Do you have a knife?" Malfoy asked.
Potter threw him one, irritably wondering why he couldn't get his father to buy him one. Malfoy trimmed his quill.
"Thanks," Malfoy returned it, to Potter's mild surprise. He'd expected to have to ask. "Very busy?" Malfoy asked.
"Yes," Potter said.
Malfoy was back the next night. And the next. Potter ignored this sudden desire for his company, he found it irritating rather than anything else. The fourth night, knowing Snape was busy, Potter collected the books he needed and headed back to the Gryffindor common room, where he terrified Barnes off his chosen table. It wasn't exactly working in peace, but it wasn't Snape's workroom, which was depressing when he wasn't there, and there was no Malfoy.
The Headmaster stood, and cleared his throat. "Your attention, boys."
Potter looked up. It was the Headmaster's habit to give out notices before meals, but this didn't
sound like the usual kind. The Headmaster looked far too pleased.
The Headmaster went on, "We are to be honoured by a visit from the Dark Lord himself." Potter saw Black and Lupin exchange glances, and Snape look at them both, coldly assessing.
"As you all know, his Great Work demands properly trained young wizards and he takes a great interest in every one of you."
Right, thought Potter. He was remembering Snape's endless report writing. He wondered what Snape said about him. 'Sullen, but good in bed'? Perhaps. No. Snape wouldn't want to tell anyone about them. Potter was sure of that if of nothing else.
"What is it?" Potter asked that night.
Snape sat behind his desk, fingers steepled. "Hm?"
"Severus? What's the matter?"
"Hm? Oh, nothing."
Knowing Snape as he did Potter felt sure that was an outright lie. "You should be pleased," said Potter. "About the Dark Lord's visit." He'd seen the mark on Snape's arm often enough, and knew what it signified.
"Yes," Snape said, his voice neutral. "I'm sure it will be most interesting."
Professor Black stood in front of the board, illustrating the Blinding Curse, when Potter noticed something he'd seen before but never really taken in. Black's robe slid back to reveal a bare arm, as pale as Snape's. It was unmarked. Black turned it over to demonstrate the wand movement and Potter could see that the Mark wasn't on the underside, either. Curious. That meant Black had been excluded from even the most basic of the Dark Lord's supporters. And yet he was allowed to own a werewolf. Even more curious.
He turned. He'd barely spoken to Weasley in two years, so was surprised. "Yes?"
Weasley didn't seem to know what to do; he blushed. Potter waited. He didn't know why, if any other boy wasted his time like this he'd cut them dead. Weasley said, "I-- I wanted to talk to you."
"Not here. Meet me in the old Divination classroom? Six tonight?"
"All right." And why had he agreed?
"You're on your own?" Potter looked around. He'd been expecting the twins and Creevey to be hanging around.
"Um...yes." Weasley sat down. "You'll think I'm insane. I think I'm insane."
"I doubt it." Privately, Potter thought that if anyone was mad around here it was him. "What's wrong?"
"I don't want to join the Dark Lord. I know we don't have a choice, but..." He trailed off.
"You barely speak to me for two years and then you come out with this? You do believe in living dangerously."
"Fred and George keep saying how wonderful it will be to be taking part in the Great Work, but I can't see it. Even Dad's one, but I can't make myself do it. And ever since Mum..." Weasley swallowed.
"I heard about that. I am sorry."
"She was ill, you know? Had been for a long time, ever since my sister was born. But...thanks."
There was silence. Potter said, "I won't be joining the Dark Lord, either."
Weasley looked up, astonished. "You? But Snape..."
"I realise that."
"What's he going to do?"
"Snape? I shouldn't think he'll get the chance to do anything. I think the Dark Lord's going to kill me."
Weasley stood up. He said, "You mean that?"
"He killed both my parents." Potter looked out of the window, down into the quiet grounds.
"How do you know?"
"Mr Lupin told me."
"You believe him? He's mad--"
"He's the sanest person at Hogwarts. And yes, I do believe him. He doesn't have any reason to lie to me about it."
"What does Snape say?"
"I haven't discussed it with him. But I've no doubt he's worked it out for himself. Besides," Potter said, "we're not the sort of people who share confidences."
"I thought you were friends."
Potter laughed, shortly. "Severus? He's a patron. A very kind and generous patron, I have to admit."
Weasley looked aghast. "Don't you like him at all?"
"I'm fond of him. But we're not
friends. Not the way that you and I...were."
"I thought you were so strong and you-- You had him."
"I thought you were afraid of me."
"Everyone's afraid of you. When you get that weird look I'm scared rigid. But that shouldn't have stopped me--"
"Thanks," said Potter.
There was an awkward silence. Then Weasley said, "So what are we going to do?"
"I don't know. Die, I expect."
"What's the point of being as powerful as you are and then just--"
"It's because... I am what I am that he wants me dead. Don't you see that?"
Weasley closed his mouth. He said, "You're as powerful as the Dark Lord? That's... Are you sure?"
"Yes," said Potter. He couldn't have said how he know, but he did.
"The has to be something we can do."
"All right, I'll die quicker but... yes, we." Weasley smiled, "We know some good curses and they work for you."
"Curse the Dark Lord," Potter considered. "He'll be well guarded - I don't know. I'll think about it.
"Everyone's got to have a vulnerable spot." Weasley sounded hopeful.
Potter snorted. "I think you'll find that's dragons."
"Oh." Weasley looked taken aback. "Well, surely it has to apply to Dark Lords, too?"
"Have there been any other Dark Lords?"
"He won," said Potter.
"But he's dead," Ron objected.
"Severus - Professor Snape - poisoned him for Voldemort."
Weasley gasped, "You named..."
"Yes, I do that from time to time. Sorry."
"Poisoned Grindelwald for the Dark Lord. That's why he's stuck here, the Dark Lord needs a true Potions Master, but doesn't want him too close. Most of the rest of the masters - sad bastards that they are - have similar stories."
Potter sat down again. "I hear things from the other maidens, the boys who share the masters' beds. The Headmaster's a failed enforcer, Sprout displeased the Dark Lord - something to do with an experiment that went wrong and ate someone he wanted to torture. McGonagall's quite powerful, but he's lost hope, a long time ago. Sinistra's a failed fortune teller - the Dark Lord killed any with pretensions to actually being able to see into the future."
"Who keeps Lupin in those splendid robes?" It sounded as if Weasley had been wondering this for some time.
"Black. He owns Lupin."
They sat in silence for some time. Then Weasley asked, "Won't Snape ask where you've been?"
"No. Why should he?"
"Bill told me that when he was with Sprout, he wanted to know where Bill was all the time."
"Snape's not like that. At least, not with me, I don't know what he was like with his other boys."
"Suppose not. Shouldn't think he'd dare." Weasley grinned, suddenly. "You know, if I were you I don't think I'd attend another lesson. I mean, who's going to punish you?"
Potter smiled. "I'd be a bad example."
"Anyone would think you were a Prefect - why aren't you?"
"The Headmaster suggested it, but Snape didn't want me to be."
"Seems weird, several of the maidens are."
"I know. I didn't want to, the idea of beating anyone turns my stomach. Even those who deserve it like Barnes and Chalfont - or Crabbe and Goyle. Just think what I might do to them if I really lost my temper."
The day of the visit came closer. The castle was given an unaccustomed clean, the spider webs were swept from the ceiling and the suits of armour polished to a high shine. Filch looked satisfied. He was tired, but clearly pleased with something.
Most of the masters looked worried, even Snape seemed politely concerned. As Potter had seen him deal with an explosion in his workroom which reduced the table Longbottom was working on and those either side to cinders with no more than a raised eyebrow, that spoke volumes.
Black looked his usual self, pale and
silent, but Lupin's temper was balanced on a knife edge, as they discovered one day when he smacked Goyle around the head. Nobody said anything. Nobody dared.
Potter stood at his place at table with the other six form boys. They were waiting for the instruction to sit down and start their meal, but there was a tense waiting silence.
The door flew open with a crash, and the Dark Lord arrived. He walked up between the tables of waiting boys and stood in front of the Headmaster, who tried for a smile.
The Dark Lord said something and suddenly the Headmaster was on the floor, screaming. Potter surmised the Cruciatus curse. He'd never liked the Headmaster, and didn't feel particularly sorry for him, but Zabini - the boy who'd taken over from Diggory - went white, then green as the screaming went on.
The Dark Lord turned at last to the assembled boys, and the noise became a helpless sniffling. Potter felt nausea turn in his stomach, then gasped as pain arrowed in to the scar on his forehead. He bit his lip. The scar had hurt before from time to time, but never like this. He wanted to run but remained standing.
Potter knew the Dark Lord was looking for him, alone among the others, and he looked up. The Dark Lord made a curious noise, and the pain in Potter's scar peaked; it was beyond horrible. Potter kept on staring, and didn't move. He could feel the Dark Lord willing him closer, but stood still though he shook with the effort.
At last the Dark Lord dragged his eyes away, and Potter saw him turn to Snape. "You said nothing of this." The Dark Lord's voice was a strange hissing, and the pain in Potter's head rose again, sharply. Snape said nothing, he merely looked.
"Traitor! Crucio!" The Dark Lord pointed his wand, and Snape fell. He screamed once, and then again.
"Stop!" said Potter, from where he was standing.
He didn't think he'd spoken particularly loudly, but at once the Dark Lord turned. "So! The traitor's pup speaks."
Stupid question, thought Potter. "He's mine," he said, aloud. The Dark Lord turned back to Snape. "You'll regret it," said Potter, surprised at the almost conversational tone of his voice. The Dark Lord didn't even get to the end of the curse. Before the word ended he had hit the back wall of the Great Hall and slid down. There was an absolute, horrified silence.
Potter walked up through the hall and past the tables of other boys to the high table, and stood, waiting. The Dark Lord stood, and pointed his wand. "Avada Kedavra," he said.
Potter raised his wand and held it across himself; somehow he knew what to do, it was as if he'd seen it done. But that was absurd. "Declinare!" he said. The wand deflected the spell towards the ceiling, which crashed down. It narrowly missed him and he winced.
The Dark Lord stared at him as if seeing him for the first time. "You!" he said.
Potter smiled. "You tried that once before and failed. It nearly killed you then." He had no idea where this knowledge came from, either. But he knew it was true, as true as his own name.
"You should bow before me!"
"Like the rest of the craven fools? No." Potter took a deep breath. "Make me die," he said. "There's nothing else you can make me do." He waited for the inevitable. It never came. The Dark Lord disapparated.
Potter felt himself start to fall and pulled himself up with an effort. He could feel a black tunnel waiting to suck him in but he fought it off. He could not collapse now, not in front of all these people. He looked around the Hall, suddenly feeling very young and very cold. He walked the length of the Hall in silence, the noise of his shoes echoing loudly.
Outside the doors he leaned with his back against the wall, then sat down, still using it as a support. He could see boots - Weasley was standing in front of him. Weasley said, "That... That was..."
"I think I'm going to be sick," Potter said.
"You made him run... You..."
"I am going to be sick," said Potter. And he was.
Despite this, Weasley continued to look impressed, "You threw him against a wall. I've never seen anything like it!"
"Nor will again," came Black's harsh voice. "Not now he knows Potter exists. Stupid boy, you were supposed to be a secret."
"For how much longer?" This was Lupin, Potter could hear the soft rustle of his silk robe - bronze again today. "Here, take this." It was a cold cloth to wipe his face. "Can you walk?"
Potter nodded. The pain made him feel as if his head was about to fall off.
"Not without help, I'd imagine. Help me, Weasley. Sirius, can you go and see how Professor Snape and the Headmaster are doing, please?"
A few steps down the corridor, Potter said, "Severus?"
"He'll be fine," said Lupin. "The effects of the curse will wear off."
"I've ruined your robes."
"They'll clean. Don't worry about it."
Madam Pomfrey had beaten them to the infirmary and was waiting. "He must rest," she said.
"I know," said Lupin.
"Of course you do. How are you, Remus?"
"Oh. You know."
Potter sat down on the edge of a bed, feeling wretched. Despite this, he thought their exchange odd.
"If it's any consolation," Lupin started to help Potter with his robe, "I would imagine Voldemort feels as bad as you do."
"I sincerely hope so." Potter looked at him a little curiously. Lupin was the first person other than himself he'd ever heard use Voldemort's name, and he'd never done it before.
"Now we find out why very powerful wizards don't get on too well," Lupin went on. "I'll get you some clean robes."
There was a noise at the door and Professor Black came in, with Snape leaning on him.
"Or maybe not," said Lupin.
"I'll find him something," said Madam Pomfrey. She handed Potter a fresh cloth, cold and wet.
"Good," said Snape. He sounded tired. "Because I don't want that...thing...in my rooms."
Potter saw Lupin flush slightly. Professor Black said, "Watch your mouth or I'll drop you where you stand."
"Stop. Both of you," said Potter, through gritted teeth. He put on the light nightshirt Madam Pomfrey had brought. He could still taste vomit, and he drank the water she offered him. He lay back and closed his eyes.
He woke up hours later. Night had fallen, but the room still seemed too light for him, he was used to the perfect blackness of Snape's dungeon and he woke instantly. Black and Lupin were still there, he could see their shapes in the room; he turned his head and saw Snape sitting up in the next bed. They had been talking, he was sure of it, but they stopped as soon as they saw he was awake.
Lupin came over, "How are you feeling?"
"Rough," said Potter. "But better than I was."
"You're not used to that kind of expenditure of power," Black came to stand beside Lupin.
"Dead right," Potter winced and sat up. He looked at the table beside the bed, "What are those?"
"Gifts from Weasley," said Lupin. "Quite safe, I checked."
"Ah! Oh, goodness, that's sweet," Potter coughed. The toffee was the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted, even Hagrid's offerings weren't like this. "Where did he get it from?"
"Probably better we don't ask." Lupin smiled.
"It's practically unadulterated sugar," said Snape. "I hope you weren't expecting to sleep."
"Not now." Potter looked across at Snape. It was hard to tell in the light, but he looked even paler than usual. "Are you all right?"
"No," Black looked over from the window. "He'll think very carefully about returning to Hogwarts while you're here."
"And his followers? There are enough of them." Potter took another toffee.
"Yes, they are a problem," agreed Black.
"Is this... Is it why Malfoy was trying to make friends with me?"
"Malfoy?" Black looked puzzled. "I suppose it could have been."
"But you don't think it's likely?"
"No, I don't."
Snape spoke, "It would argue that either he or his father guessed who you are, and I don't see how--"
"But you knew. Didn't you?"
"Yes. Not immediately, but yes."
"And you?" Potter turned to Lupin and Black.
"I realised you were James' son, you will recall that detention. I didn't realise there was anything else, not for some time. Potter is not an unusual name, I had never met your mother and I didn't know your father that well."
"But you were at school with him."
"Yes," Lupin's voice was soft, bleak. "But I was kept apart from the other boys. The only one I came to know well was Sirius, and only then thorough a punishment he was given."
"Ah...Sirus thought it would be...amusing...to set the werewolf on...another boy. I only didn't kill because your father intervened. As a punishment Sirius was made to look after me for the rest of the year. 'Mucking out' they called it. Filch didn't much like it, you see. We didn't get on very well at first," Lupin's eyes flickered to Black. "But at the end of the year he refused to top. He said I'd got used to him. Which I had. Sort of."
Potter looked at Black, "And you?"
"I knew the moment I saw you." Black stopped. "No, I knew who you were, but not what you were. That I wasn't sure of, not until you cast the Imperius curse on that stupid boy Barnes."
"You never told me."
"What was I supposed to say? 'Did you know you're the most powerful wizard in the world and Voldemort's going to try to kill you?' That wouldn't have been very helpful, would it? Only scared you half to death."
Potter stared up into the pale eyes. "Is there anything else you're keeping from me for my own good?"
"I think you should tell me. Now."
"I'm your godfather."
"Oh," said Potter. "Wonderful."
"I thought you'd be pleased about that, since I'm a complete failure."
"I'll say," muttered Snape.
Black's look was murderous. "You're one of the reasons. I totally failed to keep you away from him you slimy, perverted--"
"At least my partner is fully human," pointed out Snape.
"Oh, shut up. Both of you," said Potter. "Severus hasn't hurt me, I wasn't exactly innocent when I went to him." He saw Black's expression. "Face it. You know what it's like here. You must do."
"Yes." Black answered the unasked question. "I wanted to protect you. I was afraid that if I paid attention to you Voldemort would work out who you were. I lost your father, I couldn't lose you."
"It's certainly a definition of protect which I find very interesting," said Snape.
"Besides," said Black, after a moment. "The last place Voldemort was going to look for his greatest enemy was in the bad of one of his closest supporters."
Potter smiled, grimly. "I doubt if he'll find that support all that convincing in the future, don't you? Looks as if I've rather burned Severus' boats for him."
"Oh," said Snape. "It's you." He was sitting behind his desk, fingers steepled.
"Whom were you expecting? Longbottom?" Potter entered the room.
"I didn't imagine you would want to... You're perfectly capable of looking after yourself."
"I know. I have been for years."
"I didn't think you realised."
Potter strolled over and looked down at Snape. "Why wouldn't I?"
"You have no need of me."
"Not for that, no. But I told you. I haven't needed that for a long time. And you have no need of a boy, I've known that for a long time, too. We are more to each other than that."
"Do you really think--"
"Yes, I do. Now, strip for me, Severus. I'm supposed to be at Quidditch in an hour and I really," he leaned down for a kiss, "really," another kiss, "want to fuck."
Lupin looked worse than Potter had ever seen him; he wondered that the man could stand let alone teach. His face looked bone white against the
dark burgundy of his robe.
Potter sat through Lupin's lesson on fire demons impatiently; as soon as it was over he went to the front. Lupin had sat down, and Potter could see his hand trembling slightly. "What's wrong?" Potter dispensed with preliminaries.
"The Dark Lord is compelling Sirius to sell me."
"I thought young Malfoy was going about looking like the fox which got into the henhouse. Potter considered for a moment, "It's quite simple," he said. "You're not going."
"Tell Sirius to refuse."
"I'm not worth provoking the Dark Lord over."
"Tell him," Potter knew his voice was sharp. "Better still, I will." Potter looked down at Lupin, who was shaking his head. "He made you kill again, didn't he?"
"That must stop."
"The Headmaster won't want me at the school."
"We'll manage something. In any case, I really don't much care what the Headmaster thinks or wants."
A door opened at the end of the room and a head came round it; it was Robert Godfrey, a first year. "Mr Lupin?"
"Get out," said Potter. The head disappeared.
"Are you sure you can manage?" Potter turned back.
"I can cope with first years. Have you thought of taking up teaching? You certainly scare the little sods half to death."
"I would be as bad as Severus. Only the very talented learn anything at all about Potions. Everyone else comes away with a lifelong terror of messing them up - which I suppose is his aim." He turned to go.
Lupin said, "Potter?"
"No need. You and Black would be disastrous apart. It would kill both of you, and probably take other people with you."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
"Where did you get this?" Snape looked at the book as if it might contaminate him.
"Library. Restricted section." Poter turned the page. "I'm right, aren't I? It's a potion which allows a werewolf to stay in its human mind during the transformation."
"Yes...in theory. But I don't think it would work." Snape looked to be reading down the ingredients and instructions, brow furrowed. "I don't think this can have been written down correctly. Well... Perhaps if--" He looked up. "Why am I bothering? I don't care what happens to that creature."
"Why do you hate him so much?"
"He's a murdering beast. Isn't that reason enough?"
"Have you...?" Potter stopped. "Have you ever seen him kill?"
"You remember Lupin told you that Black set him on another boy?"
"It was me. Black would have killed me, and he would have used Lupin to do it."
"That's hardly Lupin's fault," said Potter.
"He was a handy tool. Too handy. Just as he is for Voldemort."
"But if he was made safe."
Snape scowled. "I'll see what I can do."
"I'm sure he'll be very grateful."
"I'm not doing it for him."
"And so will I be," said Potter, infusing his voice with lascivious meaning.
Snape looked at him, considering. "That wasn't what I meant, but I suppose it could be entertaining."
Potter dropped the act. "So what did you mean?"
"It occurs to me that there's everyone else to consider. Everyone around Hogwarts and Hogsmeade."
"You're..." Potter smiled at him, he was looking for the right phrase. "You're a good man."
Snape scowled, again. "Get out."
Everything in the office was very highly polished, wizarding credentials and awards hung on the walls and it looked to Potter as if Fudge was trying to assure himself of his ability, his worthiness for his position as Headmaster of Hogwarts. That didn't surprise Potter, he'd often wondered himself. Potter looked at the grey figure behind the desk. He couldn't remember a single previous occasion when the man had said two words to him, not even after his meeting with Voldemort. The Headmaster was looking down at his
desk, and seeing his gaze wasn't returned Potter looked round again at the certificates in their polished frames.
He grew bored with waiting and said, "Headmaster? You sent for me."
"Sit down, Potter."
Potter did so, and then waited.
The Headmaster looked uncomfortable, then he said, "Well, Potter--" He stopped.
Potter concentrated on looking politely enquiring. He didn't think it worked because the headmaster looked even more uncomfortable.
"About Mr Lupin--"
"Yes?" Potter was immediately on his guard.
"We don't think it's very wise that he stays he while he's--"
"The governors and I."
Potter didn't know what he looked like but the Headmaster squirmed in his seat. "He's a very good teacher and in the normal course of events--"
"He's the best teacher you have," said Potter. "The only one who knows what he's doing."
The headmaster looked for a moment as if he might argue, but then obviously changed his mind.
Potter sighed, quietly. He occasionally wondered if Voldemort had this problem; it was almost impossible to get anyone to give them their real opinion. He supposed they were afraid he might get angry. But it didn't help him if he was never challenged. The only ones who seemed to understand were Snape, Lupin and possibly Black, though he rarely spoke.
"Do the governors include Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy?" Potter asked. He was careful to keep his tone conversational; he already knew that they did. The Headmaster said nothing. "I see," said Potter. "There's nothing you can do. I will not have Lupin exposed Voldemort, I think enough damage has been done."
The Headmaster took a deep breath. "You don't run this school, Potter."
"No. But I could, if I wanted," said Potter. "You will give way in this." He waited a moment, then said, "Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me? No? Then I'll leave you to whatever it is that you do."
The fat lady let Potter into the Gryffindor common room and he looked around for Weasley Sextus. The first year, Godfrey, was cleaning the spaces out between his toes, and looked up with his mouth open in an absurd O of surprise.
"Where's Weasley?" he asked. "And don't do that with your wand, you'll take your foot off."
"I don't know, sir. Sorry, sir." Godfrey looked down at his feet.
"You don't need to call me that, I'm not a master. I'm not even a Prefect."
"I didn't even know you were a Gryffindor," said Godfrey. "I thought you were a teacher."
Potter had already tried the old Divination classroom in the tower and everywhere else he could think of that Weasley might be and he was running out of ideas. He was at something of a loss, not that he was going to display that to Godfrey. He left the common room and went to see Hagrid.
He found Hagrid digging the garden between his cottage and the Forbidden Forest. "All right?" Hagrid asked.
"Fine, thanks." Now he thought about it, Potter could add Hagrid to the pitifully short list of people who didn't seem to be afraid of him. "Are you busy?"
"Not so much that I can't stop and have a dish of tea wi' ye." Hagrid put down the fork, and headed back to the cottage. "Something worryin' ye? " Hagrid handed him the huge mug.
"The usual things." Potter took a swallow of tea. "Voldemort. Mr Lupin."
"I take it Lucius Malfoy isn't going to--"
"Not if I can help it," Potter said. "But I need... Lupin needs somewhere he'll be safe from other people, and they'll be safe from him."
"Not easy, no. Poor bastard." Hagrid cleared his throat. "How's Snape?"
This was unusual, Hagrid's disapproval had never waned and he rarely mentioned Snape. "His usual self. Why?"
"He looked a bit...bothered...when I saw him last, that's all."
"Oh. Thanks for letting me know."
"Mr Lupin, now. Let me think about it, and I'll see what I can find."
"Very well. Thanks Hagrid."
Snape did have that mildly
concerned look about him. Potter watched him from the door, and Snape looked up from the cauldron. His longish black hair was lank and looked damp.
"Potion not going well?" Potter asked.
"As well as can be expected given that I'm following a recipe translated from Latin into medieval French, then into Polish and finally back into Latin by a monk who might have known a lot about torture but nothing about Potions." Snape stirred the mixture slowly, and steam rose to wreathe around his head. "The thing that surprises me is that Lupin has agreed to drink it."
"I don't think death scares him."
"I would imagine not."
"Do you want help?" offered Potter.
"Not yours. Whatever else you are, you've no talent at Potions."
"Anyone would think you didn't love me." Potter grinned, widely.
"I'm not blind to your faults, if that's what you mean."
Potter turned the grin off and smiled to himself. Whatever else might be happening, Snape remained totally and completely himself. Perhaps it should have annoyed him, but it was actually a great comfort.
Potter watched for a while as Snape chopped and measured ingredients - for what he wasn't sure, he didn't seem to be adding any of them to the brew in the cauldron. Finally, he said, "I'm going to have to face him again, aren't I?" No need to say who 'he' was.
Potter's smile widened a little. Trust Snape, too, not to sugar-coat the truth. Potter said, "And one of us will die."
"Is that what's worrying you?"
"You know me entirely too well." Snape didn't look up.
"We've been together for--"
"I know how long it is. You were...you are...entirely too young."
"For you for to face Voldemort." Potter leaned against the wall by the door.
"Both." Snape took a deep breath. "Your... Black's right. I corrupted you." It sounded as if he'd been thinking about this for a long time.
"You had help. Percy's, for a start. This school's. Black's." Potter stopped, then added more quietly. "Mine."
"What do you mean?" Snape now looked up.
"Percy recommended me to you. What I don't suppose he told you was that I knew he was going to. I knew what it would mean."
Potter raised an eyebrow, a habit he'd picked up from Snape himself. "Is that still worrying you? We got beyond that a long time ago." He sighed. "That's what we were. What we are is something quite different." He moved closer, and looked up into Snape's black eyes. "Do you really think you could force me now?"
Snape said, "No," softly against his lips.
The kiss deepened to the incendiary. Potter asked, "Is that mess safe to be left?"
"For the time being."
"Good. I wouldn't want to poison Lupin, whatever you might think of him."
They both sat up suddenly and with almost identical cries of pain. Potter's hand moved to his scar and Snape's to the mark on his arm. "At least I am no longer alone," said Potter.
"That is little comfort."
"What...do you think he's doing?"
"Killing someone, I think. Let's hope they don't suffer too long. Not like..."
"Not like last month when he put us through three days of this," said Potter, almost conversationally.
"I hadn't forgotten."
"You hadn't always--" Potter stopped and they both clenched their teeth on another wave of pain.
"Only since he decided I was a traitor. I knew it could be used for punishment, but he'd never...not to me, anyway."
Potter was curious, he asked, "Would you have chosen me if you'd known what...who... I was?"
"Yes," said Snape. "But I'd have enjoyed it more, being close to his enemy."
"You hate him as much as I do."
"More. I know him better."
"Why did you--" another gasp of pain from Potter, "join?"
"Didn't have a choice. Voldemort wasn't going to let the best Potions Master in Europe go free. Not when he needed him."
"But Black never joined."
"Voldemort didn't want him. I've never known why. And hew was too late to get the werewolf; Black wouldn't sell then, and won't now. This isn't his first attempt to force Black to sell. They've always come up with something, but it always frightens Lupin beyond imagining. I would think it does Black, too, but he never says much." Snape sucked his breath in between his teeth. "Ah! Hurts. Sorry. Black and Lupin are very close."
Potter covered his scar with his hand again, and groaned, softly.
"Ah!" said Snape. He touched the Mark gingerly. "I think whoever it was has died."
"Yes," Potter looked up into the darkness. "I hate it. I hate longing for someone's death to stop the pain. How can I want someone to die just to release me?"
Snape lit at lamp with a wave of his wand, and took Potter by the shoulders. "Don't you imagine they want it even more than you? What you feel...what we feel...is nothing compared to the agony they must endure. Besides, even you have no more chance of speeding up their death than you do of making the Earth turn backwards. No matter how hard you wish."
Potter looked up into Snape's eyes. "You do understand."
"I am as human as you."
"More," said Potter. "Sometimes I don't feel human at all."
"You're certainly more of a wizard than most of us."
"It frightens me. Whatever Voldemort is, I'm it too. And I don't want it. I just want to be normal."
"Normal? That was never going to happen. I don't think there's a place or time in which you could be normal." Snape sounded almost affectionate.
Potter closed his eyes and slept.
"Did it work?" Potter stopped Professor Black.
"Yes. Surprisingly it did."
"Why surprisingly?" Snape sounded annoyed.
"You wouldn't appreciate it if I cast an untested spell on your--"
"It would bounce off," Snape cut in. "If Voldemort's curses bounce off, I should imagine yours will."
"Shall we test it?" Black produced his wand. "Are you game, Potter?"
"No," said Potter. "Besides, you know hexes work on me."
Snape looked at him quizzically. "Interesting," he said.
Snape just shrugged his robe more securely round his shoulders and strode off with it flowing behind him.
Potter watched appreciatively, then as soon as he was out of sight turned back to Black. "How is Mr Lupin?"
"You want to see?"
The rooms hadn't changed from Potter's last visit two years before; the piles of books had moved around a bit, that was all.
Lupin's bedroom was beautiful as the other room he'd seen, a huge four poster with heavily decorated hangings and a canopy of green and gold. Lupin himself was sitting up, a heavy book in his hands.
"A visitor for you," Black said.
Lupin looked up, "Oh! Harry. How kind--"
Black went on, "You were supposed to be resting."
"I am," said Lupin. "I've read this before."
Harry smiled, "How are you?"
Lupin put his book aside. "Surprised. Sit down, please. I've never spent a night as a wolf in my own mind before and it wasn't at all what I was expecting."
"Was it really horrible?"
"No," Lupin smiled. "I can remember things; normally all I have are confused impressions of blood and screaming. The transformation was no less painful, though. Hence--" he indicated the bed.
Black had gone out and now came back with a tray. "Tea," he said, unnecessarily. He put the tray down. "Stay there," he said as Lupin started to push himself upright. "I'll help."
"I'm not as bad as I usually am," Lupin protested. "I can manage."
Black insisted and Potter noticed how practised he was. "He's always like this," said Black. "Well, normally he's worse, it's true. Can hardly move at all. Better?" He said to Lupin once he was sitting up straight. He handed Lupin his tea. "You'll warn me if you're about to drop it?"
"Yes, of course. Don't worry, Sirius." Lupin sipped his tea. "Voldemort is
still trying to force my sale to Malfoy."
"So I understand. He won't succeed - and if he does we'll find someone to buy you out from under him."
Black smiled, not itself an entirely comforting sight. "Like who? Snape can't afford it, the pay here's a pittance and Merlin only knows what happened to your money."
"My money?" Potter was puzzled. "What do you mean?" He and Lupin exchanged glances, it seemed he knew no more than Potter did.
"Your father was well off. Not filthy rich like Voldemort but--"
"Or like you?"
"Me? James was better off than me."
Potter had thought that nothing to surprise him. It seemed he'd been wrong. "Did Voldemort take it?" The most immediate question forced its way to the top of the pile.
"I wouldn't imagine so - not unless he was named as your father's heir and had the key to his vault. Goblins are strange beasts, and not necessarily under his thumb. I told them myself that you were the heir, but I never had the key and I don't know who did. I expect it was destroyed or lost when Voldemort blew the house apart."
"So where is this money?"
"Oh. Oh yes, I have been there. Hagrid took me before I came here first. Great big place."
"That's the one. Why did Hagrid take you?"
"Uncle Vernon - that's my Muggle Uncle - said he didn't care where I went to school as long as he never had to have me back. I nearly killed my cousin - set a snake on him in London zoo. At least, he said I did. Really, it told me it wanted to get out and then the glass disappeared and..." Potter could see them both staring at him. "Sorry. The snake incident wasn't one of my finest moments."
"You said the snake talked to you," said Black.
"What did it say?"
"'Thanks, friend. Brazil, here I come.' Why are you looking like that? I bet lots of people can do it."
"Not at all, it's a very uncommon gift. In fact I only know of one other."
"Voldemort," said Potter. He was conscious of a sickened, sinking feeling.
"I don't want to be like him," said Potter. "The more I find out, the more I..." He didn't know how to continue.
"I can only imagine," said Lupin in his soft, hoarse voice.
"You've met Voldemort." As soon as he finished dinner Potter went down to the dungeons.
"Don't you have prep?" Snape asked.
"Brought it with me."
"I just hope you don't need the library, it's a long walk from here."
Potter made his way to his usual place on the end of a bench. "I wanted to ask you about Voldemort. I mean, you have met him."
"What's he like?"
"Tall. Thin. Pale. Red eyes." Snape thought for a moment. "Genuinely frightening."
"Am I like him?"
"I'm a parselmouth."
Snape's eyes flicked upwards, but he said, "Are you?"
"You don't seem bothered."
"Should I be? You don't have any snakes to talk to down here, and I refuse to panic about nothing. You should know that by now." Snape consulted a dirty looking textbook and opened a jar. At once, a foul stench filled the room. He measured out two tiny spoonsful and closed the jar.
"What are you making?"
"Reversal mixture. It will arrest most spells and completely remove the effects of some of botched transformations. Madam Pomfrey ran out after McGonagall decided to teach the fifth years to transfigure each other into a range of small animals. Stamford is a rather odd looking pigeon and Creevey is currently a very creditable poodle. I'm not sure it's not an improvement, the lack of Stamford in Potions made a restful change, but Madam Pomfrey insists."
Potter laughed. "Besides, what would you tell their families?"
"I would imagine that Creevey's mother would shed bitter salt tears, but I rather think Stamford's in your position."
"It's horrible how many of us don't have families."
Snape was adding a strange pinkish fluid to the mixture. "That's
Voldemort for you," he said. "Sets himself up as the wizard's champion against the Muggle world and then kills both. I don't think he'll stop until he's killed us all."
"Black said you were one of Voldemort's closest supporters." Harry remembered this from his time in the infirmary.
"Yes. And you can see how much good it did me, stuck here teaching potions to morons."
"I've wondered about that - you could go anywhere, do...almost...anything."
Snape glanced at him. "I suppose you'd believe me if I said I enjoyed teaching?"
"No. The only master here who does is Lupin."
"And he's certifiable. No, I didn't think you'd accept that."
"The Dark Lord likes his tools to hand. Lupin, Sprout, me...the others if they were any use at all, which they're not." Snape stepped back from his cauldron. "Are you going to do your prep or not?"
"They wouldn't dare say anything if I didn't. But I suppose I might as well. It fills up the time until I die."
"What makes you think you're going to die?" Snape didn't seem surprised.
"Voldemort's three times my age."
"Five, I believe. Not that I've ever asked the Dark Lord his age."
Potter couldn't understand what Voldemort was waiting for; had he been the challenged one he'd have sought out his rival. But Voldemort seemed content enough to leave him at Hogwarts, alive and unharmed. Only two explanations occurred to him - either Voldemort didn't consider him a serious rival, which seemed unlikely after their last meeting, or he was seriously worried. That made sense, but didn't make Potter feel any better.
He couldn't even see any movement on the part of Voldemort's supporters. Potter had few friends at Hogwarts and didn't bother trying fool himself that he did, but none of his many enemies made a move. He would have felt better if they had, at least then he would have had some idea of what he was dealing with.
He was in Snape's room when a knock came at the door. This was unusual, Snape had few visitors. Potter opened the door to find Weasley Sextus, looking rather nervous. "Oh," said Potter. "I'll get my cloak."
"Wouldn't he want me in there?"
"I've no idea. But it's a bit dull when he's not here. Where shall we go?"
They walked over to the Quidditch pitch, mostly in silence. Finally when they were well away from the school Weasley said, "I hear things - you know? Through the Pater."
"Oh?" Potter knew Weasley's father worked for the Ministry of Magic.
"The Dark Lord...and Snape. Harry, he's going to try to kill you."
"Your father told you this?"
"Not exactly." Weasley shuffled for a moment. "Pater's not exactly high up in the Ministry - and he's not one of the Dark Lord's closest supporters. But he does hear things. Could hardly not."
"And he's found out that Voldemort's told Snape to kill me."
"Well...not in so many words." Weasley sighed. "He was waiting outside a room somewhere when Malfoy's father and another man passed him. He overheard them say that...that the Dark Lord had a solution to the 'Potter problem'. That's you. The way he said 'solution' made him think of poisons. And the only master poisoner round here's Snape."
"Yes," said Potter. "Yes, I see."
"I... I'm sorry."
"I know, Ron. Thanks."
"I couldn't say nothing and then you..."
"I realise that."
Ron looked up from the grass of the pitch. "What will you do?"
"I have no idea." And he didn't. Challenge he was ready to face. This sort of thing he had no clue how to deal with, none whatsoever. And the person he would have asked was the one he could least trust. It all made sense, though, not least Snape's distracted air - for him. He lived with a known poisoner in a room full of poisons. He had to do something. He just didn't know what.
And yet..they'd lived together several years - Potter still officially had a bed in the Gryffindor tower but that was a polite fiction and they
both knew it - but he could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Snape had offered him either food or drink. If he wanted anything he was free to get it, or have the house-elves bring it for him, but Snape rarely offered him anything. It seemed Snape was more sensitive to his reputation than Potter had ever realised.
They walked back to the school, Weasley casting worried glances at him from time to time. He still had no idea what to do next.
Three days later he collapsed in the middle of dinner.
Potter woke up. He felt as if he'd fought off Voldemort for the second time - which in a sense, he had. He hurt all over, even his hair hurt, which was impressive. Snape was sitting by his bed, reading.
"Was it you?" Potter asked.
Snape looked up, his eyes were dark fathomless holes. He said, "No."
"Ron... Weasley Sextus told me that Voldemort asked you to kill me."
"He told me to, yes. Voldemort never asks anyone anything. He made it out to be an opportunity to redeem myself."
"And you said no?"
"On the contrary. I agreed."
Potter tried to sit up, "You... You what?"
"I have never found lying to be a moral stumbling block. Still less lying to Voldemort." The fathomless look was still there. "Believe me, Harry. If I had tried to kill you, you would be dead. I don't make stupid mistakes about dosages."
"Have you any idea who it was." Strangely perhaps, Potter trusted Snape's word.
"I can safely eliminate two people, and they are both present. I doubt if you would poison yourself, and definitely not with Lipara root, and it wasn't me. There are two more I think unlikely; I don't think it was Lupin, he thinks the sun shines out of your arse and anyway he has no talent for potions. I'm reasonably convinced that it wasn't Black; I thought he was going to rip my head off - but of course that could have been feigned."
"So it could have been anyone else in the school - about three hundred people."
"And when Voldemort finds out I'm still alive he'll blame you."
Snape showed his yellow teeth in one of his rare smiles. "Probably."
Potter lay back, exhausted. "Let's run away together." He closed his eyes.
"Of course, he's also blame whoever it was who really tried to kill you. I'm not foolish enough to believe that he relied on me. Not after that debacle in the Great Hall."
"Good," said Potter. "I'd hope they suffer except that no doubt we will suffer alongside them."
"Unless they were doing it outside his orders as an attempt to curry favour."
Potter groaned. "In a book," he said, "the butler usually did it. That means it was probably Filch."
"It could have been anyone."
Potter was aware of a kiss, the briefest of benedictions on his forehead. He opened his eyes in surprise; casual affection was not normally part of their lives.
"Black will come and sit with you," said Snape.
"Someone in the school is trying to kill you. Allow me - us - to make sure that doesn't happen."
Potter returned to school two days later. He still felt rather as if he was suffering from a particularly bad bout of influenza - he'd had that in his second year and remembered it vividly.
Ron walked beside him to their first lesson - Transfiguration; they were arguing fiercely. At last he said, "You know him better than I do, I still say he's a greasy murdering bastard."
"And you're right...but he didn't try to murder me."
Ron sighed as if unconvinced but refused to take the argument any further.
"What were you doing at lunch?" Snape asked.
"Ron invented it. He calls it the plate-swapping game. Seems to think it's funny."
Snape frowned at him.
"What?" asked Potter.
"That's another," said Snape. Potter must have looked blank because he went on, "People I can be sure didn't try to kill you. Very clever of
Weasley to think of it. You should thank him."
"Does that mean you know how it was done?"
"I can guess."
"Work it out for yourself. What I don't know his how - but it is not possible to bribe a house-elf, so you can forget that idea."
"Wouldn't it be quicker just to tell me?"
"It would, but I doubt he - or they - will try that method again, so it wouldn't achieve much. Try logic."
"Yes, logic. There are some things power won't get you."
"I've got you for those," Potter grinned at him, and put an arm round his waist.
"And when you leave?"
"You'll still be mine."
Snape didn't make any reply that, not that Potter expected him to.
Potter entered their rooms only to stand stock-still and look. "What's that?" he asked.
"It's a foe-glass," said Snape. "It's yours. Or it will be."
"Yes. You want to know who your enemies are, don't you?"
"I know who my enemy is," Potter pointed out. "Some days I can think of nothing else."
"Not just him - though you will see a lot of him, I would imagine."
"Will it work for you, too?"
"Not at the same time, the rule is one foe-glass per person. But if it makes you feel better your enemies are nearly all mine. All, I should think." Snape looked at him consideringly. "What it should do is show you which is the most dangerous at any particular time."
"That should keep me on my toes," said Potter. "What do I do?"
"There's an incantation which activates the mirror, then you bind it to you by touching the frame."
"This must have cost you a fortune," Potter was awed.
"Twice that, but I had help."
Potter looked enquiring.
"Black and Lupin. Well, Black I would imagine since Lupin doesn't even own the clothes on his back."
Potter unrolled the scroll containing the incantation. "I like Mr Lupin's clothes," he said, idly.
"So do I, but they wouldn't suit either of us."
"Why can't I see faces?" Potter asked, once the foe-glass had been activated. He stared at the indistinct shapes, worriedly. "There are a lot of them."
"A great many wizards owe positions of great influence to Voldemort. You can't expect them to give those up easily, and most would see you as an enemy even if they didn't exactly use the word."
Potter turned away from the milling figures. He kept on thinking he recognised a shape, head or shoulders, or the cut of a robe, but the next moment it was gone. "Yes, I see what you mean. It is depressing to be hated by so many."
"And when I can see them clearly I'm in immediate danger?"
"That's how it works, yes."
"You're welcome." Snape gave his customary half-smile.
"I don't suppose you'd buy me the best racing broom in existence?" Potter had no such hope, but thought he'd try his luck.
The corner of Snape's mouth quirked, an outright laugh from anyone else. "No," he said. "You do perfectly well on the one you normally use."
"And you wouldn't want to give Gryffindor an advantage."
"Have I ever given you the impression of caring who wins at Quidditch?"
"And you a housemaster."
"Everyone has to make sacrifices for the school. Mine is pretending to give damn about a game."
"And having sex with me."
Snape gave that half smile again, "I don't do that for the school."
Being at school irritated Potter more than ever; he was like a tethered goat here, vulnerable for all he had Snape, Black and Lupin watching over him - he trusted them and Weasley of course - but he was aware that this might not be enough. He longed to take the battle to the enemy, but though he could have run he had no money and no idea where Voldemort was. With money he could have solved the problem but without it he was stuck. He was disinclined to ask for it, it seemed ungentlemanly, particularly when both Black and Snape had been so
generous in other ways. He also didn't doubt that they would guess what was on his mind and refuse.
He wondered, too, why he was so anxious to meet the madman again. Did he have a death wish? It seemed likely.
He confided none of this to Snape - or Black. The recipients of his confidences were Weasley, who listened even if he didn't understand, and Hagrid, who simply listened. Potter couldn't tell if he understood or not.
Potter knocked on Hagrid's door one day in the September of his final year. Hagrid opened the door, drying his hands on a tea towel the size of a bedspread. His whiskery face broke into a grin, "Come in, Harry."
Potter stood just inside the door. He'd never known Hagrid to have a visitor before, and didn't quite know what to say.
"Ah," said Hagrid. "This is Aleastor Moody."
"Mr Moody," said Potter. He sat down in the chair Hagrid indicated.
"Aleastor," said Hagrid, "this is Harry Potter."
Moody heaved himself to his feet and offered his hand. "Pleased to meet you, Mr Potter. Hagrid's mentioned you many times."
"Pleased to meet you, too, sir." Potter stood and shook hands. He could hardly take his eyes off the stranger. Moody looked old, older than the Headmaster, and his hair was a darker grey. One eye was small and piercing, the other was a see-all, constantly moving. He had a spectacularly scarred face, and one leg was gone and had been replaced with a square table leg at some time in the past. His clothes were patched and torn, and had clearly seen hard wear.
Potter tried not to stare, as Hagrid made the tea. Moody didn't seem at all bothered by Hagrid's cooking, he tucked in as if he hadn't had a square meal for several weeks. Looking at him, Potter decided it was quite possible he hadn't. Nor did he seem too worried by Potter's obvious curiosity.
"How are things up at the school?" Moody asked, putting away the last of Hagrid's rock cakes.
"They seem all right to me," said Potter. "I'm more interested in the world outside."
Moody looked at him curiously; even the see-all was still. "You read the paper," he said.
"Of course. But I'm aware it's Voldemort's mouthpiece - how could it be anything else?"
"What's in the paper is as much as most people know," said Moody.
"But there must be more."
Moody looked him over and said nothing.
Hagrid didn't seem at all disturbed by their odd conversations, but nor did he join in.
Snape was in his rooms when Potter got back. He glanced up as Potter sat down, reached for his tea, and went back to his book. Potter watched him turn the pages slowly, eyes flicking along the lines of text. Now and then he'd go back and re-read something, but not often. It was restful to hear only the turn of a page and the occasional crackle of a log from the fire. Potter relaxed, slowly.
"I thought you were going to see Hagrid," Snape said, finally.
"I did. He had a guest."
"Does the name Moody mean anything to you?" Potter wasn't sure it was wise to mention this to Snape, but it wasn't as if he had many choices.
Snape looked up, "Mad-eye Moody?"
"He's got a see-all, if that's what you mean."
"That would be the one. He's a friend of your godfather's, and as much of a lunatic. Well, I say 'friend' but that would be going a bit far. They know each other, but Moody's from the direct action school of opposition to the Dark Lord. Your godfather, much as I despise him, isn't quite that stupid."
"But I'll have to face him eventually." Potter seemed to have been saying this for half his life. Though he knew that to be an illusion.
"Yes," said Snape. His eyes were unreadable.
"Sometimes," said Potter, "I feel that it had better be sooner rather than later."
"And I would far rather it was later. Much later."
"When you think I'm ready? What about my right to choose?" He looked more carefully at Snape. "It's isn't that at all, is it?"
Snape was silent for a moment, then he said, "Is it so odd that anyone should care what happens to you?"
"I doubt we'll ever agree on that. Talk to your godfather, he knows far more about this than I do - or want to."
Potter stared at him.
Snape went on, "They don't trust me. I don't blame them. So whatever they tell you, I don't need to know."
"How can you bear it?" Potter asked.
"I'm a realist."
"Professor Black?" It had taken Potter some time to track him down - not surprising in a place the size of Hogwarts.
"Yes?" The man turned, already looking wary.
"There is a...matter I wish to discuss with you. In private."
"Very well." Black swept off down the corridor but Potter kept up with him easily. All that Quidditch didn't go to waste, after all.
Lupin was in their rooms when Black and Potter arrived. Black said, "Shouldn't you be resting?"
"Sirius, if I rested any more I'd be dead."
Potter heard Black mutter 'that can be arranged' and from the expression on his face he knew Lupin had heard it, too.
"Sit down, Potter," said Black. "What is it?"
Potter sat and waited. It seemed Lupin had no intention of moving - and why should he? This was his home.
"I understand you're acquainted with someone called Moody?" said Potter.
"Yes," said Black. Potter saw Lupin stiffen slightly.
"I met him at Hagrid's."
Lupin and Black exchanged glances. "I had no idea Hagrid knew him," said Lupin, neutrally.
"What can you tell me about him?"
Three days later, in the dead of night, Potter left Hogwarts for the first time in six years. He had no money, that was true enough, but Moody said he had enough to get them where they were going.
"Yes." Potter suppressed his irritation at being called 'boy' as best he could. He didn't know how long his temper would last if Moody made a habit of it, though.
"Good." Moody led the way through the forest setting a fairly quick pace. The place was deathly quiet as if the creatures which lived there were holding their breaths. They encountered nothing, but all the time they walked Potter was aware of a feeling like being watched.
On the other side of the forest lay the railway line. Potter had known it must be there somewhere, he come to Hogwarts by rail, and even heard it from the Gryffindor dormitory during warm summer nights. Not from the dungeons, nothing penetrated there.
They crunched down to the railway line, and crouched down by the tracks and waited. The sound of the train at last, and they both got ready. As it slowed for the curve, they jumped onto the back and inside. It wasn't that they minded paying for a ticket, they didn't want anyone to see Potter leave. He was instantly recognisable as coming from the school.
Once on board the train, they found seats near the back and waited. Potter didn't remember much about his journey to Hogwarts, he'd been too nervous and it was a long time ago, but he didn't recall a ticket inspection. On the other hand, the train had held nothing but Hogwarts pupils, so he supposed there had been little need for one. In any case, once on the train Moody paid for third class tickets.
They could hold any but the most superficial conversation, the train was too crowded all the way down to Northampton, where they got out. Moody had explained before they left that it would be safer to get out there as the news of his leaving Hogwarts would reach London before they did. It would be safer if they got out before it reached the terminus.
Moody explained that had he been alone he would of course apparated. That wasn't possible for the two of them, and he didn't have a broom so that option was out. Potter had offered to steal two brooms from the school, but they didn't want to draw the kind of attention that stealing would bring. A boy running away from school was one thing - it had happened before - but running
away from school taking expensive school equipment was something rather different.
Northampton turned out to be dirty grey. Potter supposed that before the Dark Lord's rule it had been an ordinary Muggle town. Now it was half derelict, many of the shops were boarded up , closed forever. There were very few people about, and those he did see ignored them as if their lives depend on it. Which they might very well do. Their being wizards garnered some respect, but that was only to be expected in a world in which annoying a wizard might well be the last thing you ever did. For the same reason, nobody wanted to be drawn to their attention.
Moody strode through the streets as if he hadn't a care in the world, and Potter walked beside him trying to do the same. "Always looks as if you're in the right place," said Moody. "That's the secret of not being noticed."
It did seem to work, nobody questioned them, nobody stopped them.
"Where are we going?" asked Potter.
"Home of a friend," said Moody. "At least, a friend of mine."
They stopped at long last outside a dental practice. The windows were flyblown, but inside was clean enough, and the middle aged woman behind the desk looked brisk and efficient.
"We're here to see Mr Granger," Moody said. Potter gathered Moody had been here before because the woman didn't look at all surprised by Moody's attempt at an ingratiating smile.
The dentist - Mr Granger - had an office as well as a surgery, and it was there they were invited to wait while he finished with his patient. On the desk was a Muggle photograph of a brown haired girl with rather large teeth. Potter had a feeling she ought to be familiar, but couldn't place her. He was sure he hadn't met her, he'd met so few girls he'd remember that. He frowned.
Mr Granger, when he appeared, was obviously the girl's father. He had rather similar teeth and eyes. He stood in the doorway for a moment, then said, "Aleastor? I wasn't expecting to see you."
"William," said Moody. "This is Harry Potter."
"Oh," said Granger, as if he'd heard the name before. Potter wondered what had been said. Then Granger went on, "Pleased to meet you Mr Potter. Aleastor, why have you brought him here?"
"We had to go somewhere. Where is the Dark Lord?"
"Yes now, what did you think."
"He's in London. Do you have a plan?" Granger sounded sceptical.
Potter turned to look at Moody, wondering what he would say, how far Granger was to be trusted. Moody, however, said nothing more for a moment. Then he said, "Has his route changed?"
"Not since we last talked."
"Good. We need some things from your boys..."
They spent that night in a small run-down hotel near Euston station, having travelled from Northampton by rail on a local ticket which Moody said would garner less attention. The beds were lumpy but Potter for some reason slept well. He didn't think Moody had cast a spell on him, he would have detected that, but his head felt remarkably clear and composed.
The breakfast was surprisingly good, but as Moody pointed out the place was used by commercial travellers and other people who lived on the road - bad food would lose the place business faster than lumpy beds ever could. It felt - good - to be away from Hogwarts, from the stultifying atmosphere of the school, from not knowing who his enemies were. He felt at last that he had some measure of control over his life.
Breakfast eaten, he and Moody headed through London. It was clear and still, the weather just starting to show the chill of autumn, the leaves beginning to colour and fall.
London streets were busier than Northampton, but at this time of the morning not greatly so. Once again, on seeing that they were wizards most people avoided them. It was starting to get on Potter's nerves rather, but he supposed it was the natural result of forty years of Voldemort's rule. He shivered.
They arrived at long last at Hyde
Park Corner. After a comprehensive look round Moody led Potter into the park. "We're a bit early," he said. "We don't want to draw attention to ourselves by hanging about. Are you ready?"
"As ready as I'll ever be," said Potter. In truth he felt a bit sick, he hadn't forgotten what had happened the last time he'd faced Voldemort.
He couldn't go on hiding at Hogwarts - and it wasn't as if he was even safe there. Not really. He wished more than anything that he could say goodbye to Ron and even more importantly to Severus.
They turned and walked back along the neatly swept path. It was curious, Potter wanted time to both slow down and speed up at the same time; it was a most disquieting sensation.
Hyde Park Corner was becoming busier, as they had expected. Potter and Moody waited apparently talking, and occasionally looking up the road towards Knightsbridge.
Potter saw the carriage first, open topped for the bright weather. He waited, now he'd seen it he was no longer nervous, his hands were quite steady. It drew closer and he could feel the pain in his scar, in his head like the clangour of some distant bell. He let his wand fall down his sleeve into his hand, ready but not yet visible.
The carriage slowed for the turn onto Hyde Park Corner and Potter stepped forward. He looked into Voldemort's red eyes, felt the spike of pain, but he raised his wand and spoke the words of the killing curse, "Avada Kedavra!"
Power swept through him, seeming to come from the earth itself. He was rooted to the spot, could not have moved even to save his own life. He knew he should have been closer but knew also that it didn't matter. Voldemort would die.
Voldemort slumped back, but his bodyguard aimed his wand at Potter and spoke the words. As he had in the Great Hall at Hogwarts Potter held his wand in that certain way and spoke the word, "Delinare!" The spell rebounded back on the man who had cast it. He too collapsed. Potter turned to Moody; he was too late, the green light of Avada Kedavra encompassed him and he slid to the floor. Potter hadn't seen who cast it.
Suddenly able to move again, Potter ran. Traffic had stopped, horses stamped and neighed, the strange horseless carriages maddened them, and the chaos of spellcasting created an atmosphere which made them uncontrollable. Potter had expected that Voldemort would be escorted by troops, and he wouldn't have been able to escape them, but it seemed not. Halfway down Grosvenor Place he stopped. Why weren't they pursuing him? He looked back. No, there was no sign of anyone. He walked on, wondering where he was going.
He'd honestly expected to die in the attempt...what if he hadn't succeeded? No, he knew somehow that Voldemort would die, if not immediately before very long. He was as sure of that as he was that his own name was Harold James Potter.
A name he recognised. Victoria. He vaguely remembered being brought through Victoria when he'd first gone to Hogwarts, Little Whinging, where his Aunt and Uncle lived could be reached from there. Abruptly, he stopped again. He'd lived down to his Aunt and Uncle's expectations. He'd killed, and used magic to do it. Before he could stop himself he vomited over a railing and into someone's basement yard. A maid came out and waved a mop at him. He smiled weakly at her, but she yelled, "Be off with you! Drunken lout! At this time of the morning, too!" Potter looked away, ashamed of himself.
What should he do? He carried on walking towards the station, rather hoping something would happen and make his mind up for him. An omnibus stopped, and a lot of people got off. He looked up and noticed it went to Kings Cross. He got on - it was going in the opposite direction to the one he'd been walking in, but that didn't bother him, and Moody had given him half the money they had in case they were split up. It wasn't much, but it would get him somewhere.
The omnibus went back through Hyde Park Corner, and Potter saw that even in the short time he'd
been walking the mess had all gone. The carriage, Voldemort and the guard, Moody's body, it was all gone. He felt sick again, and shivered.
It took some time for the omnibus to get to Kings Cross, he would have missed it but for the memorable crenellated battlements of St Pancras station. Moody had told him it was a hotel, but obviously it was far too expensive for them to stay in.
A ticket to Hogsmeade was more money than he had, even third class. He could just about afford one to Glasgow, and even that only left him 8 knuts. He sighed. "You could send a post card, though," said the ticket seller. Potter looked at him. Why hadn't he thought of that? "Post office is just across the road," he was told.
In the end, Potter decided on a letter as being less likely to be opened, though paper and ink in addition to postage left him with only five knuts. "How long will it take?" he asked.
"Be there by tonight," said the woman behind the counter.
It was odd to be alone; he realised now he'd rarely been completely alone since the last time his Uncle had shut him in the cupboard under the stairs - the only times which came to mind were odd times he'd spent in the dungeon waiting for Severus. Strange.
With the money he had left he could just about have afforded a cup of tea and a cheese sandwich. He was hungry - more especially since he'd been sick - but he just had the tea. He might need the rest of the money.
Potter still couldn't quite believe he wasn't being hunted, it seemed most peculiar; he kept looking around for Inquisitors or policemen, but saw nothing.
Halfway to Glasgow the guard came round to each carriage and made a short announcement - Voldemort was dead. Potter couldn't stop a smile crossing his face, but next to him a woman in a dusty brown coat started to cry. He grief was such that Potter didn't know what to say - should he try to comfort her? He tried to school his face into he same gravity as those he could see around him, but it was almost impossible. He wasn't sorry. He would never be sorry.
He got out of the train at Glasgow, moving like an old, old man. It was mid afternoon and he wondered what he should do, but with little money and no sense of which direction Hogwarts was in there was nothing he could do. He found a bench on the station and waited.
A youngish man in a suit came and sat down. He'd been reading the evening paper, but when he got up to catch his train he left it. Potter picked it up, and saw the headline: "Dead!" One stark word. He smiled again. He started to read.
He'd actually been asleep on the bench when he woke up to find himself looking at a familiar robe. He struggled upright, and stood, nearly overbalancing.
"Yes, I should imagine it is beginning to catch up with you," said Black. He drew something from his robe pocket. "Here, hold this."
"What is it?"
"A portkey. It should activate..." Black drew a pocket watch from his robe, "about now."
There was a sickening pull just behind his navel and a confused blur of colours and shapes. Then suddenly they were at the station at Hogsmeade. Potter staggered for a moment, managed to right himself and then yawned. "Why the station?" he asked when he could speak.
"You can't apparate - or disapparate inside the castle," said Black, tightly. "Well, the Dark Lord could, but we can't. That includes travel by portkey."
"Besides, we have to make it look at least vaguely as if you haven't just murdered the Dark Lord. For the time being at least."
"Oh, yes. Right."
"You could have been killed," said Black, still in that tight voice.
"But I wasn't."
"I had noticed."
Potter was exhausted. It washed over him in waves, but he made himself carry on walking. He said, "The world outside...what he did to it...it's terrible."
"It's worse than you know," said Black.
"I would imagine..." Potter yawned again.
"Nothing. Will it get better now?"
"What's happened?" Potter asked as they walked. He'd been thinking about that odd tone of voice Black had been using.
"Inquisitors," said Black. "They arrived almost as soon as you disappeared."
Potter felt his hands grow cold. "What did they do?"
"Snape and Weasley Sextus. They're alive. Or they were when I left."
Potter ran to the hospital wing. He arrived out of breath and Madam Pomfrey looked disapproving - even more so than usual. "How are they?" Potter gasped.
"Professor Snape will live. Or he should. Weasley...I'm sorry, Potter. He was too badly injured. He died just a few minutes ago."
"Oh, no. No, please." Potter sat down. He wanted to cry, but tears wouldn't come.
"I'm sorry," said Madam Pomfrey. It sounded as if she meant it. "You...do you want to see Professor Snape?"
Potter stood, slowly. "Yes."
She led him through into the long ward. The first thing Potter noticed were the bruises; Snape's face - the only part of him which could be seen was black and blue and his eyes were closed. Potter's breath caught for moment, but then he saw Snape breathe.
Snape's mouth opened slightly and Potter moved closer. What he could see of Snape's hands were black with bruises, but that wasn't much, most of them were bandaged. "It should have been me," Snape whispered.
"No," said Potter.
Snape opened his eyes, it looked as if he hadn't been expecting an answer. He said, "Weasley had his life ahead of him. It should have been me."
Very gently, Potter covered Snape's left hand with his right. He didn't know what to say.
Weasley's father arrived next day with Weasley's brothers, the little sister he'd occasionally talked about and a strange girl. Seeing them, Potter wished he were dead - he had no family who would mourn him. If anything he thought they would be pleased.
"Mr Weasley?" Potter said. Mr Weasley had overseen the loading of the coffin containing his son onto a carriage, and Potter hadn't wanted to interrupt.
Mr Weasley turned and looked down. He was a tall man, tall and gangling as his son had been.
"I'm sorry." Potter knew his words were inadequate. "If there's anything I can do?"
"You're the Potter boy?"
"Ron told me about you in his letters home. Your friendship meant a lot to him."
Mr Weasley couldn't have said anything which would have made Potter feel worse. "I'm sorry," he said, again.
"Mr Weasley may forgive you, but I do not." A female voice, the strange girl.
"Hermione," Mr Weasley said. "Forgive her, she doesn't know what she's saying."
"I do. I know exactly what I'm saying. If it hadn't been for you, Mr Potter, my Ron would still be alive. I do not forgive you, and I never will." She turned away and Potter heard the frou-frou sound her skirts made as she walked along the drive to the carriage.
"Hermione and Ron were going to be married," Mr Weasley explained. "She's distraught."
"I know," said Potter. "Ron told me about her. He loved her very much."
"Please don't hold it against her."
"No. I blame myself. I should have warned Ron. And Severus."
"Ah, yes. The Potions master. I trust he'll recover?"
"They seem to think so."
"Good. Good. Come along," Mr Weasley was speaking to his other children. None of them said anything to Potter. He watched them drive away, the carriages crunching on the path.
Everyone seemed surprised that he returned to classes, but he couldn't think of anything else to do. His mind wasn't really on his work, but none of the masters seemed to mind. He sometimes felt that death would be easier than this.
Severus recovered slowly. Very slowly. Potter had no idea what the Inquisitors had done to him, but they had clearly used very powerful and damaging spells. Potter could do nothing but worry, he had no medical skills, or none that would be of any use in this situation.
Potter sat quietly by Severus' bed. He covered the damaged left hand with is own and Severus opened his eyes. "Oh," he said. "You're back." It sounded as if it was a surprise.
"Are you feeling better?"
"Black and Lupin send their regards," said Potter.
"Do they?" It sounded as if Severus didn't believe him.
Potter hated this peculiar stilted conversation, but wasn't quite sure what to do to change it. Madam Pomfrey bustled in, "Someone to see you," she said, looking at Potter.
"Who?" He was surprised and must have looked it. The only person he could think of who might visit him was Uncle Vernon, and he doubted it would be him.
"The Minister of Magic."
"Barty Crouch? To see me?" Potter stood in astonishment.
"As it became obvious you weren't going to come to see me." Crouch turned out to be surprisingly young; Potter had read his speeches, but had never seen a picture of him. "Good afternoon, Severus," Crouch went on.
If he hadn't known him so well, Potter might have missed the sneer. Snape said nothing.
"I wondered if you had any instructions for the Ministry," said Crouch, turning to Potter.
"Instructions?" Potter stared at him in astonishment.
"Certainly, Mr Potter. You are now the Dark Lord."