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Power the Dark Lord Knows Not

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The Harry Potter everything is JK Rowling's. I own none of the characters and lay claim to none of the original story lines.
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If pain were in colours, it would have been beyond any spectrum. It would have been white. He bent forward as far as his body would go, curving his spine with the strain. Unseen chains tightened his chest--an unexplained force that kept his breathing shallow. It felt as though something was taught around something that was not his lungs, something deeper. All the same, he struggled to breathe through the constriction. He thought he might combust—implode with the agony. His breathing was erratic, overwhelming; his chest seemed to compress abruptly. Something in his ribcage splintered under the tension.

There was a loud crack, and he was gone.
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Draco Malfoy lounged lazily in an arm chair, leafing noncommittally through an antique book and grasping abstract concepts about ancient runes in countries he’d visited superficially when he was too young to appreciate their cultures. He was halfheartedly considering having a late lunch when a horrendous crash seemed to split his cavernous chamber.

Slamming the book shut, the blonde threw it aside and drew up his wand with firm bravado. Upon standing, he found the source of the interruption without further investigation.

There was a boy, perhaps just short of a man, curled defensively on his expensive imported tapestry. He was naked, his back presenting a perfect row of prominent vertebrae. Malfoy observed warily as the figure propped himself up, seeming to come to a sort of fogged consciousness. The boy looked around, taking in his surroundings without actually registering them. Realizing he was not alone, the figure stood as well, stumbling as he did so, lightheaded. He rose with a haunting tenseness, as though expecting pain--the way an animal might if it were wounded.

“Potter,” the blonde growled with disgust. He raised his wand to draw attention to it, but finding the other unarmed, felt less inclined to carry any real conviction. His opponent contorted his face in what at first Malfoy interpreted as a sneer. Harry closed his eyes, and swayed slightly.

“Malfoy,” he responded tiredly.

They both stood there for a moment, unmoving, until Harry swayed once more—violently. He seemed to catch himself in the air, righting himself and gaining some level of balance. Grey eyes studied the form more carefully, noting an interrupted expanse of cream, broken up by darker marks and bruises the colour of the boy’s lips, which were also split. Scars. Several were fresh and long, likely in need of medical assistance to heal fully. He held his left arm out at an awkward angle, like a broken sparrow. Something wasn’t quite right about how he breathed, shallow and pained. A single line of red flowed from his inner thigh to his ankle.

“The wards--You can’t bloody apparate in here, Potter!” the blonde spat with venom.

“So you don’t know.” Harry responded softly, closing his eyes again. The intruder’s face contorted into something like surprised relief and Draco lowered his wand, baffled by this reaction.

“The wards,” Harry continued, “are to keep people out, not to keep them from apparating within.” This statement seemed so obvious that it irritated Draco. What right had he to burst in and tell him about the purpose of wards, like a child? But his words explained nothing, could not explain where he had come from. A moment of silence passed once more between them as Draco’s mind processed what Harry was implying. Suddenly, the question was not where from, but why. Why, why he would be apparating from within the Malfoy Manor?

Abruptly, Harry clutched his left hand to his chest with the other, remarking more to himself than to Draco, “Splinched.” Indeed, upon closer inspection, Malfoy could see that two of his fingers were bent wrong—as though there were no knuckles to keep them in place. Bright green eyes flashed upwards, fixing themselves upon Draco who was still poised just a few feet away, watching awkwardly. It seemed as though he was only just realizing who the blonde was. “Listen,” Harry began slowly, and somewhat painfully, “I know I don’t have any right to ask, but I need to borrow something—” he motioned to his body, still bare and vulnerable, ”anything—and I swear I’ll leave.” He looked down once more at himself with this statement as though to emphasize his state of dress in case it had not been apparent.

Malfoy hesitated for a moment, grappling with hatred and pity. During the school year, he would have given his own hand-joints to see Harry humiliated like this in public—Golden Boy Struts His Golden Stuff. But not like this—bleeding on his rug, trembling from the cold, and barely able to stand. Warily and very clearly reluctantly, Draco strode a few steps to a walk in closet, emerging momentarily with a robe much finer than what Harry was used to. Malfoy still felt some contempt at this last detail, but abstained from showing it as he presented the boy with his hospitality.

“I’ll get it back to you with my owl.” Harry replied gratefully, pulling it on quickly. Noting the claret pool forming on the carpet, he added, “After I have it cleaned.” Draco snarled bitingly, “Keep it.” His nostrils flared to convey disgust at the thought of wearing it again.

Scourgify.

Potter looked down at the tapestry once more, uncomfortably stepping aside. He glanced up once more at Draco, resigning himself to the debt he now owed the ferret. “Malfoy, thank—”

“—Now get the fuck out. Go bleed somewhere else.”

Harry, surprised by the blonde’s abrasiveness despite himself, nodded slightly. He was about to apparate when a very high pitch voice penetrated the door.

“Draco, dear?”

Malfoy sighed audibly, closing his eyes in frustration for only a moment before turning to respond equally clearly through the closed threshold, “Yes, Mum?”

“Dinner’s been set.“

Harry stood frozen, watching Draco closely. Throughout this whole interaction, it was the first time the brunette had expressed anything close to fear. Grey eyes placed their gaze briefly on the intruder before he responded, “No, mum, I think I might just read for a bit.” Turning to his visitor, Malfoy mouthed harshly, “Go. Now.” He pointed at the fireplace, where a pot of floo powder hung from the side of a mantlepiece. Potter needed no more encouragement, taking a fistful of floo. Before, going, however, he turned back to face his savior--a role neither of them was fully comfortable with.

“You’re less like your father than you think.”

With this, he flung the powder into the fire and whispered
“Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley, London.” He disappeared with a roar, leaving the Malfoy heir to consider this in the fine solitude of his damned household.

Chapter Text

Hey, just a head's up: I have 7 chapters written, but I'm releasing them slowly so that I have time to finish, read through, fix, and adjust chapters as I write more.
Just note it's a WIP, albeit an active one.

Let me know if you spot issues, I'm Beta-less. Hopefully you couldn't tell.

All that stuff about not owning JK's stuff because she owns it.

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Chapter 2



Harry limped from the fireplace of the inn, catching the barman’s eye at once. Before waiting to be asked, the boy announced that he wanted a room and that he would be staying for at least a fortnight--perhaps longer. With a nod, Tom led him up a flight of stairs to a large room at the end of the corridor. 


At the host’s questions, Harry shook his head no. “I don’t need anything but sleep, thank you, Tom.” At this, the barman indicated comprehension and left. Harry collapsed onto the bed, turning onto his side and curled his legs up into a fetal position. Something in his chest did not settle properly as he lay down, something not quite physical: misaligned. He felt dizzy and altogether nauseated.

His broad shoulders shuddered as he breathed out, clenching his taut jawline. He struggled a moment, not wanting to breathe in; he stank like what he’d been through. He stank like Terror, and he could smell it on himself. He was afraid to shower, though, for fear that he couldn’t wash it away. 

All that terror. 


In the midst of his thoughts, Potter fell into a feverish sleep. His eyelashes fluttered in his state of unconsciousness, muscles tightening and loosening as his mind took him to places he never wanted to be again. Twice he called out in his sleep: once for his mother to save him, and the second time for Lily to run and let Voldemort have him. 


He came to, to soft voices, hushed and worried. He kept his eyes closed, hoping that they would cease--he feared drifting back into his nightmares, but feared waking into them just as greatly. Harry’s breaths were laboured and intense. He felt someone touch his face gently, and great anxiety built up within him. His consciousness frothed and the aching that he only thought he felt in his sleep became sharper, harsher, real. 
So real. The adrenaline and endorphins, which had carried him to this bed, had dissipated and the pain rendered him all but incapacitated. The last two months--or was it three?--had finally caught up to him, here, when he was finally allowed to rest. He had lost a lot of weight, a lot of blood. He tried to move--to pry himself from the bedspread. His position, which had only moments before been a place of relative comfort, became unbearable, unsafe.

“Oh, god. Harry--”

The voices grew louder, developing familiarity and conveying urgency, all at once. He was sure he heard Sirius, and a crooning that sounded like Hermione--or maybe Tonks? His glasses remained a good reach away on the side table--too far. It couldn’t be Sirius, couldn’t be. His eyes were still unfocused and he had yet to prop himself up fully to see hazily around the room. With his increased movement, the pain intensified. He cried out for just a moment before he stifled it. Someone breathed soothingly, “SSsshhh. We’re here now.” How embarrassing, to be found like this. To be seen like this. 


An arm made its way underneath his knees, while the other supported his back, pulling him up into a sitting position. The cloak--Malfoy’s cloak--slid against his raw skin, slipping with the pivoting motion that it took to sit him up. In seconds, the fabric was pulled back over him in some sick gesture of dignity, but too late. Too late.

A girl gasped, and he did his best to pull his legs together tightly, humiliated. The effort pulled against the arms that held him, which held fast, causing a jarring movement that rocked him back into the same position. This motion was abrupt and unsettling, and the pain was intolerable. “Stop, No-nughh--” A spasm of something like pain, something like physical sensation, but rather beyond it, went through his entire diaphragm, and he vomited water and bile and blood away from the arms. He dry-heaved for a moment before his body frame settled. Those arms held him steady while he shuddered.


Something was terribly wrong. This sudden onslaught of dizziness and illness were too much; he had some broken bones, surely. Perhaps some major internal bruising and a minor splinch. His disorientation and overwhelming nausea, however, seemed unrelated to the terror and daze that he would normally have experienced from waking unexpectedly. Some cognizant part of him realized this in snippets of anxious, flighty thoughts that passed like snitches among the over sensitization of what he was able to absorb around him. 

A thrumming of motion seemed to occur and the surge of concern became a clamor that his conscious state could not process. He struggled to keep his eyes open, keeping mental tabs on two figures that hovered in the doorway. There were more, surely, but he was not sure he could turn his head. Harry could make out robes, definitely. The bright blue blur atop the head of one confirmed with some certainty that it was Tonks. The other, taller, seemed to be male, with darker hair--perhaps lighter in places. Perhaps Remus? Without his glasses, though, he couldn’t be sure.

Someone out of the reach of his peripheral vision pried his mouth open carefully, pouring something down his gullet. He fought, gasping and sputtering for a moment before cold, firm hands massaged his throat--loosening his esophagus and his will for protest. 


“Come now, Potter,” a drawling reproach met his ears, before he leaned limply against the shoulders that supported him, still pressed against his back. More hands, larger and with a more broad palm, ran across his shoulder blades and upper arms in what was obviously meant to be a soothing manner. However, the foreign contact made him irrationally uncomfortable and he recoiled ineffectively, trapped.


The potion bubbled deep and low, pressing against his insides with animosity. Surely that was not their intent; something must be wrong, here. He squirmed with discomfort, unable to keep from uttering groans of distress.
Still, he knew he had to say something to defend himself. His ability to focus drifted away, despite everything in him that screamed to stay awake. “I f-fought it,” he slurred against the potion, out of ridiculous concern, even now, that they understand, “They don-don’t know anythunghh.” Another hush sounded from behind him before he leaned to the side and vomited a second time, the potion burning with an incompatibility that he was too ill to understand. Harry tried to listen to the buzz around him over the rushing in his ears.

“Is it panic?”
 


“No, it has to be a reaction to the potion, but I cannot say...”
 


Suddenly, one of the figures--taller than the others--bellowed, “Remus, Nymphadora, please wait for us outside.” The voice was unmistakably Dumbledore’s, but the gravity of his words gave the boy no comfort. As soon as the door clicked closed, the great wizard raised his wand and uttered unceremoniously, “Assidere.”



Harry registered a strange green glow that the white surfaces of the room reflected briefly before his body abruptly convulsed and he curled inwards, balling up his fists. It felt like every bone was breaking at once, as though a great force had boiled his blood and bent his spine in two. The little vision he was afforded was robbed instantly as he squeezed his eyes shut against the agony. An explosive scream erupted within the room, raw and desperate, lasting several long eternities folded neatly into terrible minutes. He wanted the sound to cease, wanted to smash whatever was emitting it, until he realized with a garish, splintering epiphany that it was he. The room became dim once more. There was one awful, horror-stricken gasp from one of the figures left in the room, and it was over. 



“Albus, I’ve never...”


 The pain receded slowly from him and he shuddered, body still tense, muscles unable to relax fully. He was unwilling or perhaps unable to open his eyes. The Boy Who Lived strained to remain awake through several convulsions that struck him like aftershocks.

The effort, though, proved to be too much and he lost consciousness altogether.

Chapter Text

A/N

Still working through Chapter 7.

I was really surprised at how many reads I'm getting in such a short time!

Anyway, this chapter had a lot of read-throughs and I'm not completely satisfied.

I don't own the rights to HP, Rowling does. I'm playing around with her characters for no personal gain.
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Chapter 3

He awoke once in a blaze of white sterility, the sheets pristine and rough on his bare legs, chest spared by the green-patterned gown that he found vaguely uncomfortable. Gazing up, he saw that he was moving, the fluorescent lights above zooming past like extraordinarily close shooting stars. He said as much, laughing brazenly. Molly Weasley, to his left, kept pace with his moving bed, her hand hovering lightly over his. She was smiling sadly at his commentary. He closed his lids against the brightness of it all, enjoying the dizzying movement of his bed. Moments later he felt a pinch in his forearm and found that he could not open his eyes against the oncoming blackness.


 ---



The next few days were a blur of half-conscious, painful moments, in which he would awake for whole minutes before he was sedated. These became dreamlike and were quickly forgotten. Once he was aware of warmth up to his chest, finding himself slumped against the cool edge of a bath tub, one bulky, bandaged arm held above the water. Someone was sponging him with great care, dipping the sponge in the opaque bubbles periodically. Another time someone was padding down his forehead as he cried out, his wrist held out by a firm hand as someone cooed, “sshhh, it’s setting, Harry.”


 
When he finally came to, he was sitting up in bed, smelling clean and aware only from the window to the right of the bed that it was evening. He blinked a couple of times wearily, stiffly adjusting his shoulders. He made to get up, but abruptly decided against it when a sharp pain struck at his side, spreading along his ribs. It was as though some essential part was cracked and, like a butterfly’s wings, was fluttering, unable to settle.



“Sit back, Potter,” a cold voice came from his direct right, startling him effectively. 
In one glance, Harry ascertained what he already knew: Snape sat beside him, his sunless skin illuminated by the enchanted not-quite kerosene lamp at his bedside table. Doing what he was told, Harry leaned back down, allowing the pillows to take the edge off of the throb still running through to his ribs.


“I’m going to need to place this salve on your back,” he began, not without pause.
“Please turn.”


Harry blanched, uncomfortable and embarrassed by this request. He began to argue, “N-no, it’s fine. I can--”


“--Potter.”

His response was biting and gave a heavy sense of disregard to Harry’s protests.


“Why can’t someone else do it? I thought I heard Hermione. Can’t she--”


“Potter, no one else is at your needy disposal. Do not make me ask you again.”


He was too tired, too drained to fight. Though he had slept for days, he felt as though it had only been minutes. Harry leaned forward, stifling back a gasp at the intensity of the pain that struck through him. He rotated, moving his legs to one side, noting with further embarrassment that, apart from the wrappings around his ribs and over one shoulder, he was shirtless. He then turned, gritting his teeth, and tried not to think about how humiliating this was.


Snape’s fingers were very cold, just as Harry expected. Removing the bandaging adeptly, he allowed three long gashes to hit open air. They were stitched closed in what he regarded to be a tribal, muggle fashion--a measure that made even the Severus shudder. After applying several cotton swabs of alcohol without warning, forcing a long, clenching hiss to erupt from the boy before him, he began to apply a topical anesthesia, mixed with a natural muscle relaxant on both the gashes and the surrounding muscle. His long, dextrous digits worked the salve in delicately. However, Harry cringed at the touch, hating even this small intrusion--a sentiment that left him inexplicably nauseated.



As he worked, Severus broached warily, “While Albus remains concerned about your sensitive nature, Potter, it is imperative for the sake of the Order and myself that you tell us precisely what information you have given to the Death-eaters.”


Harry’s eyes snapped open and his back stiffened noticeably, shrugging off Snape’s hands, which he withdrew immediately. Speaking slowly, as though gathering his words as he went, Harry snapped,”I didn’t tell them anything. They have nothing.” At this Severus grew displeased, drawling with more edge than usual, “Potter, I’m sure I don’t have to impress upon you the severity of the situation. Lucius can be quite--” the professor paused, his expression darkening, “persuasive.” He took a rag from the bedside table, wiping the excess substrate off of his own hands in a manner that was too calm; too matter-of-fact.



Harry flinched at the name, hackles rising. He struggled to keep his voice calm and consistent as he turned to look at his professor, “Frankly, Snape, it’s none of your business, but your precious ass is safe, I assure you.”


At this, Severus stood up abruptly so that he was above the brunette and every bit as domineering as he was in the dungeons.



“Language, Potter. It’s more of my business than you can ever know. Just like your Father, to lie, to place pride over--”


The boy became rapidly livid, resembling more of an animal than the Gryffindor Golden Boy, cornered and wild. Something in him, so tired and hurt and traumatized, slithered with a rage that had no victim--no real conduit. This thing was cruel and sharp-edged and he met it now as it rose to his throat. He couldn’t stand, could barely turn to face the professor to spit, “--At least my father had more pride than to go crawling to Voldemort, Snivellus.”


He had gone too far; he knew it as soon as he spoke. Harry bit his lip with regret, knowing that if his professor knew what he could not express, he would not have pushed so hard. Snape, to his part, did not respond immediately. A master at controlling his outward expressions, his facial features betrayed nothing but the initial loathing that was already obvious between them. Finally, Severus drew his wand in one quick, graceful movement, pointing it at the Savior of the Wizarding World. Harry closed his eyes against what he knew was coming.
Snape sneered,“Legiti--”



“--NO!” 



It was the way he said it, the desperation in his voice. There was an edge of something else, too. Something weary, as though this breach, after so much else, would be too much to bear.



“They have nothing.”Harry repeated slowly as he glanced up, after an excruciatingly long pause. It silenced the man for more reasons than one. This last remaining Potter was the splitting image of his father, with disheveled black hair and strong jaw line. The way he held his shoulders back and the manner with which he maintained eye contact as though he had nothing to prove--every arrogant, self-assured thing that he had hated about James Potter. But here, skinny and sharp-boned, he was different. Perhaps changed by circumstance, or perceived differently by Severus himself. Looking again, the older man realized that the frame of Harry’s shoulders was set not in arrogance, but a humility that only trauma could teach. The student’s eyes were awash with resolution that was so impossibly green.

He had never looked more like Lily. 


Severus lowered his wand, pocketing it as subtly as possible. He was partially ashamed at his own selfishness; he had almost forgotten himself and done the unthinkable to a student out of malice. They sat in silence for a moment longer, swallowing time without consequence. Finally, Harry spoke, his voice a little bit raw, “How long?”



“Nearly a month and a half. It is August seventeenth.”



The boy swallowed, processing this information. Unable to hold back, he sighed a laugh, bitter and unlike himself. 


“God, it felt like longer.”

Severus, understanding this sentiment for himself, nodded briefly. Not knowing what else to say, he added, “You’ve been asleep for approximately two days.”

Harry shook his head, confused.

“Why do I still feel, er--How am I not...? I should be...”


“Eloquent as ever,” Snape snarled with slightly less venom than what came most naturally. 

 Harry, who had been inspecting his hands, and then the wall before him, finally looked up at Severus and spoke with resignation that neither of them recognized, “I’m sorry, I was out of line--”



“--There are no more lines, Potter.”


He nodded once at this, keeping his gaze at his fingers. He noticed with shock that his left forearm was in a red and gold cast, the kind that Piers Polkiss once had when he broke his arm falling off of a fence in a mad attempt to escape a badly botched break-in-and-entering. He took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a minute to reorganize his frazzled thoughts.



“Aren’t there potions for this, Professor?” He asked the potion’s master, not without a hint of sass.



To his credit, Severus did not skip more than a beat. Although he had not expected Harry to make this connection immediately (or, really, at all), he knew that an explanation would have to be given eventually. In fact, he had rather hoped that Dumbledore--who was, at least, more patient with the boy’s ineptitude--would be there to deliver the news. 



“At this moment in time, potion use would be counterproductive, if not detrimental. Ah--”



He had difficulty forming the words, abruptly. Honestly, so many years serving the Dark Lord, spouting lies at the drop of a hat. And here he was, unable to smoothly explain a fairly basic concept to a Gryffindor. He tried again.



“Surely you must have felt the change, even in your brief consciousness, during the escape.”




“I--the change...?”



Sighing heavily, the professor righted the chair that had been knocked over in the intensity of Harry’s outburst, bringing it beneath him in one movement as he sat beside Harry’s bed. Wringing his hands and adjusting his robes, as though he was not sure what to do with them, he began again.



“Wandless magic is very powerful, as I’m sure you know. Small children, before they develop and channel their potential, let it out in minuscule bursts; it’s a natural phenomenon. As wizards mature, this response to magical development becomes fairly unnecessary and these occurrences become less frequent in interval, reserved only as an emergency response when the body perceives itself to be in danger.”



Snape paused for a long moment, waiting for Harry to give him the signal that he was following, or even understanding. Potter was waiting for the questions they both knew he would answer: why didn’t mine respond? Where was my wandless magic? After a long silence, he continued.



“Lucius is very aware of these responses, and being a pureblood with a long lineage of brilliant, if inbred, Wizards, he has access to magic that has long been banned & forgotten.”



He had the Gryffindor’s attention now. His green eyes were unwavering in their steady focus.



“You will redevelop your magic. It is not forever lost.”



“My... Magic.”


 The panic was clear in his voice, now. Harry clenched his jaw, too aware of his uneven breathing and the way his body swayed terribly with each lungful of air. Something awful slid into place. He brought his good hand to his chest, where something deeper than bone was misaligned, shallow and broken. 
Voice rough, he asked distractedly,

“What magic?”



“Pardon?”



“L-Lucius. What magic does he have access to?”

 The name was a gillyweed stuck in his throat, hard to swallow.

Severus sighed deeply, adjusting himself in his seat as a cat adjusts itself in discomfort at being woken. 



“Noblemen interbred to maintain pureblooded offspring, causing abnormalities that one might find in pureblood canines,” he sneered, “only more unpredictable. Their accidental magic was often staggered and terrible. Darker families developed means to control it.”



He paused, searching Harry’s face as though dubious that he was still grasping these concepts. Finding him attentive, Snape continued disdainfully, “It was delicate business and had many severe results, so this kind of magic was eventually reproved by the wizarding community, condemned to the shadows of wizarding homes.”



Harry moved his legs painfully to the edge of the bed, moving to get up as though being on his feet could piece together the ambiguities of his professor’s irrelevant stories. “Professor,” he growled, frustrated, “I don’t understand.” His head pounded, now, the pain in his hand and ribs irritating him further. His side felt as though it could shatter, or maybe it already had?



“Honestly, you have the comprehensive ability of a flobberworm. Lucius suspended your magic, Potter. It’s no--”



At this, Harry pushed off the bed, swaying, his face contorted with the effort and the agony that hit his chest like a physical blow. Whether from the pain or in reaction to what Snape had just said, Harry exclaimed, “Bullocks, Snape. I apparated away, didn’t I? I’m fine. mmph--” He had to take a step sideways to steady himself, and the exertion it took to sustain his upward stance set in fully. Pushing past the tall figure before him, Harry staggered to the door, thrusting it open. Some part of him felt as though this was just part of the same nightmare he had left. If he could leave the room, get away from Snape and his misguided lies... He was already panting, and he wasn’t sure he had it in him to go much further. His limbs were stiff and his left foot was asleep from disuse.



“Potter! Get back here, you’re not--”



This was Grimmauld place, he realized, as he stepped into the hallway, realizing hazily that fresh paint had addled his initial recognition of it in that small room. Clearly Molly had been at work here. The edges of his vision began to deteriorate, and nausea set in. He reached out, letting the wall support him as he continued down the corridor, reaching the edge of the stairwell.


He vaguely heard Snape, not far behind, continue to call for him to return to bed, but the adrenaline and panic had begun to bloom.


Just as he was considering how he was going to make it down the stairs, Dumbledore came around the corner. His expression, though warm, was not one of amusement. There was no twinkle in his eye. 



“Harry, my boy, I’m surprised to find you out of bed.”



Harry shook his head, as though batting away these words, but the appearance of the Headmaster certainly gave him pause. “Professor...” he began, unsure of what he wanted to say. He began to hobble down the stairs, gripping the banister in a sloping movement, gathering both feet on each platform before limping down to the next. The stairwell groaned with the weight at each step.


Glancing up, he noted the good-natured expression on Albus’s face, as though understanding the boy’s need to be out of the bedroom and to tackle the descent on his own. Another figure, a man, came around the corner but was obscured momentarily by the tall build of the headmaster. For just a moment, Harry recognized the gait, felt a jolt in his throat at the abrupt hope he felt in his heart. 
Sirius stepped out from behind Dumbledore, looking up at Harry as though he had never left him. He was in fresh, un-tattered robes, looking clean and shaven. All thoughts of his magic and the nonsense Snape had been spouting left him completely. Gone was any concern for his own pain.


Harry stopped five steps from the bottom, incapable of comprehending. There was no way. Snape had caught up to him, now, and his long dextrous fingers grasped his elbow to secure the escapee in place as the boy swayed violently. 



“Honestly, Potter.”



Snape said more, but Harry wasn’t listening. He had made eye contact with his godfather and he was terrified--sure that if he were to break it, Sirius would disappear 
in a fit of smoke. “Sirius,” he breathed, unsure, certain that this had to be a dream.



He came forward, continuing his unsteady lurching down the stairs. Severus, exasperated, let him leave his careful hold. Harry made it down three steps before misplacing his feet and stumbling down, lunging forward into the open embrace of his godfather, who caught him without great difficulty. The boy buried his face into Sirius’s shoulder, tightening his grip.




“I thought you were dead, mate. I was so sure you were dead.”



Sirius laughed his bark-like laugh, “Didn’t think you lot could get along without me!” Despite his mirth, he held Harry for a long time, allowing a long and fulfilled silence to pass between them. Dumbledore nodded at Severus, steering his head to the left to indicate that they should both retire to the sitting room, leaving the two to reconnect.


Chapter Text

A/N:

I feel like most of my chapters end with Harry sleeping. But I mean, you'd sleep a lot too.
Less of that to come.
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Chapter 4



“I daresay your conversation went worse than you’d planned, Severus?” Dumbledore 
broached as soon as they were out of earshot. He settled into a maroon armchair that, while worse for wear, was much better suited to the newly arranged sitting room than the gnarly, flea-ridden affairs that had previously inhabited the Black home. Molly had been at work here, too. 


Snape sat to his right, onto an antiquated couch cushion, settling uncomfortably at the edge, as though sure he wouldn’t be there for long. Disgruntled, he replied without patience, “Albus, I think you’d do well to deal with the brat entirely. Apart from salves, there is little I can do to heal the boy. Madame Pomfrey herself was baffled. Who is to say when he will regain what he has lost? Vulnerability at a time such as this--”


Albus held up his hand to stop Severus mid-sentence, perturbed by this turn of conversation in such an open space. “Severus, old friend, I believe there is more to be done. While your sacrifice has been invaluable to the efforts of the Order of the Phoenix, I must ask of you one further burden. You are to watch over the boy in the Fall; you have more to give than salves, yet. I’m sure I don’t have to impress upon you the urgency of this situation.”



“Minerva is fully capable, or Pomfrey. You cannot ask me to coddle Potter back to health, Albus. There are others with a greater capacity for comfort and understanding.”
 


“Ah, understanding. Am I to gather that you have none to offer, here, Severus?”



Snape’s face contorted into a snarl, his teeth visible as he hissed, “I respect your paternal feelings for the boy, Dumbledore, but my situation was night and day to this. 
I don't possess the empathy. It’s too much to ask.”



Dumbledore let out a long breath, rising to his feet elegantly, unruffled. Adjusting his spectacles on his nose, Albus took a long look at Severus. He sighed long and low. 



“It was not so many years ago that you would have done anything for Lily’s son.”



Snape closed his eyes against these words, setting his shoulders back in shame and ire all at once. He rose, too, turning to the kitchen. Shifting his head to the side to look warningly back at Dumbledore, he responded tersely, “I’m sure Mrs. Weasley would be pleased to know that Potter is awake.”


He slipped through the entryway without another word, his robes billowing fiercely behind him, to voice bitterly to those in the next room that Harry was finally conscious. Then, finding himself in a temper and in great discomfort, he informed Molly that he had business to attend to at Spinner’s end. He would return later in the night to supply the rest of the salves and an arnica tincture that was almost ready.



Harry and Sirius hobbled into the living room, finally, joined by Remus, who had descended the steps once he heard the commotion. Much of the Order, having tea in the kitchen, flowed in to the adjacent room to find the headmaster already seated and their resident invalid just joining them from the opposite threshold. At first feeling slightly at odds due to his shirtlessness, Harry soon relaxed at the lack of concern everyone else seemed to apply to this. Several times, however, he found that eyes rested too long on the scars along his chest and he looked away, feeling vulnerable.


The room erupted with noise, then. Relief and curiosity was obvious in a dozen faces, all alight with words that overshadowed one another, too much to understand. Still hazy and not altogether capable of focus, Harry squinted against the sound level, attempting to separate one phrase from another, instead picking up bits and pieces:
“Whotcher! Looking a bit peaky, isn’t He? --ay, Mate!”


Harry shook his head to indicate a lack of full understanding, supported still on his left by Sirius, who was handling most of his godson’s weight. Harry lifted his arm to point, leaning himself in the direction of one of the sofas to indicate a desire to sit, not trusting himself to speak just yet. A brief silence stretched over the group as they watched Harry settle himself, adjusting himself so that he as fully supported by the back of the couch.


Molly teetered for a moment before breaking the silence with a nurturing confidence, “Don’t suppose you’d like some tea, Harry, Dear?” His eyes dragged from the floor to her face slowly, and he stared for a moment, processing. There was an awkward moment in which she almost repeated herself to be sure he had understood her, but after a long pause, the ghost of a smile graced the corners of his lips and he nodded. 



“T-That’d be great, thanks.”



At this, everyone visibly relaxed. Arthur, Tonks, and Remus all sat on the sofa across, while Sirius and Bill Weasley joined Harry. Ron and Hermione and the twins, settled on the floor between the couches. Mrs. Weasley disappeared into the kitchen promptly, reappearing within minutes, wand in hand. She was followed by a steeping pot of tea, along with several half-finished cups that had been abandoned in the next room. The floated lazily through the air, finding their respective owners with a distinguished flick of Molly’s wand.



No one spoke for a long moment, until Fred, taking a last swig of his tea, examined the dregs before declaring, “Looks like a nose with bumps.” George leaned over and considered the tea leaves carefully before offering, “Obviously you can look forward to a warty nose, Gred. At least Mum’ll tell us apart.” They both gave a mischievous glance at their mother, who frowned ruefully in response.


Harry grinned, despite himself.
Taking his own cup from the air, Harry studiously examined the scratched gold-plated handle with the Black family crest at the curve, pretending not to notice everyone staring at him. Finally, unable to find anything else to concentrate on, he looked up at his godfather. 



“Sirius, tell me how you came back to us from beyond the veil.”



Sirius gave a knowing glance at Remus and then gazed back at Harry, releasing a laugh that seemed to settle the last Potter, like a beacon of familiarity that finally spoke of home.



“To the point, then. Very well, Harry. As you know I was stunned by Bellatrix before I fell. I lost consciousness for a very long time, longer than it felt like, I’m sure.
It was the place. Time was different in death than it was in life. I call it death because--” He looked once more to Lupin,”Well, Loony and I still aren’t sure. We’ve done intensive research, of course, but if the Ministry hasn’t found it...”
Sirius adjusted himself in his seat.


“It was not completely reality, not another universe but one in between. I woke to whispering, and I could see only blurred figures and mist. An entire existence of shadows and fog. I panicked, tried to scream, fight--but you can’t fight mist, obviously. I was alive in a place where only the dead go, sort of... I couldn’t process them because I wasn’t in the right state for the place I was in.” 



Sirius paused to gather the right words, “Much like trying to fit a galleon into a knut.” Hermione peered owlishly over her teacup at him, as though mentally categorizing the magical properties of the world he described.



“But I could feel them,” he stated hauntingly, his tone suddenly serious. “One of them got real close and laid a hand--a limb--touched me right here.” Sirius brought his hand to his chest, punctuating his last 3 words by pounding his fist lightly at his breastbone, the sound reverberating in the dusty room of his ancestors. He brought his shirt collar down and to his left shoulder, where finger prints seemed to be burned into his skin slightly off-center, above his heart. Everyone was silent, now, and the stillness brought chills to Hermione and Ginny, despite having heard the story twice before. Harry didn’t speak but studied the scar with renewed intrigue.



“And suddenly their hands--well, you know--were all over me, and their fingertips started to sink in. They weren’t solid; they were still mist, but I could feel them all the same. They were surrounding me, and there were just so many. It was like another sense, everywhere, below my skin, and the pain was beyond, Harry. There are few things in this life that I would say compare to the wretchedness of the Dementors, but those fingers...”



His eyes glazed for a moment and the gaunt, pained look aged his face momentarily. Harry could believe, fleetingly, that this was the same man he had met in the Shrieking Shack all those years ago. With a nudge from Remus, however, a youthful mischief tugged at the corners of his mouth once more.

“My vision clouded and I found myself in the Peruvian rainforest.” He took a swig of tea from the the cup on the table, and grinned to himself, “Well, that’s not quite true. I was found by a baffled native whom I’m sure that I frightened terribly. I couldn’t apparate--wasn’t strong enough, yet. That’s why it took so long; I had to hike to Lima, and it was a good while before I was strong enough to come home. They took something from me, used my magic to take me back. Remus and I assume their magic wasn’t the sort I needed there.” Sirius shrugged as though the enigma of this secondary world was no longer of great concern to him. It was a very difficult riddle he had struggled to put down and had tried to forget about.



Again, a pregnant silence passed over the group as minds fluttered genially from Sirius’s joyous return to the ambiguous and somewhat sordid conditions of Harry’s recent rescue. Idly sipping his tea, Harry’s shoulders tensed under the impatient gaze of his friends.

Finally, Hermione stood tearfully, stepping lightly over to him and lowering herself to his side so that she could drape her arms around him without applying too much pressure to his swaying form. “Oh, Harry,” she sniffed breathily into the shallow of his collarbone where it met his shoulder. Not wishing to crowd him, but wanting to join in all the same, the group watched, unsure of how to express their lament. Letting him go, Hermione settled herself beside him just as Ron, from across the table, stumbled bluntly, “S-So, Mate. What, er-you know... What happened?”



Uncomfortable at the abrupt attention and mortified at the prospect of having to relate the experience of his escape to such a large group, when he himself could barely find the words to describe it, Harry gazed at them all, doe-eyed. 

Dumbledore, to Harry’s intense relief, interjected at this, “Pardon my interruption, for I find myself just as profoundly curious as you, Mr. Weasley. The time will come, I am sure, for Harry to speak of his misadventures this past summer.” He glanced at the brunette with a knowing, but sad smile. “However, I am sure that it is not tonight. Not until he is ready. Come, let us return you to bed, Harry. What you need above all else now is rest.”



It was only with Sirius’s coaxing that Harry rose to his feet and made his way back up the stairs. Despite his mild protests, he returned to his room after splashing his face with water and running a toothbrush over his teeth with brevity.



Before stepping back into the bedcovers, Harry turned back to his godfather with abrupt concern.



“Sirius, Snape was saying something about my magic before he left.”



He ran a hand through his messy black locks, trying to recall the rubbish that his professor had been spouting through the advanced gravity of his muscles and the ache that still throbbed in his ribs and wrist. He continued despite his exhaustion, “Something about... L-Luc--Pureblood magic. I can’t...”



Shaking his head, the last remaining Black pushed Harry gently toward the mattress, telling him that it was nothing and they could discuss his questions in the morning. 



“Nothing to worry about tonight.”



Unconvinced, but too tired to argue, Harry settled easily into the soft blankets. The Boy Who lived settled on his stomach, the gashes on his back beginning to prickle in the open air. After a few moments, footsteps in the hallway alerted him to some activity just outside of the door and he adjusted his head to listen intently. Molly peered into the threshold, her hand on Lupin’s forearm in a silent request that he remain still. Then, leaning towards his ear she spoke in a concerned undertone, “Should we let him sleep like that without dressing those awful--?” Remus cut her off with a sharp shake of his head, which Harry noted was much like the curt shake of a dog.



“I’ve already spoken with Dumbledore, Severus will return later tonight once he has harvested the Asphodel the salve requires. The brewing is measured hourly and it must be exact.”



Molly said something else, uttering a mutter of disdain which made Harry struggle against sleep, but his sore body soon slipped into an unrestful slumber.

Chapter Text

A/N:
Thanks for the feedback, guys! I'm really working on cleaning up loose ends and keeping characters moderately in check.

 

This one is short, but I think it really sets the tone for some things that are happening in the next 2 chapters.
I'm super psyched for Chapter 8.

In the meantime, enjoy!

EDIT: thanks for bringing up the chapter title, guys! Whoops!
________________________________

Chapter 5 




The potions master, forcing himself dutifully to return despite the resentment boiling in his veins, apparated down a block from Grimmauld Place, finding the door unlocked in expectation of his arrival. Somehow this intuitive gesture incensed him further. He made his way further into the house, going up the stairs with soft, almost phantom-like steps.



Severus stepped lightly into the dim room, only the light from the doorway trailing a glow across the uneven floorboards, illuminating the ceiling and the figure in the bed in a yellow, ruddy glow. He was swaddled in a musty blue blanket, his back to the threshold, a head of unuly black hair peaking from white sheets under his duvet. One leg was twisted in the folds, the limb free of the fabric from the calf down. The toes curled, tensing and releasing.



The professor cocked his ears at a slight whisper coming from the bed. At first sure the occupant must be asleep, he began to realize that the words were stunted and desperate--hazy, as though spoken unconsciously. Indeed, what Snape could make out was muffled and slurred.



“Nnnugh, No! I... won’t...Y-You.. cccahn’t.” 



As he watched, the figure beneath the sheets shifted slightly, a groan rising steadily. Harry turned over, adjusting both of his legs to extend past the reach of the covers. Turning to face Snape, he cried out at the movement despite his deep sleep. The sound was eerie because it built steadily--a low, diaphragm-born scream that came from dark, terrible hurt. Harry clutched at the linens, his knuckles white with tension.



Sensing that the worst was yet to come, Severus drew his wand and hissed, “Muffliato” to ensure that the rest of the house slept on. He was not, however, immune to the squall as it continued on, growing in volume and terror until even Severus’s breath caught with the fierce adrenaline of contagious fear. 
At first Potter screamed for mercy, for some unseen figure to stop. His face contorted into a grimace of torment, fists still twisting into the sheets, his knuckles maintaining their startling alabaster.

After only moments of this writhing, however, he cried out for an end--for the greatest mercy of all--before succumbing to a long litany of exclamations so fierce that his voice cracked. The hairs stood up on the back of Snape’s neck, causing him an extraordinary degree of unease. Despite his avid lack of fondness for the boy, he found himself unable to watch with apathy.

Gingerly approaching the bed, Snape kept his voice level, “Potter.” He repeated himself twice over the roar of Harry’s panic. Finally, feeling a grave sense of trepidation at the movement, the professor neared the bed frame and shook the shoulder of his student gently.
At the touch, Harry jumped aggressively, waking violently into a stupor of pure horror. Reaching behind him for his wand, he found nothing but a sinking feeling in his stomach as he realized that he was vulnerable and defenseless in bed. Shaking, he looked up at the tall, black-robed figure and his mortification abruptly shifted into fury.



“THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN MY ROOM?”



In rapid and unreasonable reaction to Harry’s ire, Severus quickly forgot any sympathy that may have been forming moments before. Snape’s snarl was equal in venom as he hissed despite himself, “Insufferable twit! I’m here for your BLOODY SALVES.” He raised a vial as if he was within an inch of shoving it down the boy’s throat, shaking with righteous rage.



“If it were not for Dumbledore, Potter, you’d be in a great deal more discomfort. I’d leave you to your childish snuffling and your nightmares.”



Harry had his mouth open, his lip curled in disgust, ready to say more--to attack Snape for everything he was. However, the man’s words hit him like a blow, biting and true. He realized with regret and a sense of dumbfounded obviousness that as unguarded as he felt now, his nightmares left him still more transparent. His mouth closed with a snap, the click of his teeth making an audible sound in the dark stillness. Both of them stared at eachother, a stalemate of profound dislike. 



“Get out.”



Harry’s words were like the warning growl of a cat before it swats, claws out: low and threatening. Snape, stone-faced, held up the vial once more.



“As much pleasure as it would give me to leave your charmed presence immediately, Potter, your wounds have yet to be treated.”



Wildly, Harry sat up, tossing aside the bedcovers. Knowing he should be somewhat grateful to Snape for his care, despite the fact that it was a duty he was undoubtedly carrying out begrudgingly, Harry could not muster any civility. Something in him rankled deep at the core and shook him with the panic of a caged animal. His voice was much lower as he repeated, “GET OUT.”



Snape, unintimidated, scowled with supreme disgust, snarling, “Bloody tomfool.”
 Severus knew that his responsibilities dictated that he overcome his hatred of the boy-turned-man before him. He knew also that it would be neglectful and somewhat abusive to indulge himself in leaving the brat to his own devices for the night without the anesthetizing effects of the salve. Harry’s behavior was obviously a juvenile reaction to the trauma of the last month and a half; surely even the Potions‘ Master with his great dislike for the boy could rationalize that. 



However, his rage and resentment went beyond reason. In a gesture of aggravation that he would regret momentarily, he thrust the vial down to the floor with great force. It shattered, glass bursting with the contents and spreading for several feet. He snapped with ferocity, “I expect you’ll learn some manners by morning,” before turning on his heels and flooing away with a violent flurry of green flames.

While at first, Harry found his mind quieted by Snape’s leave, it took him a long time to go back to sleep. The dull ache in his back and muscles returned within the hour, worsening over time into a fierce and needle-fine pain. Doing his best not to toss and turn, not even his stubbornness could make him wish less for the soothing salve that remained mixed with glass shards to the side of his bed.

Chapter Text

A/N: Hey! Sorry for the delay, I've had a busy weekend. I won't be able to update for about a week. I'm really cleaning up chapter 7 and chapter 8, which will take a while.

Please appreciate my pun for this chapter. If it's not funny yet, you'll be walking down the street sometime soon and think about it and realize how great it is. Or something.

A week isn't too long. Something about the heart growing fonder?
_______________________________________

 

Chapter 6



Harry woke to tumultuous yelling downstairs and, sitting up, stretched slightly before recoiling in pain against his inflamed stitches. He leaned forward and eased his legs over the bed frame to hang as he sat, settling himself. Putting his face in his hands, he groaned for a moment, internalizing how deep the ache felt: as though it came from beyond his insides. He thought he might retch. 


Staggering to his feet, Harry stumbled gracelessly down the stairs.
 Halfway down the banister, the shouting became astoundingly clear. It was Mrs. Weasley, screaming in a manner that forced him to recall Ron’s howler over the flying car. He was at once grateful not to be in the kitchen.

 


“Leaving his pain tincture on the floor, WOUNDS OUT FOR INFECTION LIKE AN ANIMAL. Shame on you, Severus. It’s inhumane what you did last night. That boy’s been through ENOUGH without your CHILDISH RUTHLESSNESS. I WILL NOT TOLERATE CRUELTY IN MY HOUSE. DO YOU HEAR ME?”



There was a long, terrible moment during which there was only silence. Harry remained frozen on the stairs, suspended with disbelief. It occurred to him that the glass had been cleaned from his bedside when he awoke. A large part of him felt remorseful; against his strong desire to maintain otherwise, it had been his fault that Snape had left without tending to the bandaging. As the seconds dragged past without a biting, egregious response, Harry found himself wondering with increasing curiosity what must be happening below. 



Finally, he detected a low drawl that he had to struggle to make out.



“I... Indeed, Molly. My actions were regrettable.”



Following another long pause, he continued, “Give Potter these, one for every four to six hours. It may result in drowsiness or lethargy, but that may be for the best. Dab this on the gashes for the moment. I’ll return tonight with the new batch of salve; it has another 18 hours to settle before the ragwort can be safely applied.”

Harry's eyes widened. Snape could have mentioned his belligerence, could have expressed that it was Harry who had insisted he should leave. Listening for more, he was met with the sound of the fire roaring and Harry assumed he was gone.



Stepping down onto the lower landing, but uneasy about entering the kitchen, Harry leaned in the doorway, surveying the scene warily. 



Remus brought a full cup to his lips, blowing softly before scoffing humorlessly, “I was beginning to think Severus was fortunate that Sirius has not yet woken, but now I’m not so sure...” 



“A grown man, I can’t even--how Dumbledore thinks it a good idea that Severus fill in for Pomfrey I’ll never--”



Molly slowed her raving when Remus turn to look elsewhere and careened to a stop when she saw that it was Harry. He nodded at them both and then crossed to the counter, where he took a cup from the far cupboard. He took a moment to open the door--it would forever stick no matter how they oriented the hinges. 



Harry looked up from pouring himself a cup of coffee from the French Press that lay, fresh, on the stove. Distractedly, he noticed the Black family seal carved beautifully below the lip of the glass and his heart skipped at the careful, dreamlike realization that the last Black still lived. 



There was a strange awkwardness that passed between them as Molly cleared her throat, painfully aware of what her guest must have heard. Struck by a moral, if somewhat resentful, sense of duty, Harry intoned softly, “I goaded him, Mrs. Weasley.”
Molly cocked her head, as if unsure of what she had just heard. The Harry she had known last year had hated Snape, would have thought the worst of him regardless of provocation.

“I--what, Harry, Dear?”



“Snape. He came--er, last night. Well, he was a right git but...”



Harry could distinguish the inner conflict that this information presented across the matriarchal Weasley’s face. She struggled to reconcile her fury with Snape with her maternal desire to coddle the newly returned and wounded charge. “He’s the adult, Harry,” she chided.



He scoffed humorlessly. Reaching for a spoon, Harry pulled out two drawers on the far right before finding the utensil drawer had been moved to the middle. A terrible silence descended, worsened by the clacking of the metal against his ceramic mug. Glancing up once more, Harry found that they were both looking at him. A powerful understanding overtook the moment; he’d been through a great deal this past summer. If he had ever been a child, it was certainly no longer the case now.



Sighing, Harry added another spoonful of sugar and then approached the table, placing the cup before pulling out a chair for himself. Changing the subject, he addressed Remus solemnly, “What’s wrong with me?”



It hadn’t been what he’d meant to say. There were better ways to ask the question he had just posed, but Lupin seemed to comprehend regardless. 



“Harry, Dumbledore told us that he’d prefer it if--”



Harry’s gaze narrowed and he sighed with impatience, cutting Lupin off,“--I deserve to know why I’m still hurting. Why Snape has to ‘take care’ of me...” The source of his wounds left him without a word to describe them, so he left his sentence to hang, unfinished.



“What Remus means is that we don’t know a great deal about it, Dear. We just...We think you need to hear it from someone who can answer all of your questions.”



The fierce cruelness pulsed in his chest and even though he knew that it was not really Mrs. Weasley that he was frustrated with, he could not fully contain his irritation as he spoke, “Just give me a name for it; I’m in the dark here. I wake up to Snape treating my back going on about my magic and purebloods. So far he’s the only one giving me anything close to answers!”



Mrs. Weasley looked close to tears, and Remus’s face had taken on a stony, melancholy expression that somehow made Harry feel worse. He stood, coffee forgotten. 



“Why are my... why stitches? Why does it feel like the bones don’t sit right in my chest? Where is my wand? Why is everyone treating me like I might break?!”



“As much as you hate it, you’re going to have to be taken care of for a while, Harry.”



All eyes shot to the doorway to find Sirius, looking gravely at Harry. He shook his head against the beginnings of Harry’s protests and instead continued, “I disagree with Dumbledore on this one, Molly. I think he deserves to know right now. Snape and Dumbledore can fill in the rest, later.”



Molly pursed her lips, but said nothing as Sirius moved to make coffee for himself. Harry, somewhat placated by this, sat down once more, moving his chair to face the counter.



“What did Dear Old Snivellus tell you?

"

Sirius received a dirty look from Mrs. Weasley and a ruefully disapproving glance from Lupin. Harry felt a flicker of shame at his own use of this nickname the day before, but responded with a brief and vague summation of Pureblood lineage with inbred problems having something to do with Wandless Magic.



“But what does that have to do with me?”



Taking the last seat at the table, Sirius placed his coffee to the side and took out his wand. With a flick, he produced a stream of of green that gushed from his want like unsettled, smooth muggle gelatin. Swishing his wand to and fro for a moment, he created a humanoid, translucent form of green that hung, suspended over the table. It seemed to produce its own light, seeming ethereal. Everyone watched it, transfixed.



“This,” he used his left hand to indicate the full form, which had elongated to match a silhouette that was eerily like Harry’s. As it rotated slowly, Sirius continued, “is your magic. It’s like a tissue, or maybe like the translucent stuffing between the cells of your body. It creates the natural ebb and flow of your magic through your wand, like a conduit.” At this, he touched the hand of the figure and a thin channel of white-blue ran through the rest of the form smoothly, like lightening.



“Wizarding families that tended towards dark magic found a way of subduing this magic until children were old enough to control it,” he explained, waving his wand once more to place a thin black rope around most of the figure, resulting in a fishnet, or very wide ham-netting effect over the shape. Again, he touched the hand, but only a soft blue fizzle began, limp and impotent. “Now, most children are not powerful enough to overcome this kind of control, so although it was unethical and sometimes uncomfortable for the children of Pureblood families, it wasn’t dangerous. As it became useful for use on adults to subdue their magic, however, the practice became outlawed in the Wizarding World.” 



The glance that Sirius gave Harry out the corner of his eye was apologetic and wary.

“The netting keeps the magic from leaking out, but in events of extreme stress or panic, a powerful wizard’s magic can burst from the spell.” 



At this Sirius caused the magic to swell, creating bulges where the netting began to contract, cutting in deeply as the green form beneath struggled and grew. 

“The spell, meant to control, closes in on the magic as it expands.” 


Finally, with a groan the green light burst from the net in portions, escaping the black ropes by cutting itself apart. The green form was split into an impossible number of pieces. It was still humanoid, but pebbled, as though many unrelated parts were placed into a human shape. A mosaic of green. 



The ropes dissolved easily, but the green pieces just floated there, a terrible truth levitating above their kitchen table. Sirius made eye contact with Harry for a moment, setting his lips in a grim line. He touched the forms hand, sending another white-blue shock through it, but instead the light shot through the body in a disjointed zigzag, causing tremors and seizure in each green form it touched. The intruding light bounced around the chest several times before dissipating, leaving the green pieces to tremble and shudder for minutes afterwards.



“Your body, unable to form a smooth and functional conduit, can neither produce nor handle foreign magical input.”



“Forever?”



“No. No, I do not...” Sirius paused for a moment, before flicking his wand once more. The pieces began to come together, slowly, but did not connect perfectly. As they joined, a kind of calcification seemed to occur, darker green producing uneven lines at the sealing point of each piece, causing them to be bulkier and less smooth than before. The blue light that was sent through this time bounced around with much less grace and took longer to go through the form. “From what I understand, it’s like a bone, though. It takes a while to heal and it will never be completely smooth, like it was before. Do you understand? You may not be able to handle more advanced magic, or your spells may be clumsy, if they work.”



Remus, who had taken to kneading the upper bridge of his nose and furrowing his brow at this last explanation, shook his head and sighed. He cleared his throat and interjected, “At best. It pains me to bear the role of realist--”



“--Pessimist,” chimed Sirius, mildly annoyed.



“--But often the core becomes too disjointed and is permanently damaged by further contact with magic. It is... Forgive me, Harry, but it is possible that your magic will never heal.”



Harry nodded, sitting back into the chair. There was a moment during which no one said anything. Distractedly, Potter carded a hand through his hair, exhaling. Abruptly, he voiced what they were all thinking, his voice rough and without intonation. 



“How am I supposed to defeat Voldemort?”



Everyone in the room, apart from Sirius, flinched. It was Remus that provided an answer,“That... Well, that will come. This kind of healing is very much a watch-and-wait sort of ordeal. We cannot stress over what we cannot help. You just need to avoid magic and give your body time to catch up.”



“Why would they have used this on me, knowing that these spells could be thrown by mature magic?”



Sirius looked at Harry for a long moment before responding, a strange expression crossing his face. “Pride is an odd thing, Harry. How many times have they underestimated you? This spell is advanced, as potent as the caster. It would have taken a very wizard to overcome it.”

Harry nodded, uncomfortable at the implication.

After a pause he declared with a certainty that was startling to those around the table, “No one can know. If He catches wind...” It was a monumental thing to undertake, they all knew: to keep from the Wizarding World that their savior was essentially a squib. 

“This...is a lot to take in. I think I’ll, er--I think I’d like to clean up a bit. If you all would excuse me...”

Harry glanced up, attending only to Sirius. Getting to his feet, stiffly, the boy leaned over and placed his hand over his godfather’s. “I am glad to have you back. If nothing else, we can celebrate that.” Black’s expression was a pained smile, twisted in the corners.



“Harry, Dear, would you like me to run a bath--”



“No, I need to... I can do it fine, thanks.”



“Oh, before I forget...”

Molly crossed the room, grabbing a glass jar from the counter and handing it to him.

"Severus brought these this morning. For the pain, I think. One every four to six hours."

He took them wordlessly, nodding his thanks.

 All too aware of the eyes on his back, Harry walked stiffly up the stairs, numbly placing one foot in front of the other. He grabbed a towel and a washcloth from the hallway closet before entering the bathroom. Harry moved quietly, careful not to disturb the covered portrait of the Late Mrs. Black, locking the door as it slid closed.

Chapter Text


1. OH MAN. I AM SO SORRY.
2. But for real, guys. Finals are sucking #hard.
3. I'm still working on the next chapter. About halfway done, and I'll keep working through this week, but don't expect it until probably around Dec. 10th/11th (When my last exam is over). I'm really taking time to go over details for the next chapters before I post so that everything stays pretty consistent and I don't leave lotsa loose ends like I'm prone to.
4. Thanks for reviewing, everyone! Your feedback and commentary has been tremendous.
5. Also, thanks for sticking through my lags in de updating, guys!

___________________

Chapter 7



With one hand, he turned the slender and ornate silver knobs, polished, beyond perhaps, their former glory. He opened the pill bottle he had placed on the sink unceremoniously, shaking the bottle to place two of the tablets into his palm. Several more than he had intended shook free into his hand and he stared, mesmerized at the size-able white tablets. Feeling uncomfortable with his thoughts, he quickly placed the excess pills back into the orange capsule and closed it, shaking his head. Swallowing the pain killers, he suddenly felt a strong sense of shame. He owed his friends more than that, he reasoned. He owed his mother more than that.



He pulled himself onto the counter, bringing his knees to his chest as he watched the tub fill. Angry tears stung beneath his glasses but he shut his eyes against them and pressed his chin tighter into the cleft between his knees. He ran his hands through his hair from his temples to the nape of his neck, letting them rest there, clasped and heavy. The left was clunky and cumbersome in the cast and distracted him somewhat.


How had everything gotten so fucked up? How was it fair that he had overcome the unthinkable--escaped against all odds, only to be punished for it? Crippled. It is possible that your magic will never heal, Remus had said. What then? Could he live in the Wizarding World as Mrs. Figg or Filch did? Internally he recoiled at the idea. But what, then?


A muggle life? He’d had that for 11 years, surely he could endure it again. The more he thought about it, the less unappealing it became. To do one’s own bed and lock one’s own doors. To walk across a room to obtain a book. A thought occurred to him in the midst of this acceptance, though, causing him to laugh bitterly.


As if I could have any kind of life with Voldemort still at large, he realized. He didn’t even consider it possible that he could win in some other way. Unfurling himself he turned the tap off--the tub had become excessively full while he was distracted with his thoughts. 


Stripping fairly quickly, Harry supported himself on the wall as he lowered his legs, without grace, into the water that he had run slightly too hot. Distracted, he barely noticed the sting of his skin, the ache of his muscles, and the agony of his rear, instead relishing the chance to wash himself. He closed his eyes once more, resting his back against the tub side. He let his head hang, sloping his shoulders as he laced his fingers at his knees. He let his thoughts and his body slump against the edge, ragged and numb. It was here, at last, that something broke in him, and the strong wall he had built over the past two months was breached, finally. His shoulders shook with silent sobs.


He grieved, eyes closed as tears streamed across his cheekbones, for the loss of his childhood, the loss of his magic. He grieved for the Wizarding World that continued on, even now, without the knowledge that the war was already over. They had already lost.



After a long half hour, he gathered himself. He set to washing himself with a washrag, slowly and deliberately, careful with scratches and bruises he was still finding on his skin. He wanted to scrub himself, to scrape his skin clean, but he knew it wouldn’t erase what he had been through. His skin was a tapestry he couldn’t wash clean.
It felt bizarre to examine himself--even to touch himself for this long. He was thinner, scrawnier than he had been at the Dursley’s; had it been the stress? How had he not noticed before? Little wonder; it had been two months since he had been allowed to bathe. Tergeo, a cleaning spell, was not the same as emerging from a warm bath.



He poured water on his back, hissing at the sting. Pulling the plug, he began the shower, stepping out of the rush of water and leaning forward so he could wash only his hair. Rinsing his front, he took a deep breath and turned the tap off. 

After patting himself dry, Harry grabbed alcohol from the counter and, sitting back into the tub with the wall for support, he poured a good portion down his back in a waterfall from one shoulder to the next. He cried out, but stifled it at the end, eyes closed against the pain.



A knock sounded at the door, followed by Hermione’s voice, “Harry? Harry are you okay??”



Letting his head lull back in exasperation, Harry stepped back out of the tub and dried off the excess alcohol before responding tiredly, “Fine, Hermione. I’ll be right out.”



“S-Sorry, I just... I thought I heard...”



He didn’t respond, just wrapped the towel around his waist, realizing he had forgotten a change of clothes. 

He caught a look at himself in the mirror and forgot his clothes and Hermione altogether. His hair was too long, but he had been shaved by someone--likely Mrs. Weasley--in his unconscious state. His cheekbones were more prominent from the weight-loss. He was not emaciated or sickly but gaunt--haunted. He was a different animal and it showed on his face; he was not the same person he had been in June. He tore away from his reflection, perturbed.



Wrenching the door open, he found Hermione, hand raised to knock again. She was surprised by his abrupt motion and she said nothing for a moment, stepping back to allow him into the hallway. 



Self-conscious in only his towel, he nodded at her. “Let me get changed, and then you can, er, tell me...about your summer.” Gathering herself, she started down the hallway before turning to add, “We’ll be in Ron’s room.”



Harry glanced around his bedroom, realizing for the first time that he had no idea if he had any belongings here at all. Looking into his quarters in the daylight, he became aware of a small mahogany chest of drawers he had failed to notice before at the far end. He opened it to find a very small collection of garments approximately his size. Choosing a pair of sweats and some boxers, he drew both on stiffly before sweeping back into the hallway. His back still stung from the disinfectant and he couldn’t imagine pulling on a shirt. Harry used the wall to support himself as he slid into Ron’s bedroom.



Hermione sat on the four-poster while Ron leaned against it from the floor. He was reading a magazine that had the beaters from the Chudley Cannons racing across the front, his freckled face engrossed by the article he was skimming. Hermione was the first to look up from her tome, but Ron reacted fairly soon after. The ginger greeted him, uncertain.



“ ‘Ey, Mate.”



They both eyed him cautiously, as though afraid he would turn around and return to his room if they made any sharp movements. Harry closed the door behind him before stepping onto the bed sluggishly, painfully aware of how much effort it took to settle himself at the headboard.



Breaking the silence, the Golden boy offered lamely, “What have you lot been up to since June?”



They glanced at each other, clearly unsure of what to say. Hermione, after a long pause, replied, “We’ve been here for most of it. Just, well, just cleaning and helping the Order.” Harry spoke before thinking, blurting, “Here? Why not the Burrow?” They both stared at him, blankly, unsure of what to say. Finally, Ron corrected, “Well, er, we were. And ‘Mione was visiting her folks for the first couple of weeks.”



She nodded before adding, “Mostly we’ve been catching up on homework. Our Charm’s essay is ridiculous, have you even looked at it yet--?” As soon as she finished the sentence, her eyes widened and she brought her hand to her lips. A profound look of remorse spread across her features. Everyone was silent, an awful awkwardness settling deep into small space between them.



Ignoring her question for a moment, Harry let his eyes wander around the room. A year ago, in this room he had been cross with his friends for leaving him out of the loop. He winced inwardly at the memory of his violent outburst. He realized humorlessly that this time it was he with all of the secrets, unable to clue them in for most of the summer. What terrible irony.



“You’ve been here, with the Order, searching for me.”



Hermione regarded him for a moment before answering.



“Well, yes. Mr. Weasley came to tell me and I insisted that I come back with him. We were commuting from the Burrow for the first week, but it became so obvious... Dumbledore asked that we stay here; Sirius was pleased to have the company, of course.”



She trailed off, her eyes tracing down from his face to the scars across this chest--the mark still healing around his exposed wrist where he had been bound. Ron, to his credit, had only glanced up at his recovered friend occasionally. Throwing the magazine aside, though, he turned to face the bed, elbows on his knees. His focus on Harry, he intoned firmly, “Listen, mate. I understand if you don’t want to talk about it, but it’s been hard, you know? We’ve been worried sick. We just heard the gist, that’s all Mum and the Order would give us.”



“They told us that you wandered beyond the wards at the end of the street, and that you’d been kidnapped. We were sure you’d... There was no way he’d keep you alive. All this time we’ve been looking for a body.”



Hermione’s voice broke, and she turned her head away. Harry’s words sounded husky and strained, “I can’t... I’m not...” Ron nodded and interrupted, “We’re not pushing.” Feeling as though he owed them some explanation, however, he continued.



“M-Malfoy Manor. I was... That’s where they took me. And after I apparated, I--”



Hermione, unable to help herself, interjected,“--We don’t take Apparition courses until next year!”

Harry blinked at them for a moment and exhaled a soft laugh.

“I dunno, it just sort of happened. Adrenaline, panic. I knew... Where I didn’t want to be--and I just...” 



His friends stayed silent for a long moment, sure that he was done speaking before inquiring further.



“He was ready to kill you, Harry. How did you survive, all this time?”



At this, Harry scoffed. Fidgeting for a moment, he clenched his fists and looked away, unable to look at them both. He answered numbly, “After they... once I wasn’t a threat, Voldemort decided that the blood magic would hold better if... They wanted to hold me, to--” he swallowed around a knot that appeared suddenly in his throat before continuing, embarrassed, “--to break me--until my next birthday. He said...”

Harry cleared his throat. Ron held up a hand, “Harry, you don’t have to--” At this, the brunette shook his head and looked down at his hands before raising his head and looking at them both. 



“He wanted to wait until I was a man. It was about redemption as much as it was about magic. He said--well, he went on a lot about it. But mainly he said that when he killed me it would be the day I turned 17.”



“Why take that risk?”



It was Ron that answered, however, “He didn’t consider it a risk that he was taking. It was pride, but also a rite of power. He must have viewed it as a more potent way to overcome the prophesy.”



“That would have been next July.”



They took another moment to reflect on the eleven and a half months he would have had to endure. It would have been unthinkable. Harry closed his eyes against the thought, opening them to find that both Ron and Hermione were watching him. 
Some part of him still wished that Voldemort had killed him that first day he had opened his eyes and found himself in Malfoy manor.



Wordlessly, Hermione crossed the bed and lay her head on his chest, her arm across him. Though he flinched at her initial touch, he did not recoil. 
Ron, simultaneously clasped the inside of his good wrist, to which Harry responded by closing his fingers around Ron’s forearm. They shared a knowing look.

The three sat there, Hermione recounting how the Order had searched, the long nights they had spent pouring over all the options. Ron told her how Mrs. Weasley had been inconsolable that first week, how Sirius had returned early July to find the entire house in mourning. How they had kept looking because they all had to know--had to find closure. He recounted the trip to the hospital where they had stitched him up and treated his internal wounds, how it had been Arthur who had suggested the muggle procedures when Dumbledore had brought him through the floo lines to Grimmauld Place.



Harry told them what Sirius had explained only an hour before, confessing to them that he may never recover. He did not divulge the consequences he foresaw in this, but he knew Hermione would realize them all the same. He described the events with Snape, last night, leaving out the nightmares, and Mrs. Weasley’s rage this morning.



“How can you defend him? What a git! I can’t believe he did that to you, Harry. That’s below even Umbridge.” 



“I’m not defending him--he’s an ass, for sure. All I said was that I goaded him.”



“All this time he’s been going to those meetings! He should have known where they were keeping you! What if he was--”



“--Ron.”



Hermione, who had not spoken for a long moment during this exchange peered up at Harry, watching his face with a perceptive look of her own. The brunette shook his head and swallowed before correcting his friend, “I heard a lot of stuff, you know. I didn’t see all of the Death Eaters. Not all of them knew about me, I think. I was a prize...” His voice was rough and quiet at this last word. Harry cleared his throat and tried again, “Snape asked, alright? Voldemort got really angry--really suspicious. I had a vision, where he tried to convince Riddle to let him... take part.”



He swallowed, uncomfortable now. “And he, er--well, he said no. Voldemort doesn’t trust him.“



He found himself unable to say any more and he grew quiet, tense. He suddenly felt as though this admission had been too much. The vision had left a bad taste in his mouth. Such intense distrust from Voldemort meant that the Potions Master was as much in danger as he was. Potter wasn’t sure if the request had been a genuine inquiry to join in the games, or to save Harry from captivity.



He couldn’t find the words to describe it to his friends. He had regarded Snape as malicious and cold--a scapegoat to mistrust and villainize. But now? Harry was not sure if he should compare him to the feelings of torturous fear and repulsion with which he regarded Lucius Malfoy or Voldemort. Now that he knew what true monsters were capable of.

And what, exactly, was Snape capable of?



He lost himself in this inner conflict, gazing at the far wall absent-mindedly. 
None of them spoke for a long while. Hermione’s head still resting on Harry’s shoulder, an anchor, for now, to the overwhelming tide of what he had yet to bear. 
He, who had before been unable to stomach the idea of being coddled, found a quiet comfort in the resting silence that they shared, gently. They enjoyed it until Molly called for an early lunch, asking that they leave this simple mercy and return, once again, to the painful world of open spaces, awkward condolences and the reality of his impotency.


Chapter Text

Sorry I'm so late on this, guys. You don't need to hear all about my life or anything, but my holidays have been super intense. (Not to say that anyone else's are necessarily more restful.)

Anyway, please enjoy, and Happy holidays.

PS. Almost done with 9, should update a little after the new year!

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Chapter 8
 


There was a hand that shifted slowly but firmly over his shoulder, down to his elbow. He sighed, turning to respond to Hermione, but found that he could not turn fully because his wrists were bound. Shuffling abruptly in surprise, the sound of metal drawn on a tile floor made his chest ache with a cold dread. He realized that his wrists were linked by a short chain bolted to the ground not far from him.


The hand became two, running over his ribs to grab at the muscle above his hips where his obliques curved around, the thumbs trailing down his Iliac crest with startling boldness.


He didn’t have to look to know; he was already familiar with the touch, the smell, the sound of breath hitching with anticipation. He felt a wave of nausea and disgust, as he raised his legs to get to his feet, finding instead that they were no long feet but broken pieces of translucent green Jell-o, broken up and left scrambled where two legs should have been all the way up to his thighs. 



“Thinking you’d have dessert before your dinner, Potter?”



A cold voice that he recognized pierced his focus, drawing his gaze upwards into a terrible beauty that had taught him was true hate was. Long blond hair fell about the face, growing longer still as Lucius Malfoy continued, “Not so spry now, are we?” 
Those hands, fiercely frigid and long-jointed were still squeezing his sides, but one began to make its way between his legs, spending a long time a few inches below his bellybutton, tortuously. He shook his head, determined and suddenly fearful--terrified. The white-blond hair, which had continued to grow, weaved its way through the shattered green Jell-O, pooling around the portions which had started to congeal back together, looking a great deal like electricity. 


The tendrils of hair wrapped around his still-solid thighs, crawling up along his hip flexors and drawing closer to his sex.



Harry began to scream, now, bellowing, “No, don’t--I can’t. EUghh--please don’t!!”


At this, Lucius sprouted a third hand, which grabbed his opposite shoulder and began to shake him. Harry’s yells grew louder, true terror gripping him, this last detail so real he could not separate truth from reality.



“NO!”

He opened his eyes, finding that a hand gripped him just as Lucius had, and panicked, sure that he had woken into his nightmares. He recoiled, preparing to thrash, when a cold, piercing drawl gave him pause.



“Potter, POTTER. Wake up, now, you’ll sustain further damage to your back.”



It was unlike Malfoy’s in every way, low and smooth, without the sharp nasal quality that Lucius’s haughty voice had acquired. Harry froze, knowing before he glanced up that he would find his Potion’s Professor once more by his bedside. He sat up, rubbing his brow and trying to settle his breathing before addressing the figure beside him. He fairly growled, “What do you want?”



Again, Snape held up the vial, his words grating with sarcasm and ferocity that he was not even trying to subdue, “I wish only to please.”



This gesture infuriated Harry, who still felt groggy and highly anxious from his stress dreams. He was still having trouble getting his breathing to be low and static. Some part of him seemed to be bubbling again, angrier than the situation warranted.



“Is that what you tell Voldemort?” Harry responded viciously, without even thinking. He felt suddenly very unlike himself, hollow and fierce.



Couldn’t he leave him alone? Didn’t he know that there was no use? He could die a terrible and comparably easy death from gangrene or staph and never see what Tom Riddle would make of his new, conquered world. Couldn’t Snape see that? 
And really, didn’t Snape think he had done enough, suffered enough at the hands of Voldemort for Harry--who could not even summon his Firebolt, let alone the great and heavy thanks he would have to subdue so much history to produce?



There was too much between them--too much debt and blame and confused anguish. It was much easier to succumb to this easy, bitter fury. 



Snape closed his eyes against Harry’s words and almost shook with rage, radiating like a slow heat. The hand unencumbered by the vial trembled, clenching white. He said nothing for a long minute, as though not trusting himself to speak.

Maybe he would breathe fire.



“I’ll apply it myself.”


Again, Harry’s words were low and almost frighteningly empty of all but venom.
 He was not entirely sure if he was capable of self-application, but as long as he did not have to try it in front of Snape, he was certainly willing to give it a shot.



“I am required,” Severus seethed, jaw almost unmoving, “to dress your wounds after I treat them. I cannot afford to keep rebrewing salves that you will insist on putting to disuse. Do not waste my time, Potter.”



Harry could tell that Snape was beyond furious--even thought briefly that he might lash out and curse him on the spot. But now he had found a scapegoat for his pain and his ferocity. Or, even better, someone who might actually be to blame. Awoken from his nightmares and confronted so immediately with such a visceral example of his loss, he found that his grief was congealing--like a scab--into another form that felt a lot like righteous rage. He was no longer afraid of the figure before him. He had transcended concern for what Snape could do to him. 



“Just trying to take part, Professor.”



He stressed the end of his statement with a mocking snarl that was dark and biting. Snape’s eyes widened, and although it took a moment for him to place the words, he finally recognized them as his own.



Had Lucius, likely privy to Voldemort’s more personal dealings, told Harry Potter, of all people? This epiphany, however, did not dissipate his rancour. Was the boy truly angry at his failure to infiltrate the inner circle? Angry, when he had endured the Cruciatus for the presumption of worthiness in an attempt to save him? Angry that he had not succeeded in saving him sooner? 



Both men were so ireful that they could not speak, loaded with accusations and clarifications that they were too overcome to make. They shared eye-contact for a long moment that was mutually murderous.



Harry turned, bearing his back with a silence that spoke of protest, rather than submission. 

Severus was almost past remembering his shame this morning, wishing he could wake Mrs. Weasley and nettle her with this task. Instead he uncorked the bottle and set to his work tempestuously, resentment welling deep.

The teenager tensed at the Potion’s Master’s touch, his back trembling with what Snape could only assume was anger. Again, the professor’s hands were cold and dextrous as they applied the salve. However, Severus’s ire made his movements compassionless and rough. Harry bit back a groan of agony as icy fingers brushed unapologetically across his gashes with a precision that was savagely unkind. 



When the hands withdrew, Harry slid under the blankets and shifted onto his side, never looking back at Snape. His wordlessness was dismissal enough, exacerbating his professor’s lit fuse. 

Vexed and aggravated, Severus left the room without further comment. He locked the front entryway behind him with a swish of his wand. Disapparating a block down from the Black Household, he found himself at Spinner’s End within moments. He stalked from the threshold to the living room in several strides.

Ungrateful-- He raged as he cleared the coffee table, thrusting books and a nearly empty coffee cup to a cataclysmic collision with the floor.


Childish--He grasped a lamp and hurled it at a bookshelf, the shade collapsing with the impact while the bulb burst with a satisfying crunch.



He crumpled, finally, into a green leather armchair to survey his havoc. Leaning the weight of his head into his hands, elbows propped up on his knees, he let out an enormous sigh that did not resolve his frustration. 



He realized, abruptly, that he was angry with Potter because these were the accusations he had not allowed himself to voice within his own thoughts or to the other members of the Order. It was an anger, while summoned by Potter’s calumny, that had already rested, tucked close at hand, in waiting. Harry had just unwittingly hit home.



Stepping gracefully out of his scuffed black boots, Snape retired immediately to his bedchambers, although sleep did not come for several hours. He could only toss and turn, reflecting on those terrible words: “Just trying to take part.”

Chapter Text

A/N: Sorry for the delay on this one, guys.
I've been cutting this one apart and coming back to it.
Chapter 10 is the same way: I'm finished but I'm still not sure how I feel about the dialogue.
Gimme some feedback if you notice anything you like/dislike. (Please & thanx)
Otherwise, please enjoy the shit outta' this chapter, because I worked harder on this one than most.
___________________________

 

Chapter 9



Harry woke the following morning early, before anyone else. He lay still for a long moment, realizing with slow, sprawling horror that the day before had not been an anxious nightmare.



Pushing out from beneath the blankets, Harry staggered to his feet, sighing deeply before making his way with clumsy, not-quite stealthy steps down to the Black kitchen. 
He placed the kettle on the stove before making his way back to the adjoining living room and settling into an armchair heavily. 



He stayed like that, roosting into his thoughts which proved to be just as uncomfortable as his seat. He gazed off into space until he was startled somewhat by footsteps padding down the stairwell beyond the far wall. Harry watched, perhaps more warily than the situation merited, to see Remus cross the sitting room. Forcing a weak smile, Harry nodded at his old friend, who did not return the gesture.



“Can’t sleep, Harry?”



“It’s morning.”



At this Lupin gave a rye grin before retorting easily, “Yes, but the Weasley boys won’t emerge until at least noon. I suppose I assumed that if Molly had nothing to yell about you’d do the same.”


The corner of Harry’s lip dragged upwards, but the expression did reach his eyes. Remus, dropping the attempt to lighten the mood perched himself on the sofa adjacent and eased comfortably into the subject.



“Too much on your mind to sleep, then.”



The last remaining Potter nodded, grateful not to have to say it. Lupin pressed on, “And you’ve certainly got a lot of decisions to make over the next couple of weeks. You have time, of course, and these things the Order can help to resolve, but ultimately it will be up to you...”



Harry perked up at this, gazing at Remus with a quizzical turn of the chin. 



“Decisions?”



“Where you will stay and whether or not Hogwarts will be your safest bet.”



Harry looked down at his hands in bewilderment, his thumb running up and down the gritty texture of his hard cast. Maybe he was still too groggy for this conversation.



“But... Remus, if I can’t do magic--”this statement was almost too much to say aloud, “--How can I attend a school of wizardry?”



“You can stay up on theory, work with McGonagall on new tactics. It is more of a question of safety and war strategy.”



The werewolf waved a hand as if to dismiss the immediacy of the issue, “Dumbledore will come by to discuss this with you and the Order next Thursday, I think, when he returns to Britain. There will be plenty of time to address your concerns, Harry. All I mean is that you will have options and some autonomy where you may think there is none.”



These last words seemed to offer relief to the boy like nothing else had, even if nothing had yet been discussed or settled. He nodded and gave a moment of pause before changing the topic, “Where is Dumbledore?”



Remus’s mellow gaze sobered considerably before he responded brusquely, “Order business.”



Something snapped, and despite himself, Harry’s tone became sharp and determined, “Don’t. Don’t treat me as if I haven’t earned the right--”



Remus raised his right hand, sighing and running his left over his face in exasperation. “--He is in East Europe, searching the library vaults of Durmstrang for answers.”



The edge was not quite gone from Harry’s voice as he responded, “Answers for me?”



“For your condition, yes.”



“He has hope, then? Why not tell me? Why would you--”



Remus’s response came slowly, deliberately, each word becoming quieter, “--Because it is false hope, Harry. I believe Dumbledore seeks answers that we already know.”



If the werewolf’s placidness was meant to sedate the boy’s reaction it was in vain. These words seemed to heighten his intensity, sending him to his feet. His gaze did not waver from his old friend as his voice rose to meet his vehemence.



“HOW DO YOU KNOW? IF DUMBLEDORE--”



“Severus--Professor Snape was forthcoming about what he saw. He made it clear.”



Harry was momentarily subdued by Lupin’s words and his remittal allowed his late professor to continue,
“Dumbledore and Padfoot and Snape saw, were there for the assessment. You may not remember, Harry, but we found you after you--after you escaped--didn’t know what... Snape said he’d never in his life seen...”

His voice broke and Harry realized for the first time that he was not the only one emotionally affected. Remus rose to his feet and, cautiously, approached the boy before him. Potter could see the understanding in his face, could read the grief and empathy.



He wondered briefly if Lupin understood his helplessness and futility because of his own burden--the wolf--inflicted on him by another: a terrible parallel. These thoughts were torn from him as Remus stepped forward and he was suddenly being held, embraced as his father might have embraced him. Harry did not cry, but knew that if he had needed to his tears would have gone without judgement.



“I’m sorry, Harry. I’m so sorry.”



And Harry knew that this apology was more than a condolence, knew that this was an apology for the guilt the werewolf felt at being unable to save him from this. This, the same shameful cross they bore, alike, because it had been given to them each by a force that was not fate or destiny but the cruelty of another man. A cruelty that could not be cured.



“He told me it was temporary. What... What did it look like, Remus? Did he tell you?”



But the older man shook his head and did not speak again. If he had more descriptive words to depict what had been left of Harry’s magical core he did not divulge them. The kettle whistled behind them, but they ignored it in the interest of solace. When they separated there were no more words, and though the werewolf nodded at Harry before following him into the kitchen, they did not need to communicate as the boy poured tea for them both. A quiet, obscene comprehension kept them quiet until Arthur came down and Harry excused himself, returning to his room to sit in his bed and pretend to go back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Guys.
But seriously, I am so very sorry for the delay.
School and work became ridiculous and then every time I sat down to write I was stuck and blah blah everybody's life is intense.

But last week it occurred to me how to get from Chapter 9 to Chapter 11 and here it is. Chapter 11 is almost finished, I just have to flush it out. Expect it in the next week!

Thanks for your patience, lovelies.
Please give me some feedback on the character interactions, I'm still not sure about this last Snape/Harry one.

______________________

Chapter 10


 Purgatorial Matters

He spent much of the day in his quarters, sometimes sitting on the edge of the bed, half-reading text books that had appeared sometime during the night beside his wardrobe, along with his trunk and a multitude of things, such as Hedwig’s cage and the stash of Honeyduke’s chocolates he had been saving at the beginning of the summer for harder times. He remembered this distant concept of hardship, running his thumb over the coloured mylar wrapping on one of the sweets. Popping one in his mouth, he remarked that it was stale and gave him no particular pleasure.



Hedwig had yet to return, and Harry held a postponed grief in his heart, waiting.
He had no idea what had become of her in his absence, but her pristine, lonely cage did nothing to assuage his concern. Had one of the Order members returned to Privet Drive to retrieve his things? Were the Dursleys untouched by the Deatheater assault? He felt a strange guilt at having been so slow to come to these thoughts. He supposed he would ask Mr. Weasley when he next got the chance.


In the meantime, however, he sprawled underneath his blankets between visitations and wished he could sink into them--cease his anxious, garbled thoughts and lose consciousness completely. The terrors he suffered at night made his sleep unrestful, though, if not unbearable. He could not decide which was worse. 



Though Harry avoided most of the general traffic through the Black Household by taking refuge upstairs, he was not able to escape company altogether. Ron and Hermione had been in and out of the room, trying both to give him space and keep him from being alone for too long in a manner that, while endearing, was awkward and somewhat transparent. Hermione, who had already read ahead in all of their textbooks, often curled up at the end of the bed to carefully organize her notes and shuffle between the supplemental articles mentioned in the appendices. Ron, alternatively, drew up a chair and leafed through the latest Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes catalogue, dog-earring pages of interest and showing him particular pranks he found most ridiculous, inciting Harry to feign interest every so often. 



The muggle painkillers Snape had brought were fierce and gave him alternating and unpredictable bouts of nausea and drowsiness, though he felt little to no pain. He kept hold of the toast Mrs. Weasley brought up late into the morning, but could not do the same for the sliver of kidney pie he had forced down that afternoon. His run to the loo had been sloping and clumsy, and he did not manage to close the door fully in his panic to reach the basin.

His face burned with embarrassment as he rinsed out his mouth and returned to his room, feeling ill and vulnerable. Hermione had given him a sympathetic glance, but said nothing. 



—————————————-


Tonks came to visit twice a day under the guise of tea and though Harry found her energies exhausting, he had to admit that he looked forward to her arrival. She often brought Arthur and Bill gossip from the ministry. Once or twice she brought new reading material from Diagon Alley for Hermione, tokens for which she was overwhelmingly grateful. Mostly, Harry suspected, she came by to bat her eyelashes at Lupin and check in on the newest household guest. 



Nymphadora was one of the only people that could make him enjoy settling in the living room, despite the buzzing gathering of in-and-out Order members and for this he appreciated her.



“You’ll catch your death of cold,” Ginny teased more than once when she came through the doorway. In order to avoid suspicion, Nymphadora had to switch outfits. She once came in a hijab, and another time wrapped in scarves and jackets. Both times she shed her layers disagreeably, swearing about the summer heat and how it made her lethargic and miserable. Tonk’s discomfort did not, however, keep the girls from giggling helplessly when the Auror got her scarf caught in the doorway on her discreet descent down the Grimmauld Place front steps. She had to reopen the door to relinquish her trapped garment, a mistake that proved to be funny to everyone, even when Mrs. Weasley slammed it shut with sharp and angry words about Order safety and clumsiness that could give them all away. 



The easy laughter felt good and Harry closed his eyes to enjoy it longer.


_______________________________



Severus came again that night, waking Harry from his nightmares after gingerly placing 
a whispered, “Muffliato.” More composed than he had been the night before, Harry sat up and glared wordlessly at his visitor. After a pointed glance, he let out a long breath and turned his body to the side, slightly, to give access to his back while not losing sight of his Professor altogether. He did not speak.



 Snape, taking this as a continuation of Harry’s defiant submission to the task that they both knew had to be done, set his lips in a grim line. 

His deft fingers uncapped the antiseptic and he soaked a gauze pad. The boy flinched at even the slightest movements and he observed that he was being watched from a wary peripheral. Harry tensed as the Potions Master applied the disinfectant, despite his exquisite care and delicate touch. The distrust was baffling and set him ill-at-ease for a long moment before he recalled the brusque redressing from the night before and the unwelcome angst of guilt settled uneasily in a knot just above his collar bone. He cleared his throat and grated morosely, “I, hrm. I was perhaps indecorous with my application last night.”



It was the closest thing to an apology Potter was going to get and he knew it. Harry nodded, swallowing uncomfortably before responding, “I shouldn’t have said--”


But he found himself unable to finish the sentence, couldn’t answer definitively, couldn’t say exactly what he should not have said because maybe there were many, many things. 

Too much between them.



Harry took a long, slow intake of air, trying to settle the brisk cadence of his heartbeat, which still ran at a canter from his nightmares. The remaining adrenaline mixed with a strong sense of dislike and the shame of his vulnerability, leaving a taste of metal in his mouth that was not unlike blood. 

Dressing the wounds manually, Snape’s work was precise and quickly completed.

Noting the departure of his Professor’s hands, Harry glanced back once more. Their eyes met briefly, and the boy noted numbly that Severus’s dark eyes brimmed with something that was potent, but controlled. 
Hate? Not quite.

Just as soon as he had seen it, however, Snape was gathering his things neatly with concise, measured movements and was sweeping out of the room. Harry listened intently to the almost imperceptible footsteps down toward the first landing. He lay down once more, feeling where he had sweat through the blankets in his sleep.



The abrupt and senseless wish to be able to dry the sheets with a simple “Siccus” rubbed something raw in him and he swallowed against a sudden lump in his throat.
The full weight of his loss fell onto his chest at once and he was unable to reclaim sleep until long past four. He lay awake, staring blearily around his room, illuminated by the corridor light that spilled through the doorway Snape had left open. 



Chapter Text

A/N: WHOOP! BREAKTHROUGH! Sorry for the wait! Chapter 12 
is already written, likely to be edited by the middle of next week. Really as soon as I finish 13 and feel confident about 14's direction.
R&R in the meantime?
Otherwise, thanks for reading and please enjoy: I worked so hard on this one. Short but sweet.

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Chapter 11



This careful, awkward exchange occurred routinely for the next three nights. Though his antipathy for Snape had always been fierce, he found that being in his charge was 
almost unendurable. He hated the man’s obvious reluctance, his cold hands, his harsh demeanor. 



But worse, he hated that each night, his professor saved him from his nightmares and tended to the wounds that they both knew would mark him for the rest of his life. He loathed that above all else, Snape would know him in this way--a naked truth that he could not hide beneath Gryffindor bravado. The strange vulnerability he felt ate him alive each night. He came to from an unrestful haze each morning with an exacerbated sense of helplessness. 



The feeling of unwilling gratitude mingled with the enmity he still bore for Snape. Often as he woke to Snape’s impassive, expressionless mask, he wished it could have been anyone else. 



On the fourth night he awoke in a violent panic, reaching up with one hand to achieve a tight grip on the robes of the figure that woke him while the other rose further to strike. The first found success while the second triumphed only in a jarring of Severus’s shoulder. Undaunted by Harry’s reaction, Snape grabbed both of the boy’s forearms in a frenetic motion that was instinct alone. Both of them froze. Deep breaths wracked Harry’s frame as he struggled to steady himself. Severus, realizing that the boy’s actions had been reactive, but unable to separate his temper from his contempt for Potter, maintained his vice-like grip. At last, Harry released him, pushing the Potion’s master away as he let go. They held eachother’s gaze, cutthroat and keen. The convergence was so profound that Harry acted without thinking, saying--as he seemed so often to do, lately, with Severus--exactly what was on his mind.



“You lied to me about my magic.”



The words caught Snape off-guard in the way that the boy’s physical strike had failed to do. Severus’s molars pressed taut against one another as his jaw tightened. He didn’t have a response to this, but his head tilted forward a fraction--an almost imperceptible nod.



“Remus, he--he said you saw it, said that it was irreparable...?”



Harry’s voice was obfuscated by anger and shame. The humiliation of this final admission, the last great weakness, was overshadowed by his need to know--to fully understand. Not waiting for a response, Harry asked the question that had burned within him since it had met silence with Lupin.



“What did it look like?”



With an audible intake of breath, Severus’s words needed no thought. He knew what it had reminded him of, in that terrible, dank room, at the back of the Leaky Cauldron, staring at Harry’s prone form on the bed. He recalled with grotesque ease what Harry’s augmented magic had resembled to him as Albus’s spell lit him up from the inside out, open for all to see what had been done to him.



“A constellation.”

At this, Harry broke eye-contact, lowering his eyes in embarrassment and nauseated despair. The reply hung heavy between them, and the remaining, unasked question was so thick and unfulfilled that Snape felt obligated to answer.



“I was not appointed to inform you, but finding myself encumbered...”



He took a shallow breath and sighed. The potion’s master tried again, struggling to draw up patience to go with the sympathy he was both feeling and fighting simultaneously. 



“I was communicating Dumbledore’s impression on the matter.”



“One you do not share.” 



It was not a question, but Snape’s chin drew up in a way that expressed his reluctant agreement. Harry set his eyes upon Severus for a long moment, studying the way the reflective light from the hallway lit up the prominent cords of muscle in his neck, which tightened at the edges of his jaw when his teeth clenched. The older man’s eyes narrowed at his scrutiny, the shadow of a grimace crossing his brow.



“While I respect Albus’s opinion, dark magic of this caliber rarely ends well.“



Harry’s head tilted slightly as he regarded Snape for another moment. He swallowed, subconsciously running his fingers brusquely along the back of his neck. He took a deep breathe and again, the true question was there; irrelevant, simple, and terrible.



“You knew where I was.”



His temper not yet forgotten, Snape took a step forward, his teeth bared in a snarl as he enunciated each word like a curse, “Don’t you dare.” His voice shook with a rising anger that swelled, hot and vicious.



“Prof—“



“No. Don’t you DARE BLAME ME, POTTER. DON’T YOU DARE MISPLACE YOUR TRAUMATIZED VEXATIONS ON. ME.”



Severus’s long black hair swayed with his body, which shuddered with his rage. Had the stifling spell not remained, his bellowing would have awakened everyone. Harry surveyed him with brazen apathy, a distant passerby watching the onset of a momentous and inescapable storm.
 


“NOT AFTER WHAT I ENDURED. NOT AFTER—“



It happened all at once. There was a garish yell—too loud to comprehend— and then a flash of red light flew over Snape’s head, missing him widely. It careened into the wall, creating a ragged crater where it struck. In hindsight, Harry would recall it as an abrupt disconnect. It was as though he was in one reality and then, all of a sudden, in the middle of another. 


The whole house erupted into a cacophony of movement, screams from across and down the hall livening the night. Harry could hear Sirius in the next room calling for Remus, doors slamming. Someone was crashing up the stairs—or maybe down? Two figures he didn’t recognize were running down the corridor, their faces obscured. The late Mrs. Black awoke and began to screech, her raspy voice an unfortunate complement to the current chaos.



“FILTHY STINKING MUDBLOODS IN MY HOUSE! SCURGE! RUINING THE PRESTINE RESTING——“



Simultaneously, the source of the initial stunning spell was in the doorway, blocking some of the hallway light to create a surreal shadow. In one movement, Harry was leaping from the bed, feet striking the floor at an intensity that made him stagger with pain and dizziness. Looking to Severus, Harry watched him stalk forward, curtly nodding to the figure. Harry noted briefly that he wore black robes and the same ghoulish mask he had seen a lifetime ago in Riddle’s cemetery. 



“Go on, then, Gibbon. Remember the Dark Lord wants him alive.” 



Harry observed with panicked bewilderment that Severus’s words carried none of the his previous fury. Instead the delivery was cold, sterile and emotionless. Potter tried to make eye contact with his professor as he took a shaky step backwards. Severus would not look at him, would not meet his eyes. Harry suddenly felt all the warmth leave him as he struggled to understand what was happening. Dumbledore had trusted him; surely that trust meant something. 



“Snape, Please…”



His voice faltered slightly, the words not even feeling like his own, but still the Potion’s Master said nothing. A feverish sense of dread pooled in Harry’s stomach as adrenaline lit up his temples. He had not escaped. All he had been given was a slight reprieve but now, here, was the beginning of a nightmare he had never truly left.
Worse, he had baited the Hand of Voldemort to reach into the headquarters—the very heart—of the Order. How many would the Dark Lord’s confederates hurt tonight for his capture? He wished very suddenly that he had died by Voldemort’s hand that fresh night, more than two months before.


“We don’t have much time.”



With a muffled grunt of affirmation, the assailant advanced on the Boy Who Lived, whose heels brought him clumsily backwards into the far wall. Time slowed down, and each movement, each sound was eloquently exaggerated, excruciatingly salient. Every detail burned his unraveling nerves.



Could he fight off the Death Eater? Surely not both of them, not without his magic. Harry flexed the fingers on his left hand nervously, running the pads of his finger digits along the rough lip of his cast. He felt so agonizingly fragile. Should he cry out? What if he attracted more Death Eaters? How long until someone found them?



He steeled himself up to fight, thinking maybe he could launch himself at Gibbon if he got any closer, perhaps prolong his recapture until someone happened by—maybe even seconds could make a difference. 



As soon as the figure turned his back, Snape raised his wand with a fluid quickness, growling “Projectilis!” With a flash of powder blue light, the black form was thrown forward into the wall in a collision that was monstrous. The mask shattered on impact, the man’s face faring little better beneath it. The crackling of bones resettling made Harry’s stomach turn. The drywall was depressed several inches where Gibbon’s form still stuck, his breathing shallow and forced. 



Harry turned swiftly to Snape, who was already rushing toward him, a firm hand grasping him at the shoulder. It was Severus’s support that kept Harry from collapsing. Still unable to process what had just happened, Harry continued to stare at the man before him—the man that seemed capable of shifting so easily from villain to victor before his eyes.



“But, you—“



“Typical, Potter. Not so much as a ‘thank you’.”



With distaste, Snape turned on his heels. Before Harry could blink the man was disappearing into the fray. With a glance toward the crumpled shape of Gibbon imbedded into the spare bedroom of the Black Family House, Harry rushed to follow him. 


Chapter Text

A/N: Sorry for the delay, as always. I have 13 written and 14 on the way, but they are both SUPER long and very intricate and I want to make sure I'm tying up all loose ends before I release each chapter. I know the waiting sucks for you guys, so I'm trying to make sure each chapter update is long and somewhat worth it.
I feel pretty good about this chapter but I would love feedback.
There are a lot of feels and maybe too much drama? But Jeez, these are heavy topics and there is a lot of breadth to get through!

I've been excited about this chapter but OH MY GOD I think the next one might be my favourite. Just saying!

Thanks for reading! Please review?
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Chapter 12 Defacing Bedlam

Poking his head out into the hallway, Harry had to duck to avoid a well-aimed Bat Bogie Hex from Ginny, which plummeted toward a fairly large Death Eater a few paces down the corridor. He could see Sirius two doors away dueling playfully with another robed figure, Lupin covering his back. He was laughing and the image struck Harry as nauseatingly familiar.

Snape was no where in sight. Harry's head turned on a swivel, trying to ascertain which direction the potions master had gone. Before he could gain his bearings, however, he heard amid the din, "Yaxley, the boy—"

"STUPEFY!"

Turning to face the exclamation, Harry had only time to register the flaming spell barreling towards his chest before he was shoved sideways by a red-headed streak. Potter's back slammed painfully into the corridor wall, the wind knocked from his lungs as he blearily made out Fred—or maybe George's frame continue down the hall. GeorgemaybeFred disarmed a cloaked figure he could only assume was Yaxley before following the spell up quickly with a mumbled curse that send the assailant backwards, staggering down the stairwell. The Weasley twin didn't even pause before continuing his trajectory down the steps. He called back, "Watchit, Harry!"

For the first time since he had realized that the house was being infiltrated, Harry felt self-conscious: he was shirtless, completely vulnerable all but for his bed shorts and boxers. But there was no time, and he certainly couldn't contemplate returning to his bedroom to search for more conservative dress options. After taking a deep breath, casted hand to his chest, Harry dodged to the right, heading instinctively towards Ron's room at the end of the landing. With Ron and Hermione they could—what? Help the order drive out the intruders systematically? He might have scoffed at the idea, finding them felt imperative. These thoughts were halted as soon as he reached the threshold to Ron's quarters. At the entryway his heart, already racing, plummeted below his navel.

Another Death Eater had his wand held out before him, his shoulders broad and squared in a dominant and assured stance. He advanced towards Ron, who had his back against the corner. A wand lay askew on the uneven floorboards to the far side of the room. The second youngest Weasley swallowed dryly, fingers palming the sweat in his empty hands and a scowl badly disguising his terror. The redhead's eyes shifted slightly, only just noticing Harry creeping into the chamber. Harry's gaze went between them twice before Ron shook his head once, indicating with desperate, indiscrete panic that Harry should run.

But it was too late.

Harry sprang, blustering onto the Death Eater's back, his uninjured arm securing itself around the assailants neck at the crook of his elbow. The masked figure brought his hands up in reaction, one ripping cruelly at the dressings on Harry's otherwise bare back, the other arm whisking wildly as he bellowed, "STUPEFY!" and "DEFODIO!"

The spells went without aim about the room, the latter forming a grotesque scissure in the ceiling that left Harry to wonder briefly what it would have done to its human intendant.

The Death Eater, after a moment's struggle, managed deftly to throw Harry from his back, thrusting him sideways to the floor where he slid across the partially finished wood. The figure followed Harry's sliding momentum with one long stride. With a sidelong glance at Ron, who was in the process of making a dash for his wand, the masked figure flicked his armed hand and snarled, "Petrificus Totalus." Ron froze and stiffened, collapsing to his side, eyes open wide and unblinking.

In the same breath, and without dropping his wand, the figure scooped down to grab Harry's throat with one hand and his casted wrist in the other. The wood of the wand-handle pressed painfully into his collarbone where it was wedged between the assailant's inner thumb and Harry's tender neck. The larger man brought the boy's casted hand up and behind his head, lifting Harry and simultaneously incapacitating him against the wall with the pressure on his limb.

Harry, frustrated with his lack of leverage, struggled against the hold. Three months ago he might have been in the physical condition to combat this grin, but now, weakened by stress and recovery? Some prideful piece of him withered, shaken by this obvious display of frailty. He took a deep breath and stopped fighting, gathering all of his fortitude to stare unblinkingly into the uncovered eyes of the Death Eater's mask.

The sudden change in hie prey's demeanor startled the figure, who returned the boy's gaze with unsteady vexation. He tightened his grip before slackening it slightly, leaning in to press his body, collarbone to navel, against Harry. The closeness stunned Harry, causing his heart to skip a beat unpleasantly. A rising blush of panic heated his face and his fingers tightened into his palms.

"I'll be rewarded for this, Potter. The Dark Lord will give me first turn on his toy."

It was the wrong thing to say.

"I hear you're tight, boy. I hear you screa—EUAGHhhh!"

The circumstances were just right. Perhaps the Death Eater knew that the brunette was currently incapacitated from the use of magic, which gave him a false sense of confidence. Perhaps the thought of Harry's taut body against his distracted him just enough. Perhaps the thought of physical attack did not occur to a man made lazy by magic's convenience. The Death Eater's attention was divided sufficiently for Harry's knee to come up sharply and without hesitation, crushing what he found between the man's legs. The robed figure hung over him, leaning against Harry through the agony he could not yell away. Despite his groan, or perhaps because of it, Harry twisted his leg inwards slightly, before bringing his leg up once more, all but eviscerating what was left. The figure rose up with it, loosening his grip on Harry further and coming up on his toes. The Boy Who Lived pushed him backwards, knocking him off balance and to the floor with a booming crash. Letting the forward momentum of his push carry him, Harry fell to his knees on the man's gut.

He barely felt where his shins met bone, only concerned with the man's face and what his battered body could do to it. He was crazed and panicked and overwhelmed with the still-fresh intensity of the moment. The feral, hollow feeling returned and all he could hear was Lucius's voice saying, "So tight, boy," into his ear in a whispered hiss not unlike the one the Death Eater had mimicked seconds before.

Casted hand holding the figure's chest down, Harry's uninjured fist slammed down into the ceramic mask, splintering into the man's face. With each collision, Potter emitted a cry that had nothing to do with his physical pain, half scream, half wail. He backhanded one side and then the other, shards fragmenting his own hand with each swing. He struck unfeelingly, each blow growing more unsatisfying than the. He raised his arm for one final impact to the unconscious figure below him, but found that it was restrained.

Glancing up in fright, Harry found Sirius, whose hand had caught his wrist. It was as if he had just woken from a terrible dream. He realized that the Black Estate had quieted around him. No more hollering or spell fire resounded down the corridor. The boy used his godfather's grip to rise unsteadily to his feet, stepping over the Death Eater beneath him. Sirius seemed to know—to understand— and in a daze of exhausted hurt, Harry stumbled into his embrace.

Harry's frame shudders with a shallow, anxious breathing that Black's even, unwavering arms could steady. Into the older man's shoulder Harry respired, "Everyone, did Ev-Everyone—"

"Yes, yes. We are all fine, more or less."

Harry broke the clasp to turn, "Ron, oh god—" Sirius turned in the same moment, raising his already drawn wand.

"Finite Incantatem."

Ron leapt into motion. Harry watched as he turned over from his side and sat up just quickly enough to vomit. Both Harry and Sirius averted their eyes, letting the red-head empty his stomach before stepping towards him. A sharp flick of his wrist and Sirius vanished the mess without comment. Harry helped him to his feet, but even as Ron took his hand, something in his demeanor was odd. There was an awkward moment where Ron would not meet Harry's gaze, busying himself with recovering his wand and brushing himself off. The Weasley tousled his fiery locks uneasily, looking as though he might say something else.

Finally he let out a breath and said almost inaudibly, "Thanks mate."

Harry understood then. Ron had been sure that he was about to watch Harry be violated, not for the first time, as he lay paralyzed. Though he had guessed, though he had skirted the reality of Harry's torture, the spoken truth of his friend's torment had struck something visceral in the Weasley, leaving him sick and guilty. It was one thing to vaguely understand that Harry had been stripped down and made vulnerable in that way.
It was another to have to watch it.

The truth was clearly more than the second youngest Weasley could swallow all at once.
Had Ron not once wished to be the Boy Who Lived? Had he not once believed that he would like the same glory, the same brave lineage? The reality of what this title meant left a vomitous taste in Ron's throat as he realized with fresh guilt that he was glad he was not standing in the shaky, blood spattered shoes of the boy in front of him. The epiphany made him feel cowardly and shameful—unworthy. Ron glanced up at his friend's lightening bolt scar, forever red and prominent. Weasley left the room swiftly, making a quick left to rejoin the group undoubtedly gathering on the downstairs landing.

"Your hand."

The words were more statement than question, and Harry shot a glance downward to see that his hand was, indeed, dusked claret with blood. He shook his head, marveling at the lack of pain that he felt, likely an effect of the adrenaline that was not doubt still coursing through him.

Sirius pulled him into another hug that was more fierce, more intense this time. The grip was not solely to comfort his godson, but a gesture of relief. It was a manner of fervid heartache—one more time he might have lost his best mate's boy. Likely not the last. He held the back of Harry's head for a moment, feeling a protectiveness overwhelm him.

"You're safe now."

Harry's laugh was igneous and biting. He answered into Sirius's shoulder, "There is no such thing." And it was then, in the face of all that had happened that night, that he lost his resolve. His tears came like a sudden storm, water filtering through dark skies without warning. He cried quietly into his godfather's chest, ashamed and wretched. His sobs shook them both violently and though Sirius's hold remained resolute, the older man's face was a grimace of grief.

After an eternity of his godfather's strength, Harry's breathing stabilized into a regular pattern once more. In a voice that was not altogether steadfast, the younger brunette declared, "We can't stay here… We aren't safe. No one—no one is safe here."

"Come, let us join the others."

With conviction Black stepped forward to cast an immobilization spell on the still-prone Death Eater. They both stared at him for a moment, silently transfixed by his bloodied face. It was difficult to tell what was mask and what was flesh, a gory wreck that was challenging to look away from.

When Sirius turned his focus back to Harry, he was startled to see the change, so swift. Though the boy was pale, green eyes still red-rimmed, he stood differently—shoulders set with stoicism. Put back together so that the pieces let no light in. There was a resolve, there. A stiffness that told the Marauder that this was all the vulnerability he would see tonight. The only evidence was Harry's sanguinary hands, the butchered visage of the incapacitated Death Eater and the Tears that were evaporating off of his tunic, even now. All that terror.

Chapter Text


Chapter 13



A/N:
Sorry for the hiatus, everyone. Graduating has kept me busy, but the bitch is back.

I've got one more scene to write on 14 and another few details to streamroll out before 15 is complete.

I had a lot of trouble with this chapter just because there are so many character interactions to consider. I got really caught up in trying to get it right.

I think some places are slightly OOC. Let me know if you spot inconsistencies, though.

Furthermore, I can't help but delight in Harry's outburst in this one. That motherfucker needs no Veritaserum to tell it straight.

Please review, if you get a moment. I'd love to hear how you feel it's progressing. Regardless, thanks so much for reading!

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Wordlessly they strode out of the room, striking an easy cadence side by side. Harry averted his eyes form the demolition in the hallway. He did not look into his room, sure he could not handle the crumpled figure he had last seen there.



When he descended the stairs, the tension was palpable. If there was anyone in the Order that was not there he could not name them. The last few to be notified were streaming through the fireplace every few minutes. The sofas and spare wooden chairs remained empty; no one would sit or settle, too anxious and vigilant.



Moody pace fervently, his magical eye seemingly magnified by the intensity of its focus. The twins stood close to Arthur and Bill, who had only just arrived. Ginny and Hermione were breathing heavily. While Hermione glanced around, obviously taking note of who was among them, Ginny was speaking rapidly, relaying her memory of the events to Molly. Indeed, Mrs. Weasley resembled something not unlike a resting dragon. Hermione stood beside them both with a steady, forward expression, as though she was looking at a mountain she was about to scale. Remus was whispering something low to Kingsley, his voice an inconsistent bass. Shacklebolt listened intently, face expressionless. 



They all gazed up at Harry’s descent. Harry swallowed abruptly, feeling self-conscious. He noticed, all of a sudden, the scrapes on Ginny’s cheek, the matted blood in Arthur’s hair. He realized at once how haggard everyone was, the kind of terror this night had carried.



Sirius’s voice roused him from his observatory trance, the sound gritty and low.



“There’s a snake in the garden, friends, and we need to find it tonight.”



Mrs. Weasley’s brow furrowed, her demeanor broad and agitated. Her tone was sharp and protective, “We can sort all that out later, Sirius. We aren’t safe here; we need to leave—“



“No, Molly. He’s right,” Arthur interrupted. Glancing apologetically at his wife, he carried on, “No one can leave until we’ve worked out what has happened here. We can’t risk taking this breach to the next safehouse.”



“Well it’s clear, isn’t it? Someone—er, one of us, told the Death Eathers where to find us.” Ron interjected definitively, trying to stop the quavering in his voice. Hermione shook her head at this immediately, opening her mouth to speak before shutting it as Alastor explained.



“Think, boy. We are all under the Fidelius Charm—we cannot divulge the location of Headquarters. Only the secret Keeper could have informed the Dark Lord, and that’s Dumbledore. I challenge anyone in this room to claim that he has betrayed us.” His magical eye darted threateningly about the room, as though searching for a source of doubt.

“But that means that something has happened to—“ Hermione didn’t finish the statement, cut off by McGonagall’s startled, “—Albus,” before she covered her mouth in disbelief.



“No, I’m glad to say that you are mistaken. Dumbledore is not the Secret Keeper.” Sirius drew attention from the room as he stepped forward, his mouth suddenly a grim line, “I am.”



A pause within the room allowed him to continue uninterrupted. Though he spoke quickly, his annunciation felt forced as though he was working purposefully to be understood. “Dumbledore was away a great deal at the end of last term, more involved in Order business that took him to more vulnerable places. And I was here, always, feeling useless and cooped up. I think, ah, I think he did it to make me feel as though staying here served a protective purpose to the Order, but…”



“He made you Secret Keeper.”



Remus’s words were more statement than question, nodding as if understanding only a part of a larger Sphinx’s riddle that still baffled him. “Why would this be kept quiet?”



“It was done very shortly before the battle at the Ministry. I’m sure we meant to discuss it at a following meeting. But there is no secure way to inform everyone at once. I haven’t been here to know why you haven’t been told since. But my status as Secret Keeper should hold true; I’ve told no one, and not one of you under secondary knowledge could tell anyone else.”



Everyone spoke at once, snippets of questions escaping among the din.



“But clearly you must have—“



“—Somehow it had to have—“



“How else could they—“



Hermione’s words were quiet, but as she spoke, the surrounding noise dimmed until it was the only voice anyone heard.



“But, Sirius. You died.”



No one spoke. Everyone looked at the last remaining Black, unsure of what to make of this new development. “Hermione,” Sirius laughed, placing his callused fingertips on his chest to emphasize his visceral state, “I bet a whole 61 kilos of dog meat right now to differ.” Remus stifled a chuckle at this.



“No, hear me out. You ceased to exist on this plane, right? Would that be enough to reset Fidelius? Would the magic recognize your absence of a magical signature as death?”



“It’s possible, Sirius,” McGonagall intoned, breathlessly, “and under those circumstances…”


Sirius finished for her gravely, “We would all be secret keepers.”



“Then we’re back to where we started.” Ron sighed heavily, obviously smug that he had been correct in the first place, if uninformed. “One of us had to have said something. Where does that leave us?”



“Who’s been outside of Order observation? Who could have been placed under Imperius or given over—“



Shacklebolt was interrupted by Moody who snarled with obvious disdain, “—Stupid question. Who hasn’t, is more like it. Every one of us is under suspicion.” 



“Yes, surely there is no one,” a penetrating voice from the kitchen entrance began, “No one who has had explicit and continued contact with the Dark Lord.” Everyone turned to look at Snape. Though his expression was indeterminable, the sarcasm in his words resonated. He strode forward and Harry’s nostrils flared with hostility, bristling at the sight of him. The boy was was unsure of how to feel; what seemed like half a lifetime ago he’d been sure that Snape was going to aid Gibbon in delivering him back to Malfoy Manor. Should he be furious or grateful?



“Surely there is no one here that the Death Eaters had extended access to—who could have been coerced into divulging Order secrets…”



Harry’s shoulders immediately bucked back in defiance. He all but snarled, “I already told you—“



“—Nothing! You have told us nothing! You appear out of no where, miraculously of your own escape after the entire order and Dumbledore himself could not deliver you from captivity. Aurors and ministry officials—“



“Severus, what are you saying?” Minerva interjected, alarmed by the animosity brewing.



“While no one wishes to suspect the Chosen One,” The potion’s master’s speech slowed so that his words were precise and keen, “That we were quick to bring him back into the fold. That some of us—“ He threw a savage look at Sirius, here,”—were so desperate to receive Potter that they did not consider the possibility—“



“Oh, Harry’s a spy and you’ve known all along, have you?” Sirius retorted harshly, his face contorting into a grimace of dismissive distaste.



“I’m saying that in light of the heist on this household tonight, I am suspicious of the circumstances under which Potter managed to waltz out of enemy clutches unharmed without giving up any salient information!!”



“UNHARMED?!” Molly’s raucous response was soothed by Arthur’s hand on the small of her back.



“Yeah, it was a fucking picnic, Snape.” Harry’s hands twisted into fists, his voice going flat. He sounded, even to his own ears, like someone else as he went on, “I high-fived all the Death Eaters on my way out. I already told you I DIDN’T GIVE UP ANY INFORMATION. WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW, SNAPE? WHAT ELSE ABOUT WHAT THEY DID TO ME COULD POSSIBLY EASE YOUR SUSPICIONS?!!”



Harry’s shock at the accusations had riled his already tender nerves. He didn’t realize he was getting louder, didn’t realize how crazed, how tremulous he sounded until he glanced around the room. Remus, the twins, Ron, and McGonagall were tight-lipped and stiff. Ginny looked away. Hermione’s eyes were filling with tears and she was covering her mouth with her hand. But the words had already formed, were already bursting from his diaphragm with abandon. He could not stop.



“I GOT OUT ON A FUCKING FLUKE, LIKE ALWAYS. TELL ME SNAPE, WHAT DETAILS OF MY TIME WITH VOLDEMORT AND YOUR FRIENDS WOULD MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER ABOUT BEING LEFT OUT?!”

 

Harry—“ Remus’s hand found Harry’s shoulder and pulled him out of the tirade. Severus took a simultaneous step back, flaring up at the boy’s words, but so stunned he could not respond. The moment was so charged and awkward that no one spoke. This tension had been a long time coming, but here—amidst so much fear and adrenaline—had not been the place. Several of those assembled exchanged glances, but said nothing. Harry was hurting deeper than they could understand and this temper had been the only sign of emotion or trauma that many of them had seen in the short time that he had been at the Black estate.



At feeling Lupin’s grasp on his arm, however, Harry realized that he had overstepped his bounds. He told a deep breath, rounding his shoulders. He rubbed his fingers against his dry palms, the sticky, tight sensation reminding him that they were still coated in dry blood. He was abruptly ashamed of his outburst, so public and vulgar. Harry felt unbalanced and jittery, so unlike himself.



Moody’s gruff tone brought the group back, distracting from Harry’s turmoil. His words were stiff, stained with the discomfort of the moment and it took a few words to grasp some momentum, “Many of us have been exposed. We have to be thorough. We can all at once go through brief interviews. There is legilimency, several anti-fibbing jinxes…”



“Veritaserum is the most legitimate,”Kingsley added, grasping on to Moody’s sane tactic. Looking to Severus he confirmed conversationally, “I don’t suppose you have any in stock, Snape?”



The question seemed to snap the potions master from his thoughts, but he reacted quickly enough. He answered with a sigh, “Yes, just a taste for each of us should do for a cursory investigation. I’ll return with what I have in my stores.”



With that, he swept through the landing floor, the front door clicking shut more brusquely than necessary. Once he was gone, Harry glanced around the room. He let out a breath he hadn’t even known he was holding.

It took only a few moments after Snape was gone for Hermione to begin piecing back the night. Harry explained the attack with brevity, at which point Sirius and Remus interjected with what woke them. Granger nodded at the Marauders’ narration, but did not take her eyes from Harry. 



“Wait, Harry. You said Snape knocked him unconscious?”



“Er, well yeah. He was sticking out of the wall, actually. It was—“



They shared the same bright epiphany, and without words they were racing toward the stairs. Hermione ran ahead of him, but Harry followed close behind. Sirius, who was only half listening, followed the movement instinctively, pulling Remus along with one hand and his wand out with the other. The small gathering stopped at the top of the second level, watching Harry and Hermione look into the doorway of Harry’s room.



Granger just put a hand to her mouth but Harry’s gaze traced that of a trail of scattered drops, red-turned-black on the dark woodgrain, still wet. He followed them into the last bedroom, where he found the room disheveled from their earlier tussle, but empty. empty.



Harry turned around, his face in his hands, before kicking angrily at the wall. “FUCK,” he exclaimed, jerking abruptly in unconfined vexation. He put his back to the adjacent wall of the hallway, across from the doorway. Letting his head roll back, he slid to the floor, mumbling what Hermione could only make out as, “So fucking stupid.”


His fellow Gryffindor was already narrating what he had moments before concluded, “He must have recovered and, hearing the other—Must have….made his way down the corridor and gathered him before apparating…”

“You can’t apparate in here, can you? There’s no—“



Sirius interrupted Remus gravely, “--Yeah, yeah you can. The twins have been doing it all summer, trying to get a laugh since they passed their exams. Trying to lighten the mood.”

"We would have heard it."

"A portkey, then, Remus. Or maybe they cast a silencing charm on the upper floor before apparating. Might as well have walked out the front door."

The last statement he sighed breathily, regretfully.

Harry’s hand was twisted in his hair as he fretted, “I should have known to—should have thought to—“



“No, Harry. I didn’t, didn’t consider other possibilities.”



“We’re all to blame.”



They returned to the bottom landing, explaining with tired, heavy hearts what they had overlooked. Piecing together the rest of the attack, they waited for the Veritaserum. The night pressed heavily in, the hour a dark depth of the sea. So far from daylight. 


___________________________________________



 

All eyes found Severus as the door clicked behind him, the quiet chime of vials clinking delicately in his satchel. The leather bag swung deftly from his shoulder, swaying with his movements as he reentered the Black home. It was clear from his damp hair and the unabsorbed droplets on his heavy robe that it was raining outside. However, this discomfort did not appear to resonate with the potions master. Snape’s expression was preoccupied, his concern not quite with the assembled party in the foyer. He glanced around with sharp precision before narrowing his eyes. 



“And the servants of the Dark Lord?”



Remus approached him first, leaning in to inform him somberly of their discovery upstairs. Snape nodded grimly, swallowing obvious self-reproach. He said nothing, though his knuckles clenched forcefully, shoulders tense. He grabbed the corner of his satchel, bringing it easily over his shoulder. The tinkling of the glass spoke for him. 



“Ah, yes. Thank you, Severus. Come, let’s do this in the living room.” Remus led the way, followed swiftly by Snape’s billowing form. Severus’s eyes swept across the room, but averted his gaze when he spotted Harry, his demeanor broadening with quiet animus. Lupin reached into the satchel after receiving a subtle nod of approval and set the vials, six, in a line across the middle of the coffee table. Everyone gathered around wordlessly, watching the arrangement with something like reverence.



“Molly, do you know if there is a vase in the kitchen?” McGonagall turned to Mrs. Weasley, breaking the silence. Startled, but pleased to be of some use, she returned shortly from the next room with a simple vase of clear glass. 



“Surely you don’t mind, Sirius?”



The last Black laughed roughly, responding to the surly professor with a quick assurance that the most pleasant thing it had been used for was Oleander. Severus, familiar with its poisonous qualities, half-smirked at this, the edges of his lips curving upwards faintly, despite himself. Once the glass container was placed on the table, McGonagall waved her wand, transfiguring it seamlessly into a set of shot glasses. She looked to Black, her eyebrow arching slightly. 
The freshly transfigured decanters clinked as they first made contact with the table and, though no one noticed, the sound made Harry pale visibly.



With a look that was not unamused, Sirius brandished his wand and with a steady wave, uttered, “Accio Brandy. ” The bottle, an aged and dusty affair, burst from a cupboard in the kitchen and soared to him. The label read, “Dragon Barrel Brandy, 1774,” the letters static while the woodcut print of a dragon shifted with agitation.



“What?” she asked sharply in response to several surprised glances. Putting away her wand, she sighed, “Some nights must be given greater allowances than others.”



“And this was some night,” Moody added.



Severus, his manner impatient, uncorked each bottle and, with a flick of his wrist, cast them aside where they hung in the air, suspended. Brandishing his wand with a delicacy that Harry had to admit, begrudgingly, was artful, even measurements of the vials’ contents began to flow upwards. The streams of Veritaserum landed in the containers like marbles, without splashing or flattening. The adhesion, or lack thereof, gave away the magical quality of the liquid; as Sirius lifted his glass from the table, the potion drops slid around the bottom like transparent pearls. 




Sirius waved his wand once more and the Brandy bottle seemed to erupt in slow motion, a clumsier fountain than that of the Potion’s Master. The geyser separated into neat slices of liquid, levitating cleanly across the room. Doses found their way into each vessel. Molly eyed the children, but seemed to think that half a shot of brandy would not harm them—would perhaps help them back to sleep. Sirius caught Remus’s eye as he, too, took his glass. They raised theirs together, holding them up high while everyone else took a dose from the table. Harry watched as Moody sniffed his, waving his wand above it with great suspicion before nodding to himself.



“A toast,” Black intoned facetiously, though no one felt like celebrating. He and Remus held up their chalices and their right hands, palms facing out. Synchronously, they delivered, “I solemnly swear…”
Moony and Padfoot nodded to everyone and drank the potion, letting the alcohol slide easily down their throats. The rest of the assembled group did the same, except for Harry. Swallowing and looking around, the marauders continued, joined this time by Fred, George, Ron, Hermione, and Harry, who knew the words, “… That I’m up to no good.” Hermione, who had attempted to finish the phrase, squeaked at the end, unable to speak the words “Up to no good.” She brought her fingers to her mouth in surprise. Fred let out a firm belly-laugh, and Harry smiled, despite himself.



They took turns one by one, repeating after Kingsley, “I had no intentional part, indirectly or directly, in divulging any Order Secrets to anyone outside of Order confidentiality.” No one stuttered. George, who went last, suggested that they play “Truth or Bert’s Beans” before the potion wore off.
Everyone laughed at this, and Harry was left looking around.



It said something about the nature of the people that surrounded him, this light-hearted banter. No one was okay—no one was safe, and yet they still quipped. 



The brunette’s grin fell shortly when his attention was drawn from the twins to Severus, who held out the last glass to him. Clearly Harry’s abstention had not escaped his notice. Harry observed the offering in his hand, trembling inexplicably—ever so slightly. But he did not move to accept it.



“I can’t take that.”



Understanding flashed across Snape’s dark eyes before Harry had even finished his sentence.



“Couldn’t you take it quick before it makes you sick, mate?”

Ron’s question pierced the tension.



“His stomach would react before it hit his bloodstream.” Remus explained reluctantly.

There was a long silence.

“Is it even necessary?” Molly’s question was swiftly met by Kingsley, who answered apologetically, “I’m not sure it’s wise to mobilize to the next safe house without first being sure that all parties involved are unassociated with this raid.” Though he had not said it, the implication was clear. Harry was the last unturned rock; by all common sense, it had to have been him. But how could he prove otherwise?



“Merlin, how do muggles handle this sort of thing?”



“Lie-detectors and evidence-based analysis, mostly.” Hermione’s answer to Arthur jostled Harry’s thoughts and he knew instantly what had to be done.



“Use Legilimency.” Harry glanced around, half-hoping for this not to work, to be altogether impossible.



“If we can’t use Veritaserum, we can’t—“



Kingsley was cut off by Severus, who explicated, “The body processes cast magic more instantaneously than a potion, which must be absorbed prior to entering the bloodstream. Potter is right, although it is unlikely that he knows why. His system would have less time to reject the magic…”



He did not finish his statement, black eyes searching the room, waiting for the inference to be made. Waiting for someone to protest, to come to the aid of their Golden boy. It was Sirius, finally, who broke the quiet,“There has to be some other way.”



“Did we ever check to be sure it was him?” Moody’s question was bitter and reproachful, regret perceptible. And then everyone began to talk at once, again dissolving into panicked assurances. Harry’s resolve had hardened and he no longer hoped for some way out of it; he wanted it done with.



“STOP. EVERYONE STOP.”



The talking ceased and attention was once more on Harry. He turned to Remus, his expression fierce and resolute. “Will it keep me from regaining my—what I’ve lost?” They shared a loaded glance, laden with unspoken dolour. The werewolf swallowed heavily before he responded, “It’s… possible. It could be just like jarring a broken bone—it could just inflame it further, or it could place it further out of alignment, worsen the cracks. There isn’t enough research—“



Harry shook his head, “—Then it’s only a chance. We don’t have time for this. We have to get everyone out of here and to safety. It has to be done.”



Remus’s mouth was a grim line, his face grey with weariness.



“Would you…?”



Again they shared eye contact, the others watching on powerlessly. Remus’s eyes slanted downwards in genuine lament, “Harry, I am not a legilimens. This would require quick precision, a mental agility that I do not possess. Any fault on my part could worsen the effect on your magic.” As he spoke, he looked over to Professor Snape, watching the Slytherin’s movements, which had begun to be stiff and uneasy.



The unspoken conclusion was a terrible one. No one wanted to say it, to admit that they knew who among them was accomplished at Legilimency. Who among them was capable of extracting information quickly and without fail. Sirius stepped between Harry and Severus, the gesture ludicrous for how much distance existed across the room. No one laughed.



“Absolutely not. I won’t hear of it. No chance, Snivellus! There is no way you’re going to violate my godson’s head. He’s been through enough, you hear me? Enough!”



Snape cocked his head, slightly, before drawling, “Yes, surely it would give me no better pleasure than to fumble around the doubtlessly brilliant workings of Potter’s pubescent mind.”



Lupin, in one stride, had moved in front of Black, bringing a hand to his friend’s chest to steady him. Harry, taking the werewolf’s lead, placed a hand on Sirius’s shoulder. 



“We do not have time for this.”



Harry’s words were soft and insistent and seemed to come from some profound pool of calm he did not know still existed within himself. However, he was not looking at his godfather. His eyes were focused ahead, sharing a dangerous and measured connection with those of Severus, whose face was indecipherable. Black turned to face his godson, his childish prejudice still burdensome. Breathing hard, Sirius placed his hand on Harry’s upper shoulder, “You don’t have to do this, Harry. This is madness. We can come up with some other way.”



“Now.”



Severus’s face glinted briefly with pain—so quickly Harry was sure he had imagined it—before raising his wand.



“I will not have time to search, Potter. Center your memories to the forefront of your thoughts.”



Harry nodded, setting his shoulders back to brace himself even as he understood that this would be an agony he could not prepare for. Severus inhaled laboriously, his hand shuddering almost unnoticeably.



Legilimens.

Chapter Text

A/N:
1. Sorry, as always, for the delay. Man, holidays, AMIRITE? BUT HERE IT IS, MERRY FUCKIN' HOLIDAYS TO YA'!
2. Dumbledore's dialogue always feels forced to me. If you have any suggestions for improvement that would be swell.
3. R&R if you have a moment, but regardless, please enjoy.
4. 15 is not yet complete, but is maybe at 3/4? Big stuff happening in the next couple of chapters, so I really want to get this right.

____________________

Chapter 14

 Pain Tolerance

The corridor was dim, lit only by the light of an entryway on either end that stood ajar. A dark haired figure strode to the far end of the hallway, stopping just short of the last threshold at a door that was closed. His black hair swayed once, settling at the abrupt halt. His movements efficient and purposeful, he brought up his fist to knock but hesitated at the last moment, letting his hand open and trace the grain of the wood with his fingertips. After a pause, the man seemed to summon what courage he had lost. The wood, an indulgent mahogany, did not serve to brighten the space, but produced a rich refulgent boom when rapped upon with white, tensed knuckles.



“Enter.”



The figure dispensed no time in reaching for the handle and letting himself into a fire-lit chamber, at the far end of which his master was seated. Nagini was wrapped languorously about the chair, an ancient broad-backed affair. The room looked like it had once been decorated luxuriously, but had been vacated of its other furnishings. Spots of wear were visible on the floor where furniture must have stood, and the consequentially exposed, gilded baseboards were elven-carved. Voldemort seemed to take up the empty space despite its void appearance. His presence squandered every spare inch of air. The Dark Lord leaned back lazily, making himself more comfortable as he cocked his head. His voice, though it was sultry, was laced with something predatory—velvet barbed wire.



“I understand you are unsatisfied, Severus?”



Something within the potion’s master bristled, though he did not show it. He would have liked to have broached the subject as he had planned; now the professor was set on the defensive. Taking care to keep his voice unwavering, unsurprised, Snape rejoined, “I am doing a great deal of footwork, my lord, keeping your ward from being reclaimed by the Order.”



“You dare grouse—“



Severus fell to one knee, his long fingers sliding to his chest in a gesture of absolute subordination, “—of course not, my Lord.”



“I am merely,” And here his delivery became cajoling, the words deliberately softened by a tone that read as genuine concern, “requesting to take part.”



After a note of silence, Snape looked up, finding an expression of consideration across the snake-like visage of his second master. Visibly heartened, he continued, “It would be of greater efficiency, require less third-party communication to mislead the boy’s loved ones if I were to be…directly involved. If I knew where he was—”



“—Greater…efficiency.” Voldemort repeated slowly, reaching across languidly to caress the great head of his terrible diapsid. He continued his ministrations for a long moment, letting Severus hang there, unsure. The Potion’s master understood that Tom was enjoying this, perhaps even getting off on it. 



“You know, the boy reminds me a great deal of you, when you first came to me.”



Tom looked up, then, eyes keen and stark with something potent and horrifyingly similar to hunger. Snape maintained his composure, his voice low and grounded.



“In what way, my lord?”



“He was defiant at first, full of righteousness. Not easily broken with pain. But with time he was not so impossible. Not quite as stubborn as his mother.”



The long-haired figure jerked not even a fraction of an inch, but the motion was observed and processed by the Dark Lord. Voldemort’s head cocked to the other side with measured motion—like a serpent.



“I have wondered for some time now whether or not your allegiance truly lies with me, Severus.”



“My lord, of course I am resolute—“


Severus felt himself being pulled from the memory abruptly as Harry’s body rejected the magic. It all happened so slowly, the perception of memory and time a garbled mess that took only seconds in reality. 

 He had plunged through the boy’s disapparition from pale, cruel hands, felt shards of panic and agony before the escape. He saw flashes of the boy’s floo-trip to Diagon Alley—all that had been on the forefront of Harry’s mind, as Snape had asked. He saw other things, flashes of terrible, unspeakable things. One of the fragments had slowed, as if by a hundred fold. Certain seconds seemed to jump ahead before lengthening once more, as though Harry had not intended for Severus to see it all. But it was clear the Gryffindor’s control, such as it was, was waning; the scene was playing regardless. Screaming, Harry’s voice nearly spent, soft whispers that promised relief. “I’ll take it out if you tell us, Potter. We can make this stop.” In a blur, he saw Harry spit blood at an aristocratic face, his expression a harsh grimace of defiance. It only took moments for the cries to recommence, disjointed and sped up. He carded through more instances like this, finding none that implicated Harry for the Order’s security breach. The Potion’s master’s throat tightened at several—he was not immune to horror of this kind.



The corridor had been the final memory. It was surely a subconscious focus that the boy, unskilled as he was at Occlumency, could not hide. The shock of seeing himself in this way, of perhaps grasping a glimpse of what Harry must have thought… Snape could feel Harry’s pain begin as the magic reverberated and knew it was time to withdraw fully. Severus fought the urge to be sick, instead gathering his control and slipping from the mind of the traumatized student as gently as he could manage.



The physical and emotional pain eclipsed into an agony so fierce that Harry was unsure he would survive it. Its crescendo pooled, viscous, into his middle, pulling what felt like his very will to live down to his navel and out of the memory with a force like being slammed against a wall. 



Harry crouched down to his knees, his diaphragm rolling with deep, momentous heaves. There was nothing in his stomach to expel but his body shook with the effort to curl himself inside out. The pain felt like it had no where to go but up and out of his throat. 



His eyes blurred in and out of focus, a pounding ringing through his head. His bones felt like shattered glass, splintering into all of his nerve endings. He felt his eyes become long tunnels down from which he was dragged, his inconsistent vision widening into a dissociative peripheral. 
For one fleeting moment, he considered what it might feel like to be ripped from one’s body as Lord Voldemort’s had been and decided that it must be this. A pain worse than death.

He did not know how he stayed conscious through it all, his breathing laboured and wretched. It had been like an eternity of Cruciatus, a never ending cruelty that was meant, forcibly, by the caster. Even after the magic had run its course, his body still trembled. A hand came to rest on his shoulder, the palm on the blade, fingers cupped onto the tender hollow of his clavicle. Harry looked up to see Sirius, who had obviously been released from Lupin’s hold. His godfather’s face was a mask of anguish and ill-disguised resentment for Snape, who still stood where he had been when he’d first executed Legilimency. Potter rose to his feet, but stumbled, his upright balance a precarious and impermanent state.

“Are you satisfied?”



Harry spoke the words but they did not belong; they grated from his belly between deep, staccatoed gasps. The sound came out like a threat. He gazed up and met Snape’s eyes for the first time, and the potions master searched the boy’s face as though he did not recognize him. Their eye contact was thick with an unspoken understanding. Harry shook and he lowered himself down into a crouch in an attempt to keep consciousness; the pain still echoed through his body, as though each of his nerve endings were radiating with sparks. Remus began to step forward as though to intercept him, but Harry drew back, bringing his shoulder up, flinching. Potter’s eyes were bright and wild. He turned, looking around, and repeated, his voice profuse with demand, “Are you satisfied?”



Severus stepped forward, his expression grave. The Slytherin head of house was white-faced, his lips pressed tightly together as though he might vomit. With a great intake of breath, he gathered his thoughts to speak. 

He was cut off before he could form words, however, by the sweeping entrance of Dumbledore. The elderly wizard strode purposefully through the threshold, ash from the fireplace dispersing from his traveling cloak. Albus’s robes were obviously intended for colder weather, a sign that he had come from his journey abruptly and without pause for personal comfort. Dumbledore carried himself with a barely veiled ferocity, a quiet fume. Harry was once again reminded of the night that he had been intercepted by Barty Crouch’s son; he could comprehend with absolute clarity why Dumbledore was the only wizard Voldemort had ever feared.



“I apologize for my tardiness, I was delayed by my circumstances.”



No one seemed dissatisfied by his explanation. On the contrary, everyone present was put at relative ease by his arrival, as though only he could ensure absolute safety and order.
The headmaster surveyed the scene silently, as though taking everything in. He seemed to understand immediately, almost clairvoyantly. He asked after a moment’s pause, “I trust that you have taken the steps you saw necessary to trust once more in eachother.” He looked directly at Severus, whose gaze was returned unwaveringly. They shared a long glance before Albus nodded.



“Then come, we must move our party to the Burrow. We can discuss further action tomorrow.”



Everyone began to move, then, the twins first to the stairs to toss their belongings into trunks. 
Seeing that Harry remained where he was, Dumbledore prompted gently, “Harry, my boy, go gather what you can. I will help you lower your trunk to the landing.” 
Motion ceased when Harry spoke. Though hushed, his voice seemed to pierce through all other noise.



“I can’t go with them to the Burrow.”



Molly turned around to face him, her expression one of consolation, “Harry, dear. We’ll all be there; you’ll be safe, tonight. You don’t have to worry—“



“—NO. You don’t—I can’t.”



Harry looked to Dumbledore, pleadingly. He couldn’t say what he meant, couldn’t find words to make them understand. Surely Dumbledore would know, would see why he could not follow his friends to the sanctum of family that the Weasley’s house had always been. Those blue eyes sparked with intensity for a moment before flattening as Albus’s brows furrowed. The headmaster’s heart ached as he plucked the words like soft down from a bird, gently, and deliberately.



“I do not think you understand, Harry, the great weight that was carried by the Order in your absence. Indeed, I believe that our mistakes, many my own, were oversights that occurred when our grief seemed most overwhelming.”



Harry tried to stand, to match Dumbledore more directly. He staggered on his feet, dismayed by Albus’s great height. He tried to speak firmly, but his words came out appressed and small, “They wouldn’t have come. If I stay—“



At this, the old wizard’s expression softened. He interjected kindly “—I very much doubt that you are alone in your attempt to shoulder all the blame for what has happened tonight.”



Harry’s eyes flashed and his response was sharp, “I won’t. I won’t let anyone—“



“—Enough, Harry. Voldemort is unlikely to attempt to overtake Grimmauld Place for a second time tonight, and even less likely to find us again before morning. If you must insist on the topic, however, I’m sure we can discuss forsaking you altogether and abandoning you to the Dark Lord, tomorrow.”



Harry met his gaze for a long moment. Though Albus’s eyes still shone, it was not with amusement. The sarcasm was not lost on the boy. He hesitated for a moment, as though unsure of how to respond. Instead he glanced around the room, looking for some affirmation. Looking, even as he realized how ridiculous it was, for someone to agree with him. To claim once more that he could not be trusted and should stay behind. He let his gaze shift from one face to another, finally catching that of Mrs. Weasley, who seemed affronted.



“Harry, dear. Surely you don’t think—“



Harry shrugged as though dodging a bludger, and turned back to Dumbledore, ignoring her question and cutting her off at the same time, “—I still won’t be able to travel with everyone.”


Albus regarded him for a moment and nodded, comprehension immediate. With a nod of his head, he ordered, “Everyone go put together your belongings. We evacuate in ten minutes. Expect that we will not return for some time.”



“Thank god for that.”



Black could not withhold his enthusiasm, even as he filed with everyone else upstairs to magic his things into bags. Snape and those without need to pack disappeared into the kitchen to wait. Harry did not move, watching his Headmaster expressionlessly. The older wizard spoke without needing to be asked.



“You and I will travel separately by Knight Bus to the Burrow. Gather your things, Harry.”



Harry took in a deep breath, his nostrils flaring with agitation. Exhaling into a sigh, he nodded, folding his arms and leaving the room to put together his belongings. The stairs seemed to take an eternity to climb, the hallway much longer and open than he remembered it. He turned swiftly into his room, making a bee-line for the dresser and tossing what few things he had unpacked into the trunk. He could not look at the crater without remembering that long, endless moment during which he had been sure he was about to be returned to Malfoy Manor. He shuddered, trying to keep his breathing even.



His hands trembled as he brushed his hand against his bare belly. He realized with incredulity that he was still without a shirt—he felt numb, the details of his surroundings feeling peripheral to his attention. He shook his head and reached for a tee out of the mound that he had thrown down. Instead he found an undershirt, passed down from Dudley. One side was longer than the other, stretched out in odd places. The black turned rust in spots where Harry had splashed bleach as he cleaned or performed yard-work. He brought it over his head and hissed at the sting, recoiling with it bunched up at his neck for a moment before dragging it forcibly back down over his back. He suspected that he had torn his stitches, but the adrenaline still in his system made the pain a fraction of what he knew he would feel later. He tugged the hem down past where it would rest naturally, stretching the fabric slightly, grounding himself.



The motion brought his attention sequentially to his hands, which felt sticky and tight, somehow. The blood had dried, mostly, and felt tacky on his skin. He rubbed his fingertips along his palms as if to rid this feeling but instead made them feel dirtier. Shrugging, he committed himself to another task, unable to reflect too long on to whom the blood belonged. 



Seizing Hedwig’s abandoned hutch, he tied it to the handle of the trunk so that it hung cumbersomely from the side at an odd angle. Then, with great effort, he brought it to the top of the stairs, where it was levitated down by Remus, who had come behind him down the corridor. They shared a look and both nodded as they followed it down the steps. 

Harry found Dumbledore in the kitchen, speaking in hushed tones with Severus. The Potion’s Master sneered halfheartedly when he saw Potter approach, but their eyes did not meet. Harry’s nostrils flared in response but he said nothing.

“Severus, I trust you can produce the port key. Send word when you have arrived safely.”



Professor Snape nodded curtly and strode out of the room, his expression unreadable as he brushed by Harry dismissively. There was a commotion in the den adjacent as his friends all gathered to mobilize, and once again, Harry felt isolated. Set apart. Swallowing the lump in his throat, he looked to Dumbledore. The old man nodded and began conversationally, “I think it time for you to vest yourself.”



Their attention was broken by Sirius, who came back into the kitchen with a quiet, purposeful demeanor. Albus regarded him for a moment, but before he could speak, Sirius asserted defensively, “This isn’t debatable, Dumbledore. I’m his Godfather and I’m going with him.”
The old man nodded with an upturned lip that may have been the shadow of a smile, but said nothing. 



“Remus will take the luggage so we will be unencumbered if there’s trouble.”



“I expect no more tonight, Sirius, but I appreciate the precautions all the same.”



Sirius did not look relieved as he began the transformation, his complete form looking large and outrageously fierce in the small kitchen space of his childhood home. This was partially undermined, however, when he sank onto his haunches and let a long, pink tongue slide past his jowls, panting.

There was a muffled boom from the foyer, and several cracks. Satisfied, Dumbledore them into the adjacent room and through the front door. Harry bundled his cloak more tightly about himself against the brisk night air, abnormally chilled for August. They made their way to the street, Sirius padding lightly behind them, nails clicking quietly on the sidewalk. 



Dumbledore waved his wand serenely, and almost immediately lights appeared from an contiguous lane. With a crash and a bang, the enormous form of the Knight Bus careened into view, a hydrant and a streetlight leaping out of its path as it barely made a turn at a violent ninety degree angle. A more striking purple than Harry had remembered it being, the bus squealed to a stop inches from them, the doors slamming open as the conductor burst once more from the vehicle.



“WELCOME—“



Stan Shunpike’s usual rhetoric was cut off by a wave of Dumbledore’s hand around his face. Indeed, the boy gained a detached, drunk expression. 



“You will take us to Devon, outside of the village Ottery St. Catchpole. We will be last on your route. You will not pick up any further passengers while we are aboard.”



Shunpike nodded bovinely, accepting the coins that Dumbledore pushed into his limp hands. Gesturing to Harry, the trio mounted the steps into the bus. Harry stuck close to the Headmaster, watching as he waved his wand once more, wordlessly suspending attention to them as they proceeded through the first level to the second. The bus itself had very few occupants, but those that they passed stared blankly ahead, as though they did not exist. Many blinked slowly, as if fighting sleep. 



They stopped on the third tier, noting a complete vacancy. Setting wards and casting “Privatus!”, Dumbledore settled at the very back, gesturing to his companions to do the same.



Harry sat on a seat in a row adjacent, lowering himself very slowly, working not to wince. Sirius lumbered into the seat beside, him taking up three seats with his massive black form. They shared a painful silence as the bus rumbled back to life, the momentum building up quickly as it leapt back into action. With the motion, the overhead lights shuddered off, leaving them in the scattering, linear mercy of the streetlights as they passed outside.



Harry watched silently as the flashes illuminated Dumbledore’s face rhythmically, his features knitted in one of concern and profound thought for the briefest of moments before being flattened by darkness.



“Harry.”



The tone spoke more than the words. Sirius’s ears perked up, but he did not move his head from its place on the seat.



“Do you recall the night that Voldemort returned?”



“Y-yes.”



“Do you remember why I asked you to recount the events of that night immediately, rather then allowing you to postpone that pain?”



“Something about making it worse later.” 



Harry’s words were leaden and bulk-some in his throat. Hermione would be able to recall why, word for word, he thought bitterly. But regardless he knew what was coming. Dumbledore was going to ask, going to make him retell what had happened to him. What Snape had seen—oh god. He swallowed bile about that particular indignity. He could not dwell on what the potion’s master had seen. 

The boy sank further into his bench, enveloped suddenly by an exhaustion that hurt, was overwhelming. He could not relive tonight, nor this summer, not even with Dumbledore. There was a long pause before Dumbledore’s words stretched out in the wavering light, the sound brisk and musing.



“Yes, something about it.”



“Then why didn’t you insist that night, when I first woke up?”



“Not all pain is equal, Harry.”



The Old wizard regarded him sadly before continuing, “What was done to you was a private injustice. One that is shameful and for which I do not doubt that you wrongly feel ashamed. It was not in your control to choose then, but it will be your choice when you do share that burden. It cannot be yours to bear alone. ”



Harry wished that his voice was steadier, but it was instead like unsure footing on mossy rocks, slippery and difficult to grip.

“I just, I can’t. I wouldn’t know how to begin.”



“I would only caution about guarding your injuries. Voldemort kept his own trauma secret, let it turn him cold and used it to harm those around him.”



Harry sat up straight, pushing himself to the edge of the bus bench. Pushing his glasses up the bridge of his nose in a motion that was half irritation, half unconscious instinct—a sudden spark of outrage.



“I would never—“



“—the distinction, is that Tom turned to solitude to validate and substantiate his pain, hardening it, weaponizing it.”
 


“and I—“



What? What would he do? He couldn’t even think about it, let alone say it.



“You, who are surrounded by loved ones, will open up and clean those wounds.”


Deflated, Harry answered dryly, “Can Snape count for tonight?”



Dumbledore’s laugh was quiet and discrete in the empty car, a welcome sound on this dreadful night. He nodded, “Yes, yes. I do think Professor Snape will suffice for tonight.”



“But you want to know what happened before you got there.”



It wasn’t a question.



“Yes, it is of great importance that I hear your account.”



And suddenly, despite his earlier reluctance, Harry was telling him. Describing with ginger brevity the row that he had, had with Severus and the manner in which he had been saved. He went on, paraphrasing the events of the last few hours, which even now felt so very long ago. It was a strange parallel to a night he’d had at the beginning of the summer, over a year before. He’d sat before Dumbledore and Sirius, attesting to another one of the Dark Lord’s schemes, foiled this time by his own Death Eater. 

Again his thoughts edged to Severus’s presence leaving his thoughts, the look on his pale, sharp-featured face. That look made him sick to his stomach, tightening like the devil’s snare on his dignity. He pushed the feeling away, unable to confront these feelings tonight. 



There was little said after he was finished and they completed the journey to the Burrow in gentle silence. Sirius laid his enormous muscular head on Harry’s lower thigh, breathing contentedly. The boy closed his eyes as he lay his hand on his godfather’s warm, furred shoulder. He was grateful, suddenly, for small comforts. 


Chapter Text

A/N:
1. First off I want to apologize about the quality of the last chapter. I went back and read through the last few paragraphs and there are like 3 typos and a lot of repeated words #hotmess.
I must admit I was excited and did not read through it before posting. I'm uploading an edited version if you want to take a look but it should just be light word changes and nothing really worth rereading.

2. I agree with the feedback that I've received that the last couple of chapters have been hella angsty. (Okay maybe the past 14). I expect the chapters after 16/17 to be more light-hearted. (Buut while there are more Harry/Severus interactions, I would not get your heart set on anything steamy for quite a few chapters yet. I'm a big believer in slow simmering.)

3. Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoy. As always, please R&R if you have any useful pointers or feedback.

4. 16 is 3/4 way done, but I must admit I want to have some of 17 laid out before I post it, since the details in 16 will inform 17. I'll post as soon as possible.

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Chapter 15 Chess Pieces

"Your shirt—" Molly cried, horrorstruck, as Harry bent to take off his trainers. The boy closed his eyes, exasperated. She came forward and began to peel his shirt up, cautiously prying the material up where it had begun to stick in places. Harry tensed, the muscles in his shoulders seizing excruciatingly. The Weasley matriarch did not notice in her earnest conviction to care for the boy.

"Oh, Harry, I—I'll go get—oh dear." Her exhaustion was sending her into hysterics and even in the dim light, Harry could see that her eyes were beginning to water dangerously. He appreciated her motherly care even in times like this, but he was so tired he was not sure he could endure her fussing.

"Accio toiletries," Sirius cast, lazily, catching a bulky leather bag as it flew from the doorway, where they had dropped their bags. From it, he produced gauze, adhesive and alcohol.

"I grabbed these while I was packing my own," he explained needlessly.

"I'll just—"

"I've got it from here, Molly. Go check on your brood."

Sirius's words were kind and had a mellow comfort to them. It was clear that he preferred to tend to Harry without Molly's high-energy hysteria. Though she seemed unsure for a moment, she appeared to understand that it was Sirius that Harry needed, now. Unvexed, she nodded. You can have the guest bedroom upstairs, there is—"

"I'd rather settle down here, Mrs. Weasley, if it's the same to you."

Molly gave him a reproachful look and appeared, for a moment, as though she might protest. After a pause of consideration, however, she nodded, left a set of sheets on the sofa, and retreated up towards the stairs. Turning back, she could not help but coddle endearingly, "It pulls out into a bed if you…" But she trailed off, her footsteps on the stairs drawing out her quiet reminders.

The thought of settling upstairs, where there were fewer modes of escape made Harry uncomfortable, a sentiment Sirius seemed to sense. Black pulled the bed out wordlessly. The older man retrieved the wand from his back pocket and, with a flick, had the sheets sliding themselves smoothly into place. Harry's godfather lifted his chin towards the bed, indicating that he should sit down. Harry obeyed, his body heavy with exhaustion. He lowered himself to the futon and, with difficulty, slid backwards to the backboard. Wincing slightly, he eased himself against the back pillows, resting his forearms on his knees.

"We need to look at your back, treat your wound—"

"—Tomorrow."

Sirius's response was a soft growl, "Now."

Harry looked up at him with lethargy. With great effort he turned, letting Sirius help him out of his undershirt. Sirius's hiss was enough to make him understand that it was bad.

"I'm just going to apply some alcohol and some of this muggle antibacterial ointment. We'll have to address the rest tomorrow."

His godson nodded, bracing himself for the sting of the disinfectant. Sirius worked quickly and within moments, his shirt was back on and he was settling once more on the backboard.

"You should lie down, Harry. Try to get some sleep."

Harry shook his head once, the motion slow and distant. Sirius set his jaw, but said nothing, picking up a knit blanket strewn over an armchair adjacent to the sofa. He placed it around Harry's shoulders, offering instant relief to a discomfort the boy had not even perceived existed. Black turned to leave, and something broke in Harry. As though some kind of paralysis had been lifted, Potter turned his head to look at him. His words were small but had a note of desperation, "Sirius, wait. Would you—"

He stopped speaking, apparently unable to reconcile the desire for Black's continued lenitive presence with the unease of prolonged physical closeness, however platonic. They had never shared a bed, and though it should not have been strange, it was. Harry knew this had nothing to do with Sirius—had everything to do with his stay in the Malfoy house. He didn't want to say it, didn't want to talk about it. He changed his mind abruptly, squashing down the part of him that could not stand to be alone this night.

"Sorry, never mind. I just…"

Before he could draw together the words that would send his godfather upstairs, however, Black's form was shifting, hunching forward and thickening. Here, in the dark, he found it more disconcerting. Once the change had taken place, a fearsome black beast mounted the sofa bed, his steps heavy and graceless. The canine lay at the end, enormous head resting affectionately on his godson's foot. Harry, who had watched this without speaking, felt his brows knit forward, a sorrowful break of anguish colouring his face. He brought a hand to his mouth and stifled the sob. The gesture transformed into a painful blockage in his throat, the size of a sparrow caught in a late frost. Sirius, unaware, released a weighty, contented sigh, and Harry placed his hand on the hirsute shoulder of his companion.

He did not know how long they rested there, the dog's breaths lengthening as he drifted into a deeper slumber. Harry ground his teeth, staring out into the night with a dissociative ache in his chest that was separate from his injuries and his broken magic. This pain pulsed through his throat and made a home in his temples and it was a while before he identified it as a new kind of grief. His scar prickled uncomfortably, the sting intensifying briefly and then fading—both hardly noticeably in comparison to the great weight in his diaphragm.

Flashes of his friends running down that corridor, of finding Ron trapped. Ginny, her red hair tossing fiercely in the wake of her momentum. He saw Sirius fighting in slow motion, a perfect and terrible reflection of a similar duel against Bellatrix so long ago. A million times he could have gotten them all killed. He shouldn't be here—shouldn't be endangering everyone in the Burrow.

A stirring in the kitchen pulled his attention away from his thoughts. He reached to his pocket for his wand, then drew back with a pang of intense loss. His whole body tensed with focus. The doorway was on the other side of the room, and the red-lacquered oak of the kitchen interior afforded a ruddy glow that spilled into the adjacent living room through the partially open door. Six inches of the kitchen were available to him, a sliver of a window. Harry watched the threshold carefully, realizing with regret that it was too late to close it without notice. The harmony of footsteps and the creaking of weight on warped floorboards helped him to discern that there were more than one—two, maybe three.

"The wards are in place."

The low, seamless voice of Severus Snape caused Harry to release a deep breath he hadn't known he was holding. He cocked his head, wanting to hear over the continued shuffling in the next room.

"We have a good deal to discuss, you and I, my boy."

Hearing Dumbledore speak allowed Potter to lean back down, sure that he was safe. He did not relax his attention, however, determined to know what Snape had to say for himself.

"Will you rest here? Help the Order defend the wards?"

"I have personal matters to attend to tonight, Dumbledore. The Dark Lord will be sending the Deatheaters to Spinner's End to retrieve me when Gibbon informs him of my… indiscretion."

"Ah, yes. You will need refuge. Voldemort is no fool. I doubt even you, accomplished Legilimens though you are, will convince him that you had no other choice."

Harry could have sworn he heard the twinkle in the Headmaster's eyes at this.

"I will remain at Hogwarts for the duration of the summer. I trust you will not protest that I use school house elves to procure the ingredients and tomes I will need from Diagon Alley."

"I cannot think that your best solution is to hole yourself up at Hogwarts for a year. Come now, Severus. You are too clever to be satisfied by—"

"—It is a larger cage than that of Sirius Black," Severus hissed. There was a note of finality, here. Present, too, was an edge of blame, implying that it was Dumbledore that had created this pen and not the choice Snape had made to save Harry. At once, Potter was forced to see the consequence of what had happened tonight. The boy clenched his jaw at the thought, hating the idea that he owed anything to the Potion's Master.
The figure of Snape appeared past the doorway, gracefully pulling a chair from the table and taking a seat. He was just out of the frame so that Harry could see only his shoulder and torso. He was leaning one arm on the table, his face and part of his upper body out of sight behind the door. His left arm was curled into what Harry could see of his lap as though he was nursing it, fingers curling and uncurling as though with a discomfort that came and went.

Obviously Snape's accusation did not escape Albus's notice, either. After a long pause, the Headmaster resumed, "You have both made your sacrifices for this war. What you have done tonight goes a long way to absolve the sins of your past life. You must know this."

"We both know there is no such thing as absolution."

After a long pause, Dumbledore's answer came so softly, Harry almost did not hear it.

"If there is you will find in helping Lily's boy."

"You did not see his face, tonight. We failed him, Albus, all that time in Malfoy Manor. You can't know—did not hear him plead."

Severus did not respond for a weighted pause, his right hand reaching subtly to squeeze around his left forearm, thumb at the crook of his arm. Severus's white knuckles clenched and unclenched around the cloaked limb, the only tell to a pain Harry could only assume was coming from the man's mark. The Dark Lord was calling.

"I think it is best if Madame Pomfrey continues his care from here. She returns from Holiday at the end of next week. The rest of the Order can see that he is tended to until then."

"She is well versed in magical remedies, but not this kind of pain."

Severus banged his fist on the table, "I can't help him. He…Albus if you had only seen. How were we to know that he was still linked to the Dark Lord, still seeing visions in his sleep?"

"Legilimency, then?"

"We had to be sure," Severus responded defensively, despite the casual tone with which Dumbledore had confirmed.

"He thinks I would have joined them, saw only that I asked to be included, thinks me capable of… of rape. Of his rape. It can't be me!"

"Severus," the old man sighed, wearily, his voice suddenly softer, "I do not doubt that he will see that capacity in all of those men that are not his closest friends and family. How do you think he interprets your animosity, your impatience?"

"MY animosity? Headmaster, that's preposterous—"

"You claim there is none?"

There was no answer. Dumbledore's tone maintained a soft and steady cadence as he continued, "No one will contest that what you did was worthwhile, Severus. I ask only that you continue brewing. That you show forbearance while he heals the wounds we cannot see."

"YES!" Severus exclaimed suddenly, his voice alight with hysterical sarcasm, "Let me take the poor, mishandled Golden boy under my placental wing. Let me nurse him on compassion ever so mercifully from my rosy, tenderhearted teet."

Dumbledore, clearly allowing Severus to finish, ignored this commentary readily. Now his words were brusque and direct.

"Who are you angry at, Severus? Is your rage truly at Harry, for being broken, or is it at Lucius and Lord Voldemort, those who you could not keep from breaking him? I think your anger is misplaced and you will regret how you treat the boy if you do not exercise caution."

There was a loud sigh that had to be Snape's.

"He is not a victim. He isn't broken. I won't tolerate his belligerence. I don't care if—"

"—Enough. There has been enough blindness for one night. I ask only that you watch out for him. I have faith that you will be able to relate to his pain more deeply than the others."

"…Yes, well. There is much to do."

The sliver Harry could see of the dark-haired figure rose to his feet, walking towards the half-opened door.

"Do be careful, my boy. Danger will not sleep tonight."

There was a roar, which Harry could only assume was the sound of the fire flaring as Dumbledore floo'ed away. The boy did not have time to move, to pretend to be asleep as
Severus entered the living room, through which he had to pass in order to reach the front door. This pathway led him by the unfolded couch, where Harry rested, a consideration the man had clearly not planned for. Finding the boy sitting up, awake, as his vision adjusted to the dark, he pursed his lips and proceeded. His footsteps were hastened by discomfort. Halfway to the door, he halted, his shoulders tensing before he turned.

The professor took a shallow breath, like a gasp before beginning, "Potter, I—"

"No."

Sirius shifted at the sharpness of Harry's answer, curling into himself more within the tangle of sheets. After a moment, once he was sure that the dog beside him had settled, the boy turned his gaze once more on the dark figure before him.

"Not tonight."

Harry observed him distantly, tall and broad-shouldered in the shadows of the Weasley living quarters. The details of the Slytherin before him pounded with a throbbing that was sprouting in his back—the beginning of the pain he knew adrenaline had been postponing. Harry had to concentrate to make out the minutia of Snape's form. The man's face was a mask of consternation. Severus's cloaked chest rose as he took in one great swell of breath, preparing to begin. To address what he was sure the boy had overheard.

"We need—"

"—I don't have anything left."

Harry's voice was weary and hollow, a note of desperation ringing true between them. Snape could only stare, had no words of comfort or ire with which he could deny this statement. They both knew these to be the most honest words spoken on this wretched night. Veritaserum and all.

"I don't have it in me to… to talk about anything you have to say."

Severus regarded him silently for a moment, but was spared the inconvenience of finding an answer when Harry continued, "But I'm sorry, Professor. For what you gave up tonight."

Once again, Severus was caught off guard. He found himself studying the boy's face for some sign of change, a trace of the childish, selfish punk that he had woken even a few hours earlier. But he was gone—gone and replaced by this green eyed creature that spoke low in his throat like he was swallowing coals. Replaced and seated on his haunches like he had just cleaned the Aegean stables and was merely resting his feet. Before him sat a boy-turned-man in just a few hours. What had changed?

"You must know that there wasn't any question…" Snape began, his eyes never leaving Potter's, still studying him as he spoke.

"Look… I'm grateful, really, I am. But you made a mistake tonight."

Snape's lip curled to protest, but Harry continued, "You gave up more, it's as if—" The older man surveyed as the boy struggled for words, his patience waning rapidly. Harry's eyes searched the room, as though what he was trying to say would be plastered on the ceiling. His gaze stopped at the chess set that rested on the edge of the coffee table, no doubt the youngest Weasley male's. The pieces were arranged neatly, stoically casting long shadows in soft black and white. Potter's eyes flashed back to meet the former Death Eater's, a liquid clarity giving the gaze new spark.

"You traded your rook for a pawn."

Severus regarded him soberly, feeling something twist in him, off kilter and unbalanced. With great temperance, he managed only to say, "Yes, well, forgive me if I find your lessons in Gryffindor strategy lacking."

With a snarl, he turned once more to take his leave, his long, even strides taking him swiftly to the door. Once his long-fingered hands had grasped the worn knob—a cool, dented brass—he paused once more before opening it. Without looking at Potter, Severus apprised, paraphrasing with a grimace what Dumbledore had told him earlier, "There are some worthwhile sacrifices in war."

The boy's counter was delayed, soft and poignant, "The war is over."

At these words, Snape turned, glancing back to see that Harry had already shifted away. Knowing this to be a dismissal, the potion's master stepped out into the fresh night, his throat closed against the thick taste of veritaserum still on his tongue. He closed the door behind him to muffle the sound of his disapparition.

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He made his way back to Spinner's End to pack away the trappings of his old life. All he could think about was the look of despair on the Gryffindor's face as he pleaded with Severus. He replayed that expression again and again in his thoughts.

"Snape, please…"

He had believed, once, that he wanted to be formidable, intimidating. A figure of fear to his students and his colleagues. But he had been wrong, and he choked on that misjudgment with each billowing step he took.

Chapter Text

A/N: I really took my time with this chapter for a couple of reasons. It's intense but I feel that it's necessary; Harry's fear and trauma has to come out somehow. Harry's strength will come in time, I promise. I tried to make it extra long to make up for the huge time gap!
WARNING DH SPOILERS:
Some things to keep in mind:

1. Without spoiling too much of this chapter I will say that I see Remus as a man of flaws. I think that he loves too strongly and, as he was with Tonks in DH, paralyzed when he is unable to help. It's something that Rowling touched on but which I chose to explore more here. I interpret that faced with a position where he must face hurting his loved ones, Lupin cannot bear to confront those issues head on.

2. Keep in mind that so far Severus is the only one who has glimpsed Harry's trauma on the Order. While in Chapter 15, Snape was super clear that he wanted to have nothing to do with the boy's rehabilitation, he was also affected by the memories he experienced when he used Legilimens on Harry. I really feel that despite what he claims, Snape's twisted past has instilled in him a strict empathy that motivates him against his better judgement. That's all I'll say for now.

These are clearly my interpretations of the Characters that Rowling created and owns. Please enjoy and, if the fancy strikes you, r&r with any feedback (good or bad).

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Chapter 16 Doorknobs and Broomsticks

The pain from his back woke him and he held onto it like a lifeline. He could still feel, he could still hurt, and that was something. He used that hurt to get out of bed, rustle through his school trunk and make his way into the kitchen. Harry's chest was tight as he padded to the door, the handle heavy in his hand, the broom brush trailing delicately behind him only just skimming the floor. He let himself into the back garden. The mist made the morning dour but something about the brisk fresh air felt good against his skin. His body felt rattled, the unmended magic within him still leaving him misaligned, crackling.

Setting the Firebolt between his legs, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. If he had nothing else, if everything else in his whole world was gone, he at least had flying. He could leave the world behind on this soft paddock of long, unkempt grasses. Even for just a little while. He kicked off hard, his whole spine shuddering with the great effort. Not as great, however, as the effort it took to catch himself when gravity brought him back down.

His knees took the shock with great complaint and he winced. His eyes opened and he blinked twice. Blood pounded in his temples as his stomach sank and he knew. Knew what he was still unable to process. Shaking himself off, he tried again, pushing off of the ground only to fall back to the lush ground below. A piteous, paralyzing anguish was building within him. He kicked off once more, aiming his broom at a more desperate, sky born angle. Harry did not catch himself this time, crumpling to the ground.

The edges of his vision burned with tears, but he steadied himself, blinking them back. So this is it, he thought, this is the rest of my life. Nothing had ever seemed so vacuous. The brunette stayed there a long time, watching the morning seep out onto the verdant garden. He stared, unrecognizing, at the gnomes as their heads began to peer impishly out from the weeds. He hardly noticed when Remus sat beside him, gazing out into the meadow, too.

After a prolonged silence, Lupin's soft voice eased, "I had meant to warn you before you tried."

"I just thought maybe…"

"The charms use the magic of the witch or wizard to fly."

"It's funny," Harry began, in a voice that expressed clearly that it was not, "what you learn about magic when you haven't got it."

The werewolf regarded him with a look of candid lament, "Alas, you and the whole wizarding world. Why do you think I stopped being a teacher?"

Harry's lips twitched upwards, despite himself.

"Remus, what am I going to do?"

"What were you going to do before you were a wizard, Harry?"

He realized he hadn't given it any thought, had never even considered it.

"You must remember that magic never made you who you are, and neither did flying. You had a future before you knew were a wizard, and no one in the world can take that away from you."

Harry's eyes sharpened on his companion, and his throat tightened suddenly. Before the boy could answer, Remus was continuing.

"I-I know you must have heard this, but I felt that perhaps the issue could bear repeating."

The boy shook his head, "I hadn't, but thank you. I… I needed that."

"Your relatives?"

"What? Oh, er—I mean, we just don't… Never talked about that stuff, I guess."

Again, the older man scrutinized him for a weighted moment, his head cocked slightly to the side. The silence became uncomfortable until finally, running his hand through grey-streaked hair, Remus broached, "Harry, I… I wanted to speak to you about something."

Potter nodded, but said nothing, waiting.

"Forgive me, I almost—I wasn't sure that this was a good time. But really I know there won't be one, not for a while. I didn't want to bring it up, it seems… but I must."

"Remus?"

"I went to retrieve your things, from your—from the Dursleys."

"Are they okay?"

"Yes, yes. There is still blood protection on your childhood home and the Deatheaters were unable to enter. In fact, apart from your disappearance that night they were very much unaware that anything out of the ordinary had occurred. But, Harry, when I asked. I mean, when I requested—they led me—that is to say, I was directed… "

Harry had never seen Remus scramble for words in this way, his sentences gentle but disjointed. He was growing increasingly frustrated, unable to ask precisely what was on his mind. He took a deep breath and gathered his thoughts.

"Harry, did the Dursleys give you that cupboard as a sort of… play room? A kind of muggle "playhouse" or something?"

Harry barked out a laugh, the mirth catching in his throat when he saw Remus's expression. The werewolf's face was grave, still waiting for the boy's answer. Clearing his throat, Potter found that it was he who was scrambling now, unsure of how to say what he needed to.

"Er, yeah—of sorts."

He could not believe that this, of all things, was what Remus had been struggling to mention. He had lost his magic, been violated by the subjects of the Dark Lord, had nearly been intercepted a second time the night before, and Lupin wanted to talk about his upbringing. Harry, were the Dursleys treating you right? The whole thing felt absurd.

"Of sorts? Harry, they didn't—"

"—No, yeah. Petunia cleared it out so I could, you know, have a secret space. I didn't have friends like Dudley so I had my own little clubhouse downstairs."

He forced a smile, shrugging sheepishly. He didn't know why he was lying to his old friend, now. Harry only knew that he could not stomach to appear any more traumatized—could not stand the look on Remus's face any time this summer had been discussed. Everyone knew, of course. How could they not? For such a thing to be so common knowledge, to be so open and raw and vulnerable twisted his stomach. No, the fact that he had lived in a broom closet for half of his life was not the great travesty Remus's expression had lent itself to.

Lupin's head cocked to the side as he smelled nervousness, knew he was being lied to, knew that he was being spared the guilt of having some part in Harry's undesirable childhood. He dropped the subject, however, unsure of how to examine the issue further without accusing the boy of deception.

"Right, then. I just thought I'd make sure."

They said nothing else between them for over an hour, just watching the morning unfold. The light of the early rising sun glowed through the mist, making the paddock new. An eery world, only half-familiar. Harry worked hard to hold still, the agony where his shirt had stiffened with blood blossoming until it was harsh, dizzying buzz. The iron smell did not escape Remus, and though he did not voice it, he knew they would have to tend to the boy's physical wounds with greater priority. As they began to hear sounds from the house across the yard, Remus rose to his feet, finally. He dusted himself off, giving Harry a nod of regard before heading in.

"Remus?"

"Yes, Harry?"

"Do you know when the meeting is due to start this morning?"

"Tonight, likely, probably late. Around eight or nine."

"Nine? Why not today, why not right away?"

Harry was alarmed, surprised that the Order of the Phoenix did not find these decisions more pressing.

"Why, Harry, the safety of secrecy. Many of us are employed at the Ministry, as you know. And if those of us the DeathEaters did not confirm were there last night do not show today, we are telling the Dark Lord whose homes to target as headquarters. In fact, Professor Snape has promised us what Pepper-up Potion is stocked at Hogwarts, so we don't all look so goddamn tired."

Harry let the corners of his mouth turn up at this, the smile not quite reaching his eyes.

"You coming in?"

"In a bit. I just… I want a few minutes. You know."

The werewolf nodded understandingly, leaving the boy to ruminate alone. He took the broom with him, crossing the yard. As he went inside, he left the door open just a crack; an open invitation for the boy to come back inside when he was ready. Harry did not get up all at once, waiting for the house to settle, for those who had work in the morning to prepare themselves, to leave their quiet place of refuge. They would not look for him here, he knew. Remus would tell them to give him peace. Peace. He closed his eyes and breathed a long, shallow breath.

When he opened them the sun was higher behind sheaths of thin cloud cover and he wasn't sure how much time had passed. The kitchen was quiet, grey light landing on oak floor panels from between heavy, floral curtains. In the stillness, it took him too long to notice the figure sitting at the table, facing the door.

"Ah, Mr. Potter."

The man swept well-groomed, blonde hair out of his face as he stood to shake Harry's hand, the green mediwizard's robes doing nothing to hide his lean physique. The hand he extended was long-fingered and clean, but the Gryffindor did not reciprocate the gesture. After an awkward beat, the stranger folded his arms smoothly. Harry eyed him warily, his jaw set and a strange, anxious ticking in his nerves beginning. He felt light-headed, ears thundering a heavy pulse.

"Yes, well. I am Augustus Pye, I believe we've met briefly when I was seeing to Arthur Weasley. I'm sure you know already why I'm here. If you would just remove your shirt so that I can begin the examin—"

As the man spoke he had taken a step forward to Harry's side in order to better observe his back. One of his hands moved to rest on the boy's shoulder, an invasion the Healer obviously thought nothing of. However, the contact broke the Boy Who Lived of some kind of paralysis. Harry jerked away, swatting at the stranger's hand.

"Don't—don't touch me."

He was several strides away before Augustus could blink, reaching for the front door but refusing to turn his back to the intruder.

"Who the fuck are you? How did you get past the wards?"

The blonde was immediately dismayed. "I see, I apologize. I am a Mediwizard Trainee, I work at St. Mungo's." He gestured to his robe lapel, which indeed had the embroidered insignia for the hospital. He continued, "I performed those experimental stitches on Mr. Weasley last year. I was told that my services were once again necessary. Can we proceed?"

Harry nodded as if he understood, but did not move closer, nor did he remove his shirt. The fear had not completely left his eyes, and he surveyed the mediwizard leerily. His gaze drawn to the wide set of the man's shoulders, and the considerable foot of height Augustus bore over Harry. The stranger returned the boy's observation, his growing bewilderment obvious.

"Who did you say called you here? Since when does St. Mungo's make house calls?"

"I spoke to Mr. Weasley. It's, well it's a bit of a favor, if you must know."

"I must."

Pye regarded Harry with a look of perplexity, his thin yellow eyebrows knitting together. It was clear that he found Potter rude and was too polite to say so. Harry didn't care. He was frightened of this stranger, did not like the confidence with which he occupied the kitchen, did not care for the fine, aristocratic features of his face. With a sigh, Augustus explained further.

"Two weeks ago, I received an owl from Dumbledore asking that I meet him. I was told very little until I arrived at a muggle hospital some fifty miles outside of London. You were out for the count, I tell you—"

Harry did not share his expression of amusement, so Augustus continued.

"Dumbledore explained that for circumstances I could not be told, I could not heal you with magic. What you'd gotten into I can't even— He said there were some pretty nasty jinxes if I mentioned this to anyone, and you can see I still have my ears…"

"Did Dumbledore send you here today?"

"In a manner of speaking. This time Mr. Weasley passed on Albus's message to me. To be honest, Dumbledore is likely the only reason I would make a house call like this." Pye shot a furtive glance to Harry's scar before admitting, "And the honor of handling your case, Mr. Potter. It is a pleasure, truly."

With this, the stranger took a step forward, gesturing to Harry, expectantly.

Harry, who had begun to relax with this explanation seemed to tense once more at Augustus's admission, seizing the door handle with a hand that shook violently. The boy started at the man's slow advance, eyes shifting rapidly from his feet to his hands to the expression on his face—searching for any predatory movement.

"S—stay right there."

"Mr. Potter, I was told that you needed to be seen first thing in the morning, that it was urgent. I suspect you've torn your stitches. You've bled through, look—"

Augustus could see that their was some discomfort but was oblivious to the boy's panic. He closed the distance between them, placing a hand once more on Harry's shoulder and reached again for the hem of the boy's shirt in a manner that was meant to be both calming and self-assured.

The moment blew up in a heartbeat: Harry backing up into the door, hitting it with a great thud, his forearms coming up instinctively and pressing up against the chest of the intruder. The man was so close Harry could feel his breath and something tightened in his throat. He wasn't sure he could speak until he screamed, fear creating a veil over his vision, blurring it.

"DON'T—DON'T FUCKING TOUCH ME. GET—"

Pye took a step back, flustered, uncomprehending, but did not retreat entirely. "Mr. Potter? I haven't—"

The door leading from the living room burst open, "What's going on—ah. Healer Py—" Remus began, letting his words drop off as he grasped the state of things. From the doorway, the werewolf surveyed the scene. Augustus Pye stood an arm-length away from the younger Gryffindor, his hand extended towards the boy, his expression one of detached concern. The kind one carried when they could not empathize, could not fully understand the cause for pain in another. Harry, black wife-beater hanging half off of his thin frame, was pressed up against the closed threshold on the opposite end of the room. His face a mask of unconcealed terror, Harry still shook. He looked older, now, and so tired. At seeing Remus, the boy seemed to breathe again.

"Oh, Remus. Tell him—"

"I apologize for not giving you warning. I expected Sirius and I would be here when Mr. Pye arrived. He's here to examine you."

Lupin entered the kitchen, but at his words, Harry's eyes widened and he shook his head.

"No… Not—Not today. Not him."

Augustus looked affronted and he huffed, "Now see here, Mr. Potter. I've got other patients, I don't have the time to be bustling back and for—"

"Harry."

Remus said his name with a paternal softness, more response than communication, as he saw the boy's face. Terror, like that of a cornered animal, red-rimmed Harry's eyes. The muscles in his neck and shoulders, exposed as they were, jumped with the trembling of the boy's frame. Lupin hadn't expected this, how had he not expected this?

"Harry," He repeated, taking two more deliberate steps toward him, "We have to see to your injuries. We can't risk infection without—under the circumstances."

The boy shook his head again, more fear than stubbornness, his gaze never leaving that of the intruder between them. The hand on the doorhandle was moist with sweat and he palmed the metal nervously, trying to get a better grip. To be touched by this stranger—to be examined—seemed like some great breach of the fragile calm that he had managed to sustain, thus far. He could rationalize that this man was as safe to him as Remus, but he could not quell the great fear that told him otherwise.

Harry knew where he was—could understand the dimensions of the temperate, light-filled rooms of the Burrow he had always felt at home in. But so too could he feel the walls of another room, more ornate and cold, always so cold. A metal that never warmed: chains. a smooth voice, its vice-like effect on his stomach, his throat. Another man at another time who used thin, ice-like fingers to covet what he himself had not yet seen in this way."Now then, Potter. Let's have a look at you…" The boy's breathing was quickening, his heart beat so abrupt and terrible that it felt more like a hiccup that wracked his tender, healing ribs.
Had it ever hurt so much to breathe?

"No—NO!"

Remus could see that Harry was beyond reason, had surrendered to something of a trigger to his trauma. The werewolf was torn, now, between caring for him emotionally and seeing to it that Harry was physically taken care of. If Harry's wounds became infected, they would be powerless—at the complete mercy of muggle medicine. He could die. Harry, the only wizard to survive the killing curse, could die of a simple muggle infection and they would have to stand by and watch it happen. Was that fate more horrible than this insanity?

"We're going to have to subdue him, there's no way I can sew stitches with him in this state."

Which was worse, to ignore the impending problem of the boy's wounds until there were complications, or to force him now to submit to care, when they could assuage his fears later?

"I—I don't—"

Remus, for once, was at a loss about which was more ethically true to what Harry needed. Taking a deep breath, Lupin took one more step forward. He tried in vain to catch the boy's eyes with his own, but Harry's glance flew flightily from Augustus to the various escape points in the room.

"Mr. Pye, did you bring sedatives, or any kind of—"

"Yes, I was advised to bring…" the healer's gaze turned to the table, upon which sat a pale-green dragonhide case. "…If you could, yes, thank you."

Harry watched with growing horror as Remus rummaged in the case. He made a rush for the door at the opposite end of the kitchen but was apprehended before he'd even made a step, caught by Augustus's strong grip. With leverage afforded to him by his incomparable size, Pye forced him back up against the door, forearm across Harry's chest.

"No! Don't let him do this—REMUS PLEASE!"

The werewolf, for his part, only grimaced and did not look up from the case through which he still rooting with increasing urgency. He looked positively ill.

Abruptly, the fireplace roared with a green blaze, the flames rising in intensity as a figure emerged primly onto the hearth. Severus dusted his shoulder off, black robes neat, despite the ashes he tapped his work boots free of. At his arrival everyone froze, allowing Severus to eye all three figures for a beat.

The image of Harry against the wall struck him like a night terror, the look on Potter's face the same one Severus had seen in the boy's own memories the night before—and in his own short-lived and feverish sleep. Green eyes wide with panic and distrust born from trauma and perversion but recreated, here, among good intentioned friends and loved ones. The Slytherin's expression calcified, his words as stony as his face.

"What is the meaning of this?"

"Harry needs stitches, Severus. There is nothing else to be done."

The potion's master lifted his black leather satchel, the tinkling of glass within hinting at its contents, over his head. Placing it roughly on the table, Snape drew up to his full height beside Remus. His impatience was obvious.

"I very much doubt that."

Pye, who was pressing too tightly on Potter, caused the boy to splutter, gasping for air. The boy paused his writhing to cough violently. Snape banged a fist sharply on the dining table, snapping, "For Merlin's sake, let the boy go this instant."

The trainee relinquished his hold on the savior of the wizarding world reluctantly, but only after leaning over and turning the lock on the door handle. He took two steps back and eyed Harry warily.

The potion's master took a small, flat, leather-bound case from Remus's trembling grasp, laying it on the table and undoing the clasp with sure, brusque movements. As he worked he was muttering under his breath, obviously angry. About what Harry could not discern. He could not hear what Snape was saying, either, but managed to catch the words, "imbeciles" and "fools." Finally, Severus held up a syringe, needle-tip up. He flicked the glass, eying it carefully, before taking the plastic tip off and repeating the motion. He sniffed the droplets he pushed up with the plunger, nodding after a moment. Harry did not take his eyes off of Severus, but watched Pye in his peripheral.

Snape took two strides toward Augustus, clutching the mediwizard's arm with his unencumbered hand and pulling him toward the middle of the room. Voice low and fierce, the long-haired man snapped, "You've done quite enough."

Harry watched, expression intent. What had caused such supreme dislike for the trainee? The muscles of Severus's jaw flitted briefly as he clenched his back teeth, ire clear in the shuddering vein that was prominent at his temples.

Harry could not read him, could not understand why he was so furious. The severity of his movements made it difficult to predict what he was going to do next. It made Harry nervous, rendering him completely unable to interpret the situation.

The boy tensed as the Slytherin's attention was then turned to him, and Harry grasped again at the door handle, backing up another centimeter to press himself tightly to the wood. His eyes flicked to the syringe in the man's hand and stayed there. Would Snape hold him down? It would be three against one now. Harry continued to breathe shallowly, heart racing. He couldn't get enough air.

In one movement, Snape put the instrument on the counter a few feet away.

"Deep breaths. In—out."

Harry stared at him wide-eyed, still panting, baffled. Snape gritted his teeth, clearly restraining himself from several biting comments, but unable to speak without an edge of exasperation.
Any moment Snape was going to stick him and he would be held down—hands, so many hands—held down and helpless. The sound of his own breathing was deafening.

"IN—OUT, breathe with me. Honestly, Potter."

Startled by the sharp tone and intensity, Harry jumped but worked to regulate the cadence of his breathing. His breaths, ragged as they were, snagged on their way in. The air wavered, unsure, on its way out. If Snape was annoyed with him, he wasn't sure what he could be doing any differently.

"That's it, IN—OUT—IN."

They shared careful, distrustful eye contact as Severus led these breaths for another long, terrible minute. His delivery was harsh and demeanor rough, but Snape was not wrong. Once his respiration was more normal, Harry felt as though he'd just stopped running. He put his hands on his knees, suddenly very tired. He felt light-headed and panicky. He did not, however, take his eyes off of his Professor, who had leaned over to take the tranquilizer in hand once more.

"No—Don't—"

Snape, rather than pointing it at the Gryffindor, laid it flat in the palm of his hand. Severus's voice was smooth, and clear as a dictation, "You need to undergo treatment immediately, and it is unsafe to take you elsewhere. Unsafe for you and everyone involved. Do you understand?" Harry nodded but continued to watch the man before him, waiting for any move forward. He could not stifle his resentment that it was Snape that was walking him through this.

"Your choice is this: you can either endure examination and treatment lucid or you can wake up in a few hours none the wiser. I'll apply the salves I've brewed—I imagine those marks are…uncomfortable by now. "

Harry did not answer, turning his gaze slowly from Snape to Augustus with a keen observance like sharpened glass. He nodded slowly, before looking back up at Snape. The Gryffindor had never noticed that Severus not quite as tall as Dumbledore, only five or six inches taller than he himself. His line of vision traced the sharp line of Severus's brows, arched and fine. He was so dizzy, so far away.

"I don't—"

"If you cannot handle being lucid for this I'm going to put you under, but I would prefer it if you chose."

Harry looked up into dark, focused eyes and then to the man's hands, which bore a needle and a swab.

"I—I can't handle. I can't…"

Severus took a slow, steady step toward Harry, like one would approach a hippogryph for the first time. A strong, firm hand grabbed the boy's wrist, edging fingers toward his inner-elbow.
At first, Harry resisted and they shared a heavy glance. He hated that it was always Snape—that it always had to be him, of all people. Snape, waking him up from nightmares. Snape, apathetic and impassive before saving him from Gibbon. Snape, here to see this. Embarrassment burned in his throat, feeling a lot like dislike.

"I don't need saving. I'm not a child." The words came out small and weak, raspy from his throat, still raw from screaming. Severus met his eyes but did not respond. That vein on his temple continued to twitch, however, and a long muscle down his neck moved as he swallowed. The man was still angry.

"Then I would suggest that you stop acting like one."

Finally, Harry allowed slack to his wrist. Snape's hands turned his arm over, exposing the softness of his forearm. In his dissociative calm, Harry could only register the darkness of the other man's cloak, the closeness of Snape's form, blurred on the edges. Had he ever stood that close to him?

"I'm going to insert this into your arm, Potter."

Again, the words were rhythmic and velvety, soothing, the bite all gone. Snape's shape, so close, was a profound, shielding entity as he peered over at the stranger once more. A wicked pang clutched at his stomach, renewing the dizzy panic he felt at the thought of being touched by Augustus. Harry's shudder said what he could not.

"When you wake, this will just be one of your nightmares. You'll just feel a slight—"

The Boy Who Lived hardly winced as the needle went in and the plunger was pushed unceremoniously. Harry met the potion's master's eyes once more, where he found an expression that was curiously apologetic. The boy wanted to thank him, suddenly, for—-for what? For cornering him and drugging him? And why was it that he could stomach with little anxiety this contact, when the threat of the blonde across the room made his knees buckle with unchecked hysteria? The confusion turned in his stomach with the feelings of nausea that he assumed were the sedatives. Mostly he felt shame.

One flash of Snape's face from the night before crossed Harry's vision. His expression had been glacial and calculated that night—god, was it only last night—as he played spy for the last time. He remembered the words like the burn of ice left on bare skin. Could play them back like a film reel: 'Go on, then, Gibbon. Remember the Dark Lord wants him alive.'

Now whatever else Harry had meant to say curled back into his throat like burning edges of parchment. Instead he snarled, his breathing still jagged, voice so soft so that Snape had to lean in to hear him, "Just make sure you keep… your hands off of me …while I'm out… S-Snape."

The hardening expression of Severus's eyes became hazy and vague as a dark fog crept in. He sank down onto the ground, his back dragging along the wood to support his descent, suddenly not sure his feet could hold him. Even as the boy's vision was fading, Snape's voice came clearly to him through the darkness.

"And you, Lupin? I can't even begin to fathom what you were thinking—"

"—See here! You have no right! What else were we to do?!"

When he spoke again, Severus's words came at a bellow, more growl than dialog, "—YOU WERE TO SHOW HIM MORE RESPECT THAN THEY DID."

"Don't—don't you dare compare me to them. This is for the best, can't you see that?! Don't you think I understand what it is to have to be sedated? What it is to know that madness?!" Remus's words tumbled from him in a kind of hysteria.

The yells were coming from a distant blackness, now. So far away.

"You understand nothing of madness, Lupin." Severus's voice had lowered, a snarl that was snakelike and fluid. "You are not sedated—the wolf is. Self-righteous coward. You give into madness and then wake from it; you have never had to live it. His is a madness you cannot imagine."

There was more. Harry was sure that there was more, but he didn't hear it; the dark claimed him, hollow and vast and hungry. He was swallowed by the deep and he plummeted straight down into a black sleep, swaddled in forced calm like a blanket. Too hot, then much too cold.

His dreams faded into flashes of that green, green demonstration that Sirius had given him, breaking apart into a constellation of stars. They twinkled wickedly in a sky made of a palette of burnt umber and ultramarine. They were brilliant and full of glory until they began to fall, one by one. A cataclysm of night down upon the earth.

Chapter Text

A/N:

Blah blah blah, it's been so long, blah blah I'm so sorry, blah blah still working on plot points, blah blah.
I FER REAL struggled on that meeting, oh my freaking god.
Really trying to address the friendship that Harry and Ron have and the rift that Harry's experiences over the past year have created. Hope I hit that mark.
Took so long to post because I wanted some of the later chapters fleshed out and 3/4 of chapter 18 finished before posting so plot would be consistent.
Reviews & feedback taken seriously, also super appreciated.
Thanks for taking the time to read! YOU GUYS DA BEST.

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Chapter 17 Silhouette Truth

Harry woke and sat up in one breath, gasping into wakefulness as if from a crashing wave. His bones ached and he was reminded immediately of where he was and what had happened because of the fine twinge in his back—the stitches. His mouth was dry and his temples felt overwhelmed by a groggy dullness that he suspected was the lasting effect of the sedatives.

The room was dim and though the effect was confusing, he realized fairly quickly that it was already night; he had lost another whole day. Closing his eyes to gather his bearings, he put his face in his hands. He was mortified, shame-faced. How had he been so completely out of control? He felt half-animal, emotionally unsettled. He wasn't sure he knew himself anymore.
More than anything he felt broken and some part of him was concerned that a piece of him had been taken from him when he left Malfoy Manor—a part of him that had nothing to do with magic—and that the damage was irreparable. Could a person be irrevocably damaged by another?

He understood, somehow, why Lupin had felt as though he needed to proceed regardless of whether or not Harry cooperated. But Merlin, had there not been a better way to go about it? Harry knew that he would forgive Remus, eventually, but he felt a righteous heat at the thought of him for now. He felt, for the first time, as though maybe he was not as understood by his friends as he needed to be. Maybe they were as lost as he was.

And Snape. He couldn't even begin to figure out how he was going to face the professor if he was at the meeting tonight. Their interactions had become so muddled and complex in such a short time. Again, he could not understand himself; why did Snape make him so fucking angry all of the time? It was as if the man set him off just by entering the room. There was a safety in that dislike. He could depend on it. Snape was, Harry realized, quickly becoming the only one who was not treating him as though he would break.

He grappled beside him and the familiar stiff shape of his glasses met his fingertips. Turning his head, the first thing he saw once he had placed them firmly above his ears was a bed on the opposite end, adjacent to his own. Sluggish inventory of the space allowed him to perceive eventually, from the Chudley cannon posters and the unmade sheets that this was Ron's room. Though it took a while, he found his footing on the cold hardwood and wandered once more into the corridor. The Hallways were dark but the house hummed with an activity that he surmised easily was downstairs. Allowing his eyes to adjust, Harry made his way slowly down two flights of stairs. His body ached and though he felt more lucid now that he was moving, he could not shake the cloudy feeling he had woken with.

Harry stopped in the poorly lit sitting room as he heard Remus's voice coming from the kitchen, his voice tight, "I'm going to try again to wake him, I don't feel right about the meeting starting without—"

Sirius cut him off, his voice tight, "—No. I'll do it. You ought to find a seat."

Harry froze, grasping immediately from his godfather's tone that this exchange was tense and significant. Unsure, now, whether or not he should climb back up the stairs or reveal his position, he paused for a moment. Footsteps that faded in volume coincided with Sirius's near collision into him, startling them both.

"Harry—!"

"Oof! Er, sorry, I—"

They stared at each other for a moment, knowing that Harry had overheard, but neither knowing what to say. Finally, Sirius clapped a hand on his godson's shoulder and voiced, softly, "I wish I'd been there. I was… I'm sorry."

"No, It's not your fault. I…"

What could he say? How could he word what an absolute mess he'd been?

"What did, er, Lupin tell you?"

Sirius's expression changed only slightly—the muscles at the corners of his jaw catching visibly as his teeth clenched. The motion was reflected in his tone as he finally spoke, "You should know that he's ashamed of himself."

"He should be."

"Moony didn't know what to do, Harry. He was an idiot, Merlin knows but…Well, you have to understand that we can't have all the answers."

Harry hung his head into his hands, "I never asked you to, Sirius."

Sirius's hand on his shoulder squeezed gently, and the man grimaced as he sighed.

"No, I can't say that you asked for any of this."

Harry looked up and they shared a moment of eye contact before Black continued, "I only mean that we're here for you. At least you don't have to go it alone. It will all come in time." Harry let his eyes wander over the weary, worn planes of his godfather's face as he spoke.

Two weeks ago, this man had been dead to him and yet here he was. Cleaning up the mess made in his absence. Something like gratitude tightened in Harry's chest and he grimaced against the sting of tears that had begun at the edges of his vision.

"I don't know what came over me."

"Trauma is a powerful thing, Harry."

Nothing was said for another long moment as Sirius studied Harry's face, eyes mapping the dark rings around the boy's eyes, the sallow protrusion of his cheekbones where he'd lost weight.

"The meeting has started, come."

Harry allowed himself to be led through the kitchen out into the back garden, where the dining room table had been extended to four times its original length, chairs lining its great perimeter. Three chairs were empty: one toward the end beside Hermione and Ron—obviously meant for him, another near the center that Remus had clearly saved for Sirius. The third was set apart and, upon looking closer, Harry observed that several of the spokes from the backing were missing, along with one of the legs. After a moment of consideration, Harry realized that the Weasleys had never owned quite so may chairs and that McGonagall's talents had clearly been put to use.

Everyone glanced up as Harry made his way over to his seat and he nodded wherever he made eye contact. Dumbledore acknowledged him with a wink before proceeding, "First order of business, I propose, is to settle on a new location for headquarters. I think it bears repeating that we cannot return safely to the Grimmauld Place for the time being." Here he gave Sirius a meaningful look that Harry did not altogether understand before proceeding, "Before I begin, are their any suggestions?"

"Dumbledore," Arthur stood, his expression grave and humble. It had been a long time, Harry noted suddenly, since he had seen Mr. Weasley without an edge of seriousness to him. "Molly and I have discussed it and we would like to offer the Burrow as the new headquarters. It's not much, but…"

"No—!"

Everyone's gaze jumped to Harry, who felt just as abruptly self conscious.

"Er, I mean. I don't mean to speak out of place… It's just… It doesn't seem right, does it? Voldemort is already bringing this into our homes. Why make it that much easier?"

Albus nodded, his eyes alight with something Harry could not quite read.

"Quite right. While I think we can all agree that the gesture is more than generous, Arthur, Molly," He nodded to them each in turn, "Your connection to the Ministry will make the Burrow a likely target. And, as many of you experienced last night, Voldemort will strike, unwarranted, where we are most vulnerable. Let us not invite him."

"What about Hogwarts? The wards are centuries strong—"

Tonks was cut off sharply by McGonagall,"—Absolutely not! The school has always been a place of higher learning. Making Hogwarts a base of operations would be the detriment of the students and their safety. We cannot bring war into our classrooms."
Their was a murmur of assent before everyone fell silent.

"Any other ideas, then?"

Dumbledore's question went unanswered for several minutes as everyone looked about, searching each other's faces for the perfect safehouse.

Hermione, quietly at first, interjected, "Not the actual school, then, but what about along-side it? Hogwarts has always been the subject of V-Voldemort's attention for every year we've been there. The Order members would be closer, better able to protect—"

"—Hogsmeade?" Sirius countered, not unkindly, "Hermione, I see what you're getting at but there's no secure shop in Hogsmeade that we could get Order members in and out of subtly without drawing attention. The village is too small and there are a great number of residents that know too many of us by face."

"The Shrieking Shack." Remus answered, looking only at Hermione. They made eye contact for a moment, and Harry knew immediately that this had been the girl's suggestion all along. No one spoke for a long moment, seeming to process the idea.

"Oh, that old place is a wreck, Hermione." Ron's answer broke the stillness.

"That's what we said about Grimmauld Place. I doubt that it's anything a bit of handwork and sprucing up can't cure." Molly's assurance was met by exasperation on the face of every Weasley in attendance—including Arthur, though less transparently—as they concluded simultaneously that this involved each of them.

"It is off of the grounds and would offer added protection to the students."

"And there is some poetry to the old place being used again," Sirius added slyly to Lupin. Severus's scowl deepened, noticeably.

"There's only one problem," Remus's gritted, his face unreadable.

"Oh?" Sirius challenged.

"Old Wormy. Undoubtedly the Dark Lord is already aware of this place."

Moody's answer was brusque,"He knew where the Potters were when you were secret keeper. Do not forget that Fidelius does not permit anyone to find a place, even if they knew where it was before the spell is cast."

"And it wouldn't be his first guess, either." Shacklebolt added, musingly.

"But it's not large enough, Hermione," Interjected Fred, his thought finished by George, "Isn't that why we couldn't use it for Dumbledore's Army?"

"With the proper spellwork couldn't the interior be extended?" Hermione pressed.

A witch that looked familiar to Harry, but of whose name he could not recall voiced reluctantly, "Oh, I don't know, dear. Those spells are dangerous and complex—you're messing with the structural integrity of the place, then. Only specialists tamper with even so much as a tent.

Charlie Weasley glanced around, cooly, "Isn't this a collection of fairly advanced wizards capable of fighting Dark Magic?"

"But interior design is a completely different animal." Tonks heckled.

A faint smile was passed around, and a chuckle was produced from more than one of the witches and wizards seated.

"It will take a lot of work, but it is not impossible…" Arthur admitted.

"I don't know that any of us have any better ideas." Sirius shrugged, laughingly. Everyone shifted their gaze, no one dissenting openly.

"All in favor of the Shrieking Shack?" Dumbledore moved, serenely.

Everyone raised their hands immediately, to which the headmaster nodded his head indulgently.

"Wonderful. I have matters to attend to elsewhere this coming week, but I had hoped Molly—would you mind overseeing the moving process?"

"Of course, not a problem. We'll have it ready in two broomstroke's time, I'm sure."

At this, Ron let out an almost silent, dry sob, before he was elbowed pointedly by Hermione. The corners of Harry's lips curled upwards. There were a few moments during which Molly delegated times of arrival and availabilities, the entire group apparently energized by this physical, actionable task. Professor Flitwick offered to dig out a few books on strong cleaning charms, while Moody and Lupin offered their presences in the event of ominous and unwelcome magical wildlife. Tonks gave similar promises of enthusiasm, despite obvious inexpertness where cleaning was concerned.

As details became more scarce and the group broke out into smaller bouts of increasingly less relevant conversation, Moody addressed the table, his magical eye swiveling, searchingly.

"And what of Potter?"

There was a long silence during which everyone's gaze turned abruptly to Harry, who finally spoke uncomfortably, "Right… what about me?"

"Let's be frank. We need to discuss what our objectives will be if Harry doesn't regain his magic: where he'll stay for the school year and how that will change the Dark Lord's plans. We don't have time to be sensitive." Moody shot a look at Harry that, had his face not been so grotesquely disfigured, may have resembled apology.

"Does You Know Who know that Harry magic is…affected?" Shacklebolt proposed after a brief beat of reflection.

"It would be unwise to hope that the Dark Lord is not, at least, suspicious; last night Potter was unarmed and any self-defense was carried out with physical blows. He is familiar with pureblood histories." Severus intoned sharply.

"Voldemort," Dumbledore began, to the visible discomfort of most assembled, "is aware of what his overconfidence has cost him. We cannot expect him to act brashly in the coming weeks. I propose we proceed under the belief that our enemy is well informed."

"So You Know Who knows he's without magic, what now?" Tonks prompted, "I mean, where do we hide 'im?"

"Here, of course." Molly rose to her feet, her face set. The matriarch of the Weasley family made eye contact around the circle, challenging anyone to say otherwise. Harry's heart clenched at the easy claim she lay. He, the target of the darkest wizards worst intentions. He, the fox in the henhouse. And here she stood, face freckled and rosy in the candle-light of the table as the skies settled into dusk—ready to claim him, just the same.

"Mrs. Weasley, I can't. I can't stay here." Harry looked around the faces of the table, looking for someone else to help him, to make her understand. "They came to Black manor for me. He'll come for me again; the Burrow isn't safe. I can stay somewhere out of the way—headquarters, maybe."

"Harry, you're practically a Weasley, you always have been. You've saved Ginny and Ron more times than we could count. Your safety is a priority—" Mr. Weasley interjected, sure that Harry's decline was a matter of imposition.

"—No. I'm not—" Harry struggled to express clearly what he was feeling, hating how public this moment had to be. "I'm not Order business anymore. I'm not your best bet."

"Harry…" Hermione began, understanding. "You're the Chosen One, that's what the prophecy states—"

"—Right, that'd I'd have power. That I could fight him. All I'm saying is that it's possible that I'm not…That I won't…And until we know what that means, the Order shouldn't be put at risk. And neither should the Weasley household."

"It is with confidence that I remind you, Mr. Potter, that it need not be a choice," McGonagall spoke sharply, "Your safety can be ensured without the complete collapse of the Order."

"Let me stay at the new headquarters, then. I'll stay out of the way, I'll—"

"—The Shrieking Shack won't be safe for human residence for weeks." Remus interrupted, not looking at Harry. The brunette swallowed the burn of resentment that he felt at the back of his throat like a cough, knowing that now was not the time.

"Potter can stay in the Faculty chambers meant for the Professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts now that Umbridge is…indisposed," As she spoke McGonagall could not suppress the beginnings of a smile, "Though the first of September is fast approaching. Headmaster, when is her replacement due to arrive at the castle?"

"I'm not sure that will be necessary, Minerva. I'm almost quite certain that matter has been settled." Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling once again as he made momentary eye contact with Harry, who was baffled by the implication.

"Settled? What can you mean, Dumbledore?" Flitwick's high squeaky voice carried from the other side of the table.

Albus gave a large gesture toward Severus as he boomed,"I believe we will have no need of the Defense rooms now that Professor Snape's energies can be better allocated."

"Better…allocated." Severus repeated softly with terse skepticism. He pressed his thin lips together grimly in an expression of profound dismay, but said nothing else.
Fred gave George a significant look, and meaningful glances were exchanged between Hermione and Harry. This change pertained to them, as well, and they were all less than keen to learn that Snape would be involved in any way with their DADA courses for the upcoming year. "Awe, and we just got rid of that hag, Umbridge—" Ron grumbled under his breath, before being elbowed mercilessly by Hermione.

"It's true that Hogwarts is the safest place until the Shrieking Shack is fortified…" Kingsley declared agreeably, not acknowledging the tone of the students in attendance.

"And what if the boy doesn't regain his magic?"

"Moody! Honestly—"

Tonks was interrupted by Moody's retort, angry and stern, "—THIS IS NOT A TIME FOR SENSITIVITY."

Harry, whose felt a nauseating twinge in his gut at the subject change, reflected briefly that he'd never truly seen Moody angry. Though his imposter had been intense during their fourth year, he had yet to see the real Moody lose his temper.

"We have to be prepared for the worst," Alastor added, as if to placate the severity of his previous outburst.

"We can plan for the worst as it comes," Molly argued, casting a concerned glance at Harry, which made him flush slightly pink.

"Is it really a good idea for Harry to stay at Hogwarts, though?"

"It's safer than most with Dumbledore there—" Arthur countered Tonk's musing question.

"—But he won't be, will you, Headmaster?" McGonagall turned to Albus, her gaze sharp and matter-of-fact. "I was under the impression that you had further business in Eastern Europe."

"Yes, yes, that is indeed the case, Minerva. However, I'm confident that the presence of the wards and the careful watch of my excellent faculty will provide adequate safety measures until headquarters can be made livable."

At this, Dumbledore eyed each of the professors in turn, each of whom nodded until it was Snape's turn, at which he averted his eyes, sneering boldly.

Tonks broached softly. "But there is the matter of the Slytherins, isn't there?"

"I do not imagine," Severus snarled as he leaned forward to glimpse a better view of Andromeda, "that you wish to imply that the whole of Slytherin house is a danger to Potter."

Moody, from the other side of the table, stood to back her up,"It's not prejudice, Snape, but a matter of fact that most of the Death Eater's children are in Slytherin—"

"—But that is the meaning of prejudice, is it not? To assume that all Slytherins will be after Harry because some of them are the children of bad people." Hermione blurted, unable to help instructional edge that crept into her voice.

"—Quite right, Ms. Granger," Dumbledore's calm voice rose, effectively cutting off Alastor, who was just drawing breath for what promised to be a rousing retort. He eyed her with a look of poorly-concealed pride before continuing, "I believe that Tonks is right to be concerned about the Death Eater's familial connections at Hogwarts. However, seeing that we managed to hide Flamel's artifacts from all but our most gifted students—"At this his gaze twinkled from Hermione to Ron, "and that in this case it is one of our most gifted students that we are attempting to hide, I suspect that Harry will be in no immediate danger."

Harry blushed crimson, saying nothing to this, feeling just as embarrassed as he was warmed by Dumbledore's evidently high opinion of him. He looked away, before dragging his eyes back to Albus's glittering gaze, which waited for him. Just as they shared a glance, the headmaster carried on.

"I believe, then, that we can call this meeting adjourned, unless anyone else has anything to add?"

Molly, Arthur, Bill and Charlie disappeared into the kitchen. They returned shortly with platters levitating serenely before them laden with an assortment of home cooked foods—among them, much to Harry's delight, was the kidney pie of which he was so fond. The meeting finished, nearly everyone remained seated for the meal but Kingsley—who made his apologies and left after several warm declinations to stay—and Snape, who declined only Molly's invitation for dinner.

Harry enjoyed the meal in silence, listening to the light-hearted banter of the Order around the extended table. The business having been aired out, the group discussions ranged from Quiddich championship projections to Hogwarts faculty gossip on Professor Sinistra's true summer vacation plans.

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Harry sat on the edge of a twin four-poster bed that had been transfigured into the opposite corner of Ron's room. His shirt was pulled over his head, but not down his arms, so that rested tightly across his chest. Sirius was removing the day's dressing and preparing for a new application.

"You don't have to go with me, you know. It's a risk and you don't owe me anything. If anything—"

"Harry, do you remember when I offered for you to stay with me? That first night, as he left—"

"—The Shrieking Shack, yes. I remember."

"I meant it. I know I've missed a lot, haven't been there, exactly. But that doesn't mean I didn't want to, wouldn't have…"

Sirius soaked a cotton pad with alcohol and, giving his wrist for Harry to brace himself on, applied it to the stitched gashes with cautious precision. Potter gritted his teeth, but did not make a sound. After a moment, he turned back to face his godfather, who had preoccupied himself with unrolling the gauze.

"Sirius, all that wasn't your fault, I know that. I know you would have been there. I just don't want you to feel like you have to prove anything."

"I'd like to come with you to Hogwarts if you'll have me."

"I—"

There was a knock at the door, two sharp raps. Without waiting for answer, it swung open and Snape stepped into the threshold. Wordlessly, he held up a vial and shook it from side to side to emphasize his point. Harry realized vaguely how late it must be, if everyone was still awake when Severus was returning with the salve.

The Gryffindor swallowed, feeling as though he should address what had happened earlier—get it out of the way. What came out was stilted and awkward.

"Thank you, Professor. For your—er, help today."

Severus's lips drew into a thin line but he did not respond immediately as he strode over to the bed, placing the mature tincture on the bedside table as though he felt disinclined to trust either of them with holding it. He looked down at Harry, who was still half disrobed, through narrowed eyes before snapping, "Don't thank me. Your stitches will require removal in little over a week. I'd use that time to draw up your…mental faculties; I can't be there to coddle your every tantrum, Potter."

Snape turned sharply to Sirius, lip curling, "Ah yes, and on the subject of infantile fits…" He drew another vial from an inside pocket of his robe, offering it poisonously to Sirius, "The Dittany you required, Black…"

Sirius took it with fierce reluctance, unable to help a sidelong glance at Harry as he pocketed it surreptitiously. Though Harry expected a biting response from his godfather, there was none. There was menace in his eyes, but no real fight.

"Sirius, what's…he talking about?"

Sirius grimaced, and though he shot Severus a dirty look, again he said nothing.

"Obviously you two have a lot to catch up on."

Snape did not look back as he glided from the room, leaving the door ajar in his wake.

"Sirius?"

"He's a prat, Harry. Don't mind him."

Harry might have pushed the issue, but Ron appeared at the doorway, wrapping his knuckles on the side of the doorjamb.

"Seeing him coming from my room is like a bloody nightmare." Ron scowled resentfully, pointing his thumb behind him to indicate that he had encountered the potion's master in the hallway.

"Come on in, Ron."

Ron and Harry settled into bed, and Sirius entertained them shortly with a few tales from the Marauder days.

"I didn't tell you boys about the time James and I set a pair of nifflers loose in the kitchens?"

Their laughter lightened the night but Harry felt a stiffness in his godfather that he hadn't noticed before. It was a worry for another moment, perhaps. Another question he could not answer, just now. He looked for any change in Sirius's face as he bid them good night, closing the door behind them, but found none.

Harry glanced over at Ron, who was clearly illuminated in the moonlight. His friend was staring up at the ceiling, hands behind his head, elbows splayed out. Neither of them felt much like sleeping, it seemed. Finding his voice, Harry winced at the wavering of his voice as he asked, "What do they do with squibs? In the wizarding world, I mean. How do they live?"

Ron didn't look up but answered, "Mostly they work small jobs. Y'know, stuff that doesn't need magic to go smoothly. Assistants, cleaning."

"Like Filch, then."

The redhead seemed to regret the matter-of-fact delivery of this information.

"But… D'unno if there's other stuff they can do. I imagine they take all sorts. And besides," he finished lamely, "You're not a squib, Harry. You're… what was it? The Chosen One and all that. No way you'd end up like him."

For the first time, Ron's tone was not bitter as he said 'The Chosen One,' and a pang hit Harry's chest.

"Do you reckon it would be better to live as a muggle? I'd have a better shot at being good at what I want to do, maybe. I don't know. Maybe go to school."

Harry knew this was a fairy tale. Voldemort was going to end everything he loved. He would save Harry for last, putting out every source of light—stars down upon the earth. But here, talking in the dark with Ron, it was almost as if they were back to the night before the Quiddich World Cup, excited only for the love of a sport and a normal year of school.

"Harry, your magic will grow back. It has to."

"Yeah." Harry clenched his jaw against what he wanted to say. Ron's unspoken words sank into his blood and ran deep through his veins, heavy and ruinous. 'It has to, for everyone's sake. It has to because bad things can't happen to good people.'

But as they sat in the semi-darkness, moonlight softening the truths they were not saying aloud, Harry knew that Ron was wrong. They already had.

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Harry woke sharply to Ron's blurry face hovering above him, hands on both his shoulders shaking him with controlled severity.

Harry sat up, the motion pulling against the stitches slightly. He winced, clutching the blankets tightly. He registered that they were tangled around his legs, realized he was damp with sweat.
Harry gasped against the night air—which was crisp and chilled, despite the glow of the day. He closed his eyes before opening them again, registering the reality of the room in sharp contrast to his vivid dreams.

"Mate, you were having, er—some sort of nightmare."

Harry nodded, running a hand through his hair, subconsciously. "Sorry for waking you." His voice was raw and he swallowed to try and relieve the raspy sensation in his throat. Snape had not come as every one slept to muffle the room and his screams, and he realized for the first time what a godsend that had been.

"N-No, it's fine," Ron answered, still watching his friend as he stepped back to collapse onto his own bed. He stared at Harry for a long minute as the brunette busied himself with splaying out the bedcovers.

The door burst open just then, revealing the concerned faces of Ginny, Hermione and, close behind them, Sirius.

"Everything alright?" Ginny, peering around Hermione, "We heard yelling."

Ron shot a glance to Harry, who was studiously not looking at the door, before making a face.
"Er—yeah, sorry. Thought I saw a spider, humongous."

Ginny rolled her eyes with exasperation as she turned to return to her slumber, but Hermione affixed Ron with obvious skepticism.

"Get back to bed, ladies," Sirius voiced, kindly. Blearily they nodded and headed back down the hallway. Hermione glanced back once more before following Ginny, wringing her hands. Harry's godfather leaned further into the doorway.

"Nightmare, then."

"What, er—yeah," Harry admitted, taken aback, "How did—"

"—Snape mentioned 'em when he was telling Remus off today. While you were—out. Said… Well, he said you were having them every night."

Harry's stomach dropped abruptly, and he felt his face heat up as it turned a rosy shade of humiliation. Of course Snape couldn't keep his smug git face shut. Of course he would tell everyone ickle Harry Potter was screaming for his mum in the dark of the night. He could barely look at Sirius.

Black seemed to sense this reaction immediately because he rushed to add, "Seemed to think Moony and I should be aware, concerned you might rip the stitches in your sleep."

Harry nodded, still worried about what else Snape might have told him.

"I'm fine."

Harry hated the husky sound of his own words as they passed through his lips, hated the beat of silence in the shadowy hollows of the room as Ron and Sirius processed the lie, not knowing what to say. Sirius nodded, but did not move to leave immediately. He lingered, hesitating for a moment before saying, "Right, then. Let me know if you need anything."

Sirius nodded at Ron before closing the door, his strides down the hallway audible.

"Thanks," Harry breathed, glancing over at Ron.

"No problem."

There was a long pause before Harry worked up the courage to ask, trying to sound nonchalant.

"Did I say anything?"

He remembered Dudley taunting him for talking in his sleep. 'Who is Cedric, your boyfriend?' he had sneered, so many months ago in the playground near Little Whinging. Harry worked to keep his voice calm and aloof but he didn't look at Ron as he spoke, busying himself with smoothing out his pillows unnecessarily.

"Yeah. Yeah, you did."

There was a long pause, then, and Ron cleared his throat uncomfortably.

"Y'said a lot of stuff about leaving you alone, a lot about Malfoy…about making it stop."

"…Right."

He looked at Ron, then, wanting to see his expression—and not wanting to see it. The redhead was pale, the features of his face gravitating towards a look of real lament. Ron looked as though he was struggling with whether or not to say what he thought he should not. Harry waited, his throat feeling heavy.

"Is it, er—is it really bad?"

At each pause, Ron gave him a searching, furtive look, afraid he might have chosen the wrong words. Though Ron had been speaking about nightmare, Harry was sure he meant something else. Dismay gurgled deep in Harry's stomach as his friend finished, unsure of how to answer. Sure that he did not wish to.

"I…"

How could he tell Ron? Express to him the great knot—a fathomless tear, right at the base of his collarbone when he thought about this past summer. How could he communicate that fear—all that terror. The agony and the shame of it all? Were there words enough to describe a month and a half of torture at the hands of Voldemort's most prized Death Eaters? He hardly had means to sufficiently express the taste Lucius's name left on the back of his tongue.
And what, he wondered, would be left of him, if he opened up those wounds now? He studied Ron for a moment before swallowing, his mouth still dry.

He knew the longer he went without telling him—anyone—the harder it would be, but he could not overcome tonight. Feeling as though his throat was closing, Harry closed his eyes and said, for once, the very truth, as quickly as it came to his mind.

"Not as bad as the real thing."

The words hung in the air, wretched and undeniable. Ron looked suddenly ill and, unable to stand the look of horror on his best mate's face, Harry turned over onto his side, pulling the bedcovers high up to his ears. He clutched each crook of his elbow with the opposite thumb, crossing his arms defensively against his upper abdomen. The cast of his left arm making the position less comforting than it might have otherwise been.

Closing his eyes, he remembered Snape earlier that day: so close, his expression unreadable in the blur of the boy's panic. He could remember the voice, like velvet, 'IN—OUT, breathe with me. Honestly, Potter.' He took a deep breath self consciously, swallowing a renewed sense of chagrin at the fact that following these directions helped, even now. In a few minutes, Harry could hear the familiar rhythm of Ron's soft snores and he turned off the lamp between them. He returned quietly to his thoughts in the darkness.