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Ophiuchus

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“Legilimens.”

Harry unconsciously tensed, muscle memory from his fifth year, as he felt the cool pressure behind his eyes narrow to a point above his left eye. This time he was allowing entrance and letting Snape pull the memories to the foreground, and he tried to remember to breathe calmly as flashes of action and emotion were projected above the stone Snape held outstretched in his right palm. It simply wasn't practical for everyone who needed to see his memories to try to use a pensieve right now, and while he could've explained some of the memories on his own, Dumbledore wanted the emotional memory to come through untainted by time or --

"Freak", Harry flinched at the sound of Uncle Vernon's hiss. He was about five and sitting in the Dursley's garden, whispering to a small black snake that it was nice to talk to someone. His stomach ached dully with hunger stretched too far between meals, and his loneliness was bubbling into something deep and angry.

"How many times have we told you not to do this?", Vernon's whisper was almost a hiss in his own anger, "You ungrateful -- We didn't take you in so you could talk to -- If the neighbors see you --"

Vernon's large hands were struggling to hold the snake still as it wriggled between his fingers, trying to escape. With a vicious shake and a small snap, the snake stopped moving. Vernon's smile fell away when Harry's small hand turned in a graceful swoop, his wrist popping in an echo of the snake's spine. The anger at yet another friend being stolen away from him felt cold and calming in his gut, and a voice pitched higher from youth hissed, "Reborn."

The writhing snake, healed and very much alive, slid to the ground as Vernon recoiled. His voice was low and couldn't hide his disgust, "You should've died in the car accident with your parents."

The scenes bled into one another. He was standing in front of the python's enclosure at the zoo on Dudley's eleventh birthday, and the glass disappeared and -- He was sitting in front of the other first years with the Sorting Hat on his head muttering, "You would do well in Slytherin" -- The duel in second year where he talked to the summoned cobra, and the deep slide of the basilisk's voice in halls, "Rip - tear - kill", and the flash of the Slytherin common room after Polyjuice -- The tug behind his navel and the Triwizard Tournament cup fell from Cedric and his hands, and Cedric was falling in a flash of green, and the scene shimmered.

Harry was tied to Tom Marvolo Riddle Senior's headstone in the cemetery, and the knife was digging into his right forearm, and a newly risen Voldemort was instructing a Death Eater to let him down. The pain in his scar was lapping at his vision, and he felt the cool lick of calmness from a deep place within. He hissed as the Death Eater's touch jostled his bleeding arm, and a flash of gray darted from his lips; the man in the skeletal mask froze at the warning posture of the wispy snake, and Harry's back straightened as he pulled the feeling of coiling closer to himself. He was a snake ready to strike - and he was a snake with fangs bared, slithering along the Ministry floor, and attacking Arthur Weasley. He was explaining his dream to Dumbledore, and he felt the strong urge to strike when he sensed that the older wizard was holding something back.

The archway in the Ministry room framed Sirius and Harry could hear Bellatrix laughing as the man fell back into silence. The place within felt black and ugly and boiling as Harry ran after the witch who killed his godfather, and he yelled the first thing that came to mind, "Crucio!", but she merely slowed down. Her laughter filled the atrium as she teased, "You have to want it", and he felt himself still. He wasn't uncontrollable and lashing out in blind anger this time, and it felt more like an icy cold that warmed him. His voice was quiet, almost gentle, as he repeated the Cruciatus, and black sparks were tingling his fingertips as Bellatrix's face froze in a wave of pain. A shimmer and he stood in Dumbledore's office, shaking in anger and grief, and he was smashing the spindly instruments from a table. Sirius was dead, and everything hurt, and he was laughing at a calm yet concerned face, "Why would I regret casting that Unforgivable? I wanted to hurt her, so I did."

Then Harry was opening the door to the bathroom, to a startled Draco Malfoy, and flashes of light were twirling around. A sink exploded, and Harry was bleeding from at least one cut on his hand, trying to gauge how fast he could hide behind a stall door when his adrenaline spiked. Malfoy's arm was raised and his lips curling around a Crucio, as the page from Harry's Potions text sprang to mind. Sectumsempra - for enemies. A small part of him hoping that he wasn't mispronouncing anything, Harry's hand flung forward, low and rolling his wrist like he was tossing a frisbee. A shadow sliced through the air landing squarely on Malfoy's chest, and Harry was running forward, hands pressed tight to the centermost diagonal slash. Malfoy's blood was running over his hands too quickly, too warm, and then Snape was there. Harry couldn't hear him over Moaning Myrtle yelling, but he was whispering and tracing the slash wounds with his wand. So much blood, too much blood.

Harry jumped when Snape returned with a dark scowl. He stared at blood swirling from his robes into the water on the tiled floor, quiet and honest with Snape's questions. He wasn't one hundred percent sure Malfoy was alive, and if he was going to face murder charges, it wouldn't help him to lie. To Harry's surprise, Snape kept his voice low and controlled.

"Were you trying to kill Mr. Malfoy?"

"No, sir. I didn't know what the spell would do."

"Do you know what spell you used, Potter?"

"Sectumsempra."

"Where did you find that spell? It's too Dark for Charms, and it's never been a part of the Defense curriculum."

"My Potions textbook has a bunch of spells the owner created in the margins."

"I'm afraid I don't have a choice in turning it over to the Headmaster, Potter. With the incidents this year involving cursed objects, we have to examine it."

Harry shrugged in the direction of his bag, which had fallen near the door at the start of the duel. He barely noticed Snape's Accio or the rustling of the bag Snape lowered the object into. The fact that Harry had been touching it for weeks didn't exactly rule out harm to anyone else. Harry slowly held his hands out in the water leaking from the exploded sink and rubbed. His palms were tingling, and though the blood appeared to wash away easily, it still felt like something was coating his hands.

"Professor…?"

Light gray shadows seemed to cling to his fingers. Snape sighed.

"Dark magic doesn't disintegrate at the same speed as Light magic. Unless you know how to cleanse, it builds up."

"It's coming out of the cuts?"

Snape inhaled, though it wasn't as loud or noticeable as a gasp, "You were touching Mr. Malfoy, were you not? His wounds?"

Harry nodded, and the older wizard grumbled, "You either absorbed some of the Dark residue, or managed to do accidental blood magic", a swish of robes and Snape's voice finally rose to his usual bite, "Of course, you would manage to stumble into one of our Darkest arts, Potter. Come, we will need to run some diagnostics."

A gentle prod from the throbbing point above Harry's left eye drew out another memory, a more recent one. Dumbledore and Snape were sitting at a table in the Room of Requirement. Dumbledore was holding a stone bowl filled with a pearlescent aqua potion, which Harry was trying to keep his hands submerged in. The tingling in his palms had grown to an irritable itch and then a dull burn, but the potion was numbing the reaction. Snape had drawn a vial of blood and was carefully adding drops to vials of potions in front of him with indistinct muttering and flicks of his wand. Harry didn't know if it was a good or bad sign when the potions reacted - a neon pink concoction bubbled and transformed to a pastel blue, something that looked like water turned silver, a deep purple liquid released a complicated swirl of gold vapors - but he figured it wouldn't do any good to ask questions and interrupt.

Finally, Snape glanced over to Dumbledore. His expression looked like a carefully cool mask, but he couldn't keep from grimacing as he nodded slightly. Dumbledore sighed and looked through his half-moon lenses to Harry, "I'm afraid you may not like some of these questions, my boy, but we have to ask them. If you do not answer honestly, we will have to look for the truth", a pause as Harry glanced at Snape then back, "I will search your memories as gently as possible, Harry."

Harry nodded and fidgeted, the nail of his index finger sliding over his thumb nail in a smooth worrying pattern. Dumbledore's voice was soft and calm, "Did someone give you that Potions book?"

"No, Professor. I found it in the back of Slughorn's cabinet of extra books."

"Why did you cast an unauthorized spell?"

"A what --"

"In this case", Dumbledore's eyebrows raised slightly in understanding, "An unauthorized spell means that it's not categorized in the Ministry's records, and therefore isn't officially taught. This isn’t a commonly known spell among your generation, in a manner of speaking."

"It was the first spell that popped in my head, I guess. Malfoy and I were caught up in the heat of --"

"Was it your own voice that suggested the spell?"

Harry carefully lifted his hands out of the stone bowl and set them on the table.

"Was there a texture, a sound, a quality that felt separate? Was it unfamiliar like the Imperius or --"

"It wasn't Voldemort, if that's what you're asking", Harry stared at his fingernails, "I haven't had a vision since Sirius died."

Snape's voice was quiet, "Potter, have you ever had shadows stick to you before?"

"May be?", Harry rubbed small circles into the palm of one hand with a thumb, "The shadows didn't feel weird or anything. If I hadn't been looking at the cuts, I probably wouldn't've noticed."

"The shadows are residual Dark magic", Dumbledore's brows were drawn together, "You should've felt something after doing Dark magic. It's generally not something one misses."

"I guess casting the Cruciatus counts", Harry hummed slightly in thought, trying to ignore the slight upward twitch of one of Snape's eyebrows, "May be that snake incident when I was little --"

"Harry", Dumbledore's still calm voice cut him off instantly, and Harry looked down at the stone in the man's palm, "This will be faster if I have a quick peek at the memory in question."

Harry glanced up into those clear blue eyes, and the memory of bringing back his friend played in front of his eyes. While he'd had more pressing concerns living the experience, there were murmurs as shadows twisted around his forearms and wrists, visible to an outsider looking back. Harry closed his eyes as the memory ended and stared down at the table in front of him in the vain hope that he could avoid more questions.

"It was a bit hard to decipher the translation of Parseltongue", Snape's voice was a tad rushed, "But I think I heard Potter say, 'Reborn'. It's not a common animal spell - mostly used on plants - and it's not in any of the traditional tongues, but it was clearly --"

"Accidental Dark magic", Dumbledore's voice was low with an undercurrent of concern as he finished the thought.

"Potter was raised with Muggles", Harry and Dumbledore glanced at Snape in the wake of the overwhelmingly obvious statement, and he cleared his throat slightly before continuing, "No one's taught him how to cleanse the residual Dark magic away."

"What do you mean --"

Dumbledore's question overrode Harry's hesitant one, "Does proximity to a Dark object leave residue?"

"You don't have anything to fear from the ring", Snape seemed to pick his words carefully, "The residue from residue has a half-life closer to Light magic."

Blue eyes peeking over spectacles with a sharp clarity, Harry avoided looking the Headmaster in the eye. Thankfully, that piercing gaze was for Snape, and Harry went back to carefully examining his fingernails - preemptively clipped short this morning, so he wouldn't bite at them. He had the distinct feeling the men before him were having some sort of nonverbal conversation, but Harry wasn't interested in drawing their attention. If he stayed still and didn't make any noise, the threat would pass. He could feel it with a level of certainty reserved for instinct, so he waited.

"Very well", Snape was quiet and trying to keep reluctance at bay, "Cleansing without residue does no harm to the body or magical core", Harry watched him organize the potions in front of him, "But it's not as simple as you think Albus."

"I am aware that last year's Occlumency lessons did not go as I planned", Dumbledore stared at the potions as well, "So I am not surprised at your reluctance to instruct Harry."

"Instruction is traditionally hereditary or family based, which brings us to this diagnostic check."

Harry and Dumbledore watched Snape place a drop of blood from an unmarked vial on a piece of parchment. It landed on the design, something deep green and twisting. He carefully took the vial with Harry's blood in it and siphoned off one drop to land on the parchment. The design glowed with a pale green light before the blood was replaced with a thin band of silver. Snape sighed, the first sign of his irritation peeking through. Dumbledore had a small smile and his eyes seemed to twinkle with slight amusement as he turned his gaze to Harry, "Are your hands still burning?"

"The potion hasn't quite worn off", Harry's tone clearly communicated that he didn't trust the ring. Dumbledore chuckled and pushed the parchment closer to him. Harry hoped it wasn't cursed as he slowly picked the thin band up, and he knew in his gut that it wasn't a good sign the burning stopped. He set it down slowly, winced as a fresh lick of pain made his fingers twitch involuntarily, and then picked the ring up again. He cleared his throat and gestured at the object sitting in his palm, "Do I have to wear it all the time to make the burning stop?"

"I'm afraid there's not much choice when it comes to these matters, Harry", Dumbledore was trying to be reassuring, but the younger wizard didn't quite buy it, "You'll have the most pain relief when the ring is worn."

Harry picked up the ring with his left hand and started to slide it on his fingers on his right. Harry didn't like how comfortably it slid off each finger, refusing to sit above his knuckle even with his hand clenched in a fist, and there was a sinking feeling in his gut when almost all of the fingers on his left hand got the same treatment. The ring was clearly enchanted to sit on one particular finger, and there was no way to avoid the digit left last unless a few new fingers suddenly sprouted. Harry could feel that his face was doing something as all three watched the ring twist down to a perfect size and the top of the band blossom into a small crest with intertwined snakes. A slight nudge didn't move the ring, and a hard pull didn't either.

Harry glanced at the parchment, but the Celtic knot didn't make a move to explain. He glanced up at Dumbledore through his eyelashes, hoping he wouldn't find that gentle pressure behind his eyes. He also hoped he didn't look as panicked as he was suddenly feeling, but Dumbledore's lips simply twitched up into a small smile. Those damn eyes twinkled, and Harry raised his head to look at Snape full on not wanting the congratulations that Dumbledore seemed about to give. He might've been raised with Muggles, but he wasn't oblivious enough to not know the left ring finger was reserved for engagement or wedding rings. Snape looked more irritated at guessing a correct conclusion than surprised, and Harry nervously settled his right hand over the offending finger. His voice came out a little louder and panicked than he'd planned on, "If this is someone's twisted idea of a joke, it's not fucking funny. That's - It can't be --"

Snape cleared his throat, and Harry's eyes tore to his inky black ones. While neither was pleased with the situation, Snape clearly didn't want to deal with a panic attack. He kept his voice low and even, "This isn't a joke, Potter. You've managed to wind up in an accidental betrothal."

Dumbledore's soothing voice took over, "It was clearly an accident, so you're not in trouble, Harry. We need to inform the other student involved, so it would be easier to give the full explanation to both of you. Do you understand?"

Harry's head was shaking slightly, "You don't just 'accidentally' marry someone. I haven't given anything to anyone or even touched --", he paused, staring at healed skin where cuts used to be on his hands before glancing up to Snape, "It was the fucking blood --"

The slight pressure withdrew, but Harry winced as he rubbed at the spot above his left eye, which was already starting to throb in time with his heart. No matter how gentle a Legilimens was or how he worked to keep his mind open, he always wound up with a headache after having someone else skip through his memories like this. Harry slowly opened his eyes and watched Snape pocket the stone. Neither spoke, waiting for the silent shock to break among the guests, Narcissa and Draco Malfoy.