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Twelve Steps to Atonement

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Chapter 1

The Cost of Vengeance

October 21, 1979

Severus Tobias Snape had a secret, and if he hadn’t been forced to keep it, he might have taught those bastard Marauders a lesson long ago. But the Ministry had little love lost for his kind, and so, Severus had little choice but to keep his true nature—and his true powers—under wraps. This meant he also had little choice but to endure the Marauders’ torture sessions, though he longed to crush them all under his feet, shred them with his claws, blast them with magic so dark, even the Dark Lord would lose his dinner.

Until now.

No, now Severus was free to torment the bastards if he so chose, and his… employer would only laugh and congratulate him on a job well done.

At least, Severus should have been free, but whenever he begun to fantasise of revenge, the Dark Lord always seemed to have some sort of menial task for him. Brew a potion here, work out an antidote there….

Go down to Hogsmeade late at night and interview for the Defence against the Dark Arts position at Hogwarts….

Severus ducked his head against a blast of icy air peppered with stinging ice crystals and made his way to a small, dingy pub on the fringes of Hogsmeade. The Hogshead. He didn’t much like the idea of going so close to Dumbledore, but the Dark Lord had sent him, and had also assured Severus that his difference would be well-hidden by the magical glamours he had cast upon him before the meeting. Severus had his doubts. Dumbledore had always been far too prescient for his own good.

He also doubted Dumbledore would give him the job. No, that man had never cared much for Severus. Else, he might have had done something to protect him from the cruel humans who made his childhood a misery, Muggle and wizard alike. Instead, he had sat back and watched, and to that end, Severus deemed him as guilty as the Muggles who had hurt him. The idea of accepting employment from the man who had so callously watched Severus suffer and done nothing to prevent it left a pit of roiling acid in his stomach.

As did the knowledge that the Dark Lord wanted him to take the post as an excuse to torture Muggleborn children where no one would be the wiser.

Well, Severus had no intention of doing so. Destroying Muggles for their cruelty was one thing, but his bent for revenge had never stretched to children.

Still, he had to at least appear to make an effort during the interview, or the Dark Lord would not be pleased. A human could not kill him, true, but he could make Severus’ life extremely unpleasant. And if the Dark Lord alerted the Ministry to his suspicions about Severus’ state of being… well, it was all over for him either way. He could handle one human, or even several at once, but the Unspeakables knew ways to bring his kind down regardless. Or worse, to keep him imprisoned for the duration of his long, long lifespan.

Severus shuddered and tugged his cloak closer over his shoulders. Best to keep the one human who suspected the truth of him happy. Merlin knew no one would fall on their sword for him if the worst happened. No, Severus had to survive by his wits alone. It was just luck he had plenty of those. Probably wouldn’t have made it out of childhood in one piece otherwise.

Gods, he really didn’t want to do this. Dumbledore would see through his glamours, he was sure of it.

Despite everything he endured to keep his nature hidden, certain people—powerful people—could sense that there was more to him than met the eye. It was why he took such pains to avoid the old man. His aura reeked of magic, and Severus had no doubt he would ferret out his secret if he stayed within his sights too long. The Dark Lord was another of those people who had too much power not to see past the veil of Severus’ apparent humanity, but whereas Dumbledore would most likely side with the Ministry if he ever learned the truth, the Dark Lord found Severus… intriguing.

And to someone who had never held much interest for others beyond acting as a favoured punching bag, not even to his own mother, being intriguing was novel. Comforting. Even if the light part of his nature didn’t trust the source.

The Death Eaters had welcomed him like a brother, or at least the Dark Lord had, and Severus thrilled in the rare sensation of being wanted. Not reviled or feared or mocked, but desired. He had never felt more powerful than when the Dark Lord had marked him as his own and promoted him straight to the inner circle.

Granted, the discovery of what the Death Eaters truly did to Muggles had disturbed Severus, but he appeased the light half of himself by remembering what his father had done to deserve justice. His neighbours. And Merlin forbid, the church. The memory of a small, blonde-haired lad and his cruel fate had spurred even his light side to action, and all his misgivings fell away. Muggles had earned their fate by their cruelty. He was merely a harbinger.

Another blast of snowy wind nearly knocked him off his feet. Severus had to use his wings to keep himself upright. Thank the gods humans couldn’t see them unless Severus allowed them to. Well, his mate would be able to, if such a creature existed, but only if they accepted Severus as good and worthy unconditionally, and fat chance of that. He ignored the twinge of pain the knowledge brought and moved on. He had accepted the fact that he would spend his centuries alone long ago. No use getting worked up about it now.

A turn of the corner revealed the front of the pub, dirty windows glowing orange with candlelight and the warmth of a roaring fire, and Severus shivered and quickened his pace. Merlin, but he didn’t look forward to moving to the Scottish highlands should Dumbledore somehow offer him the job. The south of Britain got its fair share of snow, but nothing like this. For Merlin’s sake, it was October, not bleeding January!

At least Aberforth had the good sense not to plaster his pub in the same gaudy décor as his neighbours. Merlin, Severus hated human holidays, and Halloween was the worst. The humans had no idea what the day truly meant, and neither did they care. To them, it was simply a day to dress in foolish costumes, drink pumpkin juice and ale, and gorge themselves on sweets. If they knew they were celebrating the day Hell’s powers peaked and the veil between life and death thinned enough to birth more of his dark-sided kin into the human plane of existence, Severus reckoned they would sooner cower in their homes and drown themselves in holy water than celebrate.

Pity they didn’t know, really. He ignored the small voice in the back of his head—‘You mightn’t hate the holidays so much if you had someone to share them with’—and stepped into the pub.

With a sigh, he kicked the snow from his boots, shook out his cloak, and looked around the room. Dumbledore sat near the fireplace, tucked away in a private booth with an oddly-dressed woman Severus didn’t know. He met the man’s eyes as approached the bar, questioning, and Dumbledore directed him to wait with a wave of his hand. Severus gave a curt nod and settled at a nearby table, refusing Aberforth’s offer of a drink when he came around. Much as he liked the taste of firewhiskey and scotch, Severus would need his wits about him if he planned to come out of this meeting unscathed, and alcohol went through his system much faster than that of a human. His light side simply couldn’t handle it.

No, best to resist temptation for one evening.

“I am simply here to await an interview with the headmaster.”

Aberforth shrugged and headed back behind the bar. Severus chose a seat near enough to the headmaster to hear him call—by human standards at least—and listened with half an ear to the old man’s current interview.

“And you say you are descended from the renowned Seer, Cassandra Trelawney?”

The batty woman nodded and sipped a glass of spirits. By the colour, Severus thought it was probably sherry. Her giant spectacles and myriad rings, bangles, and necklaces glinted in the firelight as she moved. She reminded Severus of nothing so much as a giant dragonfly.

“She was my grandmother, sir. Taught me as much of the mystical arts as she could before she passed to the realm beyond.”

“Indeed. Perhaps you might share some of her knowledge with me?”

The woman nodded to Dumbledore’s teacup. “Might I trouble you to finish that and swirl the dregs clockwise three times?”

“Ah, a tea leaf reading. It has been many years. Of course. One moment.” The old man drained the cup, swirled it a about thrice, and set it on the table before the woman. “What do you see, Madam Trelawney?”

“Ah, just a moment.”

She lifted the cup and peered into its depths. After a moment, a shudder passed over her. Her many bangles, chains, and sequins glinted in the candlelight.

“Danger. A man of dark and light walks close and brings disaster on his heels.”

Severus stiffened and studiously did not look at the old man.

“I see portents of ill-tidings, desperate risk to loved ones, secrets and shadows. And….” She turned the cup at an angle and cocked her head. “Ah! But there is good news too. A ray of light in the darkness, hope and bravery and goodness, comes swiftly.”

Dumbledore gave her a wan smile as he took the cup from her once more. “I see. So you have no specific warnings? Names, places, dates?”

Severus clutched his wand under the table and prayed the woman was as much a fraud as she appeared.

Trelawney blushed. “Er… I… well, it is difficult to read specifics from tea leaves, but perhaps if I focus on your aura—”

“That will not be necessary, thank you. At this time, I think it is best to—”

Dumbledore cut himself off as Trelawney went rigid, eyes wide and staring at something beyond his head. “Sybil? Madam, are you well?”

The woman’s head lolled forwards and her shoulders sagged.

“Oh dear. Perhaps the sherry was off. Aberforth, I believe a bit of firewhiskey is in order.”

“Right away,” the barman grumbled and rummaged among his bottles.

“Just rest there, madam,” said Dumbledore in a soothing voice. “We will have you right as rain in—”

Trelawney’s head shot back up, eyes staring straight at Dumbledore, though Severus felt the aura on her and knew she wasn’t seeing anything so close. A breathy rasp croaked past her lips, far too deep for a woman so slight, and her words froze Severus to his seat.

“The one with the power to defeat the Dark Lord approaches….”

Severus couldn’t contain a gasp. He clutched his wand and leaned close, trying to listen to every word without making his attention obvious. Aberforth watched him as he poured a shot of firewhiskey, eyes narrowed and full of a healthy dose of suspicion.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches,” Trelawney repeated. “Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will—”

A hand slammed down in front of Severus, splashing him with firewhiskey and jarring him out of his concentration.

“I think you’ve heard enough, lad.” Roughly, Aberforth hoisted Severus up by the collar and dragged him out of the pub.

“Wait! What are you—”

“Don’t try my patience, boy, or it’ll be the worse for you.” Aberforth threw Severus into the snow and tossed his belongings at his head. “And stay out!”

Severus blinked, stunned and unsure of what had just happened. How had Aberforth known? Severus thought he had hidden his interest well. Perhaps the old man had sensed it in his aura somehow.

Icy wind blasted Severus full in the face, and the man shivered from head-to-toe. With a grimace, he tugged on his cloak and gathered it around him. Perhaps the news of a prophecy concerning the Dark Lord would be enough to pacify him when he realised Severus hadn’t had the chance to interview for the Defence position at all.

 


 

Severus knelt before the Dark Lord and finished his tale. “At that point, Aberforth threw me bodily out of the pub. Unfortunately, I was not able to interview for the position at this time. I apologise for my failures. I will make another attempt as soon as possible, if it pleases my lord.”

Gods, he hated the bowing and scraping—this human should be grateful to him, not the other way around—but Severus hadn’t survived this long by advertising his true nature. He wasn’t foolish enough to start now.

Besides, he sensed the magical strength and dark aura in the Dark Lord. For all Severus knew, this might be the one human who could match his powers. And if Trelawney’s prophecy had any merit, fighting him would be suicide regardless. ‘The one with the power to vanquish the dark lord approaches….’ If the prophesied warrior would be born at the end of July, Severus certainly didn’t qualify. His kind were only born in midwinter even if he hadn’t come twenty years too early.

As the silence stretched on, Severus dared a peek at the Dark Lord. The man stood before him, eyes narrowed and a fingertip tracing his lower lip.

“The one with the power to vanquish me, hmm?” He gave a dark laugh. “I should like to see the infant who could defeat a god!”

Severus barely contained his snort. God indeed. Merlin, as much as he enjoyed the Dark Lord’s favour, the man was a hopeless megalomaniac.

Around him, the other Death Eaters laughed along with their master.

Lucius called, “What will he do, my lord? Throw his rattle at you? Drown you in milk?”

Bellatrix gave a twisted cackle. “No brat has a hope of defeating you, my lord.”

The Dark Lord nodded abstractedly. “Hmm. No, but perhaps it is better to be cautious. Who among our kind do we know of that is due at the end of July?”

“Alice Longbottom,” said Rosier. “Heard me cousin talking about it the other day, m’lord.”

The dark lord clenched his fist at his side. “I see. Anyone else?”

“I have heard rumours, my lord,” said Rookwood, his expression nervous. “You know Arthur Weasley works at the Ministry? I overheard him in the lift several days ago. It seems the Potters are expecting, and the baby is due at the end of July.”

Severus’ breath caught and his heart lodged in his throat. ‘Lily?’

Only two humans had ever accepted him as he was: Adam Jamison, who had died long ago, and Lily Evans—he would never call her Potter.

His world collapsed to a single memory. Watching as Lily brought a flower to life and handed it to him, her smile welcoming and warm, her eyes clear of judgment.

He had lost her years before, when his sharp tongue and defiant nature lashed out at the wrong person, when the darkness within him had surged so strongly that even Lily could no longer deny it, when he had turned her away in his moment of need and called her a vicious slur she had never deserved, he had lost her forever.

But he had never stopped loving her.

She had always been the exception to the rule. Muggleborns came from foul, vapid, monsters, but Lily had overcome the shackles of her heritage. She was lovely, kind, and brave, and Severus adored her. She was his sister as much as anyone could be, and the idea of her in danger turned his blood to ice.

“M-my lord,” he breathed, “please,” but the Dark Lord wasn’t listening.

“Potter and Longbottom, hmm?” His eyes flashed red. “Well, then we know who shall be the first to die.”

“My lord, please.”

The Dark Lord looked to Severus, a scowl of suspicion evident on his face.

Severus lifted his face, revealing tears on his lashes. “Lily—she was the only one to ever be kind to me from this world. Please… I beg you, spare her life.”

Rage burned in the human’s eyes. “You would choose a mudblood over your lord and master?”

Severus swallowed hard. “Kill her brat if you must, but please, spare her.”

His angelic side let out a silent howl of dismay. Kill her brat? An infant and Lily’s child? No. No, he couldn’t abide by that, but neither was he foolish enough to admit it in the presence of the one her child had possibly been prophesied to defeat.

The Dark Lord’s scowl deepened. “Crucio!”

Pain like Severus had never known flooded him. His bones snapped and healed, only to break again the next moment. His organs turned themselves inside out. His blood burned, his brain melted, and his heart screamed as it desperately fought to keep him alive through the onslaught.

Severus had seen it happen to others, but this was the first time he had felt the cut of the Dark Lord’s disappointment. He had never imagined the pain to be so intense. No wonder so many went mad before it stopped.

As the spell lifted, he became aware of the tears on his cheeks, the blood running warm and wet down his face, the pain still present in the bridge of his nose even while the remnants faded from the rest of his body.

“Let that be a lesson to you, my dear Severus, that you are not the master here.”

Severus could do nothing but struggle to breathe, harsh and broken, sobs escaping every few seconds.

“Dismissed,” the Dark Lord said. “Get out of my sight, and find Potter. Do not kill her.”

Severus’ heart stilled. Oh Merlin, would he truly spare her?

The Dark Lord’s lip curled as he met Severus’ eyes. “That pleasure is mine alone.”

Both sides of Severus’ nature howled in anguish. Betrayed again, and he shouldn’t have even been surprised.

But he was. Merlin forgive him, he was.

Chapter Text

Chapter 2

The Rewards of Remorse

Severus ignored the pain of his broken nose, of his battered form and abused muscles, and staggered up the path to Hogwarts castle. He knew of only one human who could potentially fight the Dark Lord and rescue his friend—his sister—and her son, but would he? The man had never bothered himself with Severus before. Would he listen now, when Severus begged on his knees, risking everything in the thin hope that Lily and her child might be spared.

Perhaps Severus was a fool to hope Dumbledore might listen for his own sake, but the old man had always had a soft spot for his lions. For Lily, for her son, for that foul wretch of a beast she called her husband, he might be moved to act.

If he didn’t, Severus would have no choice but to defend them himself. He would post himself as a sentry over Lily’s home, let his true nature show and challenge anyone who dared come close. The cost of that, however, would be his freedom and his life, so he prayed the old man might be convinced to save her, for the sake of his lions, if not for the half-breed who loved her, whose stupidity and thirst for vengeance had condemned her.

Remorse and horror played havoc with his senses as Severus crawled to the headmaster’s tower and begged entrance at the door.

“Please,” he whispered to the gargoyle. “I haven’t the password, but let him know I am here and desperate for help. Lives depend on it. Please.”

The gargoyle looked him over and gave him a terse nod. A moment later, the beast moved aside, and Severus barely suppressed a sob of relief. At least he would have a chance to voice his plea. It was more than he had dared hope for.

Gods, he prayed it would be enough. Even his dark side prayed, though he knew too well it would do no good. Gods did not listen to the prayers of demons. Still, perhaps his angelic side might have a hope of getting through.

It was his only chance.

Dumbledore stood when Severus came into the room, eyes devoid of twinkles and no trace of a smile on his face. “Ah, Master Snape. To what do I owe the… pleasure of your visit?”

Severus closed the door behind him, took three steps forward, and sank to his knees. “I… I am in need of your help, Headmaster.”

 


 

At the end of his story, the headmaster watched him from behind a cup of tea. He said nothing for several long moments, and Severus bowed his head, all vestiges of hope fading. He would have to fight for them himself. He would have to sacrifice his life so Lily might live, and in the end, it still might fail. He wasn’t the ‘chosen one,’ after all.

Still, he was the one who had brought about her doom. He would gladly die defending her if that was his fate. He deserved no less for all he had done.

In the wake of his fear, his conscience smote him. Perhaps that foul priest had deserved to die in agony for all he had done to innocent young boys, for leading the humans astray for so long, but could Severus say the same for those his potions had harmed? Riddle did not like to risk him out in the field and preferred to have Severus brew his poisons instead, but that did not absolve him. Whether Severus had killed directly or not, his brews had no doubt tortured and murdered too many to count. Women, children, old men with grandchildren.

The worst of it was that Severus didn’t even know their names. Their faces. He had no idea how many deaths weighed against his soul, nor how many more were to come. He had no way to know if those who had died for his sins had earned their fates or not.

Faced with real consequences for his actions for the first time since taking the mark three months before, Severus could no longer deny he had been a monster. A demon in more ways than one. And now, he might lose everything he had left for his crimes.

He couldn’t even deny that he deserved it.

But Lily didn’t. Her unborn baby didn’t. Potter might deserve death for all he had done to Severus, but he had no confidence in his ability to judge any longer. He didn’t have the right to judge anyway. The past three months had proven he hadn’t the compassion for any sort of fairness.

He was a lost cause, and his failures had brought about his sister’s looming fate. He was a monster.

Tears dripped from under his hair, tinged pink with blood from the broken capillaries in his eyes and his broken nose, but he ignored them. What right did he have to dignity now, when he had brought about the death of everything he loved with his cruelty?

A sigh sounded from the direction of the headmaster’s desk. Footsteps moved around the room, china clinked, and a moment later, something white entered his field of vision. Severus lifted his head to find himself staring at a cup of tea.

“Take that, child. It will help a little, I think.”

Severus took the cup with shaking hands, numb with confusion and fear. “I….” He stared at the cup, unable to comprehend this small act of kindness.

“I did not poison it,” said the headmaster with a wry look.

Severus swallowed hard and performed a surreptitious scan of the tea. Darjeeling, sugar and milk, calming draught, and a healing potion. With a hesitant nod, he sipped the hot brew and let it soothe his pain and distress.

“There you are.” Dumbledore returned to his seat and pressed his spectacles up his nose. “Now, before I trust your word tonight, I would like some answers.”

Severus grimaced. “I… v-very well.”

“I assume you are one of Tom’s followers.”

“Tom?”

“The one you refer to as the Dark Lord. His birth name is Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

Severus nearly dropped his tea. “A Muggle name?”

Dumbledore’s lips quirked. “Yes. Seems rather hypocritical for a man who insists upon the deaths of all with Muggle blood, does it not?”

Severus’ grip tightened on his cup. “Indeed. He is a mud—” He breathed in harshly and dropped his head. No. That damned word had cost him too much. He would never let it pass his lips again. “A M-Muggleborn?” His voice broke and wavered, but he was too distraught to care.

“Half-blood, much as yourself. And I, for that matter. Muggle father, witch mother.” Dumbledore laid his hands upon the desk. “And now that I have answered some of your questions, I would like an answer to mine.”

Severus swallowed hard and let his head drop. “I… I am marked, yes. But I… I….”

“Perhaps you find yourself regretting that decision now that you know the cost?”

Severus’ hands trembled on the cup, calming draught or no. His voice came out in a broken rasp. “Y-yes.”

“Interesting.” Dumbledore rubbed his lip in thought, a frown on his face.

Interesting?” Severus scowled into his cup. “I realise you have never cared much for me, but is it truly so hard to believe I might have gained a conscience?”

Dumbledore fixed him with a searching look. “Hmm. No, that is not what is confusing me at the moment. What interests me is the fact that an aura of dark magic still surrounds a repentant Death Eater, when his remorse should remove all traces of it but the mark itself.”

Severus’ breath caught. Fuck. He would have no choice but to reveal himself now, or the old man would never believe him. He would think Severus’ pleas a trick, a ploy of the darkness, perhaps to coax Dumbledore out of hiding in preparation for an attack.

His only chance to save Lily, in the end, was to sacrifice himself.

Resolve filled his chest and spread to his limbs, tingling along his spine and fluttering his feathers. The moment he dropped his glamours and let Dumbledore see what he truly was, the old man would call the Ministry. Severus would have little choice but to flee and position himself over Lily and her child. But Dumbledore would no doubt anticipate such a move and would send the Ministry after him.

He would die defending her tonight, and he deserved no less for all he had done.

But perhaps, in the end, his sacrifice might convince the old man that he meant his words. It might convince him to protect her where Severus could not.

He would die, but maybe, just maybe, Lily and her baby would live.

Tears blurred his vision, but he lifted his head and squared his shoulders. Damned if he would shirk his fate now.

“I will show you. All I ask is that you protect her when I am no longer able.”

Severus stood, ignoring the pins and needles in his legs, and laid his tea aside. He held his head high and faced his fate with all the courage he could muster. Death came for him on swift wings, but he refused to meet it on his knees.

With a deep breath, he gathered his strength close and let his glamours drop. The shoulder-length, lank hair he had worn all his life grew and softened into a sheet of shiny raven-black, falling to his waist. Furry, pointed ears poked out of his hair, reminiscent of a Siberian husky’s. His sallow skin shone pearly white, save for the bruising and streaks of blood. His fingernails had grown, gaining sharp points on the ends, and a silvery, furry tail wrapped around his legs. His aquiline nose shifted into a shape like a snout, but flat against his face, and gained a pink, canine nose at its tip. His incisors lengthened and formed short fangs.

But it was the black, feathered wings behind him that truly gave his status away.

Dumbledore’s breath caught. “Oh my. You are a yokai. That would certainly explain your aura.”

Severus nodded, watching the old man carefully. “I am what is known as an angelic Tengu. Of the canine class, though the wings would suggest otherwise. I am half yokai, half angel, after a fashion. Will you swear to me that you will protect her before you report me to the Ministry?”

Dumbledore paused. “Oh. I… Master Snape, you revealed yourself to me believing I would kill you for it?”

Severus clenched his hands into fists, hardly caring that his talons cut his flesh. What did it matter, when in a few moments, he would be fighting for his life?

“I should think that would be obvious.” In his true form, his voice was deeper, darker, more melodic. “Humans do not care for my kind. Particularly those of us who have….” He swallowed against another wave of tears. “Have… let the darkness overtake the light.” He closed his eyes and ignored the sound of his blood splashing the floor where his talons had broken the skin. “Will you protect her or not?”

“Severus. Please, you are hurting yourself.”

Severus looked up, confusion overwhelming his fear. “I… what?”

The headmaster moved to his side and gently opened Severus’ hands, healing his palms without so much as touching his wand. Another sweep of his hands healed Severus’ face, too, and the pain in his nose and eyes vanished.

“Why?” Severus stared, gobsmacked and afraid. “Why bother to heal me?”

“You are a living being too, Severus, and I will not see you harmed.”

Stunned, Severus sank to his knees and stared at the floor, where his blood had turned the headmaster’s parquet crimson and black. Tears dripped down his face hard and fast, and for the first time that night, hope began to overcome the crush of dread. He wrapped his wings and tail around himself and prayed he had made the right decision in coming here tonight.

“You… you truly do not intend to report me?”

Dumbledore gave him a sad smile. “I happen to believe in the power of second chances and that the light within us always has the strength to overcome the darkness, if we will only give it the chance to grow.”

“I… I do not understand.”

“No, Severus. I am not going to report you to the Ministry. In fact, I am going to advise you to restore your glamours now so you are not seen. The portraits here are loyal to me and will not reveal you, but should someone else come while we are speaking, I cannot guarantee that they will keep your secret.”

Severus choked back a sob and covered his mouth, overwhelmed with emotion. He hadn’t expected this. To reveal himself to a human and not die for it? He wept even as he replaced the complex magic that hid his true nature from those with human blood. When he looked up, he was again Severus Snape, lanky form, oily hair, sallow skin and all.

“Very good.” The headmaster guided Severus into the chair before his desk and returned his cup of tea. “Drink that, my boy, and we shall discuss Lily and what can be done to save her and her family.”

Severus reeled, gratitude overpowering him. “Sir… oh gods. I… t-thank you.”

Dumbledore nodded and patted his shoulder. “Not at all. I quite like the Potters and would not wish for evil to befall them. It is only natural to protect them.” He returned to his seat and fixed Severus with a piercing look. “And I find I have a desire to protect you as well. In so much as I am able.”

Severus froze. “I… protect me?”

“I realise I have failed you, Severus,” said Dumbledore with a sigh. “I did attempt to instil some sense of compassion in James, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, but I am afraid they are quite blind where you are concerned, James and Sirius in particular. I have never understood why. I hope you will forgive me one day, that I was not able to spare you.”

Severus gripped the edges of his seat. “What did you do? I never saw you intervene at all.”

“Those boys had more detentions apiece than the rest of the houses combined. How they passed their NEWTs at all is beyond me, because they spent nearly every hour after classes in your sixth and seventh years either cleaning for Argus or collecting ingredients for Horace. And I warned them after the episode in fifth year, should they ever assault you in such a manner again, they would be expelled.”

“Why, then, did you not expel Black in seventh year, when he sent me after Lupin?”

Dumbledore winced and leaned back in his chair. “If it would not have condemned an innocent to death, I would have done, but had I expelled Sirius, Remus would have also been discovered and executed. And, however much Sirius might have deserved to be punished, you cannot deny that Remus had no control over the situation. I did suspend Sirius and placed him in therapy with Poppy from then on, but I could do no more without endangering Remus’ life.”

Severus snorted bitterly, but kept his opinions on the werewolf to himself. Whatever he thought of the self-titled Marauders and Dumbledore’s handling of them, at the moment, he owed the old man his life and that of his dearest friend. He would not take such a gift lightly.

“Severus, I am sorry that my handling of the situation gave you the idea that I did not care. It was remiss of me, I think, not to have told you why I was far more lenient than Sirius deserved that day.”

The apology eased something inside him, and Severus gave the old man a troubled smile. “It is in the past. At the moment, we have more pressing concerns. What will you do, sir?”

Dumbledore tugged at his beard, his expression thoughtful. “I do not think I can safely take you from Riddle’s ranks, though I wish I could. Should I attempt to hide you, he will hunt you down wherever you may go. And Tengu or not, I fear Tom has the means to destroy you, if he should desire it.”

Severus gave a hesitant nod. “It would only take one call to the Ministry. Perhaps they would not listen to… Riddle, but Lucius Malfoy is in high standing there, and is inordinately jealous of my standing within the inner circle and the ease with which I acquired it. He would jump at the chance to destroy me.”

“Yes, so you see my dilemma,” said Dumbledore. “I mustn’t try to take you away from the Death Eaters, but neither will I stand by while you continue to serve them unchecked. I think you have seen what allowing your dark side free rein costs. And I do not speak only for the lives lost, but for the damage to your own soul as well.”

Severus lowered his head. “Yes.” He looked up again. “But I do not see how anything is to be done. As you said, I will be killed if I leave his ranks. I will be killed if I resist his orders. And if I fight back and reveal what I truly am, then I am no better off.”

“Yes, but I believe I see a way to spare you.” Dumbledore pressed his hands against his chin. “Tom originally wanted you to seek out the Defence position, did he not?”

Severus nodded. “He thought it would be a good opportunity to torture the Muggleborns in secret.” He scowled. “But even at my worst, I had no intentions of tormenting children.”

“Your angelic side would rebel against it, I believe.”

Severus bowed his head. “As would my personal conscience. Not even my demonic side condones the torture of innocent children. Tengus are not evil, after all—only dark.”

“Yes. And this, I believe, is our answer. I cannot allow you into the Defence position, Severus—even if Tom would not force you to use it for evil, it is cursed, and you will lose your place here after a year. However, as it happens, Professor Tormas recently informed me that he is retiring after the Christmas hols. He would have stayed on until the end of the year, but his health is poor, and he is unable to keep up with the demands of teaching seven years of students at once. Would you consent to taking the position?”

“As the potions professor?” Severus swallowed hard and clenched his fists against his knees, shaking with shock and wonder. “I… you truly wish to offer me a position here?”

Dumbledore nodded. “As an instructor on paper, but in truth, I wish you to be a spy.”

“A spy?”

“A triple agent.” Dumbledore steepled his hands and bumped them against his chin. “Tell Tom that you attempted to secure a place as the defence instructor to regain his favour, but that I had already filled the position—I do have a candidate in mind, so it will not harm you to say as much. However, since I had a potions position open, I hired you for it. Then you will tell him that, while you cannot, regretfully, torture students in potions, whether secretly or otherwise, taking a job here as an instructor places you in a perfect position to spy on me and report on my movements. And as I took a liking to you in our meeting—you might imply my Gryffindor hero complex is to blame, perhaps, since Tom will not believe the simple truth—but whatever you choose to say, this will suggest I am likely to trust you more than what one might suppose based on past events.”

Severus sucked in a sharp breath. “And if I am to maintain my position as a spy, then I cannot be seen torturing Muggles or poisoning them either.”

“Precisely.” Dumbledore sighed and gave Severus a sorrowful smile. “Even with this, I do not think we will be able to prevent him from ordering you to brew the occasional poison or hurting others, but the frequency will drop, and you will know you are doing this for the greater good. A sacrifice of the few to save the many.” The old man shook his head sadly. “It is not an ideal situation, but it is the only one I can see that might possibly save you both—Lily’s child, and yourself.”

“Her child? How will this affect the baby?”

Dumbledore sat tall and called for his phoenix. “Severus, this is Fawkes, my familiar.”

The bird clucked and flew onto Severus’ lap. He nudged his beak into Severus’ clenched fists and eased them open, dropping a few precious tears onto the new cuts along Severus’ palms.

“Oh,” Severus breathed, stunned that such a light creature would wish to heal him. “I… t-thank you, Fawkes.”

The bird trilled and hopped onto Severus’ shoulder, crooning soothing songs into his ear. Severus hesitantly stroked the bird’s chest, wonder flowing warm and soft through his veins.

“It seems Fawkes sees the same potential for good inside you that I do, Severus,” said Dumbledore with a smile. “And so, I will ask you to give me an oath. Not only for my sake, nor only for the Potters’, but for yours as well. So that you will always have a safeguard in place, to keep you from ever letting that darkness within you consume you again. That is what you wish, is it not? To leave the dark behind you?”

Severus swallowed hard and bowed his head, gratitude bringing tears to his eyes. “I… y-yes. I do. I… I will do everything within my power to keep my vows and become a better person. Even when I became a Death Eater and fell into evil, I began with the desire for justice. To avenge those I have loved and lost. I lost sight of that along the way, but I am willing to change. This broken being is not who I wish to be.”

“I believe you, child. And the vow I wish you to hold above all others is the same as your own wish: to protect Lily and her child to the best of your ability. I wish you to swear an oath of loyalty to her child, to help him grow and to teach him what he will need to know to overcome the Dark Lord. Especially since Tom seems determined to attack Lily first, I believe he is most likely the chosen one Sybil prophesied.”

Severus frowned. “You wish me to swear an oath of fealty to the Potter child?”

“Yes, and to aid me as best as you can in helping to defeat the darkness. Those two oaths, I believe, will help you to stay grounded in light and love, and will protect you against the worst of Tom’s evil. They may well help us save the Potters as well.”

“How do you intend to protect them?”

Dumbledore rubbed his chin, a frown creasing his brows. “Perhaps… a Fidelius charm. Are you familiar with it?”

Relief rushed through Severus. “Yes. Please, be sure to choose a faithful secret keeper.”

Dumbledore nodded gravely. “I will do my best. In the meantime, will you swear the vows I have asked of you?”

Severus bowed and whispered, “I will.”

Merlin, he hoped it was enough.

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

All Sorted

1 September, 1992

Despite Severus’ best efforts, the dark lord attacked the Potter home on Halloween two years after Severus first heard the Prophecy. Or part of the Prophecy, rather. Potter Senior and Lily had died in the attack, and Severus’ heart with her.

At least, until a small tot had escaped his crib and toddled into Severus’ arms.

As he waited for this year’s crop of first years to arrive—Harry—he remembered the moment he had first met the Potter child, the charge he had sworn fealty to long ago.

 

Severus rocked Lily back and forth, cradling her dead body in his arms. He had failed them. In the end, Black had turned traitor—and hadn’t Severus warned Dumbledore not to trust him?—and now, the entire Potter family lay dead. The Dark Lord was gone—not dead, but turned to mist of some sort, a spirit, perhaps—but at such a cost!

Gods, he could hardly breathe for grief. Everyone he had ever loved, he had lost. And now, he was alone.

“Forgive me,” he choked out, a broken plea with the silence. “Oh gods, forgive me!”

A small sound behind him made Severus’ heart leap into his throat. What in Merlin’s name? He shook it off the next moment. The house had been destroyed by the battle. Most likely, a piece of the ceiling had simply fallen nearby.

Severus half-hoped the next piece crushed him.

A tiny hand tugged on his sleeve, and Severus whirled around, shock setting every hair on his body on end.

Harry looked up at him, big green eyes full of tears and confusion, a streak of red pouring from his little forehead. He was injured and scarred, his little lip wobbling in pain and fear, but he was alive! Severus’ breath rushed out in a great sob, and he gently set Lily down before him.

“Oh, Harry. You survived! How did you…?”

Merlin, he didn’t even care. He swept the baby into his arms and held him tight, unconsciously sweeping his wings around the boy. He hardly noticed in his all-encompassing relief. Harry was alive!

“Owie,” Harry whimpered.

Severus carefully smoothed the boy’s curls back from his face. A vicious-looking cut with a strange shape crossed the centre of his forehead.

“Gods, I imagine that does hurt, little one.” He called upon his light side and healed the boy with a powerful burst of raw magic. A gentle Tergeo removed the blood, and Severus gave the baby a tear-streaked smile. “Ah, there you are. Is that better?”

The baby whimpered and reached for Severus, and he cuddled the child close to his heart. “I am so sorry, little one. I tried so hard to save your mother and even your father, treacherous arse that he is, but I could do nothing in the end.” He buried his face in Harry’s sweet-smelling hair and struggled not to cry, for the baby’s sake. “I hope, one day, I can atone for everything I have cost you.”

“Severus….” Albus’ gentle voice broke through his grief, and Severus looked up to find the old man watching him with tears in his eyes. “I am so sorry. We truly believed he would keep them safe.”

Severus swallowed a surge of anger. It wasn’t Albus’ fault. Severus had reported the prophecy, after all. If anyone carried the blame besides Riddle, it was Severus himself.

He held Harry close, petting the baby’s hair, and gave Albus a heartsick look. “What will happen to him?”

Albus sighed and knelt beside them. “I believe, if I am not mistaken, Lily performed an ancient blood ritual before tonight to protect Harry in the event of her death. Due to the nature of its protection, as long as Harry stays with a blood relative, he will be safe.”

“A blood relative? But none remain except….” Severus grimaced and shot Albus a dark look. “Please tell me you do not intend to leave an innocent child with Petunia Evans.”

“She is the only blood relative he has left, barring his cousin, who is also in residence with Petunia and her husband.” Albus rubbed his forehead, a gesture revealing his weariness and sorrow. “I know it is not ideal, Severus, but I know of no other place to keep him that the Death Eaters will not find him. Hogwarts is too open, particularly in the summer. An enemy could walk in at any time without our knowledge and kill him before we notice. He would not be safe in a wizarding home or orphanage either. That leaves only his relatives.” Albus shook his head and rubbed the baby’s head. “I do not much like it myself, but perhaps she will have changed since you knew her. Regardless, I do not know of another way to ensure he survives.”

“I… if I raised him….”

Albus shook his head sadly. “You would both become targets. I am sorry, Severus.”

Severus ducked his head in grief. “So am I.”

A sharp pain shot from the side of his skull and down his face, tearing a yelp from his throat. He tried to look up, wondering what on earth had hit him, but a tugging sensation at the side of his head and accompanying pain held him down and told him what had happened.

“Ah… those are not toys, Harry.” He gently pried his ear out of the boy’s fist, then froze. “Merlin. Albus, he can see my ears.”

Albus frowned. “Well, of course he can.”

“No, Albus. My true ears. My Tengu ears.”

Albus gasped. “Sweet Circe.” He laid a hand on Severus’ head, petting the side of his hair, and Severus stilled, unsure of how to react. “I cannot feel them. I know they are there, yet I cannot feel them at all. How strange that Harry should be able to when I cannot.”

Severus swallowed hard and stared at the small child in his arms, now petting Severus’ tail with an expression of pure delight.

“Strange indeed,” he whispered, and brought his tail closer, so Harry didn’t need to reach for it.

 

After that night, Harry had gone to the Dursleys’ house at Privet Drive. And Severus sat on the house—literally—watching over him as much as he could do without risking them both. The boy’s relatives would have likely starved him had Severus not compelled them to feed him, and their first attempt to place Harry in the bloody cupboard under the stairs had brought a plague of crows upon them. Vernon still had a scar on one cheek that Severus was especially proud of.

Eventually, the Dursleys tired of Severus’ swift retribution and ceased their abuse, or at least the worst of it. As a result of Severus’ guardianship, Harry grew up in the second bedroom, undoubtedly unloved, but warm, clothed in proper garments, and fed. Sometimes, when Harry went outside to do his chores in the gardens, he would stare at the place where Severus sat and smile, as if he could see the yokai in spite of his glamours and the invisibility cloak he had borrowed from Dumbledore and the boy. In spite of his fears—all dead, all gone, all betrayed me—Severus couldn’t help but smile back.

Quirrell sat beside him and muttered something about ‘not enough garlic by half’, and Severus’ thoughts scattered. Thanks to his guard duty over Harry and his obligations to stock the Infirmary before term, he had not, as of yet, met the new Defence teacher. He had heard stories from Minerva and Filius—Always under a turban, always stuttering, always smells of garlic—but until that moment, Severus had never been within earshot of the man.

The second Quirrell sat down, a wave of dark magic rolled over Severus, so thick and putrid, he gagged.

“Oh, s-s-sorry,” Quirrell said with a nervous smile. “A little s-strong on the g-g-garlic today, hmm?” He performed a ventilation charm, but the tinge of evil in his magic only made Severus want to retch.

Fuck! What kind of monster had Albus hired? He shot the old man a dark look and received a bemused frown in return. Albus didn’t know then. How in Merlin’s name could he not? He had sensed the aura on Severus right away, and that had only been the dark nature of his demon side, not evil so thick he could cut it with a spoon.

Something strange was going on, and Severus would get to the bottom of it—before that monster could threaten Harry or any of their other students if he had anything to say about it.

The doors opened, distracting Severus from the defence instructor. He would make sure Albus understood the danger later and guard Harry himself, as best as he could do while acting the villain. Merlin, he hated the thought of being cruel to the boy, but he couldn’t risk harm befalling the one being he loved as much as Albus. He had spent nearly thirteen years guarding Harry Potter and damned if he would stop now.

Minerva led a group of tiny, wide-eyed twelve-year-olds into the Great Hall, and Severus couldn’t help searching the lot for a weedy little sprout with a bird’s nest of black hair. He had seen him just that morning, as he made sure Harry arrived onto the platform without trouble—Molly had proved to be an immense help, thank goodness—but watching over Harry had become the habit of a lifetime.

Ah, there. Near the back. Harry hung back near the wall, watching the grandeur with a shocked stare. Severus didn’t need to read him to hear the mantra running through his head, “Is this real? Is it really for me?”

As if Harry had sensed his gaze, those vivid green eyes turned to Severus and met him head-on. The beaming smile that spread all over the boy’s features stunned him. Who had ever smiled like that for him before? He couldn’t help but grant him a smile in return, though he fought to keep it a small gesture. Something that would not set the older students running for their lives.

Well, his reputation would precede him soon enough. No doubt the newest Weasley sprog would jump at the chance to tell Harry all about the greasy git of a potions professor. The thought that Harry’s smiles for him would soon disappear turned Severus’ stomach. Well, between Quirrell’s stench and the thought of losing Harry’s regard, this would be a rather pointless meal. He looked away and tried not to notice the concern on the boy’s cherubic little face.

Concern. For him. Severus Snape. He had the mad desire to turn and make sure no one was behind him, but his senses confirmed the lack of a looming presence well enough without revealing his insecurity for all to see.

“Welcome, all,” said Albus in his usual genial rumble, “to another year at Hogwarts. First years, please follow Professor McGonagall to the platform just here and we will begin the house sorting. After a round of the school song, of course. Everyone, choose your favourite tune and sing along!”

Severus groaned against the cacophony that was this yearly ritual. Dear gods, they must discuss the establishment of a music club. Or at least set someone who could carry a tune to lead them. Merlin, his ears were too sensitive for this. He flattened them against his skull and covered them with his hands. To the humans, it would appear as though he had a headache. Which wasn’t far from the truth.

And yet, when he looked up to see Harry’s eyes shining with amusement and a bright grin on his face, he couldn’t begrudge the old man this little bit of eccentricity. Odd as it was, much as it pained his sensitive ears, if it made Harry smile like that, he would endure it. The boy had had little enough joy in his stark existence before now.

Minerva called, “First years, first years, come here and be sorted.”

As soon as she set the hat on its stool, it began its own yearly musical ritual. At least this time he need only listen to one tune at a time. Harry grinned throughout this ritual, too, but when the hat mentioned banding together for dark times ahead, his smile slipped into a frown of worry.

Much as Severus hated to see Harry’s joy diminished, in this, he was glad to see the boy had learned some degree of caution over the years. Dark times were ahead as long as that monster masquerading as human remained in the seat next to Severus. Gods, even now, his aura made Severus’ stomach roil. He had to go soon. Not least because Severus would soon starve if he had to sit next to that foul odour all year long.

“Right, let’s begin,” came Minerva’s crisp brogue. “Abbott, Hannah!”

The hat had barely touched her head before it shouted, “HUFFLEPUFF!”

Abbott handed it back to Minerva and took her place among the badgers with a shy smile.

“Bones, Susan.”

“HUFFLEPUFF!”

“Boot, Terrence.”

“RAVENCLAW!”

Severus watched the proceedings with half an eye, keeping watch over the little weedy boy in glasses too big for his face. Harry clambered onto the stool as soon as Minerva called his name and tugged the hat onto his head. It dropped down over half his face.

Severus watched the boy’s mouth work and mutter to the hat—was he arguing with it?—for nearly a minute, the longest hat stall yet.

“GRYFFINDOR!”

Severus’ heart sank. Harry would hate him, then, even more than he had feared. Still, it was to the best. Harry would certainly need the bravery associated with the house of lions in the coming years, and Severus could not appear to be friendly to him regardless. At least within Gryffindor, Severus knew the boy would find trustworthy support.

The image of a cocky, blue-eyed, shaggy-haired bastard flickered into his mind, and Severus barely suppressed a snarl. That Gryffindor certainly hadn’t earned his house’s honour.

No. He wouldn’t let anyone so treacherous befriend Harry. Over his dead body.

Harry made his way to the Gryffindor table, where the other first years and Weasleys greeted him like a long-time friend. Yes, the Weasleys, for all their flaws, were loyal. Harry would do well in befriending them. Perhaps Severus could encourage it discreetly.

“Weasley, Ronald!”

‘Ronald’ made a face and whispered something to Minerva before taking the hat.

“Ah, my apologies. Ron.”

Severus couldn’t hold back a snort. Quirrell looked as if he might comment on it, but a sharp glare set him in his place quickly enough. How could Filius eat with the aura on that monster? Perhaps, like Albus, he simply hadn’t noticed it.

A feeling of slime crept down Severus’ spine. Something dangerous was afoot here, or he would eat the sorting hat.

Well, whatever it was, he would stop it before it could harm Harry. The other students too, of course, but especially Harry. His eyes again darted to the boy, who grinned when Severus met his eyes. Beside him, Ron whispered in his ear and pointed to Severus, and Harry’s brow furrowed. He turned on the boy and said something fierce, hands on his hips and eyes sharp. Severus watched his lips and was able to make out a few of the words.

“… Don’t care… shouldn’t say… it’s mean. Don’t… about him. Don’t be a bully.”

Weasley stammered out what must have been an apology by his posture and expression. His next words were easier to read. “But he’s… big bully… hates Gryffindors.”

“I’ll judge… for myself, thanks… just don’t… bully him. Mean words hurt.”

‘More than you know, child.’

Severus’ gut twisted as he reckoned Harry would know it firsthand soon enough.

The boy turned and gave him a warm smile, something apologetic and accepting in his eyes. Severus’ heart thrummed. Gods. It would rip the soul from him to be cruel to this sweet child who looked at him like he meant something. Like he mattered.

And yet, he would do it, no matter how much it hurt. Being cruel to Harry meant the boy would survive another day.

Weasley pointed to the teachers in turn, pausing over Severus and skipping him to point at the next in line, Quirrell. The instant Harry’s eyes landed on the turbaned bastard, Harry clutched at his scar and doubled over in agony. A dark pulse of energy rippled from the monster beside him, and Severus would have cursed him on the spot had Quirrell not been looking away. It wasn’t possible Quirrell had cursed Harry undetected while his head was turned, not in a hall full of students and professors. And yet, Severus knew the darkness had come from him.

Merlin, he had to tell Albus about this. Dinner couldn’t end soon enough.

 


 

Severus sat in Albus’ personal chambers, lounging on his purple sofa with all his glamours down for once. This was the only place he felt safe enough to be himself. The only place he could let his ears out and his tail down without fear of retribution. Albus had warded his chambers to hell and back for that purpose, and Severus knew they were safe here.

“And then,” Severus continued, “a wave of dark energy rushed out from the man—it smelled of death. I swear if he hadn’t had his head turned….” He sighed and sipped at his tea, needing the calming influence. “Albus, there is something seriously amiss about the man. You’re quite sure you didn’t sense his dark aura?”

Albus shook his head and frowned into his teacup. “Why would I have hired him if I had done?”

“You said it was a Ministry contract. I had assumed they forced you.”

“They only suggested Quirrell because I hadn’t another candidate for the position by last week and Defence is part of the required curriculum. We do seem to go through them rather quickly.”

“I wonder why.”

Albus chuckled. “Yes, Tom did rather inconvenience us with that little curse, I fear. For now, however, there is little I can do about Quirrell besides put safeguards in place for the students and keep an eye on him. He may be a yokai, as you are, child, in which case he cannot help his aura.”

“Albus, this wasn’t darkness alone, not like me. It was sheer, unadulterated evil. If he is a yokai, then he is one of the most dangerous types in existence. We cannot afford to trust such a being near children.”

Albus sighed and set his tea aside. “If that is what you sensed, then you are correct, but again, my hands are tied, Severus. It is a Ministry contract. I cannot terminate it without proof of evildoing. Action, not an aura, Severus. Until he is caught in the act or planning it, we have little recourse.”

Severus growled under his breath. “Then I suppose I shall have to sit on the little bastard all year until the curse does my job for me.”

Albus chuckled wryly. “Indeed. Do that, my friend, and I shall continue to search for a way out of the contract in the meantime and a suitable replacement.”

“I suppose that is the best we can do.” Severus sighed and leaned back in his seat. “I do not like it. I do not trust that beast around Harry.”

“Ah, yes. And how do you think young Mister Potter is fitting in so far?”

Severus shrugged, dismal once again. “Well enough, I suppose. By this time tomorrow, I shall be in no position to judge. He shall hate me.”

“He did not seem to hate you tonight.”

“No. I cannot fathom it.” Severus lowered his head so his thoughts would not be obvious to the old man. ‘No one smiles at me like that. Why?’

Albus stroked his beard, a pensive expression on his face. “I wonder….”

“Hmm?”

“Well, I suppose it is too soon to say.” Albus squeezed Severus’ shoulder. “Don’t fret, my friend. All hope may not be lost.”

“Albus, I cannot afford to be kind to him. He will perish. And so will I.”

“Well, not in public, of course, but who will say if you are friendly in private?”

“Harry might.”

“Not if he understands, Severus.” Albus moved away, a sad smile on his face. “You must do as you think is best, of course, but know I do not condemn you for wishing to be on friendlier terms than your role would typically allow, and I trust the both of you to understand the need to keep it secret. Harry is a child, yes, but from all you have told me, he has learned the value of trust and faith young. It is not hopeless, Severus.”

“And what will happen after tomorrow’s class, Albus? When I must be cruel to him for no reason at all? What makes you think he will be different than any other Gryffindor?”

Albus rubbed Severus’ ear. “I still cannot see them outside of this office.”

Severus gave him a bemused look and flicked his ear back from Albus’ fingers. “What?”

“We shall see, child. For now, I am in need of rest. Tomorrow is a busy day, after all. And you, I believe, must ensure that our rogue defence instructor is behaving himself.”

Severus growled under his breath. “Indeed. How is he hiding it, Albus? How can you not sense it? It nearly choked me.”

Albus shook his head. “Perhaps he has taken pains to hide his aura from anyone with human blood, as you hide your ears and tail.”

“That is possible?”

“Much is possible with magic, Severus, and I am not foolish enough to claim that I am aware of every spell which might exist when new charms are invented every day.” Albus’ eyes took on a faraway look. “I once believed myself invincible and all-knowing, and it cost me far too much. You, I think, know the cut of that pain too. So let us not be foolish and make the same mistake twice.”

Severus took a shaky breath. “Such a spell would be useful for one such as myself.”

“Indeed. Perhaps you might create a version of your own if you are unable to find one already in existence. You always did have a knack for spellcraft.”

Severus nodded abstractedly. “Indeed, but we have gone off the point. Even if we assume the bastard is hiding his aura from humans, we still have a problem, Albus. Harry sensed it. The dark pulse he sent out hurt Harry and made him clutch at his scar. If Quirrell has hidden his aura from humans, how is it possible that Harry can feel it? I do not sense any supernatural aura about him.”

Albus rubbed his chin in thought. “How indeed. Perhaps we shall learn more in time. At the moment, I am quite at a loss.” He patted Severus’ shoulder. “Go sit on the defence instructor and ease your fears. I will take to my library and see what I am able to uncover on both Harry’s unusual sensitivity to auras and Quirinus’ ability to mask his own from the rest of us.”

Severus sighed and stood. “Perhaps you are right. I should make sure he is behaving himself regardless.” He bid Albus goodnight but paused at the door. “Albus, the stone—it is safe?”

“Yes, Severus. I imagine there are few wizards able to navigate the myriad of tests we set to keep it safe. Fluffy, in particular, will pose quite the threat to anyone foolish enough to risk angering him.”

Severus nodded, though the niggle of worry hadn’t left him. He supposed it made sense to place the most daunting task at the front of the challenges and the second most difficult at the end, but those in the middle….

“Albus, I am worried. Devil’s Snare, a chess game, catch-the-key… a studious first year could pass some of those tests. Even mine… one with a logical bent or a knack for potions could work out the answer with some thought.”

“Ah, perhaps, but then they must also pass Fluffy, child.” Albus frowned and stroked his beard. “But perhaps you make a good point. I will research a way to place a test of my own around the stone.”

Severus let a little sigh escape him. If Albus protected it, the stone would be safe.

“Thank Merlin.”

He bid Albus goodnight once more and prowled the castle for the beast. By the location and strength of his aura, Quirrell had gone to bed. Thus, Severus judged it safe enough to follow suit for the time being and headed for the dungeons.

He paused in front of Fluffy’s corridor. Maybe it was safest to learn how to bypass all the tests himself, just in case he needed to run after anyone stupid enough to try their luck. Merlin knew the Weasley twins would at least give it a go once or twice before they decided whatever was in that corridor was best left alone.

With a shake of his head for the headaches those two would undoubtedly cause him that year, Severus returned to his quarters and double-checked his lesson plans for the next day. Despite the fact that his role forced him to be an arsehole to the students, Severus did try to teach his curriculum properly.

Yes, Draught of Peace would be a good potion for his returning fifth years, who would, no doubt, be nervous about their approaching OWLs and the renewed fervour with which their professors would try to cram new knowledge into their heads. And Cure for Boils was always a good starting point for first years—nice and simple, with no corrosive ingredients or otherwise dangerous substances. 

The first years… Harry.

Severus laid his head in his hands and heaved a sigh. After tomorrow, his smiles would disappear. He would never again look upon Severus with something that resembled affection. At best, he could hope for wary, grudging respect, but no. He could not hope for even that.

And Harry… gods. Harry would think the one person who had guarded him his entire life hated him. Perhaps it wouldn’t mean much—after all, the boy wouldn’t have known Severus was there to guard him all those years—but he would lose another support. In a world that was already too cruel to him, Harry would have one more terrible problem to deal with. It hurt, that Severus would have to burden the only person he loved other than Albus so terribly.

But in the end, Harry would live. And even if it hurt to hurt him, by gods, Severus would do it to save him. He would gouge his own eyes out before seeing that child come to harm. Though it destroyed him, Severus would be cruel because Harry needed him to, even if he didn’t know it.

But fuck, he didn’t want to. Merlin help him, he didn’t want to hurt that child.

“Gods, forgive me,” he whispered and wished for any fate but this one.

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Guardian Demon

‘Well, well. If it isn’t Harry Potter, our new… celebrity.’

Professor Snape’s cruel words rang over and over in Harry’s head. He barely had the focus to concentrate on his other classes. Why would he say such terrible things? Why make a spectacle out of Harry and hurt him? All his classmates left that class feeling scandalised and angry. Though he didn’t know her well, even Hermione had ranted about biased professors and ‘the Headmaster should really do something about this.’ Ron had dismissed it as just another cruelty from the greasy git as if Harry shouldn’t have expected anything else, and his dormmates had taken up in arms against Snape, but Harry knew better.

Why would Professor Snape do this when, for the past eleven years or so, he had sat on Harry’s roof and guarded him fiercely? Why hurt him after protecting him for over a decade? It made no bloody sense.

Ron couldn’t understand. Harry hadn’t told him about Snape’s wings or the fact that his guardian angel acted as though he loved him outside of the classroom. Or at least cared enough about him to keep him from danger. It felt… sacred somehow. And after hearing Ron go on and on about the bat of the dungeons who preyed upon hapless students at night and used their blood to mark his essays, well, Harry doubted he would believe him anyway.

Still, the entire situation confused and hurt him, and so, he decided he would seek answers from the one person in a position to give them.

After dinner, while his friends and dormmates busied themselves with socialising and homework, Harry slipped away. Outside Gryffindor Tower, he asked the Fat Lady for directions to Professor Snape’s office, and though she looked at him as if he had lost the plot, she guided him to the dungeons anyway. So Harry made the lonely trek to the lower floors of the castle and stayed out of sight as much as possible, a skill he had learned at his uncle’s knee—the less often Vernon noticed his existence, the better for everyone involved. Petunia and Dudley, too, for that matter, but especially Vernon.

Harry remembered the times his guardian angel had stopped his uncle from hurting him, once with a giant flock of crows if memory served, and his resolve doubled. Snape cared for him, Harry was certain of it. Why else would he spend so much time and effort to keep him safe?

With that thought in mind, Harry lifted his hand and rapped on the professor’s door.

“Enter,” came the dark, low voice Harry liked so much. With a worried frown, he stepped inside Professor Snape’s office and closed the door behind him.

“Er, h-hello, Professor.”

Snape’s head jerked up and his eyes widened marginally. “Potter? What in Merlin’s name are you doing here? Did I not make it clear enough in class that I will not cater to your whims?”

Harry swallowed hard and gathered his courage. “Sir, I… I don’t understand why you’re being so mean to me.”

Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Oh? And should I bend over backwards to please you, as the rest of the world seems determined to do? Do you not have enough admirers that you must collect me as well?”

Harry flushed and looked to his feet, rubbing a toe against the flagstone. “Sir, you know that not all the world does that. You’re the only one here who knows.”

Snape paused, all colour draining from his face. “What? What are you on about, Potter?”

Harry sighed and gave it up as a bad job. Either Snape really didn’t understand or he was determined to pretend not to.

“I saw you, sir. You’ve been on my roof for the past ten years, protecting me. I know you care about me. So please, tell me why you’re being so mean.”

Snape sank into his chair, face bloodless and eyes wide and staring. “You… saw me.”

“Yes. You flew up to the roof nearly every day and watched over me. You smiled at me too.”

“Flew. Flew? I—how? Can you see…?”

The man stretched his beautiful black wings, and Harry’s fingers itched to touch. They were so glossy, like a crow’s wing, but with the span of an angel. If Snape stretched them to their full length, they filled the entire back wall of his office. Harry tracked them with his eyes, and Snape’s throat bobbed.

“Dear gods. You can see them. I had imagined you would grow out of it.”

“What?”

“My….” Snape hesitated. “Potter, tell me, what am I doing now?” The man stayed stock-still except for the tip of his left wing. It waved slowly back and forth, so as not to displace the air, Harry suspected.

“You’re waving at me with your wing?”

“Shite,” Snape breathed. “Oh, oh, this is not good.”

“Sir?”

White as a sheet, Snape beckoned Harry closer and took his shoulders in firm hands. “Who have you told about me? About my wings or ears or anything other than a pure human appearance?”

Harry blinked. “Er… no one. You seemed scared for anyone to see you when you came to the Dursleys’ before, so I reckoned you wouldn’t want me to talk about it. And I thought no one would believe me anyway.”

Snape’s shoulders sagged and a breath rushed from him. “Thank Merlin.” He stepped back, and that veil of coldness fell over his features again. “Mister Potter, I think it is best if you stay away from me as much as possible. And for Merlin’s sake, tell no one of my wings, ears, tail, or anything else that does not look human.”

Harry squinted to hide the tears building behind his eyelids. “Why must I stay away, sir? I don’t understand. Why did you take care of me for so long if you hate me?” His voice wobbled at the end, and he flushed, embarrassed. He couldn’t let himself cry, but gods, it hurt to think that the one person he believed had loved him unconditionally over the years hadn’t truly cared at all.

Despite his resolve, tears dripped down his face. He pressed his palms into his eyes and tried to control it, tried to act mature and grown up, even if he was only a child yet. He should have known. ‘Just a freak, unwanted, unloved, always unloved.’ He never should have come.

But when he removed his hands and looked up, having every intention of spitting out a rushed goodbye before fleeing to the relative safety of the dorms, Snape’s mask had cracked. Dark eyes tracked Harry’s tears down his face, sorrow and remorse heavy in their depths.

“H-Harry….”

Harry gave a little sniffle and raced to the angel, throwing his arms around Snape’s slim waist and hugging him tight.

“I knew you cared about me.”

Snape tensed and trembled against him, and Harry wondered if anyone had ever hugged him like this. He hadn’t known what it would feel like himself. He’d seen his aunt and uncle hug Dudley or other parents hug their children at primary school, but no one had ever hugged Harry before.

It must have been the first time anyone had hugged Snape. He shook so hard, he vibrated Harry. Gods, it wasn’t supposed to scare him. Well, maybe Harry was just holding him too tightly. He relaxed his grip and eased back, though he left his head against Snape’s stomach and his arms around his waist.

“It’s okay,” Harry murmured, voice muffled against Snape’s robe. “I just wanted to hug you.”

“Merlin, child,” Snape breathed. “Why? I do not understand.”

“I’ve never had one. And I always wanted to thank you. But you would never come down to talk to me, and I was afraid to shout. I thought it would scare you away. But you’re here now and… and thank you. For protecting me so long. For being there. No one else ever has done.”

Snape let his breath out in a rush, and a gentle hand cradled Harry’s head, holding him against his belly. “You were not meant to see me.”

“But I did.”

“Child, I have no idea how. I was under what was supposed to be an infallible invisibility charm and glamours that, in every case but yours, hide my true appearance from anyone with human blood. I do not understand why you saw me, especially the truth of me, when I was hidden under layers of charms to keep everyone out.”

“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be bad.”

“Oh, little one, no. You cannot help it.” Snape smoothed Harry’s hair once, then sighed and guided him to take a step back. “Harry, look at me, child. Tell me what you see that is different about me.”

“Um… I see your wings. They’re beautiful, by the way.”

Snape’s cheeks went soft pink. “T-thank you. What else? Can you see my ears?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Snape frowned and touched his hair, draped down both sides of his face. “What do they look like then?”

“They’re silver with black tips, and they’re pink on the inside.”

Snape winced. “Yes. Please tell no one of my ears or wings.”

“Okay, I promise.”

“What else can you see that does not look human?”

Harry looked down and smiled. “Your tail. It’s the same colour as your ears and it looks so soft.”

Snape blushed deeper and curled his tail behind him. “O-oh. Yes, do not mention my tail either. Anything else?”

“Your nose is… different. It’s almost… like a wolf’s, but it has the shape of a human’s, except the tip.”

“Yes. If I was a lower class of Tengu, I would have a wolf’s snout or the beak of a crow, but my class’ special ancestry mitigated it. Do recall that to everyone but you, little one, my nose appears hooked and large, but fully human.”

Harry nodded solemnly. “I’ll remember. Ron said you had a big nose, but I like it.”

“My human appearance is not particularly attractive. It is meant to keep people from coming too close.”

“Oh. Well, I’m glad I see your real face then.”

Snape’s cheeks burned bright red. “Merlin. I… w-what else do you see that is different? Anything?”

“Loads. Your nails are different too. They look more like a cat’s claws. Or, no, more like a dog’s, since you can’t draw them back. Or can you?”

Snape shook his head. “I cannot, however, my glamours make them feel like fingernails to humans and prevent them from being scratched.” He frowned. “Harry, touch my nails and tell me if you feel fingernails or claws.”

Harry beamed and took Snape’s hand in his own. He squeezed the man’s fingers and, with his other hand, cautiously ran the pad of his index finger across the tip of Snape’s claw.

“Ouch!” He pulled back a bleeding fingertip and winced. “Definitely claws.”

Snape whispered a spell against Harry’s hand, and the small cut healed instantly. “I am sorry, child. I will remember to take great care with my claws for you. Are you well?”

Harry nodded. “Thank you, sir. Will you teach me that spell in case I get cut accidentally again?”

Snape frowned. “Most boys have small injuries from time to time, Harry. It is hardly something you need a spell for.”

“Yes, but I meant on your claws. If you don’t want anyone to know about them, and I’m the only one who can be cut by them, then don’t you think I should know how to heal it fast just in case?”

Snape looked gobsmacked. “You… you would want to touch my hands again?”

Harry responded by tugging the angel’s hand against his chest, taking care to avoid his nails. “Of course I would.”

Snape gave him a wondering look. His hand trembled in Harry’s. “I… this is….” He took a shaky breath in and cautiously rubbed the knuckle of his thumb against Harry’s palm, tucking his claws so as not to hurt him. “T-thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sir.” Harry frowned at the sheen in Snape’s eyes. He looked as though he might cry. “Sir, are you okay?”

Snape nodded and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, the sheen had gone. With a small smile, he squeezed Harry’s hand and then tucked both of his behind his back. “I am well, child. We are off topic, however. I must ask you to take care around my claws and never mention them to anyone but the headmaster or his portraits, who already know the truth of me.”

Harry frowned. “Yes, sir, but… will you teach me that spell?”

Snape sighed. “I will do, little one, but it will take time to learn to cast it quickly and without your wand or an obvious incantation. I will attempt to find a spell to keep my claws from harming you, but as of yet, I know of nothing beyond the glamour to protect humans, and to research magic for my kind is… dangerous. It will take time to find something, I fear. So until you learn to cast the spell well enough or I find a protective charm, you must take care to avoid my claws for both of our sakes.”

“Yes, sir. I promise.”

“Good. Now, are you able to see any other differences in my appearance?”

“Um, yes. Your teeth are sharp.”

“Do not mention those either.”

“Okay.” Harry looked him over, frowning. “I guess that’s all I see, only your eyes change colour sometimes. I’ve seen them go red when Vernon was about to hurt me outside before.”

Snape growled softly. “Yes. My eyes change when I am angry sometimes—and that monstrosity of a man infuriates me. How long is my hair, Harry?”

“It’s so gorgeous. All down your back, and silky and soft.”

Snape groaned. “You are able to see my entire form. My glamours do not work on you at all.” He sank into his chair and laid his head in his hands. “You must never reveal any of the non-human aspects of my appearance to anyone. Not even your friends. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, sir. I promise, but can you tell me why? You’re so beautiful, I’d think you would want people to know it.”

Snape’s breath hitched and a red flush spread up his face. “I… I… what did you say?”

Harry frowned, uncertain if he had crossed a line somewhere or not. “Um… I asked you why you want to hide when you’re so beautiful, sir.”

“Sweet Circe!” Snape buried his face in his hands. “I… n-no one’s ever called me that before.”

Harry gaped. “But… why? You are beautiful. I’ve never seen anyone who looks like you do, and I can’t understand how anyone who saw you could miss it.”

Snape coughed and rubbed his red cheeks. “That… that is the issue, Harry. Most people do not see me. They see the image I project, which is of a rather plain human. My hair is oily, my nose is too big, and my lips too thin. I am stark and sallow and bitter. And that is all most people see when they look at me.”

“Oh. Um… what does sallow mean, sir?”

“Yellow. It is an unhealthy tinge of yellow.”

Harry huffed. “But your skin isn’t yellow at all, sir. It’s pale, yes, but clear and lovely.”

Snape’s claws dug into the surface of his desk and his hands trembled. “Oh.”

“And your hair is fab. God, I’d kill for hair like that.” At Snape’s flinch, Harry revised his statement. “Not really, sir, but your hair really is beautiful.” And Harry really wanted to touch it and see if it was as soft as it looked. Face flaming, he babbled the rest of his thoughts out in a rush. “And your nose, well, I’ll give you that it’s big for a human, but I don’t think you are human, sir, and it’s interesting either way. I like the way it looks. And your eyes are so beautiful! I—”

“Enough,” Snape choked out. “Gods, I am on fire.” He cupped his bright red cheeks and rubbed them. “T-thank you, Harry. No one has ever been so liberal with their praise for my appearance, to be sure.” He took a shaky breath and motioned to the chair in front of his desk. “Sit. I think we must take this conversation to the headmaster.”

Harry gasped and sank into the chair, heart thundering in his ears. “D-did I say something wrong, sir?”

“No, not wrong, but concerning nonetheless.” At Harry’s worried expression, Snape laid a gentle hand on his shoulder. “You are not in trouble, Harry. Simply sit and wait there. I will ask Headmaster Dumbledore if he is able to see us at this time. Be aware, if he has a visitor, I will have to pretend to be angry at you. I do not mean it, little one. It is only a mask I must wear to keep us both safe.”

Something tight and painful inside Harry’s chest relaxed. “So today in class… you didn’t mean it?”

Severus smoothed Harry’s hair and shook his head. “No. Not a word of it. I am sorry I hurt you.”

Harry sighed and gave the man a happy smile. “It’s okay. I’m just glad you don’t really think I’m spoiled and awful.”

Snape’s eyes filled with pain. “I think you are as far from spoiled as it is possible to be.” He traced his thumb over Harry’s scar and stepped back. “Wait there, child. I must use the fire to speak to the headmaster. I will need to place my head in the flames, but there is a special powder on the mantel that makes it cool so I am not burned. Do not be afraid.”

Harry nodded and worried his lip between his teeth. He trusted Snape, but the thought of him sticking his head into the fire still made him nervous.

“You… you’ll be careful, right?”

Snape paused halfway through opening the silver tin on his mantel and gave Harry a soft smile. “I promise.”

Harry released his breath in a sigh. “Okay. I just don’t want you to be hurt.”

“Thank you, little one. I promise I will be fine. Now, wait here a moment and remember to look upset.”

Harry imagined Snape being burned by the flames, and his face twisted into a terrified expression of its own accord. Gods, he hoped that powder worked. Did it go off? Merlin, he was really scared.

“Well done, Harry. I’ll be just a moment.”

Snape tossed a pinch of powder into the fire. Harry gasped as the flames turned a vibrant green.

Snape called out, “Headmaster Dumbledore’s office, Hogwarts,” and knelt before the fire.

A room appeared beyond the fire, circular with loads of portraits on the walls, most asleep, and Snape poked his head in the flames. Harry held his breath, and only let it go when Snape didn’t cry out or act hurt. The fire hadn’t burned him after all.

“Oh, thank God,” he whispered to himself and tried to calm his racing heart.

Snape called, “Headmaster? Albus, are you busy?”

After a brief pause, Dumbledore’s voice called from the other side of the fire. “Severus? I am here, my boy. Is everything all right?”

Severus murmured, “Are you alone?”

“Yes. I assume you have confidential information to discuss?”

“Indeed. Mister Potter and I must come to your office immediately. We have a problem, Albus.”

Dumbledore sighed. “Yes, I thought we might, considering past events. Come in, and we shall discuss it.”

Snape nodded and emerged from the flames, leaving his tail and one foot in the hearth. “Harry, step through the fire and follow it to the next grate.”

Harry gulped. “Into the fire? But….”

“You saw I was not burned, little one. It will not harm you, but wait before you leave. Come here.”

Harry obeyed. He hesitated near the fireplace. It didn’t feel hot, but it still looked like fire. Could he really just walk through it without being burned?

Before he could protest, Snape plucked Harry’s spectacles off of his face and pocketed them. “Floo travel can be… disconcerting the first time. I will keep your glasses safe. You must only walk through the fire to the next hearth and remember to keep your elbows and knees in. It will twirl you about, but it will not hurt you.”

Harry hesitated, staring at the blurry green flames in trepidation.

“Harry.”

He looked into Snape’s concerned blue eyes.

Snape laid his hand on Harry’s shoulder. His claws didn’t hurt like this, with Harry’s school robe to protect his skin.

“Do you trust me, child?”

Harry’s fear rushed out of him, and he slumped against the angel’s arm. “Y-yes, sir. Sorry, sir. I’ll go now.”

Snape squeezed his shoulder and guided him into the flames. The fire spun him around once or twice, and when it stopped he stood on the other side of the office he had seen through their fire. With a gulp, he stepped through the flames and hoped he wouldn’t be burned this time either.

Thank God, the flames only felt a little warm as he stepped into Dumbledore’s office. The old man was waiting for him and caught Harry as he stumbled out of the grate.

“Good evening, Harry,” said Professor Dumbledore with a congenial smile. “Please, follow the stairs behind you up to my quarters.”

Harry gulped. “Your quarters, sir?”

“Yes, child. We do not discuss Severus’ situation in the office for fear someone might overhear, and Severus cannot come through until you are away from the hearth regardless.”

“Oh. Yes, sir. I’ll go now then.”

“Wait,” came Snape’s voice. “Albus, his spectacles.”

Snape passed them through the fire, and Dumbledore passed them to Harry.

“There you are, child. We will be right up. Make yourself at home. I will have tea and biscuits for you in a moment.”

Biscuits? He could have biscuits? Harry gave him a bright grin and raced up the stairs to the sound of Dumbledore’s soft chuckle.

Harry found himself in an explosion of purple of all sorts. Everything from the carpet to the ceiling boasted some shade of the vibrant hue. Gold stars and silver crescent moons accented the décor in several areas, and several paintings lined the walls. A young woman with a blue dress watched him from over the mantel, her eyes curious and wary. Another painting of an older couple hung on the wall over the fireplace, but unlike the girl, they didn’t move. A Muggle painting, he supposed.

Harry made his way to a dusky violet sofa in front of the fireplace and toed at the knitted rug under his feet. The artisan had tied strips of all hues of purple, yellow, and red together to make a braided oval rug like he had seen at Mrs. Figg’s house. Though he wouldn’t have chosen such bright colours from himself, he liked the feel of it and spent several moments examining its construction, until a hand on his shoulder startled him out of his thoughts.

“Mrs. Weasley made that, I believe,” said Snape—Severus?—with a gentle smile. “Your friend’s mother. She is quite skilled with fibre arts.”

“She made this?” Harry rubbed his booted toe across the rug and grinned. “I like it.” He looked up and smiled at Dumbledore too. “Sir, why is everything here purple?”

Dumbledore chuckled and sat on the sofa in front of Harry. “For the simple reason that it is my favourite colour, dear boy.” He motioned to the sofa beside Harry. “Sit down, Severus, and we shall discuss this.”

He waved his wand about, and a steaming teapot, three cups, condiments, and a plate of biscuits of all sorts appeared. Harry’s mouth watered at the sight of the chocolate-covered kind. He had always wanted to try one, but Aunt Petunia said that sweets and biscuits were for normal little boys.

“Help yourself, Harry,” said Dumbledore with a sad smile. “Severus tells me you didn’t have much opportunity to taste sweet things growing up, and that is quite the shame.”

Harry froze halfway to the biscuit tray. “You knew? You knew and you left me there?”

Dumbledore winced. “Harry, you remember Hagrid told you of Voldemort and—”

Snape flinched and clapped a hand over his arm.

“Oh, forgive me, Severus,” Dumbledore said, his expression contrite. “I only meant to use a name Harry would recognise. I did not intend to hurt you.”

Harry took Professor Snape’s hand in his. “Are you okay?”

Snape looked at their conjoined hands with a stunned expression and spoke softly, as if afraid to break the spell. “It hurts when that name is spoken around me. It hurts my arm. But I am well enough now.”

Harry gave him a worried look. “Why does it hurt, sir?”

Snape sighed. “It is a long story, little one, and it has much to do with what Headmaster Dumbledore was trying to tell you before. Listen, please.”

“Oh. Yes, sir.”

“Harry,” said Dumbledore in a solemn voice, “we would have rather waited until you were older to explain this, but I think Severus and I will have little choice but to tell you now since you have seen much of the truth for yourself. But it is very dangerous, and one word of this conversation to anyone outside these rooms might result in Severus’ death, yours, or both. Please, you must swear to me that you will not speak of this outside these walls. Perhaps you might tell your friends about the truth of your own heritage and You-Know-Who—whom I will call Tom from this point on, as it is his name and his self-made title hurts Severus—but they cannot know Severus was here to help explain or that he is not human. Do you understand?”

Harry nodded. “I promise, sir. I like Professor Snape. I would never hurt him.”

Snape squeezed Harry’s hand and wrapped his wing around the boy’s shoulders. The soft warmth and gentle pressure, like a blanket against Harry’s skin, made him feel safe. Protected. He leaned into the comfort a little and couldn’t help smiling.

Dumbledore smiled, too. “I am glad to see the two of you taking comfort from one another. Severus has watched over you for so very long, Harry.”

“I know. I saw him on my roof.”

Dumbledore’s eyes widened. “Did you? Even under the cloak?”

“Yes,” Snape said with a grim expression. “Hence my… concerns for how we shall handle this in public.”

“Yes, I see what you mean.” Dumbledore sighed. “Very well, we shall go straight to the explanation then, once you’ve helped yourself to one of those chocolate biscuits, Harry.”

Harry blushed, wondering how the old man knew which one he wanted. “You’re sure I can really have them?”

“Of course, little one.” Snape cuddled him against his side. “You never should have been denied such small treats. Perhaps if your family could not afford them, it would not be an issue, but the Dursleys had no problem affording massive indulgences for their spoiled brat son.” He nudged Harry and gave him a conspiratorial smile. “Go on, take a few just to spite those horrid monsters.”

Harry giggled and piled a few of the biscuits on his plate, including two of the chocolate kind. “Yeah! They can’t punish me for it here, can they?”

Snape smirked. “What they don’t know won’t hurt them.”

Harry grinned and bit into one of the chocolate biscuits. It was the best thing he had ever tasted, second only to the treacle tart at the welcoming feast. “Oh. Those are brilliant!”

“I’m rather partial to the lemon kind myself.” Dumbledore floated a yellow biscuit onto Harry’s plate.

Severus snorted. “You would eat lemons for every meal if you could, old man.” He floated a biscuit with a red centre next to the yellow one. “Raspberry jelly biscuits. I like those quite a bit.”

Harry grinned and tried the raspberry kind. Sweet butter biscuit, chocolate fudge along the bottom, and tangy sweetness filled his mouth. “Oh, lovely. I think I do too.”

“I am glad to see it, Harry,” said Dumbledore with a genuine smile. “You have been without joy for far too long. But now, we must discuss the situation with Severus. Feel free to eat your biscuits and help yourself to some tea while we talk.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said, once he had swallowed a bite of raspberry biscuit.

“Now then,” Dumbledore began, “a long time ago, before you were born, Severus was a very troubled young man.”

Snape cleared his throat.

Dumbledore chuckled. “Young yokai, I should say.”

Harry blinked. “You’re not an angel?”

Severus winced and drew back, as if in preparation for a blow. “I am… half-angelic, in a sense. I am a special class of yokai, a Japanese type of demon. My class is part canine Tengu and part angel. It is the highest class of the part-canine order. My mother is a Nine-Tailed Tengu, also known as a Ninetails. She looks much like a part-human wolf with, obviously, nine tails. She is the highest class of the full canine order, but we are both demons.”

“Really? Huh. I always thought you were an angel. I mean, all angel, but with a few wolf parts.” Harry shrugged and leaned against Severus. “Whatever you are, I know you’re good. Don’t be afraid, sir.”

Severus took a shuddering breath and the sheen returned to his eyes. “You… you truly will just… accept me? Even knowing I am half-demonic and was not always a good person?”

“Well, you’re a good person now. And you’ve always been good to me. So yeah.”

“Merlin.” Tears streaked down Severus’ face, but he jerked his tail across it to hide them. “I… I never imagined….”

“Hey… it’s okay, sir. It’s all right. Don’t cry.”

Severus gave Harry a shy smile and squeezed the boy’s hand. “I… thank you, Harry. True acceptance has been so rare in my life, that I am honoured and a little overwhelmed that you have given it so freely. I am well, only a little stunned.”

Harry smiled and nestled his head against Severus’ shoulder. “That’s all right then.” He gave the yokai a worried look. “Is this okay? Am I bothering you? I just… I’ve never had anyone I could touch before. Even just a little touch. I feel better when you hug me.”

Severus wrapped his wing and arm tight around Harry’s shoulders and rubbed his arm slowly. “I understand, little one. It is much the same for me, so, though I have been a… shy being most of my life, I find your presence soothing as well. You are safe with me, Harry. Always.”

Harry gave him a radiant smile. “Yeah? Brilliant.” He laid his head against Severus’ shoulder again. “Okay, Headmaster. I think we’re all right now if you want to go on with your story.”

Dumbledore gave him a warm smile. “Thank you, Harry, for welcoming him as you have done. He is a good yokai, but so few have treated him as such that he has trouble believing it. I think your trust will help him recover.”

“Albus,” Severus chided, cheeks red. “Please.”

Dumbledore chuckled. “Yes, I suppose I am embarrassing you a bit. But I am only happy for you, child.” He dabbed at his eyes with a violently purple handkerchief. “Ah, forgive me. It seems we are all a bit emotional tonight. So let us get on with the story now, yes? Don’t forget your biscuits, Harry.”

Harry nodded and set his plate on his lap. He nibbled on his raspberry biscuit as the headmaster picked up the threads of his tale again.

“As I was saying, when Severus was a student here, he was quite troubled, and for good reason. Four students here… well, they bullied him quite severely. As his parents and town were also cruel to him, and I could not stop the bullies’ abuse no matter how I tried, Severus grew up believing no one on the side of Light cared for him at all….”

 


 

Severus felt Harry snuggle against his side, knowing the human wanted him to know that at least one person on the side of the Light loved him. He wondered how long that would last when Harry knew what he had done, what his folly had cost them all.

Throughout Albus’ tale, Harry stayed ensconced in Severus’ wing and arm, so involved in the story, he forgot the plate of biscuits on his knees. When Albus reached the part about Severus being tortured for trying to spare Harry’s mum, the boy whimpered and sniffled, and Severus made him a cup of tea with a bit of calming draught added.

“Here, little one. Drink this. You will feel better.”

Harry sipped at the hot beverage and gave Severus a look full of tears. “Sir… I’m sorry.”

Severus’ jaw nearly fell off his face. “You are sorry? Dear Merlin, child, I am the one who should apologise to you! My folly, my blind loyalty to that monster took your parents and childhood from you! I… it is my fault your parents are dead.”

Harry frowned and shook his head. “But it’s not, sir. You told him the prophecy, yes, but you only heard part of it, and you had no idea he would come for me. You didn’t even know Mum was pregnant.”

“No, but does it absolve me? I knew, or at least suspected, he would attack someone for it. I did not imagine he would be so depraved as to attack an infant; I assumed he would monitor the chosen one as they grew and attack them as an adult, but I am no less guilty for it.”

Harry laid his head on Severus’ arm. “Maybe you were guilty of that much. That’s not a good thing to do, no. But you’re sorry, aren’t you?”

“I regret it terribly, but my remorse does not bring your family back, Harry.”

“Maybe not, but it’s enough for me.”

Severus’ heart thumped and a keening, pleading wave of desperation clawed its way into his chest, wrapping around his stomach and chest and squeezing painfully.

“I forgive you, sir,” Harry murmured. “It’s all right.”

“I….” A strangled whimper escaped him, and he grabbed Harry into a tight embrace. “I do not know how you can possibly forgive me, but gods, I am so thankful that you do.”

“Let it go, sir. You tried your best to save them, and you’ve watched over me for years. It’s okay. You aren’t guilty any longer.”

Severus’ breath caught. “But—”

“No. You’re forgiven. So you don’t have to feel guilty for it anymore.”

Severus pressed his face into Harry’s shoulder and fought back tears. Forgiven. Not guilty. The words rolled around in his brain, foreign and lovely and terrifying all at once. He had defined himself by his guilt for so long, he didn’t know how to cope with redemption. Without it, what did his life mean?

Perhaps, Severus thought, as he held Harry and struggled to come to terms with his acceptance, he might try to live for this, this sweet, gentle feeling.

He might, rather than base his life upon guilt, define his existence by love.

A light kiss fell against his furry ear, and Severus clutched Harry tighter. Gods, he had never expected to be so thoroughly forgiven, so cherished. He brushed a kiss of his own against Harry’s hair and thanked whatever twist of fate that had brought him such a precious gift.

As Severus moved back and wiped his face, his heart raw and blasted open with the unconditional acceptance Harry had given him, he thought this would be the thing that truly kept him from ever giving into the darkness inside him again. Vows were well and good, but this—the gentle, unwavering love of this sweet little boy—it made him want to be a better yokai. It gave him the strength to face whatever came, if only he could protect the rare, loving child who had given him a second chance.

He wrapped his wing around Harry’s back once more and vowed, at that moment, no matter what the future might bring, he would never betray that love again.

Severus gave Harry a tentative smile and petted his hair. “Thank you, little one, for your forgiveness. I swear I will do my best to live up to the faith you have placed in me.”

Harry grinned. “I know you will, sir.”

“Ah… you do?”

“Yeah. You’re my guardian demon.”

Severus blinked, stared at Harry, and burst into soft laughter, the first true mirth he had felt since before Lily had left him. The feeling left him awed, and he vowed again that he would do everything within his power to honour the precious gift this sweet little boy had given him. He murmured in warm, happy tones his adult voice had never had cause to use until now, until Harry, “That I am, child. That I am.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

The Turban of Evil

3 October, 1992

Over the past month, a close bond of friendship had developed between Severus and little Harry. The boy made it plain he didn’t enjoy pretending to be enemies in public or having to lie to his friends about their bond, but he did it anyway because he valued Severus’ trust and friendship above all.

Merlin, it still stunned Severus. He found himself going about in a daze more often than not, his entire foundation rocked to its core by a weedy little boy with messy black hair and brilliant green eyes he remembered too well. He still had no idea how Harry could have come to care about him so strongly in so short a time, but then, perhaps he should take more of their history into account than recent events. Severus hadn’t been speaking to Harry for long, but Harry had seen Severus guarding and protecting him his entire life. It must have made an impression, even if Severus still couldn’t believe Harry had seen him despite his glamours and the invisibility cloak.

A clairvoyant. How strange. He hadn’t known anyone in the Potter family to be a Seer, but then, perhaps it skipped a generation… or twelve. Or perhaps Lily’s line had been squibs rather than Muggles and the gift came from her side. Either option seemed unlikely, but Severus couldn’t deny that Harry saw through all his glamours and tricks. He always had done. And even now, the boy had a fascination with Severus’ ears and tail—appendages he shouldn’t have been able to interact with at all if Severus’ glamours had worked. Severus didn’t often let the child pet him, though. He didn’t much enjoy feeling like a mutt.

A knock at his office door interrupted his thoughts. After office hours, which meant it would either be a fellow professor with a quandary only Severus could solve, a Slytherin with an emergency, or Harry. He hoped it was the latter as he stalked to the door, pasted on a glare, and jerked it open.

“What?”

Harry slipped into the office without saying a word, invisibility cloak tucked under his arm, and Severus snarled and closed the door behind the boy. Once he had warded the office, he let the scowl slip from his face and greeted Harry with his usual hesitant smile. He still couldn’t believe Harry accepted it so easily.

Harry greeted Severus with a hug to his waist and a grin. “Hi! I missed you.”

Severus ruffled the boy’s hair, earning a pout from the boy. He couldn’t resist that fluffy mop, even if it irritated Harry sometimes when he mussed it up.

“I missed you as well, little one, though I must admit I still find your regard for me… stunning.”

Harry gave him an amused scoff. “You should really have more faith in yourself. You’re a good… er… person, sir.”

Severus chuckled and conjured a sofa for them. “Would you like hot chocolate today?”

Ooh! Yes, please!”

Severus called a house elf and asked for the requested drink with cinnamon and whipped cream and some fresh raspberry and butter biscuits. He had started this ritual shortly after Harry started coming to his office to talk every night with the intent of making up for all the long years Harry had gone without a single treat or the slightest affection.

Harry was making up for it now. The boy, more often than not, sat curled into Severus’ side. He had fallen asleep that way more than once before, and Severus always found it difficult to make himself rouse the boy. It was sweet to watch over him while he slept, and humbling to know Harry trusted him enough to let himself be so vulnerable.

The elf popped in with a tray of steaming hot chocolate, piled with cream, cinnamon, and chocolate curls. Severus didn’t often indulge along with his young friend, but he did have a bit of a soft spot for rich, dark chocolate, and couldn’t resist a nice cup of cocoa. He couldn’t have it often as canines and chocolate didn’t mix, and he had just enough canine features to render it a problem, but, thank Merlin, he had learned to brew an antidote to chocolate toxicity long ago. At least it allowed him to enjoy a bit of a splurge every now and then.

With a sigh of contentment, Harry took a cup of cocoa and curled up against Severus’ side. “Brilliant. Thank you, sir.”

Severus smoothed Harry’s hair and wrapped his arm around the boy’s shoulders. For a moment, he simply watched Harry enjoy his cocoa. Years of denial had taught the boy to take great joy in simple pleasures. Much like Severus himself, if it came to that. Severus took his own cup and sipped at the sweet beverage, though he had to go through a mountain of cream to find the chocolate.

When he finished his sip, Harry came up from his own cup spluttering with laughter.

“What?”

Harry chuckled and rubbed Severus’ nose. His finger came away with a dollop of cream on the tip.

“You looked adorable with whipped cream on your nose.”

Severus raised an eyebrow and gave him a forbidding look, though he feared the hot blush across his cheeks must have spoiled the effect. “I am not adorable.”

“You are to me.”

Severus’ heart thumped at those words. So often, Severus had denied every good quality about himself, having long-since learned how little others valued him. But Harry would simply shrug and tell him he liked him as he was.

“You’re good to me, sir.”

Such unconditional acceptance came as a shock to one who had never been good enough before. Even Lily had suggested he might change this or that, hinted that he didn’t socialise enough or he shouldn’t be so standoffish. She might have been right on both counts, but Severus’ prickly nature came as a direct result of trauma. He had hoped she might have showed him more compassion, but she never stopped dropping hints until their friendship ended. And then, he missed them. He had even tried to do as she asked, but it had never been enough. He had never been enough. It still hurt, even now.

The fact that Harry accepted him as he was without so much as hinting that he needed to change the slightest thing… it left him breathless with wonder, and a bit suspicious, too. Life had never been so kind to him. He kept looking for the catch, but so far, he had yet to find it. Hard as it was for him to accept, it seemed Harry truly did care about him just as he was.

Harry laid his head against Severus’ shoulder and sighed again, his expression warm with pure happiness. “I never feel safe out there, but right here, I feel so happy and protected.”

And again, his simple display of trust and affection left Severus reeling. “Why, Harry? The world thinks me to be a monster, and yet you feel safe enough to sleep against me. To drink hot cocoa with me and trust me not to harm you. Why do you trust me so much?”

“Well, I don’t really care what the world thinks. I like you, and I think you’re brilliant just as you are.”

“How, Harry? How can you look at me and… and find me so good when everyone before you has seen nothing of worth in me at all?”

Harry took Severus’ hand, avoiding his claws, and held it in his lap. “I just do, sir.”

“I… don’t understand.”

“Well, let me put it like this. My relatives think I’m a monster and a freak just because I have magic. Do you think it’s true because they do?”

Severus scowled. “Of course not. Your relatives are vile excuses of human beings. Why should I take their opinion of anything?”

“Just so.”

Severus stared at their joined hands. “It is not the same, Harry. Your relatives are cruel, but there are many good people who believe me to be utterly worthless.”

“And the entire neighbourhood of Little Whinging thinks I’m criminally-insane and a ruthless troublemaker. Do you believe it because some of those people are decent?”

“That is debatable,” Severus growled.

So Little Whinging thought Harry as mad and dangerous as Bellatrix Lestrange? Well, Severus would do something about that when Harry returned home for the summer.

“Sir, it doesn’t matter.” Harry set his cocoa aside and took Severus’ hand. “It doesn’t matter if the people who think you’re not good enough are decent or not. They don’t know you. They’ve never taken the time to know you. They’ve never seen the gentle, loving being you are when the world isn’t breathing down your neck. So it doesn’t matter what they think. They don’t have the right to judge you when they don’t have the slightest clue who you are.”

“But, child, my being is half dark. Just by nature of what I am, the public is wise to fear me.”

Harry squeezed Severus’ hand. “Sir, we all have darkness inside us. Even me. Just look at Riddle. He’s purely human and he’s a monster. You, though, maybe you do have darkness inside, but you’ve chosen to follow the light, and that’s all that matters.”

Severus reeled, stunned at the depth of Harry’s acceptance for him. He wondered if he would ever grow accustomed to being wanted. To being forgiven.

“One day, sir,” Harry said with a smile, “I’m going to teach you that it’s okay for you to be loved.”

Severus set his cocoa on the side table, caught Harry into a hug, and thanked whatever benevolent deity had sent him such a wonderful friend.

 


 

Harry liked most of his professors. McGonagall was stern, but fair and knowledgeable, Flitwick made him laugh and taught him loads all at once, and the maternal and friendly Professor Sprout had forgotten more about plants than most people ever learned.

He adored Severus especially, though he had decided to think of the man as two different but conjoined people for safety’s safe. Severus was his dearest friend and guardian, his mentor, his companion, his confidant, and the one person he admired above all others. Professor Snape, much as Harry respected him, had to be cold and cruel to survive. Harry couldn’t like that alias at all, though he loved the yokai behind it.

It helped to think of them as separate people, and in reality, they were. The Snape that Severus presented to the public had died many years before when Dumbledore and Harry had brought him out of darkness and given him a second chance. The once-dark yokai had given the demonic side of his nature into the guardianship of his angelic side the moment Dumbledore had offered him a home, and Harry’s easy acceptance of his yokai features and himself in general had brought the tender heart within him to life. Now, he only wore the old Severus Snape as a mask.

But even Professor Snape was a good teacher. He had to be a bastard in class, but no one ever got hurt. No one ever failed. Anyone who really suffered, like Neville, got matched up with a tutor who could fill the gaps Severus’ role didn’t allow him to. And Professor Snape knew more about potions than anyone Harry had ever met. Not that Harry had met many potions masters, but he gathered from the respect Severus held within Hogwarts despite his masks that none of them could hold a candle to his friend anyway. And Harry learned well under Professor Snape and Severus alike. He respected both sides of the yokai, and loved him either way.

Not all of his teachers had earned his admiration, though. Binns bored him to tears. He bored everyone to tears, rather. No one managed to learn much in his class save Hermione Granger, who soaked up anything resembling knowledge, no matter how dry and boring. The other students used history as time to catch up on their other classes or sleep. Ron typically started snoring three minutes into class, and Harry spent much of the lesson working on his homework in aid of finding more time to spend with Severus in the evenings.

As much as he disliked Binns, however, nothing compared to Harry’s blatant hatred for Quirinus Quirrell, He couldn’t pinpoint what it was that left him so wary of the great, stuttering lump, but something set his nerves on edge whenever he came within five metres of the man. Something cold and evil, a malevolent force so dark, Harry swore he could taste it in the air near the garlic-infused idiot.

Severus, too, had warned Harry away from him. As had Dumbledore. And with both of his favourite professors set firmly against his least favourite, Harry knew he had good reason to worry. To that end, he kept his distance and didn’t speak up much in class.

He had hoped that was enough to protect him.

“Now, c-c-class, the thing you have t-to understand about g-g-grindylows is this: they have v-v-very brittle f-f-fingers. Look here. I will d-draw a d-d-diagram.”

Quirrell tended to have everything he wanted on the board ready to go at the start of the lesson, so the fact that he planned to add to it had Harry suspicious and intrigued.

Until the professor turned his back and the voice started. “Harry… Potter….”

Harry jolted and looked around, but no one paid him any mind.

“Ah… Harry Potter, I sssee you.”

Harry gulped and nudged Ron’s shoulder. “Mate,” he whispered, “did you hear that?”

Ron frowned. “Hear what?”

“Someone hissed my name. Like a snake or something.”

“A snake?”

“Yeah, didn’t you h—”

The voice started again. “Harry Potter… kill… kill… kill!”

“Shite,” Harry gasped and jerked back.

“Mate? Are you sure you’re all right?”

“Didn’t you hear it? It wants to kill me!”

Ron gave him a wary look. “Harry, I reckon you’ve been staying up too late. Working yourself too hard. Nobody said anything about killing you.”

“But….”

Harry looked around, biting his lip in worry, but the other students all had their eyes on Quirrell, and no quick motions gave away a sudden turn.

“You’re sure you didn’t hear it, Ron?”

“Don’t you think I’d have done something more than look at you if I had done?”

“Oh.” Harry’s shoulders slumped. “Oh, I reckon you’re right. I don’t hear it anymore anyway.”

“See? You’re just working yourself too hard. We’ll take some time to relax after classes, maybe go for a walk. Play some chess. You’ll be fine.”

“Y-yeah. I… yeah, maybe you’re right.”

“I always am.”

Harry stifled a snort and opened his mouth to reply, but Quirrell interrupted him. “If I c-c-could have your attention, please?”

Harry winced and focused on the lesson again, though the strange voice he had heard still troubled him. Should he tell Professor Snape about it? Maybe the yokai would know what was happening.

But… what if it was just in his head? What if he had simply imagined it? Would the professor think he was a freak like his relatives did? Would he abandon Harry?

Merlin, Harry didn’t think he could bear that.

Maybe Ron had a point. He would take it easy after classes for a while, and if the voice came back after some rest, well… then he might tell the professor. But not yet.

A tendril of guilt curled around Harry’s stomach, but he ignored it. Everything would be all right. He was sure of it. Really.

“So you see,” Quirrell went on, “though g-g-grindylows will d-drag you under if you g-give them half the chance, it’s q-q-quite easy to break their grip….”

 


 

Harry stood, triumphant and terrified, over the unconscious troll. He was drenched, panting, and covered in gods knew what slimy substances, but they were all alive. Ron and he had saved Hermione. Gods, what a rush. It was almost worth the terror and chaos… until the professors arrived and Harry caught sight of the anger within Professor Snape’s eyes. Dear Merlin, the yokai looked as though he might combust.

“Detention, Potter. Now. I’m fully aware this had to be your harebrained scheme, and you shall pay for it, whether Miss Granger thinks it prudent to cover for your foolishness or not!”

McGonagall opened her mouth as if she might protest, but at one look from Professor Snape, she shut it again quickly.

“Granger, Weasley, off with you before I decide to take you down with the ship.” He waited until they had almost scurried out of reach. “Oh, and fifty points from Gryffindor. Each!”

Ron started to grumble, but Hermione clapped her hand over his mouth and dragged him away.

“Y-yes, sir, sorry, sir.”

She led him away, and at the yokai’s stern glare, Harry followed after Professor Snape, terrified this would be the mistake that broke everything. He should have realised he couldn’t have a real friendship with an adult. He should have realised no one other than Ron, and maybe Hermione now, would ever really care about him. Gods, it was all his fault, too. He had just meant to save her, but it could have all gone so wrong, and… and….

And now he had lost his dearest friend because of it.

Tears had blurred his vision long before they reached the dungeons, but despite the occasional stumble, Harry refused to let them fall.

The third time he tripped, a hand fell upon his shoulder, gentler than he had expected though Snape’s claws still looked vicious, and turned him to face the professor.

“Potter,” the yokai said in a voice barely above a growl, though Harry could swear he heard a note of concern under the anger, “are you injured?”

Harry looked away so he mightn’t have to see the hatred in the professor’s dark eyes. “N-no, sir.”

“Do attempt not to trip over your feet like a buffoon every ten metres then.”

Snape’s voice was cold, and yet, the hand that stayed on Harry’s shoulder, that guided him towards the potions master’s office, didn’t pinch or push. Instead, Snape’s thumb moved in a small, soothing gesture over Harry’s collarbone. Why? Didn’t he hate Harry now?

 He dared not utter a word though the professor’s actions confused him. Instead, he followed Snape into his office, head down and eyes swimming. He kept his eyes on the floor and his sniffles quiet until the door shut behind him and the usual wards went up.

“Harry….” There was no anger in Professor Snape’s voice, only terrible pain. “Oh gods, child.” Strong arms caught him up and held him tight, and hot tears fell hard and fast against his hair. “For Merlin’s sake, never terrify me like that again!”

Harry’s breath caught and his heart jolted. “S-sir? I… aren’t you angry?”

Severus—this wasn’t his cold professor any longer, it was his friend—he held Harry still tighter. His entire body was trembling.

“No, I am not angry, child, only frightened. Did you think that I was?”

“You… you looked so… and I thought—maybe I deserved you to hate me. I thought I’d ruined everything, and—” Harry’s voice broke on a sob. “I’m s-sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Oh, little one.” Severus knelt and tugged Harry close, holding him tighter than he had ever done before. “Forgive me. I suppose I was angry, but not for the reasons you have thought.” He held Harry’s face and rubbed tears away. “Ssh, hush now. I could never hate you, child. You are my friend and always will be. I care for you more than anyone in my life other than Albus, and it is for that reason alone that I was angry. You frightened me, Harry.”

“I-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to.”

“I know, little one. I know you only meant to help Miss Granger, but tonight could have ended so badly, Harry. Do you have any idea how dangerous mountain trolls are? I have no idea how you managed to defeat one with nothing but two other first years to help, but you were lucky—exceedingly so—not to be crushed or torn to bits. And that was what made me sharp—the fear that I might have lost you. That I still might, if you continue to place yourself in such danger without a thought.”

Harry whimpered and buried his head in Severus’ shoulder. “S-sorry, so sorry. Was just trying to save her. Thought no one would listen. No one ever has done before, not until you.”

“Harry, I am not the only person who cares for you and would risk their lives to see you safe. The professors here are meant to protect you and would rush to your aid in a moment, if you had only asked. The headmaster, especially, would do anything to see you safe.” Severus took a shaky breath. “And I would die before letting you come to harm.”

“B-but I couldn’t ask you, sir. I’d have gotten you hurt if I tried.”

“Of course you may ask, particularly in an emergency. If I am the only person about, no one would question it, though I would need to act as though I did not care until we were out of sight and earshot.”

Severus squeezed Harry close against his chest. “Please, the next time something like this happens, ask an adult for help. Please, never be so reckless again.” He leaned back to look into Harry’s eyes, and the boy’s heart broke at the sight of tears running down his professor’s face unchecked. “Harry, promise me. Promise me you will never put yourself at such needless risk again. I have lost everyone I have ever cared about save only you and Albus. Please do not make me lose you, too.”

“I promise, sir. I promise.” Harry buried a storm of tears in Severus’ strong shoulder, relieved and guilty at once. “M’sorry, so sorry.”

“Ssh,” Severus whispered. “Ssh, it’s all right now. You’re safe. I have you, and I still care about you, little one.”

Harry clung to Severus’ back and trembled in his arms, dizzy with the sure knowledge that Severus loved him. That he cared for Harry’s life more than his own and would be miserable if Harry came to harm.

“Won’t scare you like this again. I promise. Never scare you again.”

Strong wings folded him up and a soft tail wrapped around him. “Thank you,” Severus murmured against Harry’s hair, his voice tremulous from emotion. “Thank you.”

Harry’s tears didn’t stop for a long time.

 


 

Harry held on to his bucking broom like mad and, in between rounds of trying not to die, searched the crowds for the arsehole who wanted him dead. Someone had to be jinxing him—Nimbus 2000s didn’t suddenly decide to unseat their riders for no reason at all.

He caught sight of Professor Snape watching him and muttering, his expression intense with concentration, but knew better than to suspect his best friend. Snape was trying to keep him on his broom, Harry was sure of it. But he couldn’t see anyone else chanting….

A flash of blue caught his attention. His broom gave a violent lurch and tossed him off, down to one hand, and Harry had to struggle with all his might to hold on. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of blue again—Hermione’s bluebell flames creeping up Professor Snape’s robes. The yokai had sensed them, no doubt, but he refused to break eye-contact with Harry. He refused to stop fighting to save him.

Until McGonagall also saw the flames and shoved Professor Snape over, attempting to smother out the fire. Hermione slipped away, but Harry hardly had time to notice before his broom gave a fiercer lurch than ever before and tossed him off. A terrified scream ripped from his throat… at least until something lodged itself in his windpipe and cut off his air. A bug? Even as he plummeted to the earth, he cursed his luck that if he somehow managed to avoid being splattered on the pitch, he would choke to death soon after.

He seemed to be falling too slow—shouldn’t he have already hit the ground? Hoping it came fast enough to save him, he summoned his broom nonverbally and leapt astride it again a half a metre from the ground. He tumbled off, still gasping and choking, and at Madam Hooch’s firm pat on the back, coughed up what looked oddly like….

“And he’s got the snitch! Harry Potter has caught the snitch! Gryffindor wins!”

“Near choked on it, more like,” said Madam Hooch with a huff.

Harry could only groan and slump onto the grass, panting, aching all over, and furious at his well-meaning friends.

 


 

Hermione tagged along after a stalking Harry, her voice apologetic and full of worry. “Harry, I’m sorry. I thought for sure Snape was jinxing you. He wasn’t breaking eye-contact, he hates you, and he was muttering under his breath. It looked so much like a jinx….”

“You know what else it looks like?” Harry couldn’t help the edge in his tone. “A bloody countercurse. Snape was trying to save my life. Maybe he’s an arsehole, but he’s still a professor here, and we shouldn’t doubt his loyalties, even if he does hate me.”

Hermione sniffled and wiped her eyes. “I’m s-sorry, Harry. I was just trying to help.”

His irritation faded and resignation replaced it. This was what they were supposed to think. Severus had to appear to hate Harry, even if he loved him in private. Gods, he hated this mess. She had only tried to help him. It wasn’t her fault that their situation gave her good reason to doubt Severus.

“It’s okay, ‘Mione. I mean, he is mean a lot, so I guess it wasn’t so farfetched to think he might have been jinxing me.”

“Yeah,” said Ron with a frown. “We were so sure it was him.”

“I know. It’s all right.”

“It’s not, though,” Ron said, his expression tense with worry. “Harry, if Snape wasn’t jinxing you, then who was?”

“I don’t know.”

 


 

Norberta had a new home, and Harry had finished his detention… but at what cost? He woke up in the hospital wing weakened, cold save for a warm spot on his chest, and aching all over. His head, in particular, felt as though someone had crashed a lorry between his eyes. Mother of Merlin, what had happened to him?

“Harry?”

A pool of black hair moved up from his chest, revealing twitching silver ears and the pale, exhausted face of his yokai friend. “Oh, Harry. You’re awake!”

Professor Snape’s hand clutched on Harry’s, and the boy controlled his wince despite the pain of sharp claws in his palm. Severus didn’t mean it. He was only terrified for him.

“I’m here, sir,” Harry whispered, voice raspy and frail.

“Harry….” Severus blinked tears down his face. “Oh gods, I was so afraid.”

Harry rubbed his fingers against Severus’ and gave him a wan smile despite the pain. “I’m okay, sort of, but… what… what happened?”

Dumbledore sat on his other side. “Do you remember the forest?”

Harry frowned. “The forest… unicorns… oh!” He tried to sit up, but upon realising he hadn’t the strength, just rattled his fears off in a shaky, hoarse voice, but at least one with more strength than his earlier whispers. “Sir, there was something in the forest under a cloak and it was drinking the unicorns’ blood! Is it a vampire?”

“Oh gods,” Severus breathed, his face stark white. “He is here, Albus. Somehow, the Dark Lord’s spirit is here.” He shuddered and clutched Harry’s hand tighter. “He can’t have you. I will not let him have you.”

This time, Harry couldn’t help but flinch and give a little whimper of pain. Severus drew back, horrified.

“Merlin, Harry! Why didn’t you tell me my claws had caught you?”

“Didn’t want to upset you,” Harry muttered as Severus healed his wrist. “You didn’t mean it. You were just scared.”

“Terrified.” Severus held Harry’s hand to his chest, this time keeping his claws away. “I am sorry, child. I did not intend to harm you.”

“It’s okay.” Harry rubbed Severus’ fingers and squeezed his hand. “I don’t understand though. Why do you say this means Vol—sorry, sir—Riddle is here?”

“Well, Harry,” said Dumbledore, twinkle absent, “unicorns are powerful beings. Their very essence is innocence, purity, and life. Their blood has the power of birth, of creation, and… of resurrection.” The old man closed his eyes and continued in grim tones. “Unicorn blood will grant its drinker life, even if one is on the verge of death, but it comes at a terrible cost. To kill something so pure, so innocent just to extend one’s own life—the drinker will be cursed. They will live, yes, but it is a cursed life, a half life. Pain, weakness, infirmity—all are rife in the existence of one who would be so evil as to extend their life by murdering one of nature’s purest beings.”

“Dear gods,” Harry rasped, sickened. “Who would be so mad?” He paled. “Wait. Riddle. You think—that’s why you think it was Riddle. He’s trying to resurrect himself!”

“So it seems,” said Dumbledore with a sad shake of his head.

“But… how? You said he became like a spirit or a wraith after the curse rebounded on him. How could he kill unicorns and drink their blood if he hasn’t a corporeal body?”

 Severus shuddered and held Harry’s hand tighter. “Possession, little one. It is possible he has possessed a beast of the forest and used them to slaughter the unicorns.”

“Or a human,” said Dumbledore with a grimace.

Harry paled. “Sweet Merlin. So all this means he’s out there in the forest, somewhere, biding his time?”

Dumbledore nodded, eyes troubled. “We did not expect him to come so close so soon. I had hoped fear of his vulnerability would drive him away.”

Severus met Dumbledore’s eyes. “He knows, Albus. He knows it is here. I have little doubt the unicorn blood is only a temporary measure until he can get his hands on….” He glanced to Harry and away. “Something better.”

Harry gasped. “Oh gods. He wants the stone. It’s protected, right? I mean, with more than just Fluffy?”

Severus and Dumbledore gaped at the boy.

“What?”

Severus fixed him with a piercing look. “How, precisely, did you learn of any of that, Harry? We had tried to keep it absolutely secret.”

Harry snorted. “I’m more observant than you give me credit for. So, is it?”

Dumbledore shook himself out of his daze. “Ah, yes, yes, the stone is protected. All of the instructors have placed enchantments around it. So please, do not go looking for it, child.”

Harry frowned, bemused. “Why would I want to? I’ve no desire to live forever. Everyone I knew and loved would die before me.”

Severus squeezed Harry’s hand. “You are a wise boy, Harry.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “And I wouldn’t risk it anyway. You asked me not to be so reckless. I wouldn’t go after the stone unless I had absolutely no other choice.”

“Don’t go after it at all. If something is wrong, tell one of us.”

“I promise.”

“Thank you, little one.”

 


 

Two weeks before the end of term, Harry heard the voice again as he passed Quirrell in the hall.

‘Tonight. I will be reborn tonight.’

“Reborn?”

Ron looked at him oddly and whispered, “What are you talking about?”

“Something just said it would be reborn tonight.” Harry froze. “The unicorns. Oh no. Hermione, Ron, we’ve got to—”

Quirrell looked over his shoulder, and Harry dragged his friends away, out of earshot of the evil man.

“Harry,” Hermione whispered once it was safe, “what’s going on?”

“I… well, a while ago, near the start of term, I heard a voice in Quirrell’s class. It said my name and that it wanted to kill me. Ron and I just put it down to stress, but I just heard it again, and this time it said it was going to be reborn tonight.” Harry gave her a terrified look. “Hermione, it’s Voldemort. I know it is. I don’t know how I can hear him but no one else can, but I know it’s him.”

“But how, Harry? How could he be here?”

“Well, Dumbledore told me he could possess….”

Harry froze as he recalled the one person who had been in both places he had heard the voices and the pieces clicked together. Every hair on his body stood on end and his spine rang with the cold tingle of dread.

“Oh shite. It’s Quirrell! That’s why he feels so bloody evil—Voldemort’s possessed him! Dear gods, we have to warn the headmaster.”

What?” Hermione slammed her hands on her hips and gave him a stern look. “Harry! Merlin, this is so dangerous. Why didn’t you say something sooner?”

Ron snorted. “Hermione, lay off. We thought it was stress, and besides, would you want to tell people you’re hearing murderous voices in your head that no one else can hear?”

She winced. “Er… maybe not. But come on, we have to tell Dumbledore right now.”

Harry huffed, “Well, that’s what I’ve just said!”

“Stop arguing and start moving,” Ron called, already five metres ahead of them. “We’ve got to hurry.”

“Right.” Harry raced after his friend to the headmaster’s office, but once they got past the gargoyle, McGonagall answered.

“Er….” Harry stumbled on his tongue, thrown by her appearance.

“May I help you, Mister Potter?”

“Er… oh!” He shook himself out of his shock. “Ma’am, where’s the headmaster? It’s an emergency.”

She frowned. “The headmaster is gone on urgent business, but I can help you. What is it?”

Harry gulped. McGonagall would be far less likely to listen than the headmaster, but he had to try. “Er… it’s the stone, ma’am. The stone you’ve all put protections around.”

“You-Know-Who is in the castle, ma’am,” said Ron, picking up the thread of Harry’s thoughts.

“And it’s Quirrell,” said Hermione. “Riddle possessed him.”

“And he’s after the stone,” Harry took over. “That’s why he’s been killing the unicorns here—he’s trying to come back to life!”

“And with the headmaster gone,” Hermione said in a grim tone, “Quirrell has a clear shot.”

“You have to call Professor Dumbledore back right away, ma’am,” said Harry. “Please. I can hear him, and Riddle said he would resurrect himself tonight!”

“He’s probably what drew the headmaster away in the first place,” Ron said.

“Just hurry, ma’am,” Harry pleaded.

McGonagall stood stock still for a moment, her face ashen and her eyes wide, then she fixed the three of them with her sternest glare. “I have no idea how you know about the stone, but I assure you it is quite safe. Professor Quirrell was one of the teachers to protect the stone. He has no need to steal it, and You-Know-Who is long since gone. Go to your dorms, now, before I give you detention for interfering in business that has no bearing on you.”

She shut the door in their faces, and Harry sank back into his friends’ shoulders. “What do we do now?”

Hermione grimaced. “Another professor, maybe?”

Harry winced. “If McGonagall isn’t going to listen to us, Snape is the only one left who might be strong enough to help.”

And Severus would believe him. Harry was sure of that.

Snape?” Ron gave Harry a worried look. “Mate, that man is so evil, he’s probably helping Q—”

“Stop right there,” Harry snapped. “How many times must the man save my life before you work out that he’s not evil? A git, maybe, but not evil. Didn’t he save me at the quidditch match?”

Ron winced. “Well, we don’t really know for sure he wasn’t jinxing y—”

“The instant McGonagall knocked him down, I fell off my broom, Ron! How much more proof do you need?”

“He might start acting human for a change,” Ron muttered and might have gone on, but Hermione interrupted him with a gasp and a hand on his mouth.

“Oh gods, the match! I remember it now. I saw Quirrell chanting, too, but since we were both sure it was Snape trying to hurt you, I thought he was chanting the anti-jinx. But… but I thought… I thought I’d misjudged—I was so far away and it was hard to see under the stands—but I thought he had looked satisfied when you fell, Harry.”

Harry raised an eyebrow at Ron.

Ron groaned and dragged himself down the hall towards the stairs. “All right, all right. We’ll go ask the bat. Not that it’s going to do any good. If even our own head of house won’t believe us, what makes you think Snape will?”

“He might not,” Harry said grimly, “but he won’t take chances either. Whether he throws us out on our ear or not, he’ll call Dumbledore and warn him something is wrong. That much I’m sure of.”

“We’ll have to risk it anyway,” Hermione said with a shake of her head. “He’s the only teacher left who’s strong enough to fight Riddle.”

“Flitwick might be,” Ron grumbled, but he raced down the stairs after Harry regardless.

“Flitwick is gone, too,” Hermione said. “Don’t you remember? He said he wouldn’t be about for office hours tonight. I asked him if he was all right after class, and he told me that his cousin isn’t expected to survive the night. He’s gone to St. Mungo’s to pay his last respects.”

“Damn. That means Snape really is our last chance.”

“Yeah, so we’d best stop bitching about it and hurry it the hell up,” Harry snapped. “We don’t have time to argue.”

“Right,” said Hermione and Ron at once and both tore off after Harry.

Harry’s booming knock on Severus’ office door and panicked cry went unanswered. He tried again, then a third time, and cried, “Please. It’s an emergency!”

A portrait of a dark-haired, green-eyed man with a passing resemblance to Harry and Severus’ smirk appeared on the man’s door. “Is there any particular reason you are so set on beating down the door to my chambers, young ones?”

“Er… your chambers? This is Snape’s office, isn’t it?”

“Aye, and I am his guardian portrait, as for all the heads of my house.”

“Slytherin,” Harry said with a gasp. “You’re Salazar Slytherin?”

“Aye. I ask again, children, what is so dire that it requires you to beat my chamber door to dust?”

“Oh gods.” Harry wrapped his arms around his chest. “W-where’s Professor Snape? He isn’t in?”

“He would have answered the door himself if so.”

“Oh shite,” Ron breathed.

“Ten points from Gryffindor, little lion.”

Ron blinked. “You can take points?”

“It hardly matters at the moment,” Hermione said with a huff. “Professor Slytherin, can you warn the other portraits? Tell them Voldemort is in the castle. He’s possessed Professor Quirrell and he’s after the stone. Hurry, please!”

Slytherin paled. “Ach, I warned Severus something was amiss.”

Harry nodded. “Where is he, sir?”

The portrait gave him an assessing look. “You, I know. For you, little snake in lion’s clothes, I will speak. He set out to gather mooncaps and withermist, but it is not the season. I fear there is some charm to blame.”

“Confunded,” Hermione gasped. “Oh no.”

Harry winced. “Oh gods, I hope he’s okay.”

“He’s strong enough to break through it the moment he realises the ingredients aren’t ready,” Hermione said with a shake of her head. “But as we can’t contact him, the real question is what in Merlin’s name do we do now?”

Ron looked to the portrait. “I don’t suppose you can warn him, sir?”

Slytherin’s eyebrow shot up. “Powerful though I may be, little lion, I am still only paint and magic now.”

“That’s a no,” Harry said with a grimace. “Now what?”

Hermione’s shoulders set with resolution. “Professor Slytherin, go. Please. Warn anyone you can.”

Slytherin nodded and dashed off. His portrait vanished from the door as soon as he was gone.

“That’s that,” said Ron. “But now what do we do?”

“There’s nothing else for it,” said Hermione with a grim look. “All the professors we need are gone or aren’t listening. We’ll have to go ourselves.”

Harry sighed and followed them down the stairs. “Snape is going to kill me for this when he gets back, you know.”

It was true enough, if not for the reasons his friends thought.

“Yeah, well, Snape might be in on it, whatever that Slytherin person said. He’s evil enough.”

Harry barely resisted shooting Ron a hateful look, instead settling for grinding his teeth and clenching his fists under his robe. The sooner Voldemort vanished for good, the better.

“Come on, you two,” Hermione urged. “We’d better hurry.”

Harry shoved his anger aside and raced to the forbidden corridor.

 


 

Harry woke in the hospital wing again, a dark head next to his shoulder and silky black hair spilling all over his arm and chest. Soft feathers covered his belly and stretched over him, warm and protective, and sharp-tipped fingers tangled with his own.

“Severus,” Harry whispered.

The professor’s breathing was slow and soft, indicative of sleep, though quiet sobs broke through every now and then.

Gods. Even in his sleep, Severus was terrified for him.

Harry lifted his free arm to stroke Severus’ hair, though it was heavy as lead. “I’m so sorry. We tried to get help first, we really did.”

Severus’ breath hitched and a whimper escaped him, but he didn’t wake.

“How long have you been at my side? Gods, you poor man.” Harry didn’t dare call him what he truly was, not knowing if Severus was invisible or the room warded.

Something made a tinny whistling sound beside him and startled Harry. He turned and glared at a pile of cards, flowers, and sweets from his ‘admirers.’ Admirers—paugh. None of them had any idea who Harry even was. The only person who had ever stuck by Harry’s side through everything was sleeping beside him, so exhausted from his vigil and so distraught from Harry’s pain, he had fallen asleep in tears atop Harry’s shoulder.

That was true admiration. Harry touched his fingers to his lips and transferred the air kiss to Severus’ furry ear.

“Thank you for always staying by me.”

Severus’ ear twitched, and he gave a stuttered gasp. The yokai’s head whipped up and startled dark eyes focused on Harry, red-rimmed and shadowed with lack of sleep. A three-day or so beard graced his jaw. Harry’s fingers itched to touch it, but he kept his hands to himself.

“Harry!” Severus gave a pained cry and caught him into his arms. “I have never been so terrified for you in my life, not since the day I thought you had all been killed.”

Hot tears dripped onto Harry’s hair and face, and guilt turned his stomach to lead.

“I’m so sorry, sir,” Harry whispered. “So sorry.”

“Ssh. It is not your fault, child. Minerva and Salazar told me what happened. I know you tried to seek help and found none. I am proud of you for your bravery, but Merlin, you terrified me.”

“Are you okay, sir? Slytherin said he thought you’d been hexed.”

“Yes, Quirrell managed to sneak a Confundus charm onto me while I was eating dinner, but I threw it off five metres into the forest and ran back to the castle. I arrived in the final chamber half a moment after you, but I could not reach you until the shade left Quirrell.”

“Oh gods. You saw?”

Severus stroked Harry’s hair and blinked tears down his face. “I have never been so afraid.”

“Sir, I’m so sorry. We tried so hard….”

“I know, little one. All is well now.”

“What about Quirrell? Did they arrest him?”

Severus closed his eyes. “Child… he… he is dead. The possession—the dark lord is not kind to those he claims as his own. There was hardly enough left of his brain to support life when Riddle had finished with him, and so, he did not last long after the shade abandoned his body.”

“Shite,” Harry whispered, grief and guilt sharp as a blade in his chest. “I didn’t mean to—”

“Ssh. You did nothing wrong. The dark lord killed Quirrell, not you.”

It didn’t ease the grief in Harry’s chest, but given the situation, he thought it best not to comment on it. Especially since he didn’t understand it himself. He had hated Quirrell, hadn’t he? Why feel so terrible over his demise when the bastard had been out to kill Harry all along?

Still, he couldn’t quell the pain, so he tried not to think of it. It would fade soon.

Wouldn’t it?

“H-how long have I been unconscious, sir?”

Severus shuddered and took Harry’s hand again. His fingers trembled against Harry’s skin. “Over a week, child. I had begun to fear you would never wake again.”

Harry made a strangled sound of shock. “A week? Sweet Merlin. Have you been here the entire time?”

“As much as I could do, yes. I could not afford to skip my classes, and I had no choice but to mark the students’ work as usual and stay away when your friends were present, but every night I have slept here, beside you.”

Harry kissed his scruffy cheek. “Thank you. Are the others okay? Ron?”

“He recovered nearly an hour after being admitted. His injuries were far less damaging. You… were not physically harmed, but something of the Dark Lord’s shade… we do not know for certain what happened, but it hurt your core and soul. Badly. That is why it took you so long to heal. There is no treatment for such wounds—one must recover naturally. I had begun to fear you were lost to me forever.”

More tears dripped down Severus’ face, and Harry brushed them away. “Ssh. I’m never going to leave you alone, okay? It’s all right.”

Severus’ voice was small and afraid. “You will not leave me?”

“No, sir,” Harry whispered. “I think you’ve been left alone far too much as is. I’ll be your friend for always.”

Severus’ lips curled in a tentative smile, though he still wept. “Always it is.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Home is Where the Tengu Is

31 July, 1993

The summer had begun, and Harry was back at the Dursleys’. But this time, he knew the identity of the Tengu guarding his roof, and every night, Severus apparated into Harry’s room to ask after his day and make sure he was all right.

He was. Now that his relatives believed Harry could curse them if they angered him enough, they avoided him wherever possible. Which was just fine with Harry, thank you very much. In fact, he had garnered immense entertainment from pretending to use magic against Dudley every time the prat threatened him. And the occasional actual spell from Severus certainly added to the effect.

At least it had until Dobby decided to intervene.

Harry stood in the middle of his bedroom, staring at the Ministry notice in his hand. His uncle had locked him in the room, and Harry had his doubts the man would ever let him out if he hadn’t had a certain Tengu on his side. Thank the gods Severus would be there soon, or else Harry had no idea what would happen to him.

With a quiet pop, Severus appeared by the window, his eyes dark with worry. “Harry, what precisely happened here earlier?”

So Harry told him. About the dinner party he wasn’t allowed to be a part of, about the house elf and the owl and the notice from the Ministry, even though he didn’t actually perform any underage magic.

“And the worst thing is, now the Dursleys know I’m not supposed to use magic outside of school. They’ve locked me in here and think I’ll get in trouble if I curse them for it.”

Severus scowled. “Did they now? They shall pay for that shortly.”

Harry hesitated. “But won’t the Ministry be watching for other magic use here, sir? Will I get in trouble if you cast spells?”

Severus smirked. “If I were a human wizard? Absolutely. Since I am a yokai, they cannot track my demonic magic at all. It shows up on their sensors as atmospheric disturbances. And all the curses I cast are demonic magic. Besides, you need to be at Hogwarts to serve the thrice a week year-long detentions I assigned you for breaking into the forbidden corridor.”

Harry chuckled softly. “If anyone knew I liked those detentions better than any part of the day….”

“Yes, let us not tell anyone, please.”

“I know, sir. I’d never endanger you.”

Severus hugged Harry against his side, wrapping his wing around the boy too. “I trust you. And….” His cheeks coloured. “And I have a small gift for you. If I had known it was to be the only one you received, I would have—”

“You got me a birthday present?” Harry beamed. “I’ve never had one but Hedwig. Can I see?”

May I, and yes, you may.” Severus tugged a small package from his pocket and laid it on Harry’s lap. “I… forgive me that it is not… I had to find something that the others would believe you bought for yourself.”

Harry found Severus’ nervousness adorable and gave him a warm smile. “I’m sure it’s fine, sir.” He tore open the silver and blue wrappings and grinned at the golden chain and lion pendant within.”

“How much did it hurt you to buy this?”

Severus gave him a mock-aggrieved sigh. “You have no idea.”

Harry laughed and hugged him tight. “Thank you. I love it. Will you help me put it on? I’ve never worn jewellery before.”

“Well, this is hardly much as far as jewellery goes, but I will help.” Severus unfastened the chain and hooked it around Harry’s neck. The pendant hung just under the height of his collar. “The true gift is in its protective charms. It takes years to learn the skill of identifying various types of poisons or potions in your food and drink, but we may not have that kind of time before someone attempts to drop a love potion in your drink or ‘improve upon’ your dinner. That will keep you safe from most poisons and mind-altering substances, bar only the most lethal. No charm can protect you against those completely. However, even if someone does slip a lethal potion into your food or drink, this will slow its progress enough to give you time to seek aid.”

“Really? That’s brilliant, Severus. Thank you. Did you make the charms?”

“Being part angel is good for something.”

Harry scooted into the yokai’s soft feathers with a smile. “Good for keeping me warm, too.”

Severus chuckled and wrapped his wing around the boy’s shoulders. “Now that you have your gift, what plague shall I set upon your relatives this time?”

“Oh, I get to choose?” Harry hid his pendant under his shirt and considered his options. “Hmm. How about frogs or toads? Petunia hates them.”

Severus smirked devilishly. “Prepare to cover your ears in three… two… Rubatarum Maxima!” Green light shot out of his palm, detoured under the door, and headed towards the master bedroom across the hall.

Harry and Severus pressed their hands over their ears as a chorus of croaks blasted through the house. A shrill screech sounded next, drowning out even the deluge of toads.

VERNON!”

Harry snickered into Severus’ shoulder. “Wicked.”

“We shall see how long your uncle’s edict lasts this time.”

“Are you still invisible?”

Severus nodded. “I never remove the cloak while I am here. There is no point, since you are always able to see me whether I am invisible or not.”

“I’m glad I gave you it back. It’s more reliable than a spell.”

“Except on a windy day,” Severus muttered.

“Yeah. It sure came in handy when I needed to sneak down to your quarters though.”

“I will return it once the summer is over.”

“Thank you, sir. If you ever need it during term, just as—”

A deep voice boomed, “BOY!

Severus and Harry went quiet. Vernon slammed the door open, revealing a huffing, puffing, slime-covered minotaur of a man in spattered pyjamas.

“Now you’ve gone and done it,” Vernon said with a manic gleam in his eye. “You’ll be cast out, you hear? And don’t think we’ll put you up. You’ll be put out on the streets, and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

A flick of Severus’ wrist dropped a particularly giant toad on the man’s head. While Vernon sputtered and fought to extricate himself from the creature's slimy legs, Harry gave him an innocent look.

“But it’s not me. I can’t do magic without a wand yet, Uncle Vernon. I’m only just out of my first year of Hogwarts.”

“BOY! Get rid of this—urgh—this instant!”

“I told you, I didn’t do magic. I don’t think my guardian angel liked your little plot to lock me in here all summer, though. Maybe you should reconsider?”

Whatever Vernon responded with, it wasn’t in English. The man stormed out, tossed the unfortunate toad somewhere, and slammed the door.

Severus and Harry chuckled.

“He’ll break by Wednesday,” Harry said with a snort. “In the meantime, are you going to keep me company?”

“Of course.” Severus conjured a chess board and sat behind the black pieces. “You have the first move.”

Chess? You’ll beat me in three turns!”

“Then you shall simply have to watch and learn, hmm?”

Harry grinned. “Ron won’t know what hit him.”

“Precisely. Now, I advise you to begin by moving this pawn here, to F4.”

Harry sat down and gave the pawn a suspicious look. “How do I know you’re not teaching me to lose even more spectacularly than usual?”

Severus snorted. “Then you will know what not to do, won’t you?”

“Fair enough.” Harry moved his pawn as directed. “You know, if my uncle comes in and sees me playing chess with an invisible person, he’s going to have a coronary.”

Severus’ eyes sparkled with mirth. “Is this supposed to deter me? Your move, Harry. I think placing your next pawn here, on G4, would be wise. Perhaps you may last five turns instead of three.”

Harry laughed and obeyed.

“Checkmate.”

Professor!”

Severus laughed and reset the board.

 


 

Dursley hadn’t relented by morning, so Severus conjured a loo off of Harry’s bedroom and guarded the door while Harry showered and freshened up. Severus borrowed it as soon as Harry finished, then apparated to Hogsmeade and returned with breakfast and butterbeer from the Three Broomsticks.

“Oh Merlin! This looks brilliant. Thank you, sir.”

Severus ruffled Harry’s hair and transformed his desk into a table and chairs. “Eat, child, and we shall work on your studies when you have finished.”

Harry obeyed, though distractedly. “Sir,” he said when he had nearly finished, “what do you think Dobby was talking about? What plot against me?”

“Merlin, Harry, I do not know. It could be anything. All I can tell you is that I am… well, I am not positive, but I believe I may know who Dobby’s master is. And if I do, then I can promise you that elf would be in a position to know if there was a dark plot. However, that is all I can say definitively at this time.”

“Whose elf is he?”

“I am not certain, as I have said. I will tell you when I am.”

Harry put his breakfast away when he had finished and listened against the keyhole. “Your silencing charms are good, sir. I can’t hear anything even when I try.”

Severus gave him a searching look. “You cannot? I had thought that you might be able to, as you are always able to see and hear me.”

Harry shrugged. “Maybe it’s just because I like you.”

Severus gave him a hesitant smile. “I am glad of it. Now, I assume you wanted to know what your relatives are up to?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Come.” He opened his arms and knelt to Harry’s height. “Look into my eyes, little one. I will use a scrying spell and project it to you, but you mustn’t try to keep me out of your mind.”

Harry stood near Severus, though he frowned in uncertainty. “Will it hurt?”

“Not at all, child, so long as you do not fight me. If you do, I fear we shall both have a bit of a headache.”

Harry hesitated. “J-just a headache, sir?”

Severus gently held Harry’s face, keeping his claws well away. “I would never harm you, child.”

Harry’s cheeks went pink and a shy smile crossed his face. “O-okay. I trust you, sir.”

Severus closed his eyes, feeling the need to offer this young man a gift he hadn’t given in twenty years: the power of his name. “Severus,” he murmured. “Call me Severus when we are alone or with the headmaster.”

“But you’re my teacher!”

Severus chuckled softly. “If it makes you feel better, you may refer to me by my title when we are in lessons as well. But you are also my… my friend, Harry, though you are so much younger, and I would like you to use my name.”

“Really?”

“Yes. First names give bonds power. And I would like our friendship to be strong.”

Harry hugged Severus tight and nuzzled his face into his hair. A soft kiss fell on Severus’ ear, and Severus twitched it back, a bit uncomfortable with the sensation.

“Okay, S-Severus.” Harry pulled back and gave him a shy smile. “I already did call you that one time.”

Severus gave him a mock-stern look. “Did you now? Without my permission? Hmm. When did this terrible crime take place?”

Harry covered a giggle, but his mirth faded fast. “After… after Quirrell last year. When I woke up and you were asleep beside me, still crying. I’m sorry, sir—Severus. I really didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

Severus tugged Harry back into his arms and hugged him tight. When he pulled back, his eyes were suspiciously wet. He blinked hard and dragged his tail across them—a more effective way to dry his face than using his hands.

Harry caught said appendage and petted it. “I’ve always loved your tail, you know. It’s so pretty and soft.”

Severus gave a choked laugh. “Yes, I know. You were fascinated with it, and my ears, when you were a baby.”

Harry grinned and petted Severus’ ears. “They are cute.”

Severus felt his face flushing and ducked away. “Ah… thank you? I think?”

Harry chuckled and released him. “Cute is a good thing, Severus. But let’s see what they’re up to now, okay?”

Severus nodded and lifted his head once more. “Look into my eyes, Harry. Don’t look away.” Harry fixed his gaze on Severus’, and Severus whispered, “Conspectus Spectaculum, Legilimens Inverto.”

Severus’ vision expanded and altered to focus on the area outside the door. He guided his spell throughout the house, searching for Harry’s relatives, and finding them in the kitchen. Vernon was booming into the phone, Petunia sat at the table and twisted her hands in her lap, a plate of bangers and eggs sitting untouched before her, and Dudley sat by his mother, shovelling eggs and bangers down his gullet. As Severus watched, the boy stole all the sausages from his mother’s plate and stuffed them into his mouth in one bite. He was eying his father’s plate before he had even swallowed.

“Pig,” Harry muttered. Severus couldn’t agree more.

Vernon shouted, “What do you mean, you can’t come out on a Sunday? Did you not just hear me tell you my entire master bedroom is swimming in frogs?” A pause ensued. “Yes, I meant frogs. No, it’s not a joke! Why would I—” He pulled the phone away from his ear and glared at it. “The bloody bint hung up on me. Bloody buggering fu—”

Petunia covered her mouth and gasped, “Vernon!”

Vernon slammed the phone down so hard, the receiver snapped in two and clattered on the floor. They didn’t need the scrying spell to hear the verbal tirade that followed as a result.

Severus cancelled the spell with a soft laugh and pulled back from Harry’s mind. “Well, that was certainly entertaining, hmm?”

“Totally worth it,” Harry said with a grin.

A wicked grin crossed Severus’ face. “Well, Harry. You’ve now been a prisoner for twelve hours. I believe it is time to, as they say, up the ante.”

Harry smirked. “Want to do… grasshoppers this time? Right on Dudley’s breakfast?”

Severus snickered. “You, my friend, should have been a Slytherin. Three… two… Locustae Herba Maxima!”

Severus let down the silencing spell long enough to hear Petunia screech, even louder than the twin roars of a plague of toads and grasshoppers.

VERNON!”

Both wizards dissolved into hysterical laughter.

 


 

Vernon had relented long before Wednesday. The final plague of slugs in the living room, plus Dudley’s incessant whinging about starving and hungry and make the bugs go away, Dad drove him over the edge. The next morning, he let Harry out, eyes bulging with rage, and ordered him to clean up the mess by hand.

“Oh. Might I go and play when I’m finished?”

Vernon raged, “You won’t set a toe outside this house until it’s spotless, you hear?”

Behind Harry, Severus waved his wand, and the plagues vanished, leaving the house squeaky clean.

“Well, that’s done then,” Harry said with a grin. “Bye!”

They raced past his spluttering uncle with matching grins, not stopping until they reached the park, where they collapsed into fits of laughter.

“D-did you see his face?” Harry choked out, tears running down his cheeks with his mirth. “I thought his eyes would pop out of his skull!”

“Not that it would detract much from his appearance if they did,” Severus muttered through snorts and chuckles.

Harry turned and buried a squeal of laughter in Severus’ shoulder. “Merlin, thank you for this memory, Severus. Best punishment ever.”

Severus laughed softly and wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “I am glad you did not need to suffer through alone.”

“Yeah.” Harry’s mirth vanished. He leaned up and gave Severus a soft smile. “And you don’t have to either, you know? Whenever it gets too hard, you can come to me, okay? You’re not alone anymore.”

Severus’ breath lodged in his throat and his heart swelled. He hugged Harry tightly against his side and wrapped him in his wings, making sure they were both hidden under his spells and silenced from the passers-by.

“I… I have been alone so long, Harry, that I am not sure I know how not to be.”

“Well, I’ll just teach you then.” Harry laid his head on Severus’ shoulder and sighed, the sound rich with contentment. “Like this. We just share what moments we can, and be happy with each other. Doesn’t that sound nice after so many years alone, for both of us?”

Severus brushed a kiss atop Harry’s hair and hugged him tight. “Yes, child. It sounds lovely.”

As they watched clouds go by and picked out shapes, years of darkness and coldness began to melt from Severus’ soul. Harry’s warmth had brought him into the sun, at last.

“There,” Severus murmured, pointing to a long cloud with a blob at one end. “It’s your Aunt Petunia’s neck.”

Harry chortled helplessly, and Severus thought he had never been so happy.

 


 

Harry’s cart bounced off the wall of Platform 9 ¾ and sent him, and all his belongings, flying. He landed with an oof atop Ron and grimaced as Hedwig’s cage soared into his open arms.

“Gotcha,” he gasped out, winded, and set the squawking bird down beside him.

Ron grumbled, “Gerroff me, will ya?”

Harry scrambled off his friend and helped him to his feet, blushing at the mess that lay all around the platform and the stares of the bystanders. “S-sorry, sorry,” Harry called. “Lost control of the trolley!”

The crowd muttered and whispered among themselves, but they moved on, and Harry bustled about to put his belongings away before the nearby Muggles could see more than they ought. Ron helped, and in a few minutes, they had Harry’s trunk packed once more and Hedwig back to her usual placid self.

Harry pushed at the wall and gave a whimper of dismay when it wouldn’t give. “Now what?”

“Um… call for my parents?”

Harry shot him a wry look. “How? We can’t get through the barrier.”

Ron grimaced. “Reckon they can’t get through to us either?”

“Clearly not, or your mum would’ve been here fussing over us already.”

“Oh. But they could apparate…?”

“In the middle of King’s Cross Station?”

“Right. Muggles.” Ron sighed and kicked the wall, cursing when it didn’t give. “Bloody hell. Why won’t the barrier let us through, mate? It’s never blocked us before.”

“I dunno. It’s weird.” Harry slumped onto the bench beside the platform and stared forlornly at his owl. “Guess I’m not going back to Hogwarts after all.”

“What? Mate, that’s madness.”

Harry just gave a bitter snort. “My uncle will be pleased.” Or maybe not, considering all the plagues Severus had set upon him that summer.

“Oi, don’t talk like that. We’ll get back. We just have to think… floo powder?”

“Where?”

“Right.” Ron rubbed his chin. “We could call a… what do you call it, a texi?”

“A taxi, and how would a Muggle vehicle make it to Hogwarts?”

“Right, anti-Muggle charms.” Ron frowned, then sat up with a gasp. “But my dad’s auto could make it, couldn’t it?”

Harry gave him an annoyed look. “Sure, let’s just apparate across the barrier and ask him to drive us. Oh, wait….”

“Shut it, prat,” said Ron with a snicker. “I meant we could drive it.”

“Er….” Harry gave him a nervous look. “Do you know how to drive?”

“Yeah! Well, I mean, you just put your wand in the ignition and steer, right? How hard could it be?”

Harry gulped. “I… don’t think this is such a great idea, Ron. So many things could go wrong.”

“Like what?”

“We could crash and be killed, crash and kill someone else, be caught and be expelled, get your dad in trouble with the Ministry….”

Ron pouted. “Well, do you have any better ideas?”

Harry sighed and looked to the sky, then startled when he saw Severus perched on the roof above the station, his expression worried and his wings fluttering in the breeze. The yokai nocked his head towards his feathers, then towards Harry’s left.

“Harry, mate?” Ron followed his gaze and frowned. “What are you looking at?”

“Oh. Just a bird.” Harry gasped. “A bird! Sweet Merlin, we’re bloody idiots.” He popped open his trunk and fished out a scrap of parchment and a biro.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley,

We’re stuck behind the barrier to the platform and can’t get through. We don’t know what happened. We’re waiting at the station. Can you get us to school another way? Maybe with the car or by the floo?

Thanks,

Ron and Harry

 

Harry fastened the note to Hedwig’s leg. “Take that to Missus Weasley, but don’t let anyone on this side see you with it.”

Hedwig crunched the paper in her talons so no one would see and shot into the sky. The Muggles gave her bemused looks, wondering why a snowy owl was hanging about the platform in broad daylight, but at least Harry and Ron hadn’t been caught flying a car.

“Now, we sit back and wait,” said Harry with a smile at his friend.

Ron sighed and leaned back on the bench. “Sure, if you want to be boring.”

“Better boring than dead.” He gave Ron a look of mock horror. “Or worse, expelled.”

Ron choked with laughter. “Bloody hell, mate. Don’t scare me like that. One Hermione in the group is enough to deal with, thank you very much!”

Harry laughed and settled back on the bench. Above the platform, Severus met Harry’s eyes and gave him a relieved smile.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

Harry Potter and the Great Bloody Snake

15 September, 1993

As much as it relieved Severus that their new DADA instructor did not wear turbans and, thus, could not possibly be harbouring the spirit of a dead Dark Lord on the back of his skull, Lockhart’s irrepressible stupidity and enormous ego were almost worse. If Albus didn’t change his usual staff table seat soon, Severus would not be responsible for his actions. Merlin, the buffoon surely couldn’t have mistaken the sound of Severus’ grinding teeth and clenching claws for applause, could he? Surely even his imbecility and self-aggrandising had its limits.

Before a week of the new term had passed, Severus had revised his opinion. There were, apparently, humans for which said limits did not exist.

“And then,” Lockhart babbled on to a chorus of groans, “I swept in, with nothing but my wand and a string of garlic, and I said, ‘begone, foul beast!’”

His retelling, of course, included a shout for dramatic effect. And of course, he aimed it directly in Severus’ sensitive ears. Severus flattened them against his head and muttered a mantra under his breath: ‘Must not murder the defence instructor at the dinner table.’

“And then….” Lockhart lifted his fork, sending a spatter of beef gravy all over Severus’ hair. “I raised my wand, and—” He jerked up a hand full of grape tomatoes on Filius’ side and dropped several on the half-goblin’s head. “Oh, sorry, old boy. As I was saying, I raised my wand, and I lifted my garlic, and the Villa-Vim Vampire just… disintegrated.” He smacked his hands together and swung them about, spattering everyone nearby with tomato insides.

Severus conjured a shield and sent the mess flying back onto the prat’s hair without so much as looking in his direction.

“My coiffure!” Lockhart’s girlish squeal caused the entire staff table—and many of the students, Harry especially—to snicker and snort.

Lockhart jerked to his feet and tried to hide the dripping pinkish mess behind his hands. “E-excuse me, ladies and gentlemen. It seems I must attend to an emergency, um… urgently. Enjoy your meal!”

The idiot raced off, and Severus muttered, “I most assuredly will, now that you are not here to ruin it.”

Beside him, Minerva choked on her wine.

“Lovely charms work, Severus,” said Filius with a wry grin. “I don’t suppose you might be prevailed upon to conjure that shield around the lot of us next time, hmm?”

Severus smirked. “Normally I would say to each his own, but the thought of seeing Lockhart spattered with the results of his entire dramatic retelling is too tempting to pass by.”

Filius chuckled and wiped tomato seeds from his head. “Indeed. Merlin, what was Albus thinking?”

Severus shot the old man a dark look. “I should rather like the answer to that myself.”

Albus merely shrugged and flicked a tomato chunk off his goblet before he took a sip. “At least he is not a Dark Lord in disguise this time.”

“Dark Lord? I should say not. The man couldn’t find his arse in the dark if you put his hands in his trousers!”

Severus,” said Minerva, though her lips twitched with mirth. “No cursing in front of the students, if you please.”

“The man would drive a saint to cursing, Minerva, and I am certainly no saint.”

She covered a laugh in her napkin. “Do stop, Severus. You will ruin my reputation before long.”

Severus smirked and returned to his tomato-guts-free meal.

 


 

As Severus graded abysmal third-year essays on the properties of wolfsbane, he remembered Harry’s complaint from earlier in the afternoon with a laugh. “Lockhart, Severus? Of all the people he might have forced me to take detention from, it had to be Lockhart?”

Severus had reassured him that Albus had thought Severus was being too liberal with his detentions and the others would likely comment on it soon, but Harry hadn’t been any happier about the prospect of spending several hours in the great buffoon’s company.

Of course, Severus empathised, but there was little he could do. He had sent Harry off with a hug and a promise that they would make up for it in Saturday night’s detention. The boy had left with a smile, and Severus had expected to see him in the morning with a grin on his face.

The thought that Harry would return directly after his detention, hidden under his cloak and shaking from head-to-toe, hadn’t factored into Severus’ plans at all.

“Harry?” Severus guided the boy into his office and sat him on the chair before his desk. “Child, what is it? What in Merlin’s name has you so terrified?”

“S-Severus, do you remember I told you over the summer that I heard whispers in the back of Quirrell’s turban? Scary whispers?”

Severus nodded. “Why?”

“I-I heard them again, Severus. The whispers. ‘Kill, kill….’ But there was no one there but Lockhart. I… I’m scared. Is Lockhart evil too?”

“Sweet Merlin.” Severus tugged the boy into his arms. “Ssh. Child, all will be well. Lockhart is no more capable of hiding a Dark Lord in his robes than Ronald Weasley is of growing wings and flying away.”

Harry chuckled into Severus’ shoulder. “He might be an Animagus one day, you know.”

“And the day Ronald Weasley becomes a flight-worthy Animagus, one of the rarest and most difficult types to achieve, I will gladly eat my words.”

Harry buried a giggle in Severus’ hair. “Y-yeah.” He hugged his friend tight. “Thank you, Severus. You really think it’s going to be okay?”

“Of course, Harry. Perhaps that ignoramus simply bored you into bad dreams.”

Harry burst into laughter against Severus’ shoulder. “Yeah, yeah, he could do at that.” He pulled back and wiped his face. “Thanks, Severus. I feel better now.”

“Good.” Severus smoothed the boy’s hair and straightened his robes. “Now, run along before you’re missed.”

Harry gave him a relieved smile and returned to his dorm, but Severus worried about the strange voices only Harry could hear long into the night.

 


 

Halloween was an unmitigated disaster, not least because attending a Deathday party was just as boring as it sounded. Of course, Harry would have rather had more boredom than the voices he heard after a half-hour or so pretending to enjoy himself and edging towards the exit.

“Kill… kill….”

Harry gasped and grabbed Ron and Hermione, dragging them out of the party. Whatever enemy had followed Harry to Hogwarts was there that moment, and they had to run.

The only problem was that the voices seemed to follow him. And before long, he found himself staring at a puddle of water with a dead tabby cat in the middle.

“What—oh gods, it’s Mrs. Norris,” Harry panted, struggling to ignore the pang of grief in his chest. “Filch will be—we’ve got to—”

But Hermione was already on her knees beside the cat. “She’s alive. Only petrified.”

“Um, guys?” Ron’s tremulous voice brought Harry out of his panic and caused Hermione to lift her head. “We’ve got bigger problems.” He pointed to the wall behind Mrs. Norris with a shaking hand.

Hermione stood, eyes wide, and read from the wall in hushed tones. “‘The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir beware.’ Is that… b-blood?”

All three students took a step back in horror.

“We’d better get out of here,” Hermione whispered. “Filch will be—”

“Well that’s just what I said earlier,” Harry snapped. “Come on!”

Before they could take two steps, a raspy voice stopped them in their tracks. “Well, well, what do we have here? Three little troublemakers, out and causing a ruckus.”

Filch had found them.

Harry’s hands clenched on his friends’ sleeves. “Oh no.”

 


 

Harry hadn’t been able to resist running down to Severus’ office after the discovery of Mrs. Norris’ petrified form, but Severus hadn’t had any answers, nor did he understand why Harry could hear voices no one else could. He had comforted his friend until Harry had calmed enough to sleep and sent him off to bed with a promise to look into it, but Harry had begun to doubt they would find anything.

What if the voice was in his own head? What if he was the one killing roosters and writing messages and petrifying cats, and he just didn’t remember it? Though how he could have done when the very thought of animals murdered senselessly left him shaking with horror was a mystery for the ages.

Sleep was a long time coming.

 


 

The next morning, Severus called his chamber guardian into his living room. “Salazar, we both know the stories surrounding your history are greatly conflated and mostly untrue; however, we have a problem, and I need you to talk to me. Please.”

Salazar raised an eyebrow. “Please? Great Merlin, it is serious then.” He settled into a desk in the background of his portrait. “Speak.”

“For the past two weeks, there have been… strange incidents occurring around the castle. Harry has heard voices only he can understand, much like last year. All of Hagrid’s roosters have been killed as of late, and two nights ago, the second shipment he ordered to replace the first were also killed. We do not know who or what is doing it or why. And just yesterday, Harry and his friends stumbled upon the caretaker’s cat, who had been petrified in a puddle of water.”

Salazar sighed. “You speak of the message on the wall. The other portraits have been driving me mad, interrogating me about it at all hours. The short answer is this, Severus: I did build a hideaway, so to speak. I did not keep a monster in it. If someone has placed a deadly beast within my Chambers, then it was not with my approval, nor do I know what manner of beast it might be.”

“But you do know where the entrance is?”

Salazar shrugged. “I know where it was. It used to open into my office, but after I left, the other three founders dismantled it, or so I have heard since. I am unsure where the entrance may be now, and even if I did know, it would do you little good. It can only be navigated by a Parselmouth.”

“Damn,” Severus said with a huff. “It’s never easy, is it?”

“For the heads of great houses, magical beings, warriors, professors, and spies? No, I’m afraid not, old friend.”

Severus nodded in thanks to the Naga and went to tell Albus what he knew. Not that it would do them much good.

 


 

By the time that infernal mad elf left the hospital wing, Severus had amended his earlier mantra to “Must not murder the defence professor or barmy, interfering elves,” and muttered it under his breath as he slunk to Harry’s side, hidden under careful invisibility spells.

“I was wondering where you ran off to,” said a pale, trembling Harry, the ghost of a wry smile on his face. “Usually I wake up to you tending me, not a half-mad house elf.”

Half?” Severus grumbled and cast his wards to keep Poppy and any curious passers-by away. With a sigh, he took the cloth Dobby had been using from the bedside, cleaned it, and brushed the cool cloth against Harry’s sweat-soaked brow.

“Much better when it’s you,” Harry said weakly.

Severus traced his knuckles down Harry’s cheek. “If I do not kill one or both of those two incompetents before the year is through, it will be a miracle.”

Harry chuckled and grimaced at the pain. “At least Dobby means well. Lockhart is just being an idiot. If you must sacrifice one of them, start with Lockhart, hmm?”

“And spare us all the nightly torture of his dramatic storytelling and daily miseries of his ego and utter imbecility? I like the way you think.”

Harry stifled laughter for the sake of his injured arm, but couldn’t hold back a few muffled snorts. “Yeah, good idea.” He laced the fingers of his undamaged hand with Severus’. “Sev, do you have any idea who Dobby belongs to yet?”

Severus shook his head and sighed. “Between that moron Lockhart, the strange voices, and the instances of roosters being killed for no reason, I have not been able to escape Hogwarts. It is too dangerous to leave you alone at the moment.”

Harry gave him a wry smile. “If I promised to be a good boy and stay in my hospital bed all day, maybe catch up on some homework, would you have time to ask around?”

Ask? Merlin, I shan’t do anything so uncouth.”

Harry’s lips twitched. “What will you do, then?”

“Scale the kitchen wall and spy through the window until I spot the little bugger.”

Harry couldn’t stop the laughter this time and winced at a jolt of pain down his arm. “Oh, ow. Hurts.”

Severus stroked his hair back. “Forgive me. I should have been there.”

“You couldn’t be without blowing your cover. It’s all right. I’d rather endure a little pain and have you be safe than otherwise.”

Severus gave him a sad smile. “You are too brave for your own good.”

“So are you, Severus. So are you.”

 


 

Severus collapsed in his chair after the disastrous duelling club incident, shaking all over. Dear gods. Harry was a Parselmouth. He should have known. That time the glass disappeared at the zoo—Severus hadn’t heard him speak. Of course, he wouldn’t hear it, not in the serpent’s tongue, but gods. If he had realised Harry could speak to snakes, he never would have told Draco to conjure one in front of the school.

It was supposed to be an easy spell to conquer for Harry, as Harry liked snakes. He hadn’t intended it to become so… convoluted.

With a sigh, Severus knelt before the fire and threw a pinch of floo powder into the flames. “Headmaster Dumbledore’s office, Hogwarts.” The fire turned green, and Severus stuck his head inside. “Albus? Are you here?”

“I assume you have come to discuss young Harry?” Albus appeared from his quarters and motioned Severus up. “Come. We shall have a spot of tea to soothe your nerves.”

Severus nodded and swept through. “A Parselmouth, Albus,” he breathed. “He’s not—how? He is as far from Slytherin as it is possible to be.”

Albus glanced to his portraits. “Hmm. I think Harry is rather similar to him, in truth. He even looks similar, but for the hair.” He shook his head and guided Severus to the chamber stairs. “But for now, it is not important. Come.”

Albus guided the shaking Tengu up to his sofa and sat him down. He handed Severus a cup of dosed tea and sat in front of him, taking a lemon drop for himself.

“I suppose this explains the voices Harry has been hearing, both under Quirrell’s turban and this year.”

Severus frowned. “It does?”

“Yes. Tom is also a Parselmouth, Severus. Have you forgotten, child?”

Severus shuddered and rubbed his arms. “Perhaps I was trying to forget. So this means that the voices Harry has been hearing are Parseltongue? But there is no possible way Riddle could have made his way into the school without my notice, and Salazar would not do this—I am sure of that.”

“No, Salazar would never act in a way that might harm our students, but perhaps Tom has found a way to cloak his presence from Tengu. Or, perhaps, it is not Riddle Harry is hearing, but a serpent.”

“What kind of serpent? And why should it be slithering about wanting to kill things?”

“Such as chickens and tabby cats? Perhaps it is simply hungry.”

“But neither the roosters nor Mrs. Norris was eaten.”

Albus shook his head. “I do not know, Severus. I have not made a point of studying serpents and their behaviour. We shall have to look into it.”

Severus sighed. “Yes. In the meantime, how is Harry a Parselmouth at all?”

Albus sighed and leaned back in his chair. “That is a question for the ages, isn’t it?”

“So you do not know either.”

“I… have a suspicion, but at the moment, it is little more than conjecture and supposition. Particularly if Harry is of Slytherin’s line somehow. I will need to research before I can offer you any concrete information.”

“I will ask Salazar, though I think it unlikely that he will know without a doubt one way or the other.” Severus dropped his head into his hands. “Merlin, is it just me, or does this mess get more complicated every year?”

Albus chuckled sadly. “Winning a war is never easy, Severus. I am afraid we have a long way to go before we truly understand what we have gotten ourselves into.”

“Indeed.” Severus leaned back in his chair and hoped for the best. With the world falling into chaos at an alarming rate, it was all he could do.

 


 

Once again, Severus summoned the guardian of his chambers into his living room and sat before him, heart troubled and hands clenched in his robes. “Salazar, is it possible that Harry is your heir?”

Salazar cocked his head. “He does rather look like me, does he not? But no, I think it highly unlikely.”

“Because he is Gryffindor?”

Salazar narrowed his eyes. “Because he is human.”

Severus rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Is it impossible for Naga to birth human children then?”

“Of course not. If one mates with a human, their children have a one in three chance of being born as a pure human wizard or witch. But my mate was not human, nor was the mate of our only child. It is highly unlikely that any human offspring came from her mating, nor that of her son.”

“A thousand years have passed since the time of the founding. Do you not think humans might have mixed with your line since? I know the dark lord claims that his heritage is quite extensive.”

Salazar’s features shimmered and shifted to reveal a line of scales down his nose, slit pupils, a cobra-like hood stretching over his head in place of ears, and sharp fangs. “You know as well as I do that our kind does not function on the same timeline as humans. I did not meet my true mate until late in my lifespan, and neither did my daughter. My family tree is much shorter than history would claim.”

Severus frowned. “How is it that Tom Riddle is a Parselmouth, then? And Harry?”

“As for Tom, it is quite likely that another Naga ‘borrowed’ my heritage and history as a Parselmouth to hide from the Ministry. While I may have mated in my twilight years, it does not necessarily follow that they did, and it is quite possible that they took a human mate. No human without Naga ancestry are able to speak the snake tongue, so that is my only explanation for Riddle. But as to your little friend—Harry is a Parselmouth, too?”

“Yes. That is why I asked if he is your heir.”

Salazar rubbed his chin. “Interesting. It is possible he has Naga blood, but I have never sensed any supernatural heritage on him.”

“You are a bloody painting. Are you able to sense that still?”

Salazar gave him an unamused look. “I sense yours.”

“I am a mature being, Salazar. Perhaps you cannot sense it in youth.”

“Not so. I have sensed more beings than yourself in the school, and they are not adults.”

Severus crossed his arms over his chest. “Then if he is not your heir and he has no Naga blood, how is it possible that he is a Parselmouth?”

Salazar shook his head and flicked his tongue in the air, pointed and long like a snake’s. “I am… unsure. Perhaps… well, in my time there was no possibility of gaining the ability to speak to my kin but for being born into the bloodline, but who is to say one has not been found since? Or he may have become a Parselmouth through some strange magical accident. I do not know, Severus, but I am positive he is not of my bloodline.”

Severus nodded and stood. “Thank you, Salazar. I will let Albus know.”

Salazar nodded, reassumed his human appearance, and left. Severus followed suit soon after.

 


 

Harry raced to Severus’ office, fingers clasped tightly around the hideous journal he had found in Myrtle’s loo that night. Gods, he’d been a fool to think he could trust the journal, and even more of a fool to think that he would find anything true within its pages. Had he fancied himself a spy, like Severus? Gods, an utter idiot was more like it. He might have been killed.

Severus opened the door and ushered him in when he realised who it was, and Harry launched himself into the yokai’s waist. “I’m-sorry-I’m-sorry-I’m-sorry!”

Severus peeled the sobbing boy from his waist and gently guided him into a seat. “Harry, child, tell me what has happened.”

“I was an i-idiot,” Harry sobbed. “So stupid. Should have just brought it here, but I wanted to help, and-and—I’m s-sorry!”

Severus shushed him and brought the boy to rest against his side. “There now. I am here, little one.”

“You, you’re going to be so angry with me.”

Severus smoothed Harry’s hair and went to pluck the journal from his hands, but halted before he touched it. “Dear gods. What is this, Harry? The aura of dark magic is so thick….”

“I… I know.” Harry laid the journal on the desk and sniffled. “I was so stupid, Severus. I found that tonight and tried to write in it, and he wrote back.”

“Wrote back?” Severus shuddered. “Merlin. It is sentient.”

“I t-think so.”

“That is… not good. Who wrote to you?”

Harry swallowed hard and stared at Severus’ left arm. “H-he did.”

“Who?”

Tom Riddle!”

Severus froze. “Oh sweet Merlin. That is Riddle’s journal?”

Harry whimpered and buried his head in his hands. “So sorry! I just wanted to help you, but I should’ve known better and, and… I’m so sorry.”

Severus caught Harry into his arms and held him tight, banishing the journal to his desk with a spell. Harry buried his face in Severus’ shoulder and cried, releasing all the misery and tension of the past few months into his friend’s arms.

“I j-just wanted to know who the heir was,” he whimpered. “Riddle said he knew, and I knew whatever he said would be a lie, but I thought if I followed him anyway, I might prove he did it. But once he knew I didn’t believe the story he showed me, he….”

Severus’ arms tightened around him. “He what?”

“I… I don’t know. It was like he tried to pull at me, but with magic. It hurt. He pulled something—my scar hurt—and he said I was just like him and laughed! Then I woke up outside the journal and I was bleeding and… and… I’m so sorry!”

Severus tipped Harry’s chin back and brushed his hair from his face. “Oh, dear gods. I hadn’t seen when you came in.” He whispered a healing charm over Harry’s forehead, and the terrible pain eased. “There. You are safe now, little one, but I would prefer to take you to Madam Pomfrey just to make sure.”

“B-but, what will we tell her?”

“We will tell her I discovered you staggering about with a questionable book, possibly one from the Restricted Section, but when I went to assign you detention, I discovered you were injured and brought you to her for healing instead rather than be bothered with the task myself. Of course, I shall have to assign you several odious detentions for being out of bounds.”

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “That… that could work. And I’m really sorry.”

“I know. I am not angry. But promise me you will never do such a dangerous thing again. Please. Leave the spying to me, little one.”

Harry nodded and let Severus guide him to his feet. “I promise, sir.”

“Good boy. Now, let us make sure you are well. Come with me.”

Severus guided Harry to the hospital wing and stuck to the plan. It went off without a hitch, and until the yokai appeared some moments after Pomfrey had gone to bed, eyes wide and face white as a sheet, Harry had begun to think they would come out of this unscathed after all.

“Severus? Merlin, are you okay?”

“I… I do not know.”

He collapsed into the seat beside Harry’s bed, shaking all over, and Harry took his hand.

“Listen, Pomfrey said I’m okay, Sev. No lasting damage this time.”

Severus gave him a wan smile. “That is a relief, but I am afraid we are not out of the woods yet.”

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“Harry, when I returned to the office, I had planned to take the journal to Albus.”

“Yeah? What’s the matter? Did the headmaster find out what was in it?”

Severus shook his head. “I never had the chance to bring it to him. When I returned to my office, it was in a shambles. Someone broke in while I was attending to you.”

Harry’s heart leapt into his throat. “A-and the journal?”

“Vanished without a trace.”

“Bloody hell.”

 


 

The attacks kept coming, and no one had any answers. Suspicion shifted to Harry and back each week, but Severus knew the boy could never harm his classmates in such a manner. Even if he had such evil in him, Harry didn’t know such complex magic. No, if he hadn’t known better, he would have thought Ginny Weasley was responsible. An aura of evil hovered around the girl these days, never thick enough to mark her as truly malicious, but enough to arouse Severus’ suspicions. A first-year shouldn’t have such a fog of evil and darkness around her spirit, and especially not a human first year.

But that, again, confused him. As with Harry, a first-year could not petrify her classmates or spell messages that didn’t fade onto the walls. She might have killed the roosters, perhaps, but why would she want to?

And then, there was the mysterious journal thief. Severus had no idea who might have been able to bypass his wards, but someone had done, and now they had a sentient journal of the bloody Dark Lord hovering about the school somewhere. Salazar hadn’t been able to catch them as the thief had blinded his portrait as soon as it appeared. All he could say was that they smelled dark, dangerous, and terrified, which Severus had worked out for himself. Well, the terror surprised him, but perhaps whoever had broken in feared Severus learning their secrets.

If only Severus’ dark scent worked from a distance, he might be able to track it, but no. Unless he came close to the journal itself—close enough to touch—he would never find the blasted thing that way. Which left only his powers of observation, and those had, unfortunately, come up as empty as everything else these days.

Severus sighed and wrapped his Slytherin green scarf around his neck in preparation for the final match of the year. He would have rather stayed behind and continued his research on serpents, but he had found nothing promising yet. Salazar was aiding him as much as he could, but even Naga didn’t know of every breed of serpent on the planet, and the founder hadn’t heard of beings that liked tabby cats and roosters and petrified people. Nor had any of Severus’ books, apparently.

Merlin, he didn’t want to leave, but refusing to appear at a quidditch match would mark him for suspicion. Everyone in the school knew he enjoyed the sport and hadn’t missed a match since his own Hogwarts years.

Well, perhaps a spot of relaxation would jog something in his memory. One could hope, at least. And he did enjoy watching Harry play.

He settled into his usual seat in the staff box, wondering where Minerva and Albus were. The match was due to start in ten minutes.

“Everyone, quidditch has been cancelled,” Minerva’s voice suddenly called out over the pitch, amplified by a Sonorous. “There has been another attack. Another triple attack. All students are to report to their dormitories immediately.”

Below, Severus caught sight of Minerva speaking to Ronald Weasley and Harry, caught the shock and horror in the boys’ posture, and alarm raced through him. Who had been attacked this time?

He watched the boys head off after Minerva, then rushed to make sure his own students returned to their dorms.

 


 

The attack on Hermione had lifted suspicion from Harry’s shoulders, but he couldn’t relax with Dumbledore gone, Severus panicking without his protection, a mysterious serpent attacking people, and a journal of Tom Riddle hiding somewhere about the school.

Merlin, Harry knew he had seen that blasted journal somewhere prior to his second year of schooling, but for the life of him, he couldn’t remember where. It was driving him spare.

And then there was the mystery of Dobby. Where had the little bugger come from? With so many attacks happening left and right and Dumbledore gone, Severus couldn’t leave the school. He had no idea what plot the elf had been so afraid of, unless, of course, it was the Chamber being opened. But then, Harry was a Parselmouth. If the monster in the Chamber was a serpent, like Hermione thought, then Harry would be able to hear it coming and avoid trouble. Of course, Dobby couldn’t have been expected to know that.

Maybe that was why the little elf hadn’t been making trouble for Harry lately. Everyone and their mother had heard of the snake-speaking incident in duelling club now, no thanks to the Hogwarts rumour mill, so no doubt Dobby had heard by now, too.

Either way, Harry didn’t miss his ‘rescues,’ if he did worry about the little creature and why he always looked so beaten-down.

With a shake of his head, Harry shoved his worries out of his mind and made his way towards Severus’ office for his detention. Ron had come with him—in solidarity, he had said, but Harry suspected the redhead just didn’t want to leave him alone. Harry hoped Severus had the sense to look as forbidding as he always did when he answered the door as he walked past the entrance hall on his way to the dungeons.

“H-H-Harry!”

He turned at Ron’s gibbering, frowning at his white-faced, wide-eyed friend. “Ron? What’s the matter?”

He jabbed a shaking finger towards the window and made a sound like a dying animal. Harry followed the direction of his hand and gasped. A line of spiders crawled from a dripping pipe, across the floor, and out of a crack in a nearby window.

“Spiders,” Harry breathed.

‘Follow the spiders….’

He looked at his friend and shook his head. Ron would never be able to follow them. And just in case the spiders led Harry to another Norberta—or something worse—he reckoned he had best get Severus involved in this instead.

“Yikes!” Harry guided his friend over and away from the line of arachnids. “Let’s just get out of here, yeah?”

Ron nodded and pressed close to Harry, shaking hard. “B-b-but, Hagrid said to follow the spiders.”

“Ron, Hagrid has strange ideas about what’s safe and friendly, and you’re arachnophobic. I’ll tell Professor Snape about it, and he’ll tell Professor McGonagall. The teachers will fix it.”

“Snape? Why would Snape do anything to help Hagrid?”

“Because he’s a teacher, Ron. His personal biases against Gryffindors have nothing to do with his morality as a human being.”

Ron gave him a blank look. “Mate, you sound like Hermione.”

Harry gave a pained laugh. “I just mean he’s not going to let Hagrid suffer just because he hates me. He’s still human, Ron.”

“I have no idea how you can think that given how he treats you, Harry, but if you’re sure, then I trust you.”

Harry gave him a wan smile and wished he could tell Ron the truth. At least Ron, and at least Hermione. But he couldn’t risk Severus’ life. Not even for his friends.

“Thanks. We’d better hurry though. The later we are, the harder it will be to convince Snape to listen before he launches into a tirade.”

“Right.” With a shudder, Ron led Harry from the Entrance Hall corridor at a walk so fast, Harry had to run to keep up.

 


 

Against his better judgment, Severus had allowed Harry to come with him after the spiders. He might have left the boy behind, but Harry had been adamant that he wouldn’t leave Severus to face it alone, and for the fear Harry might try to follow without his knowledge and be hurt, Severus had decided he had best keep Harry where he could watch over him. And the boy had made a good point that if they did find something dangerous at the end of their journey, Severus might need backup to escape in one piece. Or at least someone capable of calling for help.

He had let Harry come, but only with a strict warning that one trip away from Severus’ side would have them both back in the castle and the spiders left to wiser heads. Harry had promised, and Severus knew he would keep it, so, off to the forest they went. Even if Severus had questioned his sanity in allowing Harry to tag along more than once.

Harry took Severus’ hand as they passed the treeline. Severus’ heart warmed at the feel of his small palm held securely against his own, his fingers wrapped around his knuckles. Severus squeezed the boy’s palm for comfort and led him in silence, deeper and deeper into the forest. He had begun to consider turning around when the spiders turned into a clearing and scattered.

Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Severus cupped his hand over the boy’s mouth. He could hear them. Legs scurrying, jaws clicking, webs spinning.

No small spider could make sounds like that.

“Acromantula,” he whispered. “Dear gods, Hagrid sent you after the Acromantula!”

“S-Severus?” Harry pressed in close to Severus’ side. “What’s an Acromantula?”

Severus wrapped his wings around the boy. “Stay close. I would rather not… reveal myself if we have a choice, but we may not do. Come, let us go before….”

A clicking, raspy voice called, “What are you doing in my lair, little human and… not human?”

Severus froze as if shot, then turned towards the voice, wand in hand and Harry tucked in at his side. A monstrous spider the size of a small house stood before him, eight blind eyes staring into space, giant jaw pincers dripping venom and saliva. Severus gulped and stepped back, but more clicking and dripping and rustling of legs warned him they were surrounded.

He would have no choice but to fly. He spread his wings, but Harry had moved away.

“Wait, Severus,” he whispered. “Please. We have to at least try.”

Severus shuddered. “Stay close.”

Harry nodded and took his hand. “Um, Mister… Acromantula, we came because Hagrid is in trouble and he told us to follow the spiders for help.”

“Hagrid sent you?”

The blind spider clicked his jaws, and the others moved back a few paces. Severus’ heart began to slow once more. Perhaps this hadn’t been a suicide mission.

“What kind of trouble?”

Harry talked to the spider. He told him of Hagrid’s imprisonment, how the Ministry had blamed him for opening the Chamber, but that Harry and his friends knew Hagrid was innocent.

“But we don’t know what is attacking students or who—”

“We do not speak of it! Our kind fear it above all other creatures!”

Harry and Severus pressed in close to each other at the sounds of frantic clicking and strange whistling cries all around.

“The creature was born in the castle,” Aragog hissed, “as I was not, but that is all I will tell you.”

“Oh. I-I’m s-sorry,” Harry stammered. “We didn’t know.”

“The true monster killed a girl in a loo, and I was blamed for her death. As a result, Hagrid was expelled, but I never harmed anyone within the castle walls.”

Severus bowed to the spider, though he kept it well within sight. “Thank you for your assistance, Aragog. We shall be on our way now, and leave you in peace.”

“Leave?” Aragog clicked his jaws and stepped closer. “I think not. I showed Hagrid and the residents of the castle mercy because he was kind to me, but I will not deny my children fresh meat when it wanders so willingly into my den. Goodbye, friends of Hagrid.”

“Shite!”

As the Acromantula rushed in, Severus grabbed Harry into his arms, spread his wings, and shot into the sky. Their feet barely cleared the clash of venomous jaws, and Severus whipped his tail out of reach just in time. Harry whimpered and buried his face in Severus’ shirt.

“S-sorry, so sorry!”

Severus held Harry tight and zipped away over the canopy, praying his invisibility charms held. He didn’t stop until they reached the edge of the forest, where he set a shaking Harry down and sat upon a fallen log.

“S-Sev’rus….”

Severus beckoned the boy, and Harry dashed into his arms, tears streaking down his ashen cheeks.

“I’m so sorry. Always leading us into danger. All I want to do is help.”

Severus wrapped Harry in his wings and set the shaking boy down upon his lap. “Ssh, we are safe now. I have you, little one.”

“Could’ve died, and we didn’t even learn anything!”

Severus stroked Harry’s hair and rubbed his back, soothing him with snippets of Japanese lullabies, songs from his own youth barely recalled, until the boy’s tears slowed.

“There now.” Severus conjured a handkerchief and gently wiped Harry’s face, brushing away a few stray tears as they fell. “It’s all right now. We’re both safe. And we did gain more information from tonight’s venture.”

Harry sniffled and scooted closer to the Tengu. “We did?”

“Yes. Do you remember what Aragog said about the monster?”

“T-that they don’t speak of it.”

“And yet, he did speak. Do you remember what he said?”

Harry frowned in concentration and rubbed his face. “He said… the monster killed a girl in the loo, and that they’re afraid of it above all other creatures.”

“And what else, little one?”

“Um… oh! It was born in the castle!”

“Yes. So now we know the monster is a serpent born in Hogwarts which has access to a loo, is capable of petrifying and killing humans, and spiders fear it above all other creatures. That is far more than we knew before we left tonight.”

“But… it won’t help Hagrid. The Ministry won’t take the word of an Acromantula. They won’t even listen to us.”

“No, perhaps not, but we are closer to our goal than we were.”

“Y-yeah.” Harry sniffled and leaned on Severus’ shoulder. “Sev? What will I tell Ron about tonight?”

“Tell him I dragged you out to the forest as punishment for your detention and to prove your theories unfounded, but along the way, discovered that there truly was something amiss. So we followed the spiders and ran straight into Aragog and his colony.”

“But how did we escape the Acromantula?”

“Hmm. Tell him I cursed the bloody hell out of them and we ran like mad.”

Harry chuckled. “Okay.” He curled into Severus’ arms and rested his head on the yokai’s shoulder. “I like it when you let your guard down around me. When you talk to me like a friend and not a teacher. I like it when you hold me when I’m scared, too.” He sniffled and buried his face in Severus’ chest. “Sorry I’m always breaking down.”

“Harry, child, you are thirteen. You are allowed to cry. Even adults cry sometimes. There is nothing to be ashamed of. You have seen me cry, have you not?”

Harry nodded and sighed into Severus’ robe. “Always over me. Always scared for me.”

“Because I care about you, little one, and the world has placed too much on your young shoulders, has hurt you too much, and still seeks to harm you even now.” Severus hugged the boy tight and brushed a kiss atop his head. “But I will protect you. And I will always be here to hold you when you are afraid. That is what friends do, is it not?”

Harry gave him a tearful smile. “Yeah. Thank you, Severus, for being my friend.”

“The pleasure is mine, Harry. Now, let’s get you home.”

“O-okay.”

 


 

“Her skeleton shall lie in the Chamber forever.”

The words ran through Harry’s head over and over. Ginny. Oh gods. Ginny had been taken into the Chamber of Secrets. He sank down next to Ron and rubbed the horrified boy’s back, unsure of what else to do or how to help him. Particularly while they were hiding under Harry’s cloak and stuffed in the staff room supply cupboard, eavesdropping on the emergency staff meeting concerning Ginny’s disappearance. If only Harry could peek out without the others noticing, Severus would see him—cloak or no—and know he needed to talk. Then, just maybe, they could help the teachers find her before it was too late.

But the opportunity never arose, and by the time Harry believed it safe enough to step out of the cupboard, Severus had already gone, no doubt to find Harry and warn him. But Harry already knew, and he needed Severus’ help. Oh, this wasn’t good.

Ron staggered out of the cupboard and tugged on Harry’s sleeve, looking lost and afraid. “W-what do we do now?”

Harry huffed in uncertainty and worry. “I… we need to tell a teacher what we know. Maybe Snape or McGonagall. They’re the toughest here since Dumbledore’s gone.”

Ron shook his head. “Lockhart’s going after her, isn’t he? We should tell him.”

Lockhart? Ron, he’s a total fraud.”

“But if he’s going to try to find the Chamber….”

Harry bit his lip. If he suggested running to Snape again, he risked blowing his friend’s cover. On the other hand, Lockhart most likely had no intention at all of going to the Chamber—even the other teachers had known he wouldn’t do—and wasting time giving the idiot a rundown of the situation risked Ginny’s life. Merlin, he had no idea what to do.

“Come on, Harry.” Ron dragged him towards the door. “We can’t just stay here. Let’s at least try to tell Lockhart, please?”

Harry sighed and prayed to all his lucky stars that Severus found them along the way. “Right. Hurry then.”

 


 

As soon as the staff meeting ended, Severus raced straight for his quarters. “Salazar! Please, hurry. I need your help.”

The founder dashed into the yokai’s living room frame, hand on his sword and his eyes hard with the strength of a warrior. “What is it, Severus?”

“The Chamber. I need your help to find it, or at least as close as we can come. Harry’s friend—the monster has taken her into the Chamber itself and is planning to kill her. Please. I know you do not know where the exact entrance is any longer, but if you can at least lead me to the general area, perhaps Harry and I can find it.”

Salazar nodded sharply. “Follow me through the frames. During my tenure, my office was on the second floor. It is likely to be somewhere near the same area, but I do not know for certain.”

“That is close enough. Thank you.”

“Come.”

Severus gathered his wits and trailed the founder’s figure from frame to frame, but stopped halfway through the second floor east corridor. Just ahead, he caught a glimpse of Harry and Ronald Weasley racing towards Myrtle’s loo, Lockhart in tow. Harry had a piece of parchment clutched in one hand and his wand pointed at Lockhart’s back, but he was trembling from head-to-toe and kept looking over his shoulder. Beside him, a fuming Weasley jabbed his wand into Lockhart’s shoulders and prodded him on. He witnessed Harry drop the parchment at the entrance to the loo, and then they were gone.

“Shite,” Severus breathed to the portrait. “What in Merlin’s name are they up to?”

Salazar nodded towards the loo. “I recommend you check that note he dropped to find out. It looked deliberate.”

“How? Lockhart and Weasley are with him.”

“You are a wizard, are you not?”

Severus flushed. “Right.” He waited for an opportune moment—when Weasley had taken to shouting at Lockhart—and summoned the note. As he opened it, he could have sworn he heard hissing over the sound of the parchment rustling.

The note was a page torn from a library book, crumpled over and smudged a little with sweat. A handwritten note tucked neatly in the margins read ‘Pipes.’ Pipes? Confused, Severus read the top of the entry and his heart sank into his feet.

A basilisk. Dear fucking gods, the monster was a basilisk!

And unless he had somehow lost his powers of deduction, Harry, Weasley, and Lockhart were heading straight for it.

“Mother of god,” he breathed, and raced after his hapless young friend, intending to pull him away from trouble with threats of detention—or murder—and drag Weasley with him, but when he arrived, he found nothing but an empty loo, a smirking ghost, and a giant hole in the wall near the sinks.

Salazar muttered from across the wall, “They moved the entrance to my Chambers into a loo? A girls’ loo at that?” He scoffed. “Godric must have done this. A lover scorned, as they say.”

Severus gaped at the portrait. So the rumours about Salazar and Gryffindor were true.

“Are you going after them or do you intend to stare at me all afternoon?”

Severus shook himself. “Merlin, where is my brain?” He yanked out his wand, stuffed the parchment into his pocket, disillusioned and silenced himself, and leapt into the hole.

Gods, a basilisk. Of all the serpents to place in a ruddy school….

‘If you survive this, Harry, I will bloody well kill you!’

 


 

Severus watched, horrified, as Lockhart stood over a massive serpent skin and threatened the boys with a memory charm. With the lightning-quick reflexes of his true heritage, Severus cast an invisible, impenetrable shield over the children and smirked in satisfaction as the charm rebounded on the fraudulent bastard. Another quick spell shredded Weasley’s wand and made it appear to have backfired so that no one need know Severus had ever been there.

Or, that was the plan. But then, the backlash from Lockhart’s deflected spell brought the tunnel down around them. Severus shielded everyone and made a dash for Harry.

But before he had made it two paces, lightning crashed into the bottom of his tail and pinned him down, tearing at his spine, crushing the sensitive appendage below. Fuck! Severus bit back a yelp of pain by sheer force of will and struggled to breathe through the agony. By the time his head cleared enough to allow him to cast and free himself without causing a second catastrophe, Harry had already cleared a small hole in the rockslide and escaped into the tunnel.

‘NO! You bloody idiot!’

He made a few rocks fall near Lockhart, distracting both Weasley and the fraud, and dashed towards the hole. Before the other two could blink, Severus had shifted into his crow Animagus form and zipped through the hole into the tunnel beyond.

He passed the largest serpent skin he had ever seen and raced to the door, but he was too late. Harry had already gone inside, and the serpent door—the door that only a Parselmouth could operate—was closing behind his shaking form. Severus poured all his magic into his flight and zipped forwards at top speed, barely clearing the door as it snapped shut.

Harry walked forwards, wand out and eyes closed to avoid the basilisk’s lethal stare. Gods, a twelve-year-old boy who couldn’t use his sight and had no shield or weapon but his wand had no hope against such a lethal creature.

Thank Merlin, Severus wasn’t a human. The basilisk’s death stare wouldn’t kill him. He could guide Harry, blind the serpent, help his friend survive.

But at the moment, the snake was nowhere in sight. Only the girl, lying crumpled on the floor a few metres ahead, her form fuzzy and fading with every moment. The stench of dark magic over her made Severus’ stomach roil and bile creep up his throat, but he swallowed it down. Now was not the time to lose his head or his lunch.

Severus flew around Ginevra’s body. The sound of his wings drew Harry’s attention, and the boy opened his eyes a crack, staring at the floor first, then trailing slowly upwards.

“Ginny!”

Only as Harry approached, too late, did either wizard notice the second form hidden in the shadows and the black diary lying open at Ginevra’s feet.

“Hello, Harry Potter. How… wonderful to see you again.”

 


 

Severus woke to the smell of antiseptic and potions and the sound of someone in tears. He listened for a moment, attempting to discern his surroundings, when a throbbing pain in his left arm and a quiet whimper from the boy at his side brought it all back. The basilisk. Ginevra. Harry. The diary. A shade of Tom Riddle coming alive, drawing on Ginevra’s life force. Harry.

Severus dragged his uninjured arm upwards just enough to brush Harry’s wet cheek.

Harry jerked up and gasped. “Severus!” He whimpered and crawled up the man’s form, laying his head on the yokai’s shoulder and snuggling in close, though he had to manoeuvre around Severus’ wings. “I’m so bloody sorry! I didn’t mean to—gods, forgive me!”

Severus turned his face into Harry’s hair and whispered, “Ssh. Little one, it is not your fault. You did everything you could to seek help, did you not? And in the end, you found yourself facing another impossible task alone.” He kissed Harry’s hair and held him as tightly as his weakened state would allow. “I was honoured to help you this time, child.”

“But… but you almost died, and it was all my fault! If not for Fawkes….”

Severus brushed Harry’s tears away and lamented that he hadn’t the strength to wrap him in his wings this time. The boy found comfort within his feathers, but Severus could not turn to his side. Still, he managed to fold part of the left wing over Harry’s shoulder and soothe him that way.

“I did not die, though. I am here, child. We are safe. I was glad to take the venom for you.”

“Sev’rus… don’t.” Harry crawled onto the bed beside Severus and buried his head in the yokai’s neck. “Don’t ever do that to me again.”

Severus folded him in his wing as best as he could and kissed the boy’s forehead. “Ssh. I will always fight for you, child.”

“I don’t want you to be hurt!”

“In the grand scheme of things, Harry, my life matters less than yours. If one of us is to die, it should be me.”

“No!” Harry leaned back and grabbed Severus’ face, holding him by his ears. “You aren’t to die on me, Sev’rus! Ever!”

“My life does not matter so much compared to yours, Harry. That is all I meant.”

“It matters to me, you dolt! I love you.”

Severus’ heart thumped. “You… what?”

“You’re my first friend, the one person who’s always been there for me for everything. I’d go mad without you.”

“Harry… I… I’m your professor, child, and you’re thirteen.”

Harry gasped, eyes wide and mouth gaping, and red slowly painted his cheeks. “I-I didn’t mean like that! Merlin! Even if you weren’t my teacher, I’m too young to… I don’t even know what that means yet, Severus. I’m still a kid.”

Severus gave a relieved laugh and caught Harry into his arms. “In that case, I believe I may safely say that I feel much the same. And, because I do love you, I will never allow you to perish on my watch. I have lost everyone I have ever loved, save only Albus and you. I cannot let either of you go.”

Harry sniffled and buried his face into Severus’ hair. “I can’t let you go either. So, you take this.” He handed the man his lion pendant. “You take it and make a new one for me. I know you can’t make protective charms for yourself as strong, so you wear that one. I added one of my own—it’s not as powerful, but… maybe it’ll help keep you safe if you’re so determined to jump in front of basilisks for me.”

Severus allowed Harry to slip the pendant around his neck and secure it under his robe. “Thank you, child. I shall find a new one for you soon.”

“Maybe a snake. For you, and since I can talk to them anyway. Then we can have a bit of each other around all the time.”

Severus smiled and nudged him closer. “A snake it is then.” He sighed into Harry’s hair. “What have I missed?”

Harry snorted. “A lot. The headmaster is back—Lucius Malfoy extorted the governors into sacking him, but they brought Dumbledore back when Ginny was taken. Oh, Headmaster Dumbledore healed your tail, by the way. When I told him it was broken and Madam Pomfrey couldn’t see it or sense it to heal you. I had to act as a channel for his powers—and Merlin, wasn’t that a rush—but we got it done together.”

“Thank you, little one.” Severus curled his tail around Harry’s legs and his own and sighed at the absence of pain. “It does feel much better.”

“I think I learned to heal when Headmaster Dumbledore was channelling his power through me,” said Harry with a wry smile. “I was able to do it myself the rest of the way, with his supervision, of course. The magic in my hands after that was so powerful—it’s like he unlocked some hidden part of me. Now he says I’ll be as good as Madam Pomfrey one day.”

Severus rubbed Harry’s cheek. “You are able to heal? Wandlessly heal?”

“Y-yeah, just like a natural healer. Headmaster Dumbledore said he thinks that ability was there in me all along, but channelling me unlocked it earlier than usual, or maybe unblocked it. He said he sensed… something holding me back, but whatever he did removed the block on my true powers.” Harry shrugged. “I’ve been able to do charms and stuff easier since too.”

Severus smiled and kissed Harry’s forehead. He frowned at the scent of dark magic but pushed it aside. Harry did have a curse scar, after all. Likely, the magic had left traces.

And it hit him like a sledgehammer. “Your scar! That is how you can speak Parseltongue without being Salazar’s descendant. It is leftover magic from the night he attacked you.”

Harry gave him an appreciative smile. “You really are brilliant. Yeah, the headmaster said he thinks Riddle transferred some of his powers to me that night and that’s why I can speak to snakes. It scared me until he told me my choices made me a different person, and that I would never be able to heal naturally if I didn’t have goodness and love within my heart.”

“That is true, child.” Severus nudged him closer. “You are the most loving, gentlest, kindest child I know. And I believe this is why you have such powerful healing powers so young, though perhaps it is also because Albus unlocked them. You are good, Harry. And having a few of the same powers as Riddle does not mean you will use them the same way.”

 Harry nodded and sighed into Severus’ neck. “That’s… you’re right. I’d never do the awful things he’s done, and maybe that’s what the headmaster meant by choices meaning more than our abilities.” He hugged Severus gently. “Thank you.”

“Not at all, child. Now, do tell me what happened next, after Albus returned.”

“Well, I talked to him about what happened in the Chamber, of course, and told him how you came to be poisoned.” Harry kissed Severus’ shoulder. “You’re a hero, but if you ever do something so stupid again, I’ll kill you myself.”

Severus laughed softly. “I thought much the same when I realised you had gone into the Chamber alone.”

“Well, we’ll just keep each other from being brainless Gryffindors, yeah?”

“I, a brainless Gryffindor? Perish the thought.”

Harry laughed in his shoulder. “You certainly were when you shoved your arm in front of mine so the venom caught you and not me. I’m the one with the bloody anti-poison charm, for Merlin’s sake.”

“It would not have protected you against basilisk venom.”

“Might have lasted a bit longer. Fawkes had to scramble to save you in time. But anyway, I was catching you up. While I was talking to the headmaster, Lucius Malfoy stormed into Dumbledore’s office. He had Dobby with him, and Dobby showed me that the journal was Malfoy’s. I remembered it then—he had dropped it in Ginny’s cauldron before the school year began. So Dumbledore did that ‘subtle threat with a smile’ thing he does, and Malfoy ran away like a coward. But I grabbed the journal and returned it to him, with my dirty sock inside, that he then handed to Dobby.”

Severus chuckled softly. “You freed Malfoy’s house elf?”

“Sure did. And when Malfoy tried to attack me for it, Dobby blasted him into a wall. I need to draw that memory or something and frame it. Pity I’m no good.”

Severus smirked. “Perhaps not, but have you ever heard of something called a pensieve?”

“Er… no, what’s that?”

“A stone basin in which we can place your memory of Lucius Malfoy being bested by a house elf and view it to our hearts’ content.”

Harry stifled helpless giggles in Severus’ shoulder. “Sounds good, Sev. Let’s show it to the headmaster as soon as you’re feeling better.”

“As you wish.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

Escapees

31  July, 1994

The night the news announced that Sirius Black had escaped prison, Severus came down from the roof and landed beside Harry in the garden, where the boy sat against the wall, listening to the news through the window. Harry looked up, startled, to see that Severus had gone bone white and was breathing hard.

“Severus? Hey, what is it?”

“Harry, promise me this—promise me you will never go after Black. Never alone.”

Harry gave Severus a bemused look. “The mass murderer? Why in Merlin’s name would I want to?”

Promise me!”

Harry felt Severus shaking beside him and knew, whatever madness had overtaken his friend, it had disturbed him deeply. He slipped his hand into Severus’ and squeezed, avoiding his claws. “I promise, Severus. I won’t go after him, and especially not alone.”

Severus wrapped Harry in his arms and wings. “I cannot lose you. Cannot… love you too much.”

Harry kissed Severus’ shoulder and held him under his wings. “Ssh, it’s okay. I’m right here. It’s all right.”

“Stay away from that madman. Please.”

“Okay, Severus. Okay, I promise. Ssh. It’s going to be all right.”

Severus pulled back and nodded, breathing ragged and eyes rimmed in pink.

Harry smoothed his feathers with a gentle hand. “I take it Sirius Black isn’t a Muggle?”

“No. He—it was no gas explosion. Harry, the man was… he was….” Severus gave a broken sigh. “You will keep your promise?”

“Merlin, Sev. Obviously, you’re terrified for me, which means the man has it in for me, which means I’d be utterly mad to go near him by choice. Of course I’m not going to go after a bloody mass murderer.”

“Not even for revenge?”

Harry sighed and laid his head on Severus’ shoulder. “Haven’t you told me yourself what the cost of seeking vengeance is? No, I’m not going to go after him, even if I might have a reason to. All it would do is terrify you and possibly get me killed and drive you mad as a result. Nothing is worth that.”

Severus caught him in a rough embrace and kissed Harry’s hair. “You are wiser than I.” He sighed and held him tight. “Harry, Sirius Black was… your father’s best friend.”

Harry froze. “What?”

“Yes. He… he was the Secret Keeper. For your parents.”

Harry listened, stunned and hardly able to breathe, as Severus related the tale. “As far as we know, Pettigrew, another of your parents’ friends who was… weak, confronted Black shortly after your parents’ deaths, and Black annihilated him, as well as a street full of innocent Muggles. They reportedly found nothing of Pettigrew at all but a severed finger.”

“Dear fucking Merlin.”

Severus shot the boy a look, but perhaps in light of Harry’s distress, did not reprimand him.

“But… why, Severus? Why would he do that?” Harry looked into Severus’ eyes, tears on his lashes and his heart breaking. “You’re my best friend, and the thought of—oh gods. I could never. How could he do it?”

Severus tucked Harry’s head under his chin and wrapped him in his wings. “I do not know, child. I was a terrible being once, but the idea of harming someone I loved… you, Lily, Albus, Adam—no. I could never. Even at my worst, the thought of Lily being killed was enough to break me out of the grip of darkness so deep, I had lost myself to it. I cannot imagine the depth of depravity it would take to turn on one’s dearest friends. Indeed, one’s family, as Black’s blood relatives had turned him out.”

“D-do you think that’s why? Maybe because his family didn’t want him, it broke him?”

Severus shook his head, slowly, so as not to displace Harry’s. “To be honest, I do not know. There was always something… off about him, in my experience.”

“What did he do?”

“You recall Albus telling you of the four teenagers who bullied me in school?”

Harry nodded slightly and nudged in closer.

“Black was one of the worst.”

“Oh gods. What did he do, Sev?”

Severus shuddered. “Many things. One event resulted in… well, I was tortured in front of the entire fifth form. And later, I was nearly killed by a werewolf as a result of his cruelty.”

“And this is the man my parents chose to trust with our lives?”

Severus wrapped Harry up close. “Harry, Black was cruel to me, but to your family… not even I would have believed him capable of turning on them, though I did advise Albus to warn Potter about choosing another keeper for his secrets. Even so, your father and his friends were close—closer than brothers. I had imagined them to be unshakeably loyal to each other.”

Through tears, Harry spat, “And the fact that Black could torture and nearly murder an innocent boy never raised red flags?”

“I advised Albus against trusting him, but in the end, Potter chose his own secret keeper. Albus and I could do little to alter his decision, myself least of all.”

Harry sniffled and buried his face in Severus’ chest. “I just don’t understand how.”

Severus cupped Harry’s head and sheltered him in his wings. “That is because you, unlike Black, have a pure soul.”

Harry nodded and pressed his hand against Severus’ heart. “So do you.”

Severus’ breath caught. “No. I… I have… I am not pure. Nor innocent.”

“You are to me.”

Tears dropped in Harry’s hair and black wings folded him up tight. “Thank you,” Severus whispered.

“Mhm.” Harry sighed, content to be held in Severus’ warm embrace. “Do you have to go back up to the roof right away?”

“I should before too long, but no. Not immediately, if you do not wish me to.”

Harry nodded. “Marge is coming tonight. Vernon’s awful sister. Happy birthday to me, yeah?”

Severus stroked Harry’s hair. “I will give you your gift later, when it is safe.”

Harry sighed and relaxed against him. “This is gift enough, really. Just having you with me.”

Severus folded his tail around them both too and sat with Harry, holding him under a cooling charm, until Petunia called him in to make dinner.

“I am with you, Harry,” Severus whispered, and a soft kiss brushed Harry’s temple. “You are not alone.”

Harry squeezed Severus’ hand once more and steeled himself to deal with the horror that was his aunt.

 


 

“Gods, Severus, she’s bloody awful! Going on and on about bad blood and such, calling me a criminal and a deviant.” Harry kicked at the floor and growled. “And worse, you can’t stop her because she’s a Muggle and she doesn’t know about magic at all. It’ll bring the Ministry down on our heads whether they can track your curses or not. Then I’ll be expelled, you might be caught—no, I just have to deal with it. As much as I’d like to curse her from here to Paris.”

Severus grimaced. “I am sorry, child. I would spare you if I could. Perhaps I can use more… subtle techniques to subdue her tongue.”

Harry shook his head and flopped onto the bed beside Severus. “It’s not worth the risk, Sev. I can handle her for a few days, maybe.”

“I will be here to keep you sane, as much as I can do.”

Harry gave a soft sigh and dropped his head onto Severus’ shoulder. “I’ll need you, for sure.”

Black wings folded him up and a soft, silver tail wrapped around his legs. “I have a gift for you if it helps at all.”

Harry gave him a warm smile. “You always help me.” He frowned. “I promise I’ll get you something this year for your birthday if you’ll tell me when it is. Please?”

“Harry, I do not require—”

“But I want to. I want to give you gifts like you do for me, even if I don’t have much to offer.”

Severus tugged him against his side. “Your trust and affection is the greatest gift I have ever received. I need nothing more.”

Harry gave him the ‘sad puppy dog’ look, and Severus relented with a sigh.

“Oh, very well. Tengu of my variety are always born in midwinter. My birthday is on the ninth of January.”

Harry beamed. “Thank you, Severus. I’ll get you something nice to make up for all the birthdays I couldn’t.”

Severus gave him a stern look. “By owl order, or made by your own hand. Do not risk yourself in public alone simply to give me a gift. I would much rather have the gift of your safety and continued friendship.”

“Oh, yeah, okay. I’ll have Hermione get some catalogues for me. But maybe you’ll have to give me ones about potions and stuff. I couldn’t ask her for those without looking suspicious.”

“Unless you tell her you mean to study harder for potions so I’ve no excuse to tear into you this year.”

Harry gave him a wry grin. “That’s a good idea. Sure, I’ll go with that. And I’ll actually stick to it, too. I like potions when you’re not pretending to hate me. Anyway, what did you get for me?”

Severus took a small package from his breast pocket and laid it on Harry’s lap, blushing softly, as he had last year. “It is not much, and I will understand if you would prefer not to wear it, but—”

Harry gave him a soft smile. “Severus, I’m sure it’s fine. I loved the lion and the snake pendants you picked out for me. I’m sure I’ll like this too.”

Severus flushed bright pink. “Well, go on then.”

Harry grinned and tore into the paper—yellow and green this time. Inside, he found a glittering armband in the shape of a snake, complete with an engraved chevron pattern down its back. It had eyes made of tiny cyan gemstones, and its tail wrapped around the head to fasten it. Harry gaped at the armband and back up at Severus.

Not much? This must have cost a fortune! It’s diamond, Severus!”

Severus snorted. “No, no. It is only crystal and chrysolite. Crystal holds magic better than diamond—and it is more within my means, of course—and chrysolite is a powerful gem for maintaining the purity of one’s state of mind. As this has protections against mind-altering spells, it seemed a good choice.”

“Mind-altering spells… like the journal? Riddle’s journal, I mean?”

“Indeed. And the Imperius curse, an Unforgivable which subjects your will entirely to the caster. This will not stop the curse entirely, but it gives you the option to fight back. The battle still comes down to your willpower, but I have faith in your Gryffindor stubbornness’ ability to overcome all evil.”

Harry laughed and slipped the armband up his arm, settling it across the widest part of his right bicep. The band shrunk until it fit snugly against his skin without pinching and stayed even when Harry pushed on it.

“There is a sticking charm to hold it in place so it cannot be removed by anyone but yourself,” Severus explained. “If you need to move it, the incantation is Transvenio Armilla, if you need to remove it, the incantation is Transvecto Armilla. You should not need your wand as I attuned it to your vocal commands. The charm will reset when you put it back on. Obviously, don’t practise it until you are back at school. I will remove it for you when you wish it—just beckon me and point to your arm, and I will know what you mean.”

Harry grinned and stroked the snake’s head. “It feels warm.”

“The magic heats the crystal from within.”

“Ah.”

Severus’ ears were flat against his head, his nervousness and uncertainty apparent. Harry smiled and smoothed his hands over the yokai’s ears, gently petting Severus’ silky silver fur and warm skin.

“Sev, I love it. Thank you.”

Severus’ ears popped up and a shy smile crossed his face. His tail thumped on the bed, though he blushed and slowed the motion immediately after he noticed it.

‘Adorable,’ Harry thought, and grinned to himself.

“I am… glad,” Severus murmured.

Harry rubbed the crystal with a smile. “Might be able to get through this week in one piece with this on my arm. I’ll know you’re with me.”

Severus wrapped his wing around Harry’s back and hugged him tight. “I always will be.”

“Good.”

 


 

The bracelet, unfortunately, was not enough to bring Harry through the week. Bitches, pups, bad blood and bad influences—Harry couldn’t take another word. He had made Marge swell to massive proportions, revealing her for the pompous windbag she was and sent her floating about the ceiling. This, of course, made his uncle turn on him and refuse to sign his Hogsmeade form, but Harry had bigger problems. With this use of accidental magic, he would have been expelled.

He had packed his trunk and ran halfway down the street before he remembered Severus. The Tengu dropped out of thin air, transforming from a crow into his usual shape, and caught Harry into his arms before he could run any further.

“Harry, ssh. I am here. Where are you going?”

Harry rubbed his eyes, ashamed to find tears already flowing. He was fourteen now! He was too big to break down like this every time something… something awful happened. And yet, he couldn’t stop. He buried his face in Severus’ robe and clung to him, struggling to hold back sobs.

“I d-don’t know. Somewhere. I have to leave. Vernon is going to k-kill me and I’ll be expelled and—”

“Harry, slow down.”

“We can’t, Sev! The Ministry—we have to run!”

“Shite!”

Severus caught Harry in his arms. “I’m going to call the Knight Bus. I want you to ride it—here is a little money to cover the trip.” He pressed some galleons into Harry’s palm. “Tell them your name is… I don’t know. Make something up. Just don’t tell them your real name. Go to the Leaky Cauldron and ask Tom to put you up. And hurry.”

“O-okay, but what about you?”

“I can apparate or fly, child. I’ll be right behind you.”

“Right.”

“Wait here, and do stay back from the road.”

Severus jerked up his wand, and a violently-purple double-decker bus appeared out of nowhere and careened to a halt just beside them. Severus nudged the shock-frozen Harry forwards.

“Get in. Hurry. I’ll be with you again soon.”

“O-okay.”

Harry forced his unsteady legs forwards but stopped before he had taken two steps. A huge black dog with glowing green eyes was watching him, teeth bared and a growl in his throat. Harry backed into his companion’s chest.

“S-Sev?”

The Tengu shot sparks at the dog, but the beast lunged at him rather than running away. Harry hardly had time to think as Severus spun them out of danger, shoved Harry into the just-opened doors of the bus, and shot away into the air. As Harry toppled into a gangly, speckle-faced boy, he caught a glimpse of black wings and a dark beak shining in the moonlight. A caw from atop the bus let Harry know Severus was okay, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

Then, he remembered the dog.

“Shite! Get me out of here!” He scrambled to his feet and went to jerk the doors closed, but the giant dog had vanished. “What in Merlin’s name?”

He shook his head. There was no time to think about it now.

“Um, sorry.” Harry heaved the speckled boy to his feet. “Are you okay?”

The boy nodded and brushed off his uniform. “Take more’n that to off me, won’t it, Ern?”

The driver grunted agreement. A shrunken head above the dash cackled and teased back in a Jamaican accent.

“Anyway, the name’s Stan Shunpike, and welcome to the Knight Bus!” The boy stuck out his hand, and Harry shook it.

“Um, I’m… Neville Longbottom. And I’m kind of in a hurry. Can you take me to Diagon Alley?”

“Right away, Neville. Take ‘er away, Ern!”

 


 

Severus clung to the roof of the Knight Bus for dear life, but, when he realised he would lose the cloak before long, he apparated to Diagon Alley instead. His heart leapt into his throat when he saw who stood at the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. Lime green bowler hat, self-important swagger, rounded belly, and an ego bigger than all of London put together.

The Minister of Magic.

With a grimace, Severus ducked behind a nearby fence and watched through the slats. He still had Harry’s cloak on, and there was no reason why the Minister should suspect his true nature, but the fewer opportunities Severus gave him to question it, the better.

Not to mention, he would learn more about what the idiot was up to by observation than participation.

Harry staggered into Diagon Alley a moment later, winded and a little green around the gills, and Severus swallowed a twinge of guilt. The Knight Bus was an… interesting experience for even those used to its wild manner of transportation. A beginner would most certainly find it alarming, especially to be shoved upon the bus without warning.

Severus promised himself he would make it up to Harry later, if they both came through the night intact.

He watched, eyes narrowed and suspicions high, as Fudge greeted the boy and told him to stay in the Leaky Cauldron until school started again. Not even a reprimand? Well, perhaps the idiot was just glad Harry hadn’t been killed with Black running amuck.

Harry looked behind him as the Minister steered him to a table, and his relief at the sight of Severus hovering about was palpable. Severus stood as near the boy as he dared, staying out of the way along the back wall, listening to the conversation that followed. To his relief, Harry looked just as suspicious and flabbergasted as Severus himself felt.

Severus sighed in relief when the pompous man left and moved to Harry’s side, leaning down to whisper,

“I will stay near and follow you to your room once Tom chooses it.”

Harry responded with a barely-perceptible nod and a surreptitious brush of Severus’ hand.

 


 

Once Harry and Severus were safely ensconced in his room, Harry sat on the bed cross-legged and motioned for Severus to sit across him.

“Sev, what in Merlin’s name was that all about? Why did the Minister himself come? And why did they not expel me?”

Severus shook his head. “I am as much in the dark as you are. I can only suppose the Minister came to ensure your safety and did not write you up for the same reasons.” His eyes narrowed. “Or perhaps with Black on the loose, they did not want to alienate one of the only wizards the world at large believes powerful enough to challenge him.”

Harry gasped. “But I’m fourteen! What do they think I’m going to do, levitate him?”

To Harry’s shock, something dark and painful flickered across Severus’ face. “You would be surprised of how… terrible such a spell can be.”

Harry’s belly boiled with rage. “He hurt you that way. Black.”

Severus closed his eyes and nodded once, tersely. “It was the… precursor to the incident of arguable torture I mentioned earlier in the week.”

Harry winced. “M’sorry, Sev. I didn’t know.” He curled into his friend’s side and pulled him into a hug. “I’ll protect you from now on, okay?”

Severus squeezed Harry tight, then drew back with a shaky sigh. “Do not ask me to speak of it. Please.”

Harry slipped his hand into Severus’ and nodded. “It’s okay. There are things I don’t like to talk about too.” He traced a fingertip over Severus’ claws. “Have you ever managed to find a spell to keep them from cutting me?”

“No, but perhaps it is not necessary now that you are able to heal wandlessly.”

“Maybe not.” Harry frowned. “Sev, it’s dangerous for you to research what you are, but could I get books for you without bringing you under fire?”

Severus frowned. “Perhaps. I would not advise purchasing many resources at the same time. The Ministry tracks them. A purchase of a book here and there would be seen as a simple interest in the topic, but anything more could bring you under suspicion, and by association, me.”

“Right. Then just let me know if there’s anything you need, and I’ll get it for you.”

Severus nodded. “While you are here, you might put in an order for….” He whispered the rest in Harry’s ear, “Demons and Spirits of the East by Saito Tamaki. I have thought I might find an answer to our claw problem there, but could not risk purchasing it before now. I will give you the money for it in the morning after I have had a chance to visit the bank myself. It is quite rare, and therefore, expensive.”

Harry winced and whispered back, “Won’t they wonder why the supposed chosen one is interested in such a book then?”

Severus’ lips curled up in a smirk. “Tell them you’ve heard yokai might have helped Black escape prison and you’re learning how to protect yourself from them. Act as though you’re determined to make sure no yokai harm your loved ones. That will play on the hero card as well as draw sympathy. They won’t have the heart to question you then.”

Harry chuckled, though it held a note of sorrow. “You have an answer for everything.”

“It is part of my job description.”

“I wish you didn’t have to do it.”

Severus kissed Harry’s hair. “I know, child. I wish too. But we have no other agents who can do what I can. I must, for the good of us all. For you.”

“I know I can’t go with you, Sev, but is there anything I can do to help when you do have to start… working again?”

Severus closed his eyes and nodded. “Your healing would come in useful. And your… faith in me. Your love. I fear I shall have to become someone I would rather not be again.”

“I know.” Harry laid his head on Severus’ shoulder. “Even if you have to do bad things, I still love you and I still know you’re a good man.” He winked on the last word so Severus knew he was trying to keep him safe.

Severus simply curled his tail around Harry and held him tight.

 


 

Severus had hardly left Harry’s side since hearing of Black’s escape, but he did have obligations to the school. He only left when Harry was out in public, safely in view of scores of armed adults. Not that he imagined they wouldn’t turn tail and flee at the first sign of trouble, but he hoped their presence would discourage Black—or anyone else who might have it in for Harry—to stay away. Harry promised he would stay in the open while Severus was gone, or failing that, go to the Leaky, where Tom could keep an eye on him.

The owner of Flourish and Blotts had promised to look for the yokai book for Harry, but as it was exceedingly rare, he had no idea when he could procure a copy. Harry told him to just keep a tab open for his account and draw the money out when he found it. In the meantime, he had made good use of the sunshine and his freedom, spending his time either browsing the shops or revising for the year at Fortescue’s.

Severus had noticed Harry’s interest in the Firebolt and wished he had the money to purchase it for him right away, but his salary wouldn’t cover such an expense even with Albus’ generous ‘hazard pay’ allowance. Still, he began setting galleons aside each day in hopes that he might buy it, or a newer model, for Harry as a Christmas gift. Merlin, he had never considered such a lavish gift for anyone before—not even Lily—but then again, no one had ever loved Severus before either. At least, no one but Harry had ever said it.

And perhaps that made all the difference. At any rate, it made Severus want to bring him every joy he could.

He pondered his attachment to Harry on the way to Albus’ office to retrieve the orders for the Infirmary and begin brewing. At this point, he thought there was nothing he wouldn’t do for the boy who had so stolen his affections, but how did they love each other, exactly? Harry didn’t feel like a son, though by all rights, he probably should. Nor a brother. And simple friendship didn’t seem to cover their bond either. Severus shook his head as he reached the gargoyle and put his thoughts aside. It didn’t matter, really. They loved each other dearly, and that was all he needed to know.

“Sugar quills,” Severus muttered to the gargoyle and nodded as it moved aside. He took the steps to Albus’ office two at a time and knocked before poking his head inside the door. “Albus? I’ve come to see what potions Poppy ne….” He cut himself off at the sight of tattered robes, greying brown hair, and a scarred visage with deceptively kind brown eyes. “You! What are you doing here?”

Albus sighed and motioned Severus inside. “Severus, please. I had hoped to warn you before now, but I suppose it cannot be helped. Come in and have a seat. There is much we must discuss.”

Severus scowled and made to sit in front of the old man’s desk as far away from the wolf as he could manage, but Albus shook his head and pointed to the staircase in the back. “In my quarters, Severus. Remus, please do follow me.”

Severus’ heart slammed into his ribs. Oh dear gods, the wolf knew. Of course, he would have to. He had superhuman abilities. Did that mean Greyback knew as well? Shite. Severus would have to learn ways to hide his scent from werewolves now.

If Lupin didn’t kill him before he had the chance.

The werewolf eyed Severus warily. “Lovely to see you again, Severus.”

Severus snarled and took a step back. “I did not grant you permission to use my given name, wolf.”

Lupin’s thin smile faltered. “It was an attempt to establish a working relationship and bury the hatchet. You may use mine.”

“No, thank you.”

Severus stalked past him, up the stairs and into Albus’ private living room. Albus had already Summoned a teapot and three cups, condiments, and a plate of several varieties of biscuits. Severus made a note to bring a few of the raspberry and chocolate kind back for Harry, who liked them the most of all the biscuits Albus kept. Well, he would take them if he managed to come out of this meeting unscathed.

Lupin came into the room and closed the door behind him, giving Albus a bemused look as the man cast several warding charms around the room.

“Now that we are protected, have a seat, Remus. Severus, do help yourself to some tea. It will help calm you before a discussion that will, unfortunately, be quite stressful for all of us, but you especially.”

Severus obeyed just to have something to do with his hands. Images of his attack in seventh year flickered into his mind—as if he didn’t see them enough in his dreams, now he had to face his near-murderer and one of his greatest fears in the daylight, too.

“Now, I fear we have a problem,” said Albus with a sad smile. “Severus, Remus, you will need to work together for the coming year—”

Severus nearly spat his tea across the room. “What?”

Albus dabbed tea from his beard. “Surely you have heard of the new anti-werewolf legislation passed this past month?”

Severus glared. “And I care because?”

“Because said legislation has made it impossible for Remus to find paying work. And so, as we are a professor short and Remus is more than qualified for the position, I have asked him to teach defence for the year.”

Severus snarled, “Last year, you hired a fraudulent buffoon who attempted to erase the memory of two students and leave them to die. The year before that, it was the literal Dark Lord on the back of Quirrell’s unsightly skull. And now you have hired a slavering beast who tortured his peers for fun. I must say, Albus, your choice of employees as of late is beginning to become rather alarming.”

Lupin gave him a tight smile. “He hired you, did he not?”

Severus resisted throwing his tea on the arsehole only because he liked Albus and he thought the man would be hesitant to invite him into his quarters in the future if Severus stained his favourite sofa with tea. Or werewolf innards, as the case would most certainly be if this gods-forsaken meeting went on much longer.

Albus shot Lupin a reproachful look. “Yes, I did, and I no more regret hiring Severus than I do you. Perhaps the previous two instructors were, indeed, regrettable, but neither of you has disappointed me yet. As adults at least.”

At this, both Severus and Lupin looked away, a pink flush tinging their cheeks.

“Let us get this out of the way right now,” Albus continued. “Remus, your treatment of Severus in your school years was absolutely abhorrent. Severus, as much as I believe you have the right to be angry, do try to remember that Remus could, in no way, have prevented you from entering the shack that night, nor was he complicit in the crime.”

“And fifth year, Albus?” Severus held his gaze, betrayal cold in his chest. “When he watched his beloved friends strip me before the entire fifth form, mock my naked body, and beat me with magical whips? Was he complicit after said event, when he pretended not to notice as Potter—”

He choked back the words threatening to spill from him, the truth no one knew—not even Potter had known by the time Severus had finished with him—and the tears crowding his eyelids. Albus gave him a worried look, but Severus pretended not to see it. No. He would not let his greatest moment of weakness show here. Not now.

“Was he complicit then, when he stood by as a figure of authority and did  nothing?”

Albus watched Severus a while longer, but when the yokai didn’t acknowledge his worry, he fixed his gaze on Lupin. Without saying a word, the old man caused the werewolf to give a slight cry of dismay and drop his head.

“In that,” Lupin said, his voice unsteady, “I will admit that I was… that I….” He looked up, and Severus startled at the sight of tears on his lashes. “Severus, I—that day—of all the times we hurt you, that was the worst. I… at least the worst that I had any control over. And I’ve—I have honestly regretted it my entire adult life. I am sorry.”

“Sorry does not remove the scars from my body.” Or his soul.

Lupin stared at his knees and whispered, “I know. I… I should have stopped it, Severus. I should have—I don’t know. But standing there and doing nothing was awful.”

Severus said nothing, though the wolf’s apology had eased his pain somewhat. He had no reason to believe the man was sincere. After all, Albus was still in the room. More than likely, Lupin had simply turned on the waterworks to appease his new employer. It wouldn’t be the first time.

“Thank you,” Albus said, and offered Lupin a cup of tea as well. “Drink. It does tend to help calm the nerves.”

“Because you dose it with Calming Draught,” Severus muttered under his breath.

Across the table, Lupin snorted. “I always wondered.”

Albus chuckled softly. “My secret is out.” He gave Severus a sad smile. “And I am afraid, my friend, so is yours.”

Severus dropped his teacup and jerked to his feet. In a split second, he was across the room, wings outstretched, wand at the ready, claws exposed and ears flat against his skull.

“Severus….” Albus stood and moved to his friend, palms out in a conciliatory gesture, while Lupin watched with wary eyes and bared teeth. “Peace, my friend. I have already asked a vow of secrecy from Remus. He cannot reveal your status in any way, shape, or form without losing his magic and his life.”

“And if he believes it a worthy sacrifice to take down one such as myself?” Severus hated himself for the warble in his tone, for the insecurity it revealed, but he couldn’t help his fear.

Albus laid his hands on Severus’ wrists and slowly guided him to lower his wand. “Then I would protect you. And you know perfectly well that I am not the only one who would.”

“Would it matter? The Ministry would not listen to you.”

“They might listen to Harry.”

Severus scoffed bitterly. “Until the Prophet paints him as a monster next week or Fudge decides Harry has too much power and needs to be ‘neutralised’ for the ‘greater good.’”

Lupin’s eyes narrowed. “You called him Harry.”

Severus snarled. “And? I hardly think that is the most concerning issue at hand.”

“What is your relationship with him?”

“How is that any of your business?”

Lupin’s eyes flashed. “You said it yourself, Severus. If I deem the cause worthy enough, I might be willing to die. Harry is worthy enough. So?”

“You will threaten me into revealing my secrets? I can see you’ve turned over a new leaf indeed. Only it rather resembles the one before it, but who am I to judge? Monsters are not my forte, after all.”

Lupin scowled. “Aren’t they?”

Severus dropped his glamours and faced the werewolf head on. “Look on me well, wolf. I am a dark yokai—half canine Tengu—but never evil. And you see these?” He curved his wings forward. “Those would be indicative of my angelic half. So no, I am not a monster, at least not as concerns my biological makeup, and I have never been. Even at my worst, I had standards I would not compromise. You, on the other hand, become a mindless killing machine one day a month. Of the two, I would rather face one of my kin than yours.”

Lupin stood too, a growl building in his throat. “And that mark on your arm? Are we pretending that it doesn’t exist?”

Albus clapped his hands. “Gentlemen. Sit down.”

Both werewolf and yokai obeyed, glaring at each other and shoulders tense with hatred. Albus sighed and conjured an armchair between the sofas, watching both professors with an expression of intense disappointment. Faced with that look, Severus was the first to bow his head in dismay. Of all the people he never wanted to disappoint, Harry and Albus topped the list.

Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Lupin lower his head as well.

“Now then,” Albus said in a firm, but kind voice, “that is quite enough out of both of you. You are neither one monsters, or you would not be in my employ.”

Severus shot him a wry look, and Albus gave a soft laugh.

“Quirinus does not count, Severus, as I did not realise he had Tom’s spirit pasted to the back of his head. I assure you, if I had done, he would not have lasted long in this position, Ministry-appointed professor or not.”

He poured a fresh cup of tea for both men and pushed the condiments towards them. Severus drank it plain rather than risk coming near Lupin. Across the table, Lupin did the same.

“Gentlemen,” said Albus in a tone of gentle reproach, “this cannot go on. Severus, you know well that, with wolfsbane, werewolves are perfectly safe every day of the month, Greyback and his ilk notwithstanding. You invented the potion.”

Severus took great pleasure in Lupin’s stunned expression.

“And you, Remus,” Albus continued, “are out of line by comparing Severus to a monster when he has aided me as my spy and protected Harry admirably for over fourteen years.”

Lupin shut his gaping mouth with a click. “Protected him? From what? From all I’ve heard, you’ve been abominably cruel to the boy.”

Severus glared. “Crueller than the supposed surrogate uncle who abandoned him for thirteen years? Do you even know where he has been living? Do you know his favourite colour? His fears? His dreams? Do you have any knowledge of him at all, beyond the fact that he physically resembles the elder Potter and has Lily’s eyes?”

Lupin’s throat bobbed. “And you do?”

Severus sat tall and glared the werewolf down. “He has been living with Lily’s bitch of a sister, her abominable husband, and their spoiled brat son in Surrey. They would have been, without my intervention over the years, abominably abusive and neglectful, and Harry would have most likely spent all of his time before Hogwarts in the cupboard under the stairs. Or at least he would have done until his aunt and uncle wanted the chores done. Then, they would have dragged him out to do all of them at once, berate him while he did it, and then beat and starve him when he did not perform to their impossible standards. That is what you abandoned him to, and what I spared him from.”

Lupin made a strangled sound of protest, but Severus continued over him.

“As for Harry himself, his favourite colour is blue—not sky blue, but he loves indigo. He also loves red, of course, but a darker red than Gryffindor’s colours—crimson rather than true red. He fears, more than anything, endangering the lives of those he loves by his reputation and fated role. He dreams of a normal life, one in which he is not the Chosen One and the Boy-Who-Lived, but just Harry, with a little house in the countryside and someone who loves him.”

“But… why would he not want to be the hero he is?”

Severus raised an eyebrow. “Would you wish to be saddled with inescapable fame, fame you feel you did not earn and that came from the death of your parents and attempted murder of yourself, and the burden of killing a powerful dark wizard who has it in for you and whom any number of fully-trained, adult wizards have never been able to touch? And as a child?”

Lupin frowned. “Well, I suppose if you put it like that, but—k”

“That is how Harry feels about his fame, not I. It is what he has told me.”

“Why would he tell you anything?”

Severus glared. “He has told me many things. Besides that which I already mentioned, he enjoys healing magic, defence, and charms, and he is skilled in all three, particularly when he is studying anything originating in Light magic. He enjoys shepherd’s pie, lasagne, and chicken salad, and, while he does not have much of a sweet tooth, he also enjoys treacle tart, cherry pie, and chocolate. His best friends are Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley, both Gryffindors in his year, though he has a rather good relationship with Luna Lovegood as well, a Ravenclaw one year below him.” Severus gave Lupin a sharp smile. “And as to how I know this and why Harry tells me everything? That would be because I hold the honour of being his first and best friend overall.”

“But… but Arthur said—”

“Arthur can only tell you what he sees, Lupin. And what he sees is the role I must play when I am in public, around the children of Death Eaters and gossips and fools. Harry knows I mean not a word of what I say to him in class, but that it is only a front to keep us both safe. In private, we are close friends. The closest friend I have ever had, despite his youth.” Severus’ heart panged with sorrow. “He is far too mature for his age—the lonely years before me and the heavy burden of fate upon his shoulders have aged him too soon.”

Lupin stared at Albus, gobsmacked.

“Everything Severus has told you is the absolute truth,” said Albus with a shrug. “Harry can see Severus—his true form—whether he is invisible or not. We believe he is clairvoyant, but however he came upon his abilities of sight, he knew that Severus had guarded and protected him his entire life the moment he entered the Great Hall for the first time. Therefore, he was not fooled by Severus’ act for the public and latched onto him from the first day of classes, when he confronted Severus afterwards and saw the truth despite Severus’ attempts to protect him by his distance. They have been all but inseparable ever since.”

Something about Albus’ words struck Severus as odd, something about their visibility to each other, perhaps, but he hadn’t time to focus on it with the werewolf staring at him like he had just stepped out of an alien spacecraft.

“I… I just can’t believe this,” said a dumbfounded Lupin. “Why would Harry… of all the people he might…?”

Severus snarled. “Why would he care for Snivellus? The impoverished, friendless, abused Slytherin you all but shattered? Why indeed.” He stood and replaced his glamours. “Albus, I have had all of his presence I can stand. Do you have the list of potions Poppy needs for the Infirmary? I had planned on starting them today, though now….”

He scoffed and turned his back on the wolf, facing Albus with a grim expression.

“Albus, if he does plan on revealing me, please try to give me some advance warning, if it is at all possible. I will make sure Harry is… prepared. Or try, though I fear there is little I can do to ease his grief.”

Lupin flinched and looked away.

Albus handed Severus a slip of parchment. “Poppy’s list. I will make sure Remus knows there is more than old rivalries at stake, and by betraying you, he is also betraying Harry in a way he will never be able to forgive. And, indeed, may not survive.”

Severus nodded and swept away. Albus’ voice carried down the stairs as he made his way out of the office.

“And now, Remus, if you want to know what the cost of your betrayal would be, I suggest you take a little trip to Diagon Alley, stay awhile and observe the passers-by, and find out. You are quite mista—”

Severus shut the office door behind him and made his way to the gates. He should be brewing while he had the time, but after such a catastrophe of a meeting, he needed comfort. He needed to know someone still saw him as worthy, that someone loved him in spite of everything.

He had almost forgotten, until Black escaped and Lupin returned to Hogwarts, how much it hurt to be so badly misjudged for no reason at all.

 


 

Harry looked up from his ice cream to see Severus walking towards the parlour’s patio, his shoulders slumped and his face haloed with the signs of a disguise on top of his usual protective glamours. Thank Merlin, Severus could never hide from Harry. As the man approached, Harry pushed out the seat beside him and took him right into a hug.

“You look miserable, Severus. What happened? Are you okay?”

Severus sighed and laid his head on Harry’s shoulder. “I simply needed to know you still cared.”

Harry stroked Severus’ hair down his back and pulled him closer. “I love you, Severus. Always have, always will.”

Severus buried his face in Harry’s shoulder. His breath hitched a little, and Harry kissed the top of his ear.

“I’m here. Ssh. It’s all right.”

After a moment, Severus sat up and dragged his tail across his face. Harry had long since learned the man wiped his tears that way so the public needn’t know he had wept at all. It was endearing, to have this secret between them, Severus’ soft side that he trusted with no one else.

“Come,” Severus whispered. “Let us get out of the public eye.”

Harry laid a coin on the table for Fortescue, glad that the man wasn’t about to refuse his money this time, and guided Severus away. “Come on. I know the perfect place.”

Between Madam Malkin’s and Eeylop’s Owl Emporium, a tiny alley led to a glade full of trees and flowering bushes. Harry suspected the owls used it at night or when they needed to stretch their wings, but for the moment, it was empty. He led Severus to a secluded spot under a swaying magnolia, heavy with white blooms and waxy leaves, and took the Tengu’s hands.

“All right, talk. What happened?”

Severus conjured a bench and guided Harry to sit at his side. “Do you remember what I told you about Black? That he was part of a group of bullies who tormented me throughout Hogwarts?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“The werewolf—I told you Black sent me after a werewolf and nearly killed me?”

Harry nodded.

“That same werewolf was, at the time Black tortured me in the incident I said I cannot speak of, a prefect at Hogwarts and one of Black’s best friends. He allowed it—the werewolf. He let it happen and did nothing to protect me nor to punish his friends. I found out later that Albus was quite harsh on them for their treatment of me, but at the time, it was not readily apparent, and that incident was part of what drove me to… to Tom. Because I believed no one cared enough to stop the abuse, I imagined I had no allies on the side of Light at all.”

Severus shuddered and wrapped his arms around himself. “And there was one terrible incident in my fifth year—I was punished for heinous abuse. I know now that Albus did not know what had happened and so assumed the spell I had cast as self-defence had been done with intent to harm, but at the time, I imagined he had punished me because he did not value my life. Because he believed the life of… one of my kin to matter less than that of my abuser. It was all too much, and so I ran to the first person who treated me as someone worthy—and all but sold my soul as a result.”

Harry squeezed his hands and traced his thumbs over Severus’ wrists, trying to comfort him in whatever way the yokai would allow.

“The werewolf I mentioned before was… perhaps not as cruel as the other three, certainly not the abuser who caused me to leave the Light, but he condoned their behaviour. He knew what they had done, and he never acted in my defence, even though he was supposed to be seen as a figure of authority and an aid to the students.”

Harry scowled. “Then he was just as bad. If he had the power to stop it and never did, that’s almost worse. He didn’t participate in the abuse?”

Severus shook his head. “He watched, but never participated.”

“Then he’s worse. That means he knew it was wrong, but he was too much of a coward to stand up for you. What house was he?”

Severus snorted. “Gryffindor.”

What? That’s the least Gryffindor thing to do—I mean, I know we lions are brash and stupid sometimes, but we don’t sit by and twiddle our thumbs while people are abused under our noses.” Harry sighed. “At least, I thought we didn’t.”

“Harry, the entire group that tormented me—they were all Gryffindors.”

Harry gave a broken snort. “I was wrong. Apparently, Gryffindors can be arseholes too.”

Severus rubbed his wing along Harry’s face. “Not you. Never you.”

Harry gave him a sad smile. “No. So where did all this come from? Did thinking about Black just bring it back to you?”

“No, but wait. I must….”

Severus cast a silencing ward, though he added some strange incantation to the end of it that Harry had never heard him use before. He could have sworn he heard something like Lupine in it.

“The werewolf—his name is Remus Lupin.”

That was what Harry had heard, Lupin’s name. Had Severus set him as an exception to his wards for some reason?

“And,” Severus went on, “he is this year’s Defence professor.”

Harry gasped. “What? Good lord, what is going on with the headmaster’s hiring practises?”

Severus snorted and burst into soft laughter. “I said much the same when I came to pick up Poppy’s inventory and discovered Lupin in Albus’ office.”

Harry scowled. “I think I need to have a little chat with the headmaster. At this rate, next year he’ll have an actual Death Eater for the Defence professor.”

“Why not? He has already hired the Dark Lord himself.”

Harry smirked. “Are we talking of Lockhart or Quirrell?”

Severus chuckled. “Gods, Lockhart was awful, wasn’t he?” He shuddered and wrapped his arms around his chest. “I never imagined I would wish for that fraud to return over what Albus has chosen now.”

Harry rubbed Severus’ hands. “I’m sorry, Sev. Maybe we can talk him out of it?”

“No. Lupin has most likely already signed a contract, and we have more to worry about regardless.”

Harry winced. “What now?”

Severus leaned over to whisper, “Harry, werewolves have superhuman powers of smell. He knows. He knows what I am.”

Harry paled and grabbed Severus’ arms. “He’s not—he won’t—please tell me he’s not going to—I can’t lose you!”

Severus caught Harry up and hid him in his arms and wings. “Ssh. Little one, he swore a vow to say nothing or lose his magic and life.” He shivered. “And also threatened that he might break it if he believed me a threat to you.”

“Why should that arsehole care about me?”

“Because he was your father’s other best friend.”

Harry gave a bitter sob. “Merlin, Dad could really pick them, huh? An utter arse of a werewolf and a mass murderer. Sounds like the only one with any courage at all was Pettigrew.”

Severus gave an aborted sob. “Pettigrew was as bad as the others.”

“Damn. So that means… my father was too, wasn’t he? It’s why you use him against me in class. Because you have a valid reason to, and you know no one in a position to hurt you would doubt it.”

Severus said nothing and looked away.

“Sev….” Harry gently turned his face back. “Tell me. Please.”

Severus shook his head and dropped his gaze. “I can’t. I swore I would never hurt you again.”

“You haven’t,” Harry murmured. “You never have. Look at me, Severus.”

Slowly, Severus lifted his eyes, and Harry read the truth in their dark depths, glossy with the tears the yokai couldn’t hide.

Harry’s father had been the worst of them all.

With a sigh, he brought Severus into a hug and rubbed his back, tears bleeding down his face and his heart raw.

“I can’t believe they could be so awful to you. I just… I don’t understand.”

“You are too good to be so cruel,” Severus murmured. “Love cannot understand cruelty, and cruelty cannot understand love.”

Harry sniffled and hugged Severus tight. “I do love you, Severus. For good reason, too. I just can’t understand why someone would be so mean to you when you’re so smart and beautiful and brave. You’re such a good person. I mean, sure, you’ve made mistakes, but you’ve done everything you can to atone for them, and you’re so wonderful to me. Why don’t more people see you like I do?”

Severus’ breath caught and his body trembled in Harry’s arms. “Child… I do not even see myself in such a manner. You truly think so well of me?”

“You’re my hero, Severus. I think you deserve to be loved. You should have had a family by now—someone to love you besides me. You’re so good and brave and intelligent and beautiful and kind, it boggles my mind that I’m the only one who’s noticed. It’s just not fair that you’ve been left so entirely alone all your life when you deserve so much more.”

Severus’ voice came out soft and broken. “H-Harry… oh gods. Child, I—how? How can you be so—?” He breathed in harshly and rocked Harry close, burying his face in Harry’s shoulder. “Merlin, I love you so much, Harry. I am so fortunate to have you for a friend.”

“I am too, Sev, to have you.” Harry laughed softly, though it came out half sob. “I mean, how many people do you know who would take a bite from a bloody basilisk for their friends?”

Severus chuckled sadly and kissed Harry’s hair. “I would do it again gladly if it means you live on.”

Harry pulled back with a sniffle and wiped his face. “You have to live, too. I need you, Sev. Can you imagine what the Dursleys would have done to me by now without the help of your ‘plagues’ to keep them in line? Gods, I don’t even want to think….”

Severus smoothed Harry’s hair and gave him a sad smile. “I imagine you would be much shorter, too thin, too pale, sickly from lack of food and rest, your eyesight weaker from years in the cupboard, and you would most likely bear scars. Your uncle is the kind of man who thinks there is power in dominating those weaker than him, and he is afraid of anything different. You would have been an all too convenient target.”

At Harry’s shudder, Severus wrapped his arm and wing around Harry’s back and pulled him to rest against his side. “But I am here, and as long as I live, the Dursleys will not harm you again. At least, I shall do everything within my power to prevent it.”

Harry smiled and snuggled closer, tucking his feet under his legs. “Yeah. And as long as I live—”

“Which had best be until you are older than Albus.”

Harry chuckled. “Yes, sir. Anyway, as long as I live, Lupin won’t hurt you. Not Black either.” He shivered and laid his head against Severus’ shoulder. “I wish I could protect you from Tom too, but I promise I’ll heal you as much as I can.”

Severus brushed a kiss against Harry’s temple. “I know you will, child.” He sighed and patted Harry’s shoulder. “Come. I must attempt to brew today before the sun sets, and you have studies to finish.”

Harry gasped. “Oh Merlin, I left my books—”

Severus pointed to a knapsack at his feet. “I noticed.”

Harry chuckled and heaved his knapsack over his shoulder. “Thanks, Sev. What would I do without you?”

Severus’ expression was grim. “I do not want to think of it.”

Harry shuddered and slipped his hand into Severus’. “Yeah.”

Severus squeezed Harry’s fingers and draped his arm around the boy’s shoulders instead. “Come. We should go.”

“Yeah, all right.”

Harry let Severus lead him from the miniature glade, but frowned at the sight of a stranger standing at the edge of the alley, his mouth open in shock and tears rimming his eyes. It looked as though he had been frozen. Harry edged away from him, closer to Severus, taking his cues from the way Severus’ arm tightened on his shoulders and his wing wrapped around Harry’s back.

“P-pardon me,” Harry muttered and rushed away from the man. A few steps away, the man shook himself and raised his hand as if he wanted to speak, but at a look from Severus, he let it drop and turned away.

Harry whispered, “Who was that?”

“A bloody fool who is coming to realise the cost of his stupidity,” Severus muttered and steered Harry back towards the street.

“Is he dangerous?”

“He will not attack you.” Severus led Harry towards Fortescue’s again.

“You’re going to make me fat on all this ice cream, you know.”

Severus chuckled. “A little will do you no harm.”

“If you say so.” Harry settled in and dropped his books on the table he had left before.

“Harry, you do not need to eat if you are not hungry. I place you here because I know the owner will protect you, should it come to it. He is a good man, if rather too… sweet for my liking.”

Harry snorted. “It’s all the ice cream.”

“Indeed.” Severus smoothed the boy’s hair back. “Be safe?”

“I promise.”

Severus squeezed Harry’s shoulder and left.

“Well, time to get back to Arithmancy, I suppose.” Harry cracked his book open and sighed. “I hope Sev is right about the usefulness of these electives, because they sure are tough.” He focused on the words before him and tried to make some sense of the archaic formulae and strange symbols.

 


 

The shabby brown man, as Harry had taken to calling the stranger by the alley that day, had become an unwanted fixture in Harry’s life. The man popped up everywhere Harry went, hiding in shadows, pretending to read, or sitting in restaurants and ordering water and the cheapest item on the menu.

Obviously, the shabby brown man wanted Harry to think he had regular business in Diagon Alley, but Severus had taught Harry how to identify a stalker long ago, and Harry knew the man was shadowing him. As to why, he had no idea, but the man made him uncomfortable, and he began straying closer to other strangers in hopes it would keep his stalker from coming too close.

He supposed he should be grateful it wasn’t Black.

Harry hadn’t mentioned his stalker for fear Severus would take him away from Diagon Alley. He was having fun with his newfound freedom in spite of the shabby brown stalker and didn’t want to leave.

Harry should have realised by then that he could not keep secrets from a spy for long.

On the last morning of his stay before returning to Hogwarts, Hermione came out of the Magical Menagerie with a squashed-face orange tabby.

She cooed over his fuzzy, orange fur and gushed to the boys, “Isn’t he gorgeous?”

Harry wasn’t sure he’d use that word to describe her new pet, but he knew better than to do anything but nod and smile.

“The owner said he’s been there for ages. No one wanted him.”

Scabbers made a mad dash for Ron’s pocket. The cat growled.

“Can’t imagine why,” Ron muttered under his breath.

With an almighty yowl, the cat swiped at his pocket, catching Ron’s shirt and his hand in the process.

“Ow!” Ron shook his hand and gave the cat a dark look. “Keep that mad beast away from Scabbers, Hermione!”

“He’s not a beast! He’s—”

Harry noticed the shabby brown man coming too close and plucked his friends’ sleeves. “Um, could we maybe just go get lunch now? I’m really hungry.”

Hermione tried to wrangle her cat back into her arms. “Um… maybe I should take him back to the inn first. He isn’t much happy about being held, I think.”

“Yeah, or maybe he just wants to eat my familiar, the furry demon,” Ron muttered.

She shot him a glare that meant nothing good for Ron and stalked off towards the Leaky, knocking the shabby brown stalker back in her hurry. “Oh, sorry, pardon me.”

The brown man nodded, but never took his eyes off Harry.

Harry shuddered and backed away. “Ron, let’s—can we go? Please?”

Ron frowned. “Harry? What’s up, mate?”

Harry whispered in Ron’s ear, “That man’s been following me for weeks. I just want to get away from him. He doesn’t have money, so I’ll buy you lunch at The Golden Gander—don’t fuss, it’s just to keep me safe. Please.”

Ron frowned harder. “Okay? He doesn’t look mean.”

“Maybe, but he’s still creepy. Let’s just go.”

“All right, all right. We’ll have to go by the Leaky and tell Hermione first, though.”

“Yeah.”

Harry guided Ron towards the inn, shivering as the brown man followed and moved as if he would grab Harry any moment. Frightened, Harry picked up the pace, almost running flat out, then stopped dead. Severus emerged from a corner and gave him a sharp look, and Harry knew he’d been caught.

“Damn,” he muttered and led Ron away.

Severus couldn’t talk to him as long as his friends were about, so Harry led Ron away in a hurry. He knew the yokai would keep his stalker away, and thank Merlin for that, but, bloody hell, he was in for it later. The thought left him shaking. Severus wouldn’t leave him over this, would he? Would he think Harry was a freak or a bad influence? ‘Bad blood will out.’

No. Severus wasn’t like that. He wouldn’t abandon Harry for a stupid mistake, but he would be hurt, and that hurt Harry. Damn. All he had wanted was a bit of freedom. Just to be Harry for a little while, rather than the bloody Boy-Who-Lived. He hadn’t meant to hurt Severus in the process.

‘I’m so sorry, Sev. You… you’ll understand, won’t you?’

“Harry?”

Harry jolted and frowned at the realisation that he was staring after Severus. No one had noticed but Ron—yet—and the stalker had gone, but Harry was taking a risk like this. He had to pull it together, for Severus’ sake.

“Er… it’s nothing, mate. Let’s just go get Hermione and eat.”

“Right. Well, I won’t say no to The Gander. Never had it before.”

“To be honest, it’s a bit froufrou for our tastes—more Malfoy’s style—but at least it’ll be stalker-free.”

“Fair enough.”

 


 

That night, Harry overheard Missus Weasley and Mister Weasley talking and, thus, had a perfect excuse to tell his friends what he knew about Black without appearing to have an outside source. The only problem was acting as shaken up as if it was the first time he had heard it, and if he had not caught Hermione’s narrowed eyes as he related the information about Black’s vendetta against him, he would have thought he’d performed admirably. Damn. He would have to be careful around her. She was just too intelligent to keep secrets from for long.

A bit like one of his other friends, come to think of it. As soon as he remembered what awaited him after the discussion, he no longer had to pretend to be downcast and worried. Gods, what would Severus do?

It was with a nervous heart that Harry returned to his room that night, knowing Severus would be waiting inside.

“When, precisely, were you going to tell me that man was stalking you?”

Harry hugged his chest and sat down on the bed, his chest aching for Severus’ pain. “I-I’m sorry. You said he wasn’t dangerous, so I thought—”

“No, Harry. I said he wouldn’t attack you. That does not mean there is no danger.” Severus sighed and sat beside him. “Harry, that man—I… if I’d realised he would do this. Gods.”

“Do you know him, Severus?”

Severus gave a bitter laugh. “One could say that. It’s Remus Lupin, Harry. The werewolf I told you about.”

Harry jerked up and hissed, “That bloody monster’s been tracking me for three weeks? Why?”

“I imagine because he overheard most of our conversation in the woods that day. He is a coward, Harry. He has probably been trying to gather the courage to speak to you all this time and failing miserably.”

“Or fabricating his story,” Harry muttered.

“That too.” Severus tugged Harry down beside him and held his shoulders. “Harry, you trust me, do you not?”

Harry dropped his head and nodded, tears of shame stinging his eyes. “I-I’m sorry. I didn’t realise he was so… dangerous, and I just—I’ve never been free before, Severus. I just didn’t want to leave. And I didn’t want to get in your way. I’m sorry.”

Severus sighed and wrapped an arm around Harry’s shoulders. “Child, do you not know by now that nothing in my life is more important than your safety? Please, do not hide your fears from me again. Whether I must put aside my work, even if I must leave my position altogether, you are more important. I can work as an aide to Albus if I must, or sell potions on my own. But I can never replace you.”

Harry nodded and wiped his eyes. “Is he really that dangerous?”

“On the full moon? Absolutely. Most days, however, I do not believe he would harm you. It is less that Lupin is stalking you that troubles me and more that you did not tell me about it. This time, I believe there is little danger to your person, but the next, we may not be so fortunate. Please, do not keep secrets from me, Harry. Least of all, secrets involving your safety.”

Harry winced and lowered his head. “I’m sorry, Sev.”

“You are forgiven, child. I believe tomorrow we shall begin to establish the story that a crow has ‘adopted’ you as his wizard of choice. Where is Hedwig?”

“Here. She likes sitting on the roof at night and looking for bats.” Harry whistled softly, and his familiar landed on the windowsill. He beckoned his owl onto his arm and petted her back. “Hello, girl. Severus wanted to talk to you, I think. Will you listen to him for me?”

Hedwig hooted and leapt onto Severus’ shoulder. She nuzzled his hair, and Severus rubbed his furry ears against her head, a gesture he often used to comfort animals he trusted.

“Hello there, little one,” he said in a soft voice. “There is someone who is stalking Harry whom neither of us trust. You know I am a spy, correct, and that I cannot be seen protecting him in public until the Dark Lord is defeated?”

Hedwig gave a soft whoo and bobbed her head.

“To circumvent the danger, I am going to assume my crow form and pose as a second familiar for Harry. In my Animagus form, I can watch over him without giving away my true loyalties. However, I have no intention of usurping your place. I only wish to guard Harry and keep him safe. Will you allow me to watch over him?”

Hedwig tugged his hair gently and nuzzled his cheek.

“That was a ‘thank you,’ I think,” said Harry with a smile. “So you’re going to be with me tomorrow?”

“As much as I can be, child. My presence will be required at the castle for the welcoming feast, so I must leave you at least ten minutes prior, but you will have Hedwig, Hermione, and Ron to keep you safe then.”

“Okay. I’m glad you’re going to be with me. But why? What’s going on, Severus?”

Severus pulled Harry closer. “Besides Lupin, you mean?” His voice took on a breathy, haunted quality, and Harry felt him trembling against his side. “Harry, have I ever told you about the dementors?”

“No. What are they?”

Severus shuddered. “One of the foulest breeds of demons in existence, and I fear they are not as much under Ministry control as the government would like us to believe….”

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

Harry Potter and the Cowardly Wolf

1 September, 1994

Ron and Hermione guided Harry and his ‘pet’ crow to the cubby where Lupin was sleeping, and Harry couldn’t feasibly tell them to choose another compartment without seeming as if he knew more than he should. The rest of the compartments were full anyway. Still, Harry sat as far away from the werewolf as possible.

“Let’s be quiet,” Harry whispered, pointing to the professor. “He looks knackered.” And keeping their voices low would give Lupin less chance to accost him.

Severus squeezed his crow feet on Harry’s shoulder, a little touch to let him know he had done well.

“All right,” said Ron, “but who is he? I could swear I’ve seen him recently.”

Harry barely suppressed a snort. ‘Like yesterday, you mean?’

Hermione huffed. “Well, that’s obvious, isn’t it?”

Both boys gave Hermione a weary look.

She blushed and responded with a wry smile. “Well, it is when you think of it. The only adults who ride on the train from time to time, other than the train staff itself, are professors. And the only position open is Defence. So he must be the new Defence instructor.”

Harry laughed softly. “Hermione, you’re a wizard.”

She snickered. “A witch, thank you.” Her expression hardened into a scowl. “Though, to be fair, I think we should do away with both terms and come up with something based on our abilities rather than our gender. The terms witch and wizard are divisive, and the fact that the word ‘witch’ in the Muggle world has negative connotations is sexist as well. Come to think of it, the word ‘Muggle’ is problematic too, and—”

Ron nudged her shoulder. “We’re supposed to be keeping our voices down, remember? If you get on one of your crusades again, he won’t sleep long.”

She shot him a dark look. “It’s not a crusade, Ron.”

“But he does have a point,” said Harry with a sheepish smile. “You do tend to get loud when you talk about injustices. I agree with you, but this isn’t the place to talk about it.”

“Oh, all right.” She subsided with a pout and petted Crookshanks’ head. The cat never took his eyes off of Ron’s pocket, where Ron had sealed in Scabbers so he wouldn’t be hurt or run away. “Have you lot decided on what electives you’ll take?”

Harry nodded. “I chose Arithmancy, Astronomy, Care of Magical Creatures, and Ancient Runes.”

“Oi, I thought we were taking Divination together,” Ron complained.

Harry rubbed his scar and gave him a pained look. “I think I’ve had more than enough of prophecies and portents found in a teacup, thanks. We’ll be together for COMC, won’t we?”

“And you could always take a couple of academic classes, Ron,” said Hermione with a grin.

“Not on your life,” Ron returned, laughing under his breath. “I’m not so good at studying and books and such. But I do like animals. So yeah, we’ll be in COMC together. All of us, right?”

Hermione stuck her nose in the air. “Of course. I’m taking everything.”

Everything?”

The boys’ stunned reply caused the sleeping professor to snort, snuffle, and turn over. He resumed snoring a moment later.

Ron whispered, “Everything, ‘Mione?” He shuddered. “Are you mad? That’s, what? About five extra classes?”

“Six,” said Hermione with a blush. “It’s… well, it won’t be easy, but it’s worth it to learn everything our world has to offer, isn’t it?”

Ron shook his head wryly. “I’ll settle for my little piece of knowledge, thanks.”

“And I think I’m taking a good balance without overwhelming myself,” said Harry.

“Well, I’ll just have to share the interesting bits with you,” said Hermione with a wink.

Harry chuckled. “Sure, but wait. Does ‘everything’ include Muggle Studies?”

“Of course.”

“But you’re Muggleborn,” Ron protested. “You already know everything there is to know about Muggles.”

“Well, of course I don’t know everything. Besides, it’ll be fascinating to learn about them from the wizarding world’s point of view.” Her eyes narrowed. “And I want to know how much they’ve gotten wrong—how much is bias and lies and how much is simply ignorance, so I know how to fix it later.”

Harry patted her shoulder. “That’s a good goal. I’ll help where I can too, though I’m not taking Muggle Studies. Merlin, I’ve had more than enough of them as is.”

“Your Muggles are berks,” Hermione agreed. “I don’t blame you for not wanting to take it. But my parents are good people, and I want them to be able to visit me without having trouble with our kind one day.”

“In that case,” said Ron with a sad smile, “I can see why you’d want to take it. Your parents are really nice. Though I thought Dad would drive your father mad with all his talk of plugs and elecentrity and such.”

“Electricity,” said Harry and Hermione at once.

“My point exactly.”

Harry chuckled softly. “He is rather obsessed. But he’s nice too.” He leaned in and whispered, “But guys, we have more important things to worry about. I heard scary things in Diagon Alley this morning while you were packing up. Have you ever heard of dementors?”

Hermione shuddered. “The foul beasts that guard Azkaban prison? What about them?”

“Well, the Ministry knows Sirius Black is after me. So they… they posted dementors as guards around Hogwarts.”

Hermione gasped and put her hand over her mouth. “Oh my god. They sent those evil things to Hogwarts?”

Harry nodded grimly. “That’s what I heard. They’re supposed to be there to guard the school and catch Sirius Black if he shows up, but the couple I overheard talking are worried. They don’t think the dementors are in Ministry control enough to trust.”

“Well of course they’re not,” Hermione hissed. “They’re demons, not humans. They don’t have our sense of morality. They see food, they go after it. It’s that simple. And we’re their food.”

“Blimey,” said a white-faced Ron. “What do we—”

Crookshanks suddenly stood and arched his back, his fur making him grow to three times his normal size and his tail straight out behind him. He let out a low yowl and stared, eyes wide, at the windows.

“Crook?” Hermione tried to soothe him, but the beast refused to be calmed.

Harry whispered, “Merlin, what’s gotten into him?”

“I don’t know. He’s scared of something.”

“I don’t blame him.” Ron shuddered and rubbed his shoulders. “Dear gods. I-is it cold in here suddenly, or is it just me?”

Harry frowned, having just noticed a chill himself. “I thought it was just because we were talking about scary stuff.”

“No,” said Hermione, and gasped at the way her breath frosted the air. “Merlin. I don’t think it should be this cold even if the temperature control has gone out. Not at this time of year.”

Severus’ claws—Xerxes’ claws—pinched Harry’s shoulder and pulled him towards Lupin. Towards the windows. A sharp caw rang out through the compartment the next instant, and Lupin woke with a start.

“Wh-what? Who…?” The werewolf snorted and rubbed his eyes. “Merlin, why is it so cold?”

“Professor,” Hermione pleaded, “something’s wrong. What’s going on?”

Lupin blinked a few times, then the fog cleared and he leapt to his feet, wand out. “Dementors. Gods, I thought this might happen.” He gave the children a weak smile. “Right, so the charm to drive away dementors is Expecto Patronum. You have to think of your happiest memory. So, go on, children. Let’s see—”

Xerxes swooped at Lupin’s head, an angry caw in his throat.

“Professor,” Hermione squawked, “that’s a high NEWT level charm and we’re third years! Don’t you think you ought to be the one to cast it?”

“If you can find your bollocks in time, that is,” Harry muttered and moved his head out of the way so Xerxes could land on his shoulder again.

Lupin coughed. “Er, well, I just thought it would be good to have help—”

Professor!” Hermione screeched and pointed to the window. “They’re here! This is not the time!”

“Shite.” Lupin turned away and faced the window, his complexion pale as putty. Merlin, if this was their only defence against literal soul-sucking demons, they were fucked.

Harry jerked his wand out and struggled to find a positive memory with despair crowding him on all sides and terror turning his blood to ash. Dark eyes laughing with him. Warm hugs and soft wings wrapping him up. But the images shifted and morphed, and all his happiness fled. He tried to focus, tried not to feel the way Xerxes’ feet trembled on his shoulder or the way his feathers had fluffed out in all directions. Or to hear Crookshanks spitting and hissing. Or to listen to the memories playing havoc in his mind.

“Not Harry!”

Memory-Riddle stared Harry down and laughed, and the terrible pain in his skull, his chest, his ribs began to ease. “You are just like me.”

A slender, strong arm, dusted with dark hair and tipped in sharp claws, slammed in front of Harry’s. A long fang tore through the sensitive flesh, and Severus’ scream ripped Harry’s heart in two.

“Severus, no!”

Harry stood over Severus’ still form, sobbing in his hair and begging him to wake up, not to leave him alone forever.

A black form, too still, too cold, dropped from Harry’s shoulder and down his front. Harry barely caught him in time.

Xerxes!” He summoned the presence of mind to refer to Severus by his Animagus name, somehow, and cradled his friend’s form against his chest. “Oh gods, is he dead?”

Expecto Patronum!” A huge wolf erupted from Lupin’s wand and bounded around the compartment, driving a black-cloaked figure back. And another. And another. With a howl, the creatures soared away, taking the cold and bad memories and terror and despair with them.

About fucking time.

Harry cradled Xerxes to his chest and cried, “Help me!”

Lupin fixed his eyes on the crow, sniffed, and paled. “Take him to the back. I can’t treat him here.”

Harry understood by the way his eyes flicked to Hermione and Ron. Lupin knew the bird was Severus, and the man would need to take his human form before Lupin could heal him. But….

Harry gave the man a dark look. “Hurt him, and I swear to god, I’ll kill you.”

Lupin reeled back. “I… I don’t intend to hurt him.”

“Good.”

Harry carefully carried Severus to the back of the train, where there was an emergency recovery room. All around the train, adults scurried back and forth, distributing what looked like chocolate among the children. He kept an eye on Lupin the entire time, not liking that he had to follow the man to a place he didn’t know, where he wouldn’t have anyone to watch over him, but Severus’ need was more pressing.

The trolley witch shoved a bar of Honeydukes’ best in both of their hands. “Eat it. It helps drive the Dementors’ poison away.”

Harry nibbled his. “M-might I have one more for my friend, please?”

“Yes, of course.” She passed him another bar and raced off towards a compartment of sobbing first years. “Here you are, dears. Chocolate makes it less scary, hmm?”

Harry raised an eyebrow at the professor. “Why chocolate?”

Lupin shrugged. “It has powers to combat despair and fear, which is what dementors cause in their victims. Endorphins, or something like that. Either way, it truly does help. Eat it. We will treat your friend as soon as it is safe.”

Harry nodded and swept away towards the back of the train. Once inside, he shut the emergency compartment’s doors behind them and glared at Lupin. “Can I trust you with this? We certainly couldn’t trust you with our safety. Are you man enough to help me with his?”

Lupin’s shoulders slumped. “I’ve made a lot of mistakes, Harry, but I never intended to hurt you.”

Harry scowled. “No, just him.”

“Harry, I—”

“Save it. I don’t have time for cowards and bullies. Just help him.”

Lupin cringed. “I’m not a—”

“Stop wasting time trying to win me over! Just shut up and save him already!”

Lupin breathed in harshly and blinked hard. “A-Animagus Reverto.” Blue light glowed around Severus’ crow form. Severus changed shape and grew in Harry’s arms until he lay across Harry’s lap, unconscious, but breathing.

“Gods.” Harry stroked Severus’ hair and ears. “It’s okay, Sev. I’m here. It’s all right.”

Rennervate,” Lupin whispered, and Severus’ eyes jerked open.

“Harry!” Tears bled down the man’s cheeks as he grabbed Harry’s face and patted his cheeks, as if to reassure himself he was real. “I saw—the spell, the Dark Lord came for you and I—I could do nothing.”

Harry pressed Severus into his arms and held him tight. “Ssh. It was just a nightmare, Sev. I’m okay. It’s all right.”

“So afraid I had lost you forever.”

“It’s over now. Ssh. I had bad memories of losing you too. Gods, you had better never stick your arm in another basilisk’s mouth for me.”

Lupin gasped, and Severus jerked up, wand held at the ready.

You. What do you want?”

Lupin squeaked, “A basilisk?”

“Yes, a basilisk.” Harry guided Severus to sit and eased his wand arm down. “Easy, Sev. He saved you. There was no other choice. I didn’t know what to do. I do now, though, so there won’t be a need to do this again in the future.” He passed the extra bar of chocolate into Severus’ hand. “Eat.”

Once Severus had reluctantly begun nibbling on the chocolate, Harry turned to Lupin with a cold look. “Thank you for your help. You can go now.”

Lupin winced. “Harry, I’ve been trying to—I just want you to know that I—”

“Honestly, Lupin, I really don’t care. You’re a terrible example of a Gryffindor, and a human being in general. Just go.”

Lupin gasped, “But, Harry, y-you don’t know the whole story, and what Severus told you is—”

Harry’s eyes went hard and cold. “I trust Severus with my life. Unlike you. Get out, before I start cursing. And I don’t mean with words.”

“But—”

“I believe he has made his wishes clear, Lupin,” Severus snarled. “If you do not listen to them this instant, Harry will not be the only one cursing you.”

Lupin growled at Severus, and, at the sight of fear in his friend’s dark eyes, Harry made good on his threat.

Coles Adtenuo.” Yellow light centred on Lupin’s groin and made the werewolf yelp.

“I suggest you attend to that before it becomes permanent,” said Harry with a sharp smile.

“T-ten points from Gryffindor,” Lupin snarled and ran away.

Harry smirked. “Worth it. Totally worth it.”

Behind him, Severus burst into shocked laughter. “You… you shrunk his penis. You actually shrunk his penis.”

Harry grinned. “A gift from the twins.” A wry chuckle escaped him. “It was the first non-lethal thing that came to mind.”

Severus laughed helplessly and brought Harry into a hug. “You brilliant, brave, lovely boy. Thank you.” He kissed Harry’s temple. “Are you all right?”

“A little shaken up. Why did they attack us, Severus? Was it simply because they wanted food, or…?”

Severus winced. “I fear it may be or.”

“Yeah. I was afraid of that too.”

 


 

Lupin assigned Harry detention for cursing a teacher, though really, it was an excuse for the wolf to try to convert Harry back to his side. Harry sat through it stoically while the werewolf poured out his life story, how he was afraid of losing his friends, and Harry could understand that, couldn’t he?”

Harry gave him a cold, disgusted look. “Before Severus, I didn’t have any friends. And Severus risks his life every single moment just to take care of me. So, no, I don’t understand your cowardice, and I hope I never do.”

Lupin sighed and rubbed his forehead. “We’ll speak again this Wednesday.”

“You’ll have to get in line. I already have detention with Professor Snape Wednesday, and I’m afraid I’d much rather spend my time mucking out his cauldrons than listening to you complain about the miseries life has dumped on your poor ickle head.”

“Thursday then,” Lupin said with a scowl. “Go.”

“I thought you’d never ask.” Harry slung his bag over his shoulder and stalked out. Ten steps from the door, he threw on his invisibility cloak and backtracked towards the dungeons. “Self-centred, miserable, whingy little prig! How that idiot got sorted Gryffindor is beyond me.”

Severus let Harry in with a wry smile and shut the door behind him. “Long night?”

Harry scoffed and tossed off his cloak, pacing the office and muttering obscenities under his breath. Severus just watched, his eyes full of alternating amusement and sympathy.

“That… that egotistical, pathetic little twit spent the entire detention moaning about his fate to me! For gods’ sake, I’m a thirteen-year-old boy who’s the prime target of every Death Eater in the country. I’ve been attacked by Riddle himself—three bloody times—a mountain troll, a basilisk, and now the bloody Dementors have it in for me, and he thinks I’ll care that he got bitten by a werewolf? So fucking what? We all have problems. That doesn’t give him the excuse to cower and hide when his ‘friends’ turn into monsters. It doesn’t give him the right to stand by and watch people be abused, when he knows it’s wrong, and do nothing!” He huffed and flopped into the seat by his friend. “Gods, this year is going to be a nightmare, isn’t it?”

Severus gave him a wry smile and rubbed his shoulder. “Forgive me, little one.”

“No, don’t you apologise too! I’ve heard enough of that tonight. ‘Forgive me, Harry,’ this, and ‘I just wanted to be accepted,’ that, and ‘you understand what it means to be alone, don’t you?’ Ugh! That shitehead can ask me what it means to be alone when he’s been shoved into the cupboard and locked away by his only remaining relatives, his friends nowhere in sight, except the one person who’s always been by his side.”

Harry leaned his head on Severus’ chest and sighed. “Thank you, for never letting me really be alone.”

Severus tightened his grip around Harry’s shoulders and wrapped him in his wings. “I never will.”

 


 

By three weeks into the term, most of the school was raving about how good the new Defence professor was. And, admittedly, Lupin did know his stuff. Only the third year lions and badgers’ double class didn’t trust him, mainly because he never missed an opportunity to give Harry detention, sometimes more than one per class. And Harry never did anything to deserve it.

“I don’t know why that man has it in for you,” Ron muttered as they left another fraught Defence lesson. “I swear, he’s worse than Professor Snape. At least Snape only punishes you when you get mouthy or mess up your potion.”

Harry neglected to mention he acted defiantly in Severus’ class on purpose so the man would have an obvious reason to give him as many detentions as he did.

“Yes,” Hermione agreed, her expression tense with worry. “I think we should discuss it with the Headmaster, Harry. He’s obviously biased. And it’s not good for you to be in detention so much. How are you keeping up with your studies?”

Harry couldn’t say that Severus helped him during detention either. “Um… well, I’ve never really slept well, so I have plenty of time at night.”

That was true enough. Especially this year. The nightmares kept getting worse and worse.

“That’s not healthy either,” Hermione said with a sigh.

“I know, but I can’t help it. Dreamless Sleep doesn’t help much. And I can’t take it every night anyway.”

Hermione shook her head sadly. “Well, we’ll just try to help you stay on top of things as much as we can, but—” She looked at her watch and paled. “Oh no! I’m late for Astronomy! I’ve got to go.”

Ron protested, “But it’s ten in the morning, ‘Mione!”

Hermione was already gone.

Harry shook his head and guided Ron towards the north tower. “Look, mate, we’ve got our own classes to get to. You’ve got Divination, and I have Arithmancy. We’ll worry about her later. Maybe she meant to say Arithmancy and is just a little overstressed.”

Ron frowned. “Yeah, maybe. Well, good luck with your maths, mate. Better you than me!”

He waved and dashed off towards the tower, leaving Harry chuckling behind him. A frazzled Hermione met him at the door, still tucking something golden within her robes.

“Hello, Harry. Sorry I’m a little behind.”

He frowned. “Did you forget you were just talking to us, ‘Mione?”

She blinked a few times. “Uh… did I? Merlin, where is my head?”

“I reckon it’s bogged down with too many classes, Hermione. Even without Divination, you’re driving yourself mad.”

She sighed and raked a hand through her hair. “You might be right. But what can I drop besides it, Harry?”

“I reckon you could do without Muggle Studies and just read the textbooks in your own time.”

“No, no. I can’t drop that. It’s far too important to my long-term goals.”

“Astronomy then? I don’t reckon legal workers have much use for it, and you can always read my notes if you take a fancy to it.”

“Maybe, but it’s so interesting.” She raked a hand through her hair and gave him a wan smile. “Well, I’ll be okay for now. Let’s go inside. Don’t want to be late.”

“Yeah.” Harry led his friend inside and worried they might all crack up before the end of the year.

 


 

The day was promising to be a royal pain in the arse already, and it was barely past lunch. First Malfoy milked his injuries for all they were worth in potions, forcing Harry to stir his Befuddling Brew for him—Harry barely resisted the urge to dump a ladle of the hot liquid on his lacquered head, see how the prat liked that—then Severus had been forced to take points because Harry’s potion hadn’t turned out while he had attended Malfoy’s, then Harry’s plea to McGonagall about his Hogsmeade form had failed, and to top it all off, he had Defence after lunch with the whinge-master himself. Even better, it was two days to the full moon, and Lupin was in a worse mood than usual.

Gods, Harry just knew this lesson was going to be awful.

Lupin had moved all the desks back against the walls, leaving a large, open space with an old wardrobe at the centre. Every so often, the wardrobe rattled on its hinges.

Great. A practical display. This would be interesting, to be sure.

Harry stood in the back, trying to blend with the walls and watching the wardrobe wobble and shake. Whatever Lupin had in there, he did not want to meet it.

The werewolf came in, looking bedraggled and tired, and stood in front of the wardrobe with a wan smile. “Welcome, everyone. Now, today we’ll be doing practical defence, so if you have your books out, put them away.”

Everyone stared at the professor. Of course they didn’t have their books out. There was nowhere to put them.

“Right,” Lupin said as if he hadn’t noticed their confusion. “I’m sure you noticed the wardrobe shaking. Mister Filch was kind enough to loan me the… use of an unwanted guest he found lurking about the dungeons, and we’ll be sending him along his merry way today. This, class, is a boggart. Can anyone tell me what a boggart is?”

Of course, Hermione supplied the answer before anyone else had the chance to gather their wits. By the time she finished her first statement, Harry had remembered his lesson on boggarts with Severus from last year. And realised what the cost of facing one down in front of his entire class would be.

Severus, lying on the ground, bleeding and dying, the aurors pointing their wands at him, ears and tail and wings revealed for all to see….

Gods, no. Not only would it reveal the fact that Harry feared Severus’ death more than anything, but it would also reveal the truth about Severus’ race. Hell no. He couldn’t face that boggart. Not here. There had to be a way to get out of it because he knew, sure as day, Lupin would try to force him into it. The bastard had gotten it in his head if he put Harry on the spot enough and praised his skill with defence enough, it would break the ice on his heart. But Harry was not so easily won, and this disaster would end in innocent lives lost.

Fuck. He had to do something. But what?

“All right, now, let’s start with you, Seamus. What do you fear most?”

Seamus shuddered. “Um, big dogs. One bit me leg when I was a wee lad, and I’ve been afraid of them ever since.”

Harry shot Lupin a dark smile. Lupin pretended not to see it, but the slight wobble in his voice revealed his true emotions.

“O-oh. Well, the way to finish a boggart is laughter. Can you think of a way to make a vicious dog funny?”

Seamus cocked his head and frowned. “Oh! Yeah, I think I have an idea, sir.”

“Good. Now, the incantation to force a boggart back is ‘Riddikulus.’ Say it with me, without your wands. Ready? Riddikulus! Excellent. Now, Seamus, step forward. I’m going to open this door, and I want you to be ready with whatever funny image you thought of. Keep it in your mind’s eye and, as soon as the boggart assumes the form of your worst fear, cast the charm. Ready?”

Seamus moved into position and steeled himself, wand out and shaking. “I t-think so.”

“Good. Not to worry, now. If you do run into trouble, I’ll, of course, step in and take over. You won’t come to harm.”

Harry remembered how Lupin had handled the dementors on the train and decided he would believe that when he saw it.

Seamus gave a relieved sigh. “Okay. Then, I think I’m ready.”

“Right. One… two… three!”

Harry ducked behind the crowd and refused to lift his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched as a snarling Rottweiler leapt from the wardrobe and growled at Seamus, slobber and lather dripping from his mouth, eyes red with madness.

Seamus aimed his wand and cried, “R-Riddikulus!”

Pop! A gob of bubble gum appeared in the dog’s mouth, and it chomped at it helplessly, rage forgotten in the worry of trying to unstick his jaws. Harry couldn’t help a little giggle. Well, it was rather funny.

“Well done,” said Lupin with a grin. “Who’s next? Ron, would you like to give it a try?”

Ron gulped and stepped forward. The Rottweiler shifted into an acromantula, fangs dripping venom, all eight eyes focused on him.

Riddikulus!”

Roller skates appeared on the spider’s feet and sent him sprawling. Harry covered a snort and a guffaw.

“Good one, mate,” he whispered when Ron moved back and Lavender stepped forward.

Ron beamed.

Lupin went through a few of the others, then called, “Harry, how about you give it a go? I’m sure yours would be wonderful.”

Every Gryffindor rolled their eyes, being used to this odd back and forth treatment by now.

“No,” Harry called out clearly. “I am not going anywhere near that thing.”

Lupin frowned. “Harry, I had thought you would be willing to face anything down. Not a coward, are you?”

Harry snarled at the obvious attempt to bait him. “No, sir, not like someone else I know, but it just so happens I think it would probably be a bad idea to cause Voldemort to materialise in your classroom! Especially since there’s no way to make that funny!”

At the sound of several screams and gibbers of fear, Lupin relented with a cough.

“Uh, well, perhaps you have a point. T-then, all right, who’s next? Neville?”

Neville whimpered. “Um, I know what I’m afraid of, but not how to make it funny.”

“Oh? Well, what are you afraid of, then? Perhaps I can help.”

Harry barely suppressed a growl at Neville’s squeak. “P-Professor Snape.”

Lupin locked eyes with Harry and gave him a wry smile. “Really? Well, perhaps you might try this….”

 


 

Severus watched Harry pace his floor and rant, torn between love for the boy who was so angry for his sake and pain over what had caused it. Tears rimmed Harry’s beautiful eyes and streaked his cheeks, and his shaking hands had clenched into white-knuckled fists. Severus wanted to pry his hands apart and hold them, to soothe his friend, but he knew Harry needed to vent at the moment, to get his anger out before it consumed him.

“The bastard. The utter bastard. He called me a coward, then, after all this time telling me he was sorry, blah-blah, he tells Neville to dress you up in a vulture hat and a bloody dress so the entire class can laugh at you! He should’ve sent Neville back and told him it wasn’t proper to make fun of other professors, but no, he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to make you look bad in front of me. As if that would change my mind about you or him! Gods, I want to strangle the prick!”

Severus had been hurt by the story, more so by the fact that Neville feared him above all others than Lupin’s egregious prank with his body. It was no worse than what he was used to.

And yet, Harry’s anger and pain for him made his heart swell. If nothing else, he had a staunch defender in this young boy, and someone whose loyalty would not be shaken, not by his father’s friend nor attempts to undermine Severus’ standing.

Then, he noticed Harry’s hands.

“Harry,” Severus called. “Child, you are bleeding.”

 Harry paused, confused, and unclenched his hands. “Oh. O-ow.”

“Come.” Severus patted the conjured sofa beside him and opened his arms. Harry came running and buried his head in Severus’ shoulder.

Gently, Severus took Harry’s hands one by one and healed his palms. “Now, tell me why you did not want to face the boggart. I know you are brave, so that had nothing to do with it. You have certainly faced worse.”

Harry whimpered and nuzzled closer. “It was you, Severus. The minute I thought about my worst fear, I saw you lying on the ground. Your ears and wings and tail were out, and aurors were cursing you. You were dying, and there was nothing my healing could do to save you. I couldn’t. If I’d gone anywhere near that bloody boggart—it would have c-come true! I’d have lost you.”

“Oh, dear gods.” Severus cradled Harry on his lap and rocked him in his arms. “Ssh. It’s all right now. You did the right thing.”

“I t-told him I didn’t think it was a good idea to make Riddle appear. But really, I was just so scared of losing you. And I think he knew it.”

Severus grimaced. “Let us hope not.”

“What if he did, Severus? What if this boggart thing was just a trick to make me reveal you by accident?”

Severus clutched Harry tighter, then guided him to stand and moved to the fire. “Come. We shall speak to Albus about this. Lupin is out of line.”

“Y-yeah. Thanks, Sev.”

“I will always protect you, little one.”

Harry buried his face into Severus’ side and hugged his waist. “I know.”

 


 

It took two more talks with Albus, from both Severus and Harry’s friends and peers, but after a couple of weeks, the constant detentions tapered off and Lupin’s boggart wardrobe disappeared. The man still assigned Harry weekly detentions for no reason at all, but Harry just tuned him out most of the time.

That night, he had another Lupin detention, and the man said something along the lines of, “I just want to be a part of your life.”

Patience exhausted, Harry’s stomach clenched in rage. “Do you? You have a funny way of showing it! You’ve been threatening my friends, forcing me to listen to you gripe for hours, and turning the one person who’s stood by me since before my birth into a bloody laughingstock. Oh yes, great way to endear yourself to me, Lupin.”

“Watch your language, Harry. I’m your professor.”

“You certainly don’t act like one.”

Lupin’s cheeks coloured. “I… Harry, perhaps I’ve gone about this the wrong way, but all I want is a chance to establish a relationship with you. Really.”

“And I thought I’d made it abundantly clear I’m not interested.” Harry scoffed and slung his bag over his shoulder. “If you had wanted a relationship with me, maybe you should have done something about it before now, as I know perfectly well you knew where I lived these past thirteen years. Where were you then, Professor?”

“H-Harry, please, I—”

Harry scoffed and moved towards the door. “Just leave me alone. Nothing you do or say is going to change my opinion of you. You’ve proven you don’t have the spine, heart, or maturity to act like a decent person or a decent professor, and my opinion of you can’t possibly go any lower without making yourself into another dark lord, so I don’t see any reason to keep attending these daily bitch-and-moan sessions. Goodbye, Professor.”

“Mister Potter,” Lupin snarled, “you will show me the respect I deserve.”

“Yes, I will. And I’m going to start right now.” Harry flipped him a two-fingered salute and walked out.

 


 

Albus assigned him a real detention for his behaviour, with Professor McGonagall, thankfully, but Harry didn’t mind writing lines. Better that—or just about anything, really—than listening to Lupin whinge about his misfortune and try to weasel his way into Harry’s life. To his relief, Albus had also interceded there and made it clear to Lupin that he was not to assign Harry any further detentions with himself. If Harry acted out of turn in class—and the other students could verify it—then Lupin could assign him detention with one of the other staff members, but never again with himself. Thank Merlin for small favours.

It had been a great day, even with knowing he wouldn’t be going to Hogsmeade with everyone else in the morning. If not for that, it would have been perfect.

And the twins made it so that night when they gave him the Marauder’s Map. Harry was less than amused by the makers’ egotistical manner, but he couldn’t deny the thing was dead useful.

The next morning, Harry stood in front of the one-eyed witch statue, hidden under the cloak and watching the map form the spell to let him pass. He hesitated before saying the words, knowing Severus would not be pleased, but he had no intention of causing trouble. He only wanted to see the town and have Ron buy some sweets for them, maybe pick up a few owl order catalogues for Christmas. He still hadn’t any clue what to get Severus, but he wanted it to be something nice, to let the tengu know how much he appreciated him.

He’d never find it unless he at least tried to leave the castle once in a while.

He used this thought to justify the trip to himself and whispered the spell. “Dissendium.”

The one-eyed witch’s hump split down the middle, forming a door, and Harry climbed inside.

“Mischief managed.”

 


 

Severus flew the skies, disguised as Xerxes, and watched the crowds for trouble. But… wait. There, by the sweets shop. Harry. The boy was hidden under his cloak and sandwiched between his two best friends, one looking disapproving and the other amused. Worried, he watched as Harry went into shop after shop, staying well-hidden and passing money to Ron or Hermione for things he wanted to purchase.

Severus would be having a chat with the boy when he returned to the castle, but as long as Harry stayed out of sight, he didn’t mind letting him have a look around the town. It wasn’t fair that he hadn’t been able to come, and Severus could guard him like this. Perhaps he would suggest Harry come under the cloak with himself next time.

Then, the trouble started. Harry spotted Malfoy and his thugs throwing rocks at a stray dog—or rather, Malfoy’s goons threw the rocks and Malfoy himself stood by, looking ill and upset. In retaliation and to stop Crabbe and Goyle from hurting the dog, Harry started a mud-slinging contest. Literally. As satisfying as it was to see the hulking prats drowned in gobs of foul-smelling, slimy goop, the fact that Harry had finished the show by sticking his head out of his cloak—and only his head—had ended Severus’ patience with the charade.

He zoomed down to Harry and landed on his shoulder with a quiet caw. Harry took one look at him and flushed in shame.

“Shite.”

‘Indeed, Mister Potter.’

Harry sighed and pulled his cloak back over his head, draping it over Severus as well. “Okay. I’m going home. I’m sorry, Xerxes.”

Severus pinched his shoulder, not hard enough to hurt, but enough to let him know he was in trouble.

Harry grimaced and made his way back towards the castle, through a secret tunnel in Honeydukes Severus had never known existed. He reassumed his human form a few steps from the witch’s hump and yanked the hood off Harry’s face.

Mister Potter. Would you like to tell me why Malfoy reported seeing your head in Hogsmeade when you were not to be there at all?”

“I… I… maybe he was seeing things, professor?”

Severus understood Harry was acting in character as they were in public and steered him towards his office. “I expect a truthful answer, Mister Potter. Now.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said miserably and trudged after Severus.

Once the door closed behind them, Severus sat Harry down and loomed. Harry needed to know he had broken Severus’ trust this time, and it wasn’t something that would be fixed with an apology.

But Harry broke into tears at the sight of him, and Severus’ heart cracked.

“I’m s-sorry. I didn’t mean for the cloak to come off. When I tripped Goyle, it caught on his foot and came down.”

“You shouldn’t have gone to Hogsmeade at all, Harry. Especially with a murderer on the loose and looking for you. It was foolhardy and dangerous. You risked everything and broke my trust for a bag of sweets, a trip around town, and a prank on Malfoy et al. Is it worth it?”

“No,” Harry whispered. “No, not if I hurt you. Gods, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—I didn’t think it was that bad.”

Severus nodded sharply. “I believe that. You didn’t think of the consequences at all, did you?”

Harry slumped over and whimpered. “No, sir.”

“Do you understand what might have happened? You might have been killed. I might have lost you!” Severus cupped Harry’s face and forced him to look up. “Do you know what I see when I face a boggart? You, lying dead at my feet, and there is nothing I can do to save you.”

Tears poured over his hands. “S-Sev!” Harry threw his arms around Severus’ waist and crashed into him, weeping in his shoulder. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“I know, child. I know.” Severus smoothed Harry’s hair and rubbed his back. “Ssh. It’s all right now. I forgive you.”

Harry looked up, wiping his face. “You do?”

“Yes. But you will have a real detention for this, Harry. I love you, but you must learn to think before you act.”

Harry sniffled and wiped his eyes. “O-okay. I really am sorry, Sev.”

“I know, child.” Severus brushed Harry’s tears away. “Now, will you tell me how you got into Hogsmeade and learned of that tunnel?”

Harry flinched. “I… please don’t punish them?”

Severus groaned. “The Weasley twins?”

“Er… yes. Sort of. They gave me this.” Harry took out the map and activated it. “It shows all of Hogwarts. And all the people within.”

Severus took the map and examined it. “This is fascinating. A powerful piece of charms work, to be sure. And dangerous. Should this fall into the wrong hands….”

Harry flinched. “I didn’t think of that either. But anyone who stole it would also need the password to use it, so there is that.”

“Hmm. How do you turn it off?”

“You say, ‘mischief managed.’”

Severus nodded and watched as the map went blank. “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”

The map activated once more, revealing all of the school and the students milling about. One name, however, made Severus’ heart leap into his throat.

“Harry, are you certain this map is accurate?”

Harry shook his head. “I haven’t had it long enough to test it. Why?”

“Look.” Severus pointed to the Entrance Hall, where the students had started returning from Hogsmeade. And directly beside Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger was….

Pettigrew? But… he’s dead, isn’t he?”

“So I thought….”

 


 

Severus’ mad dash to the Entrance Hall revealed nothing but students, and yet, the sight of that name on the map would not leave him alone. How could Pettigrew have been in the castle? And even if he wasn’t, why, of all people, would the map choose to display that name? The name of a man who had been dead for over twelve years? It just didn’t make any sense.

Something strange was afoot, and Severus was going to find the answers—before they threatened Harry’s life this time.

So, that night, he settled in to watch. Pettigrew’s name followed Weasley to bed, but he knew if the man had truly been in the Gryffindor dorms, Harry would have come running. Either Pettigrew’s name had somehow attached itself to Ron—but wait. No, Pettigrew was moving. Ron was in bed—probably sleeping—but Pettigrew’s footprints tracked to the door, through the common room, and out into the corridors.

Damn. Severus tracked the name to the fifth floor corridor, but the minute he came near, the footprints scurried away in the opposite direction. More, if Pettigrew had been in the castle, Severus should have been close enough to see him, and definitely close enough to smell him even if he had made himself invisible. He smelled nothing but dust, the lingering odours of students, and a slight whiff of castle rats.

Severus checked the map once more, frustrated, and nearly fainted at the sight of another name that should not be there.

Sirius Black. And he was outside Gryffindor Tower.

“Fuck! Expecto Patronum!” The memory of the first time Harry had said he loved Severus made his doe appear. “Go straight to Albus. Black is in the castle and almost atop Harry. Sound the alarms, I am after him now. Go!”

As soon as the doe turned to leave, Severus dashed for the staircases, using his wings to move faster.

But by the time he arrived, Black had gone, and Harry was safe.

The Fat Lady, however, had seen better days.

 


 

The incident in the boys’ dorm left Harry shaken. That night, he had wanted desperately to contact Severus, to let him know he was okay, to warn him about trouble, but he had no means of long-distance communication. He shared this with Severus during his real detention—and scrubbing flobberworm guts out of cauldrons was disgusting enough to convince Harry never to make Severus angry again—and Severus had decided to teach Harry to cast a Patronus. To actually teach him, not that sad excuse for a ‘lesson’ Lupin had attempted on the train. Besides, with dementors all over the castle, common sense demanded that Harry know how to defend against them.

“Think, Harry. Your happiest memory. Not something simply good, but something life-changing. A moment that defined happiness for you like no other.”

Harry looked to Severus and smiled, knowing then what memory he wanted to use. “Expecto Patronum!” Rather than the pathetic stream of shapeless mist, a cloud of white smoke poured from his wand, taking the vague shape of something with four legs and long protrusions on its head.

Severus beamed even as the mist faded. “Well done, Harry. That is excellent for a first lesson. Whatever memory you chose, keep using it.”

Harry put his hand in Severus’ and smiled back. “It was the day we went to the park together in my second year summer after we cleared up all those plagues. We sat and watched clouds, and I got to hear what you sound like when you really laugh. That was my happiest memory. Seeing you happy.”

Severus kissed Harry’s forehead and hugged him close to his heart. “You are a wonder, child.” He pulled back with a soft smile on his face and tears lining his eyes. “Again. Show me what you can do.”

Harry focused on the sound of Severus’ laughter, rich, warm, deep, and unrestrained, and poured his power into his wand. “Expecto Patronum!”

 


 

It was harder, Harry soon discovered, to produce a Patronus—or even a mist—in the presence of dementors. They had swarmed him at the Hufflepuff/Gryffindor quidditch match—so many, he hadn’t been able to stay conscious. The last thing he remembered was struggling to focus on the sound of Severus’ laughter over his mother’s final screams.

He opened his eyes with a jerk and found Severus sleeping next to him, moonlight spilling over his hair and turning his ears white. Harry lifted a bruised, but mercifully whole hand to stroke his ears, loving the feel of his soft fur under his fingertips. Really, just loving this yokai and his unflinching devotion to Harry.

“Hey, Sev,” Harry whispered, and Severus’ head jerked up.

“Harry,” he murmured, relief painted all over his face. “You are back.”

Harry grimaced. “How long was I out?”

“Three days.” Severus squeezed his hand. “The fall—it was terrible. We tried to slow your descent, but all of us were fighting the thrall of dementors too. I… I tried, but I am… weak to their powers. Gods, I—I am so sorry, Harry. I failed you. I knew you were falling, and I could not even keep myself upright, let alone you. Please, forgive me.”

Harry tugged Severus closer until the yokai was lying beside him, wings wrapped around Harry and arms holding him tight.

“It is not your fault, Severus. Are you okay? Did they hurt you this time?”

Severus shuddered. “There were so many. I am afraid I did fall unconscious again, and it took several moments to revive me.”

Harry stroked Severus’ ear and hair. “Is it because you’re part….” He touched the yokai’s wings to make his meaning clear without endangering his friend.

“No. Those with that particular trait are generally strong against Dementors. It is simply that my life has been… so painful.”

Harry kissed Severus’ forehead and held him tight. “Not anymore.”

“No,” Severus whispered. “Gods, what would I do without you?”

“I don’t want to think of it.”

Severus buried his face in Harry’s shoulder. “Neither do I.”

“Sev? Did my… my broom…?”

Severus grimaced. “Child, it was all we could do to save you. Your broom flew into the Whomping Willow. I’m afraid there is not much left of it.”

Harry sighed, but let his disappointment fade quickly. The Dursleys had taught him never to be too attached to possessions. People, on the other hand, he loved hard and never let go.

“I shall help you purchase a new broom soon, little one. No fear. As much as it alarms me, I know you love to fly.”

“It’s the only time I feel free, Sev.” Harry smiled softly. “Except for when you’re with me.”

“I love you, too, Harry.” Severus moved away and kissed Harry’s forehead. “Sleep. I shall return later.”

Harry nodded and let the comfort of Severus’ presence guide him into dreams.

Chapter Text

Chapter 10

Harry Potter and the Flea-Bitten Mutt

25 December, 1994

Harry woke Christmas morning to find a pile of presents at the foot of his bed, including a box wrapped in silver and gold about as tall as Harry was. It was long and skinny, and Harry’s heart leapt into his throat at the sight of it. He knew who had sent it by the paper—Severus always sent him gifts in metallic paper with no cards—and he had a good idea of what it might be by the shape.

Ron gasped at the sight of it. “Harry, is that… what I think it is?”

Harry grinned. “Let’s open it together and find out!”

Ron gave him a bright nod and raced to his side, helping him tear off the paper and ribbons. And, in a long white box, sat the same broom Harry had admired again and again in Diagon Alley earlier in the year.

“A Firebolt?” Ron’s voice had gone up to a pitch only dogs could hear. “Sweet Merlin! Harry, someone really loves you. Who sent it? Where did it come from? Can I try it?”

Harry laughed and playfully nudged his friend. “Of course you can. And….” His smile softened. “I know exactly who sent it, and he does love me. So let’s go try it out!”

“Don’t you want to see what else you got?” By Ron’s pout, Harry knew he meant his own gift to Harry.

“Oops. I almost forgot. Thanks for reminding me.” He turned and dug into the pile of gifts, finding mostly what he expected, but Ron had surprised him.

“A book?” Harry laughed and knocked shoulders with him. “Did Hermione put you up to this?”

Ron chuckled and turned red. “N-no, it’s just that you said you wanted to learn more about potions. Mum’s really good, and she has a lot of household recipes she made up. Those are hers, and she said I could share them with you. It’s from both of us, though of course, you’ve also got the frogs from me and the jumper from Mum.”

Harry’s heart swelled and his breath caught. “Oh, Ron. Really? Your mum made these recipes? Oh… that’s brilliant. Thank you, and thank your mum too.”

“Do it yourself, prat. She gave them to me because she thinks of you as a son. She loves you. So you should tell her thank you for it.”

Tears blurred Harry’s vision and joy flooded his chest. “Oh. Y-yeah, okay. I will.” He grinned and wiped his eyes. “Does that make us brothers?”

“You bet it does. And brothers share, so…?”

Harry laughed and pulled Ron to his feet. “Come on, then. Let’s go fly.” He set the book down on his pillow lovingly and smoothed the cover. “Thanks, Mum,” he whispered, and ran out to test the skies.

 


 

Severus watched Harry fly from the library windows, smiling to himself. The boy had such talent and his joy was contagious. Severus’ heart swelled with pride at the knowledge that he had given it to him, even if he had had to sell his only gold cauldron and live on second-rate coffee for months. It was worth it, to see Harry so happy.

Minerva stood beside him and frowned at the sight of the boy zooming about. “Merlin, is that a Firebolt?”

Severus nodded. “I fear Slytherin will have no chance now.”

Minerva gave a wry chuckle. “Not with Harry on that, but where did it come from? He couldn’t have bought such a broom himself. Not while stuck in the castle, to be sure.”

“I am certain it was a Christmas gift.”

“From whom? None of his compatriots could afford such an expenditure.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “Severus, do you think Black might have sent it? Could it be jinxed?”

Severus frowned. “Obviously not. He is flying without issue.”

“But what if it does not take effect until later? At a quidditch match, perhaps, where it might harm more than one person. Merlin, Harry will be furious, but I think we must examine that broom before we let him—”

Severus laid a hand on her arm. “Don’t. It is safe.”

“How would you know?”

Severus closed his eyes. “I cannot say for the sake of our safety, but trust me. Please.”

Minerva gave him a searching look, and after a moment, relented with a nod. “I know you do not hate him as you must pretend to do,” she whispered to him. “I assume you have already verified the source?”

Severus gave her a curt nod.

“Very well. If you are sure it is safe, then we shall let him fly.” Minerva gave him a wry smile. “And not only because this means he will almost certainly bring home the cup this year.”

“So long as the Dementors stay away from the pitch,” Severus muttered under his breath.

Minerva scowled at the dark shapes hovering around the periphery of Hogwarts’ wards. “Indeed.”

 


 

By lunchtime, all of Harry’s friends had taken a spin on the Firebolt. Even Hermione had been willing to give it a go, once Harry assured her he knew where it came from and it was safe. She hadn’t gone far, but she had enjoyed her short trip around the pitch and said she could see why the boys enjoyed it so much, even if flying wasn’t her thing. Harry was just relieved she hadn’t questioned him further.

Until it occurred to him that maybe she already knew, and maybe Harry hadn’t been as discreet about Severus as he thought.

He worried about it all the way to the Great Hall, debating whether he should just tell her, at least about his friendship with Severus, if not about Severus’ true race. No, better to ask Severus himself what to do first. He would know.

With that settled, Harry sat down to the communal holiday table and shot Severus a glare. Several times in a row. The yokai would understand this was ‘code’ for “I need to talk.” Severus glared back, assuring Harry he understood. Relieved, he began to pile his plate with food, but stopped halfway through as a group of owls came into the hall carrying a long, thin package. Harry flashed back to first year and gave McGonagall a bemused look, but she looked just as confused.

The birds dropped the package in Harry’s lap and flew away. One looked like a tropical bird instead of an owl. Harry gave Severus a bemused look, but the man pretended not to see it. Severus hadn’t sent it then. Merlin. There was no card either.

“Uh, mate?” Ron leaned in to whisper, “Is that another broomstick?”

Harry shrugged. “One way to find out, I guess.”

He opened the paper, and his jaw nearly unhinged. It was a Firebolt—another Firebolt.

“Um….” He passed the box to Ron. “Happy Christmas, I guess?”

Ron’s mouth fell open. “What?” It came out in a squeak. “You… really?”

“Well, I don’t need two, do I?”

“Oh gods, mate! This is brilliant! I can’t wait to try—”

“Hold that thought, Mister Weasley.” McGonagall stood and took the broom, her eyes full of worry. “We do not know who sent this. It may well be cursed. We will need to examine it thoroughly before you may have it.”

Ron turned white, then red. “Cursed? Why would anyone send him a cursed broom? That’s madness.”

“Quirrell, Ron,” Hermione murmured. “Quirrell. It’s not madness, it’s being safe.”

“But—”

“If the tests reveal no tampering,” said McGonagall, “you may have this back.”

“I still don’t understand why you’re so worried….”

Harry nudged Ron’s shoulder. “Because she thinks Black sent it. That’s why. She thinks he sent it to kill me.”

Ron went white again. “Oh. Well, then might I borrow yours from time to time while they’re checking it?”

“Of course, mate. Just don’t scratch it.”

“I would never!”

The look of horror on Ron’s face was so exaggerated, Harry couldn’t help but burst into laughter.

 


 

 

On Severus’ advice, Harry did not tell Hermione yet. Until he was certain she knew, he couldn’t risk it.

Harry was happy, though, to see Severus wearing his new gift—the bracelet Harry had bought via owl order and asked Dumbledore to help him charm. It protected against potions and ingredients injuring Severus through his skin. The bracelet would shield him from explosions and protect him against accidents when he worked on his experiments and research. That night, when he sat with Severus in his office to talk about their holidays, he shared the other half of the bracelet's secrets. This news he had wanted to deliver in person.

“Sev, that bracelet… there’s one more charm.” Harry took Severus’ hand and rubbed his fingertips, trailing carefully along the backs of his claws. “I know you’re scared of Lupin. I don’t blame you. I’m kind of scared of him myself. But I know you’ve been having nightmares, so I thought it might help if I gave you some protection.”

“Nothing can prevent lycanthropy, Harry.” Severus squeezed the boy’s hand. “But I appreciate the thought.”

Harry grinned. “No, I can’t stop you from becoming a werewolf if you’re ever bitten, but I can make you smell like death and poison to werewolves so they don’t want to bite you.”

Severus’ breath caught. “That… is possible?”

“It took a lot of work to find the charm, but the headmaster helped. He lent me his books about lycanthropy and how to protect yourself. And in one of them—it was really old, so I guess most people have just forgotten the spell exists—there was a charm to make people smell like death to lycanthropes. We weren’t sure it would work on you, but the headmaster toyed with the charm and made it so it works for your kind too.”

Severus traced a fingertip along the bracelet. “So this means Lupin will never be able to harm me again. Nor Greyback.”

“As long as you wear it, yeah.”

Severus pulled Harry into his lap and hugged him tightly. “This is the best gift I have ever received, little one. Thank you.”

Harry grinned. “Wait until your birthday.”

Tail thumping softly behind him, Severus flushed and kissed Harry’s forehead. “I love you, Harry.”

“I love you too.”

 


 

On Severus’ birthday, Harry spent a good hour under the invisibility cloak hunting out Salazar in the dungeons. He had plans, but he had to find Severus’ quarters and convince the portrait to let him in first. If it didn’t work, he would just wait until Severus came home, though it meant his plans would run late. Still, he would prefer to have his surprise ready sooner if he had a choice.

It took several trips through the dungeons, but, eventually, he found Salazar tucked into a corner. He grinned to himself and ducked into a nearby alcove. Part one of his plans accomplished. He cast an Unnoticeable glamour upon himself and stepped in front of the door. The glamour would hide him from anyone who didn’t know he was there. It would break for the portrait—and, with luck, only for the portrait—as soon as Harry spoke. Especially as he planned to speak in Parseltongue.

With a deep breath, he stepped up to the door and carefully moved his hood back from his face, just enough to reveal his identity to the portrait once he broke his glamour for him. He opened his mouth to greet Salazar, but the portrait spoke before he could.

“Great Merlin, I know that scent….”

Harry blinked. Scent? Shite. He hadn’t thought he stunk enough to break his glamour. He sniffed himself and frowned. He didn’t. He smelled only of soap. Maybe the founder didn’t like the Hogwarts brand? It seemed absurd, but Harry could think of no other explanation.

Harry stared at a snake winding around Salazar’s cloak pin and hissed, ~You can smell me?~

The portrait’s eyes widened and focused upon him like twin lasers. Green lasers. Merlin, they had such similar colouring.

“Harry Potter,” the portrait whispered. “You should not be here. You will endanger him.”

~I’m under a glamour, sir, and my invisibility cloak. You’re the only one who can see or hear me right now since I’m using that snake on your collar to speak Parseltongue.~

Salazar gave him an assessing look. ~Clever, little snake in a lion’s den. But why have you sought me out?~

~Um… I need into Sev’s quarters.~

~And why would I let you in without the password?~

~Well, I want to make him dinner for his birthday.~ Harry moved back a fold of the cloak to show a basketful of steaks, potatoes, carrots, and the makings for apple pie and ice cream—all Severus’ favourites. ~I figured you mightn’t let me past, and it’s all right if it would get you in trouble, but we’ll have more time to enjoy it if you can let me in.~

Salazar searched Harry’s eyes. ~You care for him.~

~He’s my best friend. I love him dearly.~

Salazar bowed and came up with a bit of a smirk. ~Well, I simply must see how this hare-brained scheme of yours plays out, Mister Potter, though we may both face his wrath for this later.~

The door swung forwards with a click, and Harry scurried inside. As soon as he shut the door, Salazar reappeared on a canvas above the fireplace.

“No wonder I couldn’t find you for so long,” Harry muttered with a huff. “You were in here.”

Salazar chuckled. “I stay here unless someone comes to the door for the most part. I came to the door because I heard your footsteps pass several times and noticed the same scent with them. I wanted to make sure there was no trouble, but….” His expression shifted to worry and confusion. “I did not expect to find… what I did.”

Harry cocked his head. “How can you smell me, sir? I don’t stink. Is the school soap that strong?”

Salazar’s eyes shuttered. “You keep Severus’ secrets, child. Am I also able to trust you with mine?”

Harry gasped. “You’re not human, are you?”

“I will not answer without your word.”

“That was answer enough. And I think you wouldn’t have said even this much without knowing I’d protect you.” Harry gave him a hesitant smile. “I won’t tell anyone, sir. Wizarding society is stupid for thinking everyone without a full human ancestry is evil. I mean, some yokai are evil and have to be treated carefully for safety’s sake, but Sev isn’t a bloody dementor, and neither are you.”

Salazar nodded, a slow, careful movement that did not let Harry out of his sight. “I am not a yokai, child.”

“Oh? Well, that’s okay. I know you’re not evil either, whatever you are.”

Salazar hesitated. “I will show you my true form, but it may be… shocking. My ancestry is serpentine—obviously—and I do not wish you to associate me with the fool who calls himself my heir.”

Harry blinked. “Riddle? He’s not your heir?”

Salazar snorted. “Oh, he is likely related to me in some distant manner through my kin, but if he were my descendant, he would not be human. None of my rather short family tree mated with humans, and so, I would be most shocked indeed to find he is of any true relation.” He frowned. “Well, I passed on before I learned who my granddaughter chose as a mate, but I doubt very much that she chose a human either. Humans do not accept our kind well.”

Harry nodded. “I understand. I won’t run screaming if that’s what you’re afraid of.”

Salazar chuckled. “Ah, there is Godric’s personality within you. I had begun to wonder why the hat placed you among the lions.”

Harry flushed. “To be honest, sir, it didn’t want to. It wanted to put me in your house, but until I met Sev and knew he was head of Slytherin, I hadn’t any good experiences of them. I met the Malfoys first, and then there was Riddle… well, I was terrified to be a Slytherin. And, if I’m honest, I doubt I’d have survived this long if I had been sorted with the snakes, and maybe the hat sensed that.”

Salazar nodded. “You would not be safe among the snakes, so it is good that the hat, at least, had enough sense not to place you where you would be in the most danger. That said, I think you are more snake than lion.”

“Oh, Sev says I’m a good mix of both, what with my reckless courage and blind loyalty to my friends,” said Harry with a grin.

Salazar chuckled. “Yes, I suppose I can agree with that.” He sighed. “And I will reveal the truth to you if you will swear to show me that same loyalty.”

Harry nodded and pressed a hand to the portrait’s shoulder. “I was already loyal to you. Since the day you helped us when Sev was gone and Quirrell was after the stone, you won my trust. And I won’t hurt you, I promise, even if I am a bit shocked by your nature.”

“Very well.”

Salazar’s human glamours vanished, revealing a face with serpentine features and a cobra’s hood instead of ears. He still had a head full of black hair, but it grew only behind the hood and formed a point at his forehead rather than a full hairline. He had slitted pupils like a snake and the same brilliant green eyes. A hint of a human nose softened his features slightly, but he still looked to be more snake than man. Harry could understand now why he said humans did not often mate with his kind. Most of the ninnies would be terrified of him on sight, not to mention the fact that their anatomy wasn't exactly compatible unless he kept his glamours up.

“Wow. You really are the founder of the snake house, yeah?”

Salazar chuckled nervously. It sounded breathier in his true shape. “I am indeed. I am a Naga, child, one of the serpentine guardians of India.”

“Oh. I’ve heard of them, a little.”

“Yes, you would have done. Even Muggles know of our ancestry, to some extent.” He fixed Harry with a searching look. “You are a mystery to me, Harry. I had thought, until you, that no one without Naga blood could be a Parselmouth. And yet, I smelled no non-human blood on you, so I believed you could not possibly be my descendant despite our physical similarities.”

“Well, Headmaster Dumbledore thinks this links me to Riddle and I got the ability from him.” Harry rubbed his scar, and Salazar’s eyes narrowed. “So I guess I’m the only one who isn’t part-Naga. We do look a lot alike, though, don’t we?”

Salazar’s expression turned pensive. “So we do.” He motioned to the kitchen. “Hurry and prepare your food, little one. If we chat much longer, Severus will be home long before it is ready.”

“Yes, sir.”

Harry wondered about the worry and confusion in Salazar’s eyes, but he let it slide for the time being. Perhaps Severus would be able to find out what was wrong—he doubted the Naga would trust him with his fears so soon. Instead, he obeyed and trotted to the kitchen, basket of supplies in hand.

 


 

Harry had just put the pie in the oven when Severus trudged in after his office hours, shoulders slumped and rubbing his face from exhaustion.

“Merlin, what a day.” He jerked back at the sight of Harry bustling around his kitchen in a red apron. “Harry? How did you get in here without the password, child?”

Harry gave him a sheepish grin. “I told Salazar—in Parseltongue—that I wanted to make you dinner for your birthday. He said he had to see this, and so he let me in.”

Salazar smirked from the portrait on the mantel.

Severus chuckled and sniffed the air. “Oh, it does smell marvellous. Would you like some help?”

Harry gave him a dark look. “You don’t help with your birthday dinner. You sit down and relax. It looks like you’ve had a tough day.”

“Merlin, yes. One of my fifth years decided to add salamander tears of all things to his half-done brew of Draught of Peace.”

Salazar winced. “Not good.”

Harry looked between them curiously. “I’m judging by your expressions that salamander tears don’t go in Draught of Peace?”

“No, they do—at the end of the brewing process. At the halfway point, it causes a rather nasty reaction. My entire classroom is covered in lurid pink, naphthalene-scented foam.”

Harry covered a giggle. “Merlin, that is a bad day. Maybe give me detention and I’ll help you clean it up.”

Severus kissed his temple. “It is too dangerous for a third year, little one, but thank you for the offer.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, Harry. I’ve had to cancel classes until the room has aired out anyway, so I will ask Argus to help me tomorrow.”

“All right. Then go sit down for a bit and rest your feet. The meat needs to rest a few minutes, the potatoes are still cooking, and the pie’s already in the oven, so I can take care of you for a little bit.”

Severus raised an eyebrow and settled into his favourite chair. “How do you intend to do that?”

Harry grinned. “Accio healing salve.” He held out a hand, Summoning a jar without a wand.

“Merlin, child! When did you learn to do that wandlessly?”

Harry blushed. “I… I dunno. My magic has been stronger since that day the headmaster channelled me to heal you. It’s like he… unlocked things inside me.”

Salazar gave a small gasp but said nothing. Harry went on after a moment.

“I don’t know how else to describe it, Sev, but his powers made mine stronger, for sure.”

Severus rubbed his chin, his expression worried. “In that case, I believe we had best start training you for combat and healing, little one.”

Combat?”

“Yes. To protect you as well as your friends. Whether we like it or not, you will need to know how to fight. And if you are already demonstrating wandless abilities at fourteen, it is best we begin to channel your magic before it grows beyond your control. For you, defensive and light magic will be best, I think.”

Harry pulled an ottoman to rest under Severus’ feet and sat on it. He tugged the yokai’s boot into his lap and frowned as he untied his laces. “So does that mean our detentions are going to become training soon?”

Severus nodded. “I think so, child.”

Harry winced. “Will we still be able to spend time together, just as friends?”

Severus rubbed his tail against Harry’s leg. “Of course. Perhaps not as much, but we shall still be together, child. Do not fear.”

“Well, today is about you, so we’re not training tonight.” Harry removed Severus’ boot and sock, then did the other foot and smiled at the fact that Severus’ toes had human nails. “Why don’t your feet have claws like your hands?”

“I assume because it would make it more difficult for us to survive. I could not wear shoes and pose as a human if my feet had cla—” Severus’ breath caught as Harry removed Severus’ robe as well and unbuttoned his collar. “H-Harry? What are you doing, child?”

“Taking care of you. Doesn’t your neck hurt? You keep moving it around and rubbing it.”

Severus’ Adam’s apple bobbed. “I… y-yes. I am rather sore, but why do you ask?”

Harry moved behind the yokai and pushed Severus’ collar down, revealing his slender neck and strong shoulders. The lines of old scars crossed his nape and the top of his shoulders. Whip scars. A surge of molten rage boiled Harry’s insides. One day, he would kill the shitehead responsible for hurting his loving, beautiful friend.

“Because  I want to take care of you. Because it’s your birthday and I know no one’s ever done this for you before.” Harry rubbed salve into Severus’ shoulder and drew a gasp from the yokai. “Does it hurt, Sev?”

“No, gods no.” Severus rolled his head into Harry’s touch and sighed. “It feels wonderful. I was only surprised that you wished to… agh….”

Harry rubbed his thumb in circles over the knot he had just found. “Better?”

“Much.” Severus rolled his shoulders into Harry’s strokes and dropped his head forwards. “Merlin. I am shocked that you wish to care for me like this, but I will not complain either.”

“I just want you to feel better, Sev. It was hurting me to watch you suffer.”

Severus laid a hand over one of Harry’s. “Thank you, child. It does feel—oh gods.”

His words broke off in a low moan of pleasure that made Harry feel strange. He liked the sound. Liked knowing he was making Severus feel good. A hot flush came to his face as he rubbed his friend’s shoulders and neck, listening to the little sounds he couldn’t quite stifle.

“Merlin, Harry,” Severus murmured in a slurred voice. “Keep that up and I will not be awake enough to enjoy your food.”

Harry laughed and stepped back. “Can’t have that.” As he tugged Severus’ shirt back into place, he noticed a strange feeling in his belly and groin, but he ignored it. “I’m going to put the steaks on now and check on the potatoes. Dinner should be ready in ten.”

“Mm.” Severus’ head lolled on the back of his chair. Harry kissed his cheek and petted his ear.

“Would you rather sleep, Sev? We can always eat together another time.”

Severus sat up and shook himself. “I can sleep later. I would not miss dinner, as you went to all the trouble to break into my quarters and make it for me.”

Harry laughed and returned to the stove. “It’ll be done in a minute.”

Severus set the table while Harry finished up, and soon, they had a delicious meal in front of them. Severus eyed the food with a glare.

“Sev?” Harry shrank into himself, fearful and uncertain. “Did I do something wrong?”

Severus gave Harry a wan smile. “No, child. It looks lovely. I am only thinking of your relatives and that you should not know how to cook so well this young.”

“Don’t. I like cooking. That and gardening are the chores I don’t mind. So eat up.”

Severus’ smile brightened. “Yes, let’s.” He cut into his steak and made another little moan of delight. “Harry, Merlin, this is delicious.”

Harry beamed and tasted his steak, too. Ah. Perfect.

They devoured their meal and dessert in record time. After dinner, Harry led Severus to the sofa and helped him to lie down, feet in Harry’s lap.

“I have never been taken care of like this,” said Severus in a small, soft voice. “It feels—I feel as though I do not deserve such treatment.”

Harry patted his foot. “Sev, this isn’t something I’m doing because you earned it, even though you do deserve this and more. I’m doing it because I love you and I want you to be happy.”

Severus rubbed his tail against Harry’s knee. “The day was miserable, but the night has been lovely. Thank you, Harry. It was a wonderful gift.”

Harry smirked. “I haven’t given you your gift yet,” he said with a laugh. “Dinner was, well, just pampering you, I guess, because I know you never have been.”

“Harry… it’s all so much.”

“You deserve it, Sev. Enjoy it. You’re allowed to be happy.”

Severus gave him a shy smile. “Thank you. What did you bring me then?”

“This one… I made. Well, sort of. The headmaster helped again, though I came up with the concept and he taught me some of the theory as we went. It’s a spell. Well, two and a counterspell for both. First, Concelo Odos. That one hides your scent completely. Then use Daemonodos Permuto Hominum. That makes your scent smell human and fills the void the first spell leaves behind. That way, no other werewolves—or other superhuman races—will be able to recognise your race by your scent. Lupin will know, of course, but no one else. And it works with the bracelet too. If you ever want to cancel it and have your natural scent again, you use Reverto Odos.

Severus sat up and caught Harry into a hug. “Thank you. I have never been so well-protected.”

“Is it good, Sev?”

“It is brilliant, little one. I have never had such a lovely birthday either.”

“Good.”

 


 

After Harry left his quarters, Severus had planned to go straight to bed and rest in preparation for the long day ahead of him, but Salazar called to him from the mantel. By the worried look in the founder’s eyes, something had troubled him greatly.

“Salazar? What is it?”

Salazar took a shaky breath. “Severus, Harry’s scent has changed. I cannot place what it is about his scent that worries me so, but he smells familiar. Too familiar. And different than he ever has done before. Something fundamental within that child has altered since his first year.”

Severus swallowed hard. “Fundamental how?”

Salazar paused. “Severus, I am no longer certain that Harry is not of my line. That kind of fundamental.”

“But none of your line are human, are they?”

“Perhaps one.” Salazar closed his eyes. “I cannot say beyond a doubt, but I believe we should keep an eye on him as he grows, just in case there is more here that we cannot see yet.”

Severus nodded. “I had no plans to stop watching over him, Salazar.”

“I think, Severus, we would all do well to watch over that boy. There is too much laid upon his shoulders, and he has too little time to learn to cope with it.” Salazar fixed Severus with a piercing gaze. “The sooner you teach him to fight, the better. And don’t neglect Muggle means. Wizards these days—particularly the sort you are facing—disdain them, as you well know. They will not be prepared for a Harry Potter who not only knows how to curse them into oblivion, but who can defend himself and others with swordsmanship and martial arts.”

Severus nodded grimly. “A wise plan, my friend. I shall begin his training as soon as I can feasibly plan for a cover story. Perhaps I shall have Harry destroy something valuable in the potions lab in retaliation for my constant sniping. Albus will resist expulsion, and as a result, I will have a viable excuse to place him in thrice-weekly detention for the rest of the year.”

Salazar chuckled darkly. “My friend, you are more Slytherin than I am.”

Severus laughed and started sorting out the details on his way to bed.

 


 

Severus still hadn’t worked out how Pettigrew kept appearing on the map. Most often by Ron Weasley, but sometimes in other places around the castle. Every time Severus tried to find the bugger, he came up empty. It was driving him mad.

Harry hadn’t asked for the map back, though Severus knew he wanted it, and Severus had every intention of giving it to him for his own protection—once he knew whether Pettigrew was truly in the castle or not. If Pettigrew was alive, that called everything about Black’s history in question. If Pettigrew still lived… then Black might be innocent.

Of murder, at least.

Again, Severus saw Pettigrew’s name in Gryffindor tower. It boggled the mind. The boys would never allow a grown man to sleep in their room—in Ronald’s bed, for Merlin’s sake—and Harry would certainly have informed Severus if Pettigrew had shown up. Severus might have passed it off as a fluke if the map hadn’t correctly informed him of Sirius Black’s presence in the castle—and that of every other student.

Severus deactivated the map and prodded it with his wand, testing it for flaws and hidden tricks. “I command you reveal your secrets.”

But all he got was a page full of insults. Specific insults. Too specific for him to ignore.

Severus packed the map in his pocket and made his way to the Defence professor’s quarters. As much as he would rather avoid Lupin at all costs, this superseded his issues with the Marauders and their bullying.

Lupin answered the door with a smile that dropped off his face at the sight of Severus. “Can I help you?”

Severus nodded to the werewolf’s office. “You can let me in, to start with.”

Lupin raised an eyebrow. “I’ll be the judge of whether that’s necessary. What is it?”

“Suit yourself.” If the wolf wanted his dirty laundry aired to the public, Severus had no issue with it. “I seem to have stumbled upon one of your old… tricks, or perhaps the object which enabled their effectiveness, and I would like some answers.”

Lupin gave him a falsely-sweet smile. “I’m afraid I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what you mean, Severus.”

Severus snapped, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good. Ring any bells?”

Lupin paled and moved towards his office without another word. He slammed the door behind Severus and hissed, “How? Sirius lost it in seventh year!”

“Yes, and the Weasley twins found it, and then passed it on to Harry, who then passed it to me when he realised how dangerous it was.”

Lupin sighed and rubbed his forehead. “Fine. What about it? I assume you already know how to work it?”

“Yes. What I want to know is whether it is accurate or not.”

“Always. Why?”

“Because it cannot possibly be accurate.”

Lupin narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

“It is showing the names of dead men!”

“What?”

With a dark glare, Severus whipped out the map and spat, “I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” He jabbed his finger at the Gryffindor common room, where Ronald Bilius Weasley, Hermione Jean Granger, and Harry James Potter were apparently playing a lively round of Exploding Snap with Peter Mordred Pettigrew.

Lupin’s eyes widened. “No. It can’t be. He’s dead!”

“I thought werewolves were supposed to have superhuman hearing.”

Lupin glared. “I heard you. But this….”

“Tell me, Lupin, how is it possible a dead man is appearing on your ‘always accurate’ map, and yet, when I have traced him, there is never anyone to be found?”

Lupin went ashen. “I… I d-don’t know.”

But Severus could smell a lie from fifty paces. He grabbed the wolf by the collar and slammed him against the nearest wall. “I think you do know, wolf. Spit it out. How is he in the castle?”

“Get off me, you bloody bastard!”

Answer me!”

“I don’t have to tell you anything. Let me go, before I begin to think perhaps you’re too dangerous for your own good after all.”

At the blatant threat, Severus threw him back and released him. Lupin rubbed his throat and glared.

“Fine then, wolf, keep your secrets. But know this. If your cowardice gets Harry hurt or killed, then you will wish you had died from your vow.”

Severus snatched the map out from under Lupin’s reaching hand and left, heading for the headmaster’s office. “Albus? We need to speak. Urgently. We have a problem.”

 


 

It was a damned shame that Veritaserum required the use of silver cauldron to create, or Severus would have choked the werewolf on it to get his answers. A murder charge, unfortunately, would draw Ministry attention to his own secrets, so for the moment, Severus’ could do little but make not-so-idle threats in hopes of forcing Lupin to man up and tell the truth.

When that failed, Severus had hoped Black’s second attack would drive Lupin to reveal what he knew for Harry’s sake, but the werewolf had yet to grow a pair. At least the attack had done no lasting harm, and it had revealed that something was amiss with the story of Black’s betrayal and Pettigrew’s death, but it did not remove the threat hanging over Harry’s head. Gods, he wished he could string the werewolf up and beat the truth out of him, but such behaviour would not look good on his curriculum vitae. For the moment, he could do nothing but attempt to work out the truth for himself.

Harry tried to help. He had pleaded with Lupin to tell them the truth, using the wolf’s supposed soft spot for Harry to drag answers out of him, but the bloody coward had pretended not to know what Harry was talking about.

When that failed, Albus had stepped in and made it clear that he would soon take action if Lupin did not help them, but Lupin pretended to be innocent. Albus had begun searching for a replacement instructor, but could not truly let him go. Although Lupin deserved it and worse, they had to keep him close in case the coward happened to find his bollocks. For Harry’s sake, they needed the wolf where they could keep an eye on him.

When all their attempts to get the truth out of Lupin failed, Harry decided to help Severus work out the truth on his own instead. He did his part by watching for signs of anyone in the school who shouldn’t be, even going so far as to wave his arms over Ron while he slept, in case someone invisible was hiding there that he couldn’t see, but he had never found anyone. Not that Severus had expected him to. Harry should be able to see an invisible person as a clairvoyant—he had always seen Severus, after all.

No, it was nothing so simple as a disillusionment charm. Pettigrew had found some other method of concealment. A method both Black and Lupin knew of, for Severus was not so foolish as to believe Black would target Ronald Weasley or choose the wrong bed. Black had gone after Pettigrew that night in the tower, not Ron.

The question that haunted Severus was why?

 


 

It came as no surprise that Gryffindor won the cup, not with Harry on a Firebolt. The other team hadn’t much chance to keep up with a broom of that speed combined with a seeker of Harry’s skill. Outwardly, Severus complained about the unfairness of it all, but in private, he cheered Harry’s victory and made the boy some of his favourite chocolate caramel biscuits as a treat.

Harry had planned to come down after the party, and so Severus set some butterbeer in the cold box to chill and settled in with a book to wait. He had barely made it past the first few pages, however, when Harry came tearing into his quarters without so much as knocking. He hadn’t given the password, either. Severus thought he might need to have a chat with Salazar, but then he saw Harry and understood why the portrait had let him in without a password.

Harry was shaking, tears glimmering in his wide eyes, breathless and white as a sheet. Severus rushed to him and guided him to the sofa.

“Harry! Child, what is it? What’s happened?”

“L-Luna. Came to the party with Ginny.”

Severus struggled to match the name with a face. Luna… ah. Harry must be referring to Lovegood.

“What happened, Harry?”

“Seer—she’s a Seer.”

The bottom dropped out of Severus’ stomach. “Oh. And she had a vision?”

“P-prophecy. Said… ‘the servant of the Dark Lord will return to his master when the moon-mad next roam.’  What does that mean?”

“Werewolves.” Severus shuddered and sat down beside Harry. “Werewolves were once referred to as ‘moon-mad.’”

“So this means….”

“The servant of the Dark Lord, whoever he is, will return to him on the next full moon.”

“But… that’s tomorrow!”

“I know.”

 


 

It finally hit Harry the next afternoon while Ron was whinging about Crookshanks always going after Scabbers.

“Merlin, Hermione, he’s already lost a toe. And your bloody monster’s determined to make him lose the rest!”

“A toe?” Harry’s heart slammed into his ribs.

‘The only part they ever found of him was a finger.’

Oh gods. “Which toe, Ron?”

Ron gave him a bemused look. “Well, why should that matter?”

“I’m just curious.”

Ron blinked a few times, confused. “Uh… this one?” He pointed to his left index finger, and Harry’s breath hitched.

“Oh.” He kept his expression neutral and his voice steady. “Well, I need to go—loo break, you know how it is. Er… I’ll be right back.”

Hermione gave him a searching look as Harry dashed out of the common room, heart pounding and hands shaking. He made it just past the portrait hole before he heard Ron shriek.

“He bit me! Scabbers bit me! Shite, where’s he gone?”

A rat scampered past Harry, an orange streak hot on his tail.

“Wait, get back here!”

But the bastard was already gone.

“Damn it.”

Ron marched out of the room. “I’m going after him.”

“Ron, no,” Harry cried. “Don’t—”

But Ron had already torn off after the rat, and Harry might only have seconds to warn the headmaster and Severus.

“Hermione, go with him,” he hissed. “Be ready for trouble. Scabbers isn’t a rat!”

“What?”

“Human—Animagus! Get him!”

What?” She gave him a wide-eyed look. “H-how do you kno—?”

“Hermione, we don’t have time! Just go!”

She winced and raced away after Ron. Harry sped towards the headmaster’s tower, but he ran headlong into Severus along the way. Severus barely levitated a steaming goblet out of the way in time and opened his mouth to reprimand him, but stopped at the sight of Harry’s face. With a flick of his wand, he sent the goblet soaring down the hall to knock against a nearby door and steered Harry out of the corridor, not wasting time with their usual act.

Severus whispered, “What is it?”

“Pettigrew—it’s Ron’s rat! Animagus! He’s missing a toe—the rat—this one.” Harry pointed, and Severus gasped.

“Dear gods! That explains—where is he?”

Harry pointed. “Ran away. Crookshanks chasing him. I think he knows, Crook, I mean.”

“Yes, a half-kneazle would be able to tell. Go. I will hide and follow.”

“Be careful.”

“Yes, you too.”

 


 

Pettigrew led Harry and Severus into the Whomping Willow. Or rather, a giant black dog did. Ron caught Pettigrew right outside its boughs, still thinking he was Scabbers, and the dog Harry had seen hanging about occasionally dragged Ron into the willow’s roots. Crookshanks held down a knot for them to pass, but Ron hooked his leg around one of the roots and fought with all his might.

“Harry! ‘Mione! Help!”

“I’m coming, Ron!”

Hermione staggered after him as fast as her tired legs would go, but she had already run over the entire castle, and she was flagging. Harry dashed up behind her and raced to reach Ron with all his remaining strength, but just as he reached the range of the willow’s boughs, Ron’s leg gave an almighty crack, and a screaming Ron disappeared into the trees’ roots.

“Ron!” Harry raced after him, but the instant Crookshanks disappeared into the roots, the willow started swinging again. Harry barely ducked a bough in time and scrambled out of range.

“Shite,” Harry panted. “What now?”

“I-I-I don’t know,” Hermione gasped out, chest heaving, face red with exertion. “How did they get in?”

Behind him, a low voice chilled Harry’s blood. “I think, children, I will have to assist you.”

Hermione squeaked, “Professor Snape?”

Harry whirled around, eyes wide with fear. “S-sir?”

Severus ruffled Harry’s hair. “You have been worried our secret was out for some time anyway, Harry. And I think we have no other choice but to work together now if we are to save him.”

Hermione’s jaw dropped. “Oh gods. It is true!”

Harry winced. “How much do you know?”

“That he doesn’t hate you. I’ve been wondering about it since first year, when—”

“We will discuss this later, children,” Severus reminded them in a gentle tone. “We have no time now.”

“R-right.” Harry pressed into Severus and buried his face in the tengu’s side. “So afraid.”

“I am here.” Severus lifted a stone with raw magic and pressed it into a knot on the trunk of the willow. The branches slowed. “Come.”

Harry and Hermione followed Severus into the tree, but Harry felt the shudders going through Severus’ frame and knew he was frightened, too. Badly so.

“Sev? What’s wrong?”

“This is where I met the werewolf.”

Harry grimaced. “Oh Sev. It’s okay. Lupin isn’t here.”

“Thank the gods for that.”

Hermione squeaked. “He really is a werewolf? I had thought… maybe you were only angry at him, Professor, and wanted us to think that.”

“He’s really a werewolf,” said Harry with a scowl. “And a bastard. He’s known all this time that Pettigrew is an Animagus and didn’t have the guts to tell us. I would have told you, but Pettigrew was always hanging around Ron somehow, and I was afraid if I said it out loud, we would lose him or he would attack us.”

“How did you know, Harry?”

“The Marauder’s Map. The twins gave it to me before the second Hogsmeade trip. It’s a map of Hogwarts and it tells you the names of everybody in the castle. Ghosts, familiars, Animagi, invisible people—everyone. Nothing can hide from it. And Severus and I kept seeing Pettigrew’s name, but we didn’t understand how he could be there.”

“Harry! That kind of thing is very dangerous! Imagine if Black had found it.”

Severus snorted. “Black wrote it.”

Hermione whipped around, staring at Severus with wide eyes.

Severus sighed and ushered her forwards. “It is true. I discovered it when I tested the map for flaws earlier in the term. The map insulted me with words only those four ever used. I knew then that Lupin, Black, Potter, and Pettigrew were responsible for its origins.”

“That’s why he cornered Lupin and confronted him, ‘Mione,” Harry explained. “And why the headmaster and I did, too.”

“Yes, for what little good it did,” Severus said with a huff.

Harry scowled. “Lupin couldn’t find his bollocks if you put his hand down his trousers. But come on. We need to run. Sev, can you handle it?”

Severus steeled himself and nodded. “Your friend is in danger. I will face my fears for his sake. For yours.”

“Then come on. Let’s go. Hold my hand, all right?”

Severus nodded and slid his hand into Harry’s.

“Wait, sir,” Hermione whispered. “You should hide. Ron isn’t as—he won’t take it as well. Especially not when he’s already hurt and scared.”

Severus vanished the next instant. “Thank you, Miss Granger. Now, let us hurry.”

“Right.”

Harry squeezed Severus’ hand and led him off at a breakneck pace. The tengu, having his wings to help and more speed than most humans to begin with, was able to keep pace easily. Hermione soon fell behind, but Harry didn’t have time to worry about her. They’d tarried too much already, and Ron was in danger. Hermione would be okay for a few moments.

They found Ron on a tattered bed in the Shrieking Shack, holding his broken leg and struggling to keep a grip on a squealing, fear-maddened ‘Scabbers.’ The rat had bitten and scratched his hands all over. Crookshanks fought to extricate the rat as well, and the dog loomed nearby, growling and snarling, though he wasn’t attacking Ron.

“Ron!” Hermione cried and raced to him. “Oh gods, are you okay?”

“No!” Ron cried out and waved them back. “Don’t—go back! It’s a trap—the dog, he’s an Animagus!”

“So is Scabbers,” Harry returned. “Wait, the dog?”

“Hello, Harry,” said a raspy, deep voice.

Harry turned to find Sirius Black staring at him with wild, hungry eyes.

“You—you look so much like your father.”

“Let’s hope I don’t act like him,” Harry muttered under his breath.

Black choked back his next words, shock all over his face. “But—”

“Later.” Harry pointed his wand at Scabbers. “Ron, listen, hold on tight to Scabbers. He’s not human. He’s an Animagus too—Peter Pettigrew.”

Ron’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “But… but that’s barmy! He’s dead. Black killed him!”

“I tried to,” Black growled, “but little Peter got the better of me, didn’t you? Cut off his finger and blasted the street apart to cover his escape. Turned into a rat and ran off into the sewer. But this time, you won’t get away, you hear me? This time, I’ll actually commit the crime I’ve been in prison for!”

Black lunged for Ron, but a spell shot over Harry’s shoulder and slowed him down.

Impedimenta!”

Harry turned, thinking Severus had cast, only to find Lupin standing in the doorway with his wand outstretched.

“Well, this day just gets better and better by the second,” Harry said with a groan.

 


 

Harry listened impatiently to Black’s story, wand fixed on Pettigrew, and rolled his eyes when Lupin and Black hugged like brothers.

“Oh, please. Can we save the emotional reunions for later?”

Black fixed Harry with a bemused look. “I… I had thought you would be glad to see me.”

“Oh yes, thrilled.” Harry scowled. “You might not have killed Pettigrew and those Muggles, Black, but that doesn’t make you innocent. You’re a bully, torturer, and attempted murderer. And something tells me you don’t regret any of it one bit.”

Black and Ron stared at him as if he’d lost his mind. Harry didn’t care.      

“Stop gawking and get moving,” Harry snapped. “I know you know how to force an Animagus out of their animal form, Lupin. Do something useful for once.”

Black gulped. “M-Moony, why is Harry so angry with us?”

“Because he’s best friends with—”

Silencio!” Harry slammed Lupin into a wall and dug his wand into the man’s throat. “Did I, or did I not, warn you I would fucking kill you if you hurt him?”

Harry!”

He ignored Black’s shocked cry and Hermione’s weak shout and pressed his wand deeper into the bastard’s throat. “One more word, Lupin, and I’ll make damn sure you regret it.”

“Mother of Merlin, Harry,” Ron breathed, then yelped as Pettigrew bit him again. “Look, if this really is Pettigrew, do you think we might change him back already before he bites me down to the bone?”

“Good idea,” said Harry in a dark voice. “I think you had best listen to him, Moony.”

Lupin gulped and nodded, and Harry released him, though he kept his wand aimed at the werewolf’s back.

A-Animagus Reverto!”

Blue light shot at Pettigrew and encased him. Harry watched impassively as the rat shifted and altered to become a remarkably rat-like man, buck teeth, tiny eyes, twitching frame and all. The man had a finger missing on his left hand.

“R-Remus, S-S-Sirius, my old f-friends….”

Harry watched the former Marauders confront Pettigrew and half hoped they all killed each other.

He leaned against a shaking Severus and discreetly whispered, “Are you okay?”

“No.”

Harry pulled Severus’ hand into his own and gently rubbed his fingers.

Black and Lupin cornered Pettigrew. “Goodbye, Peter,” said Lupin. “Now you will die like you should have done all those years ago.”

Harry scoffed. “Oh please. You’re so pathetic, Lupin. You can’t face down an armed teenage boy, but you’re going to kill an unarmed man? Bloody coward. And you, Black, don’t you think it’s a bit stupid to kill him before he can verify your innocence?”

“Shut up,” Lupin shouted. “I’ve had about enough of your cheek, Harry Potter! It’s past time I—”

The wolf aimed his wand at Harry, but Severus stepped in front of him and made himself visible. “I would rethink that if I were you, Lupin.”

Lupin quailed. “S-Severus? What are you doing here?”

“What else? Ensuring that you two do not bollocks up the evening, of course. One of you is responsible for my former best friend’s death. I should like to see that one skewered on a spit before we are through here, and, clearly, I cannot trust the two of you to do so without turning on… innocent children.”

“Get away from my godson, Snivellus,” Black snarled.

“Call him that again,” Harry snapped, “and I’ll have your arse, Black.”

Black reeled. “But—but he’s an arsehole to you, Harry! Surely you—”

“I don’t care what he’s done to me,” Harry snapped back. “I don’t care if he’s Riddle himself, I don’t hold with bullies! And you, you’re far worse than a simple bully. Are you man enough to admit it?”

Black swallowed hard. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So you’re just as big of a coward as this pansy then. Why am I not surprised?” Harry scoffed and turned away. “Well, I gave you a chance, Black. Professor Snape, since these two are obviously too stupid to work out that they ought to be more concerned about the murderer in our presence than my loyalties, would you please make sure Pettigrew doesn’t escape, sir?”

Severus nodded curtly and conjured a steel cage for the man, suspending it between two bars he then placed on the Marauders’ shoulders. “The two of you can carry the burden of your idiocy and cowardice.” He pointed his wand at Pettigrew. “You owe Potter your life, but if you even think of transforming, I will make sure you do not live long enough to regret it. You will agree to that, Potter?”

Harry smiled grimly. “Of course, sir.”

“Very well. Then let us leave this foul place. It smells of dog.”

Harry suppressed a laugh and heaved Ron out of the bed, taking the side with his splinted leg that he might bear more of his weight. Hermione took the other, and the three of them led the way out of the shack, followed by a grim Severus, a confused Black, a subdued Lupin, and a cage full of traitorous scum.

Outside the tunnel, Black tried to win Harry over again, though he only succeeded in making Harry’s skin crawl.

“You know, Harry," said the mutt in a rushed plea, “if you wanted, you don’t have to live with the Dursleys any longer. I’m your godfather, so once my name is cleared, you can come live with me. We’ll sort out this mess and be happy, you’ll see. Everything will be just fine.”

Harry turned and gave the man a disgusted look. “I just met you five minutes ago, and up until then, I’d believed you a mass murderer. And besides that, I know what kind of boy you were growing up. And you think I’d want to move in with you? Are you mad?”

“Probably so, Potter,” Severus said in an even tone. “Azkaban does tend to have that effect on its residents after any length of time within its walls.”

“Right, thank you, sir.” Harry shuddered and turned away from Black. “Thanks, but no thanks, Black. I’d rather face the devil I know.”

“But, but, Harry! I’ve been trying to make it up all this time. I mean… didn’t you like your Christmas present?”

“What present? Oh, so you did send the other Firebolt.”

“Of course. Had to make up for twelve years of—wait, the other Firebolt?”

Harry smirked. “Yep. Thanks, but I already had one from someone who actually cares about me. You’ll have to ask Ron if he likes the one you sent. I gave it to him.”

“Flies like a dream, thanks,” said Ron with a grin.

Black stopped, gaping at Harry. “But… but who else would have…?”

“What?” Harry’s eyes narrowed and focused on Black like lasers. “Who else would have cared about me enough to save and save for months to buy me a broom when they knew I loved it? Did you even know I liked it? Or did you just assume I would because my father liked to fly?”

Black gulped. “Harry, listen.” He stopped dead, his features twisting in sudden fury, and wheeled on Severus. “You! You did it, Snivellus!”

Harry cursed him with purple spots all over. He would have done worse had the idiot not been carrying Pettigrew.

“Black, you utter fool!” Severus aimed his wand within the cage. “I’ll thank you to keep your mouth shut before you get us all killed! Obliviate!” Pettigrew’s eyes went lax. “You know nothing of my relationship with Potter, only that I hate him as the rest of the world believes.” Severus turned his back on the idiots. “Bloody fools, the lot of you.”

Black opened his mouth, but Harry fired a silencing spell so fast, he hadn’t time to form the first syllable of Severus’ name. Black gave Lupin a pleading look, but Lupin ignored him.

So the wolf did have some sense. Sometimes.

It took Black until they had arrived outside the Whomping Willow’s branches to break the silencing spell. “Harry, Harry, listen to me, please. You can’t trust Sn—him, and your father would have wanted—”

Harry snorted. “My father was just as bad as the rest of you pricks. And the answer is still no.” He gave Black a vicious smile. “What, surprised? You’re an arsehole, Black. And I’d sooner trust the enemy who’s at least kept me alive over the years even if he has been a berk about it—”

Severus snapped, “Twenty points from Gryffindor and a detention tomorrow evening, Potter, and you had best watch your language or it will be the worse for you.”

Harry gave him a jerky nod. “Yes, sir. Anyway, I’d sooner trust him than the supposed ally who abandoned me as a baby to get revenge on a traitor and got himself locked up for it.”

Black whimpered, an exceptionally dog-like sound. “But… Harry….”

Ron gave Harry a confused look and whispered. “Mate, what’s going on?”

Harry sighed. “It’s a long story. I think I’ll have to tell you now, but somewhere safe. Not here. Not with a traitor, a madman, and a werewolf standing right next to… oh gods.” Harry froze. “A werewolf!” He sucked in a sharp breath as the words of Luna’s prophecy washed over him again.

“When the moon-mad next roam….”

“Lupin!” Harry shot the man a fierce look. “Did you take your potion?”

Lupin blinked. “Er… what?”

“Your potion! Did you take it?”

By Lupin’s worried look and shamed blush, Harry gathered the answer was no.

“Professor,” Harry cried, voice sharp with fear. “Sir, we’ve got to—”

Severus was already moving, already casting spells to shield them, but too late. Just as Harry spoke, the moon appeared from behind the clouds and Lupin dropped his end of the cage.

“Oh no,” Harry gasped. “Oh gods, what do we do?”

Severus cried, “Behind me, children,” and dashed to stand in front of them, wand out and bracelet shining in the moonlight.

Harry prayed with all he was worth that the spell worked, that it would drive Moony away before they were all killed.

Ron whispered, “W-what’s going on?”

Lupin gave an unearthly scream that morphed quickly into a howl.

“He’s a werewolf,” Harry hissed. “Lupin—that’s why he gets sick once a month. Stay still.” He whispered so Pettigrew wouldn’t hear, “Professor Snape has protection of a sort, but we don’t!”

“Merlin’s bollocks!”

Hermione hissed, “Ssh!”

Ahead, Lupin howled again and turned to face the others. He sniffed, made a face and shook himself as if he had tasted something foul, and turned towards Black instead, but Black had already shifted into his grim form. The dog tackled the werewolf, and the two of them ran off into the forest, away from the students and staff, Harry hoped.

Only once Lupin had gone did Harry recall the traitor he had left behind, but by the time Harry and the others were safe enough to turn back to Pettigrew, he was already gone.

“The Dark Lord’s servant will return to his master,” Harry breathed. “It was him. All along, it was him.”

Severus wrapped an arm around all three children and guided them home.

 


 

Of course, it wasn’t to be that easy. As soon as Fudge heard that Black was in Hogwarts and running with a werewolf, he had called in the aurors and dementors. Harry attempted to save him, not because he liked him, but because the man didn’t deserve to have his soul sucked out for being an arsehole. Then the dementors had turned on him, and when he woke up, he was in the hospital wing.

Albus patted Hermione’s shoulder and whispered, “Three turns should do it, dear girl, and perhaps save more than one innocent life.”

And so, Harry found out about the time turner. They saved Buckbeak—who, in Harry’s opinion, deserved it far more than his godfather—and Black. And Harry’s Patronus warded the Dementors off. As he watched his crow canter off—having thought it was Severus’ the first time he saw it—he thought of Severus’ Patronus and wondered if there was any significance beyond their close friendship reflecting in their magic.

Once again, he woke in the hospital wing, but this time, Pomfrey had only kept him for observation. Even so, Severus lay beside him, his shoulders trembling with quiet sobs.

“Hey,” Harry whispered and petted Severus’ ears, “it’s okay. I’m safe, Sev.”

Never risk yourself so to save a madman again.”

Harry gave a wry laugh. “Sev, I didn’t do it for him. Buckbeak didn’t deserve to die.”

“You faced down a hundred Dementors for a hippogriff?”

“What? He’s a nice Hippogriff.”

Severus burst into soft laughter and buried his face in Harry’s shoulder to stifle the sound. Before long, his laughter changed to tears. “Please, Harry. I love you. Please stop terrifying the life out of me every end of term.”

Harry chuckled and petted Severus’ ears. “I’ll try, Sev, but I begin to think I’m just a danger magnet.”

Severus sighed and nuzzled his head under Harry’s chin. “It is not your fault, little one. It is the fate you were born into. I just hate seeing you in so much trouble at all hours of the day.”

“I know. It’s okay. I’m safe.”

Severus squeezed Harry’s hand. “Thank Merlin.” He laid his head on Harry’s shoulder and covered him with his wings. “You will have to tell your friends about me now, won’t you?”

“I think so. I couldn’t really hide it last night. Thank Merlin you thought to Obliviate Pettigrew before he escaped, or we’d all be in for it.”

“We were both too distraught last night, but we must take greater care in the future. Your friends will not betray you, and Albus has sworn Black to a vow of Secrecy and placed him under a gag curse—and Lupin too—but next time, I may not have time to Obliviate our other liabilities. I may not know of them. If we continue to be indiscreet in public, then we shall both suffer.”

“You’re right, Sev. I’m sorry. I… it’s just that I didn’t want them to hurt you.”

“Harry, I know, child. Like I must pretend to hate you in class, you must pretend to hate me with the others from now on. This means you must pretend to enjoy it when others call me cruel names and insult my appearance.”

“No,” Harry said with a glare. “That would be too out of character. I’ve already made it known I won’t tolerate bullying—not even of Malfoy, and I really do hate him. If I suddenly pretended to like it, everyone would be suspicious.” He sighed and stroked Severus’ silky hair. “But you’re right that I need to be less obvious about how I feel about you. I’m sorry, Severus.”

“I was not as discreet as I should have been last night either. Do not blame yourself.” Severus kissed Harry’s forehead and rubbed his cheek. “Sleep. We shall speak of this more in the morning.”

Harry nodded. “Wait, though. What happened to Lupin? Is he still running the forest?”

Severus shook his head. “The moon has set. He is in Albus’ office, and he will be leaving Hogwarts in the morning.”

“Why? Is he quitting and turning tail?”

Severus rolled his eyes at Harry’s smirk. “Hilarious. No. Albus sacked him.”

“What?” Harry grinned. “Serves him right, but why? He’s been willing to put up with a lot of shite from Lupin before, so what made him sack him now?”

“Besides the fact that he drew his wand on a student? When you told me of Pettigrew, we were right outside Lupin’s office. I set his goblet of potion to knock against his door until he took it, but Lupin had heard us talking and decided that trailing us and tracking Pettigrew and Black were more important than drinking the potion that renders him safe in a school full of young children. When Albus took Lupin back to his office, he saw the potion, still beating against his door, and knew Lupin had ignored it despite his attempts to convince Albus that I had never brought it to him.”

“That slimy bastard! He deserves to be sacked then. Honestly, he deserves to be charged criminally for keeping Pettigrew’s secrets from us for so long.”

Severus nodded grimly. “You have the option to charge him.”

I do?”

“As Pettigrew murdered your parents, the choice to charge the accessory to his escape comes down to you. As well, he attacked you, or would have done if I was not there to stop it.”

Harry shuddered. “What happens if I do charge him?”

“If Lupin were human, a few months in Azkaban.”

“And for a werewolf?”

Severus looked down and shook his head. “The Ministry does not forgive dark creatures who break the law.”

Harry’s breath left him in a rush. “They’ll kill him.”

“Or worse.”

Harry shook his head and leaned into Severus’ hand. “I can’t. I know he deserves to be punished, but to die? I… I can’t do it. I can’t kill anyone.”

“The blame does not fall upon you, child.”

“It does if I’m the one who turns him in.” Harry shook his head. “No. I can’t. Even if he might deserve it to some extent, I can’t do it knowing he’ll die whether it’s on me or not.”

Severus smoothed Harry’s hair back from his face. “Ssh. It was always your choice, child. Albus thought you would not charge him, and so we have simply decided that, if you did decide not to press charges, then we will allow Lupin to remain in the Order, but only on a probationary basis. He will not be trusted with our secrets, nor will we rely upon him in battle. It is clear that he is too much of a coward to guard either our truths or our lives.” Severus huffed. “In truth, we had discussed evicting him from the Order, and he does deserve it, but to throw him out on his ear would have much the same result as pressing charges against him would do. Without some sort of protection, Lupin will not last long, not now that the Ministry knows he is a werewolf.”

“That’s all right,” said Harry with a sigh, “so long as he stays the hell away from me. This is all his bloody fault. If he’d found his bollocks long enough to admit they were Animagi before now, Pettigrew never would have escaped.”

“Yes.” Severus brushed his thumb across Harry’s cheek. “You are correct, but try not to work yourself into a frenzy. You need to rest now, little one. I, too, think I shall be able to sleep now that I know you are safe.”

“Okay. Let’s just go to bed now then. I am awfully tired.”

“So am I.”

“Are you sleeping here?”

“As Xerxes, yes.”

Harry squeezed Severus’ hand. “Thank you.”

“Of course, child. I need reassurance tonight, too.”

“Yeah. Goodnight, Sev.”

“Goodnight, my friend.”

Harry watched him shift into his crow form and prayed that next year—just one year—would go quietly.

Chapter Text

Chapter 11

Dark Signs

24 July, 1995

But of course, Harry didn’t have that kind of luck.

Just after three in the morning, a week before his fifteenth birthday, Harry woke up from a terrible nightmare. A nightmare that had seemed all too real.

And the pain in his scar left him wondering if maybe it hadn’t been.

Gods, he wished he could cast magic. Severus had, with the knowledge that Black was innocent and hadn’t been after Harry, begun sleeping at Hogwarts or Spinner’s End again, rather than curled up on Harry’s floor. But he needed Severus now. The man would come in the morning to guard him regardless, but Harry didn’t want to wait. He was terrified of his nightmares and half afraid he would forget the details by morning.

In a panic and not thinking clearly, he wandlessly Summoned a biro and a notebook with the intent to write down his dreams. It was only after he had written the third paragraph that he realised what he had done—without consequences.

“Mother of Merlin, can I cast wandless magic without being caught?”

Was it possible that the Ministry tracked magic through wand use? Perhaps. Severus only used his wand for show when he cursed, and Severus had been able to use healing and curses at Privet Drive without consequence. Perhaps, since he only needed his wand for pure wizarding magic, such as general charms or transfiguration, the Ministry couldn’t track it.

Harry frowned and shook his head. If that was the case, how did he explain Dobby?

Wait.

Dobby!”

The elf appeared with a crack. It would wake up his uncle, but Harry didn’t care at the moment. Perhaps the idiot would think a nearby auto had backfired.

“Dobby, this is urgent. I need you to wake up Severus Snape, please. Tell him Harry needs him and bring him here if you can—quietly. Don’t wake my relatives.” A twinge of pain shot through his scar, and Harry doubled over with a gasp. “Oh, ow. Hurry, Dobby. Please.”

Dobby whispered, “Yes, Great Master Harry Potter, sir. I’s can be going quietly.”

With a soft pop, the elf vanished. Harry listened for his uncle, but the man only gave a few muffled snorts and grumbles and started snoring again.

Moments later, Severus appeared on Dobby’s arm, dressed in his nightshirt, hair mussed, feet bare, and eyes wide with worry. Harry ignored the twinge of heat in his belly at the sight of Severus’ long, shapely legs with their dusting of dark hair and patted the bed.

“Sit. We need to talk.”

“Are you well?” Severus took Harry’s face and turned him this way and that. “Dobby said you seemed to be in pain.”

“My scar hurts.”

Severus’ eyes widened. “That… is not good.”

“No, and when you hear why….”

“Merlin.” Severus sent a wave of healing into Harry’s scar and wrapped him in his wings and arms. “Right. Now that you’re feeling better, tell me what happened to bring this about.”

“A… a dream, Severus, a nightmare, but it was so… so real, and when I woke up, my scar was on fire.”

“What happened?”

“I… I dreamed I was Riddle. That I was seeing the world through his eyes. And when I looked down, I was like… my body… it was like a baby’s, but scaly and raw and scrawny.”

“Sweet Merlin. You are describing a ghoul homunculus.”

“Er… I suppose?” Harry shuddered and snuggled closer. “Whatever it was, it scared me to death.”

“It is a small humanoid creature with a half-life, which requires constant doses of a dark potion to survive. Until now, I have only seen them referenced in theoretical studies or works of fiction.”

“A half-life and potion?” Harry whimpered and curled into Severus’ arms. “It is real, then. I am seeing through his eyes.”

Severus shuddered and clutched him tight. “You saw him drink this potion then?”

“N-no, but Wormtail—Pettigrew—mentioned it, that he would need the next dose soon.”

“It may still be a coincidence. What else did you see, little one?”

Harry closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “First, has someone gone missing from the Ministry?”

Severus swallowed hard. “Yes.”

“Bertha Jorkins.”

“Yes. You saw her in your dream?”

“She was… vacant. Gone. Riddle had done something to her mind. And then… then he… the snake—Nagini—he fed her to the bloody snake.”

Severus’ feathers fluffed out in a sign of horror and his tail wrapped around them protectively. “Oh dear fucking Merlin!”

“Y-yeah.” Harry sobbed and buried his head in Severus’ shoulder. “He s-said she would need strength for a ritual—Nagini, I mean—and just… she was still alive, Severus. Vacant and broken, but alive. And… and….”

“Gods.” Severus tugged Harry into his lap and hugged him tight. “Ssh, ssh. It’s all right. It’s over now. I am here, child.”

“It was real,” Harry whispered into Severus’ neck, sobbing helplessly. “It was all real.”

Severus didn’t leave again that night.

 


 

Once Harry was up and about, doing his chores and trying not to think of the horrid visions from the night before, Severus returned home, dressed, and reported straight to Albus.

“This is a conversation for upstairs,” Severus murmured as soon as the man let him in.

Albus’ eyes widened, but he nodded and swept Severus into his quarters. “Have you had breakfast yet, dear boy?”

Severus shook his head. “I am… too upset to be hungry, to be honest. Albus, Harry’s powers as a clairvoyant have manifested. And in the worst way possible.”

Albus paused halfway through pouring a cup of tea. “Oh dear. What happened?”

“He watched—through Riddle’s eyes—as the bastard fed Bertha Jorkins to his pet snake, and while she was still alive at that.”

Albus choked and set down his tea. “Dear Merlin. The poor boy. Is he all right?”

“All right is up for debate, but he is coping, or I would not have left his side.” Severus leaned on his knees and gave Albus a frightened look. “Albus, what does this mean? I have never heard of clairvoyants seeing through someone else.”

Albus closed his eyes and nodded, and at that moment, he looked impossibly sad. “It is a rare occurrence, to be sure, but then, there is no precedent to Harry. That scar may well have bonded them. I will need to do further research.”

Severus searched the old man’s face. “Albus, do you know something?”

“I… have my suspicions. But, it would not be wise to speak of them until I have verified that it is even possible.”

“Are you certain, Albus? I will help if you wish it.”

Albus gave him a sorrowful look. “Yes, Severus, I am certain.” He finished pouring his tea and added much more sugar than usual. “I wish you to observe Harry at night. Monitor him when he dreams. Perhaps we might learn more of his visions this way.”

He sipped at his cup and frowned. “And, Severus, if he is seeing through the dark lord’s eyes, we will need to proceed with caution. If Tom did not seem aware of Harry as he murdered poor Bertha, then I think it highly unlikely he has, as of yet, considered the possibility that a link between them may exist. But that may change in the future, Severus. Take great care to conceal your secrets, at least until Harry knows how to Occlude.”

Severus shuddered. “Dear gods.”

 


 

Harry flopped on his bed at nine in the evening, exhausted, hungry, and miserable. He had tried to forget his bad dreams all day, but it hadn’t worked well, and Severus hadn’t been about. Harry felt a bit abandoned as he dragged his knees to his chest and wondered if Hedwig would have gifts for him in a few hours or not. If Severus would return.

Why hadn’t he come back? Harry tried to convince himself that the yokai had simply been busy, and yet, he couldn’t banish the fear that he had simply grown tired of him. Maybe his visions had disgusted Severus. Maybe he didn’t want to be friends with a boy who saw through the eyes of a dark lord.

Or maybe he knew the strange thoughts that had toyed with Harry’s mind as Severus held him in his lap last night. Harry had been too terrified at first to notice, but as his fear waned and he began to feel comfortable in Severus’ arms, he realised he was sitting—in nothing but a tee-shirt and boxers—on Severus’ bare legs. To Harry’s surprise, the thought had caused his body to stir in ways it never had before.

Certainly not for girls, at least.

Pouf. His uncle’s hateful terminology for homosexuals pinged around in Harry’s mind. Nancy boy. Did Severus hate gays? Pansy. Had he withdrawn because he knew what Harry hadn’t and the knowledge had disgusted him?

Freak.

Would he ever come back? And would he hate Harry in earnest when he did?

 


 

Severus spent the entire day researching ways to hide his identity from clairvoyants and finally landed on a spell. Obscurus Veritas. It would hide him under glamours even Harry couldn’t see through, he hoped.

Thus protected, Severus apparated into Privet Drive just after eleven. Harry’s light was still on, so he reckoned the boy was awake. He apparated into the room and found Harry rocking on his bed and crying into his knees.

“Harry… ssh, it’s all right.”

Harry looked up and whispered, “Severus. You came back.”

Severus winced. “You thought I wouldn’t? No, Harry. I was only researching ways to be safe near you, if you are truly linked to the dark lord.”

Harry shuddered. “So you are repulsed.”

Severus brought Harry into his arms and hugged him tight. “Never, little one. Never. You cannot help what you see.”

“B-but I was him in the dream, Severus. I felt his feelings and thought his thoughts and… oh gods, I don’t want to be like him!”

Severus kissed Harry’s cheek, distressed to find it wet with tears. “Harry, ssh. You are nothing like that monster. Peace.”

Harry whimpered and tucked his head under Severus’ chin. “Don’t leave me tonight. I’m so scared I’ll… I’ll see it again and—”

“I am going nowhere. But, Harry, we must talk. Albus believes that because of the link through your scar and your clairvoyance, it may be possible for Riddle to see through your eyes as well.”

Harry froze and jerked back. “Oh fuck. Se—go. Get out before he sees you!”

Severus brought Harry back into his arms. “Child, I am under glamours. He cannot see my true identity.”

“If I can see you, and he’s seeing through my eyes, then your glamours aren’t going to work on him either.”

Severus pulled back with a grimace. “You are still seeing my true form?”

“Of course. Do you think I would have run to just anyone?”

“I assumed you knew it was me in spite of my appearance.” Severus shuddered. “Dear gods. That glamour is designed to work against clairvoyants. If you can see through it, I think there is nothing that will work.”

“Why? I’m not that powerful. I don’t see visions or through invisibility spells and cloaks on anyone else. Just you.”

Severus paused. “You cannot see through the cloak for anyone else?”

“No. Ron’s borrowed it loads of times and I never see him.”

“That is… strange. Why should your powers only attune to me?”

“Maybe it’s not a power. Maybe it’s just because we’re closer than anyone.”

“Magic does not work like that, Harry.” Severus sighed. “I will have to research it. In the meantime, I think this makes it absolutely necessary that you learn to Occlude properly as fast as possible.”

“Occlude?”

“To block your mind from outside influence. And until you learn, I fear I will not be able to be as overtly friendly, Harry. I am already taking a risk tonight to warn you.” He sighed and pulled Harry into his arms. “But I cannot let you think it is real. I cannot allow you to feel as if I have abandoned you when you are the dearest person to my heart.”

“Ssh.” Harry tangled his fingers in Severus’ hair, holding him tight and breathing him in, preparing himself for the hard days of separation that would soon follow. “I know.”

“I love you, child. Even if I am not able to show it for some time.”

“I love you too.” Harry kissed Severus’ cheek. “Go, before you’re seen.”

Severus whispered against Harry’s temple, I will watch over you as Xerxes as much as I can do.”

“Thank you. It’ll help. But go, please, before you’re hurt.”

“As you wish.”

With one more tight squeeze and a kiss to Harry’s cheek, Severus was gone, and Harry braced himself for a long night of bad dreams with no one to help him.

At least, until he woke up from a nightmare at two in the morning and found a crow sleeping by his pillow, his feathers brushing Harry’s hair.

“Xerxes,” Harry whispered, and fell back asleep, comforted to know he wasn’t alone after all.

 


 

Harry came upstairs on the day of his birthday to find a pile of packages on his desk and several birds watching him with curiosity. Errol, slumped over on an annoyed Hedwig and hooting weakly, a large, white box under him and a smaller red one atop it. Three tropical birds—blue macaws, Harry thought—surrounded a giant package wrapped in newspaper and leaves and tied with vine. Well, he had a good idea who had sent that. A plain cardboard box wrapped in twine sat beside it, under the feet of a post owl. Another post owl sat beside that one with a green and white package under her feet. Xerxes perched on a red and gold package with a silver bow and cawed softly as Harry came in.

But it was the tiny tennis ball zooming around the ceiling and hooting his head off that got his uncle’s attention.

“BOY! What is all that infernal racket?”

Harry hurriedly tossed a spare blanket over the packages and hoped his pillow would hide them from his uncle’s sight. The birds squawked, but a quiet caw from Xerxes shushed them. Could he speak to birds in his Animagus form? Either way, it did at least keep his uncle from noticing the pile of gifts and small flock of birds congregating in his bedroom, but he could do nothing about the tiny idiot fluttering around their heads.

“I told you,” Vernon boomed, “you’re not to have any of that freaky nonsense here, boy! Get that… that thing out of my house! And don’t even think of sending anything to your freaky friends, boy, or I’ll have your hide.”

“Yes, Uncle Vernon,” Harry said, hoping the man would take his quick assent at face value and leave.

Vernon turned and lumbered to the door. “Oh, and you’re spending the rest of the week in here for this, boy! Happy birthday, freak!”

With a vicious laugh, he slammed the door and fixed the locks. Harry sighed and sank onto the bed next to the birds.

“That went well.” He pulled the blanket off of the frightened birds and soothed them all with a pet and some of Hedwig’s treats, though the macaws weren’t interested. “Sorry about that. My uncle might have hurt you if he’d seen you. Please be quiet, okay? I’ll be hurt too if he hears you again.”

Severus formed behind Harry and spoke in his altered voice. “Child, I have a silencing charm on the room now. Forgive me that I could not place it sooner. I arrived just as you stepped inside.” He opened his hand and Summoned the puffball into his hand with a scowl. “And you, you little irritant, have just hurt my dearest friend with your idiocy. I hope you are proud of yourself.”

The tiny owl gave a dismayed hoot and calmed down.

“I don’t think he knew any better, Sev,” said Harry with a sad smile. “Anyway, sit with me and let’s see what I’ve got in here to keep me fed for the next week.”

Severus sat beside and behind Harry and wrapped an arm around his waist. “I will not let you suffer.”

“But what about our… secret?”

Severus kissed Harry’s hair. “We will work out a way around it. Perhaps Polyjuice potion will work where spells have not.”

“It’s worth a try, I suppose.” Harry opened the package from the Burrow first and salivated at the sight of a small chocolate cake with golden piping and a fondant snitch on top. “Merlin, Mum Weasley is a wonder in the kitchen. That looks delicious.” He set the cake carefully upon his desk. A bag of apples of all varieties, one full of plums, another of pears, and one with cherries—red, black, and golden—sat underneath it along with a note.

“So you don’t need to fill up with cake,” Harry read aloud. “They’re all from our orchard and should make for a nice sweet treat without rotting your teeth. Love, Molly and Arthur.”

Harry grinned and pulled a red apple from the pack. “Well, I suppose I do have a treat for you lot after all.” He produced a pocketknife from the space under his loose floorboard and cut the apple into wedges for the parrots, who all chattered happily and gobbled the fruit with a relish. “Glad you liked it.” He set the fruit aside and opened the red box Molly had attached to the top. It was a cookbook with loads of Weasley recipes. Inside, Molly had written, “Albus let me know you like to cook and have a real talent in the kitchen. I’m happy to know at least one of my sons has taken an interest in cooking, even if he wasn’t born to me. I hope you enjoy this, and perhaps you might send me a sample one day, if you have the time. Love, Mum.”

Tears dropped down Harry’s face at the personal, loving gift. “Oh, Sev. Look.” He showed the Tengu his book, being careful not to look at Severus’ face.

Severus ran his fingers over the cover. “Molly loves you dearly. I am glad to know you have a mother figure still.”

Harry closed his eyes and pressed a gentle kiss to Severus’ cheek. “Thank you.”

Severus huffed. “That said Albus told her.”

“And Dumbledore has no idea I can cook. You knew I would cherish that, didn’t you?”

Severus relented and squeezed Harry tight. “You adore the book of household potions recipes she sent you, and I am not arrogant enough to think it is because you are as ardent for potions work as I am.”

“I do like potions, but knowing Mum Weasley went to all the effort to put it together for me and share her personal work with me like I was one of her own, is more important. Thank you.”

Severus turned the boy so he sat atop the Tengu’s lap, his back to Severus’ chest. “You are welcome, little one. Now, let us open the package from your moronic godfather next so these tropical birds might return home. They are far too noticeable here.”

“Yes, I’ll have to send a lovely letter back with them.” Harry opened the leaf-wrapped box and scowled. A strawberry cake sat atop a box of prank supplies, some quite cruel, and a stack of photos of the Marauders using them on hapless victims. A few even showed Severus suffering under their cruelty.

“Well, that’s pleasant.” Harry passed the photos to Severus. “Burn those for me, please.”

Severus sent the lot up in smoke. “What will you do with the tricks?”

“I’d like to burn them too, but I’ve no idea what it would do. Maybe I’ll give them to the twins, under the stipulation that they’re to make the pranks over into something funny for the victim as well as the pranksters and take out the cruel stuff.”

“A fair plan. The Weasley twins do like their jokes, but they have never harmed anyone by them.”

“Exactly. They’re pranksters, not bullies and criminals. There’s a difference.” Harry pulled a note from Black from the bottom of the box and pushed the parcel aside.

‘Pup, I thought you might like to see the funny things we got up to with your dad and Uncle Remus. And show you that Snivellus isn’t as gr—damn it. Ask Albus to take off that gag curse? Anyway, there’s lots of toys to play with and some photos of our glory days. The cake is safe, I promise.’

Harry sniffed. “Sev, can you check that cake for pranks?”

“Scans do not always work on their tricks.”

“Deliver it to Dudley, then. If he gets tricked, he’s evil enough to have it coming. And if not, it might get him to stop whinging for five minutes.”

Severus snorted. “I shall give it to him far from the house so you are not implicated if there is a trick involved. We shall see if he is as stupid enough to fall for it.”

“Yeah, he is. And hungry enough.” Harry returned to the letter and read the rest aloud. “Might be fun to use some of these against old Sevvie, huh? Get a laugh or two?” He scowled. “Gods, what a shitehead. He goes on to say, ‘Anyway, I found this owl about the island and thought Hedwig might appreciate a less gloomy companion. Love, Padfoot.’”

Harry handed the letter to Severus. “One more thing to send up in flames.”

Severus obeyed with a sneer at the offending letter.

“Right. Let me write a letter for the bastard and then you parrots can go home. Help yourselves to another apple while you wait. Or a plum. Do you eat plums?”

The macaws bobbed their heads happily, and Severus cut a plum into pieces for the birds while Harry drafted a reply.

 

 

To the shiteheaded-idiot who thinks torturing people is great fun,

I know Dumbledore told you to use discretion if you ever contacted me, and this is the absolute opposite of that. You might have gotten us both killed by sending a flock of parrots here in broad daylight. Don’t. Fucking. Do it. Again. Ever.

I’m giving the owl to Ron. He needs one, and Hedwig clearly hates that flying puffball. She would eat him alive in a day, if it took that long. Not to mention, the little idiot got me confined to my room for a week. And I don’t mean grounded. I mean they lock me in here without food, water, or loo breaks for a week at a stretch. If not for the man you’re so determined to turn me against, I would starve to death or suffocate on my own waste because of your stupidity. Way to go, genius.

And you’ll be happy to know Dudley will be getting the cake. I’m afraid I don’t trust you as far as I can throw Hagrid, and I quite lost my appetite anyway upon seeing how utterly cruel and horrid you really are.

Stay the fuck away from me, you complete and utter arsehole.

Sincerely,

Someone who is no relation to you whatsoever.

 

Severus read the letter when Harry had finished and snorted. “Well. This puts him in his place in no uncertain terms. Though I do have to wonder where you learned such language.”

Harry huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. “He deserves it.”

“You will hear no argument from me.” Severus hugged him from behind and kissed his cheek. “Send that with the parrots, and let us open the rest of your gifts.”

“All right.” Harry returned to his bed, closing his eyes until he felt Severus settle behind him once more. “Right, this one next.” He chose the plain package with the post owl. “I have a suspicion this is from Lupin.”

“Hmm, probably. Let us see.”

Inside was a cupcake and a book. Understanding Anxiety and Being Supportive.

Harry scoffed and threw the book in the bin. “Anxiety? Fuck that. There’s a difference between being scared and being a complete tosser.”

“Harry.”

At Severus’ warning tone, Harry sighed and laid his head back against the yokai’s chest. “Sorry, Sev. I’ll try to keep it under control. They just bring out the worst in me.”

“Well, at least the rest of your gifts should cheer you some.”

Severus nudged the red and gold one towards Harry’s side, and he opened it with a laugh. Inside was a battered potions text for OWLs level classes, newer books on magical theory, the basics of spellcrafting, and Occlumency, two journals, and a load of writing supplies, including a pencil set that reminded Harry of Dean’s for drawing.

“Oh, this is an interesting mix. Spellcrafting?”

“It will give us something to learn about while we are forbidden from practising combat magic, and we can work out the details of your theories when we return to school.”

Harry beamed. “Or you could just test them for me when you go back.”

“True.”

Harry picked up the battered text and cocked his head. “Where did this come from?”

Severus flushed. “Ah, it was… my mother’s, then mine.”

Harry gasped. “Really? Oh, wicked!” He opened the book and caught his breath. “Merlin. Look at all these notes! Hermione will lose the plot, but this is brilliant! Is this so I can study potions with you even when I can’t?”

“Yes, child. I fear I will not have as much time in the future, and teaching will be difficult when you cannot look at my face. I had hoped this would help.”

Harry snuggled into him. “Thank you.” He opened the journals, intending to flip through the blank pages, but stopped dead when he saw the spidery script and drawings throughout the second. “Oh, Sev. This is your work?”

“My spells, their effects, and studies of ingredients and magical theory. Do take care with those, Harry. Some of the later spells are quite dark. Do not use any of these without knowing exactly what they do and familiarising yourself with the counters first.”

“I promise. Merlin, this is amazing. I love it—it’s just so you. I can feel your presence in all of these. It’s brilliant.”

Severus kissed his cheek. “Did it make up for the disastrous gifts from the mutts?”

“Oh, absolutely. I can’t wait to get started. Thank you.”

Severus hugged Harry tight. “I wanted to give it to you so you know, even if I cannot spend as much time with you as I would like this year, you are family to me, Harry. I love you.”

Harry turned and buried his face in Severus’ neck. “I love you too, Sev. And you’ve always been… more.”

“Yes.” Severus smoothed back his hair. “And no matter what happens in the future, I always will be.”

Harry sighed and hugged him tight, basking in the love of his dearest friend. Even if they couldn’t be as close, even if he missed seeing Severus smile and laugh, knowing the yokai loved him and always would, gave him the strength to face the future. It would be all right, as long as they remembered the truth of each other and didn’t let the war and their roles get in the way.

 


 

Pettigrew’s nasal stutter jerked Harry out of pleasant dreams and into a nightmare. “My Lord, may I ask how long we are going to stay here?”

“A week,” said a cold, high-pitched voice Harry remembered from his first vision. It seemed to come through his own lips, but never in his worst nightmares had Harry ever sounded so evil. “Perhaps longer. The place is moderately comfortable, and the plan cannot proceed yet. It would be foolish to act before the Quidditch World Cup is over.”

“The—the Quidditch World Cup, My Lord?” said Wormtail. “Forgive me, but—I do not understand—why should we wait until the World Cup is over?”

“Because, fool, at this very moment, wizards are pouring into the country from all over the world, and every meddler from the Ministry of Magic will be on duty, on the watch for signs of unusual activity, checking and double-checking identities. They will be obsessed with security, lest the Muggles notice anything. So we wait.”

The giant snake slithered into the room and onto her master’s lap.

~Welcome home, Nagini,~ Harry-Riddle said. ~Did you have a good hunt?~

~No, Master,~ she hissed in reply, ~but my trip was not wasted entirely. I found nothing of game, but I did discover an old Muggle man listening outside the door.~

Harry’s eyes flickered to the peeling, cracked door and his lips curled into a sneer. ~A Muggle, you say? Well then, I shall provide your dinner tonight, my pet. Far be it from me to neglect one who has given so much in support of me.~

~Thank you, Master.~

“Wormtail,” said Harry-Riddle in his cold, high tone once more, “it seems we have an uninvited guest. Do show him in like a proper host.”

Pettigrew scrambled to open the door, and Harry’s heart slammed into his ribs. Desperately, he tried to pull himself away from the monster’s consciousness, but not before the green light hit the old caretaker. Not before Nagini’s jaws opened wide. Not before her fangs bit into the still flesh of the old man’s neck.

Thank Merlin he hadn’t been alive to feel it this time, but, nevertheless, the sight of the aged body disappearing into Nagini’s maw still horrified him.

Harry sobbed, “Help me,” and hoped someone, anyone, heard it.

 


 

“Harry! Wake up, child!”

Severus struggled against whatever force was holding his dearest friend hostage and tried to wake him from what he had no doubt was a terrible vision. Tears streaked the boy’s face and his body trembled with horror.

“Help me,” the boy whispered, and his eyes flew open.

No, not Harry’s eyes. Red eyes, wide and unseeing. Horrified, Severus jerked the boy into his lap and buried his face in Harry’s neck. If he hid Harry’s face against his body, hid his own against Harry’s, the monster couldn’t see him, visions or no.

Knowing glamours wouldn’t work with the boy, he manually altered the pitch and timbre of his voice and called to his friend. “Harry! Child, wake up!”

Harry stiffened in his arms and gave a whimpering cry. “Oh gods, oh gods.”

“Ssh, Harry, it’s only me.”

“Oh, thank Merlin.” Harry buried his face in Severus’ chest and wept bitterly. “He—the snake—old man—fed him to it.”

“Sweet Circe!” Severus wrapped Harry in his wings and tail and held him as tight as he could. “I am here, little one. I am with you. You are safe now. He is gone.”

Harry shuddered and clutched at Severus’ hair. “D-did he see you?”

“I think not. Your eyes went red when you opened them, but it is dark and I pulled you into my chest the moment I realised.”

“My… my eyes went red? Sev, is he taking me over?”

“I… I do not know. You were speaking. I heard you order Pettigrew to let the old man in and mutter the words for the killing curse, and before that, a discussion of the world cup and waiting. And quite a lot of hissing throughout.”

Harry shuddered. “Parseltongue. Nagini—she saw the old caretaker. Frank Bryce was his name. And Riddle killed him.”

Severus whispered soothing love in Harry’s ear and held him tight. “I am with you, little one. It is over now.”

“I-I’m afraid to go back to sleep.”

“I will watch over your dreams, Harry. It will be all right.”

Harry sighed. “Can I sleep like this? In your arms? I feel safer.”

“If it helps you, then you may.” Severus lay them down and tucked Harry under his chin. “I will need to… change once you are asleep, however. It is not safe to remain like this.”

“I know. I just… need to know you’re with me right now.”

“As you wish. I am here, child. I will hold you. Sleep. You are safe now.”

“Yeah.” Harry sighed and settled down in Severus’ arms, and Severus watched over him for the rest of the night.

 


 

The night before the Weasleys arrived to pick up Harry for the quidditch world cup, Severus showed up in Harry’s bedroom in his true form. Harry shut his eyes tight the second he appeared, and Severus wrapped him in a hug.

“I have missed you,” he said in a glamoured voice. “Greatly.”

Harry sighed and nuzzled Severus’ shoulder. “I’ve missed you too.”

Severus kissed the top of his head. “I came to warn you, child. I have had my ear to the ground as concerns a certain mutual acquaintance’s movements. Rumours are scarce as to his plans or whereabouts, but the remaining loyal crowd—those who escaped justice through power and influence or claims of mind alteration—are most certainly planning something. I do not know what, but you will need to take care and make sure you are never alone. I will be with you as much as possible.”

Harry shuddered. “You don’t have any idea what to expect?”

“I… have a suspicion it will be much like what we came to expect during the first wave of the war. Your bookish friend can enlighten you, I am sure, if you do not already know.”

Harry grimaced. “Do you think they’ll kill people?”

“Not if the aurors come fast enough to break it up.”

“Then we’d better have them on standby.”

“Yes.” Severus kissed Harry’s forehead. “Perhaps if you were to tell Albus you had a strange vision last night about their plans, it would give him a reason to act.”

Harry understood the warning. Severus couldn’t urge the aurors into action himself, so Harry had to give Dumbledore a reason he could work with to convince them.

“Yeah, my head has been hurting recently. Probably best to send a message about it with Xerxes. He’s faster than Hedwig when he needs to be.”

“Indeed.” A burst of healing magic filtered into Harry’s skin with Severus’ kiss to his scar. “Be careful, child. I cannot lose you.”

“You won’t. I promise.”

“Good.”

 


 

Harry had a difficult time enjoying the Quidditch World Cup with Severus’ warnings still ringing in his ears. Especially with the bloody Malfoys a few seats away. Bastards. They were probably in on whatever the Death Eaters had planned. Hell, Malfoy Senior was most likely the ringleader. Imperius indeed. Aragog was positively cuddly by comparison.

“Mate!” Ron squealed and grabbed Harry’s arm. “Look! You’re missing—Oh!”

Harry turned his omnoculars just in time to see Krum make a spiralling nosedive towards the ground. The Irish seeker, assuming Krum had seen the snitch, dove after him, but Krum pulled out at the last second with a shrug and resumed his lazy circles in the air. The Irish seeker, however, was not so lucky.

“Ooh,” Hermione said with a grimace. “That was barbaric.”

“That’s quidditch,” said Ron with a manic grin. “A real Wronski Feint, Harry! D’ya think we could do it on our firebolts?”

Harry coughed. He probably could. Ron, however….

“Uh… maybe we should leave that one to the professionals?”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll just let you have a go at it. I make a better keeper anyway.”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and patted his friend’s shoulder. “You’re a brilliant keeper. But—oh, what in Merlin’s name are the mascots doing?”

The leprechauns, angry that their seeker had been injured, had started throwing gold at the Veela. The Veela, apparently, did not like being used as target practise. The lovely women who had made Ron practically trip over his own feet earlier had gone, and harpy-like creatures with sharp beaks and shrill voices had taken their place. They charmed the gold into arrows and tossed them back at the leprechauns with much more success. It was madness.

“And that, gentlemen,” said Arthur with a wry smile, “is why one never angers a Veela.”

Harry could only nod. At that moment, he embraced his possible homosexual leanings with a vengeance. 

The Irish seeker returned to the match, a bit banged up but cheerful nonetheless, and the mascots calmed down again, though Harry swore he saw a glint of deviousness in the Veela’s eyes.

Arthur definitely had the right of it. Those Veela were scary.

“And we’re back on,” the announcer called.

Harry spared a second to scan the skies for his crow friend, but Severus was nowhere in sight. He suppressed a shudder of foreboding and returned his attention to the match.

 


 

Ron babbled about the match all the way back to the tent. “—And did you see that Wronski Feint? Merlin, it was amazing!”

Harry nudged his friend in the shoulder. “Yes, Ron. We all saw it. We were there.”

“And you shouted our ears off about it, too,” Hermione said with a snort.

Ron grinned. “Sorry, sorry. It’s just so exciting!”

“Yeah.” Harry frowned and rubbed his shoulders. Exciting or not, the icy pit of dread in his belly had only grown since he no longer had the distraction of the match to take his mind off his worries.

“Hey, mate,” Ron murmured, “are you okay?”

“Not really. Do you two see Xerxes anywhere?”

Hermione frowned. “I mean… it’s dark, Harry. A bit difficult to see a crow at night.”

“True. I’d just feel safer….”

Ron shuddered. “Mate, I don’t understand how. He’s so mean.”

“Ron, ssh. Please. Don’t say anything else. He’s already in danger. And you know why.”

“Yeah, yeah. I guess you’re right.” Ron sighed and nudged shoulders with Harry. “I guess I can’t hate him. He’s watched over you for a long time, right?”

“Yeah. Saved my life over and over. Too many times to count.”

Ron nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for him, mate, but I think Hermione’s right. It’s going to be hard to see him in this. And he’s probably making good use of that fact, knowing him.”

“Yeah.” Harry looked to the sky and shivered. “I-I think we should go back to the tent. I have a really bad feeling….”

Hermione whispered, “Harry? What kind of bad feeling?”

Harry motioned them in close. “My friend warned me he’s heard rumours of trouble. He thought the old crowd might get up to something tonight—something like what they used to do for fun.”

“Oh dear Merlin,” Hermione gasped out. “Please tell me you don’t mean… revels?”

“That’s exactly what I think he meant.”

“Shite,” Ron whispered. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Harry muttered.

 


 

Severus’ warning, of course, had proved truthful, and a crowd of revellers had captured the Muggle caravan manager’s family. As he trekked through the nearby woods trying to find Ginny and the twins, Harry tried to banish the image of them twisting and turning fifty feet in the air, the mum’s knickers on display for all to see, the little ones screaming at the top of their lungs. He shuddered and pressed on, hoping Xerxes would catch up soon. The crow hadn’t returned all night, and Harry was close to panic. Where was he?

Just ahead, a masculine voice muttered something, but Harry saw nothing but a ragged little house elf in a tattered pillowcase toga. A female house elf, so it couldn’t possibly have come from her. Alarmed, he moved to draw his wand, only to close his fingers around air.

“Shite,” he breathed to the others. “My wand—it’s gone!”

“What?”

The masculine voice called out, “Morsmordre,” and green light shot into the air.

The house elf’s screech of “Oh no, you’s should not be using magic, Master,” almost faded into the screams of nearby people.

Harry looked up at the green light, searching for an explanation, and saw the same mark in the sky that marred Severus’ arm.

“Oh gods,” Harry whispered.

Suddenly, people came from every direction. “There, look! That house elf has a wand! She must have done it!”

Harry whipped around and his stomach dropped into his feet. “That’s my wand. How did she…?”

“I don’t know,” said Hermione, “but we should really—”

Rough hands dragged Harry into the clearing ahead, and a gruff masculine voice called, “I’ve got him! I got the one who cast it!”

What?” Harry tried to wriggle away, but the man had a grip like iron. “But I couldn’t have—let me go! I don’t even know the spell, and I lost my wand anyway!”

“Don’t try to lie to me, boy. You just keep your mouth shut and—”

Arthur emerged from the woods, a crow leading him with sharp cries. “Harry? What in Merlin’s name is going on here? What are you doing? Let him go, Bartemius!”

“Xerxes,” Harry whispered in relief. He was safe. Thank the gods, he was safe.

“Not a chance, Arthur,” said the man roughing Harry up. “We just caught this boy casting the Dark Mark.”

“Harry? Harry Potter, cast the Dark Mark? Have you lost the plot?”

“Er… oh, well, but he said it was his wand, and—”

Xerxes shot at the man’s face, a caw sharp on the air. With a curse, the berk released Harry and threw his hands over his face.

“Merlin! Call off your beast, Arthur!”

“He’s not mine. He’s Harry’s.”

Xerxes huffed and landed on Harry’s shoulder, plucking at the boy’s hair as if to make sure he was safe. Harry smoothed a hand down his back.

“Where have you been?”

The crow gave a low caw, and Harry reckoned Severus’ story would just have to wait.

 


 

As Severus couldn’t risk transforming before the Weasleys and blowing his cover, until Harry left the Burrow and had a moment to himself, Severus’ whereabouts during the cup would remain a mystery. In the meantime, Harry had to deal with Hermione’s never-ending rants about spew or whatever it was and Ron’s constant rehashing of the scenes after the quidditch world cup and what it could mean. Merlin, as much as he loved his friends, he couldn’t wait for a break.

They didn’t have any new information about the revel anyway. The younger crew had put it down to a bunch of Voldemort supporters out to cause a ruckus and stir up panic for the hell of it. Even the adults tried to encourage that line of thought, but Harry had seen the worry in Arthur’s eyes. The way Molly shepherded her children in earlier and earlier, as if afraid they might be snatched away if she let the moonlight touch them. He saw the way Xerxes shadowed him constantly, always keeping him in sight even if he didn’t always stay close.

He saw, and he knew. Whether or not the revellers had had darker intentions that night, something had happened to scare the adults. And when wiser, more experienced people were afraid, he would be a fool not to worry.

At least he hadn’t had more nightmares. Well, not of the Voldemort-induced variety. He would see those poor Muggles tortured in his dreams for a long time to come, he feared.

Harry slipped away from his friends, claiming a need to check on Hedwig and Xerxes, and made his way to the orchard. Thank the gods, it was quiet there. Peaceful.

At least until a certain black crow landed beside him and pecked at Harry’s pocket, where he usually kept his cloak. Harry draped it over the bird and closed his eyes as Severus shifted into human form beside him. Warm arms wrapped him up and soft feathers blanketed him in peace.

Merlin, I’ve missed you,” Harry murmured into Severus’ shoulder.

A gentle kiss fell on his hair. “Yes, I have missed you as well. I never feel quite at ease unless you are near.”

“It helps when you’re Xerxes, but it’s not the same.”

“No.” Severus laid his head on Harry’s hair. “Child, I am here with news. You have been wondering what took me so long at the cup, yes?”

“Yeah. Thought you’d come back long before you did, though your timing was perfect.”

Severus growled. “There are Death Eaters, and then there is Bartemius Crouch Senior. They are two sides of the same galleon.”

“So we saw.” Harry snuggled closer. “Will Winky be okay?”

Severus shook his head. “I do not know. Most house elves do not take well to freedom, particularly forced freedom. Your Dobby is an odd elf.”

“I’m not positive he’s all elf. He’s pretty barmy compared to the rest of them—maybe there’s something else mixed in his blood. But even if he is a pure house elf, the Malfoys are annoying enough to make anyone long to be away from them after five minutes. Imagine living your entire life at their mercy.”

Severus snorted, though his eyes held an edge of something sorrowful. “That explains Dobby’s eccentricity. Having to live with Lucius Malfoy for years at a time would drive anyone mad.”

Harry chuckled and wrapped his hand in Severus’. “True. But we probably don’t have long before we’re caught. What happened that night?”

Severus sighed. “I spent most of the early hours eavesdropping on Malfoy Senior. While it seems he did arrange for the capture and torture of the Roberts family—”

“I knew it,” Harry muttered.

Severus continued with a wry nod. “Yes. He did organise that much, but he did not have greater plans. It was never his intent to release the Dark Mark. In fact, all of those present I knew of with ties to the Dark Lord were afraid when it shot into the air. At least, those I was able to see. I did not stay long—I feared for you—but the looks on their faces when the mark appeared… they were horrified, Harry.”

“It didn’t go up around the revellers anyway. There was a male voice around Winky, then the Dark Mark shot up.”

“With your wand, I know. But I do not know who released it.”

“Winky called him ‘Master.’”

Master? How strange. It could not have been Barty Crouch Senior, but the only other male in his family died years ago in Azkaban.”

“Who?”

“His son—Barty Crouch Junior. He was captured in the first war as a Death Eater. His own father sentenced him to Azkaban for life. That should tell you what kind of man Crouch Senior is.”

Merlin,” Harry breathed. “That’s… gods.”

“Yes.” Severus hugged Harry tighter. “I am sorry I do not have greater intelligence for you, little one. I will look into the Crouches, however. Perhaps there is a male relative I do not know of at this time. For now, I only have one more bit of information to offer. There is something unusual happening at Hogwarts this year. Albus has asked me not to tell you—I suppose he wants to surprise you with it—but regardless, do stay out of it. You are too high profile and too at-risk to be involved in anything that will draw further attention if we can possibly avoid it.”

 “Fair enough. I’m not exactly in the market for more fame, as it happens.”

Severus chuckled. “Yes, you have better sense than I did at your age.”

“We’re just different people. You’re still a good man, even if you had different needs and experiences than I did.”

“Thank you, child.”

Severus’ fluffy tail curled around Harry’s legs, and Harry petted it with a smile. He kept his eyes closed, just in case.

“Se… Merlin. I need a safe name to call you.”

“Yes, I have been thinking about that. Perhaps… Azrael.”

“Azrael?”

“An angel of destruction and renewal, according to the Christian mythos.”

Harry chuckled darkly. “Well, that’s apt.”

“Indeed.”

 


 

Besides discovering that the elder Weasleys all knew what kind of surprise Hogwarts had in store for them too, Harry learned nothing new on his way to school. At least, not until a Grim bounded out of nowhere and leapt at him.

Black. The fucking idiot.

The dog barked ferociously at the sight of Xerxes and tackled Harry in an attempt to bite the crow. Harry went flying backwards into a group of terrified bystanders and landed flat on his back, winded and seeing stars. His head throbbed and his breath came short until soft green light entered his field of vision and drove away the pain. He came to with Ron’s crouched near his head and Hermione putting her wand away.

Ron muttered, “You okay, Harry?”

Harry shook himself and clambered to his feet. “Fine, but where…?”

Ah. There. Xerxes flew in circles above the platform, glaring down at the Grim snarling and barking several yards below. The passers-by had all backed away, some with wands drawn, staring at the vicious dog with wide eyes.

Oi! Mutt!”

Harry’s sharp call and a kick aimed at the Grim’s ribs brought Black to heel. He would have liked to curse the shitehead, but figured that would draw more attention than he wanted to his ever-growing skill in duelling—something Severus and Dumbledore had both been adamant he should keep quiet as much as possible.

 The dog whined and dropped its tail between his legs. Ron and Hermione formed a screen between Harry and the crowd on the platform, and Harry thanked them with a gruff nod.

“It’s all right, everyone,” Harry called. “He must have followed me from home. My neighbour’s dog, you know. Hates my familiar, the idiot. Anyway, we’ve got him now. Sorry about that. Is everyone okay?”

They all nodded and moved on.

“Hermione,” Harry muttered out of the corner of his mouth, “make sure no one sees this.”

Wards and a powerful Notice-Me-Not went up around them. “There you are. Do try not to kill him.”

Harry gave a dark laugh. “No promises.”

Black whined pathetically.

Once Harry was sure it was safe, he grabbed the dog’s ear and jerked his head up. “Now that we’re out of sight, get this through your thick skull, you fucking bastard,” he snarled, low so only the idiot could hear. “You are a godsdamned idiot and your foolhardy tricks are going to get us all killed. First the bloody parrots, now you show up as a Grim at Platform 9 ¾ and nearly knock me and ten other people unconscious? Are you trying to draw the Death Eaters’ and the Ministry’s attention?”

Black whined and tried to lick Harry’s hand, but Harry jerked it back and grabbed the dog’s ear again.

“Don’t you fucking try to apologise now, you manky bastard! You could’ve gotten us all killed. Just stay the fuck away from me and stay the fuck away from Xerxes. I want nothing to do with you or Lupin, you stupid, cruel, pigheaded wanker. You and your idiot friends ruined your chances with me before I was even born, and….” He leaned down and hissed, “If you hurt Xerxes, if you lay one goddamned finger—or any other part of you—on him ever again, I’ll fucking kill you and enjoy it, is that clear?”

The grim gave a whining yelp and nodded vigorously.

“Good. Now get the hell out of my sight and stay out of it.”

Harry had never seen a dog run so fast.

Xerxes gave his crow’s laugh, a sort of low ‘caw-caw-caw’ that imitated the cadence of human laughter, and landed on Harry’s shoulder once more.

Harry grinned wickedly. “Yes, I think that rather put him in his place, don’t you?”

Xerxes laughed again and tugged Harry’s hair, giving a low chirr of worry.

“I’m okay, Xerxes. Little shaken up. I was afraid he’d bite you. Are you all right?”

Xerxes rubbed Harry’s cheek and fluffed his feathers.

“Thank Merlin.”

With a last pet to Xerxes’ smooth chest, Harry turned to find Ron staring at him with wide eyes and all his freckles standing out in stark relief.

“What?”

Ron choked out, “Mate, you’re bloody scary when you’re hacked off.”

Harry snorted. “Reckon Riddle won’t stand a chance, yeah? I’ll just filet him verbally and we’re done.”

Hermione laughed, though even she looked a little unsettled. “He’s right, you know. That was… intimidating.”

“Good. Maybe the shitehead will catch a clue.”

“Well, if he doesn’t get the picture after that,” said Ron with a shudder, “then he’s thicker than we thought.”

“And that’s saying something,” said Hermione with a sniff.

Harry laughed and followed his friends onto the train.