Albus Dumbledore looked down at the book that lay innocently on his desk. Innocent; save the large, gaping hole in the front cover. The old wizard had pulled the book out many times in the years since Lucius Malfoy’s old house elf had brought it back to him at the end of Harry Potter’s second year. Dumbledore had chuckled at the elf’s story and hired him on the spot. He had seen the small creature’s loyalty to Harry and had thought it might come in handy. Dumbledore pressed a hand to his chest as he remembered just how handy that elf’s loyalty had been. Even now, his resident Potions master and the Boy Who Lived slept in the infirmary under the watchful eye of Poppy.
Draco Malfoy had succeeded in getting a small group of Death Eaters into Hogwarts, but it had cost the boy his life and nearly the life of Severus. Draco had changed his mind at the last possible second, and his aunt had turned on the boy. Albus wasn’t entirely sure of what exactly had happened, only that somehow, Severus had been discovered as a spy and Harry had been caught in the crossfire. Dobby had gotten the injured wizards away from Bellatrix’s wand just in time to avoid the green light hitting the boy. Aurors had been at the school for the last two days checking every student for the Dark Mark, not willing to allow the wards surrounding Hogwarts to be breached again in such a way.
Dumbledore placed a hand on the book and knew it was time to speak to Harry and Severus about a serious topic. He knew neither would like what he had to say, and he felt only a frisson of anxiety at sending the two out on this mission. But, he thought with a sigh, it was time Severus learned to let go of the past.
~~~ This work intended for AO3 only ~~~
Severus hurt. Every inch of his body felt near two hundred years old rather than his actual thirty-seven. The pain potions only helped so much when it came to Bellatrix’s vicious curses. He stopped outside the gargoyle and took a moment to relax before he gave the latest vomit-inducing password. He didn’t bother knocking when he reached the top of the stairs; Albus had sent word he wanted to see him immediately, so immediately it would be. He hid his startled reaction at the sight of Potter sitting in front of the headmaster’s desk. He still remembered how the boy had tried to pull Draco out of the path of Bellatrix’s curse, how he’d cried out when Draco had fallen lifeless to the floor. For a moment the boy had acted as if Draco had been Weasley, and Severus wondered if their public animosity hadn’t been some ruse. But Severus had been awake, on the other side of the curtains from Potter, when the boy admitted to his friends that not even Malfoy had deserved to die.
“Ah, Severus,” Albus said from behind his desk, his blue eyes devoid of his typical twinkle. “Come join us.” He motioned to the chair beside Potter, and Severus moved forward. “I was just telling Harry here how much I appreciate his attempt at saving young Draco. The boy had potential, and I am sorry to see its loss.” The sorrow in the old wizard’s voice was genuine Severus noted as he lowered himself to the chair.
“I’m just sorry I couldn’t do more, sir,” Potter said, his own regret obvious as well. Green eyes turned to look at Severus. “And I’m sorry for your loss as well, professor. I know Malfoy and I didn’t exactly get along, but he was one of your house, so I’m sure you must have felt some regards towards him.”
Severus gave a slow nod, not quite sure what to say in the face of Potter’s insight. “Thank you, Mr. Potter. His loss has greatly affected our house but perhaps it will help some to make better decisions.” Potter gave a nod and turned back to Albus.
“The reason I asked you both here is because I feel it is time I asked for help.” Albus let out a sigh and pushed something forward. Severus furrowed his brows at the burnt-out book. His head snapped to Potter when the boy gave a gasp. Severus watched Potter reach towards the book then jerk his hand back.
“Where did you get that?” Potter asked, his voice soft as if he were in awe of the object. Or afraid it might come to life. “I gave it back to Mr. Malfoy.”
Severus gave a small jerk and turned his attention back to Albus. What did Lucius Malfoy have to do with this? Albus gave a small cough and his lips twitched slightly. “Ah. Dobby brought it to me. Apparently when Lucius… er, fell down the stairs, it slipped from his pocket.” Severus glanced at Potter to see the boy biting back a smile. “Dobby thought it best to return it to me.”
“So, you’ve had it all this time?” Potter questioned and Albus gave a nod.
“Indeed I have. I have been trying to figure out how such a simple object could so easily take control of a child.”
“She was only eleven, sir,” Potter cut in. “And already vulnerable.”
“That was not your fault, Harry,” Albus reassured the boy, and Severus wished he knew what the hell was going on. “Ms. Weasley was simply insecure in such a new environment.” Bloody hell. They were talking about Ginny Weasley’s first year and the Chamber being opened.
“It didn’t have anything to do with Hogwarts, sir, and you know it,” Potter huffed. “She was upset because of me. I didn’t even hardly know she existed, let alone she was half in love with me.”
Albus let out a small chuckle. “You were young yourself, my boy. But that was the past and we must discuss the future.” He tapped the book, drawing their attention back to the object. “I believe I discovered what this is earlier this year and have been trying to locate any other such object.”
“You mean there’s more out there that could possess people?” Potter cried, and Severus wished the boy would simply shut up and let Albus talk. He wanted to get this over with so he could get to his quarters and soak in a warm tub.
“Possibly,” Albus admitted. “The problem I am having is I am not sure how many times Tom has performed this magic nor how to find the objects in question.”
“What exactly are these objects in question?” It was Severus’s turn to interrupt.
Albus gave a sigh. “They are called Horcruxes. Objects that house a person’s soul. They can only be created by the darkest of magic and require a sacrifice.”
“Murder, you mean,” Severus stated blandly, and Albus nodded.
“There could be thousands of those out there,” Potter blurted out. “Do you have any idea how many people Voldemort has killed?”
“I do not believe there are so many, Harry,” Albus stated calmly. “It requires a complex ritual and each time a piece of the soul is split it leaves the remainder a bit more fractured. I don’t believe Tom intended to create more than six, a total of seven including his own. A magical number.”
“So, we need to find five more?” Potter said, his eyes on the book. Severus gave a snort, pulling the boy’s attention to him.
“How so very like you to assume your assistance is required, or even wanted, on such a delicate mission, Potter.”
“Severus,” Albus admonished. “Harry is right. This is why I have called the two of you in here.”
Severus gaped at him. “You mean to send Potter and I on a mission together? Impossible. I’d rather go with Lupin. Better yet, send him with the werewolf; maybe the mongrel will eat him and save us all the trouble.”
Potter glared at Severus who ignored the flashing green eyes. “Severus,” Albus once again admonished. “You truly must stop seeing the father in the boy. I need you and Harry to work together, you are the only two that, I believe, can do this.”
“Why?” Potter questioned. “What makes us so special? Why not someone else in the Order?”
Albus gave a small cough, and Severus saw a look of guilt cross the man’s face. “That is the other thing I need to tell you, Harry. I believe, on the night he killed your parents, that he had intended to create another, his final Horcrux. But because of Lily’s protection,” Severus winced at the reminder of his friend’s sacrifice, “his spell backfired. Only, I believe, his soul was so fractured that a piece broke off and latched on to the only other living thing-”
Albus’s words were cut off by the sound of retching, and Severus looked over to see Potter bent over the side of his chair. Potter’s back heaved with each emesis until he was gasping for breath. Albus gave a flick of his wand, and soon the scent of clean air washed through the room. Potter sat back in his chair and wiped the sleeve of his robe across his mouth.
“Sorry, sir,” he mumbled. He pressed his opposite sleeve under his glasses and wiped at his eyes.
“Perfectly understandable, Harry,” Albus said softly. “I do want you to know that I truly only realized this myself this year. I have been researching ways to extract the extra soul since the only way I know of to destroy a Horcrux is to destroy the container.”
It was Severus’s turn to feel nauseous. He had NOT spent twenty years playing loyal spy for Dumbledore on the pretext of keeping the boy safe simply to allow the old fool to kill the boy. He might be Potter’s spawn, but he was Lily’s child. Before Severus could spew the contents of his stomach or, more likely, a few hexes the headmaster’s way, the old wizard spoke again.
“Fortunately I believe I have located a spell that will work. I have asked a goblin healer to look it over so that we may determine the best way to remove the soul piece without harming you.”
“Thank you, sir,” Potter said, his voice rough with emotion.
“In the meantime,” Albus continued, “I believe we can use it to our advantage.” Both student and professor had their full attention on the headmaster now. “I believe we can use your link, Harry, to locate the other Horcruxes. Since they all originate from the same source, I believe they are still tied to the original source.”
“So, my… scar can be used sort of like a map to locate the others?”
“Exactly,” Albus beamed. “It will require the use of Legilimency, of course. Someone with a delicate touch,” Albus said with a hard look at Severus.
“But why can’t you do it, sir?” Potter asked quickly, shooting a wary glance at Severus.
Albus let out a sigh. “I can try, Harry, but I don’t hold much hope in succeeding. I would most likely have no trouble finding the link, but I think my magic would be too Light for me to be able to follow the link. I believe we would need someone with their own link to Tom.”
“Me,” Severus blurted out, his right hand covering his arm. Albus nodded.
“Yes. I believe that with your link to the Dark Lord, Severus, the soul would not see you as a threat.”
“But wouldn’t it realize he was a threat after we destroy the first one?” Potter asked the question that had been on the tip of Severus’s tongue.
Albus shook his head. “I don’t think so. Did you have any adverse effects after destroying the diary?”
“Er, well, I had just been doused with Phoenix tears but, you know, other than recovering from nearly dying, no.”
Albus let out a soft chuckle. “I do not believe any of the souls can actually feel when one is destroyed. They have been detached for so long, only having a thin thread to the original. I doubt Tom even realizes when one is destroyed.”
Potter let out a hard sigh. “Alright, sir. When do we begin?”
Severus blinked in surprise. Of course it was just like the brat to jump in without even knowing what he was doing. And he said as much. Potter blinked at him.
“I know what to do,” he answered back. “I’m to let you use Legilimency on me so you can find out how many Horcruxes Voldemort has and hopefully where they are. Then you and Professor Dumbledore can go destroy them.”
Severus was surprised that the normally arrogant boy was so quick to leave the actual retrieval and destruction of the Horcruxes to the adults.
“Actually, Harry,” Albus interrupted. “That’s not entirely true.” Both younger wizards turned their attention back to him. “You are essentially correct, but I will need you and Professor Snape to go after them as well once you have located them.”
“But my school-”
“My students, Albus. Surely-”
They both stopped as Albus raised his hand. “I do not mean tonight. Yes, Harry needs to finish sixth year, and, Severus, you will be allowed to stay through exams. Besides, Harry must return to his relatives for a short while.”
“Do I have to?” Potter whined.
“I am afraid so, Harry. Just until the first. A few weeks is all the wards need to replenish then your relatives will be safe for the next year.”
“Fine,” Potter huffed, crossing his arms and slouching in his seat. Severus seethed at the selfish brat. “Not like they ever did anything to protect me,” Potter mumbled.
“Harry,” Albus admonished. “We have talked about this. Regardless of how you or your relatives feel about each other they need you to keep them safe just as much as you need them to keep you safe. I will make sure Dobby takes you regular meals just like last summer,” Albus reassured the boy, and Severus furrowed his brows in confusion.
“I do appreciate it, sir,” Potter said with, surprisingly, respect.
“In the meantime, Harry, I will send you home with some books that I think you might find interesting. I will also have Professor Snape provide you with the mandrake leaf as promised.”
Potter’s eyes lit up even as Severus’s darkened in anger. “Truly, sir?”
“You can’t be serious, Albus,” Severus spat. “Teaching the boy animagia. Haven’t you learned your lesson on that?”
“Now, Severus,” Albus said in his irritating soothing voice. “I did promise the boy if he worked hard this year I would allow him to attempt it under the watchful eye of a professor.” Albus beamed at Severus, “And since you will be with him this summer as you hunt down the Horcruxes…”
Severus inhaled deeply, his nostrils flaring. What argument could he give that didn’t sound petulant and whiney? Albus himself had helped with Severus’s own Animagus transformation when he had turned spy. “Fine,” he bit out.
Albus gave a bright smile. “Excellent. I will collect Harry from his relative’s house the first of July and escort him to Grimmauld Place. I will provide some funds, wizarding as well as muggle, and a few things that you might need. Arthur has agreed to allow me to use his tent in case you cannot return to Grimmauld Place at some point. I suggest finding a convenient bag or some such to which you can add extension charms and carry it with you at all times. Pack plenty of clothes, including muggle, Severus, for all types of weather.”
“Just how long do you expect this to take, Albus?” Severus questioned.
“I do not know. But I have already spoken to Horace about coming to teach next year.”
“Slughorn!” Severus snapped. “And what if I return before September? Am I to be pushed to the curb? No longer needed now that I have been discovered?”
“Severus, you know that isn’t true,” Albus admonished gently. “No. When you return, you will take over the position of Defense professor.” Severus had to snap his jaw closed. He couldn’t believe he was actually going to be allowed to teach Defense. “Now, Harry, do you have any questions?”
“Um, no, sir,” Potter mumbled.
“Excellent. You may return to your dorm. Severus, if you would stay please.” Potter nodded and quickly exited the room. Albus turned his attention back to Severus. “I need you to do something for me, Severus.” Severus gave a small nod for the man to continue. “As you know, the school board often comes by for inspection soon after school lets out. Lucius is still on the school board.”
“You fear he might be after me.”
“Yes. It might be best if you weren’t in the school while they were here.”
“You would have me hide,” Severus snarled.
“No. I wish you to keep an eye on Harry. The Order will of course take watch again, but I think a raven of your quality might have a better view. And who knows, you might learn something from the boy.”
Severus had to keep himself from rolling his eyes. Fine, he would go hide out under the guise of keeping an eye on the boy and practice keeping his temper in check since he would, apparently, be spending some months with the brat.
“Oh, and Severus, I do hope you can manage to get along with Harry. He really is a lovely boy. Very much like his mother. Good evening.”
Severus glared at the manipulative old coot and stood from his chair. His robes swirled around him as he turned and strode from the room.