Headmaster Dumbledore said a bad word. Then another.
Minerva McGonagall gritted her teeth and said, "Yes. Quite." Then she said, "How much time do we have?"
"Less than an hour. They began long before I was informed." The old man scowled. The students would have been amazed at how much that changed his face.
"It was the minister's idea, wasn't it?" McGonagall jaw was set and she looked like she wanted to claw someone's eyes out.
"Yes. It was quite deliberate," Dumbledore said. Sorrow threaded the words, and rare anger, too. He rubbed at his eyes and sighed.
"Of course. Damn Fudge." Her hands became fists, but there was nothing to hit.
"We must tell Severus." Dumbledore stood up. He looked around his office rather uncertainly.
McGonagall was practical. "It's late, but he should be in his classroom. His floo is blocked. I dare say this is ridiculous, but the fastest way is to fly." The broom in the corner had been confiscated from a first year earlier in the day. McGonagall waited until Dumbledore had thrown a leg over it, climbed on behind, and held on tight. They went whizzing through the corridors. It was almost time for curfew and few students were out and about. Those who saw the sight stood gaping and pointing as the two took the corners entirely too fast. At one point, Minerva's foot kicked out, pushing them away from the wall and facilitating a turn. No quidditch star could have done it better.
It was even more of a challenge in the dungeon, but they skittered to a stop in front of the potions classroom. The door was propped open, and they could see Snape at his desk. He was marking papers, his mouth turned down in a frown, his brow furrowed, quill in hand. He looked up as they landed, and something about the way they scrambled into the room brought him to his feet, wand in hand.
"What is it?"
"Fudge." Minerva spat out. Her hair had come undone and half of it was dangling down her back.
"What has he done?" Snape asked, unmoved by her display.
McGonagall was stomping back and forth, unable to keep her aggravation from spilling out. "Finally, finally he acknowledges that there's a problem. Does he go after Voldemort? No, he decides and the damnable part is he's half right that if he can't reach You Know Who, he'll take out the accomplices. He's got Ferganholtz in from Durmstrang to cast a universal spell. We know the research they have been attempting. Using a captured Death Eater, they have been experimenting on his mark. The idea was to wrest control of the mark from Voldemort. Everyone who bears the dark mark will be affected when the spell is cast," she said.
"What spell?" Snape asked in a flat voice. His hand had gone to his arm, closing over the robes which hid his mark.
"We don't know." Dumbledore's grey lips pressed together. "I don't think Fudge would allow him to send a fatal curse. The original plan last year was that everyone with the mark would be located and identified somehow. Failing that, stupified until they could be detained. Some of the advisors had suggested some rather serious remedies, which I thought we discouraged. It was decided not to attempt it, but now we hear that he has gone ahead on his own."
"And as for myself?" Snape asked. "Will an exception be made?"
"I will certainly insist on it," Dumbledore said, "But the spell will still affect you, and this could be the problem. If he has chosen one which harms physically.... "
"I don't trust Fudge," McGonagall said. "He may not send a killing curse, or one of the Unforgivables, but even a mild curse, if sustained or interfered with, could be fatal."
"I am more afraid of a compelling curse," Dumbledore said. "If they manage to transfer the control of the mark to someone and that someone would be either Ferganholtz who is casting or his superior, Fudge "
"Then I may have to kill myself. Bad enough to be at Voldemort's beck and call, but Fudge's?" Snape sounded quite sincere. "I trust Ferganholtz even less. That man has his own dark secrets. What was Fudge thinking, putting power into the hands of a man who is probably a dark wizard in his own right?"
"What if Voldemort discovers what is being done? What will he do?" McGonagall muttered, still pacing wildly.
Snape smiled grimly. "He will not give over his Death Eaters. He will see them dead before he will allow the ministry to command them." Snape sat down at his desk again, as if he were suddenly tired. "He has always had the power of life and death through the mark. If he wills it, all wearing the mark will die." He looked up at Dumbledore and added, "It is more likely that he will summon them and send them on a killing spree, to get the maximum benefit from them before they die."
There was a cry from behind them. The adults whirled around. There in the doorway were four students, seventh years. It was evident they had been serving detentions, for they each held a cauldron and a scrubbing brush. It was also evident they had heard most of the conversation. In the back of the group, Ron Weasley stood, mouth open. In front of him, Hermione Granger, hand over her mouth. Beside her was Harry Potter, his hair even messier than usual, his eyes wide. In the front of this group was Draco Malfoy, who had cried out and had one hand out to brace himself on the wall.
"My father!" Draco moaned, and before anyone could react he was running from the room.
"Stop him!" McGonagall ordered, but the transfiguration she threw missed as Draco ducked around the corner. Ron Weasley tossed his cauldron aside and dashed after him. "Bring him back unharmed," she called after them.
"What can we do to help?" Hermione asked, moving forward, dropping her cauldron and brush on the table as she passed. She did not have the air of a student, she was a mature witch offering her services. Harry automatically followed her, leaving his cauldron beside hers.
"There must be something," McGonagall agreed. "What if we removed the mark?" she asked.
"It can't be removed." Snape said it dispassionately, his dark eyes meeting hers. "Emmett Crane chopped off his own arm in his effort to remove it. When he woke up the next morning, he found it had merely appeared on the other arm. He eventually died.." He did not have to say from what, and the impression he gave was that the process was painful as well as lengthy.
"Then what can be done?" Harry asked.
"You said the control can be transferred. Couldn't you," Hermione said, turning to Dumbledore, "supplant You Know Who?"
Snape answered. "Voldemort will know what is being attempted. His has defenses."
"It may be possible. We just don't know," Dumbledore said.
"Not to mention the side effect," Snape said sourly. At the curious looks directed his way, he said, "Voldemort said, when he returned, that he had modified the dark mark so that when he died, his followers would die, too. He also told them that when he attains his immortality, any wearing his mark would also have access to it. I believe he was both insuring that no rival from the ranks arose to challenge him, and encouraging loyalty to his cause. Of course, he could have been lying. He's quite fond of misrepresentation."
"So if I transferred the locus to myself, you would die when I died? I am an old man, it would scarcely be a benefit to you, Severus," Dumbledore pointed out.
"It would be some years more than I would have should I die tonight," Snape pointed out.
"Dumbledore can't. He needs to get to the ministry, to this Ferganholtz person, and make sure that he and Fudge aren't just taking control over the Death Eaters," Hermione said it quickly. "We have to know what's going on."
"But Severus," Minerva started to say, even as the realization that Hermione was probably right appeared on her face. She turned to Dumbledore, "Albus?"
"Abandon Severus?" Dumbledore shook his head stubbornly.
"No, you're leaving him with us. Harry and I will do what we can. It's more important that you go and see what they're up to," Hermione said urgently. "Hurry!"
"She's right. You have to go, Albus. Just as I must see to the wards of the castle and rouse the other teachers. If Voldemort decides to send his Death Eaters to attack here...." McGonagall shivered at the thought.
"Go," Hermione said, and she watched as Dumbledore and McGonagall stared into each other's eyes. They seemed to come to an agreement. In moments they were on the broom again, vanishing down the dark corridor.
"Well, you've certainly disposed of them neatly. What are you up to, Miss Granger?" Severus asked. His robes swirled and he faced her, his wand was still out. Suspicion glared out of his eyes.
"I didn't want them here. They might not like my idea," Hermione said. "Harry, go to Ron's bag. He has a sketchbook in there. Bring it here." Meanwhile, she was darting about the room, pulling potion ingredients from the cupboards and shelves.
"Has it occurred to you that I might not like either? Whatever it proves to be?" Snape asked.
"Of course you won't. You're going to hate it," she added.
"And why is that?" Snape's voice went very quiet and his wand lifted.
"If we work it so that, just as the curse is activated by Fudge, ours starts at the same time, we can free you from both Voldemort and from Fudge's plan," Hermione explained.
"Are you that powerful a witch?" he asked, his doubt and scorn quite clearly expressed.
"Not quite. But Harry's that powerful a wizard," she said smoothly. "We'll do it together. What I think we'll have to do is give you a Wander potion, and take your essence away from your body. Then, we do two things at once. We replace the dark mark with another image, the same moment we replace Voldemort with another "
"Master?" Snape asked. "And who shall rule me now--you, Miss Granger?" the tone was deadly, and it dared her to try it.
"No, of course not. You'll be Harry's."
Both Snape and Harry Potter scowled at her.
"Pardon me, madam, for pointing out that his life expectancy is worse than Dumbledore's. Not to mention I have no desire to be at the beck and call of an eighteen year old boy."
Hermione said, "Well, that's just it, Professor. Harry wouldn't be abusing his power, would he?"
"You have faith in Gryffindor honor which I do not share," he mocked.
"Get some," she said. "Because if you are resisting, this won't work. You have to accept the mark. You have to at least want it more than the other."
"Dying is looking better and better." Snape was joking. Perhaps.
"It won't work! We can't do that," Harry said panic edging his voice. He was approaching with the pad of paper in his hand. He looked at Hermione. "You know why."
"What?" Hermione looked confused. Then she shook her head. "You mean because you're...?"
"What?" Snape wanted to know.
Hermione and Harry exchanged a look. "Gay," Harry said reluctantly.
"What difference does that make?" Snape asked.
"Not much, it's just that Harry and I have always agreed," Hermione said frankly, "that if you weren't such an arsehole and you bothered to keep yourself up, you'd be an extremely sexy man, Professor Snape. But I'm sure that if you continue to be your own charming self, Harry will have no desire to impose his, ah, will on you. I have faith in Harry's decency."
"Harry doesn't," Snape told her, looking at the conflicted expression on Harry's face. "Don't worry about it, Potter. Voldemort has always bid his Death Eaters serve him in--all ways. I doubt you have his bent for the unusual, so nothing you could do to me could match his efforts. Of course, he had several hundred Death Eaters, and had shared himself with many of them. His attentions to any one individual were relatively rare as a result. Unless he took a fancy to one or another for a few weeks. That was often fatal. Of course, all you would have is the one."
"You really do have a miserable sense of humor," Hermione said. "And no choice at all," she continued. "Either of you. Harry, look through Ron's art and find a picture that would fit on the arm, something just about the size of the dark mark. Snape, you start making the Wander potion."
Snape gave her a level look, then glanced at Harry. Snape did not verbally agree, but his hands automatically began to sort the ingredients, pull out a cauldron, light the magic fire under it.
"There's nothing here," Harry said impatiently. Hermione took the sketch pad from him. "How about this one?" she asked.
"We can make it bigger.
"It's it's too it wouldn't...he wouldn't like that. On him. He's got to look at it every day," he reminded his friend. "Nothing with a Gryffindor lion on it."
"On that, we agree," Snape said.
"Then this one."
"It's a better design."
"With my initials on it?" Harry asked. "Trust me, who'd want that?"
"Potter, you have a wand. Take out the bits you don't want," Snape ordered. "Try to show a little intelligence. No one wants to be owned by a fool."
Potter threw down the pad of paper. "Just stop it! It's not like I want this! I'm only doing this because otherwise you'll die!"
Hermione snapped out, "Don't say that, Harry. You have to actually want it, or it won't work. Could I have some cooperation here?" she demanded, also close to losing her temper. "The only question is, will the forces of light be better off with or without Severus Snape? Dumbledore says we need him, and I don't think we're going to disagree with him, any of us. Now shut up and do your part, before I start telling you both what I think!"
"My, my Miss Granger, I...." Snape began in that oily mocking voice of his. She rounded on him, wand up.
"Shut up, Sev." When he opened his mouth to protest her use of diminutive, she said, "Just make the bloody potion and be quick about it."
"Do you know how many points that is going to cost you?" The voice went from cold to icy by the end of the sentence.
Hermione didn't really care. "The headmaster will give me that many, plus ten, if I manage to save your miserable life."
That was probably true. Snape looked at Harry Potter, bent over a drawing, adding colors with his wand. Snape resisted the impulse to look. He gave his attention to his work. The potion, a fairly simple one, was soon done. He finished it off with a quick-cool spell and decanted it into a flask.
"Just in time," Hermione said briskly. "Drink half of that when I start the incantation. Harry, are you done there?"
Harry sighed. "I suppose so."
"Then we wait. Professor, the very moment you sense a change in your mark, drink, and I'll take that as my clue to begin. Harry, reverse the pattern on that drawing. When he has finished drinking the potion, wrap the paper around his arm, over the mark. Then get a knife, and when I tell you, nick yourself and let your blood drop onto the paper."
Harry knew where the knives were kept. He selected a small one from the drawer, passing it through a flame three times and then just standing there, staring at it.
"Oh, and take off your robe and your shirt," Hermione added to Snape.
Strangely, he did not give her an argument, but stripped off first his robe and then his white shirt. Potter's eyes left the knife, and he frankly stared. Snape ignored him, although it was flattering to see that look of suppressed appreciation in the green eyes. Snape's arms were muscled from years of cauldron stirring and his shoulders were nicely developed. He knew nothing else was remarkable about his thin body.
It became very quiet in the room. Hermione stood, eyes closed, lips moving as she practiced. Long minutes passed and then Snape's arm began to tingle. He said, "Now."
Potter reversed the knife in his hand and clutched it hard, his wand in his other hand. Snape knew that if Voldemort was successful and retained his dominance, then Potter might well have to defend himself and Miss Granger. Potter might have to kill him and was prepared to do it, even though he did not want to. Snape's respect for the young man slid up a few notches. He admitted to himself, then, that being beholden to Harry Potter would be better than bowing to the dark lord's whims.
Snape swallowed the potion. Hermione started to chant. Almost at once Snape went lightheaded, and seemed to drift away from his body. He watched what happened as if it were a muggle movie. He remembered the only time he had attended one of those, how utterly bizarre and stupid he had found it, with dialogue you could not properly hear amid all those explosions.
Harry was turning around. He was touching Snape's arm, extending it out so that he could properly reach, but Snape couldn't feel it. He couldn't hear Hermione anymore either. Felt the pull begin, behind is eyes, then in his chest. It hurt. He tried to breathe, to endure. He was so good at enduring. His arm was wrapped in the paper. Potter had sliced his own arm with the knife. Snape found himself counting the drops of blood at they fell. Big drops. Onetwothree four fivesix seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen. Stopped at thirteen. And then one last small drip spattered down. Fourteen. Then Potter's hands wrapped around the paper and held tight.
His arm was on fire. He screamed, fell to his knees, screamed again. Oh. He remembered. This was how it felt when the mark was first applied, when magic put a thousand invisible needles into flesh at the same instant.
He screamed again, feeling the hands on his arm, each of the fingers that held the paper in place was a separate bar of fire on top of the needles and he fell forward onto his face and lost himself to blackness for a moment. Just a moment. Not for him the mercy of losing all consciousness. Enduring every excruciating moment was part of the pain, part of the process, part of the spell.
Then everything was quiet. Hands were on him, helping him to sit up. The touch of the hands hurt, all his skin was in rebellion, shouting at him. But it was already fading, already becoming more endurable, and a few minutes later he could hear again, and he was back from the movies and in his own skin properly. He still could not seem to move, and he watched as the paper was peeled from his arm.
"Oh." Potter said it for them both.
The dark mark was gone. In its place was a yellow-gold feather, crossed with a silver-gray broom. To the left, an elaborate H in faded green. To the right, an equally fancy P in barely-there red. Above, a silver and white lightening bolt, which started between the initials, crossed the feather and broom and extended several inches below the cross point. All of it surrounded by a black snake, holding its tail in its mouth.
"But I took out the letters, I did!" Harry was saying. He was holding Snape's arms at wrist and elbow, turning it so that the light could fall on it and best show the design.
"But did the rest of it work?" Hermione needed to know. "Harry, go over by the door and and call him."
Harry let go of the arm and made his way over to the door. He turned.
Snape's arm grew warm. It tingled, then ached, just as it always did when the summons came. But the pain was not as bad. Even when he resisted, and the tingle grew stronger, it didn't become the agony of Voldemort's call. But perhaps that was because it was not in his new master to be cruel. Or the summons was not a strong one because Potter didn't yet know how to do it properly.
Yet it called him, and he went. He stopped before Harry Potter, looked into his eyes, and saw green panic. So much better than red insanity. Slowly, Snape went to his knees before his new master. But he did not look away, and did not have to say the placating, appeasing words Voldemort demanded, did not abase himself or kiss the hem of the black robe.
"Oh, gods, professor, please get up," Potter begged, and Snape obeyed. "Get...get dressed. Please, sir. Please!"
So he dressed, and just as he his robe was settling on his shoulders, the door burst open. Ron Weasley and Draco Malfoy lurched in, dragging between them the bound body of Lucius Malfoy.
The elder Malfoy was wrapped in red ribbons of force, and he should have been immobile, but he twitched and fought against what held him. There was a silencing spell on him, yet faint screams of agony could still be heard.
"Professor! Please! Please!" Draco Malfoy screamed, his own agony a reflection of his father's. Even Weasley looked shaken and sick
Draco had wild hope in his eyes. "Snape! Oh, gods, you're here, you're not in pain. There must be a way. Save my father, too! Name your price, it's yours, but by all the gods, please!"
"Draco!" Hermione tried to calm him down, reaching out, but he shoved her away, hard.
"Get your mudblood hands off me!"
"The price is incredibly high, Draco," Severus Snape said in a low, too quiet voice. "Your father may not thank you for it."
"I don't care! He's dying!"
It was probably true. Blood was seeping out of his eye sockets, out of his mouth, and a row of blisters was raising across his face, stretching and bursting one by one.
"It might not work," Hermione said, uncertainly.
"Do it! Do it or I'll I'll kill you! I will!" Draco screamed, his wand out. Ron Weasley jumped him then, wrestling until he could tear the wand out of Draco's hand.
"You promised!" Ron snarled.
Draco, Snape knew, could have killed, would have if he had not been clumsy in his terror for his father. "I beg you, Severus Snape. Please!"
"Hermione?" Harry said, uncertainly.
"We...we should try," she responded.
"Oh. Damn. Fine. Do it," Harry Potter said.
Snape snatched up the flask of potion and grabbing Lucius Malfoy's hair, tilted the head back and poured in the liquid. Harry took his knife to the expensive robes, slicing open Malfoy's sleeves, exposing the dark mark.
The mark was ugly. The skull was almost glowing, the snakes were squirming, the black bits oozing blood. They all felt an acute relief when Harry covered the hideous sight with the bloody paper. Harry's hand holding the knife trembled and he looked around, and Snape knew he was wondering if someone else's blood could be used this time, wondering if he had to do this again. It meant, Snape realized, that Potter had wanted him. Deep within himself, some part of Potter wanted to have Snape in thrall to him. But he had no deep need to hold Lucius, was not attracted to him. Didn't want him.
That knowledge was a warmth inside Snape, it pleased him. But he shook his head at Potter, for who else could claim Lucius? There was no time to find another design, much less someone else to take Potter's place. Hermione was busy with the spell and must not be distracted. Himself? Weasley? Draco? As amusing as it would be to own Lucius Malfoy, anyone in thrall to Snape would, by extension, also be under Potter's hand. Weasley had it in him to be just a bit cruel, even if unintentionally, he was not mature enough, and did not understand truly what was going on. Draco himself? To put the father in thrall to the son was to destroy the family. No, in the absence of Dumbledore there was only one choice. Snape snatched up Potter's undamaged hand, wrenched the knife from him and made the cuts in Potter's skin himself. The blood flowed freely. Potter had cried out at the cut, and now just stared at the blood drops coming down. Snape wrapped the already blood soaked paper around Malfoy's arm. One two threefour five six seveneight nine ten. Eleven. Twelve. Thirteen. He wrapped Potter's hands around the arm. Potter's fingers trembled under his. The sound of Hermione's chanting was far off music sounding faintly in his ears.
Snape pulled the hand away. Potter let go. Lucius passed out. Draco was hunched by his father's side, breathing hard, eyes glued on his father's contorted face, his own still reflecting agony.
Snape walked over to his counter and pulled down a grey potion bottle. He got a clean rag and walked over to Potter, who was slumped against the wall. With careful stokes he bathed Potter's wounds in the potion, and the blood stopped flowing and the edges of the flesh pulled in upon themselves a little. It also took the pain. Potter looked at him, relief in his eyes, and said, "Thank you."
Hermione stopped chanting and collapsed to the floor, panting as if she had run a marathon. Weasley ran to her, lifting her up, holding her against his chest, his broad hand cradling the back of her head. He was whispering to her. Snape couldn't hear the words.
Snape handed his bottle and rag to Draco. "Bath your father in this. Wherever there is a cut or blood." Draco put his hand to the paper on his father's arm, and then hesitated. Finally he took hold of it and pulled it away.
Potter's insignia, just as it was on Snape's arm, although this copy did not seem as bright.
Weasley looked up. "But that's my drawing! The one I made last week, when Harry and I were talking about going into business and I drew him a business crest as a joke."
"My father has to go through life with Weasley art on his arm?" Draco exclaimed, horrified.
"Worse than that, Draco," Snape said. "He owes his life to a mudblood witch and Harry Potter. And Harry Potter owns your father now, the way Voldemort once did. The way he owns me." He smiled at the look on Draco's face. "I told you the price was high."
"He's going to kill me," gasped Draco, his eyes going from Granger to Potter, to Snape, and then to Weasley. He grew pale and fell back, and he looked like he was fighting hard not to gag and throw up. "What have I done!"
"What any good son would do. You saved your father's life. If he doesn't like it, Draco, too bad. He can kill himself later if it bothers him so much."
"But Harry Potter! To have to bow to Harry Potter! Oh, gods, oh gods, oh shit, oh fuck." He was practically sobbing.
"Stop it, sniveling won't do you any good," Snape said. "Finish getting that potion onto your father and then we'll take him into my rooms. I'd take him to Madame Pomfrey but it may be best not to reveal that he is here. If it is necessary, I may have you go fetch her later. Weasley, go ask the house elves to bring tea and food to my suite. Potter, bring Granger in through here. Should she need to use the toilet, mine is closest." Intense magic increased metabolism, with predictable results.
Snape led the way into his private rooms. He watched as they all looked around, amazed. Had they thought he existed in some dark hole? His sitting room had a couch. They eased Lucius down onto it. Granger was put in the chair by the fire, Snape's reading chair. Potter brought in all four of the other chairs Snape owned and arranged them on the other side of the fire, transfiguring them into comfortable arm chairs. The house elves and Weasley arrived with huge pots of tea, cups, a tray of sandwiches, another of cakes and a bowl of chocolates.
They drank the tea and devoured the food and waited. Eventually, Lucius Malfoy groaned and opened his eyes. Severus Snape leaned over him, grinned maliciously and said, "Good evening, Lucius. So glad you could join us. Care for some tea?"
"Voldemort?" Lucius gasped, sitting bolt upright and looking around.
"Off somewhere fighting the Ministry for control of his Death Eaters, as I understand it," Snape briskly helped him sit up. Draco put a cup of hot tea into his father's hand and steadied him as he drank it.
"What in all the hells happened?" Lucius put a hand to his throbbing head.
"Gentlemen?" Snape said, directing his comments to Weasley and the younger Malfoy.
"I followed Draco to the Hogwarts boundary." Weasley began. "Caught hold of him just as he apparated. He took both of us to Malfoy Manor the place is huge, it took us ten minutes just to get to the parlor. Daddy there was entertaining. Death Eater friends," Ron added. "They were talking about how odd their marks were, reacting oddly, I mean, and were wondering what was wrong. Draco managed to get his father's attention and draw him out of the room, but then he Lucius, I mean-- wouldn't come with us he wanted to go to Voldemort. So we had to...had to...."
"My own son attacked me," Lucius remembered, then.
"To save your life, Father! There was no time! The Ministry was moving against the Death Eaters, we didn't know if they were going to kill, or take control of you or imprison you, but I didn't want you to die!"
"What have you done, you foolish boy?" Malfoy shouted, tossing the tea cup from him. It shattered on the floor. "What is so horrible that you can't even meet my eyes?"
"Have you looked at your dark mark lately?" Snape asked, his cool and sarcastic voice countering the hot emotion, slicing through it and changing the direction of the discussion easily. They all watched as Malfoy lifted his arm and stared, aghast.
"What is that?" Lucius gasped.
"Harry Potter's mark. Your new master bids you to accept or deny him." Snape stepped back and allowed Malfoy a clear view of the rather nervous looking young wizard.
"Harry Potter?" The scorn and disgust in Malfoy's voice was less than flattering. He turned to his son. "You put me in thrall to Harry bloody Potter?"
"To save your life," Draco whispered, ashamed. "To save your life, father."
"Until Voldemort finds out and kills me for a traitor?"
"Don't be melodramatic, Malfoy. Voldemort currently has his own problems. You're safe for at least a week," Snape said. He was grinning.
"Your sense of humor was always vile," Malfoy spat. "I'd almost think you were enjoying this!"
"The irony is delicious, you must admit. Do you think your situation is bad? Here I am, humble servant to Lord Potter, and I must sit as teacher to him and mark his papers and arrange his detentions. I don't believe he finished the last task I set for him." Snape's grin was a bit frightening, because he did seem to find that funny. Even he wasn't actually laughing, however.
"Lord Potter?" Weasley said, confused.
"Surely if we were required to kneel to Voldemort and call him Lord, the same courtesy is required by our new master?"
"I think Malfoy's right. You are sort of enjoying this too much." Ron said. It was creepy.
"Only for the moment," Snape said. "You will probably find that Lucius Malfoy is not grateful for his continued existence. Changing the mark changes nothing. His loyalties will no doubt remain as they were. Although in certain ways he must honor Potter, and the mark will make him come when called, he will probably run at once to Voldemort and see what plot can be hatched against you."
"What's the point of it, then?" Weasley said, confused.
"In replacing his mark? It served only to save his life," Snape said.
"And yours, I believe? Where are your loyalties?" Lucius asked, his tone as nasty as Snape's had been.
"That remains to be seen," Snape said. "For now, I bow to the inevitable. I believe I will be able to get a full night's sleep more often now. I doubt Lord Potter will be demanding midnight meetings, as did our former lord."
"Stop calling him Lord Potter!" Ron Weasley demanded.
"Weasel," Draco said in disgust, "the only reason people put that sort of mark on others is to remind the servant of his status, his obligation, his promise. If you mark someone that way, it means you're declaring yourself their lord, and they are declaring their support, their willingness to be ruled by you. It's pretty stupid to object to the address when you've let them burn your claim into their skin," Draco pointed out.
"It's...I'm...." Potter stopped, confused.
"Try to be decisive. It's expected in a lord," Snape said.
"Stop squabbling, children," came a tired voice from the door.
"Dumbledore!" Everyone looked towards the old wizard, who was making his way slowly into the room.
"Here, take this chair. Have some tea, and chocolate," Ron said, while Hermione poured out a cup of hot tea.
"You're back. What happened?" Hermione asked.
"Professor Snape. Lucius Malfoy." Dumbledore said. "You are alive. I am so pleased. So pleased," he said again as he sank onto the cushions.
"Headmaster?" Harry asked.
"Ferganholtz challenged Voldemort when he cast his spell. Their battleground was the Death Eaters themselves. Torn by opposing forces, most of them died in agony. A few dozen are unconscious. It is not known if they will ever recover. Ferganholtz is dead. Voldemort collected the magic from some of his followers--those in the coma, who if they wake will no doubt be squibs--and used it like a lance, a lash. There's a hole burned right through Ferganholtz's head." Dumbledore's hand went to his own head, as if it ached.
"Fudge is, of course, blaming Ferganholtz entirely. But he has found it hard to explain why the Ministry funded this and brought him over. The Ministry miscalculated terribly. Fudge told me they had expected the Death Eaters to number forty or so, and they have turned out to number in the hundreds." Dumbledore rubbed his eyes, and sighed. "Ferganholtz will be given the blame by the officials, for they will not take it themselves."
"Yet, you can't deny that if the Ministry had not acted, hundreds would be alive today," Malfoy said. "Many more will now rally to Lord Voldemort's cause to avenge their fathers. Voldemort will not be without his Death Eaters for long. New and younger men, hot with anger and the desire for revenge."
Dumbledore sighed. "Is death your answer to everything, Lucius?"
"Lord Voldemort so declared." Lucius said it firmly, quickly. "Even the Ministry thinks so, or why are there so many dead at their hands tonight?"
"Well, there are some who aren't," Hermione said. "You find yourself very much alive, do you not?"
Lucius rudely ignored her. "Death is what you plan for Voldemort? So you, too, know that death is the ultimate power."
"If that is so, why does Voldemort strive for immortality?" Hermione asked. Without waiting for an answer, she picked up a sandwich and took a bite. Dumbledore, rather to everyone's surprise, picked up a sandwich as well and did the same.
"I must go back," Dumbledore said after he had swallowed a few bites. "Minerva will stand here at Hogwarts. Lucius, you are welcome to remain here tonight, and you would be probably wise to do so. Draco, if you would settle your father in the Slytherin guest room? Go to your rest, all of you. You've earned it, and I am most proud of all of you."
"Even me? I disobeyed McGonagall," Draco reminded him.
"For which she may take away a few points. Nonetheless, I am proud. Especially of you, child. You saved your father's life." Dumbledore smiled benignly at him, swallowed down the last of his tea and left the room.
"I can't stay here," Malfoy said, impatiently shaking off his son's hand from his arm. "I need to see if there are dead men littering my sitting room. I had a dozen guests tonight. It would be rude to leave my wife to deal with corpses, don't you think?" He smiled, showing no real humor, and said, "Draco, you may escort me to the gate." They left. Draco was looking apprehensive.
Ron Weasley scooped up another sandwich and said, "You know, Harry, Malfoy...the older one...never did do what Professor Snape said. About the accept or deny." That was true. They all contemplated that for a moment, and then Ron put the crust of his sandwich down rather suddenly. "Right, then. I'm knackered. Come on, Hermione, you look half dead." His arm steadied her as they walked.
"Good night, Professor. Harry," she asked around a yawn, "Are you coming?"
Harry turned to follow, but Snape said, "A word first, Potter."
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, and he was more than a little worried because Snape had stepped to the door, closed it and locked it.
"Nothing is wrong," Snape said. "I wish to speak with you. Privately. My lord."
"Stop that!" Being put in the role of Voldemort was really bothering him.
Snape gave him a typical snape-ish look but said, "Sleep here tonight."
"What!" Harry gasped.
"I trust neither Voldemort or the Malfoys. Minerva will no doubt guard the wards all night, but I believe it will be safer for you here."
"You may, of course, as your right, call me Severus. In fact, you are now allowed to call me whatever you wish." While he spoke, Snape was putting his room to rights, clearing the shards of pottery from the floor, sending away the extra cups and leaving only the tea, two cups and the sandwiches. "Are you still hungry?"
"No. No." Harry shook his head.
"Tea, then?" Snape held up the pot.
"No. Thank you."
"Hopeless. Try to cultivate a little arrogance, it's expected."
A small laugh escaped from Harry's lips, leaving him looking a bit embarrassed. Snape poured himself a cup of tea and sipped it, then sat down He pointed to the couch. Harry sat obediently. There was a small silence as the potions master drank his tea. He set down the cup and said, "I was serious. Sleep here tonight where I can watch over you."
Harry shook his head. "No. When something weird like this happens, I sleep better in my own bed."
"You do not trust me?"
"It's not that," Harry began.
"Of course it is. Perhaps an added inducement?"
"What do you mean?" Harry asked, looking longingly at the door.
"When I requested you sleep here, I didn't say where. Perhaps you'd like to join me in my bed?"
Potter's eyes got quite big. "S...sir!"
"You did say you were gay, Potter."
Harry shrugged but didn't deny it.
"Virgin?" Snape asked, casually.
Potter's face turned red. He looked left and right and did not meet Snape's eyes.
"Ah. You've played the boy's games, with mouth and hand. But you have not been with a man." The young face became, against all possibility, even more red. Snape waited until the color had faded and said, "Would you have me?"
"What?" Potter ran his hand through his hair. The mussed hair made it look as if he had already been to bed, and been loved throughly.
"I thought perhaps you would not care to bed me. I have not treated you well. You have reason to dislike me. I know I have little to recommend in either looks or temperament. On the other hand, I can offer my experience and availability."
"This isn't right," Harry said, standing up.
"Do sit back down. At least have the courtesy to listen to what I say!"
"You're a teacher and I'm a student."
"Under normal circumstances, I agree that would be a sufficient deterrent. But you are of age, and I gave my implied consent when I allowed you to mark me. I don't recommend you take Lucius Malfoy to your bed, however. The circumstances are different there. He has other claims upon him. I do not."
The thought of bed and a Malfoy of any type turned Potter slightly gray.
"Sleep here," Snape said. "It doesn't have to be in the same bed. Do be kind. If you do not stay here, I will have to go where you go. I don't fancy sleeping on the floor of Gryffindor tower, my lord."
"Shut up. Please. I'm thinking," Potter said. He hunched down, resting his head on his knees, and Snape gave him the silence he needed. Finally Potter looked up. "I know why you're doing it."
Snape lifted a brow and waited.
"You don't want to be a servant to me. Not the way you were to Lord Voldemort. You'd much rather dominate me, but you aren't sure how well that will work. You think the best thing to do is to be what I want. What you think I want. You're even thinking you might be able to make me fond of you, to fall in love with you."
Snape's mouth turned up. "Impressive. Not quite correct, but I must say I never expected it of you."
"Insulting me isn't going to help."
"Then what will get me into your bed?"
"Do you really want to be there?"Harry challenged.
"You're not scaley, skeletal, and you don't smell bad."
"My previous lord, if you recall, was not an attractive creature. Possessive, at times. And it was not prudent to develop an relationship with someone else he had a bad habit of insisting you bring along your wife or friend that he, too might--ah. Share."
"You mean you haven't been to bed with anyone except You Know Who in years?"
"You are a clever lad. Although there were no beds involved, with Voldemort. He prefers more public venues. He usually gets inspired in mid-banquet and uses the table, so everyone can have a good view. There is also another point. There is something I wish to know that I can discover in no other way. It will be an education for you, for both of us need to know about your new link to me," he held up his arm a little.
"You're making that up. Just to make me do what you want me to do," Potter said. He sounded sad, and just a little angry.
"No. Allow me show you," Snape said, pulling off his robe, and then his shirt. Both of them focused automatically on Snape's arm, Harry drawing closer to see, again, his initials, his lightening bolt, his symbols, melded to someone's very flesh. "Touch it," Snape ordered. Almost against his will, Harry reached out and placed his fingers on the mark. It felt warm to the touch, and he got a shivery feeling along his spine when he drew his hand along the smooth flesh.
"Oh," Harry breathed, and did it again. He heard a little hitch in Snape's breathing and looked up. The man's eyes were closed, and the look on his face was amazing. He could never have imagined that Snape could look like that. A hint of a smile was on his lips, and he looked....
Without realizing what he was doing, Harry reached up, his other hand falling on Snape's cheek, cupping his jaw. Snape turned his head, his lips touching Harry's fingers.
Snape's hands came up, taking hold of Harry's hand, holding it steady so that his lips could press there again and again against fingers, palm. Harry still had one hand on the mark, and Snape lifted his arm and whispered, "Kiss it."
Harry obeyed, lips touching the lightening bolt on the warm skin. Eyes wide, Harry watched as Snape sighed at the touch, head going back as he moaned. All that long expanse of white neck was exposed and Harry could not help himself. His head lifted and he pressed closer, hardly realizing that Snape's arms were now around him as Harry licked and tasted. Snape's chin came down, his head turned and then they were mouth to mouth. Kissing, again, and again, until Harry was giving frantic hard kisses. With tongue.
"Bed," Snape whispered, and he got no more objections from The Boy Who Lived. Snape took his hand and led him to the bedroom.
Snape's bed was big and sturdy. Like most beds in the castle, it had curtains and a canopy, that the warmth might be held in and the drafts out. The curtains around this bed were transparent velvet, so that one could see out into the room if it were lit, but no one could see in, and set against the outer side of the cloth were strings of coins and silver disks that gleamed in the firelight and clinked a pretty sound when disturbed.
Clever fingers plucked the garments from Harry, tossing his robe on the chair beside the bed and then Snape knelt and eased off the shoes and stockings before standing again and stripping from Harry every remaining scrap of clothing. Harry stood naked, eyes wide. The small room was lit by a fire on the far wall, and the flames made his green eyes shine. Harry watched, barely breathing, as Snape stepped back and began to disrobe. Snape showed no embarrassment and no hesitation, and once naked he waited patiently while Harry looked his fill.
"Oh!" Harry said, reaching out and letting his palm rest on the muscled chest, his fingers caressing a few strands of curly dark hair, twisting them about his fingers for a few seconds before moving a few inches and finding the nub of one flat dark nipple.
Dark eyes gleaming, head bent down that he could watch, Snape did not move or protest, only watched intently as the young man explored. The hands looked dark against milk white skin, and they must have felt nice, for Snape's breathing became audible, and his skin quivered just a little under the soft touch.
"Here," Snape said, eventually, and held out his arm again. Harry's red lips traced the mark, soft against the feather, harder along the jagged edge of the lightening bolt, tickling the edge of the letters and along the line of the broom.
Harry felt the slight vibration of the mark against his lips, and it felt so oddly good to be skin to skin there, almost as good as kissing. It was quite clear that what Snape felt was of a much greater magnitude. His head arched back, he gasped and pressed up into the touch, breathing hard, his expression bemused and intent.
"Wasn't it like that? Before?" Harry whispered.
"No. No. Before, it hurt. Any touch on it hurt. Because that was what He willed. But I knew it was supposed to be like this. With the other mark every touch, for a microsecond, was like this, a golden feeling, without comparison. One could feel the inversion, the sweetness transmuting into pain. Oh!" Snape growled, as Harry licked the mark, and nuzzled against it.
Snape climbed into bed while holding tight to Harry's upper arm with one hand, tugging Harry along so that they were soon under the covers, face to face. With Snape's arms wrapped around him Harry could feel the warm spot on his back where the mark pressed against him.
He could also feel where something else was pressing against him. His seeking hand closed around it, measuring and weighing it with hesitant and reverent fingers because this was much the biggest he had touched and his hand and his mind was in awe of it.
Gentle hands pulled him onto Snape's long body, and he was cradled between strong, wiry thighs. Snape's foot was running up and down Harry's calf, sliding down to his toes and then up again, teasing him with the glorious feel of body on body, with nothing at all between.
Then there was a hand between them, oily and slick, sliding three times up and down Harry's own hard part, and without much warning, without more than the briefest pause, Snape had somehow tilted under him, wiggled Harry into position and then pulled hard
Inside. Snape's long fingers curled on the back of Harry's thighs and then slid higher, pulling him into the heat and constriction. "Severus!" Harry cried, because how could he think of him by any other name as he gave to Harry his body's deepest secrets? Harry was not sure how careful to be, wasn't sure if he were hurting Severus, and he fought giving in to his own pleasure. He tried to be lucid enough to remember all he had read, afraid of doing it wrong. He wasn't very successful, and instinct took over.
Harry cried, his voice hitching, as the rapture went on and on, as he found again and again that there was another bit of delight, a further step on the ladder of pleasure that led him up and up until he shrieked out and let loose all that was dammed up inside him. Holding himself hard against Snape's heaving body, he was rigid until empty, and then collapsed in a heap.
Snape toppled him off, grunting as their bodies parted. Still hard, his face intent and dark, his sweat damp locks clinging to his cheeks and neck, Snape straddled him, reached for Harry's hand, and closed it around the mark on his own arm. With his other hand he took hold of his own long, weeping cock, gave one hard pull, and emptied himself all over Harry Potter's heaving belly.
Harry lay there like a felled log, aware of Snape crawling off him, and the itch of the cleaning spell scraping across his skin. The line between self and not-self was too close for the spell when dealing with body fluids. They always itched. He was thinking about the itch, because otherwise he's have to think about what he had just done. Not done particularly well, he suspected. Over almost before it started.
"I thought I was supposed to...shouldn't I have...I hope you...agh." Harry put his hand to his head. "Sorry."
"For what? Inexperience?"
Severus stretched and then reached out a long arm, pulling Harry to his side. "It was well enough." He rested his chin on the mussed black hair and said, "Like most skills, practice helps one improve." The implication was obvious. Next time was on offer. Harry tightened is arm a bit in a half-hug, sighed, and let himself relax. In only a few minutes, he was asleep.
Harry woke up when Snape left the bed.
He lifted his head and squinted. He was....
Oh. Memory came back. Last night.
Oohhhhh. Yes and the mark and he was naked and they had
He blinked and reached around rather blindly for his glasses. Yes, there they were. He put them on and looked around Snape's bedroom. And wondered if, when he came back, if they would.... He looked around for a clock. There was one on the near wall. Time to Get Up, it said. He scowled at it.
Snape came out of his bathroom, fully dressed. He sat down on the bed beside Harry and said, "Shower quickly, it is almost time for breakfast. I have you robes cleaned and ready."
Harry put his hand out, resting a hand on the cloth which covered Snape's mark. Was it his imagination, or did it feel warm under his hand?
"I wish... "
"I know," Snape said softly. "We don't have much time and I must say this. First, you must understand that I can not come to you unless you call me. Don't do that unless it is an emergency. If you wish...me, you must come to me, here, and indicate plainly that it is your desire to have me. Normally, I would come as you required, but in the school, we must adhere to Dumbledore's rules. I can't come to you, in Gryffindor tower. You understand why?"
"Because my house mates would kill me for giving the head of Slytherin our password?" Harry suggested, smiling.
"In part, yes. I ask that you respect my duties as Head of Slytherin, as Potions master, as Dumbledore's tool."
"Actually, I should keep my mouth shut about it for all our sakes," Harry decided.
"Yes. You should not use the mark to call me to you unless the situation is dire. I will know that if you call, your need is great."
Harry nodded. Hesitantly, he asked, "May I come down here? At night?"
"It would please me to receive you in my home, which you have the right to treat as your own, but, again, it would be best to be circumspect."
Harry was silent for a moment and then said, "If I come down and you haven't the time for me, send me away." He sighed as he heard himself and said, "This is insane."
Snape shrugged and said, "You should hurry, my lord."
Harry's head jerked around. "There might be occasions when you have to say "my lord" to me. But I don't like hearing it. Don't say it unless you absolutely have to."
Snape nodded, but what he said was, "Just because I don't say it, doesn't mean it is not the truth."
Harry gave a small sour smile. "Just because it's the truth doesn't mean we have to like it." He got up, and made his way to the bathroom. It was nice. There was a shower on one side and a tub on the other, all else in the middle. He found everything he needed set out, including shampoo, which eliminated Ron's theory that Snape did not know what it was. When Harry stepped out of the shower he found his clothes waiting for him, cleaned and in better shape than they had ever been. Once dressed he came out to find that Snape was not there.
The clock said it was breakfast time, and he decided to go up and get his books first. The minute he stepped through the hole into the common room, he could tell the mood of the school. The combination of excitement and uncertain fear was in everyone's manner. He wondered what it was like in the Slytherin rooms this morning. There must be a dozen of those students waking up to discover that their parents were dead or unconscious. Snape would have to deal with it.
He wondered how Malfoy felt. What he would tell his friends. Nothing, if he were smart. Harry shook his head. What was he going to do with Lucius Malfoy? How was Draco going to treat him? What would Voldemort do to Snape and Malfoy when he discovered that they both lived, and served another? Would he try to kill them? What did a lord do to keep his what did you call them anyway? minions? Servants? People. Yes, people. Keep his people safe? It was his job now, right? And there was Severus, and the wonderful thing a not-dark mark could do. If the marks were linked had Lucius Malfoy felt the same thing he and Severus had last night? Could he use it to
"Harry? Ready for breakfast?" Ron called from across the room.
Harry nodded and waved back. Yeah, he was ready for breakfast. He wasn't ready to be Lord Potter, but at least he could go eat his bacon and eggs and try to think everything out. Ron and Hermione would help. He'd figure it all out.