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Swung by Serafim

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Severus Snape has been waiting for this opportunity since the term began. It’s made him almost happy to have such a simple, delightful plan lurking in the back of his thoughts.

Lupin is “ill,” and Snape has Lupin’s Defence Against the Dark Arts students all perched warily in front of him. He’s had time to plot; he knows exactly how to proceed.

Words have always been his favorite weapons.

 “Now. Which one of you can tell me the difference between an Animagus and a werewolf?” Snape asks, while pretending to study the projected image in front of him. He doesn’t expect an answer, not from a class that has yet to study either subject.

Well. Unless it’s Granger.

“An Animagus learns it. A werewolf is bitten.”

It isn’t Granger.

Snape turns back around to regard Harry Potter, who still has his nose in his third year textbook. Granger is beaming at Potter, who doesn’t seem to notice.

Snape wants it to gall him. He wants to accuse Potter of cheating, or Granger of whispering the answer he knows he didn’t hear.

Instead, Snape asks, “And how do you know that, Mister Potter?”

“I read everything.” Potter still hasn’t looked up. “This textbook is complete rubbish, by the way.”

Weasley gasps and turns a shade redder than his usual. “Harry!” he hisses in warning.

 “You would be correct,” Snape says in response to both statements, watching with amusement as Weasley promptly turns white. All of that blood rushing back and forth cannot possibly be healthy.

“I don’t see why we’re bothering with this, anyway,” Potter continues. Weasley begins to look faint. “We already know that Professor Lupin’s a werewolf.”

Snape twitches. He simply cannot help it. “What?” It’s his least brilliant retort in twelve years.

Potter looks up. “Well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?” He still has that same unconcerned, emotionless look on his face. “Besides, who cares? He’s made a point of not eating any of us.”

This is a mixed class of all Houses, which means Snape can gain insight from four different perspectives. For the most part, the Gryffindors are nodding. The Ravenclaws look sanguine. The Hufflepuffs don’t seem to have an opinion one way or the other. His Slytherins appear to be unconcerned, which tells Snape that even they must have had some advance notice.

There are a few white faces (strangely, not Weasley now) and nervous, darting eyes, but otherwise, the uproar is nonexistent.

They knew already. They all knew.

Harry Potter has just sabotaged Snape’s revenge so perfectly that it couldn’t have gone better if Snape had planned it himself.

Gilderoy Lockhart, Snape seethes, if you weren’t already dead, I’d kill you myself.

He relates the class incident to Albus later, over tea. He threatens to shove lemon drops into orifices in which they don’t belong when they are offered.

Albus thinks that Potter’s unexpected participation in class is an encouraging sign.

Snape has to agree, though he loathes Potter’s timing. “It is the first time he’s taken an interest in speaking during class activities since Miss Weasley’s unfortunate death,” he admits. “But still. Lupin.

“It is a fine solution to the problem Remus’s situation could have caused,” Albus says in a thoughtful voice. “Outed by the Boy Who Lived. Lucius Malfoy might have complaints, but I think he may be the only one who dares, the current political climate being what it is.”

Snape gives him a disbelieving look. “No students complained? Not one?”

“Two Slytherins,” Albus says, and then adds, “Not Mister Malfoy,” which is a surprise. “Offended Pure-blood sensibilities, in Mister Zabini’s case. Miss Bulstrode asked me if I thought it a good idea to allow a potentially dangerous creature loose in the school.” Albus smiles. “I asked her if she thought I would intentionally bring harm to the student body.”

“What did she say?” Snape asks. Millicent Bulstrode is a very pragmatic girl.

“She pointed out that I hired Professor Quirrell. And Professor Lockhart, for that matter.” Albus looks grieved. “I awarded her points.”

Snape raises an eyebrow while making a note that he needs to pay more attention to Miss Bulstrode. “Thank you.”

Albus nods. “It was true, however painful the truth was to hear. However, I reassured Miss Bulstrode that her own Head of House supplied the potion to make our werewolf professor docile and harmless during the full moon.”

Snape glares at him.

“You may feel free to say, of course, that I ordered you to do so,” Albus says with a faint smile.

He resists the urge to grind his teeth. “You did order me to do so.”

“Did I?” Albus affects surprise. “What a wonderful coincidence. Now you can tell them nothing more than the truth.”

“Are you certain you weren’t a Slytherin?” Snape asks, amused in spite of himself.

“Of course not.” Albus pops a lemon drop into his mouth. “I do not allow myself such a limited point of view.”

Snape flicks his fingers in Albus’s direction, dismissive. “That was a blow beneath you, Headmaster.”

“Mm,” Albus agrees. “You and Minerva are the definitive results of your own Houses—which is as it should be, for a Head of House. I only wish that you both would stop viewing the other Houses as the enemy.”

“They are the enemy,” Snape says. He wants the House Cup back where it belongs, thank you very much. He gets to his feet. “Good evening, Albus.”

That is not the end of his day. Potter, of all beings, is waiting outside Snape’s office. Snape opens his mouth to shout, and Potter interrupts him with a quiet, viscerally polite, “Good evening, Professor. Might I have a word?”

The shout dies on his lips. Snape scowls and motions Potter to a seat. He shuts the door, wondering what the Brat Who Lived has in store for him this evening.

That isn’t quite fair. The Brat Who Lived hasn’t been the Brat for many months.

“What can I do for you, Mister Potter?” he asks after sitting down behind his desk.

Potter rests his clasped hands across his stomach, the gesture almost, but not quite, natural. He’s been learning manners—or perhaps just observing them. “I’d like to know why you hate Sirius Black.”

Snape’s stomach tries to turn itself into a stressed knot. He lets his eyes flicker over to linger on Potter’s face. No, there is no hint of defiance in those jewel-green eyes. He looks further with a quick Legilimens and finds only honest confusion.

“I do not hate Sirius Black,” Snape answers. “I despise him.”

“Oh,” Potter says, as if there is an actual difference. “Why?”

Snape does not want to explain his history to this child. Still, he can, perhaps, exert some influence. It is an idea that he can sell to Lucius, or to Voldemort, if it becomes necessary. He worries about Voldemort more often now. It’s only a matter of time before the Dark Lord discovers a way to regain a physical form, now that the truth of his continued existence has been revealed.

He thinks about all of that, and then says, “We were the same year in school, but not the same House, obviously. Black was a bully and a lout. I was his primary target.” Not the only one, no, but Black restrained himself to general mischief unless it was Severus Snape.

“Ah. He does seem to be a bit…” Potter’s head sways gently back and forth, as he considers. “Brash.”

Perhaps there is not as much influence to exert as Snape might have wished. Potter seems to be capable of noticing Black’s foibles on his own.

“I thought it might have been Azkaban,” Potter says.

“No.” Snape resists the urge, and then asks anyway. “And how is life with your Dogfather?”

Potter doesn’t blink at the term. He only considers the question, and gives an answer. “Dog-like.”

Snape smiles; he can’t help it. The tragedy here is that Potter is unaware of his own joke.

“It’s interesting, at least,” Potter says. “I’m allowed to study magic all that I like.”

Something about that statement gains Snape’s full attention. It’s almost as if… “Were you not allowed to, before?”

Potter shakes his head. “Doesn’t look like it, no. We went to visit them. My Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, Cousin Dudley,” Potter explains.

Snape relaxes. Potter is telling him of a new discovery, not an old memory. “A fruitful visit, I’m sure.”

“Sirius insisted, since she is my mother’s sister, that it would be a kindness if I told them I was going to remain in the wizarding world instead of returning home to Surrey.”

“What happened?” Snape wonders if Albus knows about the boy’s trip to Number 4 Privet Drive.

Potter frowns, a spark of real emotion flashing in his eyes. It’s too faint to be anger, but it is, at least, discontent. “They didn’t want to see us. I could tell right off that they couldn’t stand the sight of me.  I thought that was an odd reaction from family, but…I’m just guessing,” he says, glancing away.

I read everything, Snape hears in his mind. “Go on.”

“Sirius tried to argue with my Aunt Petunia that I was her nephew, and deserved consideration, but all she did was shriek.” Potter seems nonplussed. “Sirius got angry and told her that we’d just be getting my things and leaving, then. The fat man—I mean, my Uncle Vernon—he showed us a bedroom with ten different exterior locks on the door.”

Snape stops breathing. “Ten?” he says diffidently, to cover up the lapse in control.

Potter thinks. “It might have been twelve.”

Dear God and Great Merlin. “And?”

“The bedroom wasn’t mine,” Potter says. “I mean, it had a bed, and a dresser with two drawers missing. I could smell leftover owl, like Hedwig had been shut up in there too long. But it looked like no one actually lived there, not like the bedrooms at Grimmauld Place, or even the dorm rooms here.”

“Where, pray tell, was your bedroom, then?” Snape asks. He drawls the question in one of his more dangerous tones. It’s a lost effort in Potter’s case, but he sees no reason to disregard the habit.

“It wasn’t a bedroom. I did a locating spell for my essence,” Potter says, with no awareness whatsoever that he’s talking about using seventh-year magic. “I lived in a cupboard under the stairs. It looked like I was there until I came to Hogwarts. The upstairs bedroom must have been some sort of…” His eyebrows draw together. “Concession, I think. Or maybe it was staged.”

Snape doubts that Petunia Dursley is capable of that much foresight. “Oh? Did they think you were a Muggle broom, then?”

“I suppose. Sirius—” Potter makes wand-waving motions, “—he asked my Uncle Vernon what that meant. Apparently, I was their house-elf. Though I have to say, I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to hit an actual house-elf with a frying pan.”

“No, that is not generally considered a wise course of action,” Snape agrees, keeping his tone mild while his fingernails dig into his palms. He has to distract himself. Otherwise, he is going to lose his bloody temper, walk out of Hogwarts, Apparate to Little Whinging, and blow up a house full of stupid, idiot Muggles. “And your Dogfather has not managed to get himself thrown back in Azkaban, so your unpleasant family must still be intact.”

“They are. Sirius wanted to…do something, I think,” Potter says. “I told him not to. I mean, there was no point. I don’t remember any of it, so I don’t care.”

“And if you did suddenly remember?” Snape asks, staring at Potter. He wants to think that the old Potter would have huffed and shouted and cried for attention for not being pampered as his due…but he never had. Potter had told no one that his relatives were likely starving him and treating him as their personal slave. Snape had suspected the Dursleys were not properly feeding their nephew from that very first Start-of-Term Feast, but it is hard to tell with boys Potter’s age. They grow so fast that they often look rangy and underfed.

Potter looks unconcerned. “It wouldn’t change anything.”

“How very noble of you,” he sneers, but his heart isn’t really in it.

“Sirius hates you, too, by the way,” Potter says, in a sudden shift back to their original topic. “I keep asking him why, but he can’t give me a satisfactory reason.”

The sneer is more genuine, this time. “Oh? And what does he say?”

 “He says that you’re a ponce, a git, and a greasy bat,” Potter says. “But those aren’t reasons.”

Snape huffs a breath that is almost a laugh. Sirius must have been watching his language, if that’s the worst of it. “What are acceptable reasons, then?”

“Deciding to kill off a young married couple because you don’t like the fact that their baby might give you competition in twenty years,” Potter says with a frown.

Snape reels back in his chair, stunned. “What?”

“I don’t mean you.” Potter gives him a curious look. “Unless you have magically become Voldemort in the last five minutes.”

Snape sighs. “No, I have not ‘magically become Voldemort.’” It’s a disturbing thought, especially after Quirrell.

“Well, that’s good, then.” Potter smiles. Snape is shocked by it; he had no idea that Potter had re-mastered any emotion other than blank, creepy stare.  “So, why do you hate Professor Lupin?”

He is jolted into surprised honesty. “Because he’s a bloody werewolf!”

Potter tilts his head. “Species prejudice, Professor? I would expect that from Trelawney.”

It doesn’t escape him that he has been granted the honor of his title, and Trelawney has not. “Some prejudices are…hard to dismiss.” Snape is not going to explain the nightmares he still has of being in that dark tunnel. It makes him want to hex James Potter and Sirius Black into oblivion all over again, every time after.

The boy in front of him no longer makes Snape want to hex him. There isn’t enough animation in the boy’s face to remind Snape of James, who was always boisterous and bright-eyed and grinning. In fact, he hasn’t wanted to hex Harry Potter yet, not since the term began. Life is not fair.

Snape pinches the bridge of his nose. “Just get out, Potter.”

“Okay,” Potter agrees, not offended in the slightest. “Good night, Professor.” He hesitates at the door. “Well, just one more thing.”

Snape glowers in Potter’s direction. “Yes?”

“Did we ever talk like this? Before…before my accident?” Potter asks.

“No,” Snape replies. “We hated each other.” Granted, Snape had instigated their mutual animosity. On purpose.

“You don’t hate me now,” Potter says, after a quick glance at Snape. “I have no reason to hate you, either.”

Snape inclines his head. “No, I do not hate you, Mister Potter. However, it would be politic for others to continue to believe that I do.”

Potter frowns again. Snape waits in silence as the boy discerns the meaning of his words. Without the anger and the combative temperament he previously bore (a gift of the Dursleys, Snape now realizes) Potter seems to be a very intelligent boy.

It’s nice to see that part of his mother shine forth.

“I understand, sir,” Potter says, and slips out of Snape’s office.

Snape waits until Potter is well on his way. Then he goes to the fireplace, tosses in Floo Powder, shouts, “Headmaster’s Office!” and shoves his head in just as the flames turn green. “Albus! I don’t care what instructions I gave you at the end of last term. Give me the damned bottle.

Albus laughs at him. Snape threatens him within an inch of his life, but he does get his bottle of good Firewhiskey back. He isn’t foolish enough to drink himself into a stupor, but this day requires a stiff indulgence.

Snape has had to consider the possibility for months, but tonight confirms it. Every single plan laid out for the next five years has just become useless. He doesn’t know how to replace them, and he has to.

Potter’s life is not the only one at stake if he does not.

 

*          *          *          *

 

It’s nearly Christmas break, and the entire term has been quiet. No Voldemort, no threats, no Ministry baboons spoiling his days. The worst of it has been making the obligatory Wolfsbane potion every month. Snape has even given some thought to improving it, something that every other Potions Master in the Western World has said to be impossible.

Unimaginative imbeciles.

In class, Snape has been not quite as vicious to Potter as he was the first two years of their acquaintance. It is gruff deference to the fact that Potter is, technically, a spell-wounded child, and even Snape would risk his job to act otherwise. This does not mean he is kind—far from it.

Potter ignores Snape’s diatribes and turns in potions that are always consummately correct. There is no experimentation, not yet, but Snape is starting to wonder if it will happen soon. This makes Snape want to tear out his hair, because where was this skill two years ago?

Granger and Weasley—especially Weasley—make quiet comments about Snape’s cruelty to their friend when they think Snape isn’t listening. Potter lets them talk, but doesn’t disagree, or make them stop. It looks as though Potter understands the meaning of politic very well. Snape wonders if Potter learned it from a book, or if he learned it from living with Sirius Black.

Draco Malfoy tries only once to resume his juvenile rivalry with Potter. Professor Flitwick, close enough to observe the altercation, tells the rest of the faculty that Potter didn’t respond to the taunts at all, which incited Malfoy to draw his wand.

Potter leaves Malfoy tied up like a baked pretzel treat in the hallway. Flitwick takes points from Slytherin and then spends three weeks squeaking excitedly about Lily Evans’s talent with Charms, and the passage of prodigious skills from mother to son, until even Minerva McGonagall is sick of hearing about it.

Snape is suspicious of the lack of drama in his life. The universe has a way of making him suffer if he is complacent.

When he goes to Albus’s office with his list of Slytherin students who will be remaining behind for the holiday, he finds Arthur Weasley standing in front of Albus’s desk. Snape knows at once that this is not a casual visit. Arthur’s face is too grim, too annoyed, which always means Ministry business.

“Arthur,” Snape says in greeting. “Albus, I have my list of students for you. It’s a bit longer than usual this year.”

“Thank you, Severus,” Albus says with a smile. “Lemon drop?”

Snape stares at him.

Albus shrugs, his smile fading. “Civility is not yet overrated, dear boy. Also, I’m afraid there is news. Arthur?”

Arthur Weasley nods. “They’ve scheduled the final part of Peter Pettigrew’s trial for the first day of the winter holiday.”

“Oh, for—” Snape bites back a scathing flood. “Has anyone told Potter?”

The senior Weasley looks surprised. “Not yet. I’ve just been to inform Sirius, so he’ll be telling Harry when they go back to London the night before.”

“Convenient timing.” Albus exchanges a quick glance with Snape. “Many families will be abroad during the holidays.”

“Yes, I know.” Arthur sighs. The man is still upset that there was a literal traitorous rat living in his household. “There is no doubt that the slimy bastard is going to be found guilty, but they’re still smarting from being forced to exonerate Sirius at the beginning of summer, when we presented them with a still-living Pettigrew. Maybe they think people will pay less attention.”

Snape almost smiles. The manner in which Pettigrew was discovered still provides vast amusement. Black had quite literally smelled a rat the first time he had been in the company of Potter’s friends. There had been a mad scramble of black barking dog, squeaking, terrified rat, and red-faced, shouting Weasleys before Albus managed to get a clear shot with his wand to deliver a well-cast Revertere Vera Forma.

“There is more,” Albus says, a warning for Snape that he isn’t going to like what he will next hear.

“The Wizengamot has declared—no, sorry,” Arthur shakes his head. “To be accurate, Fudge has declared that the testimony of Albus Dumbledore is not acceptable due to his standing as a member of the Wizengamot. They want yours, Severus. They want to view your memory of that night.”

“And they’ll trust my Pensieved testimony?” Snape is pleased when the question emerges like warning smoke.

He has no love for the Wizengamot. None at all.

“They’re not as afraid of you as they are of Albus Dumbledore,” Arthur says with a smile. “It doesn’t seem to occur to them at all that you probably have a potion for every contingency. I imagine you’ve always got an antidote for Veritaserum on your person.”

“Of course,” Snape says in a curt voice, except now he is itching to actually have one. It’s a shameful oversight, considering what he does always carry. For a Weasley, Arthur is adept at plotting for potential fallout. “Please excuse me; I must go be appalled and shocked that Minister Fudge has decided that our initial spoken testimony, not to mention Pettigrew not being deceased, is no longer enough to send a rat to the Dementors.”

It’s a valid excuse, but he has other plans. Black has the tact of a brick. Snape goes to find Minerva instead.

Minerva fetches Potter on the grounds that she gets to stay in the room when they speak. Snape agrees. He doesn’t care if Minerva thinks he’s soft-hearted or not, because unlike Flitwick, Minerva McGonagall knows how to keep her silence.

“Yes, Professors?” Potter looks like he threw his school robes on in a hurry. “I’m sorry it took so long.”

“That’s all right, Harry,” Minerva says, and motions for Potter to take a seat. “Professor Snape has something he would like to tell you.”

Potter gives them both a wary look. Snape suspects it’s because Minerva used his first name, a school trigger for bad news if there ever was one. “What is it?” he asks, the moment he is settled onto a chair.

“The news has just reached your godfather, and the school, that the last segment of Peter Pettigrew’s trial is to be the first day of winter holiday,” Snape tells him.

“Ah,” Potter says, and uses his hand to adjust the position of his glasses. Snape may as well have declared the Earth about to be obliterated, for all the shock Potter displays. “Will you be there, then, Professor Snape?”

Minerva gives Snape a glare that could fry an egg. “I have no choice in the matter,” Snape answers, doing his best to ignore her. “There will be Pensieved testimony on display before the court. It is my opinion that some warning is in order.”

“And you think my godfather will be too busy seething about Pettigrew to remember to give it.” Potter looks thoughtful. “Yes, that’s probably a very good idea. Thank you.”

“Are you all right, my boy?” Minerva asks, giving him a motherly, concerned look.

Potter blinks at her, puzzled by the question. “I’m not the one they’re going to hand over to the Dementors.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The day of the trial, Snape Apparates to London with Albus and Minerva. She dithered for a bit before finally deciding to go, both as a show of support for a student of her House, and to pay her final respects to a traitorous rat that used to be.

The pathway into the Ministry is still displeasing. For the love of God and Merlin: commodes, of all things! Not subtle, or hygienic.

Sirius Black is waiting in the atrium when they arrive, looking angry, anxious, and perhaps wanting to bite something. Snape should have brought him a bone to gnaw.

Harry Potter, by contrast, looks as collected as if they are going to be discussing beneficial weather patterns. “Good day, Professors,” he says. He seems more animated today, or at least not as emotionally blank as usual.

“Yes, hello,” Black says, and then shoves a hand through his hair. “I don’t suppose any of you brought a Calming Draught? I feel like I’m about to come unglued.”

Snape sighs, reaches into his pocket, and hands one over. “You’re utterly hopeless.”

It’s a point of evidence for the state of Black’s anxiety that he only smiles and drinks the potion. Not an insult exchanged at all, no accusations of poisoning. It’s disappointing.

“We go down as soon as Remus arrives,” Black says after the tense set of his shoulders begins to relax. “I thought he’d be traveling with you.”

“I’m afraid Remus cannot join us through the primary public route,” Albus says in a neutral tone.

A moment later, Black gets it. “Hypocritical fucking bastards,” he hisses.

“Language, Sirius,” Minerva says in a sharp voice. She glances at Potter, who is too busy staring at the fountain sculpture’s supreme ugliness to pay his dogfather’s language any mind.

“I’m here,” Lupin says a few minutes later, jogging up to them and looking disheveled. “My apologies for being late. I had to…” He glances at Potter, who still seems to be ignoring them. “I had to strip naked and get a fistful of aconite shoved in my face,” he confesses in a quiet voice. “Any halfwit with a working brain can look at a calendar and see that it’s weeks before the next moon.”

“If they had brains, they would not be manning the doors,” Black says, and claps him on the shoulder. “Are you ready?”

Lupin nods. “Yes. I think so. As much as I wish we weren’t bearing witness to this at all.”

“Harry, are you ready to go?” Black asks.

Potter nods and rejoins the group of adults. “With that, let us be off,” Albus says, and leads the way to the elevators. When they disembark several floors down, he leaves them, tapping his robes as he walks until he is wearing the proper, gaudy garb of the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot.

“This way,” Black says, putting his hand on Potter’s shoulder to guide him to the courtroom. Number Nineteen is cavernous, and despite the holiday, public seating is crammed full of wizards and witches. Cameras flash as their small group enters the court room, doing their best to blind them all.

“Bloody reporters,” Black grumbles, and follows the court adjunct to their appointed seats. The adjunct conjures an extra chair for McGonagall, and then takes up a position behind their row of chairs.

“All right there, Harry?” Lupin asks.

Snape thinks the two men are acting like hovering, ridiculous matrons, but Potter doesn’t seem to notice. “Yes, Professor,” he says, his eyes studying the assembled Wizengamot with keen interest.

“I’m not your Professor right now, Harry,” Lupin says, which catches Potter’s attention.

After a moment, Potter nods. His eyes are tracking Albus as he takes his place up in the stands next to Cornelius Fudge. “Oh. Right. Sorry, Remus.”

Lupin smiles. “Quite all right.”

The court is called to order. Snape finds it interesting that Fudge is officiating, not Dumbledore.

The moment the prisoner is brought in, the public gallery loses its collective mind. Fudge shouts for control and then mutes the entire lot of them with a charm.

Pettigrew does not look well at all. Snape had wondered if the long-term effects of remaining in his Animagus form for so long would wear off as time passed, but that does not seem to be the case. Pettigrew’s teeth are still too long and rat-like, and his beard has grown in with a decided whiskery quality. His eyes dart nervously back and forth; his fingernails are more like claws.

When Pettigrew spies Black, Lupin, Snape, McGonagall, and Potter, he quails and tries to run backwards. The guards pick him up and escort him to the chair in the center of the courtroom, and chain him in place over what sounds like faint, frantic squeaking.

“The prisoner will state his name for the court,” Fudge intones, trying his best to look grim and proper.

“P-Peter P-P-Pettigrew,” the prisoner stutters. “P-please, I’m innocent, you have t-to—”

“Be silent,” Fudge orders, and Pettigrew’s mouth snaps closed. “On second June, 1993, this court viewed the Pensieve testimony of Sirius Black, Head of the Most Ancient and Noble House of Black. Peter Pettigrew, you have already been found guilty of the murder of twelve Muggles on first November, 1981, as well as the crime of framing Sirius Black for that despicable act. Today we will view the Pensieve testimony of Severus Snape, Professor of Potions at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The purpose of the viewed testimony is to clarify your guilt—or innocence—in the deaths of James and Lily Potter on thirty-first October, 1981.”

Pettigrew shrinks back in his chair. “Well, they got right to the point, didn’t they?” Black murmurs under his breath.

“Professor Snape, please stand,” Fudge instructs. Snape delays three seconds and then stands, just when Fudge is starting to swell and turn red. “Are you ready to retrieve the memories of the eve of twenty-ninth May, 1993?”

“I am,” Snape says.

“Mister Potter,” Fudge turns his attention to the boy, seated between Lupin and Black. “Are you prepared to view such testimony in its entirety?”

Potter stands up without needing to be prompted. “I am.”

Another member of the Wizengamot, a woman with a haughty face and cold eyes, speaks up. “Are you prepared to offer your own Pensieve testimony, if Mister Snape’s should prove inadmissible in this court?”

Potter nods. “I am, but it might not do you any good.”

“Oh? And why is that, lad?” Fudge asks, in his best ingratiating voice.

“Well, sir, I had just been Obliviated,” Potter says. “There isn’t all that much to see. I only have off-and-on recollections of the first couple of hours after…after Professor Lockhart’s spell.”

There is a low murmur of anger at that. Fudge frowns. “I see, Mister Potter. You may sit down. Professor Snape?”

An adjunct comes forward, bearing the court’s Pensieve, while another waves her wand to lower the large projection screen. They work as a team to connect Pensieve to display in a matter of minutes. Snape steps close to the shallow bowl. After a moment’s contemplation, he puts the tip of his wand to his temple.

He draws out a strong line of memory, cloudy and silver, and delivers it to the Pensieve. “The trigger is still the same, yes?” he asks. He has done this before, but Snape does not think about the final months of 1981 unless he has no choice.

“The very same, Severus,” Albus answers the question before Fudge has the chance. “Three taps of your wand to the side of the bowl, and then give it a good stir.”

Snape taps the side of the bowl with perhaps a bit more vehemence than necessary. His wand is dipped into the bowl’s misty contents; he does, indeed, give it a good stir. The Pensieve swirls into action, and the memory begins to play. Snape steps back to watch, aware that every eye in the courtroom is riveted to the screen.

Snape halts his steps in the girls’ lavatory, his expression furrowing into one of extreme annoyance. There is a gaping chasm in the wall where a sink used to be.

He whirls from the room and finds the closest office with a fireplace, firecalling Albus. He tells Albus quickly about the state of the girls’ lavatory. Albus looks grim, and says that he will be there as quickly as possible.

Albus joins him shortly, as does Hagrid and Minerva. Snape leads them back to the lavatory, where the entrance awaits them.

“There is a slide that goes down into the dark,” Albus says after a brief investigation. “Minerva, if you would wait here to keep the curious at bay, then myself, Severus, and Hagrid will see to discovering just what is going on.”

“Of course, Albus,” Minerva says, her wand clenched in her hand. With the infirmary still full of petrified students (and one cat) they are all tense, on high alert. “Have you sent word to Poppy?”

“I have,” Albus says, and then sits down on the edge of the hole and drops out of sight. Snape goes next; the ride is swift and unpleasant. He is at the start of a dark tunnel, with Albus holding up his wand for illumination.

“Beggin’ yer pardon, Professors,” Hagrid calls down from above. “But am I going to fit down there?”

Albus looks around and then shakes his head. “Best to wait up there, Rubeus. In fact, if you could fashion us a way to escape from this tunnel when our exploration is done, that would be a kindness.”

“We don’t need a way fashioned,” Snape says in an undertone. “Unless we find someone in need of assistance.”

Albus’s eyes flick off in the direction of the tunnel. Snape nods.

At the end of the tunnel, there is a door. Two snakes are entwined over it, facing each other. Their tongues move, their tails flicker.

Sitting in front of the door, facing them and blinking like blinded owls from the light of Albus’s wand, are Ronald Weasley and Harry Potter.

Snape scowls. Of course.

Albus frowns. “What do you two boys think you’re doing down here?”

“I dunno,” Weasley says with a cheerful smile. “I don’t actually know where I am right now. Do you know how I got down here, Professor Dumbledore?”

“Through a tunnel in the girls’ lavatory, and goodness knows what you were doing in there in the first place,” Albus says to Weasley, still frowning.

Weasley nods, and then turns to his companion. “Hey, Harry? Do you remember a tunnel in the bathroom?”

Potter turns his head and looks at Weasley, an expression of perfect emptiness on his face. “Who are you?” he asks.

“Er. Harry,” Weasley looks worried. “I’m Ron. Your friend. You remember me, right?”

“No,” Potter says, with no emotion at all.

“He’s been Obliviated, Mister Weasley,” Dumbledore says in quiet explanation. “You both have.”

“It seems to have had a profound effect on Mister Potter,” Snape says. “Perhaps it will be an improvement.”

In the courtroom, Black scowls at him. Snape ignores him. How could he have known how extensive the damage was? At the time, it was nothing more than an annoyance.

From behind the sealed door, there is a horrible, blood-curdling scream. Weasley turns white and shivers. Potter looks to be listening, but otherwise does not react. Albus heads for the door. “Let me in,” he says.

The snakes hiss at him and refuse to budge.

“I am the Headmaster of this school, and as such, everything in its domain must obey my word,” Albus tells the door. “I command you to open.”

The snakes hiss again. Even Snape can tell that they’re laughing, and the door stays shut.

“Blast it all. Harry,” Albus turns to Potter. “What are they saying?”

Potter looks up. “Saying? I only hear hissing.”

The memory speeds up, showing the court a quick scramble of removing the two Obliviated boys from the tunnel. It is quickly determined that Gilderoy Lockhart is missing, as is Ginny Weasley.

“Oh, that poor girl,” Minerva says, her hands clasped to her chest. “Albus, I’m going to send for her parents.”

“Go,” Albus says, waving her on. “It cannot hurt, and they will need to know.”

Weasley seems fine, and is munching on biscuits in his older brother Percy’s company. Snape kneels in front of Potter, who is sitting in quiet stillness on one of Albus’s office chairs. “Potter,” he says.

Potter focuses on him. “Hello.”

“Potter, I would like for you to tell me the last thing you remember.”

The boy nods. “Mummy and Daddy are worried.”

Snape leans away from Potter, a shocked look on his face. “Albus!” he calls in a strangled voice.

“Severus, what is it?” Albus asks, waving off the other gathered faculty, who leave with new instructions to search the school for anyone else who might be missing, and to attempt to find another way through the Parseltongue-sealed tunnel.

“Potter, I apologize for the repetition. Will you please tell Professor Dumbledore what you last remember?” Snape asks, his face a grim mask.

“Sure,” Potter says, and then looks up at Albus. “I remember you. Beard-Wizard. Dummle-ore. I hid a toy duck in your beard.”

Albus’s eyes grow wide. “Indeed you did. I found it after I returned home from my last visit with your parents.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Snape sees Fudge give Albus a questioning look, followed by words too quiet to be heard. Albus shakes his head in response.

Albus crouches down in front of the boy, peering at him with a kind smile. “What do you remember last happening, young Mister Potter?”

Potter glances at Snape, who nods, and then looks at Albus. “Mummy and Daddy are frightened. They keep saying that the wards on the house are failing. They said…” and Potter begins to look sad. “They said that Uncle Peter must have told someone.”

Snape and Albus exchange incredulous glances. “Uncle Peter? Peter Pettigrew, you mean?” Albus asks.

Potter nods. “Yep. Peter Pet—tigrew,” the boy stutters through the name, just as a young child might.

“Not Sirius Black?” Snape asks in a near-growl.

“No!” Potter looks scandalized. “Uncle Sirius is doing secret things for the Phee-nix,” he says, confiding in a serious whisper. “Uncle Peter’s job is to not tell people.”

“Great Merlin,” Albus says in a soft voice. “Are you frightened, Harry?”

Potter shakes his head. “Mummy and Daddy will take care of me,” he says with absolute trust. “But Daddy’s going to thrash Uncle Peter. He’s very angry with him right now.”

The memory ends there; Snape has no wish to subject Potter, again, to the horrified realization that his parents are dead, and have been for over eleven years. The public gallery’s crowd is on its collective feet in mute outrage. If not for the court wards, Peter Pettigrew would be at risk of being torn to shreds.

Fudge is pale. “Thank you, Professor Snape. That will be all,” he says. Snape inclines his head, retrieves the memory, and resumes his seat.

“I have questions,” an older wizard says, his beard almost as impressive as Albus Dumbledore’s. “For my own clarification. Mister Potter, do you mind?”

“No, sir,” Potter says, and stands again.

“When you were Obliviated by Professor Lockhart, how many years did you lose?”

“I lost everything after Hallowe’en Night, 1981, sir,” Potter replies. “I don’t remember seeing Voldemort—”

Half of the imbeciles in the courtroom shiver and quail at mention of Voldemort’s name.

“I don’t remember his arrival at our house. I can remember my parents discussing the failing Fidelius Charm, as you saw. I can remember a few months before that, but then it starts to get fuzzy.”

“Any particulars, beyond your parents?” Fudge asks. The entire Wizengamot practically radiates curiosity.

“I can remember Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and…a baby, that I think might be Neville Longbottom, visiting with his grandmother. There’s also a girl, who is probably Nymphadora Tonks.”

“Probably?” the bearded wizard repeats, amused.

Potter has a faint smile on his face. “Her hair color changed every few seconds. I haven’t met anyone else who can do that.”

Fudge nods. “Thank you, Mister Potter. You may sit down. Now then: Mister Pettigrew.”

Pettigrew squeaks and tries to escape the chained confines of his chair.

“Now you will bear witness to the decision of the Wizengamot, which is legal and binding, this twenty-first December, 1993. All those who agree that Peter Pettigrew is guilty of the betrayal of James and Lily Potter, an act that led directly to their murder by He Who Shall Not Be Named?”

Most of the Wizengamot raises arms and fans and signal boards. Some hands rise more slowly than others. The witch who attempted to impugn the quality of Snape’s testimony doesn’t raise her hand at all until she realizes that she is the only one who has not done so. Then her hand sails into the air, and she gives her neighbors a haughty look.

“Very well,” Fudge says with an air of accomplishment. “Peter Pettigrew, you are hereby guilty of the murder of James and Lily Potter—”

“No!” Pettigrew screams, but Fudge speaks over him.

“And you will be remanded to Azkaban, where you will be granted a week’s reprieve to consider your crimes before you are given into the hands of the Dementors.” Fudge nods at the guards.

In the chair next to Snape, Black slumps forward and sighs. “Fuck, am I glad that’s over and done with.”

“They’re giving him to the Dementors,” Minerva says. “I almost can’t believe it.”

“Well, they do regret not doing the same to me,” Black points out with a twisted smile. “If Peter’s dead, no one can come along and make Fudge look incompetent.”

“That is the height of cynicism,” Lupin mutters, but Snape does notice that he hasn’t disagreed. Besides, Fudge doesn’t need assistance to look incompetent. He’s managed just fine on his own already.

They get assailed by the reporters in the corridor just outside the courtroom. “Oh, Mister Potter!” Snape hears, and recognizes the doubtfully dulcet tones of Rita Skeeter. “A word, if you please!”

Potter makes the mistake of glancing in her direction, which is all the opportunity Skeeter needs. “How is it that you have lost so much of your memory, yet are doing so well in your studies at Hogwarts?” she simpers.

“I read,” Potter says, granting her an extra-blank look. “I read everything I could over summer break, in order to be prepared for my third year and not fall behind in school. That included The Daily Prophet.” Potter pauses. “Your articles, Miss Skeeter, are enlightening.”

Skeeter blinks, startled by the response. Black shoves his godson through the crowd before she can recover.

Snape has never been so damned proud of a Potter in his entire life.

In the Prophet a week later, there is a final front-page article that proclaims Peter Pettigrew’s execution by Dementors. Snape keeps that front page clipping mounted on the wall in his private quarters, a reminder not to be fooled by cowardly appearances.

Chapter Text

It is two weeks after the spring holiday when Snape notices that Potter is looking furtive. As this is an unusual occurrence of late, his curiosity is piqued. Snape doesn’t think Potter is up to his old levels of trouble, but he isn’t fool enough to let it pass by without notice, either.

When Potter gets Weasley and Granger to follow him, Snape trails them at a discreet distance. There is nothing going on in the castle right now for this trio of mischief-makers to stumble into, so he wonders about Potter’s intent.

Potter leads them to the girl’s lavatory, the one with the always-broken faucet and dead Myrtle’s obnoxious droning and wailing. The tunnel leading to the Chamber of Secrets closed itself after midnight the same evening Snape and Albus rescued the two Obliviated boys, so they did not have to seal the room, as Albus had contemplated.

Not that it would have mattered. None of the students use the room in the first place. No one likes to be spied upon by a ghost whilst in the middle of relieving oneself.

Snape masks his presence with a silently-cast Disillusionment charm, and lurks just inside the doorway to listen.

“Just…uh, stay over there, okay? I mean, this might not work, but—” Potter is saying.

“What are you talking about, Harry?” Granger asks, but she has wisely pulled Weasley several feet away from the broken sink.

Potter is out of Snape’s line of sight, but the sibilant hissing of Parseltongue is clear and recognizable.

Weasley jumps. “Great Merlin, mate!”

“Bollocks.” Potter sounds discouraged. “Let me try again.”

More hissing. This time there is an answering hiss, but the chasm does not open.

“Can you understand it again, Harry?” Granger asks.

“No,” Potter says. “Not really. But one of the Black portraits in the attic was a Parseltongue speaker. I removed him from the frame and brought him back to school after Christmas holiday. I’ve been trying to get him to teach me.”

“How’s that going?” Weasley asks, staring in the direction of the sink with a worried look on his face.

“He’s a Black,” Potter replies. “How do you think it’s going?”

Weasley makes a face. “Right, yeah. So, are we going down there if you can get it open?”

“No. I’d rather not face a basilisk, thank you very much. I just thought, if I know that I can get it open, we can tell Professor Dumbledore. And…I don’t want to leave your sister—I mean, I don’t think Ginny should be stuck in that chamber. I thought your Mum might like it if we could…you know. Bring her home.”

Weasley looks like he’s going to break down in a sodden heap. “Oh, Harry.”

Granger smiles, a very fierce expression that Snape imagines she must think to be encouraging. “Try again, Harry. You can do it.”

This time, the hissing is loud and demanding. The chasm opens.

I’ll be damned, Snape thinks, and slips out of the lavatory to go fetch Albus.

Albus abandons a firecall with the Minister for Magic and joins him at a run. Snape grabs the arm of the closest faculty member and tells Septima Vector to send the students back to their dorms, and to gather the faculty for their pre-arranged contingency plan for a basilisk.

“What—Severus—” she tries to protest.

“Potter can open the Chamber,” he tells her, annoyed by having to explain further. He has been infected with Albus’s need to hurry. “I would prefer we not have a crowd of students in the lavatory, each of them trying to get eaten by what eradicated Gilderoy Lockhart.”

“Oh,” Vector says in a shocked whisper, and then straightens. “Yes. Of course. I’ll—”

Snape leaves before she can finish blithering. Arithmancy instructors, for Merlin’s sake! For teachers of maths, they can bloody well talk things to death. Minerva is much more sensible about following simple instructions.

Potter, Granger, and Weasley are still standing in the lavatory, a respectable distance from the tunnel opening. Only Weasley looks surprised to see Albus and Snape arrive.

“Oh, my,” Albus says, as he contemplates the gaping hole. “Can you close it, Mister Potter?”

Potter walks forward; the sound of insistent Parseltongue echoes off the walls. There is a hint of movement around the opening of the chasm. Snape notices that the broken faucet, now in the form of a silver snake, is curled up on a pipe. The snake hisses in response and turns its face away.

“Okay, look, even I know that was rude.” Potter glares at the snake-faucet and hisses again.

The tunnel closes with a regretful groan of magical moving parts. Albus nods. “Very well. I assume you had a good reason for wanting to open this tunnel once more?”

“To get Ginny Weasley out,” Potter explains.

“Mm. And what of Professor Lockhart?”

“Fuck him!” Weasley sputters, and then bows his head. “Sorry, Professors.”

“Don’t worry, my boy. I understand your feelings,” Albus says. Snape, for once, is in agreement with both of them. “The three of you, come with us. We will discuss this further in the corridor after the others have joined us.”

Potter nods, unconcerned, and follows Albus. Granger looks curious; Weasley is still hanging his head, his face bright red, but is doing an admirable job of controlling his feelings.

Minerva, Flitwick, Argus Filch, Vector, Lupin, and Aurora Sinistra join them in short order, though Vector is red-cheeked and out of breath. “Rolanda, Charity, and Pomona are making sure the students are all actually in their dormitories,” Minerva informs them with a faint sniff. “Three Slytherins were caught trying to sneak out of this afternoon’s sudden curfew.”

“They would,” Snape agrees, and then looks at Filch. “How many Gryffindors tried to do the same?”

“Two,” says Filch with a cackle. Minerva sighs and looks put upon.

“Is my House the only one that knows when to behave itself?” Flitwick asks, amused.

“It does seem that way sometimes, Filius,” Vector agrees. “Trelawney is refusing to come out of her tower, Albus. We’ll not have her assistance.”

“That is for the best, I think,” Albus says. “Sybill’s constitution is quite delicate. Is Poppy standing by, in case there is an incident?”

“Poppy is waiting for us all to arrive bleeding and near-death, I think,” Minerva says. “I’m not certain I disagree with her assessment, Albus. Are you actually proposing we go into that chamber?”

“I am proposing that we explore, in a most cautious manner,” Albus clarifies. “Mister Potter has learned enough Parseltongue in recent weeks to open and close the chamber entrances. Though, that is the extent of your capability, I believe?”

Potter nods. “I think the rest of it is just crude language. I’m learning from Adolphius Black’s portrait, and he isn’t very polite.”

Hagrid arrives with a sack cloth in his hands. The cloth’s contents are wiggling in protest. “Got the roosters, Professor Dumbledore,” he says with a grin. “Nice and fussy they are. Crow at a drop of a hat, they will.”

“That’s brilliant,” Granger breathes. “That’s why there are suddenly chickens on the grounds.”

“It was your brilliant deduction, Miss Granger, that allows us to be prepared at all,” Albus reminds her. “Now then,” he turns back to the gathered teachers. “Once our feathered friends have crowed, it should be a simple matter to subdue Salazar’s basilisk. However, we don’t yet know what else we will face in the Chamber of Secrets. Anyone who wishes to remain behind may do so, with no judgment from me.”

“If you get eaten, I have no job,” Sinistra says tartly. “We’re all going, Albus.”

“Mister Potter will accompany us to the second entrance, the door that confounded us last spring,” Albus says, and is interrupted.

“They should go, too,” Potter says.

Snape glares at him. Absolutely not, he thinks, hoping this isn’t going to be a resurgence of the Gryffindor foolishness that characterized Potter’s first two school years.

“Why is that?” Albus asks. He is not quite frowning, but he is not pleased, either.

“Not to actually go in,” Potter clarifies. “But Hermione figured it out, so she should get to see the door. And Ron should go, because it’s his sister.”

Weasley lifts his head. “Yeah. I mean—you can’t fill the tunnel with every Weasley in Hogwarts, but one of us should be there.”

“And if something does go wrong, you have messengers on the outside that can warn everyone else,” Granger suggests.

Albus allows it. Snape wants to seethe, but even he has to admit that Granger’s notion of messengers is a good one. Minerva is the one who protests, vehemently, and is voted down.

Potter has a hissing argument with the sink again before the chamber entrance re-opens. Hagrid brought ropes, which he secures and then tosses down into the darkness. “Not the fastest way out, but better than none at all,” he says, some of his eternal cheer dampened by the somber mood in the lavatory.

Just before she slides down, Minerva says, “There has to be an easier exit than this. Whoever opened the Chamber last year would have had a terrible time getting out quickly!”

Her reminder makes Snape pause. He shares a glance with Flitwick, who looks thoughtful. “We never did discover who was opening the Chamber of Secrets,” Flitwick says. “We only know the petrifications stopped after Gilderoy went inside.”

Potter doesn’t even turn around. “I can’t be the Heir of Slytherin, Professor. Wrong bloodline.”

“Oh?” Snape watches as Granger sits gingerly on the lip of the chasm and drops out of sight.

“Potters are Peverell-descended, Professor. That’s about as far from Slytherin’s line as you can get and still be in Britain,” Potter says, and then sits down and disappears into the tunnel.

Flitwick blinks, nonplussed, and looks up at Snape. “I think I would kill something to have a crack at Sirius Black’s family library, if little gems like that are lurking inside.”

“Volunteer to stuff and mount Kreacher, Black’s house-elf,” Snape suggests. “Black would pay you your weight in gold.”

Flitwick narrows his eyes, recognizing the subtle dig. “Perhaps if it’s Hagrid’s weight in gold, I might consider it.”

Hagrid remains behind, citing his size and a willingness to retrieve anyone who pulls on the escape ropes. The trip through the tunnel is uneventful, but Snape takes note of a shredded basilisk skin and plans to collect it on their return.

It takes Potter even longer to open the second door, which is more inclined to argument and mockery than the sink. Albus peers through the open doorway, but does not yet lead them forth. “Everyone, remember: you must not meet the eyes of a basilisk. To do so is fatal. You all have your mirrors for emergencies, and there is Mandrake Restorative Draught waiting in the infirmary in case of accidents.”

“But we can’t fix accidental dead, so please try to avoid that,” Lupin says. His chin is high, his nose almost quivering in interest. The full moon is only six days away.

“Does it smell delightful?” Snape can’t resist asking.

Lupin doesn’t rise to the bait. He shakes his head. “It smells like a snake’s den. And like…” His eyes flicker over to Weasley. “There are bodies.” Weasley nods, his face pinched.

“Mister Potter, when we enter the Chamber, you are to close the door after us,” Albus instructs. “There will be no arguing about this. We cannot allow the basilisk the opportunity to escape, as it will endanger the lives of everyone in this school.”

For his part, Potter just nods. “I understand, sir. And when you would all like to come out?”

“Four knocks should do it,” Albus says, and goes inside.

The Chamber of Secrets, Salazar Slytherin’s final contribution to Hogwarts, is massive. Snape is impressed at the scale of it, but it is also further proof that towards his final years, Salazar Slytherin had lost his damned mind. It is a shrine to the reptilian, yes, which Snape appreciates, but it also houses a basilisk capable of killing them all, which Snape does not care for.

His fellow teachers cross the room in a half-circle, with Albus at its center, wands at the ready. There is no sign of the basilisk, but Snape can feel its presence, like a warning chill on his shoulders. It is reminiscent of standing before Voldemort.

“I’ve found Gilderoy,” Flitwick says. “What’s left of him, at least. Poor lad isn’t much to look at anymore.”

“Miss Weasley is over here,” Lupin says, and increases the light of his wand. Snape glances in that direction, prurient curiosity overriding civilized sensibility. Ginevra Weasley looks surprisingly well-preserved.

“Strange.” Minerva bends down to pick up something from the floor. “There is a book here, Albus.”

Snape notices the motion behind the two of them, and when he speaks, his words are clipped. “Minerva. Lupin. Keep your eyes down,” he instructs, and then drops his own gaze.

“Oh, dear,” Minerva says in a whisper.

Lupin is less calm. “Albus, there is a very large tongue far too close to my backside. Please, any time you would like to bring forth the chickens…!”

Snape watches from the corner of his eye as Albus pulls both roosters from the bag and flings them in Lupin’s direction with a whispered command. The roosters hit the floor, spread their wings, and begin crowing for all they are worth.

The combined racket of crowing roosters and dying basilisk is horrendous.

“Well,” says Vector, as they all listen to the gigantic creature suffer its death throes. “I didn’t know it was instantaneous. I thought we would have to subdue the thing once the roosters had done their bit.”

“There is an ancient rule written in the school guidelines that says chickens, particularly roosters, are never to be kept on Hogwarts grounds,” Albus says in a musing voice. “Once Miss Granger deduced the true nature of Salazar Slytherin’s creature, it seemed obvious as to why. It is a rule I have since changed, of course. Roosters are a very effective means of defence.”

“I will put up with roosters cock-a-doodling at dawn for ever more,” Sinistra mutters.

“When is it safe to gaze upon it without…incident, Albus?” Vector asks.

“Probably not until its eyes have rotted from its sockets,” Snape murmurs. It is best to lean towards paranoia with such creatures.

If Albus has an answer, it is cut short by a scream of protest that comes from the tunnel.

“Damn,” Lupin swears, and runs for the entrance, with Snape a hairsbreadth behind.

The tunnel door is standing open.

“Potter,” Snape growls, and bolts into the tunnel with his wand at the ready.

He almost collides with Lupin, who has halted in surprise.

Potter is on his feet, his wand pointed at a male student that Snape finds vaguely familiar. The student is bound in two different types of rope from Incarcerous spells. Weasley is on the ground, unconscious; Granger is bleeding from a slice across her forehead, but she is fuming, her wand also aimed at the bound student.

“The door opened and he came sneaking out of the chamber,” Potter explains. “I don’t think he expected anyone to be standing here.”

“Good job, Harry,” Lupin says, and lowers his wand. “Who is he?”

“Never seen him before,” Potter replies, but he, Snape is glad to see, is not foolish enough to lower his wand. The mysterious boy doesn’t seem very angry about being bound, which is making Snape’s instincts shriek in warning. Someone who is unconcerned about being imprisoned is someone who still believes that escape is a certainty.

“His robes are seriously out of date,” Granger says, brow furrowing. “1950s, maybe?” The boy smirks at Granger and then turns his head.

Snape meets the boy’s cold blue eyes and almost drops his wand as his left arm suddenly throbs with sharp, agonizing pain. He grasps his wand tighter but cannot help letting out a shocked gasp of recognition.

The boy smiles with utter cruelty before turning his gaze on the students. Potter steps back and grimaces, his free hand coming up to rub the infamous scar on his forehead.

“Well, well.” Albus emerges from the doorway to stand beside Snape. “Tom Riddle. This is a surprise.”

“You!” the boy spits, his eyes filling with venom. “Haven’t you had the graciousness to die yet, old man?”

“I’m afraid not, Tom,” Albus says. Snape has rarely seen Albus look so grave. “I always suspected that you were the one who opened the Chamber. It seems as if our return gave you enough energy to attempt to finish what you began last year.”

“You were less of an idiot than Dippet,” Riddle says in disdain. “Imagine it, though, Dumbledore—here I have been waiting so long to meet the famous Harry Potter, and when my chance arrives, he doesn’t even know who I am.

“He’s—he’s Voldemort?” Granger asks, wide-eyed. She stabs at him with her wand; the paler set of ropes binding Riddle tightens at the gesture.

“Smart little Mudblood, isn’t she?” Riddle sneers.

“Miss Granger, he is, and is not, Voldemort,” Albus says. Snape realizes that Albus is holding the book that Minerva found in the Chamber. It is lying open in his hands, its pages blank. “Tom Riddle is a part of Voldemort only, though he is no less dangerous for it.

“Remus.” Albus turns his attention to the werewolf. “If you would, please go and fetch me a basilisk fang. As long as you do not touch the pointed tip, they are quite safe to handle.”

Snape understands what this means at the same moment as Lupin does. The werewolf’s eyes go wide before he nods and retreats into the Chamber to do as asked.

Riddle goes pale. “You wouldn’t dare,” he snarls.

“I would dare very well,” Albus replies, unconcerned. “You’re nothing but a ghost, Tom, and we will dispense with you in short order.”

Riddle begins to struggle in earnest, but before Snape or Albus can impede him, a third set of ropes joins the others with a bitterly-spoken Incarcerous from Ronald Weasley. “You’re the bastard who killed my sister,” Weasley rasps from his awkward sprawl on the tunnel floor. “You can shut it any time you like.”

“Oh, yes; dear, sweet Ginny.” Riddle’s smile makes the tunnel seem colder. “She poured her little heart out to me in my diary, without a bit of concern for a book that talks back. She was a fool, and fools deserve to die.”

Potter smiles, an expression which is not pleasant at all. “Well, I was told that you’ve been dispensed with twice, and it’s about to be a third time. What does that make you, Riddle?”

“Voldemort is immortal,” Riddle replies in a soft, chilling voice that makes that hated spot on Snape’s left arm hurt even more. “No matter what you do to me, he will triumph. Even now, you fear to kill me, Harry.”

Potter tilts his head. “Did you know that you can kill someone with Incarcerous? It’s not that hard to turn it from a binding spell into a strangling spell. If Professor Dumbledore didn’t seem certain as to how to deal with you, I don’t think anyone here would mind terribly if you were throttled out of existence.”

“I don’t know if I’m impressed or terrified that you have learned to be practical,” Snape says. Potter’s detractors would be babbling like idiots to hear their precious savior speak thus. Snape is just glad that Potter—or worse, Granger—isn’t trying to prattle on about redeeming the irredeemable.

“He wouldn’t do it,” Riddle declares. “He’s a hero. He has ethics.”

Potter’s wand twitches. The darker-colored ropes around Riddle constrict, much more than Granger’s accidental tightening. “Your information about me is out of date.”

“No protests from me, mate,” Weasley says.

“That won’t be necessary, boys,” Albus says as Lupin returns with an oozing, pointed tooth borne carefully in his right hand. “This will be far more effective, and permanent. Isn’t that right, Tom?”

Riddle begins to thrash against his bonds in earnest. “This isn’t the end. You stop nothing, Voldemort will—”

Albus sighs, shakes his head, and plunges the basilisk tooth into the open diary.

Riddle disintegrates in a flare of ash and light. They all stare and watch the shade die, and not even Granger turns away as Riddle screams out his last.

Inside the Chamber of Secrets, Ginevra Weasley sits bolt upright and begins to shriek.

 

*          *          *          *

 

There is a knock on Snape’s office door late that evening. He frowns and goes to answer it, wondering if it is one of his Slytherins, seeking company while hoping for gossip. The seventh years are not above bribery, and Snape is not above accepting, depending on the offering in question.

The hallway outside his office is empty. Snape scowls, thinking it late for pranks, when he hears the gentle swish of fabric.

He stands back and holds the door open without a word, waiting as the footfalls of socks on stone have entered his office before shutting the door. “This is getting to be a disturbing habit, Potter.”

“I know.” Potter pulls off his Invisibility Cloak. He looks rattled and tired. “I just needed a break, and no one in their right mind is going to come and look for me here.”

“Very politic of you,” Snape comments, which brings a faint smile to Potter’s face. “How is Miss Weasley faring?”

“She’s taking turns being indignant and crying. They had a funeral for her and she wasn’t dead.” Potter sits down in a chair without being asked. The breach in manners is irritating, but after the day’s events, Snape is willing to overlook it. “Everyone is very grateful that I decided to be gallant and fetch her. ‘Good old Harry’ and ‘Just like he used to be.’ Oh, and Professor McGonagall heard me threaten Riddle. Now she’s worried that I have lost the moral path, and is desperate to put me back on it proper.”

“She is a Scot,” Snape says, settling on a neutral response. “They have a very set idea of a proper moral path. Did you discuss this with your Head of House?”

“I tried to, at least,” Potter answers. “I don’t think she liked my argument.”

“Tell me.”

Potter looks up at Snape. His eyes are slowly losing the blankness that characterized much of the past year, but what is filling them is nothing like before. “I asked her if any of you had voiced regret for planning to kill the basilisk, or for actually killing it. A basilisk is rare, and that one was owned by Salazar Slytherin, making it a historic creature. She said that she didn’t regret the necessity of its death, and no one had voiced any such concerns.”

Potter sighs. “I told her that the way you dealt with the basilisk is exactly how I think of Voldemort. Killing him is a necessity.” He frowns. “Besides, I asked Hermione a few months ago if she was worried I was going to be another Voldemort.”

“You’ve heard the rumors, then,” Snape says.

“Heard the rumors? Had them shouted in my face, more like,” Potter replies. “I believe Hermione over them, anyway. She says that even if I don’t really get emotions and emotional input like I used to, I’m still at least learning how to care about things. Voldemort never learned to care about anything but himself.”

“That is true.” Snape is impressed, even though he doesn’t want to be. He wants to retain his old anger with the son of James Potter, and the boy is making it an improbable task—perhaps an impossible one. “What is my role in this, Mister Potter? When you have a school full of people who wish to be in your presence, why are you invading my office?”

“Hermione, Ron, the Weasleys—even Professor Dumbledore—they all look at me, and I can tell that they’re seeing who I used to be. They want that Harry back. It’s not happening. I’m not him, and I don’t know how to be that person anymore,” Potter says, his hands disappearing as he bundles up his cloak on his lap. “You’re the only person I know who doesn’t look at me like I’m defective.”

Defective? Oh, certainly not. “I prefer to think of you as the new, improved model of Potter,” Snape intones dryly. The smile on Potter’s face holds far too much relief for Snape to be capable of regretting his words.

Chapter Text

Snape’s summer is a quiet one, but it feels like the calm before a storm. Being that he is fully aware of what that storm will be, he takes the time to make sure all of his legal paperwork is up to date. Goblin ingenuity ensures that even if he is convicted of a crime while living or dead, the Wizengamot will have no claim on what property he possesses, and his carefully hoarded savings in the Prince family vault is secured against government claims. He has no heirs, but Snape would rather let that small pile of gold sit in Gringotts until it is a lump of moss and mold before he’ll let the Wizengamot take it.

He thinks idly about getting rid of the house on Spinner’s End and decides not to. It’s been useful, and also serves as an excellent place to store potion ingredients that are technically banned in Britain. One would like to hope the rules regarding Wizarding Britain’s Restricted Register are updated one day. Bloody tomatoes are still on the list from the days when it was firmly believed that the fruit was poison. Just because he can make poison with the plant is no excuse to be so paranoid about a fruit that also makes excellent sauce. He can make poisons out of most acceptable potions substances in the world, no matter how “safe” they are supposed to be.

The only whisper he hears about the summer being less than peaceful occurs when he receives the Daily Prophet the day after the Quidditch World Cup in Dartmoor. Rita Skeeter’s articles are informative as long as one skips the surfeit of language, and that woman does not know when to cease embellishing.

The fact that Ireland defeated Bulgaria, one hundred seventy over one hundred sixty, is of only vague interest. Snape is far more concerned with the group of Death Eaters that stormed the event after the game concluded to torture Muggles and Muggle-borns. No Death Eater was apprehended, though Skeeter reports that the Dark Mark was witnessed in the sky by anyone with the sense to look up towards unexpected bright green light.

This is cause for concern. He received no communications from any Death Eater who chose to go on such an interesting rampage—and it must have been some twit’s idea, not the Dark Lord himself. If Voldemort were in contact with his Death Eaters, Snape would have been informed and ordered to participate in the raid. It would have been considered a first test of his loyalties of old.

The Ministry is useless, as usual. Minister Fudge proclaims the Dark Mark and “the so-called Death Eaters” to be the actions of vile-hearted pranksters, not any sort of sign of You-Know-Who’s return. It is Skeeter who informs readers that Bartemius Crouch, Senior’s house-elf was found in possession of the wand that created the Dark Mark, and was immediately sacked by Crouch, which is sublime levels of stupidity. House-elves do not need wands if they wish to make mischief.

Snape doubts Crouch is culpable in the acts of that night—it was his dead son who preferred the life of a Death Eater. Crouch’s decision to fire the house-elf was nothing more than a political move to distance himself from the Mark’s appearance.

Snape shakes his head, folding the paper before subjecting it to a muttered Incendio in disgust. He hopes there are others who understand the seriousness of what this resurgence in Death Eater activity will ultimately mean.

In hindsight, he should have taken the events in Dartmoor to be a warning for the impending school year. Triwizard Tournament?

Triwizard nonsense.

Snape grinds his teeth for a solid week. He is sick of the nonstop speculation, the plots to cross the Goblet’s age barrier, the rapid birdsong of French, the distracting ups and downs of the flowing northern languages. He prefers last year’s quiet, the lack of concern that he was going to have to pull Harry Potter by the scruff from one foul escapade or another.

Alastor Moody’s additional presence is no help whatsoever. The retired Auror is terrorizing the school in his position as secondary Defence Against the Dark Arts instructor, certain that Voldemort sympathizers lurk even amongst the first-years.

On the night before the competitors for the tournament are to be drawn, Snape finally gives in. “Merlin, why?” he asks Lupin. The curse on the Defence position does not seem to apply to werewolves, possibly because the teacher in question is already cursed. Lupin is the only professor in decades to successfully manage a second year of teaching the class.

Lupin, to his credit, looks just as pained. “It was Albus’s idea. Even with your potion, Severus, I’m still nigh-useless for days during the full moon. This year, I shall teach for three weeks, Moody has the other, and the children get ‘a unique perspective on defence.”’

Snape restrains a sigh. Moody has just been given a lecture by Minerva about not threatening to poison students who giggle at him. “Our Headmaster is insane.”

“Oh, he must be,” Lupin agrees. “He hired you, after all,” he adds with a smile.

Snape inclines his head in recognition of the barb. “And you, also. Perhaps Sinistra is a succubus in disguise?”

The Astronomy teacher glares daggers at them from across the faculty lounge. “Leave me out of your nefarious plans. I’m the only sane person that Albus ever hired.”

Minerva sniffs and rattles her newspaper in a great show of turning the page.

The process to select the Tournament’s champions is remarkably uneventful until the damned goblet spits out a fourth name. Albus catches the scrap with a frown of concern, a frown that quickly becomes a thundercloud of displeasure.

“Harry Potter,” he reads.

Potter, who stopped paying attention to the proceedings once Cedric Diggory’s name was called, looks up from the book on his lap with a startled expression. “Sir?”

Albus holds up the slip of paper. “Your name has been drawn.”

The response is astonishing. Potter stands up, a furious expression on his face. “Absolutely not!”

“Harry,” Granger hisses, tugging on his sleeve. “It’s binding!”

“I don’t care,” Potter spits the words like a rabid cat. “I didn’t put my name in that thing!”

Albus studies him before giving Potter a terse nod. “Come with me, Mister Potter. It will have to be discussed.”

Potter bites his lip and then follows the Headmaster, leaving shock and derision in his wake. Snape lingers just long enough to hear Weasley declare, “Of course he put his name in, Hermione!” and departs the Great Hall in disgust. Even if Lockhart hadn’t performed a final act of damaging stupidity, this is perhaps the one thing Snape is certain pre-Obliviated Potter would not have done.

“It doesn’t matter whether it was the boy or not,” Bartemius Crouch informs the staff in a solemn voice. “His name was taken from the Goblet of Fire. It is a binding magical contract. He must compete.”

Karkaroff and Maxine explode, shouting out accusations of unfairness and cheating. Snape tunes out their whinging; the goblet will not give in to their demands, no matter how much they shout at it.

“I’m fourteen years old,” Potter says in a low growl. “You said competitors are supposed to be seventeen!”

Crouch blinks a few times, as if startled by the question. “Well, yes, but young man—that is a Ministry-imposed rule. The Goblet of Fire is old magic which does not recognize Ministry decrees. That was the purpose of the age barrier.” He peers at Potter, narrow-eyed. “Are you certain you didn’t put your name into the goblet, young man?”

Potter glares at Crouch. His green eyes are full of the same fire Lily’s gaze held when she’d just heard someone say something particularly stupid.

“I’m afraid we have no choice,” Albus says, and gestures for Potter to join Cedric Diggory, Fleur Delacour, and Viktor Krum.

Snape expects Potter to visit his office that evening, especially after it is announced to the Great Hall that Hogwarts, however unwillingly, will have two champions competing for the Triwizard Cup. The anger from three Houses was nearly palpable; even the Gryffindors have mixed feelings about the matter.

It’s not a knock he hears after curfew, but the scratching of nails on his wooden door.

Snape goes to the door, opens it, and looks down. A belligerent, furry mammal is staring up at him. The creature has short, stumpy legs with claws that look positively lethal, black, bristly fur, intense dark eyes, the barest hint of ears, and a broad white stripe that extends from its cranium to end of its short tail.

“Well,” Snape says, struggling to remain expressionless against his amusement. “Won’t you come in?”

His visitor walks in with a curious, speedy gait, nose lifted in the air as it looks around. Snape isn’t certain it’s Potter until the brat shifts and is standing before him, wearing dark trousers, an old gray jumper that looks like it was borrowed from a Muggle-born student, no shoes, and missing his glasses.

“There are severe fines for unregistered Animagi, you know,” Snape observes dryly, which makes his guest snicker. “What have you done to yourself now, Potter?”

“I’m a ratel,” Potter says, looking pleased.

“A what?” The word sounds familiar.

“A honey badger.” Potter’s smile cracks into a wide grin.

“Great Merlin, you’ve become a Hufflepuff.”

Potter shakes his head, still grinning. “No, not an English badger. Honey badgers are closer to weasels, or pole cats, or wolverines. They’re tough little things. They also,” Potter adds, as if confiding in Snape, “eat cobras for lunch.”

“Hmm.” Snape watches Potter fish his glasses out of his pocket, putting them back on his face. “And what happens if this badger of yours is bitten during its feast?”

“Takes a nap,” Potter says. “Gets back up. Goes looking for dessert.” He is holding himself still, but Snape senses the boy’s dreadful need to prance in place. He is truly happy with what he’s accomplished. Snape blames Sirius Black.

However, Potter’s excitement is the first strong emotion Snape has seen the boy display since the spring of 1993. He just doesn’t have it within his black heart to dismantle Potter’s joy in his success. Considering their mutual enemy, Potter couldn’t have chosen a better animal’s form to take. “What if you had gone through these no-doubt-suspect Animagus lessons with your Dogfather and wound up an insect, instead?”

“Then I’d be beneath anyone’s notice, and I’d finally be left the hell alone!” Potter retorts in a renewal of that temperamental spitting.

Snape gives him a level, unruffled stare.

“Er, sorry, Professor Snape. I didn’t mean to snap at you.” Potter looks contrite. “The Animagus thing is new, and I’m still getting used to certain…side-effects.”

“Ratels have a temper, I take it?” Snape asks, deciding that they both need tea. Shifting animal forms is supposed to be tiring. He wants Potter refreshed and gone from his office. He firecalls down to the house-elves in the kitchen, and has a tray in short order.

Potter looks relieved at being handed something to drink. Snape wonders if he’s had a moment to himself at all this evening—Gryffindor Tower is probably in a complete uproar.

“There are stories in Africa that ratels will go after beehives for the honey, but if they get stung, they’ll tear apart the entire hive in retaliation,” Potter says, after downing nearly half a cup of tea in one swallow.

Snape nods. Immunity to venom and a desire to consume dangerous snakes: beneficial. Severe, retributive temper: not beneficial at all. “You will have plenty of opportunities to vent your newfound frustrations in the coming year, I imagine. Congratulations, Hogwarts Champion.”

Potter scowls. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Granted, Potter.”

“You’re a bastard.”

Snape smiles. “It is high time you came to that realization, Mister Potter. Who else knows of your brilliant legal lapse?”

“Just you and Sirius,” Potter says. “Remus would want me to register, and I don’t think that’s a good idea until after Voldemort is dead. I’ll pay the stupid fines if they want me to afterwards, but right now I’m not handing out anything that could be useful later.”

“And yet, you have given this information to me,” Snape says in a low voice. “What if that is your eventual downfall, Mister Potter?”

Potter gives him a serious look. “Would you tell anyone, sir?”

Snape hesitates. “There may come a day, Mister Potter, when I might not have a choice.”

After a minute’s quiet reflection, Potter nods. In possession of a new skill—and a new temperament—he remains an intelligent young man. “I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

“Good.” Snape feels a desperate need to change the subject. “Some of your teachers will be tempted to release you from the academic standards expected of fourth-year students. I am not one of those idiots. Your coursework will be the same as everyone else’s.”

Potter smiles. “I would expect nothing less, sir.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

With Potter far more emotionally receptive and responsive to both teachers and students, Snape dares to start pushing again. He can’t pull the great Bloody Bat out in full form just yet—thank you, Fred and George Weasley—and he doesn’t quite want to, either. Still, it will not hurt Potter to see Snape’s “true” personality begin to emerge in classes again.

Potter’s response to hints of the great Bloody Bat is to ignore them entirely, or be utterly polite in response. It takes Snape far too long to recognize that the boy is participating in the process in the way others would still expect him to. Except for the moment when the Goblet of Fire spat out Potter’s name, Potter has kept his ratel temper to himself.

Snape knows that Potter’s participation in the Triwizard Tournament has been staged for a purpose, though he cannot discern what that purpose will be. He goes so far as to ask Albus if he dropped Potter’s name into the Goblet of Fire. Snape does not put it past the old man to use the tournament as another method for training up their resident Voldemort-slayer.

Albus admits to the fact that he would have encouraged Potter’s participation, if Potter were of age, but he is still angry at the manner in which it occurred. Alastor Moody believes that a powerful Confundus charm could have fooled the goblet, but there is an entire staff of Hogwarts teachers and seventh years, along with their Beauxbatons and Durmstrang guests, who might be capable of performing it. The list of suspects is not easy to narrow down.

The First Task takes place at the end of November. Four dragons are imported from Romania just for the occasion.

It is complete insanity.

Snape holds his breath throughout Potter’s entire broom-based confrontation with the Hungarian Horntail. He is in a position he cannot tolerate, a place where he can’t protect the idiot Gryffindor child. Jinxed brooms in Quidditch games are one thing, but tampering with contests bound by magical contracts are circumstances beyond even Snape’s ability to meddle with.

Potter survives and is judged well, tying with Krum in second place. Oliver Wood, still de facto Captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team thanks to the Triwizard Tournament’s interference, offers Potter the Seeker’s position again, ready and waiting at the start of his fifth year. Potter declines.

Snape, already on approach to stage a most necessary argument, overhears Wood’s dramatic dismay. “But Harry!” he almost yells in shocked response. “It’s Quidditch! You’re the best Seeker the team’s ever had, and if you rejoin for fifth year, the House Cup is as good as ours!”

“Why do you care?” Potter asks in honest puzzlement. “You graduated last year, Wood!”

“Because it’s my team, and I’ve got to look out for them, even if I won’t be here to see it,” Wood retorts. “Honestly, Harry. Some days I don’t think you’ve any idea of the proper priorities in life.”

Potter gives Wood a look of pure disbelief. “Wood. Oliver. I was almost eaten by a dragon today. Right now, my priorities lie in surviving this stupid tournament.”

To his credit, Wood grimaces in apology. “Right. Yes, okay, sorry, there is that,” he admits. “But will you just think on it, Harry? Most of the team graduated last year. We’ve still got Fred and George and Angelina, but we’ll need good players to keep fighting off the Slytherins, the Puffs, and the Ravenclaws.”

“You do remember that I have absolutely no memory of playing Quidditch with you at all, right?” Potter asks with a wry smile.

Wood claps him on the back. “Doesn’t matter. Once you’ve played, you never forget.”

“I shall have to send you a thank you card, Mister Wood,” Snape says, a deliberately cruel smile on his face as he steps into Wood’s line of sight. Wood pales. “Putting an amnesiac on what will be Gryffindor’s rag-tag disaster of a team next year will ensure the House Cup returns to Slytherin, where it belongs.”

While Wood beats a hasty retreat, Snape turns to Potter and raises his voice. “Someone is stealing from my potions stores. I wonder who that could be?”

Potter, with no prompting at all, plays along beautifully. “And you’re asking me, then?” he asks with a rebellious glare. “I haven’t been in your potions stores, Professor Snape. Perhaps you’re being burgled by your Prefects?”

With plenty of curious witnesses drifting closer, Snape looms over Potter. This is not as easy as it used to be; the boy is getting taller by the day. “One warning, Mister Potter,” he says, his voice full of malice and loathing. “I am watching you. Sooner or later, I will discover this culprit’s identity. You should be…cautious. Perhaps a bit of Veritaserum in your pumpkin juice?”

Potter steps back a pace. “You wouldn’t dare.”

“Professor Snape!” Moody calls, a very ill-timed interruption to the confrontation. “I need a word with Mister Potter. If you don’t mind?” he asks, snaring Potter and making off with him without waiting for Snape’s answer.

Snape leaves the Great Hall early that evening. When he approaches his office near the dungeons, he hears a peculiar kya-ha-ha-ha sound from the shadows. Just before he can draw his wand, the ratel trots into view.

“Subtle,” he sneers, and gets them both inside. The ratel walks over to the storage cupboard, nosing along the floor and up the wooden paneling. Then he rears up on his hind legs, claws clicking on the cupboard door, as he sniffs near the inset handle.

“Would you like me to open it?” Snape asks, watching the proceedings.

The ratel shakes his head, and then Potter is standing in its place. “No. I’d never smell anything except frogs and eyeballs and herbs. I almost didn’t smell anything but that, anyway.”

“To the point, Potter: who is stealing from me?”

Potter sneezes and then gives him a baffled look. “I’ve no idea. All I can smell is Polyjuice.”

Right at that moment, the Dark Mark on Snape’s arm begins to burn.

He had thought it to be a student, a miscreant filching the supplies to make Polyjuice Potion for some bit of mischief. To find that the thief is already under the spell, seeking the ingredients to make more of the same? That is cause for immediate concern.

Snape tells Albus both bits of news, of course, because he is not foolish. “The timing is interesting, yes,” Albus says in a pondering voice.

“You suspect someone already.”

“I suspect that there is a situation brewing,” Albus counters, “though I assure you, the pun was not intentional.” Snape rolls his eyes.

“I do not like that this thievery coincides with Harry’s forced participation in the tournament,” Albus says. “And then there is Barty.”

“His Weasley assistant seems intent on telling everyone in shouting distance that Crouch is ill,” Snape says. “Is that false?” Percy Weasley would have been a perfect Slytherin—not that Snape would have enjoyed the prospect of that shade of ginger in his House. Still, the boy has an ambitious drive, and a desire for authority, that the rest of his clan lacks. Slytherin could have refined that where Gryffindor did not, resulting in honed skills, not pompous windbaggery.

“I know that Percy believes it to be true,” Albus replies. “But whether or not it is? I don’t know; Barty isn’t taking visitors. Considering his work ethic, and the efforts he undertook to ensure the Triwizard Tournament took place, I find it very odd that he is largely indisposed.”

“You mean that even if he were suffering the Black Death, Crouch would be standing out there to witness the fruits of his labors,” Snape infers.

“We will continue as we have been. We will be patient, and we will keep watch,” Albus decides. “Though I am impressed by the manner in which you and young Mister Potter worked together. The two of you are well-matched when you choose to put animosity aside.”

Snape gives him a narrow-eyed look and adopts a bland tone. “I haven’t the faintest idea of what you’re speaking of,” he says, and has to resist the urge to throw his tea in the Headmaster’s face when Albus mocks him with nothing more than a smile.

 

*          *          *          *

 

It’s Minerva who decides that Snape needs a date for the Yule Ball.

“No,” he grits out, and resumes marking scrolls with prodigious amounts of red ink. “I’m not attending that foolishness, anyway.”

Minerva McGonagall does not take the hint. “Severus, aside from the fact that Albus has declared that faculty attendance is mandatory—”

“I’ll kill him,” Snape grumbles under his breath. Albus is inferring too much about Snape’s attitude of late. Perhaps he hasn’t issued enough threats, terrified enough idiot children.

“—all faculty and adult guests are expected to complete the first dance with the Triwizard Champions.” When he glances up at her, Minerva is smiling. “And I know you can dance, Severus Snape. I taught you myself. That pitiful excuse will not aid you. As it stands, there are not enough of us to complete the faculty pairings.”

He is tempted to scowl at her. “I’ll dance with you, then. Problem solved.” Minerva doesn’t prattle. Vector doesn’t know when to stop.

“The Headmaster and his Deputy Headmistress will be dancing together,” she informs him.

“Fine.” Snape nods in grudging acceptance. “But I am capable of finding my own…date. Bugger off, Minerva.”

“Good evening, Severus,” she says, and leaves with a triumphant smirk on her face.

Snape wants to do nothing more than to make her eat that expression, but that requires finesse. Or, perhaps, a figurative brick to the skull.

The idea that immediately comes to him is so absolutely ludicrous that Snape has no doubt that it will fail. Still, he consumes three shots of Firewhiskey and then firecalls 12 Grimmauld Place.

The infamous Black house-elf responds. “A bat in the fireplace!” the elf cackles at the sight of him. “What should I do with the great bloody bat?”

You should fetch Sirius Black, or you’ll never get to join the other stuffed heads on the staircase,” Snape retorts. “House-elves have their uses in potions.”

Kreacher’s eyes widen, and then he laughs again. “The bat speaks to Kreacher like a proper wizard should!” he proclaims, and then he goes to find Black.

“What do you want?” is Sirius Black’s greeting. He stands several feet away from the fireplace in his kitchen, his hands tucked into his trouser pockets and looking very much like he wants to close the flue.

Snape studies him for a moment. Black is finally losing the appearance of gaunt skeleton that marked his time in Azkaban. His clothes fit instead of just hanging off of him, as his robes did at Pettigrew’s trial. His hair is groomed, not scraggly. The old Muggle clothes Black wears at the moment suit him, in a teeth-grinding sort of way.

“Might I come through?” Snape asks. “I have a proposition for you, and I’d prefer not to shout it from a fireplace.”

Black hesitates before nodding. “If you were going to kill me, you would be more subtle about it.”

“Quite,” Snape agrees, and emerges into the kitchen. The house is much improved since his and Albus’s initial, cautious exploration, attempting to make certain that it was safe for Potter and Black to inhabit. The house no longer smells of decay, but cobwebs still hang from the kitchen ceiling. Snape suspects that some Black ancestor spelled it so that cobwebs are always present.

“Harry is all right, isn’t he?” Black asks the moment Snape has finished wiping soot from his sleeves. “There is no trouble?”

“Potter is fine,” Snape answers. Black always asks after Potter’s well-being before anything else, which is completely at odds with the self-centered boy that Snape remembers from Hogwarts. “Why have you not attended the tournament, if your concern for him is so far-reaching?”

Black scowls at him, but there is no shouting. Instead, he sits down at the massive kitchen table, gesturing for Snape to do the same.

Snape sits, cautiously. He is uncertain what to make of a world without Sirius Black’s explosive temper.

“Harry worries about me,” Black says after a moment. “Given the nature of the tournament, I didn’t want to be present during the Tasks and chance distracting him at a crucial moment.”

Snape lifts his head in surprise. “I believe that is the most sensible thing I have ever heard you say, Black. What brought on this fit of maturity?”

Black grins at him, an expression with no humor in it whatsoever. “Prison.”

“Of course. I suppose it was a nice alternative to going stark, raving mad.”

“Oh, I did that, too.” Black waves his hand dismissively. “But even insanity gets dull after a few years. Besides, I’m still nigh useless, Severus. If you must ask who runs this household, it isn’t me. I’ve only just reached the point where I can handle daily life. I would have stuffed Kreacher rather than keep him around, but Harry has damn near domesticated him.”

“Mister Potter would be the reason you’re both still alive and reasonably odor-free?” Snape asks, amused.

“He is,” Black says, a proud smile lighting his features. “He’s even managed to get Mother’s portrait to shut itself up. Mostly, anyway.”

Snape lifts both eyebrows. The shock of that portrait’s raging howls had been one of the few things ever to reduce Albus Dumbledore to speechlessness. “He silenced the harpy horror? How?”

“Told her if she didn’t shut it, he’d light a match and burn the house down with her portrait trapped in it,” Black says with no small amount of glee. “Said even if the Wizengamot hadn’t released the Black fortune to me yet, he had more than enough to rent a decent flat for us, one with a lack of portraits screaming obscenities. Most effective silencing method I’ve ever seen.”

“Do not relate that story to Minerva, not unless you want your ears full of how your godson has lost the moral path.”

Black looks scandalized. “Harry, lose the moral path? Merlin, has that woman lost her mind? He may look like James, but he acts like a less screeching version of Lily!”

“Mm,” Snape says, momentarily discomfited. He had managed to forget Lily Evans’s temper, allowing the memory to be clouded by grief. There is no doubt, however, that Potter has inherited her finely-honed sense of justice.

Bugger it all. He likes the Potter brat; he must, if he is now concerned of what future revelations will do to their late-evening office chats.

“Anyway, you had a point to showing up in my fireplace, I’m sure,” Black is saying. “What is it?”

“The Yule Ball is on the eve of Christmas Day,” Snape says. “Had you planned to attend?”

Black nods. “I was thinking of showing up, at least for the beginning of it. There isn’t a danger to distract Harry from—unless you count herds of adoring females.”

“I am required to attend with a date, at least for the start of the festivities.” No, not even being a man of thirty-four is enough distance from his youth to make this any less awkward. “I am asking you to attend it with me.”

Black stares at him for a full minute before throwing back his head and roaring with laughter. “Oh, that’s rich! I should have checked before—are you actually Severus Snape, or just Remus, Polyjuiced into looking like him?”

“Remus Lupin has more sense than to ask a pardoned criminal, especially an ill-mannered cretin such as yourself,” Snape retorts, crossing his arms. No wonder his social life is lacking. It isn’t worth these pointless moments of exposure.

“All right, all right—no, don’t leave in a huff,” Black gasps, stilling Snape with a hand on his arm before Snape can make his escape. “I’m sorry. I am, really. I swear that I thought you would rather jab out your own eyeballs and eat them than to ever ask me a question based upon social niceties.”

“Is that still an option?” Snape asks. “I am not here in fawning adoration, Black. There is an ulterior motive to my asking you.”

Black wipes his eyes, which are bright with mirth. “That’s more like it, then. What’s the plot, Severus?”

He can’t let it pass by. “That’s the second time you’ve called me by my actual name. Are you ill?”

“Harry has threatened me with severe retaliation if I continue my bullying ways,” Black says. “After hearing his willingness to set our house on fire just to shut up my mother’s portrait, I decided it was best not to chance it. And…I decided I can let it rest. Twelve years in Azkaban has to be suitable revenge for my stupid childhood.”

Snape decides to proceed without acknowledging that statement. This evening has involved enough discomfort. “Igor Karkaroff is a raging homophobe,” he says. “He has also managed to irritate me years ago in a way that requires a special sort of retaliation. Your presence during the opening dance for the Yule Ball will hopefully inspire him to storm out in dramatic fashion.”

“Huh. I always figured your lack of dates was because women wouldn’t give you the time of day,” Black says, but he does not seem to be mocking Snape outright.

“Gender has never been a concerning component in someone I would be willing to socialize with,” Snape grates out the explanation. He loses almost nothing by admitting it; he has very strict ideals for dating, and so far, very few individuals have ever met his exacting standards. Lily had understood his preferences, but never found anyone that Snape didn’t want to hex into spending the rest of their days as a wooden wardrobe. She’d considered the task to be her greatest challenge…right until he’d gone and bolloxed everything up.

“Well, I doubt I’m your type,” Black says with a sharp smile. “This will end up in the Prophet, you know.”

Snape glances at his fingernails, still stained by that morning’s walnut grinding. “I do not care. Do you?”

“No, that’s the fun part,” Black says. “I can show the paper to Mother’s portrait and listen to her sputter indignantly for hours, especially as I haven’t yet done my duty to knock up some poor daft Pure-blood girl.”

Snape can’t help the pained expression he makes at the thought. “Please, spare us all and do not ever breed.”

“You and Remus are both of that opinion.” Black looks put upon for a moment and then changes the subject. “What are you going to do if your Dark Lord notices you cavorting around with the enemy?”

Snape wonders if Potter’s presence in his life has made Black more intelligent. It is a question he did not expect from this quarter. “I will tell him that I’m attempting to convince you to join in our nefarious ways, of course.”

When Black nods in acceptance, Snape asks, “I do trust that I won’t have to dance with you again after the first required turn around the floor?”

Minerva suffers a violent twitch when Sirius Black arrives the night of the Yule Ball to act as Snape’s companion. She gives Snape a look of pure, thwarted vexation, whereupon Snape indulges and smirks at her.

“If you turn him upside down in front of the entire student body and rifle his pockets for trinkets, I will have your head, Severus Snape!” she declares.

Snape affects surprise. “Would I do that, Minerva?”

“Yes,” says Black.

“Absolutely,” Vector agrees.

“I now have money riding on it,” adds Flitwick.

This time, his smile is more genuine. It is nice to have garnered such a Slytherin reputation.

The Triwizard Champions’ choice of dates is indicative that the hopes for inter-school cooperation, at least, are progressing. Viktor Krum is in attendance with Miss Granger, who looks strangely less beaver-like, for some reason, and has tamed her wild, bushy hair into a good semblance of braided, bejeweled beauty. Cedric Diggory has brought a Ravenclaw, a smiling, well-coifed Miss Chang. Fleur Delacour ensnared the captain of the Ravenclaw Quidditch team, Roger Davies, who seems to have lost the awareness of anything that does not involve Miss Delacour’s cleavage.

Harry Potter attends the Yule Ball with Luna Lovegood on his arm. The choice is a surprise, as is the realization that Miss Lovegood is capable of wearing jewelry that is not composed of foodstuffs.

The first dance begins with the Champions and their companions sliding out onto the dance floor in order of their current ranking. Then, with Albus Dumbledore and Minerva McGonagall leading, the adults venture onto the dance floor, one set after the other. Only Lupin is absent, kept from the holiday and its associated festivities by the full moon. Snape is still torn between sympathy and utter envy that the werewolf gets to skip this nonsense.

Igor Karkaroff has Aurora Sinistra on his arm. It is a pairing that seems to be going well until Karkaroff spies Snape and Black, who joined the dancing after brokering a deal to trade the lead of the dance back and forth after each completed set of step-and-twirl.

“I lead better than you,” Black is saying, while Snape observes Karkaroff out of the corner of his eye.

“You are a dog,” Snape retorts. “You are therefore a natural follower, and should accept your lot in life.”

“Aw, Severus, that’s the nicest thing anyone’s said to me in fourteen years!” Black says, a huge grin on his face. Karkaroff is starting to turn red.

“You were in prison for twelve of those years,” Snape reminds him. “An Auror’s read writ of arrest would sound like ambrosia.”

“As long as it’s not from cousin Tonks,” Black admits after they switch to his lead again. “I may be a Black, but I’m not incestuous.”

Karkaroff storms off of the dance floor, leaving a bewildered Sinistra behind. “That took longer than I thought it would,” Snape says, ignoring the other baffled dancers and the murmuring from the student body. It is a subtle thing, but he knows there are students in Durmstrang with preferences for the same gender. Snape has just sown the seeds of distrust in their Headmaster; Karkaroff’s dramatics will make the other students think twice during their dealings with him. As far as Snape is concerned, the evening is now a success.

Miss Lovegood, the most adaptable child in existence, steers Potter and herself close enough to Sinistra to ask a question. Soon enough, she has convinced her partner and the abandoned teacher to join together in a three-way waltz. Potter seems pleasantly resigned to Lovegood’s plot, but Sinistra looks less emotionally distressed. The entire effect is ridiculous; the other students start laughing and cheering the spectacle on.

Albus and Minerva dip, twirl, and come up beside himself and Black. Snape does have to admit, twelve years in prison has not dulled Black’s ability as a dancer. If there were a complete working brain inside the dog, Snape would almost be tempted. He could easily do worse than someone who only tried to feed him to a werewolf out of childish naivety. Snape’s last attempt at dating tried to do him in with the Killing Curse.

“Do you know what is wrong with Igor?” Albus asks. His eyes are nearly aglow with amused twinkling.

“Haven’t the foggiest!” Black says in a cheerful voice, and his dip is far too extravagant.

Snape glares at him when he is rightened, and resumes the lead. “I am not responsible for Headmaster Karkaroff’s strange behavior. Perhaps the music is not to his taste.”

Minerva is smiling. “Like a brick to the face, Severus.”

“Nonsense,” he replies, and spins Black just a bit too strenuously. “I’m all out of bricks.”

Black, true to their arrangement, does not ask him to dance again. He asks Sinistra instead, which allows Snape to escape the floor. He takes a seat at a table closest to the wall, and quenches both remaining nerves and thirst on the house-elves’ iced cider.

Potter and Lovegood settle themselves at a table nearby, and within moments they are engaged in intense conversation. Snape watches for a few minutes before curiosity overrides common sense. If Miss Lovegood is talking with enthusiasm, it no doubt involves the dubious existence of some strange creature.

“Mister Potter; Miss Lovegood,” he says, making both of their heads jolt upright in surprise. “I trust that I will not find you out doing inappropriate things this evening?”

“Oh, no,” Lovegood says in her breathy voice. “Of course not, Professor. Tonight is the full moon, a positively horrid time to be among the roses. The nargles will not appreciate it at all.”

“Besides, we’re here as friends. We’re not actually dating ,” Potter explains. “And I believe her about the nargles, considering she managed to get a flock of them to attack me.”

“Piecemeal of nargles, Harry,” Lovegood corrects him.

Snape decides that he does not want to know what a nargle actually is, or how Potter managed to incite a…a piecemeal of them to assault him. “How did this friendship come about, then?” he asks, realizing too late that he sounds like a concerned, interrogative guardian.

“We got to know each other at the beginning of third year,” Potter answers, “when I saw the thestrals leading the school carriages.”

“None of the other students can see them but us,” Lovegood adds. “There was some concern that Harry was not mentally stable.”

“Then you told me all about them, and thus it was confirmed to everyone that I’m crazy,” Potter says with a smile.

Snape stares at Potter. “No one can see a thestral unless they have witnessed death.” He is almost certain that the destruction of Tom Riddle’s shade does not count.

Potter averts his eyes. “I am aware of that, sir.”

Snape cannot decide if he is furious or impressed that Potter lied to the Wizengamot. He settles for feeling uncomfortable and vaguely ill that Potter can remember his parents’ deaths with enough clarity to see the school thestrals.

“I find I am overcome with the desire to canvas the gardens,” Snape says, more than ready to depart. “If there are trysts, they must be interrupted, lest they attract Miss Lovegood’s vicious nargles.”

Lovegood smiles up at him. “That’s a very good idea, Professor Snape. No one would like such a nice dance to end with injuries.”

Snape scares the gracious blue hell out of Davies and Delacour, taking extreme pleasure in parting Ravenclaw from fifty points for that foolish indiscretion.

Chapter Text

Two days after the winter holiday finally begins, Snape finds Lupin wandering the halls. “What in the entire bloody hell are you still doing here?”

Lupin gives him an odd look. “I could ask you the same question, Severus.”

“I live here,” Snape retorts. “What’s your excuse? You have a dog and a godchild to go haunt like a proper wandering spirit.”

Lupin’s expression morphs into supreme discomfort. “It seemed wiser to stay away this holiday.”

Snape might not partake of the activity himself, but he is observant enough to recognize the painfully obvious. “In all seriousness: what in the bloody blue blazes do people find so attractive about that ill-mannered cretin?”

The werewolf gives him a crooked smile. “You’re the one who invited him to the Yule Ball. I have pictures, bless Minerva’s devious heart.”

“That was for a singular purpose. One that succeeded, I might add.” Snape glares at Lupin. “Is there a reason you haven’t told him?”

“I know it has not escaped your notice that I’m a damned werewolf,” Lupin snarls. Snape can’t help it; he takes a step back and then inwardly curses himself for showing that sort of weakness. Lupin’s immediate apology makes it even worse. “Sorry, I really am. I’m still—”

“It’s fine,” Snape says in a flat voice. “Go flirt with the dog, Lupin.”

“Well, I’d actually like to, but there are complications!”

Snape quietly indulges in the sort of words that his dead father would spew on most evenings at home. If he doesn’t figure out how to get the man out of Hogwarts, Snape is going to spend his entire holiday trapped in a castle with a werewolf. That leaves him in the unwanted role of playing idiotic matchmaker. “Talk. Your reasons had best make sense, or I’m mixing liquid silver into your next batch of Wolfsbane.” Silver will not kill a werewolf, but it does burn. Burnt insides are not pleasant.

“If Sirius were interested and something…came of it…” Lupin actually manages to look more uncomfortable than Snape felt while sitting in Sirius Black’s kitchen. “It would reflect negatively on Harry.”

Snape raises on eyebrow. He’d expected something emotionally ridiculous, given what the four self-proclaimed Marauders had once been like. “Sensible.”

“Once Harry is an adult, it wouldn’t matter, but right now…it would.” Lupin shoves his hands into his ratty coat pockets. He saves the best of his wardrobe—not that there is much improvement—for teaching. “That’s assuming Sirius is open to the idea. In the meantime, his younger cousin has a crush on me, and it’s making things even more awkward.”

Snape quickly goes through the short list of Black family members who would not immediately try to murder Sirius Black. “Nymphadora Tonks?”

“She of the currently magenta hair, yes.” Lupin sighs. “Aside from yesterday’s Christmas dinner, I can’t do it this year. I’m just worried they’ll decide to track me down at Hogwarts and drag me back to London.”

Blast it all. He has an idea, and he hates it. “Come with me,” Snape orders, and turns around without waiting to see if Lupin will actually do so. It isn’t his job to make Lupin’s decisions for him.

When he gets to his classroom, it’s to discover that Lupin did actually follow him. Snape gestures for Lupin to go inside before shutting and locking the door.

“Oh, so we’re murdering me after all?” Lupin asks with a smile.

“Do shut up.” Snape draws his wand from his sleeve and touches it to a specific indentation on the wall. “The wards don’t work unless the door is sealed.”

Lupin watches in academic fascination as green fire traces along the walls in questing patterns. By the time the process is complete, the room is encircled from floor to ceiling. “Fascinating.”

“Quite,” Snape drawls, securing his wand once more. He isn’t worried about the werewolf recreating the idea; the incantation is simple enough, but one has to be willing to perform certain sacrifices to create these wards. “I have an offer to make, but it cannot be where any curious ears might hear.”

Lupin turns serious. “I’m listening.”

“I have a house that I absolutely despise.” If Snape’s voice emerges as a growl, there are good reasons for it. “There is nothing structurally wrong with it, but the memories associated with it, for me, are unpleasant. I use it only when I have to meet with those who are…unsavory.”

“When you must spy,” Lupin clarifies. “How often?”

“At the moment? Hardly at all. The Dark Lord is not active—at least not for most of us.” Snape realizes he’s rubbing at the Mark and stops. The burn is most often at low ebb, an inconvenience, but pain has flared twice since Potter’s revelation about the Polyjuiced thief.

“You don’t think that will last. Not with Harry’s forced participation in this stupid tournament.”

Snape appreciates that his opinion of the Triwizard Tournament is shared, no matter that Lupin is a werewolf. “No. The rest of the holiday, however, the house should remain safe. It is under a Fidelius Charm, the secret of which is currently held by very few individuals. There is an area behind the house safe to use for unseen Apparition. You won’t be disturbed, as everyone is aware of the fact that I choose to live here. If that changes before the holiday ends, I can send you word of warning to vacate before trouble might arrive.”

Lupin frowns. “Why? Why would you make this sort of offer?”

“So that I do not have to worry about stumbling over a werewolf at every breakfast.” Snape glowers at him. “I do try to relax during these holidays, the better to not murder one of these young idiots when they return to class.”

“I see.” There is something in Lupin’s eyes that is trying to imply that he knows better, but no, he does not. Snape is quite serious about the necessity of relaxing before the bratlings return. He learned in his first years of teaching that were it not for the necessity of his role as spy, he might actually enjoy instructing the older students, those who want to truly understand the fine art of potion-making. He can’t stand the young ones, who only concern themselves with the basics and care nothing for the rest. He really does need to spend at least a fortnight in a state of calm, or he’ll end up poisoning the lot of them and happily running off to Azkaban just for some peace and quiet.

“I accept, but I can’t pay—”

“Idiot,” Snape interrupts. “Did I mention anything of payment? Just make sure the place isn’t destroyed and the firewood is restocked before you leave. Otherwise, I do not bloody well care.”

Snape waits for Lupin to pack, which takes all of three minutes. Once outside the gates, he Side-Along-Apparates them both to the road in front of his hated childhood home.

“Charming,” Lupin says of the neighborhood, in a tone that speaks of quite the opposite.

“It used to be worse.” Snape means most of Cokeworth, not just the blasted house. “The word is temptation.

“Temptation,” Lupin repeats, and the house reveals its grey-boarded, shabby existence.

The front door is a decoy, crafted by Snape after the property became his sole, pathetic inheritance. The back door in the rear garden is the only true entrance; he unlocks it with a key that is tied to the heavily warded house.

“Are there any rooms I should leave alone?” Lupin asks, after a cursory glance around the dusty parlor.

“If it has a silver doorknob, it’s warded against werewolves and pretty much everything else in existence except for myself,” Snape tells him. “Don’t take it personally. I hate Fenrir Greyback far more than I despise you.”

“None taken. I don’t care for him very much, either,” Lupin says in a low voice. “Thank you.”

“Thank me by leaving me alone until the first day of the term,” Snape counters. He leaves Lupin with the only spare key and then departs so the werewolf can enjoy the utter lack of charm that is Spinner’s End.

The day that the hooligans return to Hogwarts, Snape is hiding in his office. Ostensibly he is preparing for the first day of classes tomorrow, but he completes all of his lesson plans for the year over summer break. This is time he sets aside for the prefects, but none have come to see him save one, who offered only her usual bribe of freshly-harvested mugwort. In return, Snape politely overlooks the fact that she is dating a boy that her parents would sooner stake out in the garden to be eaten by birds than allow their daughter to have relations with.

What draws him out is a commotion from the hallway. “Oi! What’s the Gryffindor ghost doing in Slytherin territory?”

“My dear foolish child: surely you must realize that I am far too dead to give a whit of concern as to your silly territory?”

Snape rolls his eyes at the sound of Nearly Headless Nick’s voice and emerges from his office in a quiet whisper. Nicholas notices him, but says nothing; the third-year Slytherin named Greely does not.

“What the hell is that metal box you’re carrying around, anyway?” Greely asks rudely, pointing at the box in question. Snape recognizes that it has speakers on either end, but cannot yet discern anything else about it.

“I am carrying around a box that is a significant improvement in technology that your foolishly outdated family would never recognize, given that the Greely family gave up on such things the moment the gramophone was invented,” Nicholas returns, a wide smile on his face that does not reach his eyes. “Perhaps if you educated yourself properly, you need not ask such a silly question. Now, please be on your way.”

“Not doing it ’til you tell me what the bloody hell that is!” Greely huffs back.

“Oh, you’re not, hmm? Well, I do hate to ask, but…oh, dear Baron! I do believe one of yours is out and about on the verge of curfew!”

Greely pales as the Bloody Baron emerges from the nearest wall. He stares down at Greely in complete disapproval before pointing in the direction of the Slytherin dormitories.

“Yessir!” Greely squeaks, turning around just in time to collide with Snape’s chest. He falls back and lands on his backside, staring up at Snape with eyes that are performing an excellent impression of dinner plates. “Sir!”

“Five points from Slytherin for rudeness,” Snape says in his favorite quiet, lethal tone. “Just because one is dead does not mean they are to be treated with disrespect. One does not win allies in such a fashion, but one does irritate castle guardians that might have to choose whether or not to save your worthless hide.” Snape considers it. “When your House notices the loss of points, it might be prudent to hide until your housemates find a new distraction.”

Greely scrambles up from the stone floor, says, “YessirsorrysirI’msorrySirNickandBaron!” in a single rushed breath. The Baron shakes his head as the child flees.

“A fool,” the Baron rumbles. Most believe he does not speak, an idea the Baron goes to a lot of trouble to cultivate. Threatening silence, as Snape well knows, works very well as a deterrent.

“Still young enough to grow out of it,” Nick says more optimistically. “Thank you for the assist, Baron.”

The Baron’s eyes flicker down at the shadows behind Nicholas. “The one you’re escorting has a purpose for being down here, I assume?”

“Oh, absolutely,” Nicholas replies. “In fact, we’ve already reached our destination. No safer place to leave a student than in the hands of a professor, is there?”

The Baron looks unimpressed. “It depends upon the professor. Good evening, Nicholas; good evening, Professor Snape.”

“Good evening, Baron,” Snape replies. “Sir Nicholas, I suppose I am inviting you inside?”

“No, not at all! Not as long as you’re willing to take this. Carrying physical objects becomes quite tiring after a while.” Nicholas thrusts the mysterious speaker object at him and looks relieved when Snape accepts it. It’s lighter than Snape expects, plastic instead of metal, and while the language on it now makes sense, the accompanying buttons and alterations in design do not. The second object hidden in Nicholas’s coat is small a paper sack with several square objects rattling around in it. Odd.

“Thank you. Have a good evening!” Nicholas says and floats off. His head flops over to one side when he rounds the corner.

Snape uses his elbow to nudge the door to his office open again. “Hurry up and explain all this,” he hisses.

The ratel trundles out of the shadows, giving him a smug look, before scuttling into Snape’s office. Snape wonders if ratel can be used in potions. He’ll have to research the idea.

Snape shuts the door; a moment later, Potter is standing where the ratel had been, wearing a new black jumper, dark blue denims, and black trainers with dark red etching. It’s all very modern and very Muggle, which hadn’t previously been the case for Potter’s wardrobe choices.

“Hello, Professor.”

“Mister Potter, I see you’re now corrupting the ghosts into sneaking about on your behalf.” He’s trying for snide, but all he can manage is curious. Maybe that’s for the best; he’ll have to be snide and disdainful for hours after breakfast tomorrow.

“I didn’t want to, but I’ve gotten tall enough that if I try to carry something larger than a scroll underneath my Invisibility Cloak, people can see my feet,” Potter replies, putting his glasses back on his face. Those are new, as well, but he’s abandoned round lenses for oval ones that give him a greater viewing range. A distant, annoyingly persistent part of Snape relaxes at the sight; it makes the boy look that much less like James Potter. The boy is only halfway through his fourth year, and he’s already almost as tall as his father. If this trend continues, he’ll be of similar height with Lily’s father, instead.

I suppose being fed and watered on a regular basis makes quite the difference, Snape thinks, and once again has to remind himself that he’s not allowed to murder Petunia and Vernon Dursley. Albus had believed that Lily’s gift would only work if Potter lived with Petunia Dursley; now he thinks that someone of Lily’s line has to survive for that protective magic to persist.

Snape privately thinks Albus is still incorrect. That sort of forced binding isn’t the kind of magic Lily would create. She was too smart for that.

He puts Potter’s things down on his desk and then seats himself. “And this contraption is?”

“Well, Sirius finally felt he could handle a trip out into Muggle London. It’s been a while, 1981 through 1994, right?” Potter says, adjusting his glasses again before using a gesture to ask permission to sit.

Snape nods, intrigued. His role as a spy requires proving to Voldemort and his remaining followers that he hates anything Muggle, just as a proper Death Eater should. Snape hasn’t been into a Muggle town since late 1979.

“Well, everything made him jumpy except the music store we found. They were playing records by someone called David Bowie loud enough that we could hear them from across the street. It was something Sirius recognized, so I was dragged into my first Muggle record store.”

Potter rests his hands over his knees, a vague reflection of what must have been overwhelming bafflement on his face. “Sirius wasn’t sure what to make of the fact that records aren’t really records anymore, and he missed when things called 8-tracks became cassettes. I think if it hadn’t been for that Bowie music, he would have been afraid to go in.”

“Sirius Black is afraid of a Muggle record store. This does, you know, make my entire day,” Snape says in amusement.

Potter just smiles. Unlike Lupin’s attempt at pretending to understand Snape’s motives, Snape has the disconcerting feeling that Potter does understand him. “They switched from Bowie to a band the clerk at the desk said just got popular in the United States, and they only got the imports in last week. One of the songs, it…I thought you might like it.”

Snape raises both eyebrows. “I do not have the option of traipsing my way into Muggle London at the moment, Potter.”

“Of course not, Professor.” Potter gives him an odd look. “That’s why I brought it here.” He stands up and pokes at the very odd reconfiguration of a portable Muggle stereo. One of the buttons on top causes a lid to pop open, revealing a black cavity inside with a spindle far too large to accommodate most vinyl. Potter pulls items out of the bag, reflective squares with decoration and printing that could rival any 1970s album cover for being eyesores. Like the metallic-colored box, the squares are not glass, but a pristine clear plastic.

Snape could have sworn there were only three items in the brown sack, but by the time Potter is done, there are nine of the plastic cases stacked on his desk. “I see you’ve been playing with the limitations of space.”

Potter shakes his head, frowning down at the cases. “No, that was Hermione. She learned it in third-year when she said we should try every single class available.”

“Except Divination,” Snape points out dryly.

“Well, I don’t blame her for leaving, but I wanted to see the class through. I wanted to understand why Trelawney is a professor here.”

“And?” Snape prompts when Potter says nothing. He’s already aware of the fact that Potter is not fond of Trelawney, but this is also the most talkative the boy has ever been. It could be more informative than even Potter realizes.

Potter pauses in the midst of removing liner notes—folded to fit into these new types of record cases. “I think she has…something. I don’t know what that something is. I do know that everything I’ve read about Divination says that it’s different for everybody, but she’s teaching us all the exact same lessons. Charlie Weasley confirmed that Trelawney was doing it the same way when he was a third-year, and that was a while ago. When she stumbles across genuine talent, she doesn’t even recognize it.”

“Genuine talent?”

“Ron,” Potter says, to Snape’s surprise. “It isn’t really obvious unless you write down what he’s predicted, but usually it comes true within six to eight months, at most.”

“I’m not sure the wizarding world is ready for a fortune-telling Weasley,” Snape mutters.

Potter shrugs. “He doesn’t believe me, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned, Professor.”

Thank God, Snape thinks, and then taps the plastic case on his desk. “Please inform me as to what you’re about to subject me to against my will.”

Potter grins. “If you weren’t curious, you would have already told me to go away, sir.”

“You do not win points for being correct, Mister Potter.”

“So, this is the band from the States. They call themselves Live,” Potter says, grasping the not-record by its edges and pulling it from its case. He flips it over, revealing reflective silver with a rainbow hue. The not-record is placed picture-side-up into what has to be some sort of record player. Bloody fucking hell, Snape hates being ignorant of such things.

Potter notices his scowl. “Right, sorry. I had to have this explained to me, too. This is a compact disk; they call them CDs for short. Sirius says they’re similar to vinyl records in that you can’t get fingerprints or scratches on the side that holds the music. This device is a CD player, but it also has a radio band in it. There’s a little laser thing—no, I have no idea how it works, you’d have to ask Hermione—that reads the information written onto the CD, and then you get music. We spent a week figuring out how to make it work in Hogwarts.”

“And you must have succeeded,” Snape says. He’s impressed; Hogwarts and Muggle technology often disagree with each other to the point of colorful, messy destruction. Snape was still a student when someone tried to bring in a magicked television. That had been a spectacular explosion of glass shards and internal circuitry.

“Well, we’re going to find out.” Potter closes the lid to the modernized stereo and pushes PLAY before Snape has the chance to wince, retreat, or possibly toss the thing across the room before there is a repeat of the television incident.

Instead, all that happens is that music begins playing. Snape releases his held breath, but before he can decide if he likes or hates the first song, Potter presses a button with arrows pointing forward on it until it’s on one of the later tracks. Immediate fast forward; he already approves. “I thought maybe you’d like this one.”

 

“Warm bodies I sense

are not machines that can only make money

Past, Perfect, Tense,

words for a feeling and all I’ve discovered

I’ll be along, son

with medicine supposed to designed to

make you high

I’ll be along, son

with words for a feeling and all I’ve discovered

Old bad eyes

Old bad eyes

Old bad eyes

On loneliness comes

go see the foreman go see the profiteer

On loneliness drives

we’re taking our time movin’ shit for this holy slime

Old bad eyes

Old bad eyes

Old bad eyes, almighty fear

The shepherd won’t leave me alone

he’s in my face and I

The shepherd of my days

and I want you here by my heart

and my head, I can’t start ill I’m dead—”

 

Snape finishes listening to the song, feeling nonplussed. It’s the sort of thing he would have liked back when he had the luxury of spending time in both worlds. He’s missed a lot, given the sound changes—especially considering the next track, dear Merlin what the hell—but the first kind of sound always suited his mood.

He’s always been a miserably depressed bastard. This is not a new revelation.

Potter rewinds the compact record back to the beginning simply by pressing a reverse arrow button until a display on the front says 01 again, but this time doesn’t pick any particular track. He lets it play as he points at each compact record. “These blokes are British who made it in the U.S.,” Potter explains. Snape is a proper adult and does not give in the urge to make jokes about a band that calls itself Bush. He is not thirteen; he has just turned thirty-five.

“Mazzy Star—pretty sure they’re American, though. I don’t actually know much about any of these people. I just asked the clerk to toss CDs at me from bands who weren’t horrible.”

“David Bowie is still recording?” Snape asks, pointing to the only plastic rectangle case that’s thicker than the others.

“Yeah. That one is supposed to be a greatest hits compilation, whatever that is.” Potter flips it open and reveals that it holds four compact records, not one. “I have no idea what you used to listen to, but Sirius insists that if your musical education was lacking, then you had to have this one, at least.”

Snape finds himself leaning back. “Have?”

“Yes. These are for you—shite,” Potter blurts, and then looks appalled. “I’m sorry, sir. I forgot to even—I’m still really bad at this. Happy Christmas, sir. This is all for you.”

Snape stares at Potter. “Are you out of your bloody mind?” he asks, startled into far too much honesty than is appropriate.

Potter stops and considers the question. “Well, aside from the memories I have before Hallowe’en in 1981, I’ve lost my entire life except for June of 1993 until now. So…it’s entirely possible, yes.”

Snape can’t stop staring at Potter. Except for polite gifts among the staff, and Dumbledore’s utterly ridiculous socks, he hasn’t received a holiday gift since…since…

Lily. Lily gave him his last holiday gift in fifth-year, the spring before he ruined his only friendship and offended her in a way she would never forgive.

He falls back on viciousness, his only defence for a very long time. “And what will you be doing once you’ve given up all of your shiny new records and the means to play them?”

Potter reaches into a front pocket of his hooded jumper and pulls out a small case with a set of headphones—much smaller than the old stereo cans—attached on a thin wire. “It’s a compact CD player. It means I can listen to what I picked out while I’m in the dorms without bothering anyone.”

Snape resolves two things in that moment. The first: he is going to stop gawping like an idiot. The second: the moment this spy nonsense is finally over and done with, Snape is going into Muggle London. He is far too behind on the technology that once supported him through the worst parts of his childhood. Lily helped so much, but Lily also had her own family, her own responsibilities.

“This is still quite a lot for a single holiday gift, Potter.”

Potter shoves the compact record player back into his jumper pocket. “Well, I haven’t ever given you anything before, I don’t know when your birthday is, and…I wanted to thank you for something. I thought maybe I should get all of this out of the way before that. You probably won’t like it, and I wanted to give this to you before you never speak to me again.”

“I see you’ve re-learnt how to be nervous,” Snape observes. “Spit it out, Mister Potter. Unless you’ve been shoving my Slytherins off of rooftops, it can’t be that bad. Honestly, it might even depend upon the Slytherin in question.”

“Right.” Potter swallows. “You already figured out I could remember Mum dying. I could tell on the night of the Yule Ball.”

“I had, yes. I’m just not certain why you recall it now when you did not the night the Obliviation occurred.”

“Oh.” Potter glances up towards the ceiling, but it’s not avoidance; Snape has seen him doing it in class. It seems to be a habitual gesture the boy uses when mentally digging for information. It is an evident tell, one Snape will need to help Potter deconstruct.

“Hermione found a book that is useful for explaining that. Muggle science says the brain has a finite amount of storage for memories. After the Obliviation spell, I suddenly had eleven years and seven months of empty space, so my brain overcompensated and filled it with everything it had available—which wasn’t much,” Potter says. “I can remember as far back as January, on Mum’s birthday. That stuck because she was sad, and I didn’t understand why. Dad asked her, and Mum said she was sad because someone else should have been there. I don’t—I don’t know who she meant, sorry,” Potter apologizes. “Then I think Dad and Remus were sharing a birthday party in March because they kept making fun of each other for being twenty-one and old. Things get clearer and clearer until Hallowe’en, and then…”

Potter looks at Snape in visible distress. “I don’t just remember Mum dying. I remember that afterwards…you were there.”

Snape goes utterly still. “I see.”

“I haven’t told anyone that. Not Hermione or Ron, or Professor Lupin, or Sirius. Just—I don’t think any of them would take it well. I don’t think they’d understand. Some days I think you and Sirius are the only people who realize I’m an amnesiac, not bloody stupid.”

Snape glances at the items Potter just claimed to have gifted him. Most Slytherins would consider this a bribe worthy of murder, if they understood its value. “Perhaps you should tell me what you recall.”

“You came into my bedroom, and you went straight to Mum,” Potter says, glancing away. “I knew right away that you wanted to help her. At least someone was there, someone who knew, just like I did, that something was wrong. And then you started to—I knew you couldn’t help her. But you wanted to. You wanted to help her. I’d never seen you before, but you wanted to help. You wanted that to…to not have happened. I think it’s why I talked to you just after Gilderoy Lockhart’s spell. Recognition.”

“I see,” Snape repeats, even though he’s not certain he does.

“Then you came to me. You didn’t try to comfort me—I think maybe you understood that there was no such thing, not for that. You just said you were sorry that you couldn’t help her. Then you told me I’d go to sleep, and I’d wake up when someone who could help arrived. Or something—I might not have that part right,” Potter admits, brow furrowing up in either concentration or bafflement. “If you used a spell for that, it might explain why things end there, and not…not earlier.

“Anyway. That’s—that’s why. Aside from everything else.”

Snape waits for a painful amount of time before he realizes that Potter doesn’t have anything else to say. “You don’t even wish to know why I was there?”

Potter looks back at him. “I know that there is a lot going on in this school that no one wants me to know, sir. I figured if you wanted me to know, you’d tell me.”

Snape realizes he has a decision to make. It’s not one he ever wanted to make, either, but if Potter recalls this much, then eventually there will be questions. If he holds back now…

Snape feels a block of ice settle in his gut as he realizes that if he does this, he’s going against Dumbledore’s orders. Secrets have been kept for a reason, as Potter surmises.

You said you’d tell me if he hit you again! You promised!

It’s supposed to be a secret, Lily! I don’t want anyone to know!

You dumb nitwit! Some secrets aren’t supposed to be kept!

“Wait there,” Snape instructs Potter. His voice is steady, as are his hands. If he can survive the worst of Voldemort at the height of the madman’s power, then he can certainly handle this.

When Potter nods, Snape pulls his wand from his sleeve and calls forth his Patronus. She prances gracefully into being, a slender doe of white mist that pauses long enough to nuzzle at Potter’s jumper sleeve.

“Hello,” Potter says, letting his hands drift along the mist that makes up the top of the Patronus’s head. “You’re a lovely Patronus. Remus taught me,” Potter explains, when Snape eyes him. “He says, given two instances of dangerous fools teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts, that it’s something I might need sooner rather than later.”

“Have you managed one yet?”

Potter frowns while still stroking the doe. “Yes, and it’s corporal, but the form keeps changing. Remus—Professor Lupin says they’re not supposed to do that.”

“They typically do not, but it isn’t unheard of,” Snape replies, and turns to his Patronus. “Please go to the kitchens and have the elves send up tea for two. I’ll need the fireplace for another matter.”

The doe dips her head and darts off through the wall while Snape goes to his fireplace. A pinch of Floo Powder gets him green flame; a sharply worded request gets him Minerva. She is less than impressed to hear that Snape has Potter in detention for hall-wandering after curfew. Snape reminds her, once again, that he has yet to dismember the child, and after a bit of cauldron-scrubbing, he’ll be returned to her in proper working order.

Minerva rolls her eyes. “If he’s scrubbing cauldrons, you’d better not take points. Good night, Severus.”

“You needed an alibi,” Snape explains after Potter gives him a curious glance regarding the falsehood. A moment later a tea tray pops into existence on Snape’s desk, almost knocking one of the new plastic cases onto the floor.

“I suppose this is better than being tossed out, but…what’s going on, sir?” Potter asks.

Just as there is one specific part of the wall in the classroom to activate the wards, there is another in his office. Snape touches that spot with his wand. “Hoc loco tueri contra omnia.”

Potter watches the green fire emerge from that spot, spreading out to coat the walls, floor, and ceiling like twisting vines. “This is the place to protect against everything.”

Against all,” Snape corrects tiredly, sitting down across from Potter. He’s been struggling under this weight for a very long time, and in this instance, he’s found that he can’t stand the idea of that one secret being held. Not here. Not anymore. “I’ve always kept strong wards on my office, classroom, and personal quarters. When you started to visit, I strengthened those wards to their utmost extent.

“I know Black and Lupin have no doubt filled your ears about my past as a spy, working with Albus Dumbledore against Voldemort, and that I am probably not to be trusted.”

“They’re rather opinionated on the subject, sir,” Potter says wryly. “Not as bad as they used to be, though. And…I am capable of making up my own mind. Of being politic.

“If I thought you weren’t, I’d have made certain these little visits ceased at once,” Snape tells him in utter seriousness. “Miss Granger and Mister Weasley’s opinions?”

“Neither of them likes you very much,” Potter replies in blatant understatement. “Ron might never get it, which is weird considering his skill at chess, but Hermione—Hermione, I think she’s starting to suspect, given the lectures on strangers and danger and candy I’ve been getting. Not sure I understand the candy reference,” Potter adds. “But if she’s not saying anything to me, she’s not saying anything to anyone else, either.”

Snape inclines his head. “Miss Granger is highly intelligent and observant, though she can become mired in the smaller details. Mister Weasley can see the overall picture and miss the smaller details entirely. Unless circumstances change, the things I am about to tell you are details that you must not share with any of them. You’re intelligent enough to know if I’m asking you to be foolish and to respond accordingly, but otherwise, certain things must remain hidden.”

Potter nods. “I understand, sir.”

“If Voldemort suspected that we were holding court like this, he would demand I use the opportunity to attempt to convince you to join him—that being an obvious lie. He wants to destroy the perceived threat, not ally with you.” Potter gives him another somber nod in response. “I have also never told Albus Dumbledore that you and I have spent countless hours in this office for similar reasons. He suspects, but I refuse to confirm. I judged the situation, especially after the incident in the Chamber involving Miss Weasley’s rescue, and decided that you needed a sane adult more than you needed an overprotective old wizard keeping you isolated among the Gryffindors.”

“Tea, Potter,” Snape instructs, and waits for Potter to pour for them both. His motions are similar to his teacher’s; it’s like being served by Minerva herself. Snape is tempted to add Firewhiskey to his tea, but dismisses the idea. It sets a terrible precedent, and it seems wiser to be sober for this, much as he’d prefer otherwise.

Instead, he settles in with a steaming cup. “Your mother,” Snape begins, “was my first and dearest friend.”

Potter doesn’t ask questions about his mother that Snape can’t answer. He only listens to Snape speak without interruption, a tale that lasts far into the night. Snape had forgotten that there was so much, and Potter is the only person in his entire life who has ever wanted to understand Snape’s relationship with Lily Evans. It wasn’t a romantic interest, as so many busybodies and fools assumed. Snape loved her, but never once did he declare an intention to woo her. He’d never wanted to, not after watching too many of his peers blunder their way through romantic entanglements and ruin entire friendships. Lily and Snape had even discussed it, just once:

Are we…are we trying to date each other?

Lily, we’re thirteen years old. We don’t know how to date anyone.

She’d laughed, bright and clear, and agreed with him. She hadn’t tried to date until fifth year, which had been a disaster that she’d cried over with him during the holiday break.

Then came the end of their fifth year, and Snape had just…bloody well ruined his entire life in one stupid moment.

“I’m sorry,” is the only interruption Potter offers.

Snape is so lost in the past that it takes him a moment to realize what’s been said. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Potter repeats. He takes a moment to clean his glasses with his shirt before putting them back on his face, magnifying his brilliant green eyes. He looks a great deal like his mother in that moment, despite the lack of fiery red hair.

“Why are you apologizing?” Snape asks with a frown. He tries to refill his tea and discovers that they’ve drained the pot. He also realizes that it’s after two in the morning. Minerva is going to flay him alive for letting a “detention” run this long.

“Because I don’t think anyone else did,” Potter says. “Maybe you were wrong in Mum’s eyes for hanging out with people who had…well, terrible ideas. But refusing to never have anything to do with you again was childish. Maybe that’s why she married my father.”

Snape feels a headache blooming as he realizes he’s going to have to exonerate James Potter for the sake of Lily’s only child. Dammit. “Your mother might have made a childish decision that year, but I also made a childish, foolish decision, Potter, one that I cannot take back no matter how much I might wish for it. I need you to understand: I agreed to bear Voldemort’s Dark Mark before I agreed to be a spy.”

Potter shrugs, undeterred. “From what I’ve just heard, it’s not like you had anyone around to tell you otherwise. People have to learn not to be jerks, and there has to be someone about demonstrating why it’s a bad idea. I wouldn’t be anywhere near this…” His expression twists up in an amusing way as he searches for words. “I may not understand a lot, but at least there have been people around to tell me these things. She left, Professor. The only person demonstrating why following Voldemort was a bad idea left you alone, and she knew you would be. I’ll forgive her because she’s my Mum, but you both had two school years left. She could have fixed that at any point, even with a war beginning, and she didn’t.”

“Gryffindor,” Snape sneers at Potter. “Not everyone is so willing to believe in another’s potential for good.”

She was a Gryffindor,” Potter reminds him, which just makes Snape’s scowl deepen. “She had people around to tell her she’d made a mistake, but since it was you? Nobody cared—and that’s fucking wrong. Sir.”

That is not a comfortable statement. “And you would have, in the same situation? I notice you’re not extending overtures of friendship to any of my Slytherins.”

Potter rolls his eyes. “That’s because they’re afraid of me, though Sirius thinks it’s more like they’re afraid of what their parents might say or do if they decided to be friends with the kid who sort-of-killed Voldemort by accident. I actually think Dumbledore’s House unity thing is a good idea. It’s just not working very well because we’re sitting on hundreds of years of tradition that tell us we’re supposed to do the exact opposite. That’s Hermione’s opinion, by the way. I’m pretty sure she has Hogwarts: A History memorized from cover-to-cover at this point.”

“Hmm.” That has also occurred to Snape, but he is far more intrigued by the fact that Mister Potter, who still has excellent manners despite growing up among teenage cretins, didn’t use Dumbledore’s title. The only other teacher whom he still does not refer to by title is Professor Trelawney.

 Snape will ponder that later. In the meantime, he needs to bring this evening to an end so that Minerva won’t kill him. “Your mother and your father might have been childish, once upon a time, but war changes everything. James Potter had many failings, but he strove to defend Muggles, Muggle-borns, Half-bloods, and magical beings alike during the war. So did Lily. You remember your parents as the good people they became. You know Black as the less detestable being he’s learned to become. You know Lupin as the defender he learned to be instead of the silent, lurking watcher he once was. You witnessed Peter Pettigrew choose a betrayal even greater than mine. Lily Evans and James Potter were good people, and in that matter, no one is telling you falsehoods just to spare your feelings.”

 

 

**song credit: Pillar of Davidson, Live, 1994

Chapter Text

Potter never brings up that late night conversation as the term progresses. He is, however, far more politic than ever. Snape feels that Potter has found some newfound maturity from an unknown source—Merlin knows that source is not Sirius Black—combined with a greater understanding of where, exactly, the danger lies.

Snape isn’t certain if that will ultimately make his life easier, or much, much more difficult. Things are complicated enough because of this stupid tournament.

Potter is very polite in his public, classroom request for gillyweed for the Second Task. Snape rants about his hypocrisy in asking when he could have just stolen it, as he has stolen everything else, and then turns a blind eye when a sealed jar of it goes missing from the conveniently unlocked cupboard.

Snape doesn’t care if they are all wizards and witches. That is a Scottish lake in February. There is not enough gold in Wizarding Britain to convince Snape to toss himself into that frigid water. The fact that the children jump in anyway proves that teenagers are biochemically insane.

The Black Lake is ultimately less ulcer-inducing than the damned dragons, but the subject of rescuing people brings out Potter’s annoying Gryffindor tendencies. He almost forfeits the entire contest just to “save” Delacour’s sister, along with Luna Lovegood, who would really rather prefer to go and speak to the merpeople again.

"No, Luna!" Potter insists. Miss Lovegood sighs and gives up on the notion.

Snape thinks that a forfeit would be easier on his nerves. Potter would likely prefer it, also, but then the judges decide that his actions are meritorious. Instead of placing third—last if not for Delacour’s failure—Potter is now tied for first place with Cedric Diggory.

Karkaroff corners him that evening, the first time he has spoken to Snape since the Yule Ball. At first, Snape thinks the man wants to rant about the tournament, but then he realizes Karkaroff is in a near-panic. “It’s happening again, like before, and soon neither you nor anyone else will be able to deny it.”

“Could you please be more specific, Igor?” Snape asks, restraining his frustration. Karkaroff used to be a man of sterner quality than this.

“You don’t fool me, Severus,” Karkaroff retorts, and bares his left arm for Snape’s perusal. The Mark is dark and pronounced on Karkaroff’s flesh, though it is still only a faint outline on Snape’s arm. The difference is…startling.

“You are scared. Admit it!”

Snape gives him a dismissive look. “I have nothing to be scared of, Igor. Can you say the same?”

“If you have no fear, then you are a hero of legend, or you are a fool—and my friend, we both know that you are not a hero,” Karkaroff says with a grim smile.

For some strange reason, that is enough to shatter his patience. “Get out of my office!” Snape shouts, and then glowers at the man in rage until Karkaroff gains wisdom and flees.

The moment Karkaroff is gone, Snape lets out a breath and rests his head against his closed door. There should be no difference between the Marks. None. The only thing he can surmise is that the Mark is more pronounced for those who fear Voldemort’s wrath if he returns.

Snape is not concerned with Voldemort’s wrath. He fears failure, and that feeling grows with each passing day as they come no closer to discerning the reasons behind Potter’s involvement in the Triwizard Tournament.

The weeks after the Second Task do not proceed in a serene manner at all. Snape’s arm suddenly hurts all of the time in a dull throb. It isn’t knifelike, not as it was in the tunnel when facing the shade of Tom Marvolo Riddle, but the outline is getting darker. He still is not afraid, but the timing concerns him.

Karkaroff is paranoid and muttering about fleeing the castle, which swiftly becomes annoying. The students of Durmstrang, cautious after the spectacle at the Yule Ball, now try to avoid Karkaroff as much as possible. It is another flaw in the man’s character that he doesn’t seem to notice.

Moody is completely insane, but that’s almost normal. He demonstrates the three Unforgivables to his classes, fourth-years and up. Lupin threatens to skin him alive if Moody ever does such a thing again.

On the one hand, Snape can almost see Lupin’s point. On the other hand…

No, there is no other hand. Snape wants all of these young idiots educated and capable of surviving. That involves knowing what they might face at the other end of a Death Eater’s wand.

He does, however, overhear Draco Malfoy speaking about the lesson as if they had been granted a rare, delightful treat. It makes him want to strangle the boy and scold him; Snape doesn’t want Draco to be able to mean it. Draco Malfoy is arrogant and leans towards cruelty, but he is not evil. Snape fears the day when he might learn how to be.

By May, the Third Task is being prepared for, leaving a large chunk of Hogwarts’ grounds roped off and hidden from view. Snape wants the (relative) peace and quiet that comes from trying to force knowledge into the skulls of a bunch of dunderheads. Instead, he watches Potter begin to develop a certain disconcerting listlessness. He participates in class, but it looks to be practiced repetition carrying him through rather than direct attention.

By June, dark circles form under Potter’s eyes with every day that passes. It can’t be the Third Task concerning him—none of them know what the damned Task is going to be. The final run for the Cup is the only one where the traditional ideas about cheating do not apply.

He wonders what is going on, but isn’t granted sufficient time to puzzle it out on his own. On the eighth day of June, Potter comes to class looking like death warmed over.

Snape scowls in displeasure. When he reveals the day’s instructions on the chalkboard, he waits five minutes. Potter seems to be playing with his ingredients more than using them, but he is not much aware of what he is doing.

That is enough to anger Snape, no matter which House or idiot child is involved. “Potter!” he yells. “Fifteen points from Gryffindor for the complete idiocy of—”

He halts his speech; Potter’s cauldron is empty. Snape peers down at the young man, who is almost swaying with exhaustion at this point, and amends what he was going to say. “Because you had the rare sensibility to not attempt potion-brewing while in such a state, I will not take further points for your failure to participate in class,” he says. The Slytherins, who had been waiting with glee for such a thing, all let out a sharp sigh of disappointment.

“However, make no mistake,” Snape addresses the class at large. “Were anyone in Potter’s delicate condition—” Draco smirks. “—to have attempted this difficult potion, and caused an incident due to your inability to concentrate NEVILLE LONGBOTTOM, DON’T YOU DARE ADD THAT HOLLY!”

Longbottom squeaks in shock and drops the sprig of holly from his fingers, a twig that bears a single red berry. Granger’s hand snaps out and catches it in reflex. She puts the holly down on the table, away from Longbottom. Only then does fear cross her face.

Snape stares at them both, fighting against overwhelming dismay. He’s been spoiled by Potter’s lack of foolishness, and now he’s faced with two instances of Gryffindor stupidity in one day. Holly is not one of today’s ingredients for very good reason.

“Fifteen points from Gryffindor for almost killing everyone near to you,” Snape tells Longbottom, who pales. “Great Merlin, you idiot! Why do you even have holly in the first place?”

Longbottom trembles under his gaze. “I don’t—I don’t know, sir, I—”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake,” Granger says, and points her wand at the holly. The twig has a berry that is not quite red. “Finite Incantatem!”

Snape isn’t sure what prompted Granger’s action, but it yields results. The holly sprig with its single, damning red berry becomes a sprig of juniper—one of the actual listed ingredients—and then returns to being a holly again. This time, it stays that way.

Snape raises an eyebrow, taking in the small pile of juniper next to Longbottom’s cauldron. A strong but failing transfiguration spell. Interesting. “Perhaps the mistake was not yours, after all. How fortunate for you, Mister Longbottom. Did you select that suspect juniper sprig from my stores, or is it from your own trove?”

“S-S-Stores, s-sir,” Longbottom whispers.

Snape is consumed by fury. It is one thing to be stolen from, but this level of—of deliberate interference is not to be tolerated.

When he looks from one student face to the next, most cringe back from his gaze. “What are you fools waiting for?” he hisses. “Is a Gryffindor the only sensible student in this classroom today?”

That gets their attention. There is a rush of murmured or shouted Finite Incantatems that fill the air. “I’ve got one, sir,” Draco says, and his cheeks flush red with anger. “I selected today’s juniper from stores. My own supply molded despite the preservation spells.”

“Me, too,” reports Nott. Bulstrode holds up a bit of juniper that keeps shifting back and forth from holly twig and berry to juniper sprig, a form of revelation mimicked by Thomas and Weasley.

“It won’t bloody stop swapping back and forth,” Weasley mutters, prodding the berries with his wand. “I know I’m not the greatest wizard in this school, but this is ridiculous.”

“I’ve got three.” Potter is staring down at his potions ingredients. “Stores. I was out of juniper.”

“Three?” Snape repeats in disbelief.

Draco understands the implications even before Granger. “Potter, might I just say on behalf of all of us: thank you for being a worthless, lazy cretin today. I am very fond of being alive.”

“Yeah,” Potter says in faint agreement. He prods the shifting sprig before slapping it with his wand. It behaves, finally, and remains a holly sprig with its cluster of bright red berries. “It’s either a very good transfiguration spell, or a very bad one.”

Snape decides that he’s had enough. “Vanish the contents of your cauldrons. I need time to inspect the potions stores, and I can’t do it with you miserable louts hanging about. We will attempt this again during the next class if possible; if not, it will be the first potion attempted in your fifth year. For homework, you will each give me two feet on the dangers of adding holly to any sort of potion that deals with camouflage, particularly a vanishing potion.”

While half-formed brews are vanished and supplies are packed up, Snape adds, “Inspect your potions ingredients. If anything is missing, or, as Mister Malfoy has found, become damaged under strange circumstances, report the losses to me on an additional scroll. Be specific about your methods of storage, spells performed in the area, and the nature of the damage.” He eyes Longbottom. “Very specific.”

Potter stands, and though he does his best to hide it, there is a definite wobble. “Potter!” Snape barks. “Immediate detention. Miss Granger, inform Professor Lupin as to the reason for Potter’s absence.” There is no doubt that Granger would do so anyway, but right now he wants to snarl and break things. Ordering Gryffindors about is the only outlet he currently has.

Juniper sprigs. Merlin. “Also, tell the werewolf that I need to speak to him before dinner.”

“Sir,” Granger says, and almost drags Weasley out with her while he is still mid-protest at Potter’s “unfair” detention.

At least the idiot got over his ridiculous belief that Potter entered himself into the Triwizard tournament. Weasley is often foolish, but he is also loyal. With Voldemort somehow gaining strength, Potter will need that sort of loyalty.

When all of the students are gone, Snape pulls out his wand, gestures the door shut, and then activates the privacy wards that wrap the classroom walls, floor, and ceiling in bright green fire. “Now, Potter. Would you mind telling me just what on earth is wrong with you?”

Potter, whose chin has slumped almost down to his chest, raises his head. “I’m sorry, sir. I’m just tired.”

“That part is blatantly obvious,” Snape replies angrily. “Why?”

To Snape’s relief, Potter does not try to misunderstand, or protest the question. “I’ve been having nightmares.”

Snape huffs out an annoyed sigh. “And it did not occur to you to tell anyone?”

“Well, Ron knows, because I woke up everyone in the dorm the other night,” Potter says. “Hermione thinks they’re just stress-related because of the tournament, and because of what happened in the tunnel last year.”

Snape pinches the bridge of his nose. “I will reiterate: did it occur to you to talk to your Head of House, or to another adult about these nightmares?”

Potter looks confused, and perhaps a bit distressed. “Well, no. I mean, everyone has nightmares, sir. There isn’t anything special about that.”

Snape sits down opposite Potter. Normally, he would stand and glower and shout, but he is suddenly contending with the realization that there are still many things that Potter has yet to re-learn. Some of the lack might even be his own fault, but if so, it’s a fault he is going to bloody well rectify. “Usually, that is true. But you, Mister Potter, are the target of the Dark Lord Voldemort, who is an accomplished Legilimens—one skilled at invading another’s mind. While there are some who might scoff and disregard your dreams, you cannot afford to take that chance.”

The boy slowly nods. “I hope you’re wrong, sir. I’d rather they were just bad dreams.”

Snape raises an eyebrow. “It is good to hope for the best, but far wiser to plan for the worst possible outcome, Potter. Now, tell me about these nightmares.”

Potter gets as far as describing the massive stone engraved with the name of Tom Riddle, at which point Snape holds up his hand.  He is pleased when it does not shake or in any way betray his shock. “Enough,” he says. “The imagery is no longer important. How do you feel during these nightmares?”

“I—I feel more than I usually do,” Potter says, a realization that manages to penetrate his exhaustion. “Anger. Far more anger than my ratel form creates. That’s just temper, not rage.” He thinks on it, frowning. “Determination. Frustration, maybe. Eventually, it turns to fear. Maybe it’s supposed to be terror. It’s—it’s a lot like someone’s taunting me, sir. I can’t figure out if I’m actually afraid of these dreams, or if…”

“If someone is attempting to make you feel so?” Snape asks, fairly certain he already knows the answer.

Potter nods before removing his glasses long enough to rub at his red-rimmed eyes. “Yeah.”

“Very well.” Snape leans back on the stool, crossing his arms. “This will be a two-fold approach, so listen closely. You’re going to the infirmary, where you will spend the next week recovering—”

Potter’s head jerks up. “I don’t need the infirmary!” he yelps, which confirms that yes, at some point, he has indeed been subjected to Poppy Pomfrey’s tender mercies. “I just need to sleep!”

Snape glares at the boy until Potter winces and lowers his head. “Sorry, sir. I really don’t need the infirmary, though.”

“I did mention this was a two-fold approach, didn’t I?” Snape asks caustically. “That aside, you seem to have another misconception that requires correction.

“Potter, every student has the right to visit the infirmary when their health begins to interfere with their ability to complete their school work. Even I am not so odious as to ignore the very real fact that you dunderheads get ill. However, your situation is also unique.” Potter looks like he’s about to protest again. “If you say that you’re fine, I will hex you within an inch of your life, Mister Potter. Students who are falling asleep while standing up are not fine. Sometimes this is due to their own stupidity, but that still does not make them functional.”

“I…yeah.” Potter sighs in resignation. “I messed up. I try really hard not to.”

“Potter, for all that you are fourteen years old, you have only two years of real scholastic experience to draw from due to Gilderoy Lockhart’s idiocy. Given those limitations, you have done exceptionally well. Don’t damn yourself for one misstep.” Because we can’t afford it, Snape thinks.

“In more logical terms: I cannot teach you what you’re going to need to know if you’re sleeping in your dorm.”

“Two-fold. Right.” Potter scrubs at his eyes again, this time without even bothering to take his glasses off first. “Okay, I think I’m following you now, sir. The infirmary is usually empty at night, so we can talk and it won’t be observed or overheard.”

“Even Madam Pomfrey understands the need for privacy. The infirmary has wards that are almost as good as my own,” Snape tells Potter. “Don’t forget that, either. It’s information you might one day need.”

“Yes, sir. Orders, sir?” Potter asks, a weary smile on his face.

“Go straight to the infirmary. I will be firecalling ahead, so Madam Pomfrey will be waiting for you. Go to sleep. I’ll see you this evening after curfew, where we will begin a set of lessons that will help keep certain kinds of nightmares at bay.”

“Yes, sir.” Potter slings his bag over his shoulder. He stumbles to the side, rightens himself just before Snape worries he’ll have to use his wand to keep Potter from falling, and shuffles his way out of the room.

Snape is seated again at an empty workbench, his face resting in his hands, when there is a knock on the door. He flicks one finger in a signal for the wards to allow entry. “Shut the fucking door,” Snape orders through his hands. “Who the hell did you leave in charge of your class?”

“Christ, Severus,” Lupin says in response to his profanity. The classroom door clicks shut; the latch drops a moment after. “I got Filch to sit in and terrify them into doing the writing already assigned for the day. What the hell happened? Miss Granger said you needed to see me, but I think Mister Weasley was ready to explode about you giving Harry detention.”

“No, I sent Mister Potter to the bloody infirmary!” Snape retorts, and drops his hands. “We have a situation, Lupin. I can’t even kill anyone to fix it because I don’t fucking well know who’s causing it!”

“Hmm. Stay there,” Lupin instructs, an intractable expression on his face. He cracks open the door that leads into Snape’s office and returns bearing the Firewhiskey bottle. Snape has rationed his doses, and still over half of it is gone. “Take a swig of this, and then perhaps you will start making sense again.”

“I have class in a half-hour,” Snape protests, but does it anyway. It burns all the way down. He didn’t actually need it to recover his senses, but…

But he’s just been rattled. Badly.

“Potter went to the school infirmary suffering from severe exhaustion,” Snape explains. “You would have noticed today, had he made it to your classroom without collapsing on the way.”

“I noticed he looked unrested yesterday, but I’m assuming today was far worse,” Lupin says. “What else?”

“Someone went to a great deal of trouble to create chaos.” Snape eyes the Firewhiskey and pointedly shoves the bottle away. “I suspect that every student’s remaining supply of juniper sprigs have molded or rotted under circumstances that are as yet unexplained. I checked after Potter left, and my own juniper sprigs are missing. The thief didn’t even bother with subtlety, either. They took the entire blasted jar, sometime between midnight last night and ten this morning. Every holly berry sprig in my stores was then treated with a faulty transfiguration spell that caused them to all appear as juniper sprigs for anyone seeking potion ingredients.”

Lupin’s jaw drops, but rage is sparking in his eyes. “You’re working on camouflage spells—Severus, that could have killed a student!”

“No. If the transfiguration hadn’t failed at just the right moment, it would have killed many students,” Snape counters, feeling tired. “The more berries added, the greater the spread of damage, remember? Potter found a sprig that held three, and he’s now the swiftest student I have for potion-making. If he hadn’t chosen not to participate today due to his exhaustion, we would be preparing for multiple funerals, his included.”

“God wept.” Lupin sits down on a stool a few feet away. “Someone has decided that stealing from your stores isn’t enough. Now they’re sabotaging them as well.”

“I think it’s more than that,” Snape says. “I need juniper sprigs for Wolfsbane, Lupin.”

“And the Third Task takes place two days after the full moon. Without Wolfsbane, I won’t just be ill. I’ll be bloody useless.” Lupin scrubs his face with one hand. “Is it possible to get more in time?”

Snape grits his teeth before answering. “I could get it, but it needs to be treated and dried. It works better if it’s an early spring harvest, too. I can’t rush that process, Lupin. I might not like you very much, but I refuse to kill you because I brewed a half-arsed potion.”

Lupin snorts. “Thanks. What are we dealing with, Severus?”

“I don’t think today’s saboteur wanted Potter dead. If that was the point, there would have been multiple previous assassination attempts, not today’s near-disaster.” Snape realizes he’s rubbing at the Mark through his sleeves. It’s still throbbing, and that makes him uneasy. “Potter is dreaming of the grave where Voldemort’s father is buried.”

“Sent nightmares.” Lupin grimaces. “Please, I know you don’t like him very much, but—”

“Secret Keeper,” Snape says.

“What?” Lupin gives him a startled look.

“Secret. Keeper,” Snape gets out, even though the words want to lodge in his throat. “Will you act as my bloody Secret Keeper or not?”

Lupin’s startled look becomes suspicious bafflement. “Why?”

“Because what we will next discuss must never become known by anyone aside from us and Mister Potter.” The words feel like individual drops of acid. “Perhaps when Black is stable, it will be discussed with him as well, but not yet.”

Lupin is still frowning. “What about Albus?”

“Albus has known for the entire school year that someone is causing trouble, and that they are not benevolent pranksters.” Snape realizes his face is set in a dark glower. “He refuses to act upon this knowledge, preferring to let the culprit out themselves by their actions. After today’s events, I find that I prefer to be far more proactive.”

“Secret Keeper,” Lupin repeats musingly. “Not often used for people, though it works well enough. An Unbreakable Vow would be more effective.”

Dammit. “Yes. It would be.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape has an Unbreakable Vow with a werewolf. His life has become a spectacle of ludicrous irony.

Potter spends a full week of nights in the infirmary under Pomfrey’s delightfully manufactured excuse of Potter’s need to recover from the terrible migraines that were causing his nightmares and sleeplessness. She even posits (correctly) that a possible gillyweed overdose might be the culprit.

Pomfrey has always been dear to Snape’s twisted black heart. All it takes is a simple request, and the wards for the school infirmary give off a brief flare of strong magic as they’re fully activated. A moment later, it’s as if they don’t exist at all, a subtle piece of work meant to keep the injured from being disturbed by noisy magic.

“Originally, these were lessons that you would not have been given until next year, per the old traditions,” Snape tells Potter that first evening. He is sitting on a chair at the boy’s bedside. Potter, to his relief, looks better than he had that afternoon. They are alone except for Pomfrey, who is in her office with the door firmly shut.

“Old traditions?”

Snape scowls. “There are many subjects in the wizarding world that are no longer taught at Hogwarts, per the many foolish decisions of the school governors. One of them is Occlumency. It is the magical defence of the mind against the external penetration or attack of a foreign mind. The Board of Governors decided it was too obscure a branch of magic to continue offering it as a subject of study, but Occlumency is one of the more useful forms of magic a wizard or witch could ever be taught.”

“That does sound nice,” Potter says with tired enthusiasm. “I’d really like to stop dreaming of bloody tombstones, sir.”

“You might also receive these lessons in an officially directed capacity in your fifth year,” Snape says, and Potter nods, understanding that “official capacity” means “Dumbledore.”

“If that happens, don’t let on that you’re aware of this subject’s existence.” Snape frowns. “Mere paranoia, perhaps, but I do not want him to think you’ll then be free for other things. I’d prefer we use that time to refine the skills I’m teaching you now, and to also work on the other end of the coin for this skill—Legilimency. That involves reaching into the mind of another.”

Potter blinks at him. “Seems rude.”

Snape nods. “It can be. It can also be a dark necessity in harsh times. I am a master of both, Mister Potter. Take from that what you will.”

“‘Good at my job,’” Potter translates, smiling.

“When you Occlude, the point is not to be solid, but slippery.” It’s a lesson Snape reiterates often over the week. “Solid things are walls; walls give way. Slippery things are harder to grasp. The more you try to grab hold, the more likely a slippery thing is to escape you.”

“My shields are pond frogs. Got it,” Potter responds. Snape has to admit that frog shielding would certainly confuse the hell out of anyone trying to use Legilimency against him.

“While your ratel temper may be useful in other respects, I strongly suggest that you not use it as your focus for Occluding. Aside from the very real fact that emotions are still new for you, most teenagers do not understand their emotive strength even when they have been coping with their emotions for years.” Snape ponders it. “Use your distance. The way that you felt during that first year as you recovered—you recall what that is like?”

Potter nods. “Yes, sir. It’s really easy to slip back into that. I try not to, but if it’s going to be useful…”

“Save it for the Occlumency. You don’t want to lose the progress you’ve gained. You worked too hard for it,” Snape says, and frowns; he once again sounds like an overprotective guardian. “Use that distance as part of your protection. In the games of the mind, it is not a figurative element, but a literal one. If a Legilimens cannot find your mind to enter it, then you are most definitely succeeding at keeping them out.”

Snape doesn’t want to use his Legilimency against a boy who is still recovering from exhaustion, but after Potter reports nightmares despite his attempts at fending them off, Snape realizes he has no choice. Neither of them like the process, though Potter is grim in his understanding that he needs to be capable of basic self-defence.

When Potter is cleared by Pomfrey at the end of the week, Snape has to tell himself that it will be enough. It even seems to be working; Potter turns up to class looking bright-eyed and alert. His latest potion, the last assignment before final exams, veers from the traditional instructions. It is no longer textbook perfect, but instead approaches a true brewmaster’s ideals of potion perfection. Snape’s only regret is that he has no one to gloat at over this new development. He’s not even certain that he should point out the improvement in skill at all.

The Third Task is at dusk on the twenty-fourth of June, the last official day of the school year. As Snape feared, he couldn’t get the juniper to the right consistency in time. Lupin is so ill post-transformation that Snape wonders how the hell the man has survived this long. It also makes him wonder how werewolves like Greyback seem to thrive, while Lupin only seems to suffer.

It does not escape Snape that the former flourishes on the Dark magic of the curse, and the latter does his best to avoid it. The discrepancy doesn’t make Snape hate werewolves any less, but it’s a puzzle that he wants to bloody well solve. This summer will definitely be devoted to Wolfsbane potion. He is going to deconstruct that concoction and put it back together again. If it works for easing the intensity of the wolf, then perhaps there is other potential hiding within the formula.

“That’s the Task?” Black asks, staring at the giant green hedge maze once it’s revealed. “How the hell is anyone supposed to watch? They may as well have waited and told us all the results in the morning.”

Snape gives Black a brief nod of agreement before joining the rest of the faculty on the lowest tiers. The family of each competitor sits just behind them. Diggory has a set of parents; Delacour has only her sister; Potter has only a Dogfather.

There is no way to see into the maze. Snape has no way to ensure Potter’s safety, which makes a deep scowl settle onto his features. He can only hope that Potter’s stubbornness, intelligence, and ingenuity will serve to protect him. God knows that foolish good fortune served well enough in the past.

It takes an hour for results to manifest. Delacour is removed from the maze after a failure, followed not long afterwards by Krum, who doesn’t seem to be having a good reaction to a trap sprung in the maze. Snape begins to feel uneasy when neither Diggory nor Potter appears, and no winner is declared.

Snape is suddenly bent over at the waist, his hand wrapped so tightly around the Mark that he’s losing circulation in his left hand. It burns, God and Merlin, he’d forgotten how much the damned thing hurt!

Somewhere, something has gone terribly wrong.

“Severus?” Albus murmurs.

“He’s calling,” Snape answers in a soundless hiss. He has no idea what could have happened to allow Voldemort enough strength to call his followers to him. It’s a summons that Snape can’t answer; he has to keep up appearances on both sides. He’ll need to present himself to Voldemort later, and potentially pay for the delay in pain and blood.

Diggory appears in front of the maze in an abrupt sprawl of limbs as he collapses to the ground. He’s holding the Triwizard cup in one hand, and is clinging to Potter’s prone form with his other.

The ridiculous band starts to play, and there is cheering. If Snape weren’t seated so close to the place where the boys landed, he wouldn’t have been able to hear what Diggory is shouting.

“HELP!” Diggory rasps out. “It was him! It was him!

There is a stir among the faculty at Diggory’s words, but Snape knows at once what the Hufflepuff means. The smell of blood magic arrived with them. Not all blood magic is corrupt, but this stinks of the gutted, poisonous reptilian, and is as foul as a rotting corpse.

Potter isn’t moving. He doesn’t even appear to be breathing.

Snape learned certain aspects of flight a long, long time ago. He probably gives more credence to the rumors of his transformation into a bat by the swift manner in which he gets to Diggory and Potter. A black dog races up behind him, and then Sirius Black is standing there, panting and white-faced. He drops down next to Potter and places his hand on the boy’s shoulder.

Black’s expression twits into horrible pain, like someone has just gutted him. “No,” he croaks in a broken voice.

No, Snape thinks in blank shock. No, absolutely not.

“Mister Diggory. Cedric. What happened?” Albus asks. The rest of the faculty, as well as Diggory’s parents, are pouring down from the bleachers and crossing the field to join them. The band’s horrific racket is starting to become a harsher mishmash of off-key notes as the players recognize that things are not going according to their script.

“It was…him. He Who Must Not Be Named,” Diggory whispers, staring up at them with shock-wide eyes. “He—he was going to kill me, but Harry—” Diggory gulps. “Harry dove in front of a Killing Curse. He saved me.”

Minerva puts both hands over her face. “Oh. Oh, Merlin, please no.”

Snape feels his heart drop somewhere down near his feet. His throat is trying to close up with rage.

He can’t have failed Lily. He has not broken his promise. He will not fail her, not again!

Half of them jerk back in surprise when Potter sits bolt upright and sucks in a lungful of air. “FUCK!” Potter shouts. His eyes are just as wide as Diggory’s. “THAT HURT!”

After that, things happen very fast.

Snape doesn’t know what Potter and Diggory see, but they both act as one body to stop the threat. They lift a wand—Diggory’s wand—and shout “Incarcerous!” in the same breath.

He whirls around to discover that Alastor Moody is struggling against a wriggling, confining rope that is glowing pale green, a trait that Snape has never witnessed before. Moody’s wand is clenched in his hand, pointed at the ground due to his bindings.

“What in the world, young Misters—” Flitwick begins to sputter.

“He pointed his wand at us first!” Diggory retorts, his jaw hanging open. “Potter—”

“Where the hell is my wand?” Potter is asking in bafflement, realizing he and Diggory are sharing one.

Diggory’s father points at Moody. “Why the hell is that rope green?”

“Because he was about to cast a Killing Curse,” Dumbledore announces calmly, but quiet anger lurks in his eyes.

“Is—is that man’s face moving?” Mrs. Diggory asks faintly.

“Oh. Well, I do believe we’ve found your Polyjuice thief, Severus,” Albus says. Snape grimaces but says nothing, watching someone go through the mutilated throes of ending a long-term stint of Polyjuice.

“Barty Crouch, Junior.” Minerva identifies him before the potion fully ends, her voice full of distaste. “I do believe you’re supposed to be dead.”

“Oh, yes, died in prison.” Crouch grins at her, the bright shine of madness in his eyes. Bloody hell, no wonder he’d done such a good job of imitating Moody. It takes one mad bastard to pretend to be another. “That was poor, dear, sweet Mother. I’m sure Father is enjoying eternity with her right now.”

“What—he’s—ohshite,” Percival Weasley squeaks. “He didn’t answer the door yesterday, but there was a note, said he’d be back soon—”

“Oh, well, if you mean ‘back soon’ like you mean ‘dead in the woods,’ then yes,” Crouch tells them, his grin even wider than before.

Snape feels the intention, an instinct honed by terror upon terror. “Look out!” he shouts in warning, but harming them isn’t Crouch’s goal. Instead, the wandless magic disintegrates the rope that held him prisoner. Crouch doesn’t point his wand at them, but instead aims it at the sky.

“The Dark Lord has returned!” Crouch declares in a mad howl that carries across the school grounds. The Dark Mark blossoms into flaming green existence in the sky while Crouch runs off into the darkness. A lot of people follow with their wands drawn, but it’s a feint. There are easier ways to the school gates, and Crouch has had time to learn them all.

Snape takes in a quick breath, glances down at Potter once more to ensure that yes, the boy is still alive—somehow. Then he turns and runs in the opposite direction.

“Severus!” Albus calls after him.

“He’s mine!” Snape declares, and takes one of the twisting paths that shorten the distance. He doesn’t have to beat Crouch to the gates.

He already knows exactly where Crouch is going.

His Apparition is so fast it is almost painful. Crouch is still turning around in a victory circle, a wide smile on his crazed face, when Snape’s fist impacts his jaw and sends him down onto the dank, musty ground.

“You utter fool!” Snape yells, resting his boot over Crouch’s throat before leaning down, letting the tip of his wand dig into Crouch’s cheek. “You would go against the Dark Lord?”

“What? Don’t be—I set this entire thing up!” Crouch shouts back, rage finally replacing manic cheer. “It was my effort that led to this moment! And you! What were you doing, spy?

“My. Job.” Snape presses harder with his wand.

“Severus.” It is a pleasant whisper, but also a warning. “Severus, my friend. I do not think this is how comrades should greet each other.”

Voldemort sounds like he has just crawled out of a tomb. It is Snape’s duty to turn and bow, to recognize his Lord, but he is busy making an example of an idiot.

“Perhaps it is not, My Lord,” Snape responds, and presses down a little harder with his boot until Crouch starts to emit choking noises. “Who has claimed the right to kill The Boy Who Lived, Crouch?” Crouch glares at him, so Snape adds just a little more pressure, enough to damage the man’s windpipe but not crush it.

Snape softens his voice. “Who, Bartemius?”

When he lifts his boot, Crouch all but screams the answer. “THAT WORTHLESS WHELP DOES NOT DESERVE TO DIE BY OUR LORD’S HAND!”

“Oh, Bartemius.” Snape refuses to flinch at the sound of Voldemort’s voice, now so much closer than before. He smells like an old grave, like a dying snake. He smells like death. “Bartemius, perhaps Severus is correct.”

“My Lord!” Crouch shouts, giving Voldemort a look that is equal parts joy and fear. “I did all for you! Potter does not deserve—”

“Silence.” The tall figure is at Snape’s shoulder now. “You disobey me already, and we have only just begun, Bartemius. Do you recall what happens to those who disobey?”

“HE disobeyed!” Crouch glares up at Snape. “He did not answer your call!”

“And did you?” Voldemort sounds amused.

“No, I was—I had to remain—” Crouch scowls. “He was ALWAYS your favorite! ALWAYS! When it was I who ensured your resurrection! ME!”

“Actually, another did the true work,” Voldemort informs Crouch. His voice turns chill. “Severus.”

“My Lord,” Snape answers, and wonders that he can still play this role so well. Perhaps spycraft truly is his only real talent.

“While I understand your need to appear as Dumbledore’s kept pet, Bartemius has a point. You disobeyed my call.”

“I will accept whatever punishment My Lord sees fit to give.” Snape presses his wand-tip back into Crouch’s cheek when the latter tries to retreat.

Voldemort’s amusement deepens. “If you dispose of this…this problem for me, there will be no punishment.”

Snape does not have to manufacture a smile. “That will pose no difficulty at all.” He lifts his wand, and the Unforgivable that Crouch taught to Hogwarts students this term falls easily from his lips. “Avada Kedavra.

“Is it true?” Voldemort asks after the flash of green light fades away. Crouch gives one final twitch and lies still. “Did Crouch really try to kill my prize?”

“Twice over, My Lord,” Snape replies, finally turning to kneel at Voldemort’s feet. They are bare, the same color of a corpse left out to cool too long. Otherwise, all Snape can see of Voldemort is a weighty black wool robe.

“When?”

“Once by foolishness, an explosion that would have killed Potter and others, Slytherins included.” Snape ignores the feel of ice approaching his shoulder, and doesn’t move when a hand grips him there. Claw-tips dig into his skin but do not break it. “The second attempt was when Diggory and Potter returned to Hogwarts.”

“He does live, then. I thought so. I could feel it, Severus. I’m not sure I’m fond of the sensation. Stand, my friend. Let me see my most loyal of Death Eaters.”

Snape buries any remaining hint of emotion, strengthens the shields that hide all that is truly important to him, and rises to his feet.

Voldemort seems to have returned to this world lacking a nose. It would be amusing if it weren’t for the stark aura of evil Voldemort emanates. His eyes are the only part of him that retain humanity, but they are a weaker, watery color, not the deep jewel blue that female Death Eaters once whispered about in charmed glee. The pupils of those blue eyes have the barest hint of a reptilian slit.

Snape dips his head. “My Lord. Bone of father, blood of thine enemy, yes?”

Voldemort’s smile is lipless and thin. “I thought you would recognize the brilliance of old. Well done, my friend.” He pauses. “I’m surprised you did not think of it yourself.”

“It had occurred to me,” Snape returns in complete honesty, “I’d simply thought your father too decayed to be of any real use.”

Dammit. He had considered it, and had dismissed the danger for that very reason.

“A femur often outlasts all else.” Voldemort rests his hand on Snape’s shoulder again. “Come. We will join all the others who were wise enough to answer my summons.”

Peter Pettigrew is the first man to cross their path. Snape allows himself a moment of private seething to see the traitorous rat still alive. Peter isn’t even wearing the garb of a Death Eater—only old, tattered clothes. His left hand is no longer flesh, but a moving mechanism of solid silver. There would be the third aspect of the spell, the flesh of the servant. “It appears that Crouch is not the only one to avoid the Dementors.”

“It’s your fault I was there in the first place!” Pettigrew jabs his finger at Snape. The end of it still looks more like a rat’s pointed nail instead of a human fingernail.

Snape turns his head and gives Pettigrew a withering look until the idiot finally shrinks back, uttering faint, pathetic squeaks as he does so. “Rethink your words, Pettigrew. Perhaps you will recall your own failings.”

“Oh, don’t kill this one. He’s proven quite useful, Severus,” Voldemort instructs, his voice false in its gentleness. “Haven’t you, Peter?”

“Y-yes, m-My Lord.” Pettigrew retreats again after Snape subjects him to another flat, unimpressed stare.

“And that is one of the many reasons why you were always my favorite.” Voldemort lets out a hollow laugh that sounds like the whisper of dying snakes. “You also understand how to cause others to submit without needing to speak a word.”

“I learned it from the greatest of us, My Lord,” Snape offers, and tries not to be annoyed by Voldemort’s repeated laughter.

Snape performs the dance with the ease of old, unforgotten habit, committing names and their aging faces to memory. The Carrows are not a surprise, nor is Avery, Crabbe, Dolohov, Malfoy—but not Narcissa, which is an interesting lack—Goyle, Greely—dammit!—Mulciber Senior, Nott—bloody hell—Macnair, and Yaxley. There are new faces: Travers, Gibbon, Rowle, Selwyn, and Jugson, two of whom have children in Slytherin House, attending Hogwarts right now.

More faces than Snape expected to see, but not exactly a crowd. The numbers will come later, once Wizarding Britain can no longer deny Voldemort’s return.

For his sins, Snape gets to endure this all over again.

Bloody hell, shite, and fuck all of this for a damned lark.

 

*          *          *          *

 

It is well after midnight by the time Snape is able to extricate himself from the evening’s disaster. He is just about to Apparate when Voldemort asks him a question, still caressing his first war trophy—one he hadn’t blasted earned. “How did Potter survive?”

“I don’t know, My Lord.”

“Hmm.” Voldemort lights Potter’s stolen wand with a murmured word and sights down the end of it. “What is so special about you, I wonder?” Voldemort muses before he glances at Snape. “Does Dumbledore know?”

“If he does, I will find out,” Snape promises. “Good evening, My Lord.”

“Good evening, Severus.”

Snape arrives and puts one hand on the castle gates, grounding himself within Hogwarts’ clean magic. She always welcomes him home. Sometimes he thinks this barmy old castle understands him more than anyone else in the world. Not that many have tried.

Behind the first tree he comes to, Snape sicks up what had been that evening’s dinner. He buries it politely so that none of Rubeus’s questionable pets try to stick their noses in it, straightens his robes, performs a basic cleaning spell, and goes inside.

The castle’s Entrance Hall is quiet, but there is a palpable air of wakeful watchfulness. Curfew might have been evoked and obeyed, but it didn’t make the dunderheads actually sleep.

The gargoyle doesn’t even ask him for the password when Snape arrives at the stairwell. Snape goes up to the Headmaster’s office and finds the Diggory family, Potter, Black, Lupin, Minerva, Dumbledore, and the Minister for Magic, whose nightcap is peeking out from beneath his large bowler hat.

“Severus,” Dumbledore greets him, stilling whatever was about to come out of the red-cheeked Minister’s ridiculous mouth. “How are you?”

“Terrible,” Snape replies flatly, and goes straight to Cornelius Fudge. “Please tell me exactly how it is that Peter Pettigrew is still alive.”

Fudge starts to bluster at once. “Now, you cannot go merely on the word of these two young boys! They’ve had quite a shock, Professor Snape!”

Snape stares at Fudge until sweat begins to form on the shorter man’s forehead. “I was not here when Misters Potter and Diggory apparently informed you all of Pettigrew’s continued existence. I had to stare at that imbecile with my own eyes to learn he still lived. Now: how?”

Fudge takes off his hat to scratch his head and flushes an even duller shade of red when he encounters his nightcap. He immediately puts his hat back on. “I have no idea, but the claim that Pettigrew is alive is just as ludicrous as Mister Diggory’s insistence that He Who Must Not Be Named has returned—”

“He. Has.” Snape glares at Fudge. “You seem very inclined to disbelieve the testimony of two adults, Minister. Have you decided to side with the Dark Lord this early in the game?”

“What—I—how dare you!” Fudge sputters. “When you are the one with the history of—”

“Minister. Professor Snape. I think that tempers run too hot at the moment,” Albus interjects quietly. “Perhaps in the morning we will all be able to discuss this in a civilized manner.”

“Civilized. Yes. That seems wisest. I shall be returning home, Albus,” Fudge declares. It is only moments from Floo Powder to departure, and it feels like Fudge takes all of the stupidity in the room with him when he goes.

“He forgot to ask about Crouch, Junior,” Black observes.

“You’d think he’d be more concerned with the genuinely confirmed mad Death Eater,” Lupin adds, both of his eyebrows riding high on his face in a show of mock-innocence.

“Especially given that the man’s father was found dead after the search parties went out.” Diggory’s father stands up and helps his wife to her feet. Given the glassy state of her eyes, she’s been given more than one dose of Calming Draught. “I’m going to take my wife home, Headmaster. Cedric, you’re certain you won’t come with us?”

Diggory shakes his head. “No, Da. I’ll see you in London in a couple of days, all right?”

“Until then,” Diggory senior replies. The couple is gone in another green flash of flames.

“It is exactly as Mister Diggory told us, then?” Albus asks, giving Snape a sober look.

“Exactly,” Snape confirms.

“And Bartemius Crouch, Junior?”

Snape shakes his head. “The Dark Lord is unforgiving of those who disobey him. Congratulations,” he adds, glancing at Potter. “Voldemort still wants the honor of killing you himself.”

Potter blinks a few times. Snape realizes that Potter’s glasses are still missing, and wonders if they’re crushed into the ground in the cemetery, or in some Death Eater’s pocket as yet another early war trophy. “Then he’s stupid, considering how badly he botched the job the first time.”

“Harry, please do not directly challenge the resurrected madman on his very first day in his new body,” Black says. He’s trying for humor, but the expression on his face is too distressed for it to really succeed.

“I suggest, Harry, that bedtime is in order. We’ll have more to discuss in the morning,” Albus instructs, giving Potter a gentle, grandfatherly nudge in the direction of the office door.

Potter’s eyes narrow, but then he smiles. “Sure. Sleep sounds wonderful. Have fun talking this to death.”

“That was a terrible pun. I should take points,” Lupin muses.

“Apparently, I died again tonight. I think that should be punishment enough,” Potter retorts, a flare of the ratel’s temper appearing in his eyes before he turns and leaves the office. He has to feel his way along the wall and run his hands down the door to grasp the doorknob, but then he’s out, the door closing behind him.

Snape refuses to allow his heart to plummet again. He knew it had happened, but wasn’t yet ready for the reminder. “What about Moody? Is he dead?”

“Fortunately, no. We recovered Alastor from a spelled trunk in the rooms set aside for him. I asked Poppy to take him to St. Mungo’s,” Dumbledore says, looking troubled. “A year under the influence of the Draught of Living Death while imprisoned in a charmed trunk was not kind to his health, and he will soon be needed.”

“Are we reconvening, then?”

“Not yet.” Albus looks down at Diggory. “Cedric, your parents were both in the old Order of the Phoenix during the first war against Voldemort.” To his credit, the young man doesn’t flinch at hearing Voldemort’s name. “They will not thank me for asking you, but you’re a legal adult who is graduating from this school. Do you wish to participate in what will, for now, be quiet resistance against whatever Voldemort is planning?”

“Oath of secrecy, right?” Diggory runs his hands through his hair. “After what I witnessed tonight? Headmaster, I’m terrified, but I’d be stupid not to try and stop it. I’m in.”

That part doesn’t take very long, nor does the recitation of names that Snape gives them of the Death Eaters who responded to Voldemort’s call. Diggory’s face falls after the first three names match students in Hogwarts, and by the end of the list, he looks shocked and grim.

“New followers already? He must have been using Peter to collect converts as well as to prepare for the Blood-and-Bone ritual,” Albus muses.

Snape recalls spying a bandage on Potter’s left hand. “Was Potter’s injury cursed?”

“No. I believe it was just a knife, though Cedric specified that it was silver,” Albus answers, and Diggory nods. “Did Voldemort know that Harry survived?”

“He did. He…” Snape hesitates, but he has no idea why he’s not willing to share the information. When no sufficient reason arises, he speaks the words. “Voldemort claimed to have felt it.”

“Did he?” Albus’s expression holds the briefest flicker of what Snape uncomfortably has to label as triumph. Then it’s gone, and the Headmaster’s pensive frown remains.

Snape escapes as soon as possible. He can tell that Black is still torn on whether or not to truly trust him, but he doesn’t care. It isn’t Snape’s job to make Black like him, it’s his job to keep Black from killing him until Snape can assist in making Voldemort very, very dead.

There is an impatient ratel waiting for him outside his office, regarding him with a beady-eyed stare that reflects green in the torchlight. Snape looks further down the corridor, where the Baron is watching in imposing silence. “Guarding children from other Houses, are we?”

“It was my task to watch all long before the Houses became so divided,” the Baron intones. “I watch and guard, especially when the child in question is so important to the future of our world.”

Potter appears in his office the moment the door is closed behind them. “Bloody hell, I can’t see a blasted thing,” Potter says at once, and uses his hands to feel his way over to a chair before collapsing down on it. “At least a ratel has decent eyesight. Oh, and if the Bloody Baron is trying to be inspirational, he is doing a poor job of it.”

“The Baron has a rather grim worldview, for very good reasons,” Snape replies. He wanted to curl up with the rest of his Firewhiskey, just enough left in the bottle to put some true warmth back in his limbs, but instead he has Potter.

He has a boy who was fool enough to—“You jumped in front of a Killing Curse!” Snape bursts out in sudden rage.

Potter looks in Snape’s direction, trying to focus on his face. “When Peter cast the Killing Curse with the intent of murdering Cedric…well, if it didn’t work the first time, there was no guarantee it would work a second time, either.”

“And it also might have!” Snape yells back, realizing that fear is thudding in his breast along with his heartbeat.

Potter looks distressed. “Professor, I—nobody’s supposed to die because of me.”

Snape pinches the bridge of his nose, willing himself to calm. “Mister Potter, if anyone dies in the war that is coming, it will not be because of you. It will be because of the Dark Lord, and the decisions he and his followers make. And before you make the argument, self-defence is not the same thing.”

“I wasn’t going to argue with that one. Incarcerous, remember?” Potter asks, a tired smile crossing his face.

Snape finally realizes what’s bothering him—what’s been bothering him for almost a year now. He tried to explain it to Lupin after the Unbreakable Vow, but couldn’t articulate it well enough to satisfy either of them.

Potter has no reason to think otherwise about the Killing Curse…because no one has told him. No one has told him anything, not really. He’s been given just enough information to understand Voldemort is a danger, and nothing more.

Snape went along with that plan, in full agreement with Albus’s reasoning. Potter is a child; a child should be allowed to have a childhood, especially when a war looms on the horizon.

Snape has overlooked a critical detail: Potter hasn’t been a child since he placed his hands upon Quirrell and burnt the betraying bastard to ash. Potter hasn’t been a child since Lockhart’s spell stole the worst parts of his life from him. Potter hasn’t been a child since, perhaps, he recalled his mother’s death.

Potter is not yet fifteen, but he is no child.

“Harry,” Snape says.

Potter gives him an odd look. “Sir?”

“I need you to fetch Remus Lupin, and no one must see you do it. Bring him down here with you. There is…there are things you need to know.”

Potter arrives with Lupin almost a full hour later. The kitchen elves pop a tea tray into existence the moment the office door closes. Snape gets up from his chair long enough to activate the full extent of the wards that protect his office and the adjoining classroom, then sits down again.

“Sorry it took so long. I had to convince Sirius to go for a run. He’s so agitated he won’t sleep or sit still,” Potter explains. “Remus is having the opposite problem.”

Snape glances at the werewolf. He wants to think that the man looks dead on his feet, but as of tonight, the joke is no longer funny. “Sit down. The tea is the strongest blend the house-elves know how to find.”

Lupin treats him to an odd look that is almost exactly like the one Potter used earlier. Lupin must be who he learned it from. “I hope this doesn’t take long. I managed to drag myself up to the Headmaster’s office, but even tea is only going to help so much before I simply fall over, Severus.”

“I needed a witness. A minor can only be involved in an Unbreakable Vow if at least one legal guardian is there to oversee it.”

Lupin almost spits out his tea. “You want to do what?

“I need to ask your godson to accept an Unbreakable Vow,” Snape reiterates, annoyed.

“The lunacy of that idea aside, I’m not a recognized guardian—”

“Oh, shut up,” Snape interrupts. He pours tea and mixes it to Potter’s preferences before making sure to carefully place the cup directly into the boy’s hands. Potter grasps it and nods his thanks. Snape again wants to kick a Dursley; his father’s eyesight was never this terrible.

“Remus Lupin, I don’t give a damn what the Wizengamot thinks. You were named as one of Mister Potter’s godparents and legal guardians. The Wizengamot might not consider it a binding agreement, despite the documents the words were penned on, but Lily and James Potter did.”

“Fine.” Lupin sits the teacup down hard enough that the china saucer cracks. “Why does Harry need to accept an Unbreakable Vow?”

“Because Albus Dumbledore is wrong,” Snape answers quietly. “Mister Potter figured it out even before I did. Didn’t you?”

Potter nods when he realizes that both of them are looking at him. “I practice Occluding almost all the time,” he says. Snape is glad he already informed Lupin of those lessons, else that would be yet another bombshell interrupting the proceedings. “It…I don’t think he’s doing it on purpose. I really don’t. But when I Occlude, I step back emotionally. Like the first year,” he tells Lupin, who seems disturbed by the idea. “Without emotion in the way, it’s…Dumbledore says a lot while not actually telling me anything.”

“What Albus did not tell Potter could literally have gotten him killed today. Yesterday,” Snape amends, remembering that it’s now early morning. “That cannot happen again. Potter needs to know every fact, even the parts we’d prefer to leave out. Ignorance has not once protected him, Lupin. Knowledge may well become the only weapon Potter has against Voldemort.”

Lupin looks like he would desperately prefer to disagree. “When did you realize this, Severus?”

“Tonight. When Albus had confirmation that Mister Potter and Voldemort are linked, he was pleased. It means he has a plan in mind already due to a pre-existing theory.” Snape frowns at the tea he made, realizing he doesn’t want it at all. He drinks it anyway, doubting he’ll have the opportunity to sleep before breakfast. “If Albus is wrong about how to proceed with Mister Potter’s preparation for dealing with Voldemort, then the plan he’s relying on might also be doomed to failure.”

“You’re right.” Lupin sighs and leans back in his chair, rubbing his forehead with his free hand. “I knew it when I discovered how Harry dealt with Quirrell. I knew it when I found out how hard Albus fought against Sirius becoming Harry’s legal guardian, which was his right as Harry’s godparent. Albus didn’t relent until he was reminded that the Dursleys were not capable of caring for a spell-damaged child.”

“All right, this part I don’t understand,” Potter complains.

“Albus claimed that the sacrificial magic that your mother performed, that protective spell, only functioned if you spent time with one of your mother’s relatives,” Lupin says.

Snape wants to smash a stupid teacup, but it wouldn’t help. “Albus never told me that he’d given you to Petunia Dursley, of all people, to act as your guardian. He claimed that it was, as Lupin says, an act of protection. If I’d ever discovered this, it was a situation that I would have rectified at once, even if I had to volunteer to raise you myself—and Potter, I hate small children. As it was, by the time I did find out, the damage was long done.”

“I didn’t know, either,” Lupin says quietly. “I do recall that Petunia was not at Lily’s wedding. I don’t understand the entirety of Snape’s hatred of Lily’s sister, but Sirius told me about his only visit to Little Whinging. I think the mildest term he used was ‘unpleasant.”’

“Petunia hated Lily,” Snape says bluntly. “If any of you four idiots had looked beyond your own noses, you’d have realized that during our second year of school. When Lily received a Hogwarts letter and Petunia never did, she decided that the best course of action was to hate Lily, Hogwarts, and anything associated with magic.”

“How would you know all of this?” Lupin asks.

Snape gives him a baleful look. “Some days I wonder if you’re even half as intelligent as you claim to be.”

“They were friends, Remus,” Potter says, before Lupin’s puzzled look can grow to ridiculous proportions. “Until the end of their fifth year, and you know why.”

Lupin grimaces. “Oh. Oh, no. Severus, you were right to insult me, and…God, Severus. Do you hate me because I’m a werewolf, or because I stood by and let them do that to you?”

“It depends upon the phase of the moon,” Snape replies. “And yes, I mean that literally.”

Lupin nods in regret. “Then I’m very sorry. I can’t remember if I ever said it before.”

Snape almost drops his damned teacup in surprise.

Lupin doesn’t notice. “Well, then. First, an Unbreakable Vow, and instead of sleep, we will all trade terrible secrets. Who shall it be with, Severus?”

Long years of spying serve him well; Snape recovers without letting on that he’d been startled in the first place. “I’d insist that it be with you, but the legal guardian of the minor has to be the witness, so no one can accuse the guardian of trying to take advantage of their ward.”

“Right.” Lupin turns to Potter. “You’re all right with this, Harry?”

“I think it would be a mistake not to do this,” Potter answers. “I’ll need to borrow your wand, Remus.” Then he holds out his bandaged hand for Snape to grasp.

 

*          *          *          *

 

“I’m sure, by now, that you’ve all heard the rumors of Voldemort’s return,” Albus says at the conclusion of breakfast. He waits for the din of young voices to die down.

“Those rumors are true.”

Snape refuses to grant the student body any expression that’s not stoic, unimpressed silence. It isn’t as if Crouch didn’t shout the very same thing last night.

Albus holds up his hands to request silence. “I don’t know what the days ahead will bring. Given how this morning’s discussion with the Ministry went, I believe Minister Fudge will correctly declare Bartemius Crouch, Junior to have been insane, but I’m almost certain they’re going to publicly declare that Mister Diggory is incorrect. They will deny the return of He Who Must Not Be Named.

“All I ask of anyone here is that you listen and observe. Draw your own conclusions, though time will eventually bring about undeniable proof. If you are concerned for your safety, this school will be a haven, just as it was for others during the last, terrible war. No matter your parentage, family, or House, you will shelter safely at Hogwarts,” Albus says, and gives the Slytherin table a brief, pointed look.

Slytherin’s Head Boy, Head Girl, and the Prefects all glance at Snape without turning their heads. Snape nods by looking down at the table and back up again: yes, the Headmaster’s words are true. He knows they’ll pass the word along to the rest of the Slytherins. Some might take shelter at Hogwarts because their parents side with Voldemort, but others may ask for shelter because their parents do not.

“Despite Voldemort’s return, last night could have brought about even worse outcomes. I’m glad to be able to say it did not happen that way,” Albus continues. “Despite the plot of Bartemius Crouch, Junior, the Triwizard Tournament has concluded with two champions to stand before you. They agreed to take the cup together for Hogwarts, and for all of you. Mister Potter, Mister Diggory: please stand.”

Potter and Diggory share identical looks of unhappiness before pushing back their chairs and standing up. “Hogwarts, congratulate your champions!” Albus shouts.

The resulting applause makes Snape’s ears hurt, but at least it seems to be meant for Diggory and Potter in equal measure. Snape glances at Potter in time to see him mouth, “You’re lucky you’re graduating,” at Diggory, which causes the other to grin in apparent relief.

Theodore Nott stands up from the Slytherin table as the applause begins to taper off. “Is it also true that Potter threw himself in front of a Killing Curse?”

Potter winces and looks abashed, but doesn’t avoid the question. “Uh—yeah.”

“How the hell does that work?” Fred Weasley asks.

“Why aren’t you dead?” George Weasley adds, staring up at Potter in near-worship.

“I don’t know, and I’m not going to be throwing myself in front of any unnecessary Killing Curses to find out,” Potter replies, which earns him a smattering of uneasy laughter. “But I happen to like Cedric alive, and so do most of you, and…well, not even Voldemort could get it right. Why should someone like Pettigrew have been capable?”

That sets his Slytherins to muttering amongst themselves. The Gryffindors seem proud, worried, or somehow manage to have both expressions at once. The Hufflepuffs are thrilled and will probably try to adopt Potter for saving one of their own; the Ravenclaws look to be on the verge of launching into a months-long debate on how immunity to a Killing Curse could even be possible.

Snape knows how it’s possible. It’s the one thing he and Lupin both chose not to tell Potter.

Chapter Text

It’s only two days after the students leave for the summer that Snape gets a letter from an owl at breakfast. He recognizes Hedwig and puts on the proper sort of glare one should have for receiving a message from Potter.

He tears open the envelope with far too much vigor, almost ripping the single-page message it contains. It takes only a whispered sentence to reveal the letters on the page, which to all others would remain blank. It’s a brilliant bit of magic that Lupin introduced him to. Snape suspects it’s also the basis for the stupid map that Lupin gave to Potter midway through his third year, but at least Potter doesn’t use it for mayhem. He just uses it to avoid people and visit Snape’s office completely unnoticed.

Not long ago, Snape would have declared that to be an exceptional act of delinquency from Potter. Now he just considers it to be of great convenience in regards to the continued necessity of being politic.

 

Professor Snape,

Why is Borage’s 6th-year Advanced Potion-Making textbook in my trunk?

Yours,

Harry Potter

P.S. YES, next time I’ll find a different owl, but Hedwig needed a good flight. Set the note on fire and be delighted about it, all right?

 

Snape doesn’t have to fake the smile on his face. The hard part is making sure it has the right sort of dark edge to it as he crumples up letter and envelope, tossing both into the air before incinerating them with a wandless spell.

“Really, was that necessary, Severus?” Minerva asks in complete disapproval.

Snape glances in her direction. “Necessary, and enjoyable.”

“What was that about, anyway?” Flitwick wishes to know.

“I do believe it was a complaint about what awaits a fifth-year potions student if they wish to attain any sort of decent letter on their O.W.L.s.”

Minerva rolls her eyes. “The content of an O.W.L. is not up to you, Severus.”

“It bloody well should be,” Snape mutters, and leaves the table.

“Order me to shelter Remus Lupin in Cokeworth for the summer,” Snape tells Albus later that morning.

Albus lowers his spectacles to peer at Snape. “That’s quite an interesting request, Severus.”

“If there is a war on our doorstep, placing two members of the Order at the same residence is foolish, especially if one of Voldemort’s followers figure out how to locate Black’s dreary house. We also do not need a potential spy among the werewolves to be homeless, destitute, and ill. If anyone finds out about Lupin’s new location and chooses to inform Voldemort, then I need to be able to tell the Dark Lord the absolute truth: you made me do it. How could I refuse Albus Dumbledore without losing my good standing in his eyes?”

“I see.” Albus taps his quill tip against his mouth. At least he hadn’t yet dipped it in ink. “You raise a valid point. Come back this afternoon and I will inform you, so that you can keep the two memories separate.”

Snape inclines his head. “Headmaster,” he says formally, and departs.

He goes into his office to find parchment, quill, ink, and the bespelled envelopes that owl talons can’t pierce. He’d wondered if Potter unpacked his school trunk the moment he returned home, or if he had the lackluster teenage habit of putting it off as long as possible. Merlin knew that Snape himself had put the task off at least for a few days upon getting home, though a great deal of that involved hiding its contents from his father.

 

Mister Potter,

You have received not just any 6th-year textbook, a fact I’m certain you’re now aware of. The limits you place upon yourself are sensible; thus, your curiosity has served you well. After the final potions you composed this year, I decided you were ready for the next stage.

Practice anything you like from the book, though your Dogfather might have to purchase some of the ingredients for you due to your age. Then again, if you have concerns about Black being too curious as to why you have an advanced textbook, ask Lupin to procure them, instead. Make certain you give him the money for every purchase, no matter how much the idiot protests.

Sincerely Yours,

The Half-blood Prince

 

*          *          *          *

 

The next letter he receives a week later is dropped from the talons of a barn owl typically used by the standard Wizarding Post. Snape regards the blank envelope before tucking it into his robe to read after breakfast.

After checking it for poison, traps, and various dangers, he slices it open with a warded blade. To his relief, it’s nothing more than a brief missive from Potter, revealed when he whispers the charm over the blank page. He even likes the words: “I solemnly swear that I want Tom Marvolo Riddle to become exceptionally dead.”

 

Dear Professor,

How did you figure out even half of the new methods in this book without making something explode?

Yours,

Harry

 

Snape bites back a snort of amused laughter before he writes a swift response.

 

Mister Potter,

They’re called shields, you idiot.

Regards,

Professor Snape

 

He has a reply from Potter by evening, but the letter is more complex than he expected.

 

Dear Professor,

Shields. Yessir. I am a dunderhead, sir.

I’m also writing because I have, apparently, caused Garrick Ollivander of Ollivander’s Wands to have a minor fit of despair. Or maybe professional unhappiness? I don’t know. All I know is that I needed a wand to replace what that the noseless arsehole stole—

 

Snape has to stop reading and concentrate on maintaining a neutral expression. That is not a term that he ever needs to be considering when in Voldemort’s presence.

 

All I know is that I needed a wand to replace what that the noseless arsehole stole, but none of the wands in the front of the shop liked me at all. Ollivander told me that it took a pile of wands last time, but this didn’t seem like the same thing. Sirius said the man looked like he wanted to tear out his hair.

Eventually, Ollivander gave up and told us he’s been toying with blending woods and experimenting with new core combinations in his spare time. He just never intended to sell any of the results, not when they’re all so new and untested. Oh, and “unconventional” is the word Ollivander used. He was more than a little upset when one of those new and unsellable combinations worked for me.

I’m now the proud owner of a thirteen inch ebony wand with natural coloring instead of a varnish coating. The wood is grey and pale gold lines from handle to tip. It’s also been wrapped in carved silver lime wood. The silver lime is one solid piece, but it’s definitely individual glyphs. Ollivander admits even he doesn’t know what they mean. When he’s wand-making, he does a lot of his work in a magical trance state. (Sounds inconvenient.)

The core is a single thestral tail hair. The end of it at the wand’s base is wrapped around a cutting from a basilisk horn. Apparently, you gave him a few at his request after you went chopping at the dead basilisk in the Chamber and started selling the excess. Thanks, I guess? I think? It’s a neat wand, but none of us have any idea what it’s capable of beyond “likes Harry Potter.”

After dinner, I will probably be spending the night in this library trying to figure out what I’m going to be pointing at people. I’d like to know that before it becomes a necessity.

Yours,

Harry Potter

 

Snape is glad he is in his quarters, officially retired for the evening. It means he can turn the air blue without being observed. Giving Potter, of all beings, an experimental wand! Ollivander has gone bloody senile.

He puts his robe and boots back on and tromps his way to the school library, already aware of the fact that his own quarters do not have the right books to answer the questions he now has. “Madam Pince,” he greets the librarian.

“Professor Snape,” Irma Pince replies, eying him up and down. “Are we off on one of your old late night adventures in research?”

“Perhaps,” Snape admits. Memories are filtering in of the many times Madam Pince had to order him out of the library as a student, but also of the many times when she stayed to help him find the information he was seeking. It’s easy to slip into the role of hated teacher, and that has always affected his interpersonal relationships with the school faculty…with only two exceptions. Irma Pince and Poppy Pomfrey both refuse to let his role as a spy, or his temper, to color their memories of who Snape was, and who he has to be now.

“Actually, that would speed my search,” Snape says. “I need books on wand wood—lore, superstition, fact, or all of the above. Then I need the same on wand cores, common and uncommon both.”

Irma raises an eyebrow. “That is quite a departure from your usual fare, Severus.”

Snape doesn’t have to manufacture a distasteful grimace. “Ollivander has been experimenting, and a student will be returning to Hogwarts in September with one of his new creations. It is not to any standard we have experience with.”

“Blast the man, is he insane?” Irma wonders aloud, tutting and shaking her head. “I’d expect him to have the sense to leave that sort of experimentation to an adult!”

“It seems to have been a last-ditch effort to match a student with a wand,” Snape informs her.

Irma nods, using one finger to push her narrow-rimmed glasses back up her nose. “You will, of course, inform the entire faculty as to your findings? That is not the sort of magic that any of us should be ill-prepared for.”

Snape watches her walk away, feeling his heart beat too hard for a moment before he regains his self-control, regulating its rhythm back to unaffected calm. Great bloody fuck; he hadn’t yet thought of that in his panic over experimental damned wands. He refuses to hand that advantage over to Voldemort—or to anyone else.

He wonders if Potter has been politic enough to refrain from telling the entirety of London. It’s all but a certainty that he informed Granger, but Granger has indeed retained her habit of keeping her opinions of certain events tied only to discussions with Potter and Weasley. Black and Lupin will know. Lupin is probably having impossible little werewolf kittens.

Irma returns after about fifteen minutes of waiting, in which Snape does nothing more than perform an upright, waking meditation while he considers plans and options. He never wastes his spare time with useless fidgeting.

“Here you are, Severus,” she says, placing three surprisingly thin volumes into his hands. “There isn’t much, no. Wandmakers tend to be a secretive lot.”

“I can see that.” Snape ignores the burn of regret in the back of his throat. “You’ve never taken vows to the Order of the Phoenix, have you?”

“I haven’t, no,” Irma replies, frowning at him. “It’s always been my belief that I need to be neutral. All our children need access to knowledge, even if they sometimes make foolish choices.”

“Then I apologize most profusely,” Snape says in utter sincerity. The wand is in his hand and the mild Obliviate spell is performed before Madam Pince has the chance to realize her danger.

The next day, he writes to Potter before breakfast. He hasn’t slept, but his calendar is, thankfully, empty for the rest of the day but for one trip into London.

 

Mister Potter,

You have in your possession a wand that may provide a distinct advantage, or a distinct disadvantage. No matter which it comes to be, you must not allow your wand’s true properties to become public knowledge. If Miss Granger and Mister Weasley know, then yes, Lupin or Black will have to perform an act of minor Obliviation upon the pair. Neither of your companions have an Unbreakable Vow. With Death Eaters active once more, the torture of others for desired information is indeed a possibility, and they are young and untrained in resisting such things. Think of it as a necessity for their safety, which is true.

Lupin will possibly have to do the same to Black; he will be able to judge the situation. I will make certain Ollivander knows to keep his silence. The ancient wand-making family of London has long been known for their discretion, and I doubt Ollivander wishes everyone to know of his experiments as of yet.

Bollocks, Potter, do you realize what you’re carrying about?

The primary element of your wand, ebony, is a wood excellent for combative magic and transfiguration. Ebony has often been the wand of choice for the stubborn and courageous.

I cannot imagine where you possibly procured either affinity.

I wish to study the runes on your wand—if Black reads this, tell him to stop being puerile. In the meantime, silver lime is an excellent wood for a practicing Legilimens or Occlumens. I doubt Ollivander could have invented a better combination for your position if he’d bloody tried.

Thestral hair is a rare wand core in these past centuries. It fell out of favor when rumors arose that the legendary Elder Wand of the Deathly Hallows had a thestral hair core. It is regarded as an unstable element, but it is quite the opposite; when wielded by those who understand the nature of death and mortality, it is near-unrivaled strength.

I have no idea what the damned basilisk horn will do. No one in recorded Wizarding history has used such an item as a wand core except Salazar Slytherin himself, and he was a useless bastard when it came to recording his own accomplishments.

Bloody hell, just tell anyone who asks that your wand is made from ivy vine, which will give you the excuse of having a wrapped wand. Perhaps mention a unicorn hair as its core. Being underestimated is often exceptionally useful.

Sincerely Concerned,

Professor Snape

 

He looks over the letter, scowling. It’s perhaps more personal than it should be, but he’s too irritated to write another draft, especially when swift action is necessary.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Aside from this strange new correspondence with Potter, Snape’s summer is a busy one. He doesn’t need to do much to arrange next year’s coursework aside from restocking on ingredients and ordering a few replacement textbooks for those ruined during brewing accidents. Voldemort is starting to amass a power base, though, and suddenly his role as a spy is eating up his life. There are now days when Snape can’t decide who he hates more—Voldemort, Dumbledore, or himself.

When he’s not reporting to both sides in careful, guarded sentences, Snape tinkers with the Wolfsbane potion. The more he studies it, from stage to stage, the more he’s certain that it could easily have been improved upon.

Who cares about werewolves, though? Snape thinks idly. To the crafter of this potion, a docile wolf would have been their only concern.

“Shoddy, shoddy work,” Snape murmurs under his breath, Vanishing the latest bubbling liquid from his cauldron. It doesn’t matter what the original goal of the potion had been. This is an idea that was not taken to its fullest potential, and the Potions Master who left the task unfinished doesn’t deserve his bloody title.

He goes to see Lupin in the middle of July. At least Snape hasn’t needed Spinner’s End for meeting with the unsavory, and Lupin has been able to conduct his own spying tasks in relative safety.

“Do you know of any werewolves you dislike that would also trust you enough to accept a drink from you the day of the full moon?” Snape asks.

Lupin looks up from the mug of cheap Muggle-crafted coffee he’s sipping on. “Severus, I am not poisoning werewolves just for you to test a new potion. Besides, dead werewolves in my wake would most certainly not convince any of them that the Order is benevolent towards our kind.”

Snape crosses his arms and stalks his way across the parlor, resting his chin on his hand. “It isn’t right,” he finally says.

“What?”

“The potion. If it were, I wouldn’t be asking for test subjects. I’d bring you a sample and order you to drink it,” Snape clarifies.

Lupin is unimpressed. “I’m also not going to poison myself just for you to test a potion.”

Snape glares at him. “It wouldn’t be poisonous, idiot. If the potion is right, I’ll know.”

“How?” Lupin asks.

Snape looks away, discomfited. “I’ve always known when I’m right.”

“What’s the point to all this? Why go to this much trouble, Severus?”

That is easier to answer. “Lupin, we aren’t going to have the luxury of having a back-up Dark Arts teacher in the fall. Moody is in—forgive the pun—no mood to take on the job, especially after living in a damned trunk for most of the school year. The students need someone who is capable of teaching them what they need to know in the years to come, and they need you as often as possible.”

“Severus, you know as much, or more, about the Dark Arts than I do. If I need a substitute for the full moon, we already have one,” Lupin points out.

Snape grinds his teeth together. “No, we don’t. I won’t actually have time.”

“I see.” Lupin sips his terrible coffee. “You think it will be that bad?”

“At first?” Snape nods. “Tired spies slip and make mistakes. If Voldemort decides to test the strength of my loyalty, that’s the first method he’ll use.”

“Of course.” Lupin sets the mug down on the scarred wooden tabletop next to his chair. “Crouch subjected Harry to the Imperius curse last year.”

Snape tries not to clench his fists. “If it weren’t for the results, I’d have been locked up for punching an Auror.”

“You and me both,” Lupin says dryly. “But Harry threw off the curse, Severus. I’m wondering if it’s possible to teach others how to do the same.”

“Teaching the dunderheads Occlumency is your best shot of that. Afterwards, it’s about strength of will.”

Lupin grimaces. “Oh, that will go over well with the school governors. I’d have to get permission from Albus. Then he can deal with the fallout instead of me.”

“The current Board would accept it better if I was teaching those lessons.” Snape feels like banging his head against the nearest wall. “I need to look into how many Restorative Draughts one can ingest without accidentally dying.”

“Three hundred and five,” Lupin says at once. When Snape turns to look at him, Lupin is giving him a mock-innocent stare. “If you’re a werewolf, anyway.”

“If you bite me, I’m stabbing you in the heart with a sterling silver ice pick.”

Lupin laughs. “I have to be in wolf form for my bite to be any danger at all.”

“Oh, please do go fuck off,” Snape grumbles, and slams his way out of the house.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Dear Professor,

After reading through your book and its interesting notes, I’m experimenting this summer to pass the time, and in hopes of making better than an E on my Potions O.W.L. at the end of the school year. Oh, and I’m almost certain that if you really were the mastermind behind the Potions O.W.L., most of the student body would wet themselves in sheer academic terror.

Well. Not Hermione.

If I were to attempt to create a Memory Projection Potion, but swapped out the associated marigold for a mourning dove’s feather, what could I do to keep the entire mixture from exploding before it has a chance to finish brewing?

Yours,

Harry Potter

 

Snape considers the matter for a few hours and then crafts a response in the privacy of his own quarters. It hasn’t escaped him that it’s Potter’s birthday, but he is out of practice at gift-giving. What does one give to a fifteen-year-old boy who has literally been the savior of the wizarding world, and might still be trapped in the role?

He knows what he would have wanted.

Information.

Acknowledgement.

 

Harry,

When doing experiments of any questionably explosive nature, one’s cauldron is the first element you must look to for stability. A student’s typical pewter cauldron is most often used because of its resistance to corrosion, though it is susceptible to damage from acidic or alkaline fluids. It is an excellent catalyst for most basic brews, accelerating chemical reactions between ingredients for more effective blending without requiring the use of specific tools. The copper mixed into the tin that make up pewter increases its ability to distribute heat evenly. Pewter is the least likely element to impart no extra qualities to a potion, and the brews performed by young students are chosen because they do not react to pewter in an explosive manner. (Neville Longbottom is, as in all things, the dreaded exception to this accepted rule.)

In short, pewter cauldrons do their work quickly, and you need a material that will slow that reaction time down significantly.

A gold cauldron, in the magical sense, is used for potions when you wish to impart the qualities of the day—brightness, light, cheer, joy, infectious emotive qualities, luck (such as Felix Felicis) and in some instances, masculinity. In terms of the physical, gold is the least reactive of all elements and resistant to most acids (no cyanide, please). However, it is also easy to change the shape of gold, and certain potions will utterly obliterate the structure of a golden cauldron.

Pure silver has the best thermal and electrical properties of any chosen metal for brewing and is less easily changeable than gold, but like pewter, it is a catalyst for chemical reactions between potions ingredients. A silver cauldron is used for potions that most often contain elements of the night—quiet, stillness, darkness (not evil; I am speaking of a lack of light) calm emotions, and femininity. The phases of the moon, as well as lunar eclipses, should always be taken into account when working with silver.

For that matter, one should avoid using a gold during an eclipse of the sun.

Cures for love potions perform best when brewed in silver, which is yet another hint that those stupid potions were not originally created by the fairer sex. As silver is also an excellent water purifier—retarding the growth of bacteria—many potions for the health of the body are brewed in this type of cauldron.

Brass is a standard cauldron sold in many establishments for those who cannot afford silver or gold, and is the required cauldron students are to purchase for 6th and 7th-year Potions, but it is an alloy of copper and zinc. Brass is most often used for the brewing of medicinal potions due to its bacteria-retarding properties, accompanied by a natural ability to prevent or assist in the curing of certain diseases due to its copper content. The zinc helps to bond potions ingredients for a more stable brew, though care should be taken, as zinc reacts strongly with acidic and alkaline ingredients if they are the first items introduced to the cauldron. Some of the potential results of that blunder are toxic.

Copper on its own has more limited uses. It is best for brewing a Restorative Draught for the above reasons, but also because, in trace amounts, copper is a necessary part of the human diet that is often found to be lacking in the wizarding world. (No, I have no idea why. It is irritating.) It is second only to silver for heat and electrical qualities, but it is hard to keep copper pristine due to the way it reacts with oxygen. A copper cauldron requires an obnoxious number of Preservation Charms to keep it from becoming a useless green pot.

A bronze cauldron is almost the complete opposite of a pewter cauldron. Pewter is primarily tin with traces of copper; bronze in a wizarding cauldron is a 90/10 ratio of copper to tin. It refuses to react to magically generated lightning while still conducting heat very well. Thus it is recognized for its earth-bearing qualities, which impart stability to a potion, and is best for many potions that might otherwise bear explosive tendencies. It also has acoustic properties for potions that involve sound: think in terms of larger bells and gongs—rich, deep sounds. Brass does, as well, but only if you wish to brew potions whose sounds are meant to cause pain.

Do not ask Madam Pomfrey why I came to her entirely deaf one day during my fourth year. It’s not worth the effort; she won’t stop laughing long enough to tell the story. Needless to say, I did not write that potion down. Anywhere. Not even a hearing protection charm negates the effects of that disaster.

If you didn’t gather that dove’s feather yourself, consider its source to be suspect. A naturally shed feather and a plucked feather will create different results in a potion. Also, study your feather types before you proceed, for a pin feather is different from a primary, and yes, impart different qualities.

Do not use primary feathers in your potions. I will beat you senseless, even on the date of your birth.

Sincerely,

Professor Snape

 

After a moment’s hesitation, he adds two postscripts.

 

I do not care for my given name. I’ve heard it fall too often from the lips of the enemy.

Why in the names of all the Greek gods are you attempting to brew some sort of projection potion?

 

Snape does not receive an answer right away. He assumes that the lack of news means that Grimmauld Place is still standing, else Albus, Minerva, and the Weasleys would all be clucking in concern. He would dearly like to know where Potter got the idea for trying to create the potion-equivalent of a Pensieve, but he is a patient man who is skilled at out-waiting and out-lasting all else. Perhaps it is something the boy read in one of the Black library’s tomes. Sometimes the fact that Black doesn’t have a proper catalogue of his family library makes Snape want to put the fear of God and Madam Pince into the man by literally shoving Madam Pince in Black’s direction.

He makes the foolish mistake of considering Voldemort and his followers the summer’s only threat to Potter’s safety. It’s not until the Daily Prophet is delivered on the morning of the third that he discovers he was almost fatally wrong.

Snape is expecting nothing more than the Ministry’s continued insistence that the Dark Lord has not returned. The Diggory family has merely been infected by their son’s tournament-created fears; Potter is a fear-mongering attention-seeker. It’s all very tiring, especially as Minister Fudge has avoided answering the oft-posed question: how can the Ministry prove that Voldemort has not returned?

Instead, Snape discovers a full front-page article detailing an attack on Potter by Dementors.

He frowns while reading the account of Potter and Black’s assault from creatures that should never have been outside the bounds of Azkaban. The Dementors must have recognized Black from his long-term imprisonment, as that is whom the Dementors concentrated the attack upon—but Snape can tell they were not ignoring Potter, either.

Potter faces a disciplinary hearing on the twelfth of August for the use of underage magic. Snape’s frown deepens into a scowl of displeasure. Since when is magic performed in obvious self-defence the subject of disciplinary hearings, especially when even the Prophet itself is reporting the event in full?

It also does not escape Snape’s notice that it was Potter’s Patronus charm that saved both of them. Rage is his first, consuming emotion; Black failed in his duty to protect his godson.

Black also spent twelve years in Azkaban, half-mad and tormented by Dementors.

Dammit. Snape can’t muster enough hatred and spite to keep hold of that rage. He is a terrible, black-hearted bastard, but he isn’t stupid, either.

However, Snape is a consummate actor. “A disciplinary hearing? It’s about time,” he says, deliberately allowing his voice to carry.

Minerva glares at him. “For this? Severus Snape, even you know better!”

“If the story is true? Then yes, of course.” His tone is just shy of mocking. “We will have to see what the disciplinary hearing brings.”

“Sometimes I wonder why I do not transfigure you into something a cat will happily consume,” Minerva retorts, leaving the table in a snit.

Snape folds the paper, ignoring the glares that other summer-residing faculty members are aiming in his direction. He’s too busy thinking to concern himself with them, but ignoring such things is his usual response, regardless.

Only a Ministry employee of sufficient rank can send a Dementor after someone who has been deemed a threat to the wizarding world. This was not an attack on Black. He merely distracted the Dementors from their primary target.

Lupin comes to Hogwarts that afternoon for lunch, claiming school business as his cover when other faculty members ask about his sudden appearance. Others express their concern for Potter. Lupin gives them a strained, unhappy smile and says that all is well.

When Albus invites Snape up for afternoon tea, Snape knows he’s about to get werewolf-provided information. “The Ministry’s first response was to eject Harry from Hogwarts!” Lupin bursts out the moment the office door closes.

That gives Snape momentary pause. “Only the Headmaster or the Board of Governors has the authority to take that action.”

“Exactly,” Lupin growls, and stalks across the office.

Albus sits in calm repose behind his desk. “I had to act quickly to make sure that order was rescinded at once, citing far more laws than I expected to be necessary,” he says. “And while I know you enjoy putting on a great show of hatred for Harry Potter, it should calm you to know that he is fine.”

Snape treats Albus to cynical irritation. “Firstly: it is not a show. Secondly: if they’re holding an inquisition, then that information is blatantly obvious.”

“They’re not just holding a damned inquiry, Severus. They’re putting Harry on trial before the entire Wizengamot!” Lupin shouts.

Snape raises both eyebrows. “Perhaps Potter has finally managed to rattle them, if they think a trial is in order for a mere Patronus charm.”

“Yes, but Cedric and Harry both have been saying all summer that Voldemort has returned, and no one has attacked the Diggory family.” Lupin frowns in a way that somehow enhances the old scars that mar his face.

“That we’re aware of,” Snape counters, feeling uneasy. “Dementors are a blatant, dangerous spectacle. The Diggory family could have been subjected to other dangers, ones too subtle to be obvious unless one is accustomed to noticing them.”

“Quite.” Albus removes his spectacles so he can polish them on his robe sleeve. “I’ll send Nymphadora Tonks out to speak with the family. She’s a brilliant Auror, and she has also been all but hounding the Order for the chance to do something useful beyond random bodyguard duty opposite Number 12 Grimmauld Place.”

Snape receives a very short note from Potter that night. Unlike the neat, clear handwriting Potter maintains, this is a scrawled mess.

 

Snape,

We’re fine, Dementors are terrible, I did not need to relive my parents’ deaths, Sirius is a wreck, what the hell is wrong with the Ministry?

Yours,

Harry

 

Snape writes back at once and allows Potter’s gentle snowy owl to take the envelope in her beak. “Stay out of trouble. You’re a much more obvious target at night.”

Hedwig might possibly have rolled her eyes at him before flying away with his response:

 

Mister Potter,

Politics. The answer to your question is politics.

Sincerely,

Professor Snape

 

*          *          *          *

 

“Drink this,” Snape orders.

Lupin lowers his newspaper and glares at him. He’s gotten used to ignoring Snape’s loud traipsing in and out of the house, but apparently Snape has finally pushed the werewolf too far by arriving before breakfast.

“Severus Snape, I am not drinking whatever the hell it is you’re selling unless it contains caffeine.”

“Then you’re in luck. It actually does contain caffeine,” Snape returns with a grim smile. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to get pure caffeine by Owl Post?”

“I’m surprised you didn’t just dump coffee grounds in it,” Lupin grumbles, and takes the corked glass phial from Snape’s hand.

“Nonsense. Then it would be toxic. Or it would cause you to sprout an extra pair of limbs. I’m honestly not sure. Tea, though—that would kill you.”

Lupin pauses in his examination of the violet, glowing potion to look up at Snape. “When is the last time you slept, man?”

“What day is it?”

“The tenth. I’m guessing that tonight’s full moon is part of your reasoning behind this early social call,” Lupin says.

“Oh.” Snape does a quick mental count. “Then it’s been three days or so, but I brewed this before that time. It just had to sit and age properly before use.”

Lupin stares at him. “Severus. Please sit the hell down before you drop to the floor.”

Snape sits down at the kitchen table, even though he hates this room. He overheard too many fights between his mother and father while seated in this very spot.

He takes the Muggle-branded and brewed coffee Lupin that offers, swallowing it down while ignoring how vile it is. Muggles do not understand true coffee at all—at least not British Muggles.

“Now that I’m less afraid you’ll pass out: what am I holding, Severus?” Lupin asks.

Snape gestures until Lupin understands him and puts the phial down on the table. “That, Lupin, is the fucking cure for lycanthropy.”

Lupin's frown is intense enough that his eyes flash werewolf gold. Snape is too tired to react to what is normally a terror-inducing sight. “It is far too early for jokes, and today is the worst choice for that sort.”

Snape glares back, annoyed when he sways a bit in the process. Merlin, he needs to sleep. “Do I look like I’m fucking joking, you daft bloody idiot?”

“No.” Lupin leans away from the table and its glowing, accusatory phial. “No, I suppose you don’t. Are you—are you sure?”

Snape presses his fingers into the corners of his eyes. “Am I certain that it’s a one hundred percent, permanent cure? No. Am I certain that it will keep you from transforming with the rise of the moon? Absolutely.”

“How? A cure is supposed to be impossible—”

“Oh, that’s such utter rot,” Snape growls. “They said the same of Wolfsbane until it was proven effective almost a hundred times over, when its potency should have been recognized after the first five successes! They stopped exploring the potion’s potential when they got the first results that didn’t kill anyone, Lupin. The world is stocked full of hopeless idiots, and my field of study is no exception.”

“Oh, shite,” Lupin whispers, staring down at the phial. “Shite, shite, shite. I have no idea what the hell to do.”

Snape scowls at the idiot living in his house. “Drink the fucking potion!”

“Oh, God. If I die, I’m haunting you, Severus Snape,” Lupin promises, pulling out the lead stopper. The potion eats through every other kind. It’s an interesting side-effect.

“Drink. The. Potion,” Snape bites out. “If you die, it won’t be because of this. It’ll be your own stupid fault for an unrelated reason!”

Lupin glares at him again and then downs the potion in one swallow. “Oh, that’s probably the worst thing I’ve ever tasted in my entire life,” he gags.

“Oh, please.” Snape rolls his eyes. “I know from chemical composition alone that human semen has to be so much worse.”

“I wouldn’t know,” Lupin grumbles back. He taps his fingernails against the tabletop. “Well?”

“Well, what?” Snape retorts. “You’re not dead. Congratulations. You can sleep through the night without running around in the fucking woods.”

“We won’t know that until the moon rises,” Lupin snaps back. “And even then, we won’t know if it’s a cure unless I take no potion whatsoever on the ninth of September.”

Snape shakes his head. “No, idiot. You can’t be incapacitated during the school term. We’ll confirm that on the first of July, next year.” He waits and realizes that Lupin is watching him expectantly. “Oh, for—fine! I’ll be here this evening to oversee your traumatic lack of transforming into a horrific beast. I’m sure it will be fascinating.”

Lupin finally looks like he’s starting to relax. “Thank you.”

“Oh, shut up,” Snape mutters, and wobbles his way out of the house. He nearly Apparates himself into three different pieces, but dammit, he gets back to Scotland without dying.

Snape gives his bed a look of absolute longing before pulling out a fresh handful of Restorative Draughts. Number eight is taken, and then he’s on his way to Malfoy Manor, where the Dark Lord is being hosted for the week. Next week, the Notts will have that dubious distinction.

At least Voldemort does not ever ask to reside in Snape’s pathetic excuse of a house.

 

*          *          *          *

 

One day, Snape is going to figure out how to cause Lucius Malfoy to insert his head into his own arse. He is setting a terrible example for his only child. Right now, Draco’s saving grace is that he is rightfully terrified of the Dark Lord.

Voldemort accepts the waxing, creepily poetic praise as his due, but Snape knows that Lucius is laying it on too thick when even Narcissa begins to look annoyed. They share a single, mutually irritated glance. In that moment, Snape knows that Narcissa Black Malfoy did not want Voldemort to return, and is less than pleased by his presence in her home.

It could be a sign of a potential alliance. Snape just has to wait for the right moment to cultivate it.

 

*          *          *          *

 

That night, the moon rises, and Lupin doesn’t transform. Snape grins at him with all of his teeth showing. “I told you so.”

Lupin is busy unchaining himself from the old cellar wall, but he takes the time to offer up the traditional British gesture of heartfelt irritation.

“Are we going to tell anyone?” Lupin asks later, rubbing at a red mark on his neck. The light is better upstairs, but the coffee hasn’t improved at all.

“I’d love to, but everyone will immediately demand to know the formula. Then you lose the only weapon in your arsenal that might convince the werewolves to avoid siding with the Dark Lord,” Snape replies. “I just hope to live long enough to become famous for it.”

“Right.” Lupin sighs. For a man who might have just been cured of a lifelong curse, he looks exceptionally dour. “When did our goals become so short-term, Severus?”

Snape gives the man a dry look. “When we were seventeen and stupid, Lupin.”

Lupin doesn’t disagree. “We’re staring down the oncoming storm of a second magical civil war, and we’re not fleeing for the hills. I posit that we’re still stupid.”

Snape blames exhaustion as the reason why he can’t figure out how to counter that statement. “Perhaps a miracle will happen, and Voldemort will Apparate himself into an active volcano.”

Lupin makes a disparaging noise. “As if that would even be enough.” He turns to look at Snape. “We’ve told Harry the things that we know to be true. When do we tell him what we also suspect?”

Snape frowns and resists the urge to place his hand over the Mark. This is the one piece of information that Voldemort must never, ever realize they’ve stumbled upon. “When Potter proves his skill in Occlumency, Lupin. Not a moment before.”

Snape is not in attendance for the inquiry, which has been oddly placed on a Saturday morning. It confirms his suspicions that someone high-ranking in the Ministry wants Potter removed from the picture. Fudge is too cowardly to be behind the assassination attempt, but aside from Albus Dumbledore, the whole of the Wizengamot is now suspect.

Regardless, the hearing is called in Potter’s favor. The fact that Dumbledore had to interfere by bringing in an Auror to provide testimony, one who’d been undercover nearby and witnessed the attack, does not speak well as to the Ministry’s overall regard towards Potter. Albus informs Snape that there was a particular spike of anger over the fact that Potter dealt with the Dementors before a trained Auror could get to the scene to act in Potter and Black’s defence.

Lupin tells Snape that Black wants to sue the bloody Wizengamot for punitive damages, including damage to his own sanity. Snape considers it and tells Lupin that Black should proceed. It will give the dog something to do aside from becoming consumed with worry over his godson.

Two days after the hearing, Snape receives an owl at breakfast that bears a thick, padded envelope in its talons. The large black owl has a foul disposition and steals all of Snape’s bacon before departing in a molting flap of wings.

Snape collects the feathers. He is a sensible Potions Master, and black owls are uncommon.

Inside the envelope is a brief note from Potter, and three photos.

Each one is of Lily Evans Potter.

Snape stares at them, watching the moving photos in shocked fascination. She is smiling and happy, bearing the maturity that marked her final year of life. He has never seen any of these pictures before, never glimpsed a photo from 1981 that did not also include James Potter in some way.

Potter’s note is brief and to the point: Because if I create a Memory Projection Potion, I can take pictures of memories. By the way, it’s neck feathers and a single fresh marigold blossom.

Snape smiles the rest of the way through breakfast, which makes Vector so nervous that she excuses herself without first having her precious coffee. Snape goes back to his quarters and selects quill and parchment. These results require a proper response.

 

Potter,

Search Black’s household for a copy of a potion that will be titled Oculus Maxima or, more properly, Visu Acutissimo, whose original formulation has been lost for at least two centuries. It wouldn’t surprise me if that inbred cesspool has a hidden copy for their own personal use, as no Black has been caught in public wearing spectacles in at least as many years. It may correct some of your myopic tendencies, whereas the standard Remedium Oculus spell has proven itself useless for your terrible blasted eyesight.

In Gratitude,

Professor Snape

 

Chapter Text

Snape receives one more letter from Potter before the new term begins. It’s delivered again by the overweight, molting black owl. Snape hides his bacon and sacrifices the breakfast sausage in order to bribe the crotchety old owl into giving up its letter.

 

Dear Professor,

We seem to have accidentally stolen one of the Malfoy house-elves.

 

Snape feels his eyebrows drawing together in bafflement. One does not simply steal a house-elf.

 

Well, maybe stealing is the wrong word. It’s a weird, long story, and to make things worse, most of it happened in my second year at Hogwarts. I don’t bloody remember second year!

According to Dobby the house-elf, Dobby knew about Lucius Malfoy’s plans for Tom Riddle’s diary. There; at least we all now know how Ginny Weasley got ahold of the stupid thing. Malfoy placed it in her schoolbag during a shopping trip in Diagon Alley.

Dobby also believes it was Draco Malfoy who planted a torn page from a book discussing basilisks in a place it was most likely to be discovered and understood. I asked Hermione, and she said she’d found the torn page in her school bag, tucked into the back of Hogwarts: A History. That’s how she knew about the basilisk. She just didn’t find it until it was almost too late.

I don’t know if Draco was being altruistic, or if he just didn’t want to get eaten. I’m not even sure it matters. Also, Draco Malfoy would be much easier to figure out if he didn’t have something uncomfortable lodged up his arse.

(Ron’s words, not mine. I’m not disagreeing, though.)

Dobby came to the house at Grimmauld Place because he wanted to apologize to me. He claimed he wanted to do so earlier, but since he failed to keep me from attending Hogwarts in second-year (??) he was busy serving his punishment. The elf also explained how he used to be a Black house-elf, and that he went with Narcissa Black to begin service under Malfoy employ after the marriage.

Professor, the poor bugger cried about how the Blacks were cruel, but at least they didn’t routinely make Dobby bash himself in the face with hot irons. I do not need to remember Lucius Malfoy to really, really dislike him.

Sirius heard all of this, took off his shoe, and threw his sock at Dobby. I didn’t realize house-elves liked socks, but Dobby just about lost his mind when he caught it.

Sirius sat down in front of our now hysterical house-elf guest and explained that Dobby had accepted clothes from the Heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black (I’m quoting) and now he was a free elf, capable of deciding who he wanted to serve.

We now have a house-elf who is wearing eight different socks, and whose existence offends Kreacher like nothing else. I think it’s only Dobby’s chanted mantra of promising to “serve Master Harry Potter forever and ever” that’s kept Kreacher from enacting violence against the other elf.

Freedom for house-elves is wrong? Why do I not know this? Why do I not know that house-elves are treated like slaves? History of Magic is the most useless class in the whole of Britain!

Your confused student,

Harry Potter

P.S. Sirius wishes to know if you have encountered a missing family member of his during the summer. He won’t say who, but considering there is an empty bedroom in this house still decorated in Slytherin colors, it might be easy for you to find out.

 

Snape puts down the letter, glowering at nothing. He hasn’t thought of Regulus Black in years. He has suspicions as to Regulus’s fate, but to send them in letter form offends even his dubious sensibilities.

Once safely in his quarters, Snape firecalls Grimmauld Place. A house-elf with bulbous large green eyes and wide, wobbling ears answers him. “Is yous bein’ Master Snape?”

“You must be Dobby,” Snape replies, eying the timid creature. There must be some sort of backbone hidden in the elf, else he would never have dared leave the Manor. “Tell Sirius Black that I need to speak with him, please.”

“I’s be doin’ that right nows!” Dobby proclaims, and disappears.

Grammar. This one desperately needs lessons in proper grammar.

“Severus.” Black seems surprised by his sudden appearance, but gestures in obvious invitation. Snape adds an extra bit of Floo Powder and steps through the fireplace into Grimmauld Place’s kitchen, dusting ash from his robes. “What brings you here?”

“Your godson sent a request from you in his last letter. I did not think it proper to discuss such matters by Owl Post.”

Sirius’s expression dims. “I see. Well…bollocks. Come to the parlor, Severus. Kreacher! I need tea, and maybe every single drop of alcohol in this house!”

Snape sits down in the aforementioned parlor. Compared to previous visits, the room is pristine. “Kreacher seems to be more motivated now that there is competition around.”

“It does seem to be effective,” Sirius agrees. He sits down heavily in the armchair across from Snape. “My brother’s dead, isn’t he?”

Snape hesitates when he hears noise, but it’s only Kreacher bearing a properly laden tea tray. All of the Black house-elves are sworn to silence in regards to family secrets. “Yes, I’m afraid Regulus has to be dead,” Snape replies, and then is startled nearly out of his wits when Kreacher throws the tea tray across the room and begins to bawl.

“What the fuck?” Sirius blurts out, looking as confused as Snape feels. “What’s wrong, Kreacher?”

“Master told me to go!” Kreacher wails, clutching at some sort of lump hidden beneath his tea towel. “Master Regulus made me, Master Sirius!”

“Oh, fuck. Oh—bollocks! Calm down, Kreacher,” Sirius manages. “It’s all right. If he ordered you to do it, then you did the right thing.”

“Not the right thing! Not at all!” Kreacher shrieks. “Master Regulus is dead because I obeyed, but I obeyed because Master Regulus told me to!”

Sirius looks too floored to be of further assistance. “If he demanded it of you, he must have had very good reason to do so,” Snape tells the house-elf. “What happened?”

“You is not a Black,” Kreacher sniffs, giving Snape a disdainful sneer. “You is a very distant cousin, and a Half-blooded Bat at that.”

“My godson is a Half-blood and the legal Heir to the House of Black,” Sirius growls. “Remember that before you cast aspersions, Kreacher. Now answer Severus Snape’s question. I’m ordering you to tell me what happened to Regulus Black.”

Kreacher worries at the lump on his chest some more. “Master Regulus, he turned against the Dark Lord.”

“Son of a bitch,” Sirius breathes in shock. Snape doesn’t outwardly react, but if Regulus betrayed Voldemort, it would certainly explain his disappearance and death.

“He says the Dark Lord doesn’t act as a proper Pure-blood wizard should, that he is abusing and cruel. Master Regulus tells Kreacher that there is enforcing proper station, and there is slaughter. The Dark Lord is caring only for the slaughter. Master Regulus says he is going to stop the Dark Lord, and he needs Kreacher’s help.”

They listen to the house-elf speak of the journey across the ocean to an isolated, rocky island. Snape feels his skin crawl as Kreacher talks about the trap Voldemort created that held the locket at its base. Black has to excuse himself and rush to the nearest lavatory after he hears how Regulus ingested the cursed water from the fountain. It was Kreacher’s attempt to bring water from the lake that caused the Inferi to surge forth, ready to consume all who were foolish enough to disturb the trap.

Black sits back down on the edge of his chair and listens as Kreacher tells of how he obeyed Regulus’s instructions, retrieving the locket from the now-empty fountain and replacing it with the fake one—and of how Regulus told Kreacher to leave.

“I tell Master no,” Kreacher says, stomping his old foot down on the carpet. “Master Regulus ordered me to go. There being no time for both to escape the creatures coming to rend and tear us. Master Regulus…” Kreacher draws in a great, heaving breath as fresh tears roll down his hideous face. “Master Regulus asked me to destroy the locket. If Kreacher can’t destroy it, then Kreacher is to wait until Master Sirius comes to ask for it.”

Black is still shell-shocked. “Kreacher, why the hell didn’t you tell me about any of this before?”

Kreacher looks offended. “Master Sirius did not ask.”

“Right. You’re right.” Black scrubs his face and wipes at his eyes. “Kreacher, I’m asking you now. Will you please give me the locket that Regulus sacrificed himself for?”

Kreacher gives Black a long, searching look. Then he grudgingly lifts out a gaudy-appearing golden locket on a gold chain from beneath his tea towel. It glimmers in the light in a way that suggests either truly old gold or terrible Muggle fashion jewelry.

“Careful, Master Sirius should be,” Kreacher mumbles as he places it into Black’s outstretched hands. “Master Regulus said it was bad magic.”

While Black examines the locket, frowning, Snape looks at Kreacher. “Could Regulus not Apparate out of the cave?”

Kreacher shakes his head, still sniffling pathetically. “Master Regulus said there was magic blocking it. The way out was to walk, and the Inferi…they was everywhere, Master Bat. House-elves have strong magic, but it was doing nothing to the Inferi.”

“But it didn’t interfere with a house-elf’s ability to Apparate,” Snape guesses, and Kreacher bobs his head. “You could not take him with you?”

Kreacher yanks on both of his ears and lets out a sound of pure, retched despair. “Tried! Master Regulus said that the same wizard Apparatin’ block was keeping Kreacher from taking him away from there!”

“Severus, I don’t know what the hell this is, but I think my brother was right about it being Dark magic. Do you mind?” Black holds out the locket by its golden chain. There is an ornate green S on the front made from individual emeralds that glow in the parlor’s candle light. The locket is less gaudy upon closer inspection, and its design signifies great age.

Snape takes it, surprised by the heavy weight, far more than the heft of mere gold. He knows at once he’s holding an object of truly vile Dark magic, but not what kind.

He hates not knowing things. Ignorance increases his chances of dying before Voldemort is defeated.

All of his prying, incantations, and wand-prodding reveal that the latch is not cursed. Snape throws up several magical wards between himself and the face of the locket before he opens it.

He has a brief impression of a single, jewel blue eye. Then it feels like his hands are on fire.

Snape’s next conscious thought is that the Black parlor’s ceiling has a great deal of cracked plaster needing repair. That’s when he realizes that he’s lying on the floor, and his head is pillowed in someone’s lap.

Oh, that is entirely unacceptable. Snape tries to rise and fails miserably. He hurts, all over. His head is pounding, and his heart is beating far too fast to be healthy.

“Hold still,” Lupin orders. Snape looks up to find the other man glaring down at him. Lupin’s lap? Lupin hadn’t even been in the bloody house!

“What the hell—” Snape breaks off, concerned by the scratchy, damaged sound of his own voice. It requires a lot of shouting to create that sort of rasp. He knows this from old, consistent experience.

“Oh, good. You’re awake.”

As if this could not be any more baffling, Poppy Pomfrey is suddenly standing over him. There is even a blasted velvet blanket from the ancient couch tossed over his legs. This is ludicrous.

“I raided your office. When Remus came to fetch me, I knew I’d need something specific,” Poppy continues, retrieving three separate phials from her robe pocket. One holds a Restorative Draught, for which he is already nearing his tolerance limit; the second is a Calming Draught, which he feels is genuinely unnecessary; the third is his own adjusted version of a Pepperup, where he discerned how to add chocolate to the recipe without turning the potion toxic or useless. He hates the sugary mess, but wizarding chocolate has always been oddly effective against Dark magic.

“At least let me sit up,” Snape grumbles. Lupin does so in an exceptionally impersonal manner, which is gratifying. “You are not going to pour those down on my face, Poppy.”

The matron smiles at him. “Of course not, dear.”

Snape reaches out for the first one she’s willing to give him, alarmed by how badly his hand is shaking. “What the hell happened?” he asks after the Calming Draught takes effect and his hands finally stop shaking. He was wrong; he really was in dire need.

“You had a very strong reaction to that damned locket,” Black says, finally putting in an appearance. Lupin leaves Snape to slump uncomfortably against a wall, but Snape prefers it. The fact that they felt the need to fetch Poppy is bad enough. He doesn’t need a blasted werewolf prop.

He also vows, once again, that he is going to figure out how to create a Pepperup that can do its job without the annoying side-effect of self-created steam. “How strong?”

“It’s been three hours since you opened the fucking locket. You didn’t stop screaming until I stunned you. It was the only way I could get you to let go of the locket to close the damned thing.” Black bears a tired frown, but Snape suspects the expression is not for him. “Then I sent a Patronus to fetch Remus; Remus decided Poppy was going to be more useful.”

“I’m far more used to emergencies happening after school term begins,” Poppy says in a dry voice. “Then again, some of you have always proven to be exceptions.”

“Screaming,” Snape repeats, not sure if he wants to know. He also doesn’t want Poppy informing these two idiots of the number of times he’s already visited her in the school infirmary this summer, moments when he didn’t trust his own hands to administer the right potions.

“Let’s just say that I’m very grateful Harry is spending the last of the summer holiday with the Weasleys,” Black says grimly. “What little I could make out was…unpleasant.”

Snape notices the locket, closed and sitting in a puddle of golden chain on the low parlor table. “It’s a bloody Horcrux.” He’s relieved when his voice sounds much closer to normal, but it’s going to take another potion from his quarters to heal the rest of that damage.

“We figured that part out, thanks,” Lupin returns absently, looking at the locket. “We have to destroy it.”

“We can’t.”

Lupin glances over at him, startled. “Severus—”

“He’ll know,” Snape hisses back. “He’ll know, and any attempt at subtlety on our part…it’s a similar situation to our other problem, and you know it.”

“You’re right.” Lupin collapses into the nearest chair, the one Sirius was sitting on before Snape decided to open a stupid blasted Horcrux.

Snape uses the wall to push himself onto his feet. “Poppy, you know that I trust you implicitly, but what you’ve just learned here…you can’t know this.”

“Grave danger, hmm?” Poppy shakes her head. “I’ve taken the Order’s vow, Severus.”

“Knowing would make you a target, and the school will need you.” Lupin stands back up and gestures towards the fireplace. “I’ll do it. I’ll even explain to you afterwards why you’re missing a few hours, but in this instance, Severus is correct. This is a subject so dangerous that even I don’t want to bloody well know about it.”

Poppy hesitates. “You’ll tell me when it’s safe, then?”

“By the time it’s safe, everyone will know,” Snape answers. That’s enough to convince her, thank Merlin. This is not the first time Snape has had to ask her to forget something exceptionally dangerous.

Black reclaims his chair while they both wait for Lupin to return. Snape leans against the wall, willing to retain his silence. The potions only pushed the headache away, turning it into background noise. It will rear up again later, and likely be worse.

Lupin finally comes back into the parlor, dusting soot from his threadbare coat. “I hate doing that. I know there are varying levels of secrecy that the Order practices, but I’ve never liked it.”

Snape is in no mood for whinging. “Try sharing afternoon tea with the Dark Lord.”

That earns him a dual set of glares. “No, thank you,” Lupin mutters. “If you were trying to put my actions into perspective, you went too far in one singular, terrible direction.”

“My sincerest apologies,” Snape drawls out.

Black leans forward and regards the Horcrux with an intent stare. To Snape’s quiet relief, he doesn’t seem inclined to touch it again. “That’s three Horcruxes now.”

“You told Black about Potter?” Snape asks, scowling.

“I had to,” Lupin replies, but at least he seems unhappy about the decision “Time for another Unbreakable Vow, Severus?”

Snape lets his head thump back against the wall. “I hate you.”

“Yes, three,” Lupin answers Black’s question. “The destroyed diary, this locket, and our godson.”

“No wonder the bastard didn’t die in 1981.” Black sits back and shoves his hand into his hair. “Are living things even supposed to be capable of being Horcruxes? I might have turned up my nose at most of my family’s interest in the Dark Arts, but I know what one of the fucking things is, and I didn’t think it was possible to create one within a person.”

“Everything I’ve read says no, but I think it only means Voldemort was the first one cracked and vile enough to succeed. But, if we can destroy the other two Horcruxes—” Lupin begins, but Snape cuts him off.

“Aside from the fact that alerting the Dark Lord would be a terrible idea, we still don’t know how to destroy one of the remaining Horcruxes without killing the person it’s attached to.”

Black starts shaking his head. “That isn’t even the worst problem. There are more than three.”

“Deduced how?” Snape asks, too tired to continue with any attempt at snide mockery. He’ll get plenty of practice at being an utter bastard once the new school term begins on the first of September.

“Because he’s fucking Voldemort,” Black responds, like it should be obvious. It’s doubly irritating to realize that Black is correct. “If he’s split his soul three times, why would he stop there? The man never wants to die! He’d do his best to ensure that there are so many pieces, no one will ever find them all.”

Perhaps that explains why Voldemort retains such corpse-like qualities, Snape muses.

Lupin frowns. “There must be a limit to how many times someone can fracture their own soul.”

“Maybe, but…” Black rests his chin on his clasped hands. “Grand gestures. Voldemort was always one for grand gestures. He would have made an excellent member of the Black family, the rotten bastard. My uncle liked his Dark magics to be grandiose, too.”

“Sirius?” Lupin glances at Black.

“An enemy. A bespelled but very personal item. A locket that belonged to a Hogwarts Founder.” Black looks up when Snape makes a questioning sound. “It seemed familiar, but I had to go look it up in the library. That ugly damned locket belonged to Salazar Slytherin.”

“He can’t get to anything of Godric’s. One is goblin-made, and the hat would just laugh at him,” Lupin says. “And Ravenclaw’s Diadem of Wisdom, as well as Hufflepuff’s famous golden cup, have both been missing for almost as long as the two original owners have been dead.”

Snape pinches the bridge of his nose. This cannot possibly get any worse.

“Severus.”

Of course it can get worse.

Snape looks at Black to find that he is being subjected to somber pleading. “Remus tells me that your Unbreakable Vow is to ensure the survival of my godson. Please.”

“I thought you didn’t trust me,” Snape says in a half-arsed attempt at escape. He can’t see a way out of this. Being trapped in an Unbreakable Vow with the werewolf is bad enough!

“Some days, I’m still not sure,” Black admits. “You told Albus that Voldemort was the one who ordered that mad Barty Crouch was to be killed for disobeying him. What really happened to Crouch, Snape?”

“I killed him, though it genuinely was on Voldemort’s order,” Snape replies in blunt honesty, a bit surprised that this elicits only grim satisfaction from Black. Lupin is less pleased, but he’s always preferred that people play nice with their toys. “It was an excellent opportunity to convince Voldemort that I still felt the way I did during the first war, but mostly, I did it for me.”

“Why?” Lupin asks.

“He endangered my students,” Snape snarls back, and nearly tips over when he finds he’s not ready to finish using the wall as a support just yet. “He almost killed Potter three times over. I would have crushed Crouch’s throat in and saved my wand the trouble if it wouldn’t have meant a ruined boot.”

“You hated James.” Black scowls. “Why would you care about what happened to Harry?”

Snape glares back for a full minute before he realizes it’s a waste of time and energy best spent in other ways. “Perhaps…a demonstration.”

He fishes his wand out of his robe sleeve, making sure it’s pointed away from both Black and Lupin. It takes a ridiculous amount of effort to lift it; he’s not actually sure he’s going to be able to cast the spell.

He closes his eyes and focuses on the sight of Lily’s face. It’s the year they’re going to attend Hogwarts. They’ve shown each other their letters. She’s giggling in delight as she floats above the ground, her green eyes bright and full of joy.

Lily was the one who taught him to fly.

The words emerge in a soundless whisper, but when Snape opens his eyes, his corporal Patronus is investigating the room. The doe lifts her head and regards Black in polite curiosity when he gasps in recognition.

"Your Patronus used to be a runespoor. I remember seeing you cast that spell, Severus," Lupin says.

Snape feels familiar, heavy weight settling onto his shoulders, one he’s borne for a very long time. “Things change, Lupin.”

Black reaches out to touch the doe when it wanders over to investigate him. “This is Lily’s Patronus.”

“I couldn’t save her,” Snape finds himself saying. It’s a weakness, admitting this aloud, but if he’s about to be trapped in an Unbreakable Vow with Lupin and Black, it cannot be secret. They have to understand and trust in the words he speaks, or the Vow will fail.

That, Snape thinks tiredly, would be a very stupid reason to die.

“She was my friend, and I couldn’t save her. Every attempt I made to prevent her death—all of those efforts failed.

“I went to the graveyard after their funeral. I promised Lily that I would protect her son. Lily’s doe has been my Patronus ever since.”

After a long, tense moment, Black nods, but his mouth is set in a grim line. “I might not trust you in other matters, Severus, but in this? My trust is absolute. Help me save my godson from that fucking mad bastard.”

Snape gives up. “Very well. Can you Occlude, Black? Can you protect your mind from others?”

“Of course.” Black offers him a bitter, crooked grin. “Learned how in prison. How else do you keep the fucking Dementors out?”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape collapses onto his own bed at Hogwarts that evening, still feeling wrung out after his encounter with Voldemort’s Horcrux. It has to be an early creation to have had such a detrimental effect on him. Black and Lupin tried to spare Snape his dignity in not telling him what he’d been screaming about, but Snape isn’t stupid. He knows what his primary concerns are.

He pops the lid on the stereo, putting in a new compact record that Potter sent him earlier in the summer. The band is called Portishead, and the singer’s breathy voice reminds him of Miss Lovegood. Snape suspects that’s why Potter chose to purchase it.

 

Oh, can’t anybody see

We’ve got a war to fight (but)

Never found our way

Regardless of what they say.

How can it feel, this wrong?

From this moment

How can it feel, this wrong?”

 

Snape stares up at his ceiling as the verse repeats again. By God and ancient Merlin, he has no idea what to do.

Chapter Text

There is an unfamiliar, pink-garbed witch sitting at the faculty table in Charity Burbage’s usual seat. Snape gives her a vague nod of polite greeting, which earns him a smile that is far too wide and bright to be genuine. He dislikes her immediately.

Snape frowns as he sits down, wondering what in the hell Albus Dumbledore has gone and done now. At least Burbage is tolerable.

The Sorting is nothing unusual, but it earns him new and fearful Slytherins. Snape restrains a sigh; no one has forgotten that Voldemort came from Slytherin House. The poor idiots are probably scared witless.

The meal goes well, though Snape spends most of it studying returned students and new arrivals. Potter meets his eyes for a brief moment before pretending the moment never happened, returning his attention to Ronald Weasley. Every Weasley ginger at that table has sprouted again during the summer, even Miss Weasley, competing with Ronald Weasley for height. Snape has paid a bit more attention to her than any Gryffindor aside from the Weasley twin troublemakers and Potter. It was a private relief when she came back to school able to take her place among the second-years instead of being held back to repeat her first-year. If current academic trends continue, she’ll earn an O on her Potions O.W.L. next year with little difficulty.

Albus stands at the conclusion of dinner and greets everyone, as usual. He’s barely begun his opening remarks when the pink-garbed witch starts false-coughing for attention.

It’s reassuring that Snape is not the only to turn a disapproving stare in the witch’s direction as she stands without waiting for Albus to acknowledge her. “Well, then,” Albus says in a slow, thoughtful voice. “Students, this is Ministry Undersecretary Dolores Umbridge, who will be standing in for Professor Burbage as Muggle Studies Professor for the foreseeable future due to—”

The witch interrupts Albus by standing to give the students a speech that borders on fascism, her false smile never once slipping. Albus gets back up to try and get on with things; then Umbridge stands and does it again.

Snape no longer merely dislikes her. Now he also wishes her dead just so that she will remain quiet. He gives Umbridge another irritated glance. Whoever sent this clueless, impolite witch to teach at Hogwarts, when she has probably never met a Muggle in her entire life, is beyond intelligent comprehension.

“As I was saying…” Albus gives Umbridge a stern glare when she looks as if she’s going to try to stand for a third time. Where is a Weasley twin’s sticking hex when one is actually necessary? “The Ministry has declared that Muggle Studies is now a compulsory subject for all students. If you have not yet spent a year in the class, you may very well find that this year is your turn in the figurative barrel.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Draco Malfoy comes to see Snape in his office the moment the first years have settled for the evening, his Prefect’s badge still a shiny totem on the front of his robes. There were other, better prospects, but that badge is Snape’s last-ditch effort at trying to teach Draco some sense of responsibility. “Potter is playing at politics!” he declares.

“Congratulations: You have mastered the art of alliteration.” Snape pauses over the letter he is writing, a request for more dragon’s teeth. The school is running low, even after the free samples left behind from last year’s foolish tournament. He went through quite a number of them to make a true Wolfsbane potion.

“You don’t understand,” Draco says, which Snape finds laughable. “He’s…he’s…” The boy abruptly sits down in one of Snape’s office chairs, running his hands through his hair.

Snape lifts one eyebrow, a subtle display of disapproval at Draco’s lack of manners. “Perhaps, one day, you might elucidate further.”

“He spoke to me on the train—just me, after asking for a few moments’ private conversation. I was intrigued,” Draco says. “He hasn’t really spoken to me since leaving me a waiting victim in the hallway.”

Snape puts down his quill. “And I told you that you’d gotten what you deserved for making foolish assumptions about Potter’s abilities. You may continue to use that tired excuse in front of your compatriots in your House, but you and I both know the truth, Mister Malfoy. Honor me with it.”

Draco flushes. “Sorry, sir. You’re right. I failed in a duel that I instigated. Then there was that stunt with the hippogriff when he grabbed my hand and healed the damage before telling me to shut up, since some of them were there to learn.”

Snape gives him a dry look. “How entirely vile and unforgiving of him,” he drawls out. There had, at least, been the pleasing side-effect that Draco suddenly started paying a bit more attention in Care of Magical Creatures.

“But he’s Potter!” Draco scowls, saying this in the same tone that someone would declare an enemy, or perhaps an odious insect that has just been squashed underfoot. “He’s not supposed to be so blasted capable!”

“I am still waiting for this conversation to make sense. Do I need to sedate you?”

“No, sir.” Draco takes a deep, calming breath. “Potter asked me on the train if I supported the Dark Lord because I really believed in what he stood for, or if I was afraid of the consequences of not standing with him.”

Interesting. Potter hadn’t given Snape any indication that he was still trying to gain Slytherin allies. “And what did you tell him, Mister Malfoy?”

“I told him that of course I believed,” Draco answers, brow furrowing in confusion. “I have understood the truth of it all since I was a child. Then Potter asked me a question that I will admit, I hadn’t yet considered.

“Potter asked me…what if the Dark Lord loses?”

Draco looks away from Snape. “I scoffed at him. I told him that’s impossible.”

“In which you reveal your own foolishness once more,” Snape says, his voice sharp. “Or do you forget that the Dark Lord did fail? The war was lost, Mister Malfoy. The very fact that you were speaking to Harry Potter is proof of that. Or did you not notice the popular scar on his forehead?”

“I thought of that. I did,” Draco insists, when Snape does nothing more than look at him. “It’s—Father has always been so certain—”

“Your father,” Snape emphasizes, “was entrusted with a magical object that was sacred to the Dark Lord. Your father then decided, in the height of arrogance, to ‘accidentally’ give that object to young Miss Weasley, a mistake that led to the object’s destruction. What do you think will happen to your father when I am forced to reveal the truth of the object’s loss to the Dark Lord?”

Draco pales. “You can’t. Father will—”

“Be punished,” Snape finishes, “just as Voldemort punishes all who fail him. He rewards loyalty, but make no mistake, Mister Malfoy: the Dark Lord is swift to extract payment for any transgression, no matter how many favors you have granted him in the past.”

“Whose side are you actually on?” Draco blurts in frustration. “I thought you belonged with us—Father thinks you are our ally! If you truly followed the Dark Lord, Potter would be dead already! And then there was that stunt with Black last year—”

Snape decides he has had enough of the conversation. “Unlike you, or your father, I know how to keep my options open. That is the trait of a good Slytherin, Mister Malfoy, something I have been attempting to teach you since your very first year. It galls me that you have yet to learn the lesson. Perhaps your blind loyalty would have better suited you in Hufflepuff!”

There is one thing about both Lucius and Draco that Snape enjoys. It is almost too easy to make them turn red with apoplexy. “It is late, Mister Malfoy,” Snape says in dismissal, turning his attention back to his correspondence. “Go to bed.”

Draco stands. “Sir,” he says in a stiff, angry voice, and leaves.

Snape tries to pick up his quill, but is almost as quick to throw it down again in disgust. Ronald Weasley and Hermione Granger are named as Prefects for Gryffindor this year. Between those two, Mister Malfoy, and Pansy Parkinson, it will be all but open war in the school hallways. Albus Dumbledore has lost his bloody mind.

After Snape makes certain that his Slytherins are all in their dormitories but for the new Head Boy, Head Girl, and Prefects out on curfew patrol, he returns to his office. It isn’t much of a surprise to see the ratel lurking in the shadows.

Snape pushes the door open, pausing just long enough for the ratel to scamper ahead into the room, before he shuts the door, locks it, and leans against it. “Potter.”

“Hullo, Professor,” Potter responds, putting his oval-shaped glasses back on his face. “May I sit?”

Potter learned more manners in three years than Draco Malfoy has managed in his entire, spoilt, Pure-blooded life. “Certainly. We need to talk.”

“For more than one reason, I’m guessing.” Potter stretches out his legs while crossing them properly at the ankles, an effort spoiled by the fact that he’s wearing denims and trainers instead of proper robes. “That woman, Umbridge. The one Ron says looks like a pink toad.”

Snape feels an unwilling smile pull at his lips. “Pink toad, indeed.” He finally goes to his desk and sits down, trying to ignore the pile of correspondence still remaining. Voldemort definitely attempted to test his spy over the summer.

Snape has played the game for a very long time. He does not and will not slip.

“I’ve seen her twice, and both times, she’s made it pretty clear that she doesn’t like me,” Potter says.

“When?” Snape asks.

“Pettigrew’s trial,” Potter answers at once. “She was the witch who didn’t want to vote for Pettigrew to be sent to the Dementors, and only voted yes when she realized she would be the only Nay vote.”

Snape thinks back. Yes, he recalls that moment, but he hadn’t matched that shadowed, Wizengamot-robed witch with the pink-garbed toad the school received. “And the other?”

“She was at the trial that everyone kept pretending was just a hearing.” Potter heaves a sigh, the ratel’s temper making his eyes appear to glow green in the candle light. “She was pushing, hard, for me to be stripped of my wand and…I don’t know. Sent off to wander the desert or something. Umbridge was not happy when I was exonerated.”

“I did theorize that it would take a high-ranked person in the Ministry to direct Dementors to go after you,” Snape says.

Potter just seems annoyed by that. “Do you think it’s her?”

“I don’t know. This is one of those times where the Headmaster’s typical wait-and-see policy is the only one available. Neither of us can make such accusations without proof, and your reputation is already burnt to ash by the Prophet’s nonsense over the summer.”

Potter bites back a smile. “I actually thought it was all really funny. The others think it’s not the reaction I’m supposed to have about character assassination, but they can’t exactly force me to be angry about it. Why should I care?”

“Because it may soon be politic to do so,” Snape reminds him.

“I can’t exactly force them to change their minds, either,” Potter says. “They’ll write whatever they want.”

“For now, yes. But if or when that changes, and the tide of belief turns in your direction? You must be ready to speak to Prophet reporters as a well-mannered, properly educated young man, even if it’s someone as odious as Skeeter.”

Potter abruptly changes the subject. “Dumbledore won’t meet my eyes. At all. He won’t even speak to me—I tried to visit him before I came here. Trying to be politic and all that.” He pushes his glasses back up his nose. “Do you know why?”

Snape feels a faint sense of nausea, but he nods. “Yes,” he says, and then performs a silent Legilimens without lifting his wand or uttering a word, driving a wedge straight through Potter’s mental shields. He catches a flash of Dementors blocking out the light of the sun before the boy gathers himself and kicks Snape back out again.

“That’s why,” Snape says in explanation, while Potter gasps for breath and clutches the side of his head. “It’s also why we needed to speak, aside from your concerns about the pink toad.”

“Understood, sir. Sort of.” Potter’s face is twitching in a way that suggests a headache is brewing.

Snape tosses him a corked phial. “Wait until you’re about to leave,” he instructs, and then settles back in his chair. “Out of dire necessity, this is the last time we will be able to meet like this.”

Potter’s expression turns sober. “Because of Voldemort.”

Snape inclines his head. “Yes. His return changes everything. My role, and his trust in it, must be absolute.”

Potter lifts his chin. “I’m listening, sir.”

“We will have time alone for further lessons in Occlumency and Legilimency. The Headmaster has ordered me to do it; I have put up a very impressive show of protest.” Even better, Snape is all but certain Albus believes all of those reasons to be true this time. Snape is a very private man, and the idea of anyone digging into his head is almost enough to make him panic. Potter might well be the only child that Snape could teach to use the Legilimens spell without bolting for the blasted mountains.

“No more letters by owl, not until Voldemort is confirmed to be truly defeated,” Snape continues. “I do not mind the idea of further correspondence, but use your stolen house-elf to send your missives. Grant me verbal permission to call for him so that I can send any replies, but bear in mind that answers may not be swift. I am going to be…” Snape hesitates. “Busy does not do justice to the sheer horror that is my schedule this year.

“The next part will strain your acting abilities, Mister Potter. I know you have them, so don’t even try to protest,” Snape says, cutting off Potter’s attempt to speak. “It is now vital that the entire school, along with the whole of Wizarding Britain, is convinced that we are enemies in truth, not just vague contemplation. Voldemort must never have even the slightest idea that we are anything else, or he will use that potential connection against you. To this end, you are going to see a return of the utter ruthlessness you experienced from me during your first and second years at Hogwarts.”

“I don’t actually remember any of that,” Potter says. “How much of a shock should I be in for?”

“I earned my foul reputation for a reason, Mister Potter,” Snape replies. “That fit of temper during the holly berry incident is but a small fraction of the black-hearted man I can be.”

“Pretend to be,” Potter says, but Snape shakes his head.

“No. I will mean everything I say, Mister Potter, and when you respond in kind? You must mean it, too.”

Potter grimaces. “I don’t understand.”

“In life, masks are sometimes necessary. You put on a mask to be what is required, and take it off again when it’s safe to be yourself.” Snape frowns; he’s not sure he knows how to properly explain this. “Whether or not the real you would care about being shouted at is irrelevant. The mask you wear must react in a way that expresses your extreme displeasure. Anger. Push back as hard as you dare.”

“As I dare—detentions,” Potter realizes. “Is that for a time without masks, or a time for further lessons?”

“Both,” Snape answers. “I told you that my schedule was terrible, but yours will not be much better. It’s O.W.L. year, Mister Potter. Your courseload will be significant. Do not push hard enough to gain a detention unless you’re certain you have the time to complete it without falling behind in your studies. There may also be times when you push on the wrong day, and I won’t be there for your detention. In those instances, I will be certain that others know you’ve been assigned to Lupin, since I can’t stand him, either.”

“Of course you can’t.” Potter is trying to smile and failing at it.

“You will hear of my loathing of the werewolf at full volume.” Snape lets dark, pleased anger slip back into his voice. It’s like his favorite rolling smoke. “You will never come to harm at my hands, Mister Potter…but I will most assuredly convince you that I wish it to be the opposite.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

That first class goes so well—so poorly—that Snape genuinely considers keeping a bottle near his person to imbibe from after Potter’s classroom time is over for the day. To his credit, Potter responds as brilliantly to the great Bloody Bat’s return as he did to last year’s sudden accusation of potion-ingredient theft.

Potter’s first class with Professor Umbridge does not go well in any sense of the word. Snape calls for Dobby, who is still far too into the bowing and scraping habits of life at Malfoy Manor.

 

Potter,

Detention? In your first bloody class with the toad?

 

Potter’s response is not swift, though it arrives before Snape retires for the evening. Snape frowns, feeling a sense of pain emanating from the paper that puts him on edge.

Potter has been around Dark magic. Recently.

 

Professor,

She fucking started it. For a class on Muggle Studies, she does seem to really like blithering on about how the Ministry is the greatest thing on Earth, and that the Ministry is wise, the Ministry is all-knowing, and that silly boys should not tell such lies about You-Know-Who’s return.

If she doesn’t actually start teaching this stupid subject during the next class, I am going to make her eat this fucking quill.

Harry

 

Snape realizes both of his eyebrows are trying to climb his forehead. “That, Mister Potter, is removing a mask with a vengeance,” he murmurs. He goes to bed, but something about the letter leaves him so unsettled that rest is a long time coming.

It seems to be of good fortune that Muggle Studies is considered both an easy subject, a class to coast through the year on, and that Potter attends it only once a week. He earns a detention from Umbridge every single time.

By the third week, the entire blasted school is talking about it. Snape overhears a mixture of terror and pride that Potter appears to be standing up to the two most loathed teachers in school. Not even detentions are stopping him from responding in kind to the Ministry nonsense he receives from one, or the unreasonable hatred Potter gets from the other.

Snape is still trying to figure out how Umbridge managed to replace Binn’s ghost as Hogwarts’ second-most-hated teacher in less than two weeks. That breaks even his record, and Snape started teaching with the intent to earn his title.

“You know, you could actually try to get through one of Umbridge’s classes without earning a detention,” Snape tells Potter, once he’s in his first official Potions-earned detention. The classroom door is closed and the wards are up, which means the masks can, temporarily, be set aside.

He doesn’t even need to worry about Dumbledore-shaped interference. Snape is doing exactly what he was instructed to do—teach Potter Occlumency under the cover of detention.

Potter just looks grim. “Not this year, Professor. Definitely not for her.”

“Why?”

“Some of it is being politic. Setting an example. Someone should stand up to the rubbish she spouts in every class,” Potter says.

“She’s started to hand out more detentions for classroom disobedience to people other than you. Congratulations; you are setting a very Gryffindor example.”

Potter finally smiles. “I can’t set a Slytherin example, sir. Too many people would be upset if I slipped something into her morning tea.”

Snape finds himself considering the possibilities. “Merlin, please do not tempt me.”

Potter lifts his wand. “Distraction provided, sir. Legilimens!

Bloody cheating brat, Snape grouses. His return shove is so hard that Potter is knocked onto his back and slides several feet along the classroom floor. Before Snape can even begin to wonder about possible injury, Potter starts laughing.

The second detention has to be spent mostly on lessons, the practice of mental footwork. When that short time is over, Snape feels mentally and physically wrung out. Potter doesn’t look much better.

“You’re doing well,” Snape offers, when silence hangs too heavy in the air.

“Oh. Yeah. Thank you, sir,” Potter replies, sounding distracted.

“Talk, idiot.”

Potter doesn’t even crack a smile. “I just don’t understand why I’m so angry all the time.”

“Masks can be hard to put aside,” Snape says.

“It’s not even the mask. It doesn’t matter. I’m just angry!”

“Perhaps angsty adolescence is catching up with you at last,” Snape replies, but he watches Potter’s fingers rub at the famous lightning bolt scar and knows that isn’t the problem at all. This will definitely complicate matters. “Any nightmares, Potter?”

Potter drops his hand. “If I’ve had them, I don’t remember them, sir.”

The next time Potter turns up to Snape’s class, he’s wearing knitted gloves in garish colors that lack fingers. “Trying to set a new fashion statement, Mister Potter?” Snape drawls in utter mockery. Those are truly hideous creations.

Potter gives him a bland stare that is just shy of impudent. “Miss Lovegood is learning to knit, sir,” he says, using the cover of an upright textbook to offer a fine British salute to Draco Malfoy when the latter starts laughing. “She just hasn’t mastered fingers yet.”

“I’ll bet that can be arranged,” Nott says in a soft undertone.

While the Gryffindors are distracted by trying to protect Potter, Snape turns his head and stares hard at Nott. Once Snape has Theodore Nott’s attention, he shakes his head in a near-imperceptible fashion, never dropping his gaze.

Nott blanches and nods, turning to his textbook so quickly that he knocks it over. Snape rolls his eyes and finds someone else to torture. Longbottom has become such easy prey that it’s just not enjoyable anymore. Weasley, however, turns really interesting shades of red with little provocation needed.

Things blow up in spectacular fashion on the eve of the Hallowe’en Feast. Snape skipped it, citing exhaustion that was not quite feigned. Albus might try to flay him for not putting in an appearance, but Snape does not currently care.

His decision about how to spend the rest of his evening is interrupted by loud scratching upon the door to his quarters.

Snape frowns, drawing his wand as he goes to open the door. Very few know where he actually resides within Hogwarts. He gives up much of his time to his Slytherins, and he values what little privacy he still has.

He has the wand out at chest level, a curse ready on his lips, when he realizes the air in front of him is empty. He lowers his wand and looks down at the dungeon floor.

There is an angry ratel staring up at him. A quill is clenched in its mouth, and the tip of it is red with blood.

Snape checks the corridor for any sort of prying eyes and ears. “I’m not upset that you might have killed her. I’m upset that you may have beaten me to it.” He gestures for the ratel to come inside. It disturbs him to realize that the ratel is limping.

“The door is sealed, Potter, and the wards are active.”

Potter is suddenly standing where the ratel had been…just before he spits out the quill and then falls to his knees, clutching at his right hand. “Sorry. Sorry, I actually couldn’t wait—I couldn’t do it anymore—”

“Do what—I really am going to kill that woman,” Snape whispers, horrified.

Dug into the flesh of Potter’s hand, in Potter’s precise script, is a sentence.

I must not tell lies.

“When I said you were presenting a Gryffindor example, idiocy wasn’t what I had in mind!” Snape shouts. He grabs the nearest clean piece of black cloth, wrapping Potter’s hand before the puddle of blood on the floor gets any larger.

Potter grits his teeth when the makeshift bandage is tightened, not bothering to open his eyes. “I think I’ve figured that out, sir.”

“I don’t have the right supplies here. Stay,” Snape orders. He uses a clean handkerchief to retrieve the bloodied quill, wrapping it and placing it into his pocket. Then he goes straight to his fireplace. The office of every faculty member has a fireplace connected to the Floo Network. Snape’s quarters have been granted a rare exception in that his private fireplace is, as well, in recognition of his need to appear as Voldemort wills. He firecalls his own office and makes sure the flames are burning high enough to allow the passage of two people at once.

“IN,” Snape growls, shoving Potter towards the fireplace when the boy is too slow to move. “Why are your eyes still closed?”

“Spell. She blinded me—bright light only, it just still hurts,” Potter explains. “I could see as a ratel, so it can’t be that bad.”

Snape growls under his breath. “I will be confirming that, as will Madam Pomfrey. Hold on, idiot.”

“Sir,” Potter whispers, and gets a firm grasp onto the front of Snape’s robes. Both of his hands are bloody. That distracts him enough that Snape doesn’t realize how tall Potter has gotten until much later; the top of Potter’s head is just beneath Snape’s nose.

Snape shoves Potter back down onto an office chair after they arrive. “Stay,” he orders again, perhaps unnecessarily, and firecalls Lupin. To his frustration, he gets no one, which means the werewolf has already gone to ground for the night. He throws in a fresh bit of powder and tries Minerva, instead.

“Severus, it is very, very late,” Minerva responds crossly. “I was about to retire for the evening.”

Snape convinces himself to stop grinding his teeth. “I apologize, but I need to speak to the werewolf.”

“Remus has a name, Severus.” She gives him a pointed look over the rims of her glasses.

“Fine.” Snape puts on his worst attempt at a charming smile, the one that he uses if he wishes to escape someone’s unwanted romantic interest. “Please ask Remus Lupin to come to my office. I need someone with enough physical strength to keep me from murdering someone on Hogwarts grounds.”

“Dear Merlin, what has that pink toad done now?” Minerva bursts out, incensed. “I’ll send him promptly, Severus. Should I prepare for a long night?”

Snape glances behind him, where Potter is only just starting to blink his eyes open. He winces away from the nearest lit candle like it’s as bright as a sun. Snape turns back to Minerva, who is probably still under the assumption that Snape is enraged on behalf of one of his Slytherins. Even they have lost patience with the toad, and are earning their share of detentions.

“Wake the other Heads of Houses, and then go kick the Headmaster out of bed. We have a significant problem to cope with,” Snape says.

Minerva’s eyes narrow to cat-like slits. “Consider it done. We will meet you and Remus in the Headmaster’s office, Severus.”

Lupin arrives when Snape is still trying to get the wounds on Potter’s hand to stop bleeding. “What in the entire blue blazes!” the werewolf yells.

“Please do shut the door before you start waking the entire castle!” Snape shakes his head as the torn flesh throws off his latest attempt to staunch the flow of blood. He knows it’s a cursed wound, but now he’s fucking angry and taking it as a personal affront that he can’t heal Potter’s hand.

“What happened, Harry?” Lupin asks, sounding only marginally calmer after he shuts the door.

“I couldn’t take Umbridge’s idea of a detention anymore,” Potter admits, his shoulders hunched inwards. “Everyone’s been—well, busy. I didn’t want…I thought she’d get tired of it. I think I underestimated how much someone can hate someone else for really stupid reasons.”

“Yes, you did,” Snape says in a brisk voice. “But that is not entirely your fault.”

Lupin studies Potter’s hand; his eyes are shining bright gold. It’s the first sign of the wolf that Snape has seen since August, and a confirmation that he’s only halted werewolf transformations, not cured lycanthropy. Blast. “Cured lycanthropy” is a much more preferable epitaph than “was a complete prick to everyone.”

“Blood quill?” Lupin finally asks. Snape nods. “Heads of House?”

“Already being stirred to life by Minerva.” Snape pauses. “Potter, where are your glasses?”

“I don’t know,” Potter answers, still wincing away from the candle light. “She was trying to stop me from escaping with the quill, and I must have lost them in the scramble to get away from her.”

Snape leans back on his haunches. “You don’t actually need them anymore, do you?”

The angry, exasperated expression he gets in response to that statement is almost a work of art. “Pol-i-tic,” Potter emphasizes, still glaring at Snape.

“Of course,” Snape returns dryly. “My mistake. Lupin, please firecall the Headmaster’s office so that we can be on our way. If we go through the halls and run into that woman, I’d commit murder without a single regret whatsoever.”

“She was pushing anti-werewolf legislation over the summer. I’d help you hide the body,” Lupin growls, lifting the lid from the Floor Powder jar.

“Huh.” Potter is studying the bleeding letters in his skin with a thoughtful expression. Snape shoves a new handkerchief into Potter’s hand to catch the fresh blood before it can finish destroying Potter’s jumper.

While Lupin speaks to whoever answered at Albus’s fireplace, Snape leans in close. “That is the look of a Slytherin plotting great things.”

Potter meets Snape’s eyes. “I was just wondering if maybe Rita Skeeter wanted to write a real story.”

The smile that spreads across Snape’s face has to be positively feral. He does enjoy it when Potter chooses to put the Gryffindor aside.

 

*          *          *          *

 

The front page article in the next morning’s Daily Prophet is, for once, a pleasure to read.

 

Dark Magic and Torture at Hogwarts! Ministry to Blame and a Scandal Afoot!

by Rita Skeeter

Dark deeds have indeed occurred at Hogwarts, but not in the form of mysterious, anti-Ministry armies, or the rumors that will not stop swirling of You-Know-Who’s return.

Last night, this reporter had the honor of returning to Hogwarts, invited by Headmaster Albus Dumbledore himself. I did wonder what could be so interesting, as, unlike last year, we have no curiosity like the Triwizard Cup to delight in! The drama, the spectacle! The dragons! (Along with Bartemius Crouch, Junior’s insanity and apparent death, but that is all an aside, for now.)

When I arrived, I was surprised to find myself in company of all Hogwarts staff, minus Professor Trelawney, and the Minister for Magic himself! Present were the Headmaster, of course, Deputy Headmaster Minerva McGonagall, Professor Remus Lupin, Professor Filius Flitwick, Madam Healer Poppy Pomfrey, Professor Severus Snape, Professor Aurora Sinistra, Professor Septima Vector, and Professor Pomona Sprout. (Gamekeeper Rubeus Hagrid was absent merely so as to not overcrowd the room, while I am told that Professor Trelawney could not be budged from her high tower.) Aside from Minister Cornelius Fudge, his appointed replacement teacher for Muggle Studies was present, Madam Dolores Umbridge.

Remember that name, dear readers!

The only student present for the meeting was our Wizarding savior, the Boy Who Lived, Mister Harry Potter. You may remember that he and Mister Cedric Diggory tied for first place during last year’s tournament, a stunning win that revealed our beloved school’s sense of unity and pride.

Oh, dear readers, if you continue, please be aware that there were things that went on yestereve that are not for the faint of heart.

It was to my shock that I realized that young Mister Potter was bleeding profusely from his right hand. There was a white handkerchief wrapped around the ghastly wound, and he met this reporter’s eyes with the sort of solemnity reserved for our illustrious courtrooms.

Oh, there was posturing from Madam Undersecretary Umbridge, I can assure you of that! The horror of it all, knowing that this particular pink-robed witch, a supposed bastion of our government, has been torturing students with Dark magical objects! Blood quills, dear readers!

Mister Potter, a victim of Madam Umbridge’s cruelty, immediately brought the matter to the Headmaster’s attention. As this reporter watched, Albus Dumbledore confronted Minister Fudge with the evidence of Madam Umbridge’s misdeeds—the very bloodquill that caused Mister Potter’s hand to be in such poor condition.

The Headmaster very kindly reminded our Minister Fudge that blood quills were banned from Hogwarts by a decree the Ministry itself handed down in 1605. I may have heard the Minister declare that he had given Madam Umbridge full warrant to do whatever she saw as necessary during her tenure at Hogwarts, but I could be mistaken.

Either way, dear readers, our young Mister Potter was going to bleed from his wounds until Madam Umbridge’s punishment was declared completed or suspended, and dear me, she refused to consider releasing him from it. Imagine! Denying a direct order from the Minister!

I absolutely could not believe what happened next. Mister Potter picked up the blood quill, set it to paper, and started to write his abhorrent punishment. I am as full of prurient curiosity as the next witch, I will admit, but I wished to turn my back on such a display.

 

Lies, Snape thinks. Skeeter looked positively vampiric at the sight.

 

He continued to write, dear readers, and uttered not a sound! Not while his poor, dear hand bled red onto his scroll. Mister Potter stared at our Ministry representative, Dolores Umbridge, the entire time.

Fifty times, dear readers. Fifty times he wrote, “I must not tell lies.”

I have never seen a more sickening bit of petty vengeance, dear readers—and I mean Madam Umbridge, not Mister Potter. Watching that brave young man, I felt no little shame, thinking of a time or two that I may have embellished my stories, just for the sakes of you, dear readers.

 

Sinistra, who decided to read over his shoulder at some point, makes a disparaging sound. “Once or twice? Once or twice per article, she means.”

Snape lowers the paper and turns to frown at her. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all,” Sinistra answers with a grin. “I’m framing my copy of today’s Prophet.”

 

What came next, dear readers, I expected not at all. Shock enough, to find an educator with such a willingness to harm our precious children! No, that was not the worst of it.

You may recall when this reporter told you all of Mister Potter’s Wizengamot trial for the use of underage magic, a charge of which he was cleared of. I may have made comment on how unusual it was for a child to be tried by a full Wizengamot for such a petty misdemeanor, especially when it was used in the defence of Mister Potter and a family member against a Dementor! Special people, special circumstances, I believed, and thought no more of it!

Dolores Umbridge, in a fit of pink, frothy, un-witch-like rage, admitted to sending that Dementor after Mister Potter and Sirius Black, Heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black.

I was not the only magical being in that office who was silenced by shock. The unbelievable nature of such a thing—that a member of the Ministry would send such a dark creature after a child!

It seems that in her fervor to maintain a society free of rumors of You-Know-Who, Madam Umbridge decided to stem the rumors at their source—Mister Potter, of course. Why she did not also assault Mister Cedric Diggory, who has also declared that You-Know-Who is returning, is a mystery.

Madam Umbridge has been removed from her post at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, pending an investigation by the M.L.E. Minister Fudge disavows all knowledge of Dolores Umbridge’s extreme methods, and says he will cooperate fully with the investigation.

Mister Potter submitted to curse scar treatment at the hands of school matron Madam Pomfrey, but as this brave young man no doubt knows, there is no way to remove a scar caused by Dark magic.

It is this reporter’s opinion that Mister Potter did not really need any more magical scars.

 

Snape looks up from his copy of the paper, his eyes seeking that familiar figure at the Gryffindor table. Lupin found Potter’s glasses, repaired the damage, and returned them after Skeeter’s delightful time in the castle, so he otherwise looks much the same but for the wounds on his hand. Potter does not seem to be putting the new scars on display, but his right hand is visible more often than usual. The back of his hand is still bright red and angry, though it is not actively bleeding.

The scars should be clean and white, but Umbridge wanted him to write more.

Chapter Text

Quidditch season resumes the second weekend in November. Potter has still chosen to stay off the team, so Ginevra Weasley joins the Gryffindors as a Beater…and Hermione Granger is their new Seeker. That’s unexpected, but Granger did have a swift hand in preventing destruction during the holly berry incident last term.

Snape remembers a young woman who was not fond of brooms, but something about playing with the Weasley twins, Ginevra, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell, and Angelina Johnson brings out the same fierce, competitive spirit that marks Granger’s academic life. It’s always a wise decision to cultivate more than one skill.

“Hah, they’re mostly girls!” Snape hears some fool from Ravenclaw shout from the stands. “They’ll lose the match in less than fifteen minutes, mark my words!”

Snape glances in the direction of a cluster of Gryffindors, where Potter and Ronald Weasley are sitting. He’s too far away to hear them, but he is adept at reading lips, especially after years of keeping watch on that pair. “Still sorry you didn’t make the team, Ron?” Potter is asking.

“I was a bit, at first.” Weasley is watching as the flyers take their first trip around the pitch while Lee Jordan introduces everyone to the new season and the new team faces. “But there are three Weasleys in the air, Harry. This game is going to be bloody amazing to watch.”

Weasley is correct. The new Gryffindor lineup absolutely thrashes Hufflepuff in a game that ends at three hundred fifty points against a mere forty. His Slytherins are going to need to reconsider their strategies, or the losses this season are going to humiliate the entire House.

After witnessing the Slytherins lose their first game to the blasted Ravenclaws in miserable fashion two weeks later, Snape knows that it’s time to put some of the old traditions aside. He announces a mandatory meeting in the Slytherin common room that evening.

When he arrives, his Slytherins are gathered and waiting. The older students have claimed all of the furniture. The first-years, still learning that their Head of House prefers to protect them rather than eat them, are clustered towards the back.

“Today’s game,” Snape says in a curt voice, “was the most embarrassing spectacle I have witnessed in many, many years. Such nonsense will not earn you the House Cup. It will, however, earn you the derision of the entire school.”

“It wasn’t our fault—” Bletchley tries to say. Snape silences him with a glare.

“It was your fault, and I do not wish to hear tired excuses about how it is not. You cannot bribe the other teams into losing, unlike the methods in which most of you earned your positions on the Slytherin Quidditch team. As of this moment, every single Quidditch position is open and available. If you wish to see if you have the skill to retain your place on the team, you will turn up for tryouts this Saturday morning at dawn. Those with the mental fortitude to play will also have the self-discipline to wake themselves. If you are late, you will not participate. If you lose your position on the team, it will be your responsibility to tell others why, not mine. Understood?”

Snape waits for the polite and sullen blend of assent and gives them a nod. “The House Cup has not been ours since 1992. If you wish to have it back—earn it.”

He gets an impressive crowd of thirty students that Saturday morning, all of them dressed in layers against the cold weather. Malfoy nearly forfeits his chance by riding the edge of tardiness, but Snape checks his pocket watch, gives Malfoy a warning glance, and allows him to participate.

Malfoy demonstrates that he’s learned enough tactics and skill since his second year to keep his position as Seeker. Snape is pleased by that, glad to see that the young idiot did not solely rely on his father’s bribe of new brooms when he joined the team. It’s every other position that is claimed by new players. He doesn’t have the time available to oversee any other training session with his Slytherins.

“Listen.” Snape waits until all seven remaining faces turn to face him. “Your new Team Captain is Miss Bulstrode,” he announces, which causes the young woman’s expression to deepen into a grimace. She doesn’t thank him; Miss Bulstrode is well aware of the sheer amount of work Snape has just heaped upon her shoulders.

“You will have the pitch for Saturday morning practice from dawn until the time lunch is served in the Great Hall. After lunch, the pitch belongs to the Hufflepuffs until dinner.”

There is grumbled irritation from Malfoy at that. The young man is too bloody spoiled, but he will have to learn to cope with rising early. Snape would just like to have his weekends free of interruptions from further Gryffindor-Slytherin territorial jinxing matches.

“On Sunday, Gryffindor has the pitch from dawn until lunch, and the Ravenclaws take it afterwards.” Snape waits a moment, sees only resigned expectation, and continues. “You will be here for practice, every Saturday morning, or you forfeit your place on the team. Miss Bulstrode will tell me if you are late or absent. Unless Madam Pomfrey informs me that you are dying in her infirmary, I will accept no excuses. Is that clear?”

They all nod, though Malfoy’s expression has become more mulish than ever. It doesn’t suit him at all. Narcissa should possibly do something to correct her son’s impression that such an expression is flattering.

In December, Ravenclaw wins over Hufflepuff, then Gryffindor defeats Ravenclaw. The Slytherins won’t be in the air again until January, which Snape prefers. It gives them more time to learn how to be a team instead of a disaster. Miss Bulstrode reports that the new team has real potential. She is honest enough to admit that they might not see a Cup victory until next year, but they will not see out the close of the season in humiliation.

It’s a relief to get to the winter holiday without any other incident. No pranks, no Ministry officials, no Death Eater attacks. Just dunderheads to teach, Gryffindors to yell at, Potter to infuriate, and Lupin and Minerva to give him disappointed looks.

Most of the students enjoy the fact that they’re free of Muggle Studies for the rest of the year, though some do voice disappointment about not getting to take the class with Professor Burbage, who has still not made herself available. Dumbledore tells the student body that Charity Burbage took an unexpected leave of absence at the beginning of the year—hence the pink toad’s temporary reign—and he doesn’t know when she plans to return. It’s close enough to the truth to be convincing, but no one has any idea what happened to Burbage. Snape has suspicions, but so far, they are unconfirmed.

The blasted scars created by Umbridge’s abuse of a Dark artefact haven’t faded from Potter’s hand, but at least the pink toad is now a resident of Azkaban. In this particular instance, Snape goes to the island to see Umbridge’s incarceration for himself. After Pettigrew’s escape, he takes nothing about that prison for granted.

He does stop by Bellatrix Lestrange’s cell before leaving. “And how are you this evening, Bella?” he asks in a solicitous tone. He’s well aware of the fact that Voldemort is planning some sort of jailbreak for the Death Eaters who were loyal enough to go to prison for him. It is, fortunately, not a task Snape will be asked to participate in.

However, he is going to suggest to Voldemort that Umbridge is too stupid to be useful, and should be left behind so that the Dementors won’t be lonely. The idea has enough cruelty inherent in it to charm Voldemort, though Snape knows that “charm” is the wrong word entirely.

“Oh, it’s Severus.” Bellatrix gets off of her cot and stands, smiling. She sways over to him in the familiar drunken gait she uses to disguise the grave danger she presents to every living thing around her. “I’m doing so well, Severus. He’s returned, and he’s whole again, and I will see him soon, Severus!”

“I believe you will,” Snape replies, leaning back when Bellatrix takes a swipe at his face with her ragged fingernails. “Behave, Bellatrix. We all serve in our own ways.”

“Traitor,” she whispers, a mad grin on her face.

“Idiot,” Snape counters, and departs.

By the time he returns to Scotland, the Mark on his arm is burning in the particular way that speaks of Voldemort demanding his presence. Snape gives up on the idea of having dinner and Apparates to Voldemort’s current address. The formerly grand Muggle home of the Riddles in Little Hangleton is a rotten wreck, but Voldemort finds it useful when he needs to call all of his Death Eaters together.

Voldemort has not asked for their entire number to gather since his resurrection. This does not bode well—not that it ever does.

The dining room has been set with an expensive table, no doubt a donation from one of Voldemort’s Pure-blood followers. There are multiple new faces gathered, bearing fresh Marks of service to Voldemort. Merlin, how many stupid people in Wizarding Britain can there be?

A lot, Snape thinks sourly as he takes count. Then he drops into a brief bow when Voldemort’s eyes alight upon him. “My Lord.”

“Ah, Severus. So good of you to join us.” Voldemort’s voice has not changed, nor has his body. Blood-and-Bone gave him life, but it is life unchanging. “There are things requiring our attention.”

Snape allows his gaze to travel upwards. Charity Burbage is suspended in a painful contortion of broken limbs, slowly spinning in place above the table. “So I see, My Lord.”

“You seem irritated, Severus.” Lucius is smiling, the old familiar expression of mocking cruelty. “Is there a problem?”

“Her replacement was a fool,” Snape says in a flat, unimpressed tone. “Instead of serving as a distraction for the entirety of the school year, she didn’t even last past Hallowe’en. Now the Ministry is under investigation, which slows our Lord’s plans. Yes, I am quite irritated, Lucius.”

The mask wants to slip when he hears Burbage’s weak, pathetic whisper. “Severus? Help me…” He refuses to allow his eyes to even flicker in her direction again.

“I understand your frustration.” Voldemort is tapping his wand against his hand—no, that is actually Potter’s old wand rather than his own. Odd. “And Severus is correct, Lucius. Our associate in the Ministry sent a poor choice to Hogwarts, and it delays my plans.”

“On a positive note, I spoke with Bellatrix today,” Snape says, ignoring Burbage’s continued pleas for assistance. “She is eager to serve you again, My Lord.”

Voldemort smiles, a hint of genuine pleasure in the expression. “Good, good. I have need of someone of her prodigious talent.”

“Indeed.” Snape finally allows himself a second brief, uninterested look at Burbage. “Are we Obliviating this woman and placing her back into her role as a teacher for the time being, or does My Lord have other plans?”

“Other plans, I’m afraid,” Voldemort replies, studying the wand he holds in a show of fascination. “Hogwarts will simply have to do without their precious Muggle Studies teacher. It isn’t as if the school will need one for much longer.”

“I see. Might I sit, My Lord?”

Voldemort glances up, another lipless smile on his face. “There, you see, Lucius? Proper manners are not hard to master. Your own offspring should consider imitating his betters.”

Lucius ducks his head and does not meet Voldemort’s eyes. “As he has been instructed to do, My Lord. Draco will learn, in time.”

“Of course.” Voldemort gestures gracefully for Snape to choose a seat. “We have much to discuss.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape skips breakfast the next morning, lunch, and then what is probably the Christmas Feast, given a kitchen elf’s attempts to rouse him when his sense of time tells him it is nearing dinner. No; not interested. He is far more interested in lying in bed with a pillow crammed over his head, desperate to block out the look on Burbage’s face when four different Death Eaters lifted their wands.

He would very much like to stop hearing those screams.

He hates that some of those screams were desperate cries of his own name. If that was some horrific final test of his loyalties to complete what Voldemort subjected him to over the summer, it was well-planned.

Save one life, or save a multitude? He knows, knows, that it could not be hers.

It’s the frantic pounding on his door that finally rouses him. The other teachers would be more polite. No one knocks like that unless something is wrong.

Merlin. What else could possibly have gone wrong in the last twenty-four hours?

Snape pulls open the door and stares at Lupin in surprise, blinking against the bright torchlight in the corridor. “What the hell do you want?”

“There’s been an attack in the Department of Mysteries,” Lupin answers, grabbing Snape by the hand and pulling him out into the corridor. Snape barely has enough time to slam the wooden door to his quarters shut before he’s being literally dragged down the corridor by a half-panicked werewolf.

“What kind of attack?” Snape asks, grabbing hold of his wand long enough to perform a non-verbal cleansing spell. He can at least look like he did not just fall out of bed.

“Arthur Weasley. He was bitten by some kind of large, venomous reptile, and it doesn’t look good,” Lupin says.

Snape feels the bottom drop out of his stomach. “What was Arthur even doing there, Lupin?”

“Patrol. There have been a series of break-ins, and Albus suspects Death Eater activity.” Lupin gives him a sidelong look. “He didn’t tell you.”

“Albus didn’t, no,” Snape growls. Voldemort has expressed interest in acquiring an item stored within that Department, though he hasn’t yet confessed what that item is. Snape was not aware that anyone in the Order knew of that interest; had he known, he could have warned them.

If Arthur Weasley dies, Snape will happily place the blame for that death at Albus Dumbledore’s feet. Let the old fool know what it’s like to have that sort of blood on his hands.

“Wait. Lupin!” Snape manages to get the werewolf’s attention so that he’ll at least slow down. “How did we find out? If this is the snake I suspect, Arthur would have been dead in minutes without medical assistance.”

Lupin frowns. “Harry. Harry knew. He dreamed it as it happened.”

Snape tries not to grind his teeth. “I can’t tell if I’m glad, or if I want to wring Potter’s neck for not Occluding properly before sleeping.”

“To be fair? It had been a long day,” Lupin says. Snape realizes that he’s been dragged all the way to his office. “St. Mungo’s is keeping him alive, but they’ve already told Molly that they don’t know how to counter the venom. Do you?”

Snape shakes off Lupin’s arm and goes into his office, lighting the candles by glaring at them. He takes a moment to breathe and orient himself. “Yes, but brewing it will take an hour. Go tell the batch of idiots in St. Mungo’s to keep Arthur Weasley alive, or I’ll kill them all myself and save Molly the trouble. I’ll be there as soon as it’s done, Lupin.”

“Thank you,” Lupin whispers. By the time Snape thinks to look up from what he’s gathering, the werewolf is long gone from his office.

Snape is greeted at the St. Mungo’s public Floo by an entire herd of Weasleys. “Either get out of the way, or take me straight to your father,” he orders the closest ginger. William Weasley, the most sensible Weasley Hogwarts ever hosted, nods and shoves his way through his crowd of siblings, St. Mungo’s staff, and public eavesdroppers to clear Snape’s path.

“Will it work, Severus?” Molly asks, once the potion is administered. Snape is looking over the bite marks, lifting bandage after bandage. Great Merlin, Arthur has to be a stubborn bastard.

“Theoretically, yes,” Snape replies, and then realizes that probably sounds callous. “Molly, the creature that attacked Arthur is the relatively new creation of a madman. All I can do is promise you that I’ve done my very best to save Arthur’s life.”

Molly dabs at her eyes and draws herself together. “Thank you. Tell the children I will come and update them if their father’s condition…changes.”

Snape shuts the door to the private room behind him. Once again, he is encircled by ginger. “Yes, he is still alive. Who treated your father’s wounds?”

William, Charles, and the twins act as a living plow to clear the way forward this time, tracking down the St. Mungo’s healer who’d been primary staff when Arthur was brought in. “You.” Snape’s eyes drop down to his nametag. “Gruffolow. Did you save the venom?”

Gruffolow gives Snape a baffled look. “I’m sorry, I—did you just ask if we saved the venom?”

“Yes,” Snape replies, resisting the urge to use Legilimens to just pull the necessary information from this idiot’s skull. “Did you save any of the venom you pumped out of Arthur Weasley’s veins?”

“Oh. Well, yes, I suppose we must have, but I can’t just give—”

Snape decides he’s being far too polite. “Listen to me, you complete fucking idiot,” Snape says, looming over the healer in full Bloody Bat mode. “I am the most accomplished Potions Master in the entirety of Great Britain, and quite possibly the whole of Europe. I do not make these claims in boast. If I have venom from the creature that just tried to kill an upstanding member of the Ministry of Magic, and my current potion fails, then his last chance is anti-venin. Wouldn’t that be useful?” he purrs, so close now that he’s almost nose-to-nose with Gruffolow.

“I always thought it was just because I was a kid,” Gruffolow squeaks out. “No, you are genuinely terrifying, Professor Snape. GLINDA!” he shouts.

A dark-skinned woman in a matron’s uniform looks up from her scrollwork. “Yes?”

“The venom we harvested while treating Mister Weasley’s injuries. Go fetch all of the cleanest samples we have. If anti-venin becomes necessary, I want it ready as soon as possible!”

Charles Weasley snorts as Gruffolow goes to assist Glinda. “I do believe that Edward nearly wet his britches, Professor.”

“Good,” Snape mutters. He’s finally placed Gruffolow as a semi-decent student from several years before Potter’s tenure at Hogwarts.

The twins are the ones to catch him when Snape begins to slump over to one side. “Whoa. I’m touching him. Does this mean I turn to stone?” George mock-whispers to Fred Weasley.

“Shut up.” Snape retrieves two phials of Restorative Draught from his robe. He yanks out the stoppers and drinks both at once.

“Isn’t that inadvisable or something?” Ronald Weasley asks. “I’m pretty sure I remember you teaching us that you’re only supposed to take one of those at a time.”

Snape shakes his head to clear the remaining fog created by lack of rest. “Mister Weasley, the fact that you retained anything from my classes at all is akin to a miracle.” He glances around the group. “You’re missing the only non-ginger from your collective. Where is Potter?”

“His scar, it…” Ronald Weasley turns a bit green. “When Harry had the dream about Dad being attacked, his scar split open and bled everywhere. He’s in another room while St. Mungo’s people look him over to make sure the bleeding’s stopped. Sirius and Professor Lupin are with him,” he adds, and then looks surprised to have done so.

Glinda returns without Edward Gruffolow, carrying a large, sealed glass medical sampling jar that is full of clear liquid. With it is a large phial full of more clear fluid, but that one is tinged red with blood. “This is all there is. I’m entrusting it to you, Professor Snape.”

Snape nods and turns around before pausing. “Bill. Charlie. You both made it into N.E.W.T. Potions and did well enough. I need assistants.”

“You’ve got it, Professor,” William says in a grim voice. “Fred, George, that means you two idiots are going to be the oldest Weasleys here. Keep Ron and Ginny in line. If Percy shows up, hit him, then sit on him and make him wait for Mum,” William instructs sternly. The remaining Weasley family members all nod in somber agreement.

“Do I even want to know?” Snape asks.

“Oh, Percy’s being stupid again,” Charles says, tossing Floo Powder into the roaring fireplace. “Like that’s anything new lately. Where to, Professor?”

“The Office of Severus Snape, Hogwarts,” Snape barks out. The flames burn brighter just before he steps into the fireplace.

“Huh. I forgot; this is fun,” William is saying sometime later. Snape ignores him, watching the seconds tick down on his pocket watch before he adds a full dose of powdered bezoar to the forming brew. It’s not exactly traditional, but at this point, he’s desperate. He’s not sure Nagini’s venom can be cured at all.

The mixture turns a pleasant shade of sky blue. Snape stirs it with a glass rod and then taps it on the side, three times, with the end of his wand. The sky blue turns darker, much closer to the deep blue of impending night. That feels correct—or as correct as it is possible to get. “Charlie?”

“I think I’ve got another success, too, but I’m worried about the blood contaminant,” Charles responds.

Snape turns around to regard the bright pink formula. Bill’s is a pleasant shade of chestnut brown. Three wildly different potions, all with the same intention.

One unpreventable death. One life he might have the ability to save.

Snape nods at them. “Pour carefully into every phial at your disposal, and put a different type of stopper into each glass. I have no idea which combination will be safe, so shield as you were taught, gentlemen.”

Three of William’s phials explode, and the liquid starts eating through the table. That will be interesting to repair later. None of Charles’s creations explode, but half of them turn black in a way that Snape knows at once makes them useless.

Snape’s lead-stoppered creation explodes, to his irritation. The rest do not explode, but he has only two samples that maintained their color out of six. William and Charles both have three.

“What if these don’t work?” William asks as they prepare to Floo back to St. Mungo’s.

“If he is fortunate, your father will not need these. If he is not? It may sound cruel, but if your father is dying, these potions can’t make the situation any worse.”

“Right. Reassurance and cheer, that’s you, Professor,” Charles says, and then the fire burns bright once more.

They arrive to the news that Arthur is improving. Snape allows the Weasleys to celebrate, gathering up all the samples of potential anti-venin potions before slipping away, unnoticed in the chaos. If Nagini finds another member of the Order to attack, he’ll have possible remedies ready to test. Preservation spells will ensure that he gets that opportunity.

Chapter Text

Snape doesn’t get the chance to speak to Potter again until the second week of January, when Potter pushes hard during class and earns a harsh detention for it. “You did not Occlude!” is the first thing Snape says to Potter the moment the wards are in place.

“No, I didn’t.” Potter has a mutinous glare on his face. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I usually set the patterns when I lie down for bed, but I was tired enough that I was out before I had the chance. I refuse to regret it. Mister Weasley would be dead if I hadn’t bolloxed that up, sir.”

Snape sits on the edge of his desk, feeling tired. “You’re right. He would be. It’s the timing that concerns me.”

“You mean, the one night I fall asleep before I can guard my mind, I dream of attacking Mister Weasley from a snake’s perspective?” When Snape nods, Potter’s shoulders droop. “We’re linked, aren’t we? Voldemort and I. That’s why Dumbledore won’t look me in the eyes.”

“Albus says that on the few occasions he’s done so, he is certain that he is also seeing the Dark Lord staring at him from your eyes,” Snape says. “He is not wrong. I’ve noticed it as well.”

If this boy was not missing eleven years of his life, he would be distressed by that revelation. Potter just seems frustrated. “What do I do?”

“You have no choice. You must learn to guard your mind, at all times, without fail,” Snape informs him in a stark, remorseless voice. “To not do so is to risk true possession by the Dark Lord, and that, Mister Potter, is an experience you should avoid at all cost.”

Potter is finally jolted into genuine, unfeigned shock. “He could do that?”

“And you could do the same to him,” Snape adds, watching as Potter’s expression turns to disgust. “No, I really wouldn’t recommend it. Merely being in his presence is unpleasant enough.”

“He does it to the snake, too,” Potter whispers, staring over Snape’s left shoulder at nothing. “It wasn’t the snake’s thoughts that I dreamed. It was him. He was…” Potter shivers. “He possesses Nagini, but it’s both of them working together. She loves him. She’s…she’s valuable to him.”

Snape feels like an idiot for missing something that should have been obvious from his first meeting with the massive snake. “She’s a bloody Horcrux. He turned another living creature into a Horcrux.”

“Another one, sir?”

Snape lifts an eyebrow and gives Potter a level stare.

Potter takes a step back and collapses onto a stool. “Oh. You mean—you mean me. That’s what this stupid scar is.”

Snape nods, but has to swallow before he can speak. “Yes. Hence your immunity to the Killing Curse when it is cast by others. Receiving the Killing Curse from Voldemort himself, however…Lupin and I both suspect that would yield different, potentially fatal results.”

“Oh,” Potter says again. He falls silent, and Snape lets him be. He has no idea what he could even say. How does one reassure a boy who is now aware that he walks around with a soul shard from one of the foulest men in wizarding history lodged in his head?

“That’s why the Obliviation was so complete. Isn’t it?” Potter finally asks.

“The presence of the Horcrux is literally the only reason for that to have happened, yes,” Snape tells him. “If long years of Obliviation had been Lockhart’s intent, Mister Weasley would have been affected in the same way.”

He hears Potter swallow. “What if I get Obliviated again?”

“Shields, you idiot.” Snape lifts his eyes to the ceiling. “Please do not allow that to happen. I believe you would be starting from the same point in 1981 all over again.”

“Oh. Pleasant thought, that.” Potter makes an amused sound.

No. It is not, Snape thinks, wondering that he feels so unnerved by the idea.

“Professor.” Snape looks over to find that Potter’s eyes are on him, his gaze resolute. “We have to know how many there really are.”

“Leaving yourself open to possession is an unacceptable risk,” Snape replies flatly.

“I’m not talking about that. I mean—you’re teaching me Legilimency and Occlumency. Why can’t we create false shields for him to break through, leave bait beneath, and while he’s distracted…”

“I tell you that you do not ever wish to enter Voldemort’s mind, and you’re proposing to do it anyway.” Snape stares at Potter, nonplussed. It seems the Gryffindor is trying to rear its annoying head again. “I’ve already warned you of the danger.”

“You have, but you and Remus have already explained that we can’t kill Voldemort unless we destroy all of the Horcruxes. I don’t know how we’d deal with me without just killing me—”

“NO.”

Potter blinks a few times at Snape’s fierce denial. “Okay, not that, then. But I know you can teach me to build false places for Voldemort to go. You’ve told me he’s skilled at sending false visions. Why can’t we do that to him?”

Perhaps not the Gryffindor, after all. “Stay here,” he says, and goes into his office. His Patronus is sent off to fetch Lupin, something he would have done the night of Umbridge’s revealed torture if he hadn’t been so blasted shocked. Firecalling 12 Grimmauld Place gets him Dobby instead of Kreacher, who quails at the idea of waking Black.

“Trust me, Black will not respond in Malfoy fashion,” Snape tells the elf. “All you need do is mention his godson, and Sirius Black will be far too concerned with jumping into the Floo to care about lost sleep.”

Snape waits until Lupin and Black have both joined them. Black is still dressed for the day, but Lupin looks like someone shoved him out of bed and handed him the most mismatched clothes possible.

“Mister Potter: please repeat for your guardians what you’ve just suggested to me. This is not a decision that can be made without their permission.”

Black listens to his godson’s proposal with his jaw hanging open. “I’m not sure who to blame for that level of insanity—Lily, James, or Severus!”

Snape rolls his eyes. “I don’t want him to do it, Black.”

“But you’re not flat-out saying no, either,” Lupin observes. “Why not?”

“Because, loath as I am to admit it? Mister Potter is correct. We need to know what the remaining Horcruxes are, and how many remain to be found.”

“Bloody hell.” Black sits down on a stool, resting his hands on his knees. “Harry, this could kill you. I don’t mean physically—I mean he could swamp everything you are and mentally destroy you.”

Potter frowns. “You know—I don’t think he can. I’m not saying that possession isn’t a possibility,” he continues, glancing at Snape. “But that spell he used in the cemetery? I looked it up. We could spend the next three centuries fighting, but as long as that Horcrux piece exists in me, and my blood is still active in him? He wouldn’t succeed. I wouldn’t, either.”

“You told him?” Black rasps out, staring at Snape in horrified anger.

“No, I didn’t. He guessed. He’s intelligent, and the pieces have been lying about for quite a while now,” Snape retorts, annoyed. “Stop underestimating your godson’s intelligence, Black.”

“Not without careful preparation,” Lupin says. He’s gazing at Potter. “Not without Severus confirming in absolute certainty that it’s safe for you to offer up this created trap.”

“I think ‘safest’ is probably more accurate,” Potter offers, which isn’t going to help his proposal succeed. “But no—I really don’t think I’d enjoy any of the things that can go wrong, Remus. I believe that we need to know, but if we rush it, he’ll get in, find out what we do know, and then we’re all buggered. No thanks.”

“Have there been any repeats like the incident at Christmas?” Black asks, dancing around the actual event.

“My scar hasn’t started pouring blood, and no nightmares that aren’t my own,” Potter reports, but he looks frustrated. “Sometimes my head—it hurts on that side, like he’s trying to get in. But I haven’t skipped Occluding before bed, and if I start practicing all the time, as Professor Snape insists, then that should get better.”

“It should, yes,” Lupin agrees, and then shakes his head. “Bugger all. Sirius, I don’t think we’re going to have much choice. We have as much duty to save the rest of Wizarding Britain as we do to saving our godson.”

Black gives his grudging, unhappy approval to the plan, demands updates as they happen, and allows Lupin to escort him from the room. “Fuck,” Snape says in a near-soundless undertone.

Potter hears him anyway. “I refuse to die, or be possessed, because of that noseless arsehole.”

Snape turns and gives Potter the most indifferent stare he knows how to muster. “That is getting old. You’ll have to find other insults to tempt my lacking sense of humor, Mister Potter.”

“Don’t have any at the moment. I do have a question, though, sir,” Potter says. “And it’s not related to my being bait, so relax.”

Snape glares at the boy and forces his shoulders to ease down. He had been tensing up, after all. Dammit; when he’s alone with Potter, Black, or Lupin, his control slips. It is a failing that he has to remedy, immediately, or he will make a fatal mistake. “What is it?”

“Neville Longbottom’s parents. I’m assuming you know what happened to them.”

Yes, he is well aware of what happened to the Longbottoms. “I do,” Snape says, wondering at the sudden change of subject.

“Well, St. Mungo’s seems convinced that there isn’t a way to help them. I was wondering if that was actually true,” Potter says.

“The magic that was used against them was Dark and Unforgivable,” Snape answers, frowning. “Their minds broke from it. They suffer from no curse other than the frail limitations of the human body, Potter.”

“Yes, but—the brain is just as much a physical thing as this.” Potter prods at his own arm. “Why can’t the brain be repaired the same way a potion fixes a broken bone?”

Snape considers his readings over the last few years. “I do know that there are Muggle-born wizards and witches who are researching such things, but neurology is not my specialty, Potter. If a cure for their condition is to arise, it may well be from that direction.”

“Yes, but most wizards are so unaccepting of Muggle anything that even if they succeed, it’s a cure Neville’s parents might never see.” Potter adjusts his glasses. Snape does his best to be utterly unaware of the fact that the lenses are now merely for appearances, and do not bear any corrective qualities at all. “I had an idea, but no one would like it very much.”

“Then I am probably the most likely to consider the merits of it before dismissing the idea as foolish.” Snape grants Potter a vague smile, all he’s been able to muster since taking on the full mask of the greasy Bloody Bat once more.

“Why can’t we Obliviate them to the time just before Death Eaters tortured them to insanity?” Potter asks. “They’d be missing the last fourteen years, yeah, but they might actually get to be people again, and Neville would have his parents back. They would have to learn who their son is, but even parents with missing memories would be better than Neville’s blasted grandmother.”

Snape realizes his eyes have widened and schools them back to normal. “The wizarding world considers such an abuse of an Obliviation spell to be abhorrent, Mister Potter.”

“Worse than letting them be insane for the rest of their lives?” Potter asks in bafflement. “That makes no sense at all, sir.”

Potter…has a point. A very valid point. “I don’t know, but it is a logical observation, Mister Potter. I will make inquiries,” he says, though he isn’t sure where to start.

In the meantime, Snape pulls forth his wand. “Tonight is something different. While you do need practice in the arts of the mind, we also must discover what that wand of yours is capable of.”

“Dueling?” Potter looks both intrigued and discomfited. “Will that be safe?”

“Shields, you idiot,” Snape drawls back, and Potter smiles before bringing up his wand. His stance is not traditional, but, Snape soon learns, it is very efficient.

“So, my wand?” Potter asks. He’s still lying in a heap on the floor, staring up at the classroom’s dull and dark stone ceiling.

“You need combat practice,” Snape returns, seated on the edge of his desk again as he considers the last hour. “The wand itself, though? Potter, you are carrying a weapon that is more powerful than your old wand—yes, I know this from experience. Your previous wand is a twin to the one the Dark Lord possesses. Before, it would have been his power against yours, but now it will be more about learned skill. The moment Voldemort loses his first duel against you, he will immediately seek out a stronger wand. It may be wise to avoid a duel with Voldemort at all costs until the difficulty of the Horcruxes has been dealt with.”

If I can avoid it,” Potter mutters, and lifts his head. “You think I’m going to have to fight him, don’t you?”

“When he is certain of his new body and his abilities once more? He will seek to do so, yes.” Snape doesn’t want that to happen, but war is unforgiving. Wants and desires are often meaningless. “I believe dueling will have to become a component of your horrendous detentions, Potter, and we’re going to need other accomplished duelists involved. Learning to defend against one enemy does not teach you to defend against all enemies.”

Potter props himself up on his elbows, looking serious. “I don’t think I’m the only one in need of those sorts of lessons.”

“Details, please.”

“Remus is an excellent teacher, but I read, sir, and I listen and observe. The lessons we’re given in Defence class are from the fifth-year textbook, but he’s teaching them the way he’d offer them to students in lower years.”

Snape wants to break someone in half, but all of the idiots in question are dead. “You think the entire student body is still suffering a lack of skill and education due to certain interferences in that subject.”

“Yes, sir.” Potter sits up and stretches his arms above his head. “The thing is, what I’ve heard also tells me that it couldn’t be mandatory. It would have to be some kind of after school activity. Maybe something Voldemort shouldn’t be aware of.”

“A secret class in remedial Dark Arts studies, Potter?” Snape has to admit, he’s entertained by the idea. Secrets attract the interest of those who would otherwise disdain to contemplate certain things.

“Not even remedial, really,” Potter says, leaning forward so he can rest his chin on his hands. Now there is a mannerism that he most certainly learned from Sirius Black, but it is one of serious repose. “Standard textbook studies can be useful, but I know you, Remus, and Sirius are all convinced that there is going to be another war. The Order of the Phoenix—which I am politely pretending not to know anything about, by the way—wouldn’t have been reconvened otherwise. I think students are going to need to learn things that would save them in a pitched battle, not just how to deal with boggarts in closets or infestations of Dark creatures.”

“You would be correct.” Snape is still irritated that the Board of Governors decided that any teaching of Occlumency was formally banned as a classroom subject. He knows who is behind that decision, damn Lucius Malfoy’s foolish hide. Lucius often forgets that a significant portion of Hogwarts students are the very type of people he claims to want in the Wizarding world—Pure-bloods. “However, Lupin is in no position to suggest such a thing. No teacher could do so.”

“The students would have to start it, even if Lupin turned up later to assist.” Potter nods, looking thoughtful. “The other students might not listen to me, either, but I do know people they will listen to.”

“Are you trying to make your life more complicated, Potter?” Snape asks, frowning.

“No, sir. Most of the time, it seems to happen all on its own.” Potter gets to his feet, tucking his wand back into his sleeve.

That is frustratingly true. “This remedial activity of yours. If it happens, no matter what form it takes—I cannot know.”

Potter nods. “That isn’t exactly a surprise at this point.”

Snape tilts his head in agreement. “You need to depart, Potter.”

He is struck by an idea just as Potter’s hand comes down on the door handle. “Potter, your suggestion about the Longbottoms—would you be offended if the suggestion came from someone else?”

Potter glances over his shoulder at Snape. “Well, no. That’s a stupid thing to be concerned with, anyway. Good night, sir.”

Snape bids the boy good evening, and then, after restructuring his outlook, goes to see Albus. There is necessary deception to practice here regarding his frustration with the boy’s failings at Occlumency. For some reason, Snape has no wish for Albus to know the full extent of what Potter has already mastered. He has no idea why this is so, but he’s survived this long by trusting his instincts.

“My boy, you will simply have to hold your temper and keep trying,” Albus says. “Perhaps a lemon drop, Severus?”

Snape doesn’t even dignify that with a response. “I have another concern born of our resident Potter difficulty…or perhaps it might be labeled otherwise.” He then tells Albus about “his” idea for the restoration of Alice and Frank Longbottom.

As expected, Albus gives him a severe, displeased frown. “Severus, that is not a reasonable response to Frank and Alice’s unfortunate situation.”

“Oh? So leaving them imbecilic and unable to attend to their own bodily functions without assistance is a reasonable response?” Snape shakes his head derisively. “You want to win a war, Albus. To do so, you need soldiers. The Longbottoms were excellent at their jobs, which is one of the reasons they attracted the attention of Bellatrix Lestrange. Perhaps they would be missing fourteen years of their lives, but unlike the Potter brat, they were adults when their torture occurred. The Longbottoms would have a much easier time adapting to the loss of the years, and would need very little assistance to become battle-ready members of the Order.”

“It would place them in danger once more,” Albus points out.

Snape gives the Headmaster a flat stare. “They’re currently helpless. Which is worse, Albus?”

Albus finally sits back in his chair, clasping his hands in his traditional posture when he is finally regarding a difficulty with proper, rational thought. “You do raise a valid point, Severus.” Then he changes the subject. “Do you know the whereabouts of Charity Burbage?”

“Incinerated into ash after torture by Voldemort’s Death Eaters.” Snape’s voice is as cold as the wind blowing through piles of fallen leaves. “On Christmas Eve. I do believe Voldemort felt it to be…festive.”

“And you, my boy? I know it must have been difficult to witness. Are you well?”

Snape’s expression doesn’t change as he feels Albus try to slip behind his mental shields. The Headmaster receives nothing more than a brief memory of a classroom shouting match between himself, Potter, and Weasley, who had been allowed to enjoy his evening’s detention with Filch. “I am doing exactly as you’ve asked me to, Albus.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The only nice thing Snape can say about January is that his rearranged Slytherin Quidditch team wins their first match. It is a surprisingly vicious game against the normally lackluster Hufflepuffs, but the game ends with Slytherin ahead by thirty points.

Snape does not care about the number of points declaring the win. He learned long ago to take what he can get, and his House is in good spirits for the first time in months.

Gryffindor’s match against Slytherin is, as usual, the most looked-forward to game of every season. It is annoying to see that Granger is expertly leading Draco around by the nose as she feints time and time again for a Golden Snitch that is far distant from them, allowing Gryffindor and Slytherin to drive each other into the ground in an attempt to gain points.

By the time Draco catches on and goes after the Snitch, it’s a close broom flight, with Granger literally snatching victory from between Draco’s hands before they can close around the Snitch. Gryffindor wins over Slytherin by fifty points, but by God and Merlin, his Slytherins did well.

The next time he sees Voldemort, it is Imbolc. “Severus. How is my favored Death Eater this evening?”

Snape bows. “My Lord. I am exceptionally tired of young idiots who have no business being allowed near a potion cauldron, but am otherwise well. Have you found entertainment of late?”

When Snape stands, Voldemort’s smile is chilling. “Oh, I have, I have. But we have other things to speak of. What have you learned about Mister Potter’s new wand, Severus?”

Snape falls into step with Voldemort when the latter begins walking along the dark, wooded path that borders the Forbidden Forest. They are not on school grounds, so none of Hogwarts’ defences are aware of the Dark Lord’s proximity.

“It is ivy vine, My Lord,” Snape tells him in the most disparaging tone he can muster. “With tail of unicorn. Potter’s academic studies may be of good quality, but it is my opinion that Lockhart’s spell damaged part of his magic. It is not the wand for a wizard of strong ability.”

“Hmm. Have you any other thoughts to support this theory, Severus?”

Snape nods. “His loss of Parseltongue. There is no explanation for it. I am not privy to all that Potter does, but I suspect his attempts at re-learning Parseltongue have not been successful.” Not long after Miss Weasley’s rescue from the Chamber, Snape ordered Potter not to tell him if the skill returned, improved, deteriorated, or abandoned him entirely. As far as he knows, what he is saying is entirely true.

He was honest with Draco Malfoy, as well. Lucius did not enjoy the full extent of Voldemort’s displeasure regarding the loss of Tom Riddle’s diary.

“And the runes? I find them a fascinating addition. Ollivander does not indulge in such very often. Sirius Black is the only man I am currently aware of that carries a modern wand with translatable runes.”

“Trelawney has such, as does Cedric Diggory, but neither wand bears runes as complicated as Sirius Black and Harry Potter’s wands. The runes confound me,” Snape admits, not needing to falsify an angered frown. “Runes are not my forte, but I’ve found nothing in the library to assist me. Not even Professor Babbling could translate them.”

Snape hates to do it, but if he does not give Voldemort something, suspicion will fall upon him. The scroll he hands to Voldemort contains only half of the runes from Potter’s wand, not all. Without very close inspection, Voldemort will be in no position to realize the deception. “You are most wise, My Lord. Perhaps you might succeed where I have failed.”

Voldemort nods and tucks the scroll into his robes without looking at it first. “That is not the only failure of yours I am concerned with, Severus.”

Snape refuses to allow tension to settle onto his shoulders. He expected this. “My Lord?”

“You saved the life of Arthur Weasley, one who was meant to die. That is not what I expect of my loyal ones, Severus.”

“I could not act otherwise without drawing Dumbledore’s suspicion, and the Order as a whole still suspects that my duplicity is not merely an act.” Lupin and Black have done a remarkable job of helping to recreate that air of distrust in Albus Dumbledore’s known double-agent. Continued werewolf-hood and prison have done wonders for increasing some remarkably Slytherin-like tendencies in that pair. “Forgive me for not finding a way to avoid the situation, My Lord.”

“Severus, you are, of course, forgiven…but punishment has not yet been administered.”

The silent, wand-casted Cruciatus is like agony and glass in his bones. Snape grits his teeth throughout, refusing to let out a sound even as the curse drags on and on.

Shouting, yelling, tears—weaknesses. He learned not to reveal them in 1977.

 

*          *          *          *

 

“Merlin, what the fuck happened to you?” Black asks the moment he opens the door to Number 12 Grimmauld Place.

Snape shoves past him so that Black will actually shut the fucking door. “Adventure,” he says scathingly.

“Sit the fuck down,” Black retorts. Snape collapses into the nearest parlor chair, which does not actually do much to alleviate the great deal of pain he’s in. “Voldemort?” Black asks. Snape nods, closing his eyes. “Why the hell did you come here?”

“Because I could not get back into Hogwarts without someone noticing,” Snape answers, trying not to let his hands claw into the armchair’s plush fabric. Voldemort has to have also been displeased by more than just Arthur Weasley’s survival. This is a punishment far more intense than what should have been warranted by that simple affair.

Or perhaps he’s merely getting old. “I could also not recall if I restocked the proper restoratives in Spinner’s End during the winter holiday.” His hands turn into claws of their own accord, gouging holes in the expensive fabric. Blasted Cruciatus. He doesn’t blame the Longbottoms for choosing insanity in the slightest.

“Is this something that I can fetch Poppy for without anyone needing to Obliviate her afterwards?”

Snape considers that for a minute before nodding again.

“Right, then. Stay the hell in that chair,” Black says, and Snape hears him walk away.

When he wakes up, it’s to Poppy’s quietly cast, “Rennervate!” He glances up at her and immediately grits his teeth. God, he hates his job.

“Dear Severus,” Poppy murmurs, quickly retrieving exactly what is needed. “You must do something to avoid this. If this happens much more often, there may be permanent damage that no one will be able to repair.”

“Death is a form of avoidance,” Snape replies, trying not to melt into the chair as the first pain elixir begins to take hold.

“Yes, but not exactly the proper response to this predicament,” Poppy says sternly. “Don’t try to Apparate, or even use the Floo tonight. Don’t kill Sirius Black, either, as that would also be too strenuous for you at the moment. Rest here. Do you have a class in the morning?”

It takes him a disturbingly long time to recall. “Yes, but they are first-years, and the lesson is already prepared. All that would be required is that a professor sit in the room and watch over the dangerous little brats.”

Poppy pats him on the head, which makes Snape scowl at her. “Come to my office tomorrow and allow me to be certain of your restored health. Good night, Severus.”

“Good night, harpy,” Snape grumbles in response. Poppy ignores him and allows Black to escort her back to the kitchen fireplace.

Cruciatus,” Black says when he returns. “What did you do to anger Voldemort?”

“Ostensibly?” Snape shifts in his chair, still feeling like there is far too much that is broken in his own body. “It was punishment for failing to allow Arthur Weasley to die. It was excessive, though, even for the Dark Lord. I suspect he is angry about something else, but I’m not privy to what that is.”

“Still testing you, is he?” Black asks, settling into a different chair.

“Possibly.” Snape thinks upon it. “Killing a Death Eater to prove my loyalty is one thing. It might literally take my killing of someone on our side, publicly, to finally convince him of my loyalty.”

Black grimaces. “I’d really prefer it not be myself or Remus. I’d hate to see Harry orphaned again.”

Snape shakes his head. “Voldemort is convinced as to our animosity, Black. No; it would have to be something regarded as a betrayal, not a killing that other Order members already expect that I am on the verge of performing.”

“What are you going to do if Voldemort demands it?” Black asks.

“I don’t know. I suppose it will depend upon the victim, the reason why, and how dire the situation has become.”

“That’s a bloody terrible outlook.” Black hasn’t paled; if anything, Snape almost suspects that Black is concerned.

“I’m very much aware of that.”

Snape falls asleep in the chair not long after that, which is just as well. He realizes after blinking awake the next morning that he wouldn’t have been able to manage the stairs, anyway.

There is also a bulbous-eyed house-elf staring up at him. “The Master Snape is awake!” Dobby declares in a quiet, deferential voice that ensures Snape’s impending migraine doesn’t spike into full bloom. “Would the Professor of Hogwarts be liking breakfast?”

“Your grammar is improving,” Snape slurs out, and Dobby beams. “Tea, if you don’t mind. Horrify Kreacher: add five sugars and far too much cream.” Dobby bobs his head and vanishes with a house-elf’s typical pop of displaced air. He returns in short order with the tea, which has been reheated to make up for the application of cream. “Thank you.”

“You is welcome,” Dobby replies, his voice still soft. “Master Black warns Dobby about your head needing quiet, Master Snape.”

“That is astonishingly thoughtful of him,” Snape says, and sips the tea. It’s far too sweet for his preferences, but food is currently an abhorrent thought. Sugar and cream will have to be enough to get him home.

“Master Black is always thoughtful, when he is not being very sad,” Dobby tells Snape, his voice going even quieter. “Kreacher is thinking the Master is not acting like a proper wizard. Dobby is thinking that Kreacher be havin’ some odd ideas about proper-actin’ wizards.”

Snape has already Apparated to the front gates of Hogwarts when he figures out exactly why Voldemort is angry. The Department of Mysteries. Seeking. Sending Nagini in to assess the possible dangers of entering the Ministry.

Voldemort wants the only existing record of the original Prophecy that foretold his defeat.

Snape grips the iron bars of the gates with both hands, almost shaking in realization. If Voldemort ever discovers that Snape has the entirety of the Prophecy memorized, his time left on this planet will be brief—and very, very unpleasant.

It also explains some of Voldemort’s remaining distrust. The Dark Lord believes that Snape has not told him all of the Prophecy, when in truth, Snape had once foolishly told Voldemort the entire damned thing. Not the whole of the prophecy at the time, no, but all of what he’d overheard.

“I’m afraid so, yes,” Albus confirms for him later that morning, once Snape has assured himself that Minerva is sitting in with Snape’s first-years and treating them all to a glower of consistent disapproval. She might not appreciate Snape’s temperamental methods, but she doesn’t put up with an ounce of classroom mischief, either. Thus, she is one of the few people in the school for whom that dungeon door will open.

“I suspect that Voldemort believes the Prophecy that foretold his defeat will inform him how to overcome Mister Potter’s apparent immunity to the Killing Curse,” Albus says. “He must believe you have not told him all of it.”

“I discerned that on my own,” Snape replies, a deep scowl on his face. “The only way to prove otherwise is to let him have it.”

“Mm. I’m planning on letting him believe he will do exactly that.”

Snape glares at the Headmaster. “And we should let Voldemort roam around the Department of Mysteries unmolested…why, exactly?”

“The Department of Mysteries has very few entrances and exits, and is now under constant watch of Aurors hiding under illusions and Polyjuice brews to seem as mere cleaning staff, house-elves, and other creatures Voldemort considers harmless. The moment Voldemort and his followers enter the Department…”

“A sprung trap.” Snape does like the idea, but it seems far too simplistic. “That could go badly.”

“It could,” Albus agrees, “but I do not believe Voldemort should know the Prophecy, regardless of the fact that it will not answer his current concerns.”

Bollocks, Snape thinks wearily, and leaves the school grounds that evening instead of having dinner. He touches the Mark on his arm once he’s on the outermost bounds of the Forbidden Forest, far from the school. He’s never confirmed to Albus that the Mark is just as capable of sending a summons as it is at receiving them.

Voldemort appears just moments later, scaring away a few unicorns that had begun to wander close. Snape has no idea why the foolish creatures like him, but if he goes into the Forest alone, it isn’t long before he has at least two unicorns following him around.

“Severus. You must have news,” Voldemort says. When one of his own dares to call him, he wastes no time on false pleasantries.

“I do, My Lord.” Snape offers Voldemort a brief incline of his head in a show of respect. “Dumbledore is aware of what you are seeking in the Department of Mysteries.”

Voldemort scowls. “I see. I’d hoped it would take the old fool a bit longer to figure it out.”

“I’m honestly not sure when he did. He did not confide in me until today.”

“What is he doing to ensure I never acquire it?” Voldemort asks in his soft, unforgiving voice.

“Aside from being on the watch for the presence of other dangerous serpents? Nothing, My Lord.” Snape lets derision cross his features. “Dumbledore believes that the Ministry’s security is sufficient.”

“And Weasley’s presence in the area?”

“Apparently, a true chance meeting between Nagini and an unfortunate, foolish ginger,” Snape says. “I don’t know if I believe him, but I think this time if he plans otherwise, he will be sure to tell me.”

Voldemort’s smile is cold. “He told you nothing of his concerns last time, and one of his precious Order members almost died for it. He has learned that lesson.”

Snape nods. “I do believe so, My Lord.”

“Excellent. Thank you, Severus. I will not forget your loyal actions in this matter…especially given what this very Prophecy once cost you.”

Snape drops to one knee in the dirt and bows his head. “Lily Potter might have rejected your offer, My Lord, but Dumbledore also did nothing to ensure her safety. I will consider what is to come as part of my vengeance.”

“Ever the Slytherin, Severus.” Voldemort’s clawed hand comes down on Severus’s shoulder, but without the warning squeeze. Then he steps back and Disapparates.

Snape waits, using the Mark to discern if Voldemort has truly departed. Then he says, “He’s gone. You can come back out now, you idiots.”

Three of the unicorns from the Forest herd appear from their hiding places and meander over to him. The oldest, a mare with chips in her horn from fending off unwanted suitors, trots right up to him and thrusts her face against his chest in clear demand.

Snape gingerly touches her head and is surprised when she keeps shoving her way forward, until he has no choice but to wrap his arms around her or be forced off the edge of a boulder. He rests his head against silken hairs, trying to figure out why in the hell his face is damp.

Chapter Text

The rest of February is otherwise sedate, with only the Quidditch Finals to break up the academic monotony. Ravenclaw and Slytherin go at each other for the elimination game, and while they do well, it does not surprise Snape when the Ravenclaws win the game. What does surprise him is their win against Gryffindor, putting the Ravenclaws in true contention to claim the House Cup for the year.

March proceeds apace. Then April arrives in a torrent of horrible weather that suits Snape’s mood and makes his joint hurt. He can’t decide if that proves his theory of his advanced age of thirty-six, or if it’s just far too many sessions of Cruciatus in one lifetime.

Potter reports that he’s Occluding successfully every night, and thinks that he’s almost got it down at all times during the day.. He also tells Snape that Dumbledore still won’t look him in the face, and barely says five words to him in a month’s time. Snape has to roll his eyes at that; Dumbledore is sending a clear, telegraphed signal that he fears the Dark Lord. It isn’t as if the old fool can’t successfully Occlude.

That afternoon is Double Potions class, the one he dreads most—fifth-year Slytherins and Gryffindors, which means he is either antagonizing Potter or ignoring him entirely. Potter refuses to change the swift nature of his potion-brewing, though he is currently presenting them exactly as textbook-instructed since his discovery that this truly irritates Snape. Not only is the brat being politic, he is being highly sarcastic without saying a word.

Once again, Potter is the first to complete the day’s assignment and bring a corked bottle up for Snape’s perusal. “A rushed job, Potter?” Snape purrs, Vanishing the bottle’s contents. To the young idiots in the classroom, it always seems as if Snape didn’t even examine the potion, but it took only a glance to see that it was well-done. “You should know better than that at this point in your scholastic career. I expect that your O.W.L. grades will be abysmal.”

“They would be, if you were giving the exam. Sir,” Potter adds, as if just barely remembering that he’s supposed to be polite. What truly makes Snape want to go have a screaming match with a Sorting Hat is how perfectly blank Potter keeps his expression during those rebuttals.

Snape waves him away. “Try it again, Potter. Do be certain to take the time to get it correct this time.”

Potter huffs and turns away, but Snape saw the brief glimmer of excitement in Potter’s eyes. Snape has just given him permission to experiment until the class period is over. As long as he does it in safety, Snape doesn’t care.

The more foolish of his Slytherins mock Potter for erecting a shield charm around his cauldron. Potter retorts that it’s to keep any of them from adding things to his brew that might cause it to be failed—again. Snape ignores them, the better to keep an eye on those students whose brewing skills are still sub-par enough that an explosion is a distinct possibility.

Class is almost over when Draco Malfoy alerts him to the danger. “Oh, what’s the matter, Scar Head? Headache?” he asks mockingly.

Snape turns around to see Potter clutching at his scar with one hand, lips drawn up in a grimace. “Fuck off, Malfoy!” he snarls.

Draco actually leans back in surprise while the other Slytherins turn as one body, like a hound that’s just scented fresh meat. The Gryffindors are on the verge of drawing their wands in instinctive reaction.

Voldemort. The timing of the Dark Lord’s attacks has been random, but this seems more intense than usual.

Snape stands up in slow deliberation. “Mister Potter,” he drawls out. “Must I remind you to keep your mind on your academic responsibilities once more?”

It’s a code-phrase, a reminder to bloody well Occlude. Lupin has convinced the rest of the faculty to use variations on that theme if they think Potter is having difficulties, which leaves Snape free from suspicion as to his involvement in the matter.

It worked three weeks ago. It does not work today.

Instead of recovering, Potter lets out an ear-splitting shriek of pain. Snape is around his desk and halfway across the room before he realizes it, rage a thundercloud on his face. His Slytherins think they know what’s about to occur.

They do not.

Snape doesn’t even get his wand out before a single drop of fresh blood spills from between Potter’s fingers and falls directly into his cauldron. Granger, demonstrating the same quick-thinking that saved Longbottom’s life in fourth-year, jerks Potter back from the workbench.

She’s just in time. Whatever Potter was brewing does not mix well with blood. A jet of what looks like solid white fire bursts forth from the cauldron. It strikes Potter’s surrounding shield charm and then bounces upwards to scorch the ceiling.

Snape realizes he’s staring with his mouth hanging open. It takes a great deal of self-control to collect himself, but he is used to doing so. Before any student aside from Granger realizes what’s happened, he is the Bloody Bat once more.

“Mister Potter. Did you manage to botch this potion even worse than your first example?”

Potter glares at him, but at least it is only Potter that Snape observes in his gaze. Voldemort caused him a great deal of pain, but Potter ultimately forced him out. Thank God. “You didn’t mention that blood would be a dangerous addition to today’s assignment. Sir.

“As always, Mister Potter, you do tend to be the ridiculous exception,” Snape replies in a venomous voice. “I suggest you stay to clean up the mess you’ve made…and everyone else’s mess, as well. The rest of you may turn in your completed potions and leave.”

“That’s not fair—” Weasley starts to shout and is cut off mid-sentence when someone stomps on his foot.

“Just go on to the tower, Ron,” Granger says in sharp demand. “I’ll get Harry to the infirmary. You know Madam Pomfrey will just kick me right out again afterwards, so we’ll go visit him before dinner this evening if he’s still stuck there.”

“Yeah, yeah. All right,” Weasley says unhappily. “Grab your bags?”

“Please.” Granger manufactures a convincing smile for Weasley’s benefit.

Snape isn’t fooled. Granger is up to something devious.

Why couldn’t Snape have had two of the most intelligent students in Hogwarts placed in the House they clearly belonged in?

Snape waits until everyone has left except for Potter and Granger, who is giving Snape a challenging stare. “Miss Granger.”

“Professor,” she returns, her hand resting on Potter’s shoulder. Her entire stance screams defiance and stubborn protectiveness. “Should I fetch Professor Lupin?”

Snape gives up. Granger has clearly reached the end of her tolerance for secrecy in regards to Potter.  “You should, yes. He does not have class at the moment; you will find him in his office. Go in, close the door, and suggest that Lupin’s office could only be improved if he were to acquire a dog to fill the space.”

Granger’s eyebrows go up. “Sir,” she says, and then looks at Potter. “Are you all right, Harry?”

Potter is pressing someone’s gifted handkerchief to his scar. The bleeding has to have stopped, or it would be a sodden mess instead of a stained white square. “I am now, Hermione. Go ahead. I’ll be fine.”

“You know, I actually believe you,” Granger replies, and leaves the classroom. Snape notes she is careful to seal the door behind her. He wonders when she figured out that the classroom door will only open if Snape allows it to do so.

He gets a Restorative Draught and gives it to Potter after removing the stopper for him. “Drink it.”

Potter doesn’t argue. He looks better in moments, but he’s still seated in a tired slump.

“What happened, Mister Potter?”

Potter slowly shakes his head. “I really don’t know, sir. That’s the hardest Voldemort has ever pushed.” He frowns. “It’s like he wants something.”

Snape refuses to grind his teeth in irritation. At this rate, he’ll wear them down to nothing. “He is after something. I’m just not sure what he hopes to accomplish by trying to gain it through you.” He looks into Potter’s cauldron, where half of the remaining liquid is bubbling in murky brown sullenness. “What were you doing?”

In answer, Potter taps his finger on the parchment tucked under the edge of his scarred chopping board. “Your version of Wolfsbane, sir. I wanted to see if I could do it.”

Snape frowns. “Where did you get a copy of this, Potter?”

“Remus has it. I know you two don’t want to share yet, so I wrote it out in runes.”

Snape turns the paper around and realizes why it seemed so illegible. “So I see.”

“It’s driving Hermione batty because she can’t figure out how to read them.” Potter grins. “It’s a set that Hogwarts doesn’t teach in any Ancient Runes class.”

“Brilliant, Potter, though I am tempted to deduct points for that pun.” Snape regards the cauldron again. “Are you well enough to recreate exactly what you’d completed up to the point of Voldemort’s attempt to break through your defences?” He has to label it an attempt. He’ll panic if he doesn’t. Potter might have voiced the words, but he wasn’t the one who told off Draco Malfoy.

Potter stands up, tilts his head back and forth, and doesn’t wobble. “Yes, sir. I can do it.”

“Good. I’m going to be watching. I need to know exactly what was done, and how,” Snape answers, crossing his arms. “And for the sake of certainty, use a fresh cauldron.”

“It would have to be a bronze. I sort of have a charm on mine so it looks like it’s pewter,” Potter admits. “I only bring the real pewter to class if I know the day’s potion needs the reaction time.”

Why is this young man not a Slytherin? Merlin, why?

Snape jerks his head over his shoulder, in the direction of the cupboard. “They hang on the wall between the silver and gold cauldrons.”

“Okay, but…why, sir?” Potter asks. “Why am I duplicating this near-disaster?”

Snape tries not to feel any sort of excitement. It’s too soon for that. “A very strong feeling that you might have stumbled onto something important.”

By the time Granger knocks on the classroom door for entry, Potter has completed the potion to its original point of sudden, explosive failure. When Snape allows the door to open, Granger has Lupin in attendance, but seems to be lacking a dog.

Before Snape can comment, Black is pulling off Potter’s Invisibility Cloak. “Merlin, that was mindful of a hell of a lot of nice memories about this place,” Black says, grinning.

Snape eyes Granger, who shrugs. “I thought it might be prudent if others didn’t know he was here, so I made Ron fetch it from Harry’s trunk for me.”

“Good thinking,” Snape says, to Granger’s utter astonishment. Then he takes out his wand and taps the brick, activating the wards. He would like the rest of this meeting spent in assured privacy.

Granger's eyes follow the green flames as they trace the stone. "I want to learn how to do that."

"You literally have to be of legal age, first," Severus replies. "And that is not a discussion we're having again until you are seventeen." If he's still alive to teach it.

“What’s going on, Severus?” Lupin is gazing at the bubbling, bright green concoction in its bronze cauldron. Snape watched the entire process, but Potter had been exact and precise. It was done exactly as Snape would have crafted it, and is halfway through the process.

“Science, Lupin.”

“You didn’t start out in a bronze—” Granger scowls at Potter. “That,” she declares, “is cheating. You owe me a bronze cauldron, Harry, and I want it properly charmed to appear pewter.”

Potter smirks at her. “Charm it yourself, Hermione. Professor?”

Snape nods. “Miss Granger, a bronze ladle is in the lowest drawer of the storage chest inside the cupboard. On the shelf to your left when you enter, you will find four bronze cups. Bring them all here, please.”

Granger does as asked in a prompt fashion, curiosity driving her to a swiftness just tempered by her recognition of the need for safety. She places the bronze cups on the table before offering the ladle to Snape.

Snape motions at Potter. “It was his blunder. He can do it. Equal measures in each cup, Mister Potter, but leave a full sample in the cauldron.”

“All right.” Potter shakes his hand about, as if literally trying to throw off any remaining hint of trembling, before doing as asked.

“Severus, please tell me why I went sneaking through the school in James’s old Invisibility Cloak today?” Black asks.

“Your godson attempted to recreate a recent formula of mine. He got this far in the process before a drop of blood was accidentally introduced. The results were very interesting, and incineratory.” Snape glances up at the ceiling. “I do believe that scorch mark might be permanent."

“Whose blood?” Black asks.

Potter lifts the unruly fringe of his dark hair, showing off a scar that is still an angry red. “Mine.”

“Are you all right?” Black exclaims. Snape leaves him to be a proper Dogfather and goes to his desk, pulling a specific cloth packet from a locked, warded drawer. He returns to the table and unrolls it, revealing five pristine needles. The tips are thick enough to get a proper drop of blood with a single jab.

Lupin understands at once. He takes up the bubbling bronze cups and puts each one on a different workbench, then brings out his wand to place shields around the individual cups.

“What sort of theory are we testing?” Granger asks, starting to look concerned.

“Three of us are cursed, one of us might be cursed, and one of us is most certainly not cursed in any fashion,” Snape answers.

“How would you be cursed, Professor?” The words are polite enough, but Granger is still challenging him.

“Miss Granger, if you believe that the Dark Mark is not a curse, you are not being diligent enough in your studies. Hold out your hand,” Snape orders. Granger winces but does so.

Before she can change her mind, Snape jabs the pad of her thumb with the first needle. “Hey!” she yelps, but Snape is busy allowing that single drop of blood to fall into the cauldron and its remaining green sample.

There is no fiery or violent response. The formula only loses its bright hue, turning the color of a tree frog. “Black.”

“Please allow me to jab my own blasted thumb,” Black mutters, selecting a needle before moving on to the first bronze cup. The jab into his thumb is swift and expertly done; Black doesn’t even flinch. He does, however, lean back when allowing his blood to fall into the cup.

Again, no response. Black gives it another moment before looking into the cup. “Huh. Tree frog.”

“Congratulations; you are officially not cursed,” Snape informs him dryly. He selects a third needle and goes to the second of the four cups. He is so used to jabbing his hands for necessary ingredients that he’s almost lost sensation in that particular spot of his left thumb.

The drop of blood produces exactly the same sort of response that Potter’s did. Snape steps back on instinct as the white fire adds another scorch mark to his classroom ceiling. “Interesting.”

“Exactly the same thing my blood did,” Potter says. Black looks worried, but doesn’t comment.

“Different curses, different responses, perhaps?” Lupin asks while selecting a needle.

Snape watches more white fire leap out of the cup, bounce around in its shielded confines, and then place another scorch mark on his ceiling. “Apparently not.”

Potter selects a needle without being asked. “Three is a confirmation, and sound scientific theory.”

“You did read the book!” Granger says, beaming.

Potter gives her a baffled look. “Hermione, I have literally read everything you have ever given me.”

“One never knows when a boy will abruptly turn stupid,” Granger returns primly.

“I’m not turning stupid. I’d like to survive long enough to at least become a legal wizarding adult,” Potter counters, and then frowns. “Bollocks. Sir, I’m shaking too much. I won’t get a clean jab.” He turns and presents the needle to Snape.

“Black, stop posturing,” Snape says without turning around. “Are you still ambidextrous?”

Potter looks surprised, but nods. “Sort of. My writing’s not as neat with my left hand anymore, but it’s legible.”

“Good,” Snape says, and jabs Potter’s right thumb with the needle. “It should come from the side of the body closest to the scar,” he explains, if only so Black will stop growling at him.

The final drop of blood in the last cup produces the same white fire. Four scorch marks on his ceiling. The house elves will stage a revolt, or make sure his tea is rubbish, for weeks on end.

Snape realizes he’s smiling. He doesn’t care if the house-elves forget his tea for the rest of term. This is the best gift he’s received since the photographs Potter sent him last summer.

“Christ, Harry. What were you working on?” Lupin asks, holding the edge of a ragged, yellowing handkerchief to his thumb.

Potter shrugs. “The first half of the revised Wolfsbane potion.”

Lupin stares at him in astonishment before shouting at Snape. “SEVERUS!”

“Oh, do shut up. You only drink the finished product, Lupin.” He’s too busy thinking to put any true ire into his words.

A weapon. He has a weapon.

Snape has a weapon he has no way to utilize.

He also has the problem of Granger. He considers Obliviating her, but that would only solve this afternoon’s concerns. Her curiosity will remain, and this sort of situation will eventually repeat itself.

“Miss Granger,” Snape says, gaining the young woman’s attention. “It is my understanding that your parents named Sirius Black as your legal guardian during your visits to Grimmauld Place and during the school year, if by chance swift action is needed due to accidents."

Granger nods, the suspicious frown back on her face. “Yes. They don’t quite get how wizarding law works most of the time, but at least that’s the same in both worlds.”

“Quite. It’s also convenient. You should not leave this classroom without accepting an Unbreakable Vow, either from myself or from Lupin.”

Granger looks like she wants to step back, but forces herself not to. Steel. Good. “Minors can’t accept Unbreakable Vows from another adult—or from anyone, really. Not without a legal guardian’s approval.”

Snape glances over at Black. “What luck. You have one present.”

“Hermione.” Potter interrupts whatever argument is on Granger’s lips. “I have one with Professor Snape, overseen by Remus Lupin as one of my legal guardians. Professor Snape also has Unbreakable Vows with Remus and Sirius both.”

“Why?” Granger asks. She looks like she’s about to pick up an empty cauldron and bash someone over the head with it, and Snape isn’t sure who her first target would be.

“For two ultimate goals: Harry’s survival, and Voldemort’s hopefully messy destruction.” Black’s expression is grim. “We might not be fond of each other, but war makes for strange bedfellows, Hermione.”

Lupin points at Snape without bothering to turn his head. “Severus, I will kill you if you utter one word in response to that statement.”

Snape rolls his eyes. “Your lack is not my doing or even remotely in my interest. Miss Granger, you know and understand the consequences of breaking such a vow, or of making one without trusting in the words of the person with whom you are making the vow, yes?”

Granger nods. “I do. I—I am sorry, but I think it will have to be with Professor Lupin. You’ve done a very good job of terrifying Hogwarts this year, Professor Snape.”

“That is not taken as insult or seen as a lack of intelligence, Miss Granger,” Snape says. “Quite the opposite. Besides, if anyone tortures you, they’ll be asking for answers that Lupin would also be aware of. To give those answers would be to break the vow you make with him.”

Granger blanches. “Torture. Right. That’s the point, then, isn’t it? Utter secrecy.” She hesitates. “Does the Headmaster know?”

“Absolutely not,” Potter growls, a fortunate return of ratel temper, not invading madman. “Dumbledore won’t tell me anything, Hermione. People who aren’t told things are meant to be pawns, and I refuse to be one. Just because he wants Voldemort to fail doesn’t mean that he’s going about it the right way.”

Snape is glad to see that Potter feels that way. He is also not fond of the idea that he has only ever been considered a chess piece, regardless of whose hand is guiding his moves.

“You have the right to say no,” Snape decides, and Granger looks up at him. “One of us would need to Obliviate you to remove your memory of this entire afternoon, but I will force no one into an Unbreakable Vow.”

Granger tilts her head. “I’m pretty certain that you’re supposed to be a terrible person. That sounds like the kind of thing a sensible, rational person would say.”

Snape just stares back. “It is literally in everyone’s best interest for you to know and understand that yes, I am a terrible person.”

“Why?” Granger asks, her chin rising as she continues to challenge him.

“I am meant to be loyal to one of the worst men born in this century. One of the only differences between Nazi Germany’s Hitler and Lord Voldemort is that he never had time to amass the same body count.” Snape grinds his teeth for almost a full minute as he debates on whether to tell her about Charity’s fate. In the end, he decides that it is better for Granger to understand how deep this particular rabbit hole goes.

Now is a terrible time to have that old Jefferson Airplane song stuck in his head. He hasn’t even heard it in years.

“Professor Burbage is dead, Granger. I had the unfortunate pleasure of witnessing the event. Albus Dumbledore is aware of this, but has not yet informed the school as to the real reason behind Professor Burbage’s sudden departure.”

Granger flinches like she’s been struck, but she keeps pushing. “How?”

“She was tortured with Cruciatus until it broke her limbs. She was then frozen in a painful contortion and left to spin in the air as gruesome decoration for a dining room table until Voldemort grew tired of the spectacle and ordered her death.” Snape shuts his eyes for a brief moment before he stares down at her again. “Miss Granger, Potter has no choice regarding his youthful participation in this war. You do. Walk away, please.”

That makes Granger scowl. “Professor Snape, I’ve been involved in this war since my very first year at Hogwarts, and you well know it.” She takes out her wand and holds out her hand—at him. “Make the vow.”

Chapter Text

They meet again that evening in the Potions classroom after dinner. Potter and Granger tell their fellow Gryffindors that Potter mouthed off to Snape during cauldron-cleaning and earned the pair a dual detention. Lupin doesn’t have to explain himself to anyone, while Black has a borrowed Invisibility Cloak.

They’re seated in a circle around one of the workbenches, the wards casting faint green light down on their faces. Granger has her chin propped on one hand, gazing at Snape with eyes that already seem prepared for war. Black is frowning; Lupin has both arms resting across each other on the tabletop. Potter is Occluding so well there is almost no hint of emotion in his eyes at all.

Snape has been trying to figure out how to explain what’s been preying upon his mind since the afternoon revelation found in a botched potion. Potter, Lupin, and Black have filled in blanks that Granger did not have access to, so Snape decides to begin with what none of the others know but him.

“In the spring of 1980, a Seer became caught up in a moment of true prophecy,” Snape says, gaining their attention. “I was not yet a spy. I had come to realize that following the Dark Lord was not the wisest decision to have made, but couldn’t figure out how to get out of the situation without dying.”

Snape glances at Lupin. “Unimaginative, short-sighted, and stupid.” Lupin’s lips twitch, but he only makes a vague sound of agreement.

“I overheard that prophecy and realized at once that it concerned the Dark Lord. I repeated it to Voldemort, information traded for a night in which I did not suffer. At that point in the war, all were required to report to the Dark Lord before midnight. If one did not bring him good news, the results were often…undesirable.

“Before you stand up with the desire to hex me into oblivion, Black, please bear in mind that I did not keep track of wizarding marriages, births, and deaths. My points of concentration were too narrow. Unless I was facing someone across a battlefield, trying to avoid the Dark Lord’s displeasure, or frantically considering my options, I knew nothing of what was going on.” Snape grimaces. “The prophecy I overheard was thus: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches, born to those who have thrice defied him. Born as the seventh month dies.

“Then I got thrown out of the Leaky Cauldron. Damn Aberforth and his bloody goats.”

“Born as the seventh month dies.” Lupin closes his eyes and shakes his head. “Harry.”

“Or Longbottom. They were both born in the final week of July,” Snape points out. “Yes, I know. Longbottom. I blame his harpy of a grandmother for that young man’s lack of spine.”

“He is actually getting better in our, ah, extracurricular practicing sessions,” Lupin says. “He may yet shine forth, Severus.”

“Someone should,” Snape murmurs. “Don’t tell me anything more of those sessions, please, for their safety.”

“Right. Safety.” Lupin blows out a breath. “Sirius?”

“I am reminding myself that Peter is the one who betrayed James and Lily to Voldemort,” Black whispers, his hands clenched into fists. “Keep going, Severus.”

“Regardless of the fact that there were two possibilities, Voldemort decided that Potter was the threat, and chose to act and end that threat. I quite literally begged him to spare Lily’s life. Voldemort promised to extend, again, an offer for her to join his Death Eaters. No, I did not actually care about anyone else,” he snaps when Black looks incensed. “For most of my life, whenever I reached out, Lily was the only person to ever reach back. I didn’t want James or their son dead, but my primary concern was her.”

Black turns to Potter, who just glances at him. “I already knew most of this, Sirius. It’s only the prophecy bit that’s new.”

“Bloody hell,” Sirius grumbles under his breath. “I know what Lily would have said to such a proposal from Voldemort.”

“A very polite, ‘Fuck you,’” Lupin says, and then recalls Granger’s presence. “My apologies, Hermione.”

Granger eyes Lupin in irritation. “I am a sixteen-year-old girl living in a dormitory with a bunch of crass teenagers. If you think I haven’t yet heard that word spoken aloud, you aren’t remembering your childhood properly, Professor Lupin.”

“Did he ask?” Black is staring at Snape. “Do you know?”

“He did actually ask, believe it or not. Mum said no,” Potter says in a flat voice.

That, Snape had never known. It seems even Voldemort keeps the occasional promise, if he thought they might serve his purposes. “There were, of course, two problems with Voldemort’s proposal. I already knew that Lily would sooner hex Voldemort into individual atoms than join him. I also didn’t know the latter half of the prophecy when I went to Albus Dumbledore. For the second time in two days, I begged someone I loathed to save Lily Potter’s life.”

Snape turns to Granger. “Take note, Miss Granger. When I begged Albus Dumbledore to save the life of Lily Potter, he wanted to know what I would give him in return.”

Granger is incensed. “You asked him to save a life, and he started bargaining?”

“Slytherins understand the nature of bargains, Miss Granger,” Snape replies caustically. “I hesitated only in surprise. I literally promised Albus that I would give him anything if he saved her life. He castigated me for not caring about James or their son, so I altered my plea and begged him to save them all.”

Black gapes at him. “You did?”

Snape rolls his eyes. “Yes, Black. I really did ask Albus to save all three of them. Stop interrupting me with foolish statements, or this will take all night.” He clenches his jaw before choosing to say the words anyway. “I have not actually forgiven Albus for failing to do as he said he would.”

“At the moment? I don’t blame you at all,” Black growls. “Dammit, I should have insisted that I be their Secret Keeper!”

“It’s moot, Black.” Snape tries to ignore the feel of that terrible weight. He can’t afford to dwell on it, not right now. “When Albus brought word of their deaths, he chose to act on the bargain I’d made. He demanded that I promise to protect Lily’s son, and I agreed.

“After weeks of mourning, I realized it was a promise I truly meant. To protect the one thing in this world Lily had loved above all else? I could think of no other way to earn her forgiveness, if she ever decides to grant it. Young Mister Potter was all that was left of her in the world. Petunia Dursley,” he adds in a snide voice, “does not count.”

“She’s Lily’s sister—” Lupin tries, but Black shakes his head.

“Petunia Dursley is one of the most terrible people I’ve ever met, Remus, and I am closely related to some truly horrific examples of humanity.”

Snape nods in bitter agreement. “Lily received what Albus Dumbledore did not: a blood oath. I swore to her that I would make certain that Voldemort would not destroy her son. Old magic,” he explains for Granger’s benefit. “If you make a blood oath to someone over their grave, the consequences of breaking that oath are actually worse than the consequences of sundering an Unbreakable Vow.”

“Dear God, Severus,” Lupin says in blank astonishment.

Snape glares at him. “Please spare me the sentiment. Listen: Albus knows that Voldemort wants to hear the entire Prophecy, which is stored in the Department of Mysteries within the Ministry of Magic. Voldemort believes that I knew the whole of it and did not tell him, conveniently forgetting that he once tortured me for more information and discovered there was none to be had.

“Voldemort thinks that the Prophecy will explain Potter’s apparent invulnerability to the Killing Curse, thus telling him how to once again end the threat he believes Potter to represent. However, Albus is not unaware of the fact that while I did not know the entire Prophecy before Hallowe’en in 1981, I have known it since November of that same year.”

Snape laces his hands together and rests them on the table. “One night, during the weeks after Voldemort’s apparent defeat, Albus came to see me in Azkaban, where I was awaiting a trial I already knew would end in exoneration for acting as a spy on behalf of the Order—a job I actually did carry out with true purpose until there no longer seemed to be a point. Albus was tired, his control slipped…and I had not yet told him that to survive Voldemort, I’d begun mastering the arts of both Legilimency and Occlumency. Though he’d put on a good appearance of it, what was on the forefront of Albus’s mind was not about speaking to me, but in recalling the Prophecy.”

“What’s the rest of it, sir?” Potter requests quietly.

“The Dark Lord will Mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not. Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.”

“The Horcrux,” Black spits. “It’s talking about the blasted Horcrux!”

“This, Hermione.” Potter lifts his hair and points at his scar. “I am actually carrying around a shard of that noseless arsehole’s soul.”

“Horcrux.” Granger is frowning. “Old English. Hor meaning evil, or impure, and crux, meaning container or jar.”

“Miss Granger, sometimes your vast intellectual recall is inconveniently unnerving,” Snape says in his driest tones. “But you are correct. A Horcrux is a container that holds a part of one’s soul, split from the whole during a spell that is tied to a sacrificial murder. No, I do not actually know how to make one. Even I have limits.”

“It isn’t supposed to be possible to turn living things into Horcruxes, but Voldemort managed it—accidentally, I believe, with Harry,” Lupin says, “but intentionally with the giant serpent that attacked Arthur Weasley.”

“Nagini. Voldemort had to have created her prior to the ritual of Blood-and-Bone,” Snape tells them. “By completing that ritual, he has ended his ability to create new Horcruxes. He is unchanging life, but that spell also applies to what is left of his soul.”

“How many Horcruxes, total?” Granger asks, returning to her narrow-eyed seriousness.

“Me, Nagini, the locket of Salazar Slytherin. The diary would have been number four,” Potter says. “Sirius believes that there are more.”

“And I think they’re related to the Founders. Grand gestures, remember?” Black looks irritated. “He has to have found the Diadem of Ravenclaw and the Cup of Hufflepuff.”

“Which would make six, total,” Granger says.

“Seven. There are seven,” Potter whispers.

“Harry?” Lupin asks, when Potter does nothing more than stare straight ahead, unblinking. “Harry, I would very much like you to return your attention to what you’re doing.”

Potter shakes off the air of distraction. “No, I wasn’t—it wasn’t anything like him. I was just trying to figure out how I knew that, but I’m certain. It’s seven. My death was supposed to create the sixth, and he probably had some object with him for that purpose. Nagini makes seven.”

“How does one destroy a Horcrux?” Granger asks. “Because I think right now, that’s far more problematic than finding them.”

“Stabbing the diary with a basilisk fang worked well enough,” Lupin says.

Potter glances at Lupin. “Remus, we are not stabbing me in the head with a basilisk fang.”

Snape clamps his hand down over his mouth, turning sudden, unexpected laughter into desperate-sounding choking noises. The expression on Lupin’s face in response to Potter’s dry delivery is a moment he is going to treasure until the end of his days.

Black just looks appalled. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you laugh in my entire fucking life, Severus.”

“You still haven’t,” Snape replies after he can stifle the reaction and bury it. “Miss Granger, you’re also jumping even further ahead than is necessary, though yes, we do have the means to destroy the Horcruxes that are not Potter. Albus has the sole basilisk fang that Lupin collected when asked. I have the other three. We don’t dare use them until we have all of the Horcruxes, as well as a means to save Potter that doesn’t involve making him exceptionally dead. To do otherwise is to warn Voldemort that the secret behind his seeming immortality has been discovered, as he knew of the diary’s destruction without needing to be told.”

“Okay, fine.” Granger presses her lips together. “If we can’t do anything yet aside from trying to find the remaining Horcruxes, what is the point in telling us about this prophecy?

“If Voldemort does not trust me implicitly, then my spycraft will gain the Order very little to make the endeavor worthwhile. If I give him the complete prophecy, I earn that trust…but I also endanger Potter.” Snape gives her a level look. “I’m sure you can understand why I’ve been hesitant to do so.”

“Aside from the danger to Harry?” Granger nods, giving him an odd look of respect. Snape isn’t sure he likes the sensation. “If you tell Voldemort outright, he thinks you’ve been lying to him, and you don’t gain the trust you think you’re going to need to be useful to us. You can’t get to the prophecy itself because it’s locked away in the Ministry, which you can’t just waltz in and steal without losing the trust of Professor Dumbledore.”

“He wouldn’t be able to do so, anyway,” Lupin says. “If it’s been stored the way I think it has, then only those to whom the Prophecy applies can retrieve it. That narrows the list to Voldemort or Harry. Voldemort isn’t ready to attempt the theft, and I think Harry fetching it would be a little too obvious at this point.” He notices that Snape is staring at him and smiles. “Someone had to make certain that the Marauders kept their wits about them. James and Sirius were certainly not very good at it.”

Black smiles with a faint air of regret. “I resemble that remark, thank you very much.”

“You mention storage. How would the Prophecy be stored, Professor?” Granger asks Lupin.

“The prophecies, and other things like it, are memories retrieved via Pensieve. The memories are copied before being returned to the original owner, and the copy of that Pensieved memory is stored in an enchanted glass globe. If anyone aside from the one it’s meant for touches it, they will hear nothing. Those whom it is meant for will hear or see that memory.” Lupin hesitates. “As far as I’m aware, not many people outside of certain members of the M.L.E. and high-ranked employees in the Department of Mysteries are aware of that limitation. The only reason I know is because Arthur Weasley is a disarming chatterbox who coaxed the information out of someone in the Department. He then told Molly, myself, and Alastor Moody, so we would be prepared for Voldemort’s eventual attempt at theft.”

“Okay…” Granger looks at the four of them as if they are all exceptionally daft. “Then what’s stopping us from crafting a copy of one of those enchanted globes to give to Voldemort?”

Snape stares at her in complete bewilderment before he puts his face down on the table. “One hundred fifty points to Gryffindor,” he says into the wood. “Lupin, please make up some nonsense excuse for that and claim responsibility.”

“Did I hear that right?” Granger asks.

“Oh, I already have something in mind.” Lupin sounds far too smug. “Hermione, those points are for doing more for advancing werewolf acceptance in one summer than anyone else has managed in fifty years.”

Snape lifts his head and glares at Lupin. “What?”

Lupin grins back. “She’s the one who came up with the brilliant idea to just tell everyone about my werewolf curse before my first year of teaching Defence. The children began talking about how excellent it would be for Hogwarts to have its very own pet werewolf. They even had most of the Slytherins convinced by the end of August just on rumor alone.”

Snape’s jaw falls open. “This is appalling. I’m surrounded by people who were all Sorted into the wrong bloody House!”

“Excuse me, but fuck you,” Black retorts, which makes Lupin all but howl with laughter.

Granger has a wide smile on her face. “You still can’t simply present Voldemort with the Prophecy.”

“No, I can’t,” Snape agrees, and gets up from the table. He does not often indulge, but sometimes he does his best thinking while pacing. Lupin, Granger, Potter, and Black all begin discussing how to create a fake prophecy globe. Snape already knows he’s going to have the harder job—crafting a false and entirely believable memory of someone viewing Sybill Trelawney uttering the entire Prophecy in her harsh, grating voice.

“We could perhaps trade for the right sort of glass,” Lupin is saying.

“Or just bribe a Ministry official and get a blank one of our very own, Remus,” Black replies.

Snape pauses mid-step. “A trade,” he murmurs. “That’s how we’ll do it.”

“What?”

Snape turns around to find the others regarding him with varying expressions of expectation or confusion. “A trade,” he repeats. “Black is going to offer the fake copy of the prophecy to the Dark Lord in exchange for the whereabouts, or the known fate, of one Regulus Black.”

Black scowls. “We already know what happened to—oh. Merlin, you’re right,” he says, eyes widening in realization. “We might know, but Voldemort doesn’t.”

Snape shakes his head. “I’ve never had any reason to tell him, and he has not asked.”

Lupin frowns. “Voldemort will lie.”

“Of course he will. However, you—” Snape points at Black “—are going to have to believe whatever he says. Then, as a further gesture of good faith, you’ll tell him that you will reconsider the offer he once made to the Heir of the Ancient and Noble House of Black.”

“I believe I said, ‘Fuck off’ when he first made that offer, Severus,” Black returns dryly.

“That was then. This is now. Twelve years in Azkaban do things to a man’s mind, do they not?” Snape asks in his favorite voice, the one that often fools idiots into believing that his temper has cooled.

“Right.” Black is thinking about it, which makes Lupin give him a look of quiet distress. The werewolf really needs to bed that man the moment Potter turns seventeen just to get it out of his system. “It’s still not the safest thing for me to be doing.”

Snape gives him a wide, humorless smile. “What? You’ve forgotten my overtures at the Yule Ball already? I’m insulted.”

Black snorts out a laugh. “Bollocks. You’re a mad genius, Severus. I just didn’t expect to be participating when you decided to put that moment to good use.”

“The Yule Ball. Appearances,” Granger murmurs. “Plans within plans. It must be annoying, thinking in layers like that all the time.”

“Practice creates the appearance of perfection, if not perfection in truth,” Snape responds. “Black will be safe, as I will be his diplomatic escort, his guarantee of safety. If anyone chooses to attack, they will not live long enough to regret it.”

“He’ll torture the blazes out of you if you kill someone Voldemort likes,” Black points out.

Snape flicks his fingers, much the same way he often dismisses Albus’s more ludicrous notions. “But he cannot afford to kill me, not with both of his primary rivals still alive. If it comes to that, I will recover. I’d rather you not be too dead to do so.”

“Thanks,” Black says, even if they’re both aware that Sirius Black is not the reason Snape feels so altruistic.

Perhaps that is not actually the only reason, a distant part of Snape thinks, just before he burns the thought to ash and buries the remainder. The Bloody Bat has no use for such foolish sentiment.

“This isn’t just about useful spycraft.” Potter takes off his glasses and looks at Snape. “It’s also about today’s explosive potion.”

Snape smiles, pleased that someone put those pieces together without needing to be lead to such an obvious conclusion. “A spy who is trusted will also be trusted enough to ‘assist’ the Dark Lord in finding ways to add more life to the corpse-like shell he is currently trapped in. A spy from whom Voldemort will accept a potion that, aside from a burning sensation upon initial ingestion, will seem entirely harmless, and alas, so ineffective; I shall have to trouble myself to figure out if there is another potion that will work where that one failed.”

“Oh, Merlin.” Black smiles. “That’s brilliant.”

Lupin’s grin is wide and wolf-like in a way that, for once, doesn’t alarm Snape at all. “We won’t have to lift a finger. All we’ll need to worry about is the destruction of every single Horcrux, and the moment that happens…”

Snape realizes he is grinning, too, though his is probably far more vampiric and cruel to be labeled as delight. “Now is that trade of information with Lord Voldemort worth your time, Black?”

“Hell, yes,” Black replies at once. If he resembles one of his more insane ancestors in that moment, Snape isn’t going to be the one to tell him. “The sooner it can be arranged, the happier I’m going to be.”

“Good,” Snape says. “I even know how you’re going to convince Voldemort as to how you acquired it.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Voldemort’s Death Eaters attack the Ministry in June. To their surprise, there are quite a number of disguised Aurors and Order of the Phoenix members waiting to greet them. The battle scorches holes in walls, destroys property, smashes Pensieved testimony and recorded various prophecies, and traumatizes rare magical creatures. It becomes such a disaster that Voldemort himself shows up in the Ministry Atrium, which almost turns the tide of battle against the Order until Dumbledore appears to thwart him. Voldemort and the Death Eaters who escape capture do so without the Prophecy.

It does, at least, convince Minister Fudge that yes, You-Know-Who is back. Snape spends most of his time over the paper the next morning trying not to roll his eyes to the point of doing himself permanent injury. Potter is now an exonerated hero once more. Even Sirius Black gets mentioned in the article as “the brave hero who arrived to assist the Aurors in the apprehension of dangerous rogue Death Eaters.”

Snape sniffs in a show of disgust, but is inwardly amused by the utter ridiculousness of it all. Perhaps the Daily Prophet is terrified that Black will sue them the same way he successfully sued the Wizengamot for the previous summer’s Dementor assault.

Voldemort, of course, summons him during lunch. Snape is getting used to missing that meal. “I thought we had agreed that Dumbledore would tell you of his plans regarding the Ministry.”

Snape is already kneeling before him, head bowed, waiting for the Dark Lord’s ire to present itself. “I had thought so, too, My Lord. Either he has lost faith in his spy, or…perhaps Alastor Moody is still keeping to his paranoid ways,” he suggests as the idea occurs to him.

“What do you mean, Severus?”

“Moody earned his reputation for a reason, as My Lord is well aware. Perhaps Dumbledore thought it unnecessary to further safeguard the Department of Mysteries, but Moody was not so sanguine in the matter. As a retired and respected member of the M.L.E., it’s entirely possible that he arranged for the Department’s safe-guarding himself, rather than trust its security to Dumbledore after Dumbledore’s methods were proven failures.”

Voldemort is silent as he considers it. “It would fit very well with what happened that night,” he admits softly. “There were members of the Order of the Phoenix present, yes, but they all had some association with the M.L.E. Albus Dumbledore must have been summoned, which would explain his late and irritating arrival. Can you find out if this is so?”

“My Lord, I will do my absolute best, as always.”

Snape refuses to flinch when Voldemort’s hand comes down on his shoulder. “No. For now, we will not push,” Voldemort says. “I need Dumbledore to continue trusting in you, even if that trust is currently incomplete due to your visceral hatred of Harry Potter. I have all the time I need to find what I sought in the Ministry.”

Snape considers the risks and dares to ask. “My Lord, if I am aware of what that item is, I might be able to assist.”

“You would not be able to retrieve it.” Voldemort removes his hand. “Your assistance is always valuable, Severus. If I believe you will be able to help in this matter, then I will tell you at once.”

“Thank you, My Lord.”

“You may go. I am disappointed in my failure regarding the Ministry, but it was not a failure of your making.”

Severus waits until Voldemort is gone and then considers simply slumping over onto the grass in relief. He really did not want to endure the Cruciatus Curse today, even if it was a punishment he expected to be a certainty. Instead, he picks himself up, dusts off his clothes, and returns to Hogwarts to complete his last school day of the term.

“How does it feel to be the Boy Who Lived again?” Snape asks Potter that evening.

“It’s stupid,” Potter replies. “Why does Wizarding Britain only have one newspaper that’s considered legitimate, Snape?”

“Harry, I have no idea.”

“Hmm.” Potter rests his arms on a classroom worktable and props his chin on his hands. “Luna says that her father runs a newspaper called The Quibbler. The general consensus is that it’s a ridiculous rag, but maybe they just need money in order to talk about things aside from Luna’s Crumple-Horned Snorkack.”

“I don’t even want to know, just as I still have no wish to encounter her nargles.”

“Stay away from mistletoe, then. Apparently there’s a subspecies of nargles that like the berries,” Harry says.

“Please let us return to the part where I said I do not wish to encounter Miss Lovegood’s nargles.” Snape eyes him curiously. “You’re going to fund a rival newspaper?”

Potter offers him a faint shrug. “I’m the legal Heir of the Ancient and Noble House of Black. What else am I supposed to spend ludicrous amounts of money on?”

“If you carry through with this plan, please allow me to be present when you inform the portrait of Black’s mother.”

“Sure.” Potter looks up at him without lifting his head. “When are you going to kidnap Sirius and take him to meet Voldemort?”

“When you are safely ensconced within Grimmauld Place, and not a moment before,” Snape replies in utter seriousness. “The Blacks were insane, but there are wards on that house that cannot be breached by anyone, not even Voldemort. The only way for an enemy to get inside is if they literally ride you in through the front door.”

“Do you think the meeting will go badly?” Potter asks.

Snape hesitates. “It should not,” he is careful to emphasize. “But Voldemort is sometimes erratic in his decisions. It might be wise to collect the entirety of the Weasley family and offer them a week’s vacation in Grimmauld Place. Tell Molly it’s her chance to finish her terrifying cleansing of that foul heap of brick.”

“I wonder how the Granger family would like to spend the week in 12 Grimmauld Place,” Potter muses. “Hermione says her parents are intelligent and curious. It could be a fun combination. Do you think that will be enough?”

“The Diggory family might also enjoy a brief holiday,” Snape decides, realizing that there are more concerns in Potter’s life now than a dog, a werewolf, Granger, and ginger. “Lupin will already be there, or safely hidden in Cokeworth. The faculty you have earned alliances with in Hogwarts will still be on school grounds, and you’ve made no other significant friendships that have broached the public’s awareness. Or have you?”

“Viktor Krum isn’t a bad bloke, but he mainly corresponds with Hermione, so that’s not really been noticed.” Potter gives Snape’s question serious thought. “Fleur Delacour is dating Bill Weasley—”

“That’s news.”

“To all of us, too,” Potter replies. “It means she and her sister may well be up from France for another visit. I can make certain that Bill is aware of the right timing once you have this meeting arranged.”

“A full house,” Snape comments.

Potter shakes his head. “Actually, I think even with that many people, there are still going to be bedrooms empty. Oh, and Sirius is finally ready to let Regulus’s old bedroom be redecorated. Kreacher gets to keep anything he wants from the room after Sirius has gone through it, and Regulus’s portrait is being updated to reflect changing viewpoints. It’s just as well—the amusement of a portrait that offers nothing more than a two-fingered salute got dull after the first few weeks. If the portrait doesn’t believe us about Regulus Black’s change of heart, it will at least listen to Kreacher.”

“I almost want to ask to be around to witness that, as well.”

“Regulus probably won’t screech nearly as much.” Potter frowns. “You know, if I didn’t think Draco would try to hex me, I’d ask if his family wanted to spend the week in Grimmauld Place, too. Well—not Lucius Malfoy. He’s a bit busy at the moment.”

Snape lifts an eyebrow. “You would probably have to leave Draco Malfoy Stupefyed for the entire week just to keep the peace.”

“Maybe. Draco’s stupid, but a week away from his Voldemort-loving family might do him good. He’s been really twitchy the last few weeks,” Potter says.

“I’d noticed,” Snape replies, and inwardly curses for missing Draco’s behavior. His concentration had been focused in another directly entirely. Then another thought strikes him. “Potter. Say your farewells to your friends this evening, and then use the Headmaster’s fireplace to Floo home. Use it as the chance to be politic with Albus Dumbledore before the summer holiday.”

Potter sits up. “An attack on the train?”

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Snape realizes his hand is resting over the Mark on his arm. “If there is a danger, I suspect it will be localized to you. If you’re not on the train, Voldemort will have little reason to target it, and I’d rather have you behind safe walls as soon as possible.”

“Okay,” Potter agrees. “I’ll see you in a few days, sir.”

Once Potter has collected his belongings and departed for the summer, Snape uses the fireplace in his quarters to visit Malfoy Manor. If he is going to suggest that others take given opportunities to be politic, he’d best follow his own blasted advice.

Lucius is not home. He is in Azkaban, awaiting trial for his role for the break-in on the Ministry of Magic—and unlike the trials of the first war, Lucius has a very visible Dark Mark on his arm to further prove his guilt. Snape has long disliked Lucius, but didn’t think the man had gotten so sloppy as to be so easily captured. Imbecile.

Narcissa, however, is waiting to greet him. “Severus. What a pleasant surprise.” Her manners have always been perfect, but there is a worrying tic below her eye, and her grooming does not seem to be as pristine as is her custom.

“Narcissa. You are lovely as always,” Snape replies, placing the platonic kiss of the courtier upon her hand. “I’m afraid this is not a social call.”

“Draco?” Narcissa whispers at once, paling.

“Draco is well,” Snape reassures her. “He will be waiting for you on the London platform tomorrow afternoon. Is there somewhere we can speak where we will not be disturbed?”

Narcissa’s brow lifts a fraction before she nods. “But of course. My husband will be sorry to have missed your visit, Severus,” she says, leading the way from the formal parlor to her own receiving room. “Should I pass on your good wishes when I next see him?”

“Of course.” Snape watches her close the door. She takes out her wand, regards him in curious silence, and then taps a particular rose on the wall three times.

The wallpaper in the room lights up in pale pink fire, tracing every thorn, vine, and rose along the walls. The pattern replicates itself upon the white ceiling in brighter pink lines, and on the rose-colored carpet.

“I see you are still making use of what I gifted you,” Snape says.

Narcissa smiles and returns her wand to her robe pocket. “I never forget a favor, Severus Snape. What is it you wish to speak of?”

“I am about to call in the favor you just mentioned, and I apologize for it,” Snape answers her, and Narcissa’s expression tightens. “The favor I ask is that you keep what I am about to say to you forever away from the Dark Lord’s ears, eyes, and thoughts.”

Narcissa’s eyes narrow. “Go on, Severus. You have my word that the debt between us will be balanced and honored.”

“I noticed last summer that you did not seem fond of the Dark Lord’s presence in your home.” Snape rests his hands on the table to show that he is not reaching for a wand. He has wordless and wandless defensive spells, if needs must. “I wish to know how deeply that displeasure runs.”

Narcissa’s face whitens, and Snape realizes at once that her eyes have widened not with fear, but fury. “Deeply,” she whispers in a harsh voice. “He has plans for my only son, Severus. The Dark Lord is going to make an example of Draco, the better for the Dark Lord to kill my son, shame Lucius, and incite me to…to suicide, I imagine, since I would not be able to resist the urge to attempt to cause the Dark Lord’s death.”

Snape frowns. “What is it that the Dark Lord wishes for Draco to do?”

“My Lord Voldemort says it is the Malfoy family’s chance to make up for Lucius’s failure, but I know better. Once Draco returns home, the Dark Lord is going to task my son with the assassination of Albus Dumbledore.”

“One way or another, a certain defeat and a certain death.” Snape feels his lip curl up in displeasure. “And what is Lucius’s opinion of this matter?”

“Lucius.” Narcissa reaches into her robe and removes an elegant lady’s cigarette case. She opens it, removes a finely crafted cigarra from one of the best shops in Wizarding London, and lights it without using her wand. “Would you care for one, Severus?”

“No, but thank you for the generous offer.”

Narcissa nods, closing the case, and then blows a gentle breath of smoke towards the ceiling. The tobacco smells like the finest of cognacs, the smoke sweet with the hint of alcohol. “Lucius says much, but most of it is without substance. I’m no longer certain what to believe of his true intentions. When told of the Dark Lord’s plans for our son, he claimed pride in Draco’s abilities, and talks as if there is no chance that Draco will fail.”

She glances at Snape. “I love my son dearly, but he has not been as attentive in his studies as he should have been. His complaints about you in that regard tell me that you have done your best to correct this failing. I appreciate the effort, even if the effort may have ultimately been in vain.”

“I did my best, as I do for all of my Slytherins,” Snape tells her. “My attempt to teach Draco a further sense of responsibility for others by giving him the rank of Prefect…even I will admit that it was an almost immediate failure.”

“But still, you tried, and did more to correct Draco’s behavior than that old fool Slughorn would have attempted.” Narcissa breathes out another wisp of sweet smoke. “Speak of what you must, Severus.”

“Soon, there is going to be a meeting between Voldemort and a false ally, facilitated by myself,” Snape says. “If it goes well, there will be plans in motion to negate Draco’s danger. If it goes poorly, Draco will still be facing an impossible task, one that I will not be able to help him complete—indeed, you and I both know that the Dark Lord would  murder both Draco and myself for daring to disobey.

“My suggestion depends on a single question, Narcissa. Whose survival do you desire more? Lucius, or Draco?”

Narcissa draws in a deep lungful of smoke, releasing it in a cloud that glows pink from the light of the active wards. “I am a mother first, Severus. I will always choose Draco. Make your suggestion.”

“It is my belief that perhaps Sirius Black and Narcissa Black Malfoy should mend the family rift,” Snape says, watching her with careful eyes. She does not move or speak, so he continues. “Sirius’s current legally named Heir has made the offer of shelter to your family. Number 12 Grimmauld Place is not the luxury you are accustomed to within the Manor, but you are well aware that it is an excellent, nigh-impenetrable shelter.”

“To join their little band of hapless Phoenixes, marching to Dumbledore’s orders?” Narcissa asks in a withering voice.

“No. For shelter and safety only. It would be asked that you not go out and perform tasks for the Dark Lord were you to accept the offer, but no one would make you fight against him, either.” Snape lets a moment of silence play out. “Think of it also as Draco’s chance to perhaps learn and grow, to become the sort of man that Sirius would be willing to name as another legal Heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black.”

Narcissa does not look impressed. “Sirius Black betrayed the family.”

“Did he?” Snape raises an eyebrow in polite disbelief. “He was sorted into Gryffindor, and immediately became anathema to his entire family merely by having the wrong colors on his scarf. You know the ways of the Sorting Hat, Narcissa.”

Narcissa’s nod is a touch resentful. “I do.”

“You also know the ways in which Black fought in the last war. Courage did not fail him, and he comported himself with more dignity and regal bearing than he ever managed when we were all in Hogwarts together. He spent twelve years in Azkaban and emerged sane, composed of the sort of steel that is aware of just how far it can bend without breaking. The same cannot be said of your sister.”

“Hmph. Bella was insane before Azkaban, Severus.”

“I’m aware. However, her tenure in its walls has made those old traits decidedly worse. I doubt she would hesitate to kill me, you, Lucius, or Draco. All it would take is for the Dark Lord’s favor to slip a single iota, and she would murder any of us with pleasure.” Snape sighs. “Bellatrix was sighted during the scuffle at the Ministry this past week, Narcissa. Voldemort’s loyal imprisoned followers have already been freed.”

Narcissa regards him in surprise. “There was not a word of it breathed in the news. Not a hint on Lucius’s face that such a thing had happened before he participated in that bit of foolishness.”

“He was either not aware until that moment, or has chosen true folly if he has begun to keep secrets from you,” Snape says. “I almost pity him if it turns out to be the latter.”

Narcissa’s smile gains a hint of dark amusement. “If Draco never earns a place in the Black lineage again, I can at least make certain that he becomes Heir to the Malfoy Estate.”

Snape removes a bit of paper from his robe and slides the scrap of old, rough-edged parchment across the table to rest just in front of Narcissa’s hand. “When the date of this potentially dangerous meeting is known, it will appear on that piece of paper, along with that week’s password for Floo access to the Black family townhouse. You might even know before that time—with Lucius imprisoned, the Dark Lord might call upon you to represent the Malfoy family interests during the meeting. Doing so will not cause the offer of shelter to be rescinded, not when the act itself is of grave necessity. If you or Draco come to Number 12 Grimmauld Place, others will know to expect you. If you do not, I will still do what I can to safeguard Draco at Hogwarts, but I cannot save Draco from himself.”

Narcissa does not move to take the parchment. “Whose side are you truly on, Severus?”

“An intelligent Slytherin remembers that there is no such thing,” Snape replies. “I also remember who won the last war, Narcissa…and it was not Lord Voldemort.”

Narcissa nods and stands. Snape does not see her take it, but the scrap of paper is gone from the table by the time he rises to his feet. She opens the door and escorts him back to the parlor fireplace without a word.

“I will give what you’ve said due consideration, Severus,” Narcissa says at last. “And, when this ridiculousness is over, you will still be welcome in my home.”

Snape accepts her hand to plant the more formal departing kiss upon silken skin. “And though its charms are nonexistent, you will still be welcome in mine.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The next meeting Snape has with the Order is to discuss Potter’s offer of shelter to the Malfoy family, among other political notions. Snape sits at the kitchen table with Lupin, Black, Albus, Molly and Arthur Weasley, the Diggory family, Alastor Moody, and Nymphadora Tonks. Tonks’s mother, Andromeda, is sitting next to her daughter, a dignified frown gracing her features. Ted Tonks just seems irritated by the entire prospect.

“Narcissa Malfoy.” Black is trying not to grimace. “I’m not sure I trust her to dwell in my house without betraying us all.”

“However, she does sound as if her priorities have become drastically different from Lucius’s,” Albus notes. He was less than pleased to be told that Potter offered certain endangered parties shelter without asking Albus’s permission. Black wisely decided to expand the offer of one week to the entire summer for anyone who chooses to accept.

“As a mother, I do understand the desire to safeguard her son over that of any concern for politics,” Molly murmurs, resting her hand atop Arthur’s. “I also understand her desire not to fight her husband across a potential battlefield, too. Would we be able to convince her to accept an Unbreakable Vow to safeguard the Order’s headquarters, if not a vow to the Order itself?”

Albus looks at him. “Severus?”

“I have known Narcissa Malfoy for many years, though not as many as others.” Snape inclines his head at Andromeda Black Tonks. “If Narcissa were to show up on the doorstep tomorrow, it is because she is fully cognizant and aware of what it will mean to do so.”

“I agree,” Andromeda intones quietly. “I also must admit to some hint of selfishness. It would be nice to regain one of my sisters and know that she might survive the Dark Lord’s war. Merlin knows that Bellatrix is beyond hope.”

“As to our family rooming here for the summer…do you think You-Know-Who is going to push that hard, Severus?” Arthur asks. He is all but recovered from Nagini’s attack on Christmas Day, but still has moments of weakness if he does not conserve his strength.

“If he already plans for Draco Malfoy to assassinate Albus Dumbledore before the end of the next school year? Yes,” Snape replies. “He is angry about his defeat in the Ministry. He is angry about Potter’s invulnerability to the Killing Curse. He fears it will mean he cannot defeat the enemy that still causes others to doubt his strength. If he cannot get to Potter, the Dark Lord will attempt to use Potter’s allies in an attempt to draw Potter out of this house and its protections.”

“Which cannot be allowed to happen.” Albus is stroking his beard. “I do not suggest that the adults sequester themselves away for the entire summer. You are all trained to defend yourselves, and aside from your positions of employment, there is much to do to prepare for what is coming. The children, however…they, I think, should remain within the safety of this house’s walls. If that comes to include Draco Malfoy, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief that at least for the summer, he will gain new perspective. Whether he learns from that exposure is his decision.

“As to the safety of 12 Grimmauld Place, a minor cannot take a vow without a guardian’s consent,” Albus says. “Even if Narcissa grants that consent, Mister Malfoy still has the right to refuse. He would have to be brought into the house via Floo, and never told the words that reveal 12 Grimmauld Place’s location to enemies waiting outside. Draco will also be safe at Hogwarts once school resumes. I fear no assassination attempt from that quarter, but the boy will have to be watched.”

“Theoretically, Voldemort’s followers must still be of legal adulthood to accept the Mark, as well.” Snape hesitates, though a quiet part of himself enjoys that there are adults in the room who still quail to hear Voldemort’s name spoken aloud. “If he becomes desperate, I do not know if the Dark Lord will adhere to that. None of us can go about checking the arms of students for that Mark, either.”

“What, is he not telling his favorite little Dumbledore spy all that he plans?” Black asks Snape mockingly.

Snape lets his gaze drag in slow, lazy regard over to Black. “And yet, I am more useful gathering what scraps I can manage than a dog who does nothing more than spend most of his time hiding within these fading, hideous walls.”

“Get stuffed, Snivellus.”

“Gentlemen,” Albus interjects calmly, while Snape and Black glare at each other. So. Utterly. Sorted. Into. The. Wrong. House. “We will accomplish nothing if we devolve into childish arguments. The offer of shelter was made by Harry, but ultimately it is up to Sirius.”

“I’m fine with all of it, actually,” Black finally says, after giving Snape one more attempt at a meaningful scowl. “We might have to mute Draco Malfoy for the duration, but once it is given, Narcissa has always kept her word. Everyone else is quite welcome, though the Diggorys might not be fond of London.”

“It’s London,” Cedric Diggory says with a bright smile, though his parents look less convinced. “I always wanted to spend a few months living in London. Perfect opportunity to see if it’s to my taste, Mister Black.”

“Sirius, please,” Sirius tells Cedric, whose smile widens. The young man is not yet used to being referred to as an adult, for all that he’s nearing nineteen. The Diggory family must dwell in one of the dullest, most uneventful areas of Great Britain for basic of considerations to still be so new.

Then there are the Weasley twins, who graduated at the end of the school year. Instead of demanding their rights as adults to sit in at the meeting, they have extended some sort of spying gadget from the ceiling in order to overhear what’s being said. Potter has informed Snape that the twins intend to open a joke shop in Diagon Alley with their mysterious acquisition of the proper funds, but that they also intend to develop quite a bit of bespelled spying gadgets for the Order’s use.

Their apparent lack of participation does seem to be keeping Molly’s blood pressure under control, considering she can do nothing to stop her eldest children from becoming active members of the Order of the Phoenix. Instead, most of Molly’s concern is currently wrapped up in motherly outrage that a Half-blooded Veela witch has ensnared her precious, helpless child. As if William Weasley has ever been so foolish. William is also a vast improvement over Delacour’s previous choice of Roger Davies, which speaks well of Delacour’s increased maturity since the Triwizard Tournament’s conclusion.

However, if the Weasley twins are listening, then so is Potter, Granger, Ronald Weasley, and possibly Ginevra as well. Ronald Weasley is probably turning intriguing shades of red at the prospect of sharing living space with Draco Malfoy for the summer.

Strange, though; Snape has noticed that Ginevra Weasley spends time with Granger, and with her siblings and companions from other Houses, but he now realizes he cannot recall any instance of Ginevra in Potter’s company unless it’s at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall.

Snape gets one single opportunity to speak with Potter in the Black family parlor before he has to depart. There is the improved Wolfsbane formula for Lupin to prepare; he plans to create enough to last for six months in case of incidents that keep Snape away from his brewing cauldron for too long. Otherwise, he will return to Grimmauld Place in a week’s time, during the middle of the night, when the false prophecy sphere is ready to receive its crafted Pensieved memory.

“I realize that I have not seen Miss Weasley in your company in a long time.”

Potter glances up from the book he’s reading, which Snape is amused to see involves the funeral preservation of corpses. “Well, no. I suppose I never thought to mention it.”

“Mention what?” Snape asks. This may simply be adolescent drama, but Snape learned long ago that no bit of information is truly useless.

“Oh.” Potter straightens his glasses. “Ginny’s mad at me. Has been for a while now.”

That’s a surprise, especially given how much Ginevra Weasley followed Potter around like a lovesick fool—even before she arrived at Hogwarts. “Whatever for?”

“For not saving her at the end of my second year,” Potter says, which causes Snape to stare at him.

“Does she forget the fact that you were spell-damaged, while also conveniently glossing over the fact that you are the reason she was saved?”

“Pretty much exactly that,” Potter replies. “She wanted me to be her knight in shining armor or something, and when I failed at being her perfect hero…I honestly don’t understand people, Professor. She’s getting a bit nicer about it, but Ron says I have not yet been forgiven for failing to give her a proper storybook rescue.”

Snape narrows his eyes. “Storybook rescues do not exist.”

Potter shrugs. “With Voldemort around, she’ll have the chance to figure that out, sir.”

He decides to change the subject. “Your choice of reading material is quite interesting.”

“Well, if the plan succeeds and Voldemort ingests White Fire, I thought you might like some assistance in keeping up appearances,” Potter explains, placing a page marker into the book before closing it. “I’ll let you know if I find anything plausible. The Blacks were really fond of going into their tombs looking like they were just going to spend the next century taking a nap.”

Snape has had unfortunate need to spend a night in the Black family crypt, during the first war, while Bellatrix and her new husband made exceedingly disconcerting noises somewhere in that dark and cold maze of rooms. Most of the bodies had indeed looked to be sleeping, to the point that Snape had actually drawn his wand and poked one just to ensure it was really dead. Voldemort liked Inferi; he wouldn’t have put that type of curse past the Black family, either.

Potter stands up and pulls his jumper back down into proper place. “Sir, before you go, I want to do something.”

Snape has heard that sentence spoken in some truly ridiculous circumstances. “Potter, if you attempt to kiss me, I shall slap you and complain to all of my compromised virtue.”

Potter laughs. “Not that. No, I’d rather you be stuck pondering the fact that Cedric Diggory is excellent at kissing.”

Snape squeezes his eyes shut. “I did not need to ever ponder that, thank you.”

While Snape’s eyes are closed, Potter hugs him. Snape is so startled that he simply freezes.

“You are supposed to hug someone back,” Potter informs him seriously. The overgrown brat is now only two inches shorter than Snape, and that seems to be where his growth stalled out. It’s still an impressive height for a Potter or an Evans; James and Lily had both been much shorter.

“Forgive me; I am out of practice at being assaulted by others,” Snape drawls back. Potter’s chuckle is like a warm vibration against his chest.

When is the last time someone held him? He can’t bloody well remember.

What alerts him to the fact that Potter is well and truly up to mischief is when that feeling of warmth—of being cared for—begins to saturate Snape’s perception. “What the hell are you doing?”

“Sharing. Hold still, Snape,” Potter says, which is such a baffling statement that Snape does exactly that. He isn’t in danger, and he knows better than to interrupt a magical working in progress.

What comes to him then is the clean scent of warm citrus blended with cool wintergreen, filling his nose and almost bringing tears to his eyes.

Lily. He’d crafted that scent for Lily in their second-year, and it had been so favored that he never knew her to wear anything else.

When Potter steps back, Snape stares at him. The impression of citrus and wintergreen is no longer as strong, but still present, as is that feeling of odd warmth. “What did you do, Harry?”

Potter smiles. “I told you, I was sharing.” Then his smile vanishes. “I don’t know how to care for many people. I do a decent enough job of it with you, Hermione, Remus, Sirius, Luna, and the Weasleys, but otherwise, I’m not—I don’t—I don’t get it, most of the time. Maybe when people are less terrified of me, that list will get longer, but right now, you’re all pretty much it.

“If there is anything left to the protective magic that Dumbledore says my Mum gave me when she died, well…I don’t want any of you to die, but out of everyone, you’re the one in the most danger. Maybe she’ll look after you the same way she’s been looking after me.”

Snape feels his lips turn down in a scowl. “You give up a tactical advantage, and you assume she would be even remotely interested in doing any such thing.”

“Well, no, Voldemort ruined that tactical advantage with the Blood-and-Bone ceremony,” Potter reminds Snape. “Some of that protective magic is still there, though. Besides, you have my mother’s Patronus, Snape. How do you know she hasn’t been looking out for you since the moment you decided to swear a blood oath over her grave?”

Snape glares at Potter. “That’s ridiculous.”

Potter merely shrugs. “Maybe, but you’re the one with the doe Patronus. Not once have I heard you say that you conjured it on purpose. You’ll just have to cope with the notion that there is more than one person in existence who finds you tolerable, sir.”

Snape draws himself up in apparent affront. He has no idea what else to do. “You’d best have something useful for me upon my return,” he says in a cold voice.

Potter smiles. “Yes, sir.”

Black is in the kitchen when Snape goes downstairs to depart by Floo. “Yes, I’m the only one here,” he confirms, correctly interpreting the expression on Snape’s face. “What’s your problem, Severus?”

“Your godson hugged me,” Snape hisses out, trying to figure out if he’s offended, appalled, or on the verge of crumbling into bitter, cracked bits. He can’t afford the last one, so he goes with the first two options.

Black snorts. “Severus Snape, you are the only man in existence I know of who could look so infuriated over the idea that someone gives a damn about you.”

“If you also attempt to hug me, I will actually hex your legs off, Sirius Black.”

Black laughs. “I don’t like you that much, Severus. Go get me an appointment with a terrifying bastard. We’ll see you next week.”

Chapter Text

Snape doesn’t start off with Black’s offer of a trade when he sees Voldemort again, two days before Saturday. First there is a meeting, one that discusses Voldemort’s impending infiltration of the Ministry. It’s a subtle work of art. The plan is so precise, so complete in the scope of what it will accomplish, that Snape doesn’t think anyone will be capable of thwarting it even if Snape gives advance warning.

He is going to have to narrow his focus. If the Ministry falls to Voldemort’s control, so will Hogwarts. If Snape is not there as Voldemort’s trusted servant, control of the school will be given to someone else, and the list of horrible choices is far too long.

“Perhaps I should attempt to convince any Half-blood or Mudblood—” he despises speaking that word “—member of the faculty at Hogwarts that it would be wisest to depart, the better to fill those positions with true witches and wizards.”

“Why would you want to do that?” Alecto Carrow asks in narrow-eyed suspicion. Idiot.

“Because Severus is a true Slytherin, capable of detecting what lies within the plans I speak of,” Voldemort tells Carrow in a chilling whisper. “Can you do so without arousing Dumbledore’s suspicion, Severus?”

“Possibly. I can’t simply kill them, as we did to Burbage. That will be noticed. I will think on it, My Lord. If it cannot be done, then they will simply have to be disposed of when your plans have reached fruition.”

Voldemort’s nod is slow and deliberate. “Good. I must ask something of you, Severus. All our plans hinge upon it. If young Malfoy fails in his task, you must complete it.”

Snape blinks once in calm contemplation before he looks to Voldemort. “If Mister Malfoy fails at killing Albus Dumbledore, will it mean his death, My Lord?”

“He will have failed me,” Voldemort reminds them all, but Snape knows from his body language that he has not yet made a final decision.

“He will, and as we all know well, a punishment will be administered by My Lord,” Snape says. “But he is the sole Heir to the Malfoy Estate. That is a power base it may be unwise to lose.”

“Narcissa does not inherit?” Voldemort asks, his voice dark and curious.

Bellatrix laughs in a way that grates on Snape’s ears. “No, my Lord. The Malfoys are quite backwards in that respect. They consider my sister to be a Black, first and foremost. Little tiny Draco is the only one who can inherit the estate. If he is not alive to receive it, old magic will come into play. Land and titles will be lost.”

“The Malfoy coffers run deep,” Rodolphus Lestrange offers. “If the young man is sufficiently broken after his failure, then all My Lord needs is a pliable puppet, one capable of opening a vault for our benefit whenever it is needed.”

Voldemort lifts his head, the flaps over his nostrils moving in a way that resembles a creature scenting the air. “You all raise valid concerns. I will think on what young Mister Malfoy’s punishment should be if he fails.”

When he fails, Snape knows that Voldemort is thinking. He refuses to clench his jaw, an action that might be observed by others.

“Is there other news that my loyal Death Eaters must report before we part ways again?”

Snape waits until the others have confirmed that they do not before he speaks. “Actually, My Lord, I do have something I feel is worthy of your attention.”

“Oh?” Voldemort’s eyes glimmer red in the candlelight before returning to the watery blue that is most often dominant. “Tell me, Severus.”

“Sirius Black wishes for safe passage to meet with you,” Snape says. His words are greeted with immediate derision and Bellatrix’s wild laughter. He ignores them all. “Black claims to have something My Lord is interested in acquiring.”

“I see.” Voldemort frowns. “What is it he wishes for in return, Severus?”

“That, he will not tell me.” A lie that is true; he is practiced at those. He pauses just long enough to rouse further curiosity. “I believe it may be related to what My Lord was seeking within the Ministry.”

Voldemort straightens in the same, slow way a snake will when it has spied its prey. “Oh. How interesting. A trap, Severus?”

“He has told Dumbledore nothing of it, or Dumbledore would have voiced his concerns to me in order to keep the meeting from happening,” Snape replies. “Whatever it is that Black is offering, he makes the gesture on his own.”

“Hmm. Tell Sirius Black that he shall have his meeting. I will acquire whatever it is he brings, and then I’m sure Bellatrix would like to make his acquaintance again.”

Snape braces himself. “My Lord, to kill Sirius Black is to invite the same problem with the Malfoy Estate. Bellatrix, if you would stop giggling long enough to inform our Lord as to the matter of the Black family inheritance laws?”

Bellatrix lets out one more insane, bubbly giggle. “Severus is right, My Lord,” she says, smiling with her face propped upon her hand as she leans over the table. If it is an attempt to show off her cleavage, Snape has no idea who is supposed to be benefitted by the act. “Unless Sirius Black names another Heir aside from precious Harry Potter, then all lands, titles, and coffers all will also be lost to us. Three Black sisters live, but without being Named, we will gain nothing from Sirius Black’s death other than delight in the accomplishment.”

“And, perhaps, a show of…diplomatic good faith might best be served here,” Snape deigns to mention. Voldemort’s head swings back around to gaze at him, the slitted pupils of his eyes more pronounced. This pushes close to the edge of the Dark Lord’s patience, then. “If Sirius Black wishes to meet with you at all, it could be a sign that perhaps he is rethinking his allegiances. Attacking him before he’s made a decision will not endear him to My Lord’s cause.”

“True, true.” Voldemort rests the tip of his wand against his lips. Snape has to stomp on a moment of intense amusement when he realizes how much the gesture matches one of Albus Dumbledore’s favorite mock-thoughtful poses. “Make the arrangements, Severus. Tell Sirius Black I will meet with him just after dark on the fifteenth of July. I think the cemetery of Little Hangleton an appropriate place to receive him.”

“Leaving his body there would be so much fun,” Bellatrix whispers, and giggles again.

“It will be arranged, My Lord,” Snape promises.

One step closer. Excellent.

Then he returns to Hogwarts and feels like he’s been thrown eighteen steps back. “WHAT IN MERLIN’S NAME IS THE MATTER WITH YOU?”

Albus holds up his right hand to reveal flesh that is swiftly turning dark with necrosis. “This, I should think.”

“IDIOT!” Snape roars, and then bolts back to the fireplace. He selects potions from his private arsenal of curse and poison cures with hands that are on the verge of shaking. What he’s just seen is the mark of a curse so dire that he’s not certain any of them will work.

While he tries to keep Albus Dumbledore from expiring in his own office in most unpleasant fashion, Snape takes note of the ring on Dumbledore’s desk; the Sword of Gryffindor lies next to it. The ring is broken, with its original stone lying beside the severed metal pieces.

“Why, why,” Snape repeats, incensed, “did you put on that ring? It was so cursed that it screams of it even after you’ve chopped it in half with a blasted sword.”

Albus looks to be in pain, or perhaps Snape is seeing shame on the Headmaster’s face for the very first time. “I was a fool. Sorely tempted…”

Snape wants to roll his eyes. “Tempted by what?” Albus doesn’t answer him, which just angers him even more. “It’s a miracle you managed to return here at all from wherever you dug up that hideous relic. All I have done is contained the curse to your right hand, Albus. It will eventually prove fatal, no matter how I attempt to stop it.”

Albus raises his now entirely black hand and examines it. There is mental distance afoot, given the man’s apparent lack of concern over a limb that looks like it was burnt to near-ash in a fire. “You did very well, Severus. I was not actually certain I would survive at all.” He turns his arm to view the backside of his ruined hand. “How long do you think I have?”

Throwing things at the old fool only means that Snape will have to clean up a mess. “I don’t know. Perhaps a year, at most.” How utterly, infuriatingly convenient.

Snape doesn’t even need to offer up the intelligence he gained from Voldemort this evening. Albus has already discerned most of it for himself. The only thing that stokes his anger afresh is when Dumbledore asks Snape to promise to look after the students of Hogwarts upon his death. As if Snape has not been doing that very thing since he accepted a teaching post!

Bollocks. The next school term is going to be a nightmare, and it’s still a full eight weeks distant.

“Tell me what that is,” he orders, when Albus seems to run out of words.

“Ah, the ring. It belonged to one Marvolo Gaunt, Severus.”

Marvolo. “You’ve found Voldemort’s family.”

“I did, yes. Such poor beginnings, too,” Albus muses. “But poor beginnings do not create monsters. I do believe, however, that Tom Marvolo Riddle murdered a family member to place the curse on that ring.”

Another Horcrux, then. The Headmaster has not seen fit to share his knowledge of the existence of Voldemort’s Horcruxes with anyone, so Snape will keep his silence and let the old fool dodder along on what he now suspects is a failing path. If not a failing one, then at least one littered with far too many sacrifices than even Snape is comfortable with.

Voldemort didn’t know of the ring’s destruction, Snape realizes. He could not have, else Snape’s earlier meeting with the Dark Lord would have had an abrupt ending, and possibly a body count composed of anyone fool enough to linger within range of Voldemort’s wand. Snape doesn’t trust that lack of awareness to be true of all the remaining Horcruxes, not when Voldemort knew of the diary’s fate. They must still hold course on not destroying the other Horcruxes until the right moment.

While Snape is not delighted by the idea of touching the ring, the curse was broken with the ring’s destruction. It is now safe to handle, even if it has a lingering feel of unpleasantness.

The stone has no such sensation when Snape touches it. He picks it up and holds it closer to the nearest light. Though the stone is now cracked, the emblem is unmistakable.

Snape shakes his head. “The Resurrection Stone was irresistible, then? That was still a foolish blunder to make, Albus, no matter the ancient family heirloom in question.” His senses are often fine-tuned to such things. This ring was held by the same bloodline for the entirety of its existence.

Snape was already aware that the Black library is missing details from the old lineages, but this is a lack he wasn’t aware of. Voldemort is Peverell-descended, just like Potter.

It also means that James Potter strutted around in Death’s own Cloak of Invisibility and never had enough brains in his head to recognize the item for what it was. At least his son seems to be in the habit of using the tool wisely, and does not rely solely on its charms.

Snape already knows who bears the Elder Wand. He was the son of Eileen Prince. While she never mastered motherhood, she did make certain that Snape knew what the three Deathly Hallows looked like.

Snape holds up the Stone between thumb and forefinger. “I wish to borrow this for three days, Albus.” Three days, three turns. Tradition should be observed, after all.

“The Resurrection Stone? Severus, much like the Mirror of Erised, that is not a wise thing to use,” Albus says. Bloody hypocrite.

“I am not asking to use it for whom you might suspect.” Snape squeezes the Stone in his palm to hold it more securely. “I need to speak to my mother.”

Albus’s eyebrows lift in almost comical surprise. “I did not realize the two of you had anything to discuss.”

“She may have taken a secret to her grave that I would find useful over the summer, Albus. At the end of the three days, I will return the Stone to you, and you can do whatever the hell you want with it. Mount it on top of this year’s Christmas Tree if you like; I don’t care. Do I have your permission?”

Albus nods, but he still appears concerned. “Three days from this moment, Severus. I trust you to return it to me.”

“Well, you’ve already chosen to master Death in the more traditional fashion,” Snape observes, giving Albus’s hand a snide look. “I do not have concerns that you’ll be grasping in vain for lost cloaks. Go to bed, Headmaster. The only thing left is for you to rest and allow my potions to do what preventative work they can to extend your life.”

“I believe I will do exactly that. Thank you, Severus.”

Snape resists the urge to sigh. “Good night, Albus.” He returns to his own quarters not by Floo, but by walking the halls. He needs the time to consider the wording of his request. The Resurrection Stone burns like a brand the entire way, constant reminder of what he holds.

He is not yet ready to confront the truth that his most vocal supporter in the wizarding world is dying.

In his quarters, Snape activates the wards. In here they are different than the classroom, burning with the pale blue fire of a superheated flame. Snape prefers this over his classroom and office wards, which shine with the green light of a properly executed Avada Kedavra.

Snape seats himself next to his fireplace. His wand ignites the fire to warm the room, and the school’s kitchen elves deliver a tea tray bearing a light evening meal—he missed dinner in the Great Hall while dealing with Albus’s foolishness. When the first warm cup of tea is resting in his left hand, Snape turns the Stone over in his right hand three times while focusing on the memory of her face.

The shade of Eileen Prince Snape appears grudgingly, as if resenting the Stone’s call. Her features morph into the familiar long face with its sunken brow and narrow, pinched expression. By the time she finishes manifesting, even the sallowness of her skin is visible, though Snape can see the wall through her form.

“Hello, Mother.”

“Severus.” Eileen regards him with cool disdain. It is a marked reminder that he learned the expression literally at his mother’s knee. “What a pleasant surprise.”

“Liar.” Snape keeps the Stone carefully held in his hand. “Death did, at least, free you from my father.”

“Tobias. Mm. You would have been a much more engaging child if I had listened to my parents and married that nice boy from a proper Jewish wizarding family,” Eileen says.

Snape raises an eyebrow. “I’m Jewish? That might have been useful information to have when you were still alive to tell me.”

Eileen sniffs. “Tobias did not hold with allowing me to keep any part of my faith; holding onto my wizarding heritage was difficult enough. Your father gave you enough grief. I was not a proper parent, but I was also not cruel enough to give Tobias more fuel to use against you during your childhood, Severus.”

Snape nods. “Fair enough, Mother.” He hesitates; Eileen Prince had never been a proper parent, no, but she had, in her own way, tried to provide for her only son. “I hope the years since your death have brought you some measure of peace.”

“Peace.” Eileen considers it. “Perhaps one day, maybe, though I never had much use for the feeling when I was alive. What is it you want, Severus? I doubt you were so fond of me that you used the Resurrection Stone to call me here out of affection.”

“I have more affection for you, than I ever did my father,” Snape retorts, annoyed. “But yes, I did call you for another purpose. I have a question.”

“Ask. I should not linger here too long. I have no wish to become yet another of Hogwarts’ many ghosts.”

“I know that the Prince family once had preservation spells meant for use upon the living, so that they retained a younger, haler appearance until Death was all but knocking upon their doors,” Snape says. “I might have dire need of such a thing, though not for myself. Other means of acquiring it are proving difficult.”

“You would be wise to use it upon yourself. You are a man of thirty-six, Severus, but your life is wearing upon you.”

Snape frowns. “I am not vain.”

“Vanity is not what I concern myself with, nor what I speak of,” Eileen says in a dry voice. “Unfortunately, I cannot give you what you seek. My parents were supposed to teach it to me, but after I unwisely chose to marry Tobias Snape, they refused to pass on the lesson.”

“Would they tell me, if I summoned them?” Snape asks.

Eileen looks at him as if he’s a blithering idiot. “Tell you, a Half-blood? They would laugh in your face. The Resurrection Stone allows one to call a spirit forth from beyond the veil, but it does not incite obedience.”

“No, I did not think it did. You spent too much time educating me on the matter.” Snape shakes his head. “Antioch’s wand has been found. I have studied it, and find I do not desire it at all.” As if he wants to be cursed with the Elder Wand. His own wand serves quite well enough, thank you.

It does make Snape wonder. Himself, Potter, and Voldemort—were their fates always meant to intertwine in such a fashion? It seems ludicrous, and yet there are multiple truths now at play he would be a fool to deny.

“While seeing the wand returned to its proper lineage would be favorable, I understand why you’ve made that decision,” Eileen says, surprising him. “Do not keep the Stone, either. The magic it emanates would only place you in more danger than you already dwell in, my son.”

“Mother,” Snape says. “Perhaps I will see you again soon.”

Eileen shakes her head. “I had better not. You are far too intelligent to be caught out so easily, child.”

Snape drops the Stone onto the table at his side, and the shade of his mother vanishes. He wants to rest his head in his hands, feeling a headache attempting to form. He never liked speaking with his mother, even when she was in a vaguely favorable mood.

He finishes his tea, still disappointed in the lack of information. If record of such a spell still exists, it may truly be up to Potter’s excellent skills in library research to find it.

Snape clasps his hands together and rests his fingertips against lip and chin. He had no idea the Prince lineage was of a different faith than most of Wizarding Britain’s Pure-blood families. They most often follow the older paths of the Kells, the Picts, the northern Irish ways spread by Tuatha de Danann, the Angles, the Saxons, or no beliefs at all but for faith in their own magic. Christianity and other religions are more common among the Half-blood families and the Muggle-borns, especially those who are of more recent British immigration. In terms of tactics, it serves no purpose to reveal this newfound part of Snape’s lineage, but it does rather explain why he has no use for Christmas.

Only when what little food he’s eaten has been consumed does he again turn the Stone three times in his hand.

She appears much more quickly than Eileen had, assuming proper form at once instead of dragging out the process. Her hair is unbound, falling almost to her waist in dark red waves, and her green eyes are as intense as they’d been in life.

“Lily,” Snape whispers.

“Severus,” Lily returns his greeting with a smile. “It’s so good to see you again.”

Snape draws in an unsteady breath. “Is it?”

“Of course.” Lily walks forward and kneels down before him, resting a hand on his knee. There is the faintest impression of touch, but nothing else. “I’m so sorry.”

Snape frowns. “Those are meant to be my words.”

“You have already apologized, many times over,” Lily reminds him tartly. “Why would I demand another?”

“Because it is deserved,” Snape says, and hates it when his breath catches in his throat.

Lily shakes her head. “My son was right, you know. I abandoned my friend when he most needed me.”

“You made a decision you thought was best for yourself.”

“No, I made the easiest decision. You and I both know that ‘best’ and ‘easiest’ aren’t always the same thing.” Lily seems frustrated. “I shouldn’t have—I let the House prejudices get to me, Sev.”

He stares at her. “You absolutely did not.”

Lily smiles. “I did. I was sixteen, Severus, and neither of us were saints, then or now. I got as much grief from the Gryffindors as you did from the Slytherins, all that rubbish about being a House traitor, and when you started to look as if you were acting the part…I ignored everything I knew about you and turned my back. All I have been able to do to make up for that stubbornness is follow you from the moment you shed blood over my grave. That was a foolish oath to make, by the way.”

“It was my choice.” Snape presses his lips together. He’s not sure this is the best idea he has ever had.

Lily pats his knee, which offers a repetition of that faint sensation. “You’re still an idiot.”

“And you are still very much a Gryffindor,” Snape retorts, feeling his lips twitch in a smile he desperately wants to suppress.

“We both should have been Hufflepuffs,” Lily says dryly. “It would have made everything so much simpler.”

He wants to laugh, but can’t. “I am still so very sorry,” Snape utters in a harsh, stifled whisper. He will not lose his control, no matter the situation.

“I know. I forgave you long ago, Sev,” Lily tells him, her gaze serious and sad. “Harry would not have been able to share my gift with you if it were otherwise.”

“What is it?” Snape asks. “I know it is a form of protection that once burnt Quirrell to ash—”

“That was far more enjoyable than is proper for me to feel.” Lily’s lips quirk up in a dangerous smile. She was Gryffindor for a reason, after all. “It is protection, yes, but it’s also me, Severus. Harry might be forced to bear a tiny fraction of that bastard’s soul, but death has not kept me from my son. Voldemort’s ritual gained him the ability to touch Harry without burning to ash, but my presence also protects Harry from true possession.”

That is useful information. “How?” Snape asks, unable to resist the urge to reach out and touch her hand. It is insubstantial, just as a ghost’s flesh would be, but he can still feel her. It makes the scent of wintergreen and citrus fill his senses once more.

A power that the Dark Lord knows not,” Lily quotes. “Love is the most terrifying sensation Voldemort has ever felt. If he breaks through Harry’s excellent protections by battering his way through, it is an act he will regret.”

“Part of the trap. An utterly brilliant part of the trap,” Snape murmurs. “Lily, I love you.”

She smiles. “I love you, too, though James is currently whinging that I’m not supposed to say such things as a married woman. One day I will get it through his stubborn head that love between men and women does not automatically include romance. Now then,” she says, turning serious. “You need to take the Stone to Grimmauld Place, Severus. There are people residing there who need closure just as much as you do.”

“This isn’t closure. This is self-indulgence,” Snape mutters.

Lily rolls her eyes. “And one day, I will get it through your thick skull that accepting affection is not selfishness.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape Apparates back to Grimmauld Place, just within the proper spot on the walkway where the Fidelius Charm hides visitors from view of those spying from the street. When he knocks, it is Lupin who receives him. “Severus,” Lupin says in surprise. “We were not expecting you until Saturday.”

“Circumstances changed,” Snape murmurs. He hasn’t dared release his hold upon the Stone, and it still feels like he clutches a burning ember. “Let me in, please,” he requests, uttering the current verbal password for the Order.

“Who do I need to gather?” Lupin asks, understanding at once that this is not any sort of social call.

“Black. Potter. Yourself. If Miss Granger has arrived, then bring her as well.”

“Those of us who share Unbreakable Vows. Is it that bad?” Lupin asks.

“I bring bad news, good news, and improbable objects,” Snape replies tiredly. “Have you finished constructing the wards in the parlor?”

“I did it the last week of June, actually,” Lupin tells him. “I’ll get the others. You sit down. You look like death, Severus.”

Snape wants to make a snide observation, but he is too rattled to come up with one. Instead, he selects a chair and leans back into it, his hand tightening around the Stone until its edges bite into his skin.

Potter enters first, gives him an odd look, and then sits down directly across from him. “Are you all right, Snape?”

“Yes, Harry.”

“I’m just—you look like you’re afraid,” Potter says.

Snape thinks about it. “I am,” he admits. “If you tell the dog or the werewolf, I’ll hex you.”

Potter nods, offering him a faint smile, before Black and Lupin enter with Granger tailing behind them. Black and Granger were obviously dragged from their beds, but they’re both quick to recover their wits when they see that Snape is waiting for them.

Lupin closes the parlor’s double doors, gently lowers the latch, and then taps his wand against the frame of a truly hideous painting of Cygnus Black the First. The new wards light up in the same shade of gold that burns in Lupin’s eyes when the wolf is most prominent.

Snape watches to make certain the wards wrap the room properly before speaking. “Albus has done something so foolish that it astounds me, but it may also have provided us with the means to save Draco Malfoy, among other things.”

“How?” Black asks. He is not fond of his cousin’s child, but he has become a vocal champion of protecting those who are in danger not of their own making. Perhaps prison truly did drive that lesson home.

“I will explain that part later, when both Draco and Narcissa Malfoy are present,” Snape answers. “In the meantime, you all need to know that Albus Dumbledore is dying. He might last throughout the school term, but not much longer beyond that.”

“God!” Lupin blurts, appalled. “What did he do, Severus?”

“He succumbed to terrible temptation for reasons that escape me, and placed a ring upon his finger that was cursed by Voldemort himself.” Snape nods in response to the mutual looks of disbelief. “I yelled at him for doing so, even as I acted to preserve his life. Without that assistance, he would be dead already.”

“Albus is dying. I can’t imagine a world without that cagey old bastard.” Black wraps his arm around Granger’s shoulders. Miss Granger looks shaken and upset, but she doesn’t utter a sound.

Snape hesitates before nodding again. “For now, I believe it to be of vital importance to pretend ignorance of Albus’s fate. Proof of the curse is visible on his right hand, but I don’t know how he is going to handle that among the student body in September.”

“I’m guessing that was the good news and the bad news,” Lupin says in a faint voice. “God.”

Potter remains silent, but his eyes are narrowed in what looks like intense displeasure. Perhaps there is grief lurking behind his irritation, but Snape isn’t going to pry.

“Yes, that was the good news along with the bad. The improbable aspect is this.” Snape gently puts the Stone down on the parlor table. “Explore it, but do not turn it over in your hands. Not yet.”

Potter picks it up first, tilting his head as he regards the Stone. Then he removes his glasses and peers closer. “It’s damaged, but…I thought that the story was a myth.”

“It is not,” Snape replies. “You are descended from Ignotus Peverell, a fact you discerned for yourself. Your family has passed on his Cloak of Invisibility from one generation to the next since the thirteenth century, Potter.”

“Shite,” Black murmurs, reaching out for the Stone. “Severus, are you seriously telling me that this is the Resurrection Stone?”

“It is. Cadmus Peverell either sired children or adopted an heir before his death, and that bloodline has held the Stone ever since. Its last owner before being cursed was Marvolo Gaunt—Voldemort’s grandfather.”

“Instead of being the heir of Slytherin, he’s a Peverell heir.” Lupin shakes his head. “He must feel that to be detrimental to his power, or he would have claimed that lineage long before now.”

“Voldemort may also still be the Heir of Slytherin,” Snape corrects him. “The lineages can only be traced back so far before the records begin to fail. Either way, it does not matter. The three Deathly Hallows are all in possession of the Order of the Phoenix.”

“I thought—I thought the Deathly Hallows was just a wizarding nursery tale.” Granger takes the stone from Black’s fingers and gazes at it with her brow wrinkled in puzzlement. “The Stone even has the symbol carved on it.”

“It became a nursery tale, yes, meant to warn young witches and wizards about the perils of arrogance.” Snape massages his forehead. “My mother made certain I was aware of the full extent of the Prince family lineage. Antioch Peverell was one of our ancestors. Technically, it is supposed to mean that the Elder Wand belongs to my family, but it can remain in the hands that hold it. I want no part of that cursed thing.”

“The Elder Wand still exists, and someone in the Order wields it,” Black states in a flat, angry voice. “Who in the hell would—Dumbledore. Albus Dumbledore has the bloody Elder Wand.”

Snape nods. “He does. I believe Albus claimed it from Grindelwald after defeating him at the conclusion of the European Wizarding War in the 1940s.”

Lupin is now holding the stone, a grieved expression on his face. “Turn it in your hand three times, werewolf,” Snape says. “Concentrate on them both; they want to speak with you all.”

When James and Lily Potter appear next to Lupin, the man breaks down into harsh sobbing. James Potter shakes his head, sits down next to Lupin on the sofa, and leans into him in an attempt at comfort. Perhaps it might even help, given what Snape experienced with Lily earlier in the evening.

Snape notes that Potter is staring at his father, taking in details like a young man trying to quench a terrible thirst. If anything, this will certainly help him to understand everyone’s nonstop comments about how much Potter looks like his father. Except for Lily’s brilliant green eyes, James passed all of his physical traits onto his son, from his perpetually disastrous black hair to his pale bronze skin.

It still infuriates Snape that Albus Dumbledore overlooked such an obvious fucking problem. There is more than one reason why Petunia Dursley hated her brother-in-law and her nephew. Petunia would hate Hermione Granger, she of one black dental doctor parent and one white dental doctor parent, for the very same reason. Wizards have always cared far more about blood purity and lineage than skin color, but not so with Muggles, who tend to swing back and forth on the issue every few centuries.

It does make Snape wonder if that is one of the reasons Petunia Dursley hated Snape, as well. Perhaps she recognized his heritage where he remained oblivious. God and Merlin both know that the woman proved herself a Muggle bastion of racism and bigotry before she even graduated from school.

“Merlin,” Black finally whispers, staring at Lily. “I’m so fucking sorry, Lil.”

Lily smiles at Black as she walks over to him. “Yes, we should have listened to you, but Peter’s actions were not your fault, you ridiculous man.” She bends down and plants a ghostly kiss on his forehead while Black sits there in stunned amazement. “I’m so glad you’ve survived, and that you’ve come so far.”

Then Lily straightens and turns to Potter. “Harry.”

Potter stands up, looking like a young man who has just been gutted. “Mum.”

“You, my dearest one, are the only person in this room I can actually touch,” Lily says, and steps forward to wrap her arms around her son. Potter jerks, startled, before he returns the embrace. It’s as if he’s holding onto a solid, living being.

“I am so very proud of you,” Lily whispers, and Potter lets out a soft, keening sound of mourning.

Snape quietly gets up from his chair and touches the wards on the door, sensing that they will let him leave the room without breaking the protections in place. Granger is right behind him, biting her lip as they both slip outside and shut the parlor door.

“That was for them. They didn’t need me,” Granger says in quiet explanation. “I think that’s why you left, too.”

“You did need to hear the news about your Headmaster’s foolishness, and the confirmed existence and locations of the Hallows,” Snape counters. “However, you are correct about the rest.” Whatever it is that James and Lily Potter speak of with their son, Lupin, and Black are things Snape does not need to be aware of—what happens within the parlor is now for that family alone.

Snape hesitates before he rests his hand on Granger’s shoulder. “Kitchen, Miss Granger. I believe tea is in order, and there is a house-elf here who is most enthusiastic about such things.”

Granger is eying him like he’s a new and baffling lifeform. “Professor?”

“They need…closure. I need bloody tea,” Snape says. “You may join me, or go back to bed.”

“I actually have no idea what to do with a version of you who is polite,” Granger complains, and then gives him a sharp, piercing look. “What about you, Professor? Did you receive closure, too?”

Snape escorts Granger to the kitchen when he realizes she’s made her decision. “In a sense.”

Speaking with Lily, and knowing that her essence truly is wrapped around him in a protective embrace, has done strange things to his psyche this evening. However, Snape knows that he will not have true “closure” until Voldemort is very, very dead.

He greatly looks forward to that day.

Chapter Text

“I have confirmation that Narcissa will be arriving with Draco tomorrow,” Snape announces as he enters the kitchen on Saturday, minutes before midnight. The ash from the fireplace is worse than usual; he uses a quick cleaning charm to dismiss the mess. “Draco might be in a full Body-Bind and hauled in like luggage through the fireplace, but he will be here.”

“That will be fun,” Black says, watching as Kreacher and Dobby compete in snarky house-elf fashion to clean the kitchen table in preparation for midnight festivities. “You’re ready?”

“I wouldn’t be here if I were not,” Snape replies. “Dobby, when you are finished flirting with Kreacher, tea would be appreciated.”

Dobby’s ears fall almost to his shoulders while Kreacher starts turning purple. “Dobby does not flirt!” The house-elf looks appalled by the very idea.

“Well, you’ll have to find someone to mate with at some point, else we’ll be down to just one house-elf after Kreacher kicks the bucket,” Black tells the elf cheerfully.

Dobby frowns. “Why is you not be doing yous duty to yous House?” he asks Kreacher. The other elf scowls and says nothing.

“Either he’s too much of a bastard, or my mother refused to allow him to do so,” Black tells Dobby. “My family had some vile notions when it came to house-elves, but my mother was the cruel one.”

“Do not be speaking ill of the Mistress,” Kreacher hisses at Black. “Kreacher be serving you because you be helping Master Regulus, but you will not be saying bad things about the Mistress!”

Black holds up his hands. “All right. Sorry about that, Kreacher.”

Snape stares at Black after both elves disappear to put away the table detritus. “Did I just hear you apologize to a house-elf?”

“I’d like to sleep with the assurance that I won’t wake up to find Kreacher standing over me with a knife,” Black returns dryly. “Besides…” He grimaces. “Given how my family treated me, I imagine that Kreacher’s life was complete shite, and he’s too old to be all that interested in changing his opinions. If he wants to worship that shrieking harpy, that’s his business.”

“I see he’s wearing Slytherin colors,” Snape observes, selecting a chair to sit down in. He’s never seen house-elves choose to wear much other than white tea towels—or in Dobby’s case, a hideous collection of socks on his legs, arms, and ears to accompany the traditional tea towel. Kreacher, however, is now wearing a green tea towel edged in silver, like those most often found in the Slytherin dormitory.

“I had to specifically state that I was not freeing or firing him from Black family employment,” Black explains. “I wasn’t sure if he’d accept it, but Kreacher wanted something of Regulus’s more than he wanted to keep to white tea towel traditions.”

“And the additional choice of striped green and silver night cap?” Snape asks.

“I wisely decided that I didn’t want to know.”

Kreacher pops back into existence, standing on the kitchen table with a great stone bowl clutched in his hands. He places it onto the table with a scowl, revealing a Pensieve full of cobwebs and rodent droppings. “I be finding it in the attic, Master Sirius. A proper wizard might wish to give it a good Scourgify before usin’ it.”

“Thank you, Kreacher,” Black says gravely. “I would have had no idea where to find the blasted thing without you.”

That gives Snape an idea. While Black subjects the Pensieve to a thorough cleansing spell, he asks, “Kreacher, would you be willing to grant me a trade, if the item exists?”

Kreacher dusts off his green tea towel before peering at Snape. “What does the great Bloody Bat wish for?”

“I’m seeking a preservation spell meant for the living,” Snape says. “The Prince family line once held it, but it has since been lost. Do you know what I’m speaking of?”

Kreacher scowls. “The Bloody Bat wishes to look younger?”

Snape keeps his face impassive, even if Black fails at it and has to put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing. “It’s not for me. It’s meant to help ensure that Regulus Black’s attempt to defeat the Dark Lord continues, and possibly succeeds.”

The house-elf’s ears twitch in either palsy or thought. “Perhaps, Bloody Bat. What is in it for Kreacher?”

“I might—and I stress might—be able to retrieve Regulus’s copy of the Slytherin locket, one that would be safe for you to wear in remembrance of your old Master.”

Kreacher’s eyes grow as huge as Dobby’s, glimmering with suspect moisture. “You would be doing such a thing for Kreacher?”

“Only in exchange for that spell. Retrieving the locket will not be a pleasant task,” Snape reminds him. “I have no desire to tempt death for no reason at all.”

The house-elf regards him with a stark frown, but his eyes have not regained their traditional, narrow-eyed glower. “If Master Bat brings me Master Regulus’s locket, Kreacher is promising you that you will have the Permanent Youth potion. Mistress used it until Death came too close.”

A potion, not a spell. Interesting. This might give Snape even more to work with. “Then I will do my very best to bring it to you, though it might take me a while to discern how.” To begin with, Snape is going to need to have another copy of the locket made, which will take time, along with Galleons he’s not sure he has available. If Voldemort were to check on his Horcrux and find an empty fountain, the element of surprise will be lost, and that is unacceptable.

“I'll pay to have a copy of the locket made," Black says, interrupting Snape's thoughts. "I have easiest, consistent access to it, and I can afford the bribes to ensure a jeweler’s silence in the matter."

Snape nods. "Acceptable, and possibly the only safe course of action."

"If Kreacher gives you that potion, would you mind sharing a copy?” Black asks. “It’s not about the vanity on my part, either. It’s the physical health aspect I’d like to enjoy. I still find myself coughing up things that I know are from Azkaban.”

“That is foul, Black,” Snape says, but he does feel a certain amount of sympathy for Black’s plight. Azkaban hadn’t been kind to his own health, and Snape only needed to spend a week within its walls. “If I find it, you will have your copy. It might take you one hundred years to find someone willing to put up with you long enough to breed an Heir, so you might as well look presentable.”

Black laughs as Granger, Potter, and Lupin arrive in a cluster. Granger is bearing a cloth bundle in her hands. “Don’t ask,” Lupin says as Granger places the object on the table. She unwraps it to reveal an empty prophecy sphere.

“I take it that this is the real thing, then.” Snape eyes the glass globe. It looks simple enough, but he can feel waiting magic. “Please tell me one of you idiots knows how to copy a memory. What I place in this Pensieve should also be kept in this house, just in case our knowledge of its contents is lost.”

“I know how,” Potter says. “I found the spell in the library when I was trying to figure out more information on that Memory Projection Potion.”

Snape pulls out his wand and then eyes the house-elves that have not yet departed. “Yes?”

“We’s bein’ sworn to secrecy, Master Snape,” Dobby tells him in wide-eyed seriousness. “I’s servin’ Master Harry Potter. Kreacher servin’ Master Sirius Black. He-We-Do-Not-Name is not bein’ nice to house-elves.”

“Better a blood traitor than a Half-blood,” Kreacher mutters darkly.

“Still a Half-blood,” Potter says to the elf.

“Still a Muggle-born,” Granger adds.

Kreacher treats them both to an impressive glare. “Yes, but you is respectable Half-bloods and Muggle-borns.”

“Please, can we continue?” Snape requests, and is gratified when everyone stops arguing over blood status. He needs the quiet to be able to concentrate on what has been carefully crafted. Snape ignores the others’ waiting expectation; once he’s certain he has it right, rests the tip of his wand against his temple.

The memory he pulls forth is gratifyingly substantial wisps of silver. Snape lowers the memory into the Pensieve, letting the magic of the bowl catch the memory and hold it in place. Only then does he let out the breath he’s been holding. “Someone else request to view it,” Snape suggests. “We need to be certain it appears to be entirely legitimate.”

Lupin is the one to reach out and give the bowl the proper taps with his wand, muttering under his breath. Instead of the more traditional faceplant-viewing method that Snape dislikes, this causes the memory to gather in a silver mist until it becomes the spitting image of Sybill Trelawney standing before an indeterminate background.

“You are absolutely kidding me.” Black is staring at the image. “Trelawney came up with the Prophecy?”

“Shush!” Granger orders him sharply, just as Trelawney begins to speak in the harsh, grating voice that comes to her during her rare moments of uttering true prophecy.

The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not…and either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives…The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…

Lupin grimaces and taps the bowl again, allowing Trelawney’s image to sink back down into the Pensieve as swirling silver mist. “Good job, Severus. Was she that creepy at the time?”

“Yes,” Snape answers him. “Very much unlike herself. I sometimes wonder if it’s her insistence upon such frivolous fortune-telling trappings that inhibits her gift.”

Potter has an odd look on his face. “I’ve heard her speak like that before, during the last fourth-year exams that happened the day of the Third Task.”

“What did she say, Harry?” Black asks.

“Nothing I didn’t already know about Voldemort returning, not at that point. She just gave details as to the how, which were stupid and useless until it was over and done with.” Potter holds up his hands to signify that he’s quoting Trelawney. “The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more terrible than ever before. Bone of family will rouse him; blood of the enemy will empower him. The light of Death will fill the air, and the Dark Lord will Rise.

“So, basically, Voldemort will come back but I’m absolutely rubbish at giving out useful information,” Granger says in irritation. “At least her first prophecy included a blasted date!”

Snape glares at Potter. “And you never imparted this information…why?”

Potter seems confused by the idea. “Well, after the night of the Third Task, it seemed redundant, sir. Everything she said had already happened. And…after she’d said it and snapped back to normal, she denied it all. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, so I let it be.”

Snape puts aside his anger. Potter is not the deserving party, and Lockhart is still too dead to suffer for it. “Please never, ever ignore such information again, no matter how trivial it may seem. You are correct in that her timing would not have prevented the Blood-and-Bone ritual; it is highly likely that Pettigrew had already retrieved the necessary components from Tom Riddle’s grave. But: no information is without value. Do not forget this.”

Potter gives him a grave nod. “Yes, sir. Should I copy the memory now?”

Snape waves his hand in permission. Potter gets out a simple glass phial, setting it on the tabletop before stirring up the contents of the Pensieve with his wand. When he’s done, there is a second silvery mass floating above the stone bowl, a complete yet much fainter copy of Trelawney’s Prophecy. It might not be enough to grant a viewer the visual of the Divination teacher, but it’s the words they need, not Trelawney’s appearance. Potter guides the fainter mist to the phial with his wand; Granger is quick to put a proper glass stopper in place to keep the memory trapped inside.

“The whole of what remains goes into the prophecy globe, yes?” Lupin asks, glancing at Snape.

He nods. “I have my original memories of overhearing the prophecy, and of learning the whole of it from Albus later. This is a crafted memory; I don’t need it back.” In fact, he doesn’t actually want it. It’s so recent that it’s something Voldemort could, if he pushed hard enough, retrieve from Snape’s mind. That would not be an acceptable outcome, either.

Potter breathes out before lifting his wand again. “All right. Ready?”

Lupin and Granger nod, both of them placing their wands upon the empty prophecy globe. Their wand tips glow, which causes the globe to do the same. “Now, Harry,” Lupin instructs, “or the globe will begin recording other things, instead.”

Potter nods and gives the Pensieve’s remaining contents a far more vigorous swirl with his wand, gathering up the whole of the silvery mass. His lips are pressed into a thin line of concentration as he brings the memory over to the globe, touching his wand to globe so that all three wands form a perfect triad. The memory seems to hesitate before rushing into the glass, swirling around on the inside like a trapped, living creature.

The three lower their wands, edging back from the globe. “And people do this all day?” Granger asks in dismay, sweat standing out on her face. “That’s a ridiculous amount of effort!”

“There are probably easier ways, but Merlin knows Wizarding Britain is hung up on Proper Tradition.” Black picks up the globe. At once, Trelawney’s words begin to emerge from it in her grating monotone. He puts it down again in a hurry. “Well. At least it works.”

Lupin glances at Black before he places the original protective cloth over the globe and picks it up. Without direct physical contact, the globe remains silent. “No, now we know that it works. It would defeat the purpose if you were carrying around a globe that nattered on without pause.”

Black accepts the cloth-wrapped globe, tucking it into an inner pocket of his short robe. “And we’re to do this when, Severus?”

“The fifteenth of July, nine o’clock, in the Little Hangleton cemetery.” Black’s face develops a grimace of intense distaste. “You’re the one who claimed to understand that Voldemort is into grand gestures, dog.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t find his choices to be unpleasant,” Black retorts. “Should I meet you there?”

“Dear God, no, or you could Apparate into the middle of a group of Death Eaters who have no self-control,” Snape replies, annoyed. “Don’t be an idiot. I’ll take you by Side-Along Apparition to a safe place within walking distance of the cemetery. We go in together, as I still might have to save your mangy life. Bellatrix and mental stability are running further and further in opposite directions.”  

“That will have to do.” Black rises from the table. “I’ll see you out, and then we’ll all see you again soon to listen to my cousin's son screech about betrayal.”

Snape’s Sunday morning is spent inspecting Albus’s cursed hand, railing at him some more about being stupid. He then returns the Resurrection Stone to the Headmaster earlier than agreed upon. “You’re certain? You still have until this evening,” Albus says, though his left hand is already wrapped securely around the Stone.

Snape just looks at him in mild displeasure. “If I were not certain, you would not be holding it. It accomplished its purpose, though my mother was less than useful.”

“I see,” Albus replies. Snape has not asked Albus further questions as to whom he was so desperate to speak with that he shoved a cursed ring onto his finger, and Albus, it seems, is granting him the same courtesy in not asking if Snape spoke to Lily. Snape wouldn’t tell him, regardless. “I will safeguard it, never fear.”

Snape nods in response, saying nothing before departing. If Potter’s Invisibility Cloak suddenly goes missing, he’ll be killing Albus Dumbledore sooner rather than later. He doesn’t think the old man would ever do such a thing, but fear can cause even great men to make foolish decisions.

 

*          *          *          *

 

The meeting in the warded parlor of 12 Grimmauld Place with Narcissa and Draco Malfoy, Black, Lupin, Potter, and Granger is less stressful, though much louder, than dealing with Albus Dumbledore. Snape rests his chin on one hand, elbow propped on the arm of his chair, and regards Draco with an expression of utter disinterest while the child rants about betrayal and the Dark Lord’s wrath and revenge and betrayal, basically making a complete spectacle of himself. Narcissa sits in dignified repose, as does Black, their mutually trained youthful mannerisms reinforcing each other. Lupin just seems irritated, as does Granger.

It’s Potter’s fully Occluded, blank-seeming stare that finally causes Draco to stutter mid-rant. “Why are you looking at me like that?” Draco demands hotly.

“Because you’re being loud, and really fucking stupid,” Potter returns in blunt observation. “Or haven’t you figured out yet that Voldemort is setting you up for failure and death?”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” Draco scoffs.

Narcissa lets out a breath that is not a sigh, but a hint of sublime disappointment. “Draco Malfoy, foolish product of my womb. That is exactly what the Dark Lord plans for you.”

“And you trust their word, Mother?” Draco yells back. “You trust the word of these traitors over that of our Lord?”

Narcissa gives Draco a cold stare. “No. I am an intelligent Slytherin, one who discerned the Dark Lord’s plans for you the moment he gave you those instructions. Or do you think me lacking in intellect, Draco?”

Draco’s expression twists in a way that suggests he is restraining the urge to say a lot of things he would immediately have cause to regret. “No, Mother,” he finally grates out. “I do not think you lack intelligence. I am…I’m disappointed that you would so easily betray the Dark Lord.”

“My allegiance,” Narcissa says in a sharp, foreboding voice, “has never been to the Dark Lord, but to the fortunes and survival of our family! That is the way a true Slytherin views the world, Draco, and I despair that you never heeded Severus’s lessons in that matter!”

“I warned you at the beginning of last school year, Mister Malfoy,” Snape says, his voice quiet and deadly in comparison to Narcissa’s bright anger. “Now you have fallen into the Dark Lord’s trap.”

Draco glares at them all, but then he slowly sits down in his chair. “What you are saying, Mother, goes against everything Father has ever taught me about the Dark Lord’s goals.”

Narcissa’s expression hardens. “I once loved your father very much, Draco, else you would not exist. But he has become a fool who is easily led, and has placed you in danger without once giving thought to the consequences of that action. I am no longer capable of producing another Heir for the Malfoy Estate. I do not know if he forgets that, or somehow thinks he will live forever and another Heir will never be necessary. If so, that makes him doubly foolish, for he no longer has the speed and skill in which to survive a war against the Order of the Phoenix.”

“You wish us to join Dumbledore?” Draco says at his most disparaging. “Marching against those who are Pure-blood and family to us?”

“You will be required to do no such thing,” Snape interrupts, getting tired of the way this is dragging out. “What your mother wants is your survival and her own safety. Once word gets out that she is trying to reform an alliance with the House of Black, the Dark Lord will immediately call for her death, putting a bounty on her head that every Death Eater in Britain will try to collect on.”

Draco looks around at every person in the room, his cool blue eyes searching for something. Snape doesn’t know what he seeks, but Draco finally asks, “What must I do, then? If I refuse, the Dark Lord will kill me.”

“You will not refuse,” Snape says. “You will attempt to carry out your plan to assassinate Albus Dumbledore, but you will do it slowly. For many reasons, this is an attempt that must wait until the end of the school year, if possible. At that time, you will disarm him—and Dumbledore will allow you to do so. Then you will fail at casting the Killing Curse.”

“Failing my assignment, and again earning my death.” Draco crosses his arms, looking mutinous. “I do not yet see my survival in this plan.”

Snape makes an effort to keep his voice patient and level, if brutal. “Because I am going to convince the Dark Lord that you are more useful to him alive than dead. As long as you make all appearances of having made the attempt, and I finish your failed task…you will be punished, but punishment is survivable. Death is not.”

Draco gapes at him. “You’re going to kill Albus Dumbledore?”

“The fool is already dying,” Snape bites out, resisting the urge to growl and hex someone. “He has actually asked me to kill him. The irritating irony here is that I once told Black it would take the apparent betrayal and murder of someone in the Order for Voldemort to truly believe I’m one of his own.”

“Killing Dumbledore is definitely not what I thought it would come to,” Black says glumly. “Merlin, this is a disaster.”

“A success within a disaster,” Snape corrects him.

“Success, my arse,” Lupin snaps. “If you kill Albus Dumbledore, most of the wizarding world will be happy to shove your head onto a pike and march it around the entirety of Great Britain, Severus.”

“I don’t care,” Snape retorts. “I care far more about being in the position to protect the students of Hogwarts. Voldemort will have control of the Ministry by next summer, and there isn’t a damned thing we can do to stop it!”

Draco’s expression brightens. “Then the Dark Lord will succeed!”

Snape rolls his eyes. “No, you idiot child. A temporary success is all it will be. Or do you think that the vast majority of witches and wizards will simply roll over and die because Voldemort wishes it? He assumed so last time, and that did not turn out so well.”

“But he didn’t hold the Ministry!” Draco insists.

“No, he did not,” Snape concedes. “While holding the Ministry will put him in a superior tactical position, it is not one that will last. He does not know how to run a government, especially one that is fueled only by fear. The Ministry will crumble, and his control will crumble with it.”

“But Voldemort cannot die. His return proves that,” Draco says, but his eyes have narrowed. Snape thinks that, perhaps, they have finally broken through Draco Malfoy’s childish faith in a madman, instilled by a father who chose foolish loyalties over his own bloodline.

“Voldemort is not immortal.” Granger treats Draco to an earnest look that is too fierce to be labeled endearing. “He just likes to think he is.”

“The means to bring about his final, true death are already being arranged,” Black says. “Now, then: you can continue to be as foolish as your father, Draco, or you can learn from this oncoming war some of the same lessons I did during the last one. Your mother wishes for the House of Black to be united once more, and I find that I’m fond of the idea. Right now, Harry is the only Heir to the Black family, and I could only get away with making that legal and binding because my Aunt Dorea married Charlus Alastair Potter.”

Narcissa looks surprised. “A Black of that generation married outside of the immediate circle of acceptable suitors?”

Black grins at her. “Bloody miracle that someone did.”

Draco makes a disgruntled face. “Er—I know I’m going to regret asking this, but why is that so important?”

“You mean you didn’t tell your son as to the absolute cesspool of a family we originate from?” Black asks Narcissa.

Narcissa sighs. “The Malfoy lineage is ever so much worse.”

“I thought the Lestranges had that distinction,” Black says.

“No, we’re running in third place. Thank goodness.”

“I cannot believe I am sitting here listening to you two discuss which family is the more inbred,” Snape mutters.

“Worse than what?” Draco snaps out. “The Malfoy family tree is a list of illustrious Pure-bloods from the Sacred Twenty-Eight!”

“That list is such complete shite.” Lupin scowls. “If it were anywhere near accurate, some of those names would not be on it, while many others would be. The Potters were still Pureblood at the time; my family is on both sides is for generations until the records die out in the eighth century. Even the Princes were still Pure-bloods. Granted, the author kept the Weasleys on there—”

“Great-Aunt Cedrella married Septimus Weasley. Phineas might have disowned her for it, but it upped the Weasley’s social standing at the time,” Black says.

Snape merely lifts an eyebrow when Black and Narcissa glance at him. “Jewish. Also very much not in vogue in the 1930s.”

“When did you discover this?” Narcissa asks, curious.

“Last month, but that is also entirely irrelevant to the subject at hand. Draco, the Sacred Twenty-Eight was a title given to those who had either the wealth or social standing to warrant inclusion. It was nothing more than politics, not bloodlines.”

“Your mother and I? We’re first cousins once removed, second cousins, and we are also third cousins,” Black tells Draco. “Please do your genealogy research properly. Try to marry someone who is at least a fourth cousin or multiple generations distant, or you’re risking your children being born with extra fingers and toes.”

“Might I just quote this entire conversation as to why blood purity is a stupid idea?” Snape asks.

Narcissa seems to wince. “Not entirely foolish, though some of the families take it to exceptionally unhealthy extremes. I would never have consented to marry Lucius if it hadn’t been five generations since the Black and Malfoy lines last merged.”

Draco looks at his mother. “If you and Sirius Black are three-times related—”

“Oh, that’s a good way to put it,” Lupin says dryly.

“—then how exactly is Potter related to the Black family?”

“We’re first cousins four times removed, dingbat,” Potter says to Draco, who immediately does an excellent impression of an oxygen-starved fish.

“I didn’t even know about the connection until Harry discovered that part of the family tree was hidden under a Disillusionment Charm. The Potters were still Pure-bloods of good standing at the time, so Mother didn’t dare erase the connection. She just hid it.”

“Directly second cousins,” Lupin says, which makes no sense until he continues, “my aunt Euphemia married Fleamont, Harry’s grandfather.”

“This is all very fascinating, but can we please get back to the point?” Granger asks, crossing her arms and glaring at all of them.

“Certainly.” Black turns his attention back to Draco. “Learn and grow. Become a decent man, Draco Malfoy, and I will name you as another Heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Black along with your cousin, Nymphadora Tonks.”

“Auror Tonks? She is a fool,” Draco pronounces, scowling.

“No. Nymphadora Tonks is a skilled Auror and an accomplished witch whom you do not want to cross in battle, Draco Malfoy.” Lupin stares down at Draco, as if finally losing his patience with the affair. “First lesson: repeating your father’s tired twaddle will get you nowhere very quickly.”

Black just seems amused by Draco’s ridiculous opinion. “If it’s money you’re worried about, there is more than enough to go around, even if you all decide to have hordes of children later in life. Hell, even if I somehow become dignified enough to become an eligible bachelor once more, we’d scarcely put a dent in the whole of the Black fortune.”

“We still don’t want you to breed.” Snape is humored by Lupin’s swift agreement.

“Here is the other thing you need to recognize, Draco.” Black sits up in his chair and pins the boy with a stare worthy of Minerva McGonagall. “You and your mother were not offered sanctuary due to any idea of mine. If this happens at all, you will owe your survival to Harry Potter.”

“WHAT.”

Potter looks up at the ceiling. “Malfoy, not everyone is as short-sighted as you are. I might not ever bloody like you, but you don’t deserve to die just because you’re a prick.”

Draco turns and glares at Granger. “You hit me in third year!”

“You deserved it.” Granger has a curl to her lip that isn’t the slightest bit friendly. “Call me a Mudblood again, and your teeth will not survive the experience.”

“Draco Lucius Malfoy!” Narcissa bursts out, incensed. “You said what on school grounds?”

Draco shrinks back from her. “Er.”

“Lesson number two: I abhor that word,” Snape informs Draco. His voice is rolling smoke, and it’s amusing to see that Draco can’t figure out who he wants to escape first—Snape, or his mother. “Say it again outside of the Dark Lord’s company, and it will be the last word you speak. It is very difficult to use the English language when one lacks a tongue.”

“You have my sincerest apologies, Miss Granger,” Narcissa says. “A Pure-blood witch or wizard has no need of stooping to such words if they have been raised with proper manners. That Draco has not learned this lesson is my failing.”

Granger’s brow furrows. Snape suspects she is wracking her brain to search for the correct response. “Your apology is accepted, Madam Malfoy, but I do not think it is your failing. Draco has two parents, after all, and one of them had no compunctions against trying to kill an eleven-year-old girl—and a Pure-blooded one, at that. Blood purity makes no difference to me, but I suspect it does to you.”

“Mm. The diary incident.” Narcissa glances at Draco. “One of my son’s saving graces of that year was his effort, slight as it was, to inform the school of the true nature of the danger.”

Snape is amused when Draco flushes dark red and stares down at his lap. “Oh no; you acted to save an innocent. Your family shall forever bear the stigma and shame of such a despicable act.”

In the end, Draco finally gives up—though Snape thinks it’s more that the boy wants to save his own skin than out of any real desire to change. Snape doesn’t mind; a good Slytherin understands when to put life above pride.

Narcissa has already been informed by Voldemort that her participation is expected on the fifteenth, whether she is Marked or not. She discusses it with Black and Snape before deciding to attend, a third set of eyes to oversee her cousin’s safety.

“I can Apparate faster than most of them can lift a wand,” Narcissa says in disgust, when Black points out that he doesn’t want to see her harmed. “Besides, it will be well known after the fifteenth that Narcissa Black Malfoy has sought sanctuary within the House of Black, leaving her poor and abandoned only child to be the sole Malfoy representative in Voldemort’s ranks.”

Draco becomes far more adaptable to the entirety of the plan when he realizes that he will have to play the role of loyal Death Eater through sixth-year and possibly his seventh year at Hogwarts, as well. Something about the duplicity appeals to his Slytherin nature. Snape thinks that enjoyment of duplicity is not necessarily a positive trait, but for now, it will serve. Draco’s attendance at Hogwarts is guaranteed; Snape plans on placing Draco in the role of Head Boy for his seventh year. Snape does make sure to impress (terrify) Draco into understanding that being Head Boy means he is responsible for his entire House’s safety, not merely his own life. The role of Head Girl, Snape feels, should go to someone who already has an intense sense of House unity, and that person will not be Pansy Parkinson.

Draco might escape the necessity of the Dark Mark, at least through sixth year, but afterwards…

“Will it come off?” Draco asks, one of the few moments  when he catches Snape alone in a safe location. “The Mark. I know I won’t be able to avoid it once I turn seventeen, not if we still need to keep applying ourselves to spycraft.”

Snape has begun to realize that Draco also intends to use his time to try and sway his father into seeing some damned sense. As long as Draco does not sever the Unbreakable Vow he took under Narcissa’s approving, watchful eyes, Snape doesn’t care what he tells Lucius. He just thinks it’s a wasted effort.

“When the Dark Lord lost his first physical form, the Mark all but disappeared. It only returned when the Dark Lord began to regain power.” Snape realizes once more that his hand is resting over the Mark on his arm. “Yes. I think it will disappear with the Dark Lord’s death.”

He allows Narcissa to be the one to educate Draco as to the true extent of the horror he’s to be faced with. “If you find you cannot take it, you know how to Apparate already,” she says. Snape is leaning against the wall in the other room, listening. If they cannot think to shut a door, it isn’t his fault. “We will shelter here for the rest of the war, and I will not think you a coward for knowing your limitations.”

“Others might,” Draco mumbles.

“Then they are fools,” Narcissa says sharply. “Your concern is survival, to learn to become an excellent Slytherin in truth instead of just green-and-silver labeling.”

Snape appreciates Narcissa’s venomous steel. Most members of the Order are not so fierce unless a pitched battle is involved. They are going to desperately need more of that venom in the days to come, even if Narcissa only advises from the sidelines. She even agrees to accept a modified version of the Order’s vow, a promise never to betray a member of the Order or the Order’s headquarters, be it 12 Grimmauld Place or the other safe-houses scattered throughout Britain. Snape composes it himself to make certain that a brilliant Slytherin woman will not be able to find and exploit any potential loopholes.

Lupin corners Snape in the Black family library while Snape is tracing his wand over book covers in a vain attempt to find that blasted preservation spell. “If the old legends are true, and Draco disarms Albus, then Draco Malfoy becomes the master of the Elder Wand, Severus.”

Snape gives Lupin a bland look. “Which is exactly why we are not going to tell anyone about the true nature of Albus’s wand, werewolf. The wand will go into Dumbledore’s tomb according to proper wizarding tradition, and then we’re rid of the damned thing.”

“Huh.” Lupin looks surprised. “That’s a really elegant solution.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, I excel at those.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The week of the fifteenth arrives, and with it a horde of Weasley ginger, the Diggory family, Fleur Delacour and her younger sister, Gabrielle, and the Doctors Granger. It also brings Draco and Narcissa Malfoy’s return…and to Snape’s surprise, a visit from Viktor Krum.

Granger shrugs when asked about Krum’s presence. “Just in case,” she says. “It’s not quite off-season for his Quidditch team, but he managed to gain a week’s leave. We don’t know who Voldemort’s people are watching, anyway. This might be the way to find out, depending on who complains about their targets going missing.”

“Very Slytherin of you, Gryffindor,” Snape says. He can tell Granger is fighting the urge to roll her eyes before she accepts what is meant to be a genuine compliment.

Besides, it’s all very amusing; Ronald Weasley spends his free time staring daggers at Viktor Krum’s back every time he speaks to Granger. When that option is unavailable, he joins the other Weasleys, who are devoting their time to glaring daggers at Draco Malfoy.

Molly Weasley is giving Fleur Delacour the same treatment any time her precious eldest son speaks with the French woman. Fleur has become an accomplished witch in a very short time, something Gabriella is happy to fill anyone’s ears with if they hold still long enough. Snape was correct about Fleur Delacour’s improved maturity, as well. She is fully aware of Molly’s hostility, and is graciously ignoring it.

When the others are distracted, Snape finds William Weasley and gestures for him to join Snape in a quiet corner of the second floor. “An excellent choice,” he murmurs.

William just puts on an innocent expression. “No idea what you mean, Professor Snape.”

Snape snorts his amusement of that. “That ring you’re carrying about is burning quite the hole in your pocket, William Arthur Weasley.”

William leans out of the corner to take a quick glance up and down the hall before he pulls out a velvet ring box and opens it. Inside is a silver band set with a blue stone that is the exact match for Fleur Delacour’s eyes. “Did I pick well?”

Snape glances at him. “Do you see any jewelry on my person, Bill?”

“No, not at all. You might not know jewelry, but you do know stones and metals,” William points out. “No, it isn’t cursed.”

“I am paranoid for very good reason.” Snape finishes a brief but thorough check to ensure that the ring is free of any enchantment whatsoever. Then he uses the edge of his coat sleeve to pull the ring out of its velvet padding. Excellent cut on the stone; he tilts it towards the light to find absolutely flawless blue zircon. The band is white gold without nickel impurities, creating a bright silver over gold instead of the duller, steel-like finish that is more traditional. “Goblin-made?”

William accepts the box back, snaps it shut, and shoves it into his pocket before anyone ginger wanders in their direction. “Yeah. I actually got them to accept a contract saying that it belongs to mine and Fleur’s direct descendants until we don’t have any left, and then it reverts to the goblins. Makes ’em happy. Well. If she says yes, anyway.”

“Don’t be an idiot. She wouldn’t be putting up with half of the things your mother is muttering about if Fleur Delacour was not entirely gone on a Weasley.”

Snape has no idea how he ends up having tea with the Doctors Granger in the parlor. Bribery, he suspects, or Muggle dentists are simply that pushy. He was always glad to escape them as a child, no matter what his local Muggle primary school thought of the matter.

“It’s just that…well, this is our first time in the wizarding world that hasn’t involved Diagon Alley,” Madam Granger says, sipping her tea while keeping one eye on Dobby. Dobby is oblivious; he is busy admiring the doctor’s expertly painted toenails, just revealed by her Muggle sandals. If painted nails suddenly becomes a house-elf fashion trend, Snape will know who to blame.

“Houses that appear only if you know the right word—it’s startling, but it’s mad genius.” Mister Granger is smiling in excitement. Miss Granger definitely takes after her father in academic enthusiasm, even if she looks more like her dark-skinned mother.

Madam Granger winces when there is a sudden crash and shouting from upstairs. “Should anyone intervene?”

“It will be fine,” Snape tells them. “A few of the younger houseguests are having trouble adapting to the idea of playing well with others.”

“Quite.” Madam Granger puts down her tea, doing a very good job of being polite to the bulbous-eyed house-elf who is excitedly refilling her cup. “Professor Snape. For several years, our daughter had nothing but irritation for your style of teaching. That recently changed, though she says she can’t tell us why. I am…concerned.”

It takes him a moment to understand her meaning. “Are you speaking of a lack of propriety?” Snape asks, startled enough by the question that his eyes widen. “I assure you that in Hogwarts, such abuses are not possible. There is old magic in place that quite literally prevents any sort of inappropriate contact between faculty, staff, and students. Given the split dormitories, it is also difficult for the students themselves to get up to those sorts of shenanigans.”

“Our daughter did try to assure us that was the case, quoting from that giant book she loves so much,” Mister Granger admits, giving his wife a quick glance. For Muggles, there is quite a bit of silent communication packed into that single moment. They are both suddenly much more relaxed, at least until Dobby forgets himself and starts admiring his reflection in Madam Granger’s toenail polish.

“Dobby,” Snape says, trying not to sigh. “Manners.”

Dobby squeaks in dismay and backs away several feet. “Dobby is sorry, Madam Granger! Please don’t be punishin’ Dobby! I was just thinkin’ they's so pretty.”

“Punishment? Certainly not, though I appreciate the apology.” Madam Granger seems to consider it before reaching for her Muggle purse. “You know what? I have the color with me, and while it was well-done in the salon, I find I’m not all that fond of it.” She pulls out a glass jar of Muggle nail polish and holds it out to Dobby.

Dobby edges forward, and when nothing hits him, he gently takes the bottle of deep, rich burgundy from her hands. “You’s meanin’ it? Dobby can have the paint?”

“Absolutely,” Madam Granger tells him. “I would advise against sniffing too deeply of its scent. Certain of our, er, Muggle chemicals are not wise to inhale, though it’s perfectly safe to wear. You may need a special substance to remove it, though.”

Dobby smiles. “Dobby's a house-elf, Madam Granger. I just have to think it off, and off it be!” He disappears in an excited pop of displaced air.

“Oh, dear,” she mutters. “Was that something I shouldn’t have done?”

Snape realizes a muscle beneath his eye is ticking and forces himself to relax. “No. In fact, you might have just won a permanent ally. Be prepared to be all but smothered by a doting house-elf for the rest of your time here.”

“Are they servants?” Mister Granger asks, “or are the creatures slaves? Hermione sees very concerned that they may be the latter.”

Snape muffles an undignified sigh. “Please ask your daughter to question others about house-elf politics and culture before she makes a decision regarding that matter. She might find herself pleasantly surprised.”

“Professor Snape…” Madam Granger clasps her hands together in her lap after adjusting the rims of spectacles that probably cost more than the house at Spinner’s End could ever hope to sell for. “Neither of us are deaf, even if we’re not magical. We know that there is some sort of impending danger, some kind of magical civil war potentially looming. How much danger is our daughter in?”

“Should we pull her from school? Perhaps relocate to the continent until Hermione is ready for university? Lovely Miss Delacour informs me that there is a magic school in France,” Mister Granger says.

“This will sound as if I am trying to be self-serving to my place of employment, but I assure you I’m not,” Snape answers, after giving the question a moment of serious contemplation. Granger is still a minor, after all, and her parents are correct to be concerned. “Miss Granger is quite literally safer passing her summers in this house, or being on Hogwarts school grounds, than practically any other place in the world.”

Snape spends the rest of that day trying to avoid people. He is used to crowded conditions, but he has had to be diplomatic in ways that are tiring.

“So, Dad says I’m to ask someone else about house-elves,” Miss Granger greets him when she corners him in the empty kitchen.

Snape glances up from his tea, scowling. Next time, he’s going to hide in the blasted dining room, no matter the number of spiders it contains. “When I made that suggestion, I meant for you to ask someone else.”

“I’m not surprised,” Granger agrees, settling down at the table across from him. “But someone else might try to sugarcoat the situation. You won’t.”

“It is a terrible day in our world when people are coming to me for honest answers,” Snape replies, trying not to roll his eyes. “What do you want to know, Miss Granger?”

“When we first opened up the house for Sirius and Harry, in 1993, there were…er…” Granger wrinkles her nose. “Decapitated house-elf heads mounted to trophy plaques lining the staircase. Sirius told us it was just his family that did things like that, but when Dobby turned up last summer, he had to be freed so he would be safe. Then there are Hogwarts’ house-elves that no one tells us about—it’s not even in Hogwarts: A History! None of those things, when put together, paint a very nice picture.”

“The house-elves mounted on the stairs were placed there by Black’s aunt, Cassiopeia Black, who was by all accounts a detestable human being even when compared to the shrieking harpy portrait upstairs. When Cassiopeia and Pollux left the townhouse after their sister’s death in 1985, Kreacher was ordered to remain.”

“Kreacher was, uh, really upset when Sirius and Mrs. Weasley got rid of the house-elf trophy heads so Harry wouldn’t have to try and comprehend that sort of…of cruelty along with everything else he was attempting to figure out.” Granger winces and takes a quick glance around for the house-elf in question. “I guess being shut up alone in a house for eight years would make anyone unhappy—but that’s what I mean! He couldn’t leave! Harry and Dobby have been trying to figure out what house-elves are actually supposed to do for wizards, and so far I haven’t heard a thing that doesn’t say slave.”

“That is because Dobby and Kreacher have known nothing else. A house-elf at Hogwarts would never call themselves thus, and there is a key difference.”

Granger glares at him. “Just because someone’s treated nicely doesn’t mean it’s not still slavery.”

Snape resigns himself to a potentially lost evening, but at least Granger is not grating company. “Do you know your local mythology well enough to understand what a brownie is, Miss Granger?”

“Oh, yes. They’re supposed to enjoy being household servants, ones who don’t like to be seen or paid, but they appreciate being taken care of—oh.” Granger's eyes widen. “It’s supposed to be a symbiotic relationship.”

“Yes.” He’s pleased that she grasped the concept so quickly.

“Then what’s gone wrong with house-elves?”

“With house-elves?” Snape lifts an eyebrow. “Nothing. The difficulty lies in the fact that house-elves have become a sign of wealth and privilege among a corrupt societal circle comprised of terrible people. The Ministry department meant to oversee house-elf welfare has not bothered to do its job in at least a century. Speak to the Hogwarts’ elves when you return to school in September, Miss Granger. As long as you do not try to insult them by thinking them unintelligent, or worse, insist they need to be severed from their ties to Hogwarts in a very misguided attempt to ‘free’ them, the house-elves will be glad to inform you of what a proper wizard and house-elf relationship should be like."

“I’ll do that.” Granger gives him another odd look. “That was brief, to the point, and useful information. Why can’t you teach Potions the same way?”

“Discussing house-elves will not cause things in our immediate vicinity to explode, Miss Granger.”

“Yes, but—” Granger frowns. “This same sort of lecture in Potions might lead to far less potential explosions."

Snape shakes his head. “Miss Granger, whom are you speaking to at the moment?”

She looks confused. “You—Professor Severus Snape, if you want me to be specific.”

“You are speaking, privately, to a man you share an Unbreakable Vow with.” Snape then allows the mask to settle firmly back into place, which feels like a vicious shroud settling over his skin. “Now: who are you speaking to?”

Granger actually leans back. “Someone Voldemort would find pleasing. I get it, Professor. Please put that away now?”

Peeling the mask away is difficult once he’s put it in place, but Snape does, at least, tone it down. “I do hope you now understand how difficult it will be to play your own necessary role until Voldemort is defeated.”

Granger nods, her expression set in firm resolve. “I did it for the remainder of last school term. I can do it until he’s dead, Professor.”

That helps to ease the mask back even further. “As I said before, Miss Granger: you would not be here if I believed you incapable.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

“Great Merlin, what a shithole,” Black declares the moment they arrive.

“Let go of my arm, keep your voice down, and yes, it is exactly as you’ve just observed,” Snape replies, shaking his arm when Black is a second too slow to release him. “You’re ready?”

Black lifts his chin. “Remember what sort of bastard I was at Hogwarts?”

“I have many reasons to never forget,” Snape reminds him.

Black just nods. There is a mask settling into place over his features, one that would have thrilled Black’s parents. “Don’t hex me. He’s about to put in a necessary appearance.”

Snape side-eyes Black. “I can hardly wait. Please do not get us killed.”

“We’re speaking of hubris, not idiocy,” Black returns—sounding just like the arrogant cretin he’d been for many years. “Let’s go.”

Black was right to warn him. Snape’s fingers itch with the urge to hex him across the entirety of the village as that mask becomes more and more pronounced.

Snape paces their steps so that they arrive at the cemetery in Little Hangleton precisely at nine. Death Eaters appear to merge out of the low-hanging fog, cloaked and masked. Snape is all too aware of the fact that they’re walking into an enclosing circle, but they don’t stop until Voldemort emerges from behind his father’s tombstone.

“Sirius Black. I must confess, I wasn’t certain if you would come,” Voldemort says in his soft rasp of a voice.

Black does not bow, or even incline his head. He is aloof and imperious, every inch the Pure-blooded wizard who was raised to a position of wealth and power. Snape hadn’t realized just how much trouble Black goes to not to leave others with that impression until that very moment.

Wrong. Bloody. House. Blasted senile Sorting Hat.

“If I say I’m going to do something, I mean to do it,” Black tells Voldemort, his voice mocking and cold. “If that bitch doesn’t lower her wand, you’re going to lose a follower, Voldemort.”

Voldemort tilts his head towards the left. “Bella. Behave yourself.”

“But think of how much delight there is to be had!” Bellatrix whispers.

“Not. Now.” Voldemort still sounds pleasant, but half of the Death Eaters present flinch as the Marks flare with a brief spike of pain. Snape ignores it entirely.

“My cousin was never stable,” Black comments. “Perhaps this is a trade that should be performed quickly.”

“You have not told me what it is you have that I should find so interesting. You are only here, safely, on Severus’s assurance that it is worth my time.”

Black smirks. “I’m not going for my wand,” he announces before reaching into the longer, more formal robes he put on for the occasion. He draws out a round object wrapped in velvet green cloth.

Voldemort’s eyes track the bundle's movement the moment it becomes visible. “So I see. Before we proceed, Sirius Black—what is it you think I have that is worth such a trade?”

“I’m seeking the whereabouts of Regulus Black.”

There is a rustle among the Death Eaters at that. Interesting. Snape can read the currents of a situation quite well, and none of them have any idea as to Regulus’s fate.

Voldemort’s eyes glint red in the darkness. “Unveil the globe, Sirius Black, and show me that what you hold is true.”

Black puts on a show of slow deliberation, as if deciding whether or not Voldemort is worth his time. Then he unwraps the prophecy globe, holding it in his bare hand. The wispy image of Trelawney rises forth.

“The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches…born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies…and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not—”

Black wraps the globe again, cutting off the prophecy before it is completed. “Well? Is it worth the trade, Lord Voldemort?”

Voldemort has half-closed his eyes in apparent delight. “You give me this, knowingly endangering your own godson?”

“Part of the prophecy says that Neither can live while the other survives,” Black quotes disparagingly. “And yet, you’ve both been doing just fine since last summer. I think it’s complete bollocks, personally.”

“You do not understand the true nature of information.” Voldemort's smile is genial, and entirely false.

Black grins back, hard-edged. “I might not have been a Slytherin at Hogwarts, but I come from a long line of those who proudly bore silver and green, my brother included. Do you want this or not? I can still dash it against the nearest stone, and you’ll never hear the rest.”

Voldemort adopts an expression of false mourning. “Your brother is dead.”

“I figured that part out,” Black returns in an acid-laced voice. “No one has seen him since late 1980. How, Voldemort? Tell me, or you can try to retrieve scraps of prophecy from shards of broken glass on the ground.”

“He died in one of the last skirmishes before Hallowe’en.” Voldemort rises to his full height, as if trying to impress that his words are the truth. “He performed admirably and bravely in my service. I regret that by now, there is probably no body to recover. Fens are not kind to biological matter, and that particular battle was fought in a most unwise arena.”

“I see.” Black holds out the velvet-wrapped sphere.

“That is all? Nothing more?” Voldemort asks, affecting surprise.

Black sounds like Voldemort has asked him an exceptionally stupid question. “I wished to know the fate of my only brother. You carried out your part in our bargain. What else is there?”

Voldemort looks down at the bundle of cloth. “Madam Malfoy. Would you please come and retrieve the item in question from your cousin?”

“Of course, My Lord,” Narcissa murmurs, her voice emerging from behind one of the closer masked Death Eaters. She steps forward without removing the mask, taking the bundle from Black before making expert work of exploring it with wand and hand for hidden traps or curses. That done, she wraps the globe once more and presents it to Voldemort.

Voldemort takes it as if being granted ownership of the rarest sort of art. “Thank you, Narcissa. You may return home; I imagine young Draco is expecting you.”

There is no missing the implied derision in Voldemort’s voice, but Narcissa ignores it. “My Lord,” she says in farewell, bowing before Disapparating.

Snape has his wand out, with Bellatrix disarmed and bound, before she can even begin mouthing the curse. “We discussed this, Bella,” he purrs, but Bellatrix merely shrieks back in thwarted rage. She is utterly insane, but she does understand how to take advantage of potential opportunities. Draco is going to need further warnings on how to deal with his crazed aunt.

“Severus.” Voldemort waves his hand in a soothing gesture. Snape slowly lowers his wand as Voldemort addresses Bellatrix. “I promised safety to the current Head of the House of Black. That is not how one treats potential allies, my dear.”

“He is no ally!” Bellatrix spits, still struggling against the Body-Bind curse that Snape hasn’t yet released.

“Oh, shut up, you barmy bitch,” Black says in complete irritation. “Your time in Azkaban did you no favors at all. Voldemort, you once made me an offer.”

Voldemort’s curiosity is re-aroused. “I do recall it. Your response was ill-mannered at the time.”

“Let’s just say that I’m intelligent enough to reconsider it in light of current events.” Black pauses. “It will, of course, depend on how you decide to treat with my only Heir.”

“Of course. I would expect no less,” Voldemort murmurs. “How fascinating. Severus, you may escort Sirius Black to a safe exit point.” He turns his head and meets Snape’s eyes. “I expect you to return to my side the moment he is gone. We have things to discuss.”

Snape bows with the sort of precision Narcissa would find pleasure in. “As My Lord wills it.”

Chapter Text

All Snape wants is to go home, fall into his own bed at Hogwarts, and sleep for the next three days. The difficulty lies in the fact that if he does not reassure several idiots in Grimmauld Place as to his continued safety, someone will panic, awaken the castle, and Snape will have to glare an entire succession of dunderheads into submission just for the right to return to bed. Even Black threatened him about checking in before Disapparating.

His life has become Albus Dumbledore-levels of ludicrous. Snape isn’t sure who is to blame for this, but he’d prefer to find them and kill them so he can have some semblance of normal back.

He keeps forgetting; Gilderoy Lockhart is already dead. Life is not fair.

Kreacher opens the door at his knock. The house-elf gives him a stern up-and-down examination. “You is stinking of the Mistress’s favorite magics.”

“Fabulous,” Snape observes. “Please let me in, or I will slice you down into your component parts.”

Kreacher cackles, coughs a few times, and continues chuckling even after he’s closed the door behind Snape. “Kreacher should make you use the password, Bloody Bat!”

“Please. House-elf magic,” Snape mutters. “Is anyone still awake?”

“I am,” Lupin says, appearing around the corner of the parlor. “Sirius went to bed, but I promised to tell him you stopped by in one piece—ye God, Severus, you look like death. Again. What happened?”

“Believe it or not? Nothing much of interest after Black’s departure.”

“Sir?” Potter sticks his head out of the library. “Glad you’re back.”

“How did I overlook you?” Lupin asks, giving the boy a fond look.

“I could not sleep, books are amazing, and I have an Invisibility Cloak,” Potter replies. “And—Remus is right, Professor. You really don’t look all right. What’s wrong?”

Snape has opened his mouth to tell them both that he’s fine when all at once he’s down on his knees, his hand clamped down over the Dark Mark. He’s lost in pain the likes of which he hasn’t felt in years.

He would warn the others as to what’s about to happen, but his jaw is clenched so tightly he cannot get the words out. He will not scream, he will not awaken every being in this house, he will not—

The pain fades but does not end. Snape finds himself slumped against the entryway wall, panting for breath. Sensation is a cool line of agony down his arm before it emerges from the end of his sleeve, hissing out warning and death.

“What the hell?” he hears Lupin gasp in shock.

The noise attracts the serpent. It rises up from the floor, the fabled hood of the king cobra revealing itself as its eyes turn to Lupin.

The growl that emerges from the end of the hallway is unexpectedly loud. Where Potter had been is the ratel. If the noise he is making is any indication, he is very, very angry.

Snape watches in exhausted disbelief as the ratel tackles the cobra. The snake strikes the ratel twice in rapid succession, which only seems to enrage the badger even more.

He may as well have chosen to scream. The racket of battle between a furious ratel and the thuds of a massive cobra trying to subdue an attacker is tremendous.

“Remus, what the hell is—” Black stops halfway down the stairs. His jaw is hanging open in a way that would be entertaining under different circumstances. “Where the fuck did that thing come from?”

The cobra manages to throw the ratel off. The badger rolls end over end to thump up against the far wall, but it’s already scrabbling to righten itself. The cobra, bleeding from many wounds, rears up again for another strike.

The serpent’s attack of Potter has gifted Snape with just enough adrenaline to concentrate. He raises his wand and whispers, “Sectumsempra,” before the ratel can pounce again.

The blast strikes the cobra below the juncture of body and hood, slicing clean through. The head falls down onto the floor while the rest of the cobra’s long body flops around in its reptilian death throes.

The ratel gets up, shakes himself, and wanders over to the dying cobra. Then he turns his head and subjects Snape to the angriest glare Snape has ever received from any living creature outside of the Dark Lord.

“You are not…eating…a fucking cobra!” Snape rasps out. “It’s bloody unsanitary!”

The ratel picks up the cobra’s head and marches directly over to him, dropping it next to Snape before subjecting him to another glare. “Cobra venom.” Spots are dancing across his vision. He can hear noises from upstairs, running feet on the stairs as the rest of the household tries to find out what’s happened. “You wanted to kill it so much, you harvest it, Potter.”

Lupin kicks the cobra head away, which causes the ratel to growl low in his throat again. “I am talking to you later,” he informs the ratel sternly, before kneeling down next to Snape. “Severus, your eyes are bleeding.”

“Are they?” Snape asks, feeling his wand drop from fingers that have lost the strength to hold it. He can taste blood in the back of his mouth, coppery and unpleasant.

His next sight is of a newly finished plaster ceiling. The smell in his nose is the pungent cloying dust that 12 Grimmauld Place never loses, no matter how many scouring spells Molly Weasley throws at it.

His magical core feels drained, sick and empty. It isn’t permanent, but this is at least a week’s recovery—perhaps even longer now. The last time this was done to him, he’d been a much younger man.

Snape’s eyes flicker to the right when he hears the turn of a book’s page. Potter is sitting in a chair next to his bedside. The colors on the walls are still faded Slytherin silver and green; he’s ensconced in Regulus’s old bedroom.

I read everything. Snape hears the words in his head, a statement of blunt honesty from a young man who’d spent months in seclusion after being legally claimed as Sirius Black’s ward. That spring, Snape thought it would be years before he’d be saddled with the responsibility of Potter in his classroom again.

Over the course of a single summer holiday, Potter caught up on five years of primary schooling and two years of Hogwarts classes. No one wanted him to fall behind in his studies due to Gilderoy Lockhart’s thoughtless cruelty. The fact that Potter succeeded at all, Snape once attributed to Albus lending a hand, or perhaps his army of Weasley tutors—plus one Miss Granger—all who’d been intent on making sure Harry Potter could enter his third year at Hogwarts and match pace with his peers.

Instead of years, it was only months before Potter was back in Snape’s life. When Potter arrived on the train, Snape expected a renewed first-year, and instead found Potter’s name on his list of third-year Gryffindor students. When Snape snidely asked Albus if he was expected to provide tutoring, the Headmaster had given him a thoughtful look before saying that no one had asked for such a thing on Potter’s behalf. Not for any of his classes.

During the Start-of-Term Feast, Snape watched Potter. The boy’s eyes roved the Great Hall, taking in details. His head tilted as he listened to the flow of conversation around him. When Albus gave opening remarks before dismissing the students for the night, Potter took it all in with a complete lack of expression on his face. Poppy later confided that she suspected it was from being emotionally overwhelmed, a response that would fade in time. She’d been proven correct, but for a while, that blank-eyed child’s face had been utterly unnerving.

Snape gave it no thought, at first, when Potter turned in fundamentally correct potions during that first month of class. He’d eyed the Gryffindors with dark disapproval, but ignored Granger’s occasional whispered instruction. It wasn’t until the incident during Snape’s first round of substitute teaching for Lupin at the end of September, and his failed werewolf outing, that Snape realized Granger had ceased whispering reminders to Potter at least a full week previous.

The fact that Potter took every single available third-year class, Snape still blames on Granger and her bloody Time-Turner. He refused to admit that he was impressed they both succeeded with good passing marks in every single subject, including his own.

“Is that the same book?” Snape asks. His voice sounds like the rumble of someone just waking, not damaged at all. He suspects Poppy’s excellent handiwork.

Potter lifts his head and rubs his eyes. His glasses are perched up on his messy hair. “No, that was eight books ago, sir. How are you?”

“Wondering why I am in a bedroom in this house with a nursemaid in a chair.”

Potter grins at him. “Because you arrived here after midnight Saturday, and now it’s Tuesday afternoon. We’ve been taking turns.”

Snape groans and lets his head thump back down on the pillow. “Fuck.”

Potter puts a slip of paper into his book before closing it. “Compromised virtue, sir,” he says, and smiles when Snape glares at him. “There, that’s better. If you were not a bastion of foul temper, I’d be certain you were a doppelganger.”

“Of course. Appearances,” Snape grumbles. “How much clucking has there been, Potter?”

“Hmm.” Potter rests his hands on the book’s front cover, ignoring the fact that the runes decorating the surface immediately begin crawling all over his skin. “Remus says I’m grounded, Sirius says I’m not, and I think they’re still arguing about it. The ratel conveniently disappeared before anyone else noticed him, and your hitchhiker’s damage was all attributed to that spell you cast. Forever severed? Really, sir?”

“I once fancied myself to have a sense of humor,” Snape replies.

“Then, of course, nobody knew what had happened, so Sirius calls for Poppy, Poppy calls for Dumbledore the moment she hears, ‘Severus is shedding snakes all over my entryway,’ which is alliteration I can’t get out of my head. Dumbledore professed to know nothing of what happened, but the snake in your Dark Mark seems to be missing.”

Snape feels a flutter of hope and terror mingled together. It’s not a nice sensation. “He’ll put one back. He always does.”

“So he’s attacked you that way before?” Potter looks concerned. “You badger me about information, sir—”

“I’m taking points for that pun.”

“Summer holidays, go ahead and try. Professor McGonagall says that the gem counter for the Houses always laughs at you,” Potter says smugly. “You say all information is important, and then don’t bother to tell anyone that Voldemort can use you to send cobras after people using the Dark Mark? That’s very shoddy, sir.”

“I suppose you’ll be reporting this to any busybodies waiting downstairs,” Snape says.

Potter nods. “The relevant parts, of course.”

Snape closes his eyes. “The attack is not primarily aimed at myself. This is a side-effect. Voldemort uses the victim’s own magical core to create the physical serpent. The attack is aimed at anyone who is fool enough to be in the serpent’s path.”

Potter brushes off some of the runes that are energetically trying to crawl up his arm. The runes land in a heap on the book cover before regrouping. “Then, despite the creeping nature of the attack—”

“Potter,” Snape growls.

“—it wasn’t necessarily about either prospect. Voldemort decided that if you were spending time in Black’s company, then other Order members would be nearby. This was a test to see if Dumbledore still thought you were loyal to the Order. You know, since bringing deadly, venomous snakes into other people’s houses is usually frowned upon.”

Snape tries not to sigh. “It usually is, yes.”

“At least the Grangers slept through it. Hermione says they live in a rather noisy part of London, and the sound of a ratel and cobra fight didn’t even make the scale of things worth waking up for.”

“Good. They’d probably be whisking Granger off to France, otherwise.”

Potter has an expression on his face that isn’t quite thoughtful, but not pensive, either. “I don’t actually think Hermione would let them. Oh, speaking of Hermione…” He puts the book aside and gets up, taking a moment to stretch before crossing the room.

Snape tries to sit up and discovers that it’s a failing effort. Potter doesn’t even turn around. “Madam Pomfrey says she might let you up this evening, if you can sit up without sicking up or immediately taking on the appearance of an underweight corpse.”

“That’s what charms are for,” Snape mutters.

Potter glances at him over his shoulder. “Snape, you can’t Apparate, Floo, or use a Port Key right now. I doubt you could cast a spell if your life depended on it. What’s so important that you need to leave that badly?”

“My own blasted bed,” Snape retorts.

“Oh.” Potter tilts his head. “Okay. If Madam Pomfrey says you look better, then I might have an idea about that. You don’t mind an underage driver, do you?”

“I take it no one has re-informed you of the incident with the Ford Anglia.”

“Well, yes, but I wasn’t driving. I don’t think that counts.” Snape listens as Potter opens and closes a plastic-sounding case. He moves just enough so that when Snape lifts his head, he can see a near-identical version of the same modern Muggle stereo Potter gifted to him last year.

“What now?” Snape asks, feeling tired. He’s also frustrated; Potter is correct. Perhaps he could manage a spell if his life really did depend on it, but otherwise? No.

“Hermione found this one in London during Easter vacation. The band is from Belgium, though they perform most of their songs in English.” The louder click is the familiar sound of the PLAY button. Then there are slighter clicks to denote forwarding through the compact record’s track listing.

“Do I have a choice?” Snape asks.

“Not really. I was on the verge of deciding the quiet was getting to be a bit much just before you woke up. Sometimes it helps to split my focus if I’m trying to interpret something.” Potter retrieves his book as he sits back down. “Shut up and go back to sleep, sir.”

Snape makes sure to give Potter one final glare before he settles again. The music is soft and quiet; another lead female singer, though without Lovegood’s breathy quality. This is huskier, closer to Janis Joplin but without the additional caterwauling.

 

“I’m sure you’re only dreaming

You’re only juggling with my mind

When I feel more and more like screaming

For the scar you left behind.

 

I’m sure you’re only dreaming

I’m sure we’re just a part

Of what the lucky man believes in

I’m sure you know this song by heart.

 

You’re only dreaming

I think I can hear you talk

You’re only dreaming

I think I can hear you say, ‘Shut up’

You’re only dreaming

I hope your dream is in me

You’re only dreaming you’re free…”

 

“Potter, this is depressing,” he complains.

Potter shushes him. Unimaginable, atrocious brat.

The chorus, the repetition of only dreaming that he is free, follows him back into slumber. To his surprise, he gets not nightmares, but Lily’s voice singing it in her soft, quiet way. The scent of wintergreen and citrus is heavy in the air.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Poppy allows him out of bed for a late evening meal. Snape refuses to tell anyone that he almost falls down simply trying to get his trousers back on. The unrepaired tear in the left sleeve of shirt and coat is irritating, but there is also a red, angry line down the length of his left arm that is still healing. The damaged fabric might have been someone’s emergency slice, forgotten in the chaos afterwards.

The skull is still in place on his forearm, but the serpent is missing. As he told Potter, Voldemort will replace it later. Receiving the replacement is not nearly as traumatizing as its emergence.

“My boy, you really should have told us this was a possibility,” Albus says, after Snape is seated at the kitchen table. Molly is a flurry of terrifying activity, but it means he has tea almost at once.

“Albus…” Snape takes a sip just to clear the last hint of a rasp from his voice. “That has happened only once, and that was in—1979, perhaps?” He stops to think about it and realizes that’s as close as he wants to go. “It is not a nice memory, Albus. There were casualties.”

“Can anyone’s Dark Mark do that?” Draco asks in a faint voice. Narcissa’s hand is resting on his shoulder; a grim and unhappy stare mars her cool, sculpted features.

“Yes. That is part of the point, after all,” Snape tells him. Draco pales, biting his lip, but Snape doesn’t think that he’ll renege on his decision. After this past Saturday, perhaps even Draco realizes how much his survival will ultimately depend on Voldemort’s defeat.

“You angered him,” Albus guesses.

Snape considers it, and realizes that it’s as good a cover as any. They will need something, or Dumbledore will never stop prying. “Something had to be done to explain the time I spent with Black during the Yule Ball, or suspicion would mount that all was not as it seemed.”

Black just nods when the others glance at him. “Told the bastard I’d ‘reconsider’ his old offer to join him based on the way things are going.” His grin is sharp and humorless. “Doesn’t mean I’ll actually do it, but it gives Snivellus the means to keep spying for scraps.”

“Sirius. Not right now, please,” Lupin says, putting on his long-suffering expression of needing to act as the voice of reason.

Albus peers over his glasses at Snape. “Sectumsempra, Severus?”

“Dead snake,” Snape retorts crossly. “Or would you perhaps prefer it have killed someone?”

“If you hadn’t done it, I was about to. I think I was too startled by sudden midnight cobra to react properly at first,” Black admits. “I haven’t had to worry about dangerous creatures roaming the halls since my uncle died.”

“Are we sure it was not simply a trap that the Dark Lord placed, one that rode in with you?” Alastor Moody is staring at Snape, his magical eye whirling around in its socket.

Snape rolls up his unrepaired left sleeve to reveal the Mark, which is missing a vital part of itself. “Absolutely certain.”

Moody studies the incomplete Mark. “Damn,” he breathes. “I’ll have to warn every Auror, not to mention every member of the Order. Is this a constant threat, Professor Snape?”

“No.” Snape gives Molly a look of polite gratitude when a scone appears in front of him. That, he might be able to eat. “If it happens, Voldemort is either using it as a test, or he’s sacrificing the Death Eater in question. We’re not exactly active on our feet afterwards.”

“Active, hell. Madam Pomfrey wasn’t sure you were going to survive it,” Doctor Granger says. He’s seated without his wife, who went with Miss Granger and Auror Tonks on an early school shopping trip to Diagon Alley; Nymphadora sent word that they would be late returning. The man is handling things very well. It’s almost a disappointment that the Doctors Granger may have to be Obliviated from recalling certain events during their week’s stay—like the bloody cobra incident. “If it weren’t for the world you live in, Professor, I doubt you’d be alive.”

“If I lived in the Muggle World, I would not have a cursed tattoo on my arm,” Snape returns dryly. The doctor has the grace to look chagrined, realizing too late the inherent stupidity of his statement.

Albus is still studying him. “Are you sure a test of loyalties was all it was, Severus?”

“There was nothing—nothing—to suggest otherwise, Albus.” Snape rubs at his forehead. “I will say that Bellatrix is slipping even further into insanity. The Dark Lord is not only refusing to curtail it, I believe he’s encouraging it.”

“Ah, the Black Family Madness,” Andromeda murmurs. “Well. Better her than us, Narcissa.”

“I would rather it had been none of us at all, but…” Narcissa glances at Draco. “Yes. Better her than us.”

“And you, Narcissa? I refuse to ask you to fight in a war against your estranged husband, but will you keep yourself and Draco safe from harm by seeking refuge among us?” Albus asks.

“Your offer has been…most generous,” Narcissa says, inclining her head. “And it has been good to have conversations with my cousin and my sister that do not involve shouting and bloodshed. I will still need to give the matter further consideration, and Draco must complete his studies at Hogwarts in order to be properly capable of running the Malfoy Estate if his father perishes. In the meantime, I have your word that our presence here will not reach the Dark Lord’s ears?”

“You have it, Narcissa,” Albus promises solemnly. “There is no one at this table who will turn over a potential ally to the horror that Voldemort is capable of unleashing.”

“Especially after the kind of demonstration that greeted us this weekend,” Molly says. Snape refuses to cringe when Molly’s hand briefly rests on his shoulder. “No, Narcissa. Our disagreements in the past will not alter my promise now. You have safe passage from here, and if you choose to return, you will be welcomed. You and Draco both.” Molly gives Draco the look of a mother on the verge of mischief. “If nothing else, your son and my children certainly got plenty of dueling practice during the week.”

“So many claims of cheating, from both parties.” Black shakes his head.

“There’s no such bloody thing as cheating,” Snape grumbles over his tea.

“Professor, the statement you made to myself and my wife over my daughter’s attendance at Hogwarts.” Snape glances up to see Doctor Granger regarding him with a hint of nervousness in his eyes. “Do you still stand by what you said?”

“Believe it or not? I do,” Snape says, and Doctor Granger nods. The man is either naïve, or painfully aware that Snape is speaking the truth.

It takes an interminable amount of time to send everyone off to bed. Snape stands up, rests his hands on the table, and considers his physical state. “Yes, I still need to go back to Hogwarts. I will recover faster in my own quarters, and if Voldemort calls for my presence before I have that chance…”

“We get it.” Black's face is set in a grim frown. “Harry, are you sure you’re ready?”

“What did you say last year? That the only thing keeping me from getting my license is my age, yes?” Potter comes into the kitchen with two sets of goggles, wearing a leather jacket, and holding a larger one in his arms.

“I did. I’m just feeling uneasy about all of this.” Black shoves his hands into the pockets of his evening dressing gown. “Fucking cobras, by Merlin.”

“Blasted ratel,” Lupin counters, glaring at Potter. “How long have you been hiding your Animagus form?”

“Since last summer,” Potter says. “No, I’m not registering, Remus, and you know exactly why.”

“Voldemort.” Lupin looks like he’s chewing on something foul. “Disillusionment charm, Harry.”

“Of course. I’ll overnight at Hogwarts and come back in the morning, all right?”

Black and Lupin take turns hugging their godson goodnight before leaving the kitchen. Potter gives the larger leather jacket to Snape. “Put it on. It’s going to be chilly, otherwise.”

Snape, expecting a broom ride, almost balks at the sight of the motorbike waiting in the old carriage house. “Absolutely not.”

“It’s either this one, or we can use the bike Sirius keeps on the roof. You can sit in the sidecar.” The smile Potter gives him is all ratel vengeance.

“What the hell is wrong with a broom?” Snape wants to know.

“Nothing, but we’re trying to avoid notice, right? Voldemort’s people watch the house for anyone leaving on a broom. The carriage house lets out onto a Muggle street in the back, and the idiots never think to look for wizards or witches on Muggle vehicles. It’s a huge oversight that should really be corrected.”

“No, it shouldn’t.” Snape eyes the bike with the feel of impending regret. “I haven’t been on any sort of contraption like this since 1976, Potter.” He’d done just enough to earn the Muggle driving license that his father insisted Snape have in his possession, and then discarded it the moment his idiot father expired.

“Then it’s your twenty-year anniversary,” Potter declares, hopping onto the bike and starting it with the speed of a seasoned expert. “Get on. We’re road-bound until I know no one’s following us.”

“Oh, God and Merlin, it flies.” Snape places his life in the hands of an underage driver and then climbs onto the back of the bike to ride pillion. “Please do not crash. I have seen the aftermath of Muggle motorbike accidents, Potter.”

“Oh, no worries. Sirius says that I drive like I fly a broom,” Potter replies.

“That is not reassuring.”

The ride is noisy until it’s safe to take flight outside London with a proper Disillusionment Charm in place. Then the bike is silent, the motor no longer needed. “I could turn it back on, but up here it’s mostly for show,” Potter explains. “I’d rather have the quiet.”

Snape agrees with him. They’re surrounded by darkness and starlight, far above the winking lights of villages that dot the landscape. It’s the closest to peace he’s experienced in a long time.

I wonder if death is like this, Snape finds himself thinking, and discovers it’s not an unpleasant notion. He has no illusions about surviving this war. If death is the peace of the quiet night sky, then he’ll welcome it with open arms.

By the time they arrive at Hogwarts, Snape is all but asleep on his feet. If it weren’t for the fact that he was utterly serious about needing the peace of his own quarters, it would have been at least a full day too soon to make the journey. He relies on Potter’s support more and more as they make their way through the silent halls. Only the Bloody Baron is present to witness Snape’s return.

Potter politely greets the waiting ghost. “Good evening, sir."

“Good evening, young savior,” the Baron intones. “Is the Head of my favored House ill?”

“He was, but he’ll be fine in a few days. Oh, and I almost got to eat a cobra.”

The Bloody Baron gives Potter a pleased smile while Snape taps his wand against his door, trying to remember how to breach his own blasted wards. “Someone must have stopped you. A ratel and his food are not easily parted.”

“They did. Said it was unsanitary. Like a ratel cares about that, right?” Potter replies, smiling.

“Indeed.” The Baron waits until Snape’s door swings open. “Young savior. Come to the school at least a full day before the other students arrive for the new term in September. The Grey Lady and I would speak with you.”

Potter halts in surprise, as does Snape. The Grey Lady, ghost of Ravenclaw Tower, speaks to no one. “Is she all right?”

The Baron considers the question. “I think, perhaps, that you might assist us with a matter that will allow her to be. She has been trapped here for too long, and it is my own fault this is so. You will thus be doing us both a great favor, young savior.”

Potter nods. “Then I’ll be here, sir. Good night, Baron.”

“Good night, vicious and victorious ratel.”

“What was that all about?” Snape asks, struggling to remove the dragon-hide leather jacket. After he shrugs it off, he hangs it on a peg next to one of his own winter robes.

Potter adds his coat to the lineup on the wall. “I’m not sure. I mean, I’ve always been nice to all of the ghosts, but the Grey Lady has never spoken to me. Luna, now—she likes Luna.”

Snape isn’t surprised by that. He blames the exhaustion. “The sofa is over there,” he says, pointing at the obvious piece of furniture. “I’m going to bed, Potter. Get some rest before you take that ridiculous contraption back to London tomorrow.”

Potter smiles. “Good night, sir.”

The last thing Snape sees before he shuts his bedroom door is Potter aiming his wand at the fireplace, lighting the fire and illuminating the room in cheerful warmth. Then he collapses on his own bed, exhaustion takes hold, and he spends the next few days in a haze of semi-consciousness interrupted by slumber.

 

*          *          *          *

 

When he awakens and is fully cognizant again, Snape finds two envelopes waiting on his office desk. There is no scent of owl; he suspects Dobby is enjoying his job of letter carrier again.

The first envelope holds useful information.

 

Dear Professor,

The other Order members wanted to tell you, but I said I had a more secure method via house-elf of making sure you received information, and they gave in when Sirius badgered them about it.

You still can’t take points for puns during the summer.

It’s confirmed by the Aurors who were undercover during the week of the Great Trade (Blame Sirius) that there are people watching the Granger home and the Burrow, as well as the Delacour home in France. An unknown Death Eater broke into the Granger home to try to figure out where they’d gone, but otherwise did no damage. The Order has taken this into account and will be adding wards to the Granger home with the Grangers’ permission.

The Burrow tried to eat a Death Eater spy that got too close. That particular Auror reports that the Death Eater ran off, covered in garden gnomes, before Disapparating and taking the gnomes with them.

 

That explained Mulciber’s interesting new collection of bite marks when Snape saw him unmasked the night of Black’s prophecy trade.

 

The Death Eater who got too close to the Delacour home found herself surrounded by very upset Veelas. Fleur and Gabrielle’s family look after their relatives. The noseless arsehole might be missing a follower. Fleur said, in utter seriousness, that her grandmother’s Veela clan might have eaten the intruder.

Bill then made jokes about being eaten. Fleur smiled at him. I do not want to know. This week has been an education in things I was not ready for. Reading it in a book is not the same thing as witnessing it. I’m not even sixteen yet. Please let me pretend no one is actively having sex in the next bedroom for a while longer. Please.

No one was spying on Viktor’s family, and Malfoy Manor remained undisturbed. Voldemort’s trust in their family’s loyalty seems solid. Madam Malfoy isn’t concerned for its safety even once that trust is broken. It seems the Manor is capable of taking care of itself as long as it still recognizes Draco. I don’t want to know the details about that, either, but I’ll probably ask anyway. Regret, thy name is often Malfoy.

The Diggory home was also being watched. No one chased that Death Eater away, nor did the idiot try to break into their home. He just seemed very thwarted about not knowing where the family had gone. At least now we know who’s going to need protection.

I did ask if Luna wanted a vacation in London, too. She and her father said they would be fine, but an Auror kept watch, just in case.

Nobody knows what happened to the Death Eater that showed up to poke around the Lovegood garden. "Screaming and disappearing" was the report the Order received. I don't think I want to visit her house uninvited.

Yours,

Harry

 

The other envelope contains a plastic compact record case for a band called K’s Choice. There is a brief note on the inside of the case from Potter, claiming that if Snape is going to sleep through the entire album, it might be helpful if insomnia becomes a difficulty.

Brat. Snape shakes his head and adds the compact record to his growing collection. At least his knowledge of Muggle music is now somewhat up to date.

As planned, Draco makes a great show of breaking off with his “traitorous” mother when she goes to Grimmauld Place for sanctuary against the Dark Lord. He is still underage, but Voldemort accepts him into the ranks of the Death Eaters with an expression that makes a tiny part of Snape relax a little. Such a division of family and youthful declarations of utter loyalty pleases Voldemort, and it might make Draco Malfoy’s punishment for failing to murder Albus Dumbledore a bit less severe.

Unfortunately, it does not distract Voldemort from the “necessity” of replacing the snake in the Dark Mark on Snape’s arm. Watching that serpentine line crawl up his skin before it curls up in the skull is exceptionally discomfiting.

The general public and the Daily Prophet are not aware of the Malfoy split, but it is Snape’s task to inform the Order of the Phoenix. Not every member is aware of their ultimate goals, for good reason.

Moody wants to flay Draco alive. Albus talks him out of it, pointing out that it’s not legal to flay minors, and that Draco still has two years of schooling to change his mind. Moody alters his promise and says that he’ll flay Draco alive after his graduation from Hogwarts. Molly does her best to comfort Narcissa, who remains stone-faced throughout the meeting.

Snape is too busy to attend to anything else that occurs at Grimmauld Place that summer. His presence is not needed at Order meetings unless he is given information by a Death Eater or Voldemort that is too important to delay.

He corresponds with Narcissa by house-elf mail, though she entrusts her letters to Kreacher rather than Dobby. She has a surprising amount of appreciation regarding Black’s behavior and maturity, and her hopes that her son might, perhaps, observe his betters among the Pure-blood and Half-blood set to see how a proper young wizarding gentleman behaves.

Snape smiles at the direct compliment Narcissa is paying to him, rather than anyone else, but Potter is also well-mannered. Perhaps she is keeping Draco’s favorite rival in mind, as well.

 

*          *          *          *

 

On Potter’s birthday, Snape receives an unexpected evening message. Dobby is wearing gold and scarlet socks on his ears and all four limbs which actually complement his Muggle burgundy nail polish.

 

Professor,

Happy Birthday to me. I’m sixteen and still alive. Given the state of Wizarding Britain, I’ve decided to make it a goal to meet each birthday individually. If I live to be seventeen, then I’ve accomplished a goal! After that, my aim will be to survive to age eighteen.

I know you are busy, but you should know that Dementor attacks have been reported across the countryside. The Ministry knows, but refuses to inform the public that Dementors are leaving Azkaban. Certain Ministry-affiliated Order members are in a foul temper about this, but none have the authority to act without losing their jobs—and the positions that help provide us with useful information. Rufus Scrimgeour has been Minister for Magic for exactly a month, and I already dislike him. Probably not a good track record, that.

Remus thinks that the Dementors are breeding. Fucking gross.

Then there are the disappearances. Bill says at least three entire families have gone missing, all Half-bloods, and it doesn’t look like they left willingly. Other members of the Order are searching for them, but I can tell by the look on Bill’s face that he thinks they’re all dead.

I don’t know if anyone who sides with the noseless arsehole will confide in you regarding the disappearances, but if it happens, please send word, even if it’s just to confirm what Bill believes.

Yours,

Harry

 

Snape has no idea where Albus continually disappears to for the rest of the summer. When Minerva McGonagall returns from a vacation abroad at the beginning of August, Albus puts control of summer preparation for start-of-term into her capable hands and vanishes again.

It makes Snape suspect that Albus is aware of what he plans, but at this point, he doesn’t care. If Snape doesn’t do it, it will not happen in time, and this is an easily preventable loss of life. Waiting is stupid and unacceptable.

The trouble is convincing Minerva that yes, it will be necessary. She doesn’t want to believe it at first, but she is also a Scot of intensely practical bearing. Once she sits down and truly listens to Snape as to how dire things are going to become, she is his ally in this.

“He’s going to make you the Headmaster. You,” Minerva says, looking over the rims of her glasses at Snape.

“Yes. The Dark Lord won’t trust you, not when you’ve been a strident and outspoken member of the Order, but if you make declarations during the coming year that your students are your very first priority, politics be damned, it will keep you here, where you need to be. The students will need someone they still trust in a position of authority. Merlin knows they will not trust me.”

Minerva eyes him in a way that says she is, perhaps, seeing more of his motivations than Snape is comfortable with. “Why? You are a thunderous terror, Severus Snape, but you have never deliberately harmed a student.”

Snape considers it over his cooling tea. “Find another professor whom you know can survive Voldemort’s control of the school without being murdered for not being of proper wizarding blood. If I accept another Unbreakable Vow, the strength of those magical bindings might become noticeable, and then I am under suspicion all over again.”

Minerva treats him to another one of her no-nonsense looks. “Very well,” she agrees, and returns with Poppy Pomfrey. Snape finds it a sensible choice.

“Minerva came to get me muttering over secrecy and the need for Unbreakable Vows, Severus.” Poppy crosses her arms and subjects him to the sort of caring glower that only matrons of her caliber seem to master. “Please inform me as to what insanity is going to be occurring in the school this year.”

Neither of the witches are pleased when he informs them of Albus Dumbledore’s impending fate, or of what might await those teaching professors who are not Pure-blooded. “Dear Merlin,” Poppy murmurs. “Pomona is a Half-blood, and there isn’t another witch or wizard in Britain who would be fit to replace her.”

Minerva shakes her head. “Pomona’s family went to a great deal of trouble to hide Pomona’s Half-blood status when she was a child. If we wipe any reference to it from the school records, she should be safe. Not even the Ministry has accurate files regarding Pomona’s birth father. The only people who know of his origins are the three of us and Filius, and Filius would sooner eat his wand than endanger anyone.”

“Will Filius be safe? His ancestry might be Pure-blood on one side, but he’s goblin on the other,” Poppy says.

“Fortunately for all of us, the Dark Lord doesn’t give a damn about mixed-race blood. He just wants an utter lack of Muggle influence in the school.”

“You’re a Half-blood,” Minerva observes dryly. “What makes you exempt, Severus?”

“I really don’t know,” Snape replies, which is a lie. It’s just not a truth he is comfortable sharing with anyone. “Regardless, it is not something I emphasize, and like Pomona’s father, it should be a matter we do not discuss.”

They have five classes taught by Muggle-borns or well-known Half-bloods aside from himself. It would be six, but Charity Burbage was not replaced during the last school term for Muggle Studies. Theoretically, that means finding a teacher for this term, but that is a thankless task Snape gladly leaves to Minerva.

Snape does not have the same level of authority that Minerva does, and his presence would be considered odd. A simple Disillusionment Charm means that he can observe each meeting with the endangered faculty without being noticed. The remaining teachers for Art, Alchemy, Ghoul Studies, Magical Theory, and Music have to be convinced to either take teaching sabbaticals at the end of this coming school term, or made aware of the fact that yes, they will indeed have to flee the moment the danger becomes apparent. Snape honestly despairs of any of them listening to Minerva’s sensible advice.

“What is supposed to signal that, then?” Madam Willowood demands to know, glaring at Minerva. The teacher of the wizarding arts is less than impressed by Minerva’s reasoning.

“You will receive a Patronus informing you as to your sudden, very real danger. The moment that happens, take your family and leave Britain at once,” Minerva says. “I mean it, Sasha. What is coming is not worth risking your life.”

“What of my students?”

“We will find a temporary replacement, though I doubt the teacher will share your skill,” Minerva tells her. “Your job will be waiting for you once the war is over, Sasha.”

Madam Willowood sniffs haughtily, but nods stiff agreement. There is a reason Snape has never liked that woman, and he has a strong suspicion that she won’t listen to the warning Patronus when it arrives. More fool her, then.

By the time it’s over, Snape knows that the art teacher, the alchemy instructor, and the ghoul studies professor may not attempt escape when they receive their warnings. The professor of music and their instructor for basic magical theory, he thinks, will heed Minerva’s words.

Minerva leans back in her chair when the battles are over, sighing in resignation. Snape removes the charm and walks over to sit next to her. This didn’t go as well as he’d hoped. Maybe that’s why Albus didn’t bother, but refusal to act does not make it correct.

“What about the students, Severus?” Minerva has removed her hat, revealed hair that seems to be growing more frazzled as the woman’s stress levels rise. “If we stop them from attending Hogwarts , they will be in danger. If we allow the Half-bloods and Muggle-borns to attend, they will also be in danger.”

“We’ll have to charm the student registry,” Snape says, which causes Minerva to stare at him in surprise.

“Severus, the registry can’t be altered. That’s part of its purpose!”

“All of the ancient items this school uses have some level of awareness and intellect,” Snape counters, “including that stupid hat we use every year. If we explain the danger to the document in question, I suspect it will do exactly as we ask. No mention of Muggle-born blood status will appear.”

“And the Half-bloods, Severus?”

He wants them to attend,” Snape answers, frowning. “They will be pushed harder than the other students, and be in far more danger…but better here than remaining at home, waiting for corrupt Ministry officials to come and claim them.”

“Their families,” Minerva whispers. “Merlin, what can we do?”

“Narrow your focus,” Snape says, his tone harsh and unforgiving. “We protect who we can, and that will be the students of Hogwarts. We will have to trust the rest of the Order to look after those we cannot.”

Minerva takes off her glasses before looking at him. “Severus Snape: are you really on the side of the Order, or is your allegiance solely towards You-Know-Who?”

Snape smiles. “I am utterly loyal to the Order, Minerva.” Then he lets the smile fade, and the hard edges come through to reveal the full extent of the Bloody Bat. “My allegiance is also truly with the Dark Lord, and that is the way it must be. After the Ministry falls, you will find you do not like me very much.”

Minerva cleans her glasses on her robe sleeve. “Well, that will make it so much easier to play my part, won’t it?” She puts them back on, but she is no longer looking at Snape. “Albus is really dying, isn’t he?”

Snape lets his disgust and frustration be heard in his answer. “Yes.”

It’s while investigating the student registry that Snape is reminded of something he’s grown so used to that he stopped considering it at all. It had been this way when he’d started teaching, yes, and he’d recognized it then, but the averages never changed.

“Minerva, what was the average student population of Hogwarts in 1970?” Snape asks. That was the year before he began school; it’s as good a place to begin this line of query as any.

Minerva eyes him over the list of students she’s writing down from a pile of letters returned by families who wouldn’t accept them. “Twenty-eight hundred, Severus.”

Snape counts the names listed in the registry who are meant to attend Hogwarts in the coming term. “And in 1982?”

“No. First you must consider 1975,” Minerva says, putting down her quill. “Attendance had already dropped to seventeen hundred at that point, Severus, though it would have been harder to notice when you were living right in the midst of it. Then you may move on to 1982, your first year of teaching, where our students numbered exactly seven hundred eighteen.”

“And last year we had nine hundred seventy.” Snape considers resting his face in his hands, but it won’t help. “The numbers had finally begun to climb again from the war.”

“Partly through population recovery, though we still averaged a lack of about fifty-five percent—families who never lost the paranoia of the first war and sent their children to schools outside of the British Isles, or continued the whole of their education at home.” Minerva frowns. “I am not fond of the latter decision; it’s much easier for relevant lessons to be overlooked in that sort of environment. It’s one thing to teach a child the fundamentals of reading, writing, history, and arithmetic at home, but quite another when it comes to complex, necessary spells. Those children have an unfortunate tendency towards doing poorly on their N.E.W.T.s and O.W.L.s.”

“I see.” Snape double-checks his count. “There are three thousand seventy-seven names listed in this registry for the upcoming term, Minerva.”

She nods. “Our standard was once to deduct thirty percent of that number to estimate expected attendance numbers. If you check by blood status, you’ll note that some are Squibs. Even before Voldemort’s threat, there were parents who chose home-schooling, or other boarding schools in Europe.”

“And with the war?” Snape asks. “With this summer’s public confirmation that Voldemort is returned?”

Minerva purses her lips. “Thirty percent, reduced by yet another fifty-five to sixty percent. I would estimate nine hundred students. Perhaps less. I certainly wouldn’t be preparing for more than that.”

“I see,” Snape repeats, because he cannot decide on a response that is even remotely reasonable. “You’re telling me that Hogwarts’ average student population is meant to be three thousand.”

“Yes.”

Snape gives up and squeezes the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “And how long have we been chronically short-staffed?”

“Oh, since about 1978,” Minerva says, returning to her work. “But when the student averages never climbed over one thousand, the governing board wasn’t willing to fill in those gaps when the war ended. Why waste the money, after all? Each Head of House only had to cater to the whims of approximately two hundred students per term. There are plenty of us to monitor the little darlings.”

“The hell there are,” Snape retorts. “Is it a done thing to turn an entire Board of Governors inside-out for stupidity, Minerva?”

“Not unless you let me have a crack at them first,” Minerva says curtly. “I’ve been dealing with their nonsense far, far longer than you.”

“When the opportunity presents itself, then by all means: ladies first.”

The third week of August sees him finalizing the student list for his sixth- and seventh-year N.E.W.T.-level classes. He isn’t surprised to see that Ronald Weasley didn’t make an O, but he did scrape by with an E. Snape wasn’t aware that Mister Weasley had paid enough attention in class to attain such a grade. He seemed far too interested in reserving most of his class time to complain about Snape.

Potter would have been hexed within an inch of his life if he hadn’t attained an O. Miss Granger’s presence is not a surprise, either. What frustrates Snape is that they are the only two Gryffindors in their entire year to succeed. Parvati Patil had certainly shown the skill to earn an O, but when he checks the records, he discovers a severely disappointing A-grade.

Combining every successful O-grade recipient into one class gives him a total of eleven students for sixth-year. The lack of further academic successes is discouraging, but a smaller class will be easier to guide and teach, even if he must maintain his role of the Great Bloody Bat. Aside from Granger and Potter, he will have a sole Hufflepuff in Ernest Macmillan; Michael Corner, Terry Boot, Padma Patil, and Sue Li will represent Ravenclaw; Draco Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Blaise Zabini, and Millicent Bulstrode are his only successful O-grade Slytherins. Snape is pleased with Miss Bulstrode for outshining every other female in her year while also outgrowing the entire lot. By last June, she towered over a great deal of the student body at a precise six feet in height.

He wonders what it would be like to teach in a Hogwarts that was full to student capacity and immediately scowls. Each year would hold an average of four hundred twenty students until N.E.W.T. Potions weeded out anything below an O-grade. That would require twenty-one bloody classes for each year, first through fifth, if he tried to keep a Potions class at a relatively safe twenty students. One hundred five classes. Absolutely not. Even daring to attempt thirty cauldrons in a classroom would still require that seventy classes be taught. If Hogwarts ever recovers from the coming war and repopulates to pre-Voldemort levels, he does not want to be the one dealing with that impending disaster.

Snape receives a letter delivered by house-elf later that same day. Dobby’s fingernails are painted with a thicker application of Doctor Granger’s burgundy nail polish, and the house-elf has carved out intricate symbols in the paint covering each nail. “Symbols of protection?” he asks.

Dobby nods vigorously. “Good house-elf magic. When we’s cannot be where we’s needin’ to be to protect our wizards and witches, we make signs and wear them. I’s even have one for you, Professor!”

Dobby shows him a symbol that Snape realizes is a constellation-style head of a doe. “An interesting choice. Thank you for the letter, Dobby.”

“You’s bein’ welcome, Professor!” Dobby declares, and vanishes.

 

Dear Snape,

In all of the excitement of the Great Trade (He really won’t stop calling it that) I forgot to tell you the results of my O.W.L.s. Remus suggests you’re probably already aware of the O in Potions, and that you’re plotting accordingly. I told Remus that if you weren’t plotting, it was because you were dead.

I’m not doing a very good job at learning to have a sense of humor. Remus didn’t laugh.

Anyway:

Charms – O

Transfiguration – O

Herbology – O

Defence Against the Dark Arts – O

Ancient Runes – O

Ancient Magic – O

Potions – O

Care of Magical Creatures – O

Astronomy – O

Divination – O

Arithmancy – O

History of Magic – O

Congratulate me; I am the first person to achieve a perfect set of 12 since Bill Weasley.

Hermione is ready to throttle me. She only received ten. I told her not to ditch Muggle Studies and Divination, or to at least replace them with two of the other offerings. She complained that people have to actually sleep sometime. I told her that I’m probably never going to sleep again for fear of what she’ll attempt to do to me in revenge.

After this, however, I am turning in the bloody Time-Turner. I’d rather start narrowing my focus—yes, I am paying attention.

I didn’t mention the Time-Turner before, did I? Must have slipped my mind.

 

Snape finds himself smiling. He wonders how Potter is really doing in his attempt to relearn Parseltongue, but now knows for certain that he won’t find out until it’s safe for Potter to speak of it. Brilliant young man. He’s so proud of Harry.

He pauses, blinking a few times. That hadn’t occurred to him. Not that way, not before this.

He is. He is proud of Harry James Potter.

“Lily, your child is amazing,” Snape murmurs under his breath.

For just a brief moment, he can smell wintergreen and citrus. It’s like being hugged by scent and memory.

 

Oh, well. Back into the Ministry’s Hands the Time-Turner goes. (I couldn’t think of anything to do with it that was useful. Fred and George chided me on not being imaginative enough. I say they’re imaginative enough for the entire school, even after graduating.)

Potions is first on this year’s class list. You would throttle me otherwise. Hagrid already understands that I can’t continue in his class, but that man has an emotional attachment to me that no one has ever bothered to explain.

I don’t remember these things. Why do people expect me to just know them? How have I gotten from the spring of 1993 until now with others still forgetting that I don’t remember this shite?

Transfiguration is next, as Professor McGonagall would also throttle me if I did not. Defence Against the Dark Arts should be the obvious addition. Ancient Magic is on the schedule, also, since that class subject covers a lot of things that current wizarding classes do not teach. I believe Professor Babbling tosses in new ancient rune sets, too, even if they are supposed to be for her other class.

Snape, many of the spells in Ancient Magic are useful to practically all of the wizarding world. Why are we not teaching everyone things that are useful? It’s fucking stupid.

Professor Flitwick is still pushing me to extreme feats of “Please keep making up new things to do” so I’m giving that at least another year of my time. I don’t want to give up Astronomy, but with Firenze joining in as the Divination teacher for older students—Snape, he teaches how to divine by the stars. It’s like getting two classes in one, except I don’t have to worry about Trelawney spotting me and turning into a cryptic, creepy statue.

I’ve been advised that six classes is too much for N.E.W.T-levels, but I just successfully completed twelve classes. If I want to take eight classes this year, that’s my business. Arithmancy and Herbology will round out this year’s set.

Merlin, I’m going to have to find something else to do. Things will be dull, otherwise.

See you soon,

Harry

 

*          *          *          *

 

“The replacements are arranged.” Minerva throws a scroll onto her desk and takes off her spectacles so she can rub her eyes. “Or they are arranged as much as it is possible to do so when I’m asking people to accept positions that won’t be available until autumn of next year.”

“May I?” Snape waits until Minerva waves her permission before taking up the scroll.

Professor Horace Slughorn is listed as next year’s teacher for Alchemy, replacing Professor Seemont once Voldemort’s plans for the wizarding world take effect. “You convinced Horace?”

“I threatened to hex his testicles onto his forehead with a permanent sticking charm if he refuses to answer the call when he’s needed.”

Snape decides it’s probably wiser not to comment. He has no love for Slughorn, who overlooked the fact that Snape was, without arrogance needed, the best Potions student in class, preferring to make connections with accomplished families and famous faces. Idiot.

Professor Wilhelmina Grubbly-Plank is down as a potential substitute for Hagrid, if Hagrid loses his temper and opens his mouth to express his displeasure with…well, anything. Grubbly-Plank is a good choice, flexible enough to potentially also cover Muggle Studies if Voldemort does not send in direct Death Eater interference. The Dark Lord has said nothing of such a thing yet, but Snape knows it’s a valid possibility.

Professor Griselda Marchbanks is a welcome surprise. She’s a witch of advanced age, but she has no patience for nonsense, and is well-versed in multiple subjects. She’s a valid contender for every single position they will need to fill.

Charles Weasley is listed as a potential for Ghoul Studies, a subject he studied while also working with his favored dragons, and is thus aware of Ghoul habits in multiple countries. He would also be useful as a spy for the Order in Hogwarts, but Snape doesn’t think it will be safe to have any Weasley in the castle who is not also a current student.

Wilkie Twycross has volunteered to return to the school full-time in the fall once he completes Apparition lessons for students over the age of seventeen. He also claims to have the largest Wizarding music collection in Britain, which will solve the difficulty in replacing Professor Harper.

Apparition. Snape considers the matter before he composes another brief note for Dobby to take to Potter.

 

Dear Harry,

Yes, I’m using your first name. Take note, as I have to say this in an entirely unofficial capacity.

You are underage, but there are events on the horizon that will care not about such things as the limitations imposed by birthdays. Tell the Dog and the Werewolf that they must begin teaching you how to Apparate safely. It need not be a lesson completed before your arrival on 1st September, but the first demonstrations should be made. Study the subject during the school term if you need more information, but do your best to master the skill over the winter and Easter holidays.

If I did not think it important, I would demand that you wait until proper tutoring as you near age seventeen, like a proper witch or wizard. However, you and Draco are the only students in our odd alliance who will not be of age to earn an official license from Twycross in the spring. The matter of licenses will become a moot point under Voldemort's rule, so I would suggest you try to gain the skill without needing Twycross's instruction at all—it is always useful to have skills that others are unaware of.

Sincerely,

Snape

Chapter Text

The Start-of-Term Feast is almost a relief when it finally begins. What is not reassuring is the disappointingly small number of students waiting in line for the Sorting Hat. Snape has to wonder if more parents are beginning to recognize the danger Voldemort represents, choosing to homeschool their children or send them to schools on the Continent. He thinks it a foolish, temporary stopgap; if Voldemort succeeds in conquering the British Isles, it ultimately will not matter where a student resides.

Albus is wearing a glove the same color as his robes to disguise his dead right hand. It’s an affectation he won’t be able to keep up forever. Despite the eccentricism the students of Hogwarts expect from their Headmaster, the cloth will eventually start to get caught on dead skin, and then there would be unpleasant…crumbling.

All four tables are uneasy, with lower tones of unhappy muttering lurking beneath the happier chatting of the younger returned students. As if sensing the atmosphere, the Hat opens its floppy cloth mouth to begin its song.

Except it isn’t a song that emerges, but speech.

“A year ago it was, when thought I to first sing this song. I waited, and I watched, as a good Hat should. My words, I felt, would not be heeded. Now, perhaps, they are truly needed:

 

In times of old when I was new

And Hogwarts barely started.

The founders of our noble school

Thought never to be parted.

United by a common goal

They had the selfsame yearning

To make the world’s best magic school

And pass along their learning.

‘Together we will build and teach’ the four good friends decided,

And never did they dream that they Might someday be divided.

For were there such friends anywhere as Slytherin and Gryffindor?

Unless it was the second pair of Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw.

So how could it have gone so wrong? How could such friendships fail?

Why, I was there, so I can tell the whole sad, sorry tale.

Said Slytherin, ‘We’ll teach just those Whose ancestry’s purest.’

Said Ravenclaw, ‘We’ll teach those whose Intelligence is surest.’

Said Gryffindor, ‘We’ll teach all those With brave deeds to their name.’

Said Hufflepuff, ‘I’ll teach the lot and treat them just the same.’

These differences caused little strife

When first they came to light

For each of the four Founders had

A House in which they might

Take only those they wanted, so,

Slytherin Took only those Pure-blood wizards

Of great cunning, just like him,

And only those of sharpest mind

Were taught by Ravenclaw,

While the bravest and the boldest,

Went to daring Gryffindor,

Good Hufflepuff, she took the rest and

Taught them all she knew.

Thus, the Houses and their Founders maintained friendships firm and true, so Hogwarts worked in harmony for several happy years,

but then discord crept among us, feeding on our faults and fears.

The Houses that, like pillars four had once help up our school,

now turned upon each other and divided, sought to rule.

And for a while it seemed the school must meet an early end,

what with dueling and with fighting and the clash of friend on friend.

At last there came a morning when old Slytherin departed,

and though the fighting then died out, he left us quite downhearted.

Never since the Founders four were whittled down to three have the Houses been united as they were once meant to be.

Now the Sorting Hat is here and you all know the score: I sort you into Houses because that is what I’m for.

But this year I’ll go further. Listen closely to my song: though condemned I am to split you, still I worry that it’s wrong.

Though I must fulfil my duty and must quarter every year, still I wonder whether Sorting may not bring the end I fear.

Oh, know the perils, read the signs, the warning history shows, for our Hogwarts is in danger from external, deadly foes.

We must unite inside her or we’ll crumble from within. I have told you, I have warned you…let the Sorting now begin.”

 

Minerva is waiting by the corner of the table near Snape’s seat. He suspects only he hears her say under her breath, “Oh, how auspicious.” Then, with a pleasant smile on her face, Minerva calls the first child forth, as if the Hat gives out such hair-raising portents every year.

Snape uses the opportunity to scan the Slytherin table. A disappointing number of them look pleased, as if the division of the Houses is what Slytherin intended, and this is only the fruition of ancient planning. Draco is one of the few who has a disturbed look on his face, as is Miss Bulstrode, the Greengrass sisters, and Mister Pritchard. Aside from those few, the Slytherins who are not visibly pleased are the Half-bloods and Muggle-borns. Snape wonders how he is going to remind his House that the Hat does not give a damn about blood purity without endangering the role he has to play. He has to be here for the safety of these idiot children. One of the only favors he’s been granted in the matter is that the Muggle-borns never dare tell other Slytherins in their House that they were not born to wizard parents.

He wanted to put a stop to that fear so long ago…but again, Snape had a role to play. Soon it may save many lives, so it is a deception he must continue.

Snape was wrong about charming the registry. This problem is too big, and too many other students’ parentage is already known. Perhaps the Order can put in a plan within a plan, a means of evacuating those children and their Muggle families. Snape will need an excuse to give to Voldemort as to why Hogwarts receives no Muggle-borns to victimize. If the work is done for him, he need offer only the truth.

He allows his gaze to drift over the tables, as if in unconcerned repose, before his eyes alight on Potter. The young man is ignoring the chatter around him, a mix of excited babbling about the Hat’s revised Sorting Song. There is a look of intense disquiet in his eyes. At first, Snape fears that the boy has forgotten to Occlude.

No; Potter is Occluding just fine. This isn’t even a sign of ratel temper kept in check.

Potter is angry. A low, burning fire of thoughtful discontent is turning his eyes into glimmering emeralds. Snape wonders if Potter came into the school with the expression, or if it was something triggered by the Sorting Hat’s unusual, informative song.

Sixth-year Potions is his very first class of the year, meant to ease Snape’s way into preparing for what the rest of the week will bring—idiot first- through fifth-year students. His Potions class for seventh-years is held on Friday afternoon for a reason.

“For once, you do not have a textbook composed of foolish words about a potion’s apparent safety,” Snape announces after closing the classroom door. None of these young men and women leap about in surprise, already used to his habits. He strides towards the front of the room before turning, the edges of his cloak billowing out to just brush the spindled posts that support the chalkboard. “If Advanced Potion-Making says a brew is difficult or dangerous, it does not exaggerate in the slightest.” When he sees only appropriately sober gazes looking back at him, Snape continues. “This is your first class of this new term. Today you will receive from me the only two gifts I will ever bestow, from now until your graduations—if you graduate.

“The first is that while none of your classes listed for this first week are set to a double timetable, do not expect leniency. The preparation for your N.E.W.T.s begins now, and this week, you will all be issued challenges meant to assess what skills you may have lost, or gained, during the summer holiday. While I do not expect that you will succeed in the challenge I will give you, I do expect that you each turn in a completed potion at the end of the hour, even if it is a horrendous disaster.”

Snape considers it. “Perhaps I should call it three gifts, since this is a secret each student in their sixth or seventh year does well to keep: your N.E.W.T.-level Potions class is the only one in which I show no House favoritism whatsoever. I will not award points. I will not deduct them. You have reached a level of brewing where my concern, no matter how much I despise your very existence, lies far more in ensuring that we all survive every classroom session. Is that clear?”

He receives an assuring chorus of assent. “Good. Your assignment is thus,” Snape says. The potion name appears on the chalkboard, along with the page number on which it is found. There are at least two gasps, but no other sounds of protest.

“My third gift: it is traditional by the standing of many centuries that anyone who can actually complete the correct brewing of this potion before the end of the hour is given a phial of a rare and useful potion. If you wish to discover what this potion is, I suggest you begin your brewing at once.”

Snape roams around the classroom in silence to observe. He notes Malfoy’s hands shaking a little, but Draco makes certain to keep his ingredients precise. Snape gives Draco a quick glance as he walks by, but does not comment. Draco will need to come to peace with what’s at stake this year, and brewing a little Draught of Living Death barely rates on the scale of true danger.

He has eleven students of mixed houses, and everyone should be too blasted busy with Snape’s challenge to bicker. That doesn’t mean there are no attempts at childish bickering to be had. Theodore Nott tries to make a snide comment about the two Gryffindors and a pathetic, lone Hufflepuff before getting so firmly elbowed by Miss Bulstrode that he nearly winds up with his head stuck in his own cauldron.

Snape observes Granger and Potter practically biting through their tongues to maintain their silence; poor Macmillan is turning so red Snape fears he might explode in some fashion. The Ravenclaws scowl or roll their eyes in irritation at the disruption. Mister Zabini observes Nott’s flailing and says, “Mate, you deserved it,” before returning to his work.

After Nott has Vanished and restarted his attempt on the day’s potion, Snape glances at Miss Bulstrode, giving her a faint nod. The edge of her lip curls up, signifying her understanding that a N.E.W.T.-level class is no place for the sort of nonsense Snape tolerates in lower-level classes. He is strict about a required O-grade for O.W.L. passage to N.E.W.T.-level for a reason, and that is due to the very real danger of a student’s death if they are careless. One would think that Snape drove that lesson home in the first five years of a dunderhead’s schooling, but Mister Nott seems not to have absorbed the lesson.

Snape will need to have a private discussion with the young idiot later. If Mister Nott absorbs a faceful of the wrong sort of brew, there will be an unpleasant child haunting his classroom.

He isn’t surprised that Potter finishes first. Snape leans back in his chair and lets out a disappointed sigh. “Really, Mister Potter?”

“Yes,” Potter replies, not fazed in the slightest. “If you’re not too busy, sir.” Snape’s eyes flicker over to Macmillan and the Ravenclaws, who aren’t used to witnessing Snape’s anti-Potter behavior.

“Last chance to go back and be certain,” Snape breathes out. “The year’s first class does not mean exemption from a failing grade.”

Potter affects surprise. “Sir, you are the one who said we only had to turn in a finished potion, even if it was…hmm, what did you call it? Oh—a horrendous disaster.”

Snape waves his hand in an exaggerated gesture. Potter puts the corked flask down on his desk. Snape doesn’t look at it. “Return to your seat, Mister Potter. Ten minutes of brewing time remain.”

Potter smirks at him. “Yes, sir,” he says, and wanders back towards Granger, who glares at him. The Hufflepuff and the Ravenclaws look like they’ve just witnessed someone sign their own death warrant.

Snape places an invisible mark upon the flask and puts it in a drawer. Granger delivers her attempt next, though she’s still scowling. Malfoy is third, followed closely by Patil and Boot. Their marked samples join Potter’s in the drawer. The other six students scrape by with completed and filled flasks just when Snape clicks the timer of his pocket watch. Wordless magic ensures that each sample also bears the invisible magical mark.

“Onto the desk,” Snape orders, watching as those last six samples are put down in a row. Snape gets the other five out of the drawer, adding them to the line of flasks. “Malfoy: what are the qualities of a successfully brewed Draught of Living Death?”

“It should be colorless,” Malfoy recites, frowning. He knows what he turned in, and it is not clear liquid. “With the faintest hint of wormwood if inhaled, though it should not be inhaled more than once without risking an unexpected nap, sir.”

Snape nods, removing two lilac samples, three brilliant pinks, one flask full of what looks like swamp sludge, a pale blue, and a final murky grey contribution from the row, setting them aside in a new lineup. Three remain.

“Three winners, sir?” Mister Zabini asks. He is taking his loss well, but his potion at least made it to the lilac stage. Snape knows Zabini will analyze the potion until he finds the step he missed and remedy the mistake.

“All three of these containers hold properly made Draught of Living Death, but only one of them is utterly pristine,” Snape announces, which makes all eleven students perk up in interest. “Mister Malfoy is correct to say that there should be a faint hint of wormwood to a completed Draught, but while that gives the potion the correct properties, it is not what the final result should be. A true Draught of Living Death has no odor whatsoever, else the recipient would have some warning as to their fate if the potion were added to a food or drink that does not also hold the same scent. The potion should be as clear and odorless as perfectly distilled water.”

Snape uses his wand to levitate the three flasks into the air. “View them in the light. Are all three truly clear?”

He watches Miss Patil’s face fall. “Not completely. Would the one with the faintest hint of cloudiness still work, or would it fail?”

“Its properties would not be as extensive,” Snape tells her. “The sleeper will eventually awaken on their own after an extended period of time. The traditional Wiggenweld antidote would still be useful, but not a necessity.” He uncorks the final two potions and allows Miss Bulstrode to take them from the air. “One whiff only. One potion has a hint of wormwood; one does not.”

Miss Bulstrode does as instructed and holds out the correct flask. “This one doesn’t smell like anything, Professor.”

“Correct.” Snape gestures with his wand until every flask is standing on his desk again, though the clear and unscented sample is by itself. Another gesture of his wand reveals the names labeled on each flask.

“POTTER?” Mister Boot exclaims in disbelief.

“What?” Potter asks, glancing at Boot in confusion.

“Since when do you know how to make an expert Draught of Living Death?” Miss Li demands to know, placing her hands on her hips while she glares at Potter.

“Oh.” Potter adjusts his glasses while thinking about it. “Since last year. I memorized it.”

“Why, why would you memorize the formula for the Draught of Living Death?” Zabini asks.

“I read everything?” Potter offers, something he’s been reiterating since autumn of 1993. Snape is beginning to suspect that Potter is well and truly frustrated at having to explain his reading habits so often. “Don’t you read your textbooks?”

“Yes, for the current year,” Macmillan retorts. “Not a year ahead.”

Granger studies Potter’s expression and rolls her eyes. “You’ve already read the textbooks for seventh year, haven’t you?”

Potter sounds defensive. “I ran out of things to read!”

“You only just started this year’s textbooks at the end of June!”

“Gryffindors,” Snape intones, cutting off the argument before it can get any louder. He lets his features settle into an impressive glower that causes almost everyone to step back. “Loath as I am to admit it, Mister Potter did win this particular contest. This is yours.”

Potter reaches out and takes the phial Snape produces from his desk. It is rounded glass with a pointed bottom, so it must be hung, which is why it’s suspended on a sterling silver chain. “Oh, that’s not what I expected. Felix Felicis.”

The others crowd around Potter to look while Snape rolls his eyes and Vanishes the contents of their corked flasks. “I thought it was supposed to be gold,” Miss Patil observes.

“Gold jewelry and molten gold aren’t quite the same color.” Potter lets the phial spin on its chain. “Jewelry takes on a more brassy quality the longer it’s been set, and most of it isn’t pure gold—it’s got metal impurities to strengthen it so it isn’t as prone to picking up scratches, dents, or losing its shape.”

“You read about that, too?” Zabini asks dryly.

“Yeah.” Potter glances down at the row of eleven clean flasks. “Are those safe to put anything in?”

Snape gives him an exaggerated look of polite indifference. “They are clean, yes.”

Potter finally looks up to glare at Snape, which makes Macmillan turn red again. “Not the question I asked. Sir.”

“Something each of you should very much bear in mind,” Snape murmurs, though he doesn’t smile. “Yes, Mister Potter, they are safe for use.”

Potter nods. “Everybody, grab one. Your own, preferably, since our names are still on them.”

“Why?” Miss Bulstrode asks, subjecting Potter to a fierce scowl. He is one of the few people in the room she doesn’t tower over, but she is still taller.

Potter snorts. “Do you want any of this or not, Bulstrode?”

“What, you think you don’t need the help, Scar Head?” Malfoy sneers.

Potter glances at the phial before he looks at Draco. “Malfoy, there are multiple doses in here. If I need that much luck, I’m probably too dead to go back for a refill.”

“Potter.” Snape treats the young man to a cruel smile. “If you do not want it, I can easily take it back.”

“What? You’ve already given it to me, Professor. That’s theft,” Potter points out. “You wouldn’t steal from your students, would you? Sir?”

“It’s never stopped you from stealing from me,” Snape returns. The smoky words roll out from his lips like the cloud that emerges before a dragon’s first gout of flame.

“Okay.” Potter has his wand in-hand and has tapped the side of the phial before Snape realizes what he intends. The tone rings out like a struck tuning fork, and then the phial is empty…but every corked flask now has an equal amount of Felix Felicis. “Now you’d have to steal from all of us. Sir.”

Snape squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose. He has to; otherwise he is going to start laughing, or whinge about Potter being Sorted into the wrong bloody damned House again. “Just get out. All of you. Go away.” Snape lowers his hand as the students pack up their belongings, noting that every single flask has conveniently disappeared. “And in case any of you dunderheads are stupid enough to try it, Felix Felicis has been banned from use during Quidditch for centuries, and that includes tryouts. The same ruling applies to exams. Save it for something more useful, like your pathetic attempts at dating.”

“Or sell it,” Miss Li counters as they all walk away.

“Huh. What’s the street value of Felix Felicis, anyway?” Corner asks.

“What the hell is a street value?” Malfoy responds in irritation.

“Means how much it’s worth on the black market—or, well, any market,” Zabini tells him.

“Oh.” Malfoy scowls. “Who would rather have more money than Felix Felicis?”

“Someone who has less money than Felix Felicis, you daft ferret,” Boot replies, which is fortunately when the classroom door closes behind them. If they all hex each other at that point, Snape does not have to be responsible for cleaning up afterwards.

He does send a note to Potter’s dormitory via Dobby, who is always pleased to be useful.

 

Potter,

Why the sudden burst of altruism?

 

He receives a response near student curfew that evening. It is terse and to the point.

 

Fucking House unity, sir.

 

Snape frowns at the piece of parchment. It seems to have indeed been the Hat’s pointed reminder about unity and divided loyalties that left Potter so irritated during the Start-of-Term Feast. Either Potter has plans in motion, or he’s simply lost his patience with Albus Dumbledore and his sudden insistence upon borrowing Potter for private evening lessons. There are other things Potter and Snape both wish to concentrate on, such as forming the Occlumency/Legilimency trap. Even the Baron is frustrated; on Potter’s return to school, the Headmaster absconded with him after dinner before the Baron could impart whatever information he and the Grey Lady wish to tell Potter. It is, the Baron informs Snape in disgust, a habit that seems to be conveniently repeating itself.

“Deliberate, do you think?” Snape asks. He’s leaning against the wall, watching students roam through the passageways and the Entrance Hall from his position on the second floor stairwell.

“No,” the Baron admits, but he sounds irritated. “I just think that man has the worst timing of any living being in existence.”

Snape does not attend most Death Eater meetings, not when Voldemort claims that secrecy until the Ministry falls is of utmost importance. It is a precaution meant to keep the plan from Dumbledore’s prying mind. Snape is all too happy to be left out of that plot, and calmly assures the Dark Lord and his fellow Death Eaters that Dumbledore will only know the truth when he is breathing his last.

Albus, of course, already knows of Voldemort’s plans regarding the Ministry. The problem lies in the fact that he also has no useful idea of how to counter it that would not leave them in even more dire straits afterwards. Voldemort would have to be truly deceased before a useful defence could be enacted.

“This time Dumbledore showed me Pensieve memories of what he’d learned about the Gaunts,” Potter says, striding back and forth in the classroom. The wards have been active for some time, but Potter is highly agitated, and it has nothing to do with their false “confrontation” in front of the Grand Stair that led to Snape giving Potter immediate detention. Snape is beginning to wonder about Potter’s intent; when the boy picks a fight, it is usually to an express purpose.

“Was it anything more useful than the ring?” Snape asks, curious.

“He didn’t discuss the ring at all,” Potter replies, his brow furrowing into a truly vicious glare.

Ah; that would explain Potter’s current level of frustration. “Go on.”

“He claims that we’re going to be doing this bit with the Pensieve so I can learn more about how to defeat Voldemort, but how is that supposed to happen when he won’t discuss the Horcruxes?” Potter asks.

Potter is correct. That does not actually make tactical sense. Albus is dying, but his mind shouldn’t be deteriorating, not with the curse contained to his hand. “Play along for now,” Snape suggests. “All information is useful, Potter, though it does concern me that he is hiding obvious parts of this particular tale.”

Snape feigns ignorance of what Potter’s lessons entail and asks Albus about them. The Headmaster admits readily enough to the fact that he is giving Potter information that will help him to defeat Voldemort. He will not confide the nature of that information, claiming not to want all of their secrets regarding Voldemort to be stored in one proverbial basket.

That irritates Snape to no end. He has kept every secret granted to him since he took on the role of spy in 1980, yet this he cannot know?

Potter does not keep the information from the Pensieve to himself. The young man pushes Snape into a temper—always outside of the Potions classroom—to earn detentions so he can reveal the information Dumbledore gives him. Snape is even more unsettled with each revelation. Knowing Tom Marvolo Riddle’s background is interesting, yes, but Snape does not yet see a way in which it is yet useful.

If Snape is honest with himself, it sounds far more like Albus Dumbledore is trying to induce Potter into having sympathy or pity for the Dark Lord. What bloody purpose would that serve?

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape receives the student Quidditch listings on the fourteenth of October, once tryouts are completed and the rosters finalized. He settles down in his office to read it before passing the list on to Miss Bulstrode. The captain of his House’s team needs to be prepared; she studies each player’s flight habits and actions, quietly and viciously insistent upon doing the job properly. The Slytherin roster has changed again in accordance with Miss Bulstrode’s exacting standards.

 

Bulstrode, Millicent –   Keeper, Team Captain

Prewett, Mafalda –       Beater

Harper, Michael –        Beater

Greengrass, Daphne –  Chaser

Baddock, Malcolm –    Chaser

Pritchard, Graham –   Chaser

Greengrass, Astoria –  Seeker

 

Malfoy lost his position of Seeker. He hadn’t mentioned this to Snape, but then, Draco has quite a lot on his mind this term. He’s still listed as back-up for Seeker position, so perhaps he hasn’t given up on the sport entirely. Tiny little Astoria Greengrass, however—Snape has no difficulty at all seeing her as a successful Seeker. She is quick and quiet and exceptionally sneaky, burying it all under a façade of sweet innocence.

The Hufflepuff listing has exactly one change, though five members are due to graduate at the end of the year. That will certainly make tryouts interesting next year; Pomona will have her work cut out for her if she attempts to host tryouts on her own. If she is wise, she’ll ask for Rolanda’s assistance.

However, Hufflepuff tactics never varied by much, no matter the team lineup. If Hufflepuffs have only one major failing, it is that they tend to host the most terrible Quidditch teams, though individual members are often outstanding players.

 

MacAvoy, Heidi –             Chaser/Team Captain

Cadwallader, Jon –           Chaser

Applebee, Tamsin –          Chaser

O'Flaherty, Maxine –         Beater

Rickett, Anthony –            Beater

Fleet, Herbert –                Keeper

Summerby, Christopher – Seeker

 

Snape is exceptionally curious to see what has become of the Ravenclaw team. Most of their roster graduated last term, leaving many positions open to new players.

 

Chang, Cho –            Seeker/Team Captain

Chambers, Ronald –  Chaser

Bradley, Brian –         Chaser

MacDougal, Isobel–  Chaser

Corner, Michael –     Beater

Turpin, Lisa –           Beater

Boot, Terry –            Keeper

 

Not very informative. While Snape is privately pleased that Miss Chang took over the position of team Captain after Cedric Diggory’s graduation in 1995, everyone except Chambers and is a new face. Miss Bulstrode will have to observe and come to her own conclusions as to how they should be treated on the pitch.

Snape nearly snorts tea from his nose when he sees the Gryffindor listing.

 

Bell, Katie –                 Chaser, Team Captain

Thomas, Dean –          Chaser

Potter, Harry –            Chaser

Weasley, Ginevra –      Beater

Peakes, Jimmy –          Beater

Weasley, Ronald –       Keeper

Granger, Hermione –  Seeker

 

That’s almost enough to give him bloody flashbacks. Bad enough that Potter was a Seeker in his first two years, but now the young man is flying on the team in his father’s old position. It’s uncomfortably close to unpleasant memories that Snape prefers to avoid.

Snape taps his fingers on his desk before he folds the roster and seeks out Minerva. She’s in her office, peering down at one of the messiest student scrolls it has ever been his misfortune to view, and Snape dealt with half-blind and quill-ignorant Potter from autumn of 1991 until the spring of 1993.

“Have you seen this?”

Minerva glances up at the Quidditch roster. “Why yes, I have, Severus. Strange how that information is given to all Heads of House at this time of year.”

Snape closes the door. “May I sit?” He waits until Minerva gestures and then does so. “Is the faculty betting pool still anonymous, aside from your knowledge of it?”

Minerva frowns. “Yes, obviously. I will not sully my good reputation for discretion in that matter. You wish to place bets already, Severus?” When he nods, she rolls her eyes, sets aside the disastrous scroll, and gets out her black, leather-bound ledger. “Well, let’s hear it.”

“Slytherin to win five out of eight games,” he says, which gives Minerva pause before she records it. He often bets on eight-of-eight, but not this year. “Granger to be the successful Seeker in every game except against Slytherin.” Cho Chang is excellent, but Miss Granger beat her to the Snitch in almost every game the previous year.

“Hufflepuff to lose terribly. I’m hoping we can all make a different prediction next year,” Snape says. He tries to ignore the idea that Quidditch might not even be a possibility by that point, but if possible, he’s going to do his best to provide the students with some sense of normalcy.

“You and myself both.” Minerva scribbles down his predictions with quick motions of her quill. “I’d like for a challenge to arise from that direction again, instead of it being a given that the poor dears will lose in atrocious fashion.”

“Ronald Chambers losing his temper and going after Anthony Rickett with his beating club.”

Minerva sighs. “Again. Double odds?”

“Please.” Snape hesitates. “Double also on Potter scoring the most points per game for your team aside from the Seeker.”

Minerva nearly drops her quill. “I’m sorry, did I hear you correctly?”

Snape rolls his eyes. “Unless you’re suffering from hearing damage? Yes. You heard me correctly.”

It’s amusing to watch a muscle tic under her eye. “Very well. No wonder you want this to remain anonymous.”

Snape sends a message off via Dobby that evening.

 

Potter,

Quidditch? Really?

 

The response is exceptionally prompt.

 

Sir,

I told you I was going to find something else to do. Besides, broomstick practice might be a very good idea. I’m better on the bike than a broom, but the bike is…well, not subtle. Also, Katie is thrilled that I’m back on her team for another round before she graduates at the end of the year. It would be nice if people would recall that I don’t remember any of this.

She already reports that Oliver Wood has been told, and he is miffed. Be wary of noisy ex-Gryffindors from past years showing up for Quidditch reasons.

Sirius is somewhere beyond the orbit of the Jupiter because apparently Dad was a Chaser, too. Try not to kill him. Quidditch Season is only four months long. You can resist killing my Dogfather for four months.

If you can keep from killing Lucius Malfoy for fifteen years, you can abstain from killing Sirius for four months.

I mean it. No. Not even temporarily.

Harry

 

 

The sixth- and seventh-year classes on Monday morning and Friday afternoon become the highlight of Snape’s week. It’s the only time he has students who are in the dungeon classroom solely to learn. While he is never, ever kind about it, even his remarks to the hated Harry Potter are restrained to blatant distaste instead of shouting. One does not shout around potions that often have volatile qualities that may react badly to excessive noise.

Theodore Nott, the bloody fool, tries one more time during the third week of October to start childish shenanigans in Snape’s classroom. This time, his target is Mister Macmillan, who is so started by the sudden, vicious verbal assault that he misjudges his chopping blade’s trajectory and embeds it in his finger.

Macmillan goes utterly still, too shocked by the pain to shriek. Before Snape can even begin to gather himself, Granger is pointing her wand at Nott.

“GET OUT!” she orders, her eyes ablaze.

“Why you little Mudblood—” Nott hisses.

Granger’s wand twitches. A wide strip of silver Muggle ducting tape is slapped over Nott's mouth. Snape wants to know that spell, pending immediately.

“Perhaps you did not hear me,” Granger says in a low, dangerous voice. “Get out!”

Nott rips off the ducting tape and goes wide-eyed with instant regret. Then his anger surges forth again. “How dare you!”

“Mister Nott.”

Snape observes Nott’s skin lose all color as he turns to look at him. “Sir, this Mudblood—”

“Is a Gryffindor, and thus is actually being kinder to you than I would be at this moment.” Snape’s voice is low and dangerous, a chill fog spreading throughout the room. “I warned you all that childishness is not tolerated in my N.E.W.T. classes. As of this moment, you are expelled from this class, Mister Nott. You will not be welcome in the seventh-year class, either.”

“You’re taking HER SIDE—” Nott begins to yell.

Snape makes sure no one is trying to place ingredients inside a cauldron, or use a knife, before he slams his hand down onto the nearest workbench. Everyone except Potter jumps in reaction. “I am taking the side of the safety of everyone in this room, myself included. I am very fond of being alive.”

Snape regards Nott thoughtfully. He is silent long enough that Nott begins to shift uneasily on his feet. “The school Gamekeeper has been having some trouble with the Acromantulas in the Forest. I recall that you, like Mister Weasley, have a certain fear of spiders.”

Nott actually manages to pale further. “Professor. Please, I’m so—”

“You were warned. Miss Granger, put down the wand before you join in Mister Nott’s fate.” Granger puts her wand away, but not without glaring at Snape first.  “I will be telling Rubeus Hagrid to expect you at eight o’clock this evening, Mister Nott. If you had refrained from shouting at your own Head of House, you would not be faced with this concern.

“Now follow Miss Granger’s advice.” Snape hardens his voice. “Get. Out.”

“My father will hear of this,” Nott whispers, sounding ludicrously like Draco Malfoy in one of his younger, childish snits. “You’ll see!”

Snape affects a mocking lack of concern. “I would be wary of carrying false tales to your father, Mister Nott.” Nott glares at him, grabs his school bag, and leaves—abandoning all his potions supplies in the process.

“Foolish decision,” Snape murmurs, and nods at his remaining Slytherins. “The three of you may take what you like from Mister Nott’s belongings, as it is obvious he does not want them. Do not fight over that cauldron; sort it fairly based on who does not already have a bronze cauldron.” Zabini and Malfoy look a bit disappointed at that declaration, but Miss Bulstrode smiles in grim pleasure before the three of them start to pick over Nott’s abandoned supplies.

Snape turns his attention to the wounded. Miss Patil has pressed a clean and embroidered ladies’ handkerchief around the knife, but she hasn’t tried to remove the blade. Snape regards the tableau, still bearing that same apparent lack of concern. “What was the last thing your knife encountered?”

“Uh—cowbane,” Macmillan whispers. He’s white in the face, but doesn’t seem the sort to faint from pain or bloodshed, or the potential of impending death from cowbane in his bloodstream. Hufflepuffs are always so underestimated; it is good to see Macmillan refusing to blubber over a painful but treatable injury.

“Miss Patil will escort you to the infirmary, Mister Macmillan, where you will inform Madam Pomfrey as to your clumsiness, and the name of the ingredient you were working with when you foolishly embedded your knife in your middle finger.”

“Uh—shite—uh, I’m sorry, sir!” Macmillan gasps in apology. “I was already distracted—”

“By Mister Nott.” Snape scowls as he realizes he missed the beginning of the altercation. His attention cannot be allowed to drift, his focus to fail that badly. “You will need to inform Madam Pomfrey that you have an afternoon of vomiting in your future. I strongly advise that you do not indulge in lunch.”

Snape turns to the Ravenclaw Patil twin. “Miss Patil, you will need to return in the evening after dinner to complete today’s assignment, as you saw fit to interrupt your project to assist Mister Macmillan.” Miss Patil looks like she wants to bristle, then takes another glance at Macmillan’s finger and changes her mind. “Mister Macmillan, you will also need to make up the assignment to avoid a failing grade, but I will allow Madam Pomfrey to inform me as to the first day you will be capable of doing so. There is a lesson within this brew that you cannot neglect.”

Before they can leave, Snape stops them. “Monday begins your first stage of brewing for Polyjuice. This is a lesson both theoretical and practical, so come to class properly prepared, or not at all.” He waits until the classroom door shuts again. “Miss Granger, however, will be beginning another potion of similar complexity.”

Granger frowns. “What? Why?”

Snape lifts an eyebrow. “You raised a wand in my classroom, Miss Granger. Be very, very grateful that a different, more difficult assignment is your only punishment in this matter. Raise a wand in this room again in a way that is not directly related to potion-making, and you will join Mister Nott in exile.”

“Yes, sir,” Granger says stiffly.

“Potter!” Snape barks. “Are you finished?”

Potter looks offended. “Of course I am. It’s Shrinking Solution. We did this in third year.”

“Yes, but unlike your third-year efforts, I expect not only perfection, but experimentation.”

“Experimentation?” Potter leans forward, peering at the chalkboard. Then he takes his glasses off and squints at it. “Oh, bugger, not another prescription change.”

“Prescription?” Bulstrode is cool and curious as she asks the question.

“Uh, Muggle glasses, since I’m a useless myopic mess when it comes to the Oculus potion,” Potter tells her. “They alter the lenses by calling the changes prescriptions if your eyesight gets worse. Terry, what the bloody hell does that last line say?”

“POTTER!”

Potter glances at Snape. “Oh, should I not have asked him that? Sir?”

“Someone please do read the last line to that myopic mess who chose to stand too far from the chalkboard.” Potter’s dissembling in the matter of his eyesight is so well done.

Wrong. Bloody. House. Senile Sorting Hat.

“Today’s lesson is not only about producing a perfect Shrinking Potion, but in altering it afterwards in a way that does not make the solution toxic, but gives it an extra property in addition to its original intent,” Sue Li recites just before rolling her eyes at Potter, who pretends not to notice.

“Thanks. Uh, then I need five minutes,” Potter says. “Sir.”

“I’m holding you to that claim,” Snape tells him, a cruel edge to his smile as he pushes the button on his pocket watch to begin the countdown. “When your five minutes have concluded, pack up Mister Macmillan’s belongings. I will not give you an excuse to pass along to your next instructor if you take too long and are late to your next class.”

Snape only has to contend with eight completed potion samples at the end of class. He regards them thoughtfully after his classroom has emptied. Five of his students’ potions are still varying colors of the original acid green. Of the last three, one is blue, one is yellow, and Potter’s is a brilliant orange. Draco, Granger, and Potter are proving his most consistently adept students, though Malfoy’s skills slip if his mind is on other things. Patil has great potential, but still struggles to have confidence in her own decisions.

Snape holds up the orange flask, glaring at it. For the life of him, he can’t figure out what the hell Potter has done.

The still-green potions produce standard variations. They are successful potions, but not very imaginative. Malfoy’s blue potion shrinks and confounds the living Flobberworm it is tested on. Granger’s performs the shrinking in stages spaced out by increments of three minutes and three seconds exactly. While not what Snape had in mind in regards to altered properties, it is well-done. A proper Shrinking Solution does its work all at once. A timed one could have some practical use.

Potter’s Shrinking Solution gives him an entire glass tank full of perfectly shrunken and vastly multiplied Flobberworms in less than eighteen seconds. Then the glass breaks because the blasted things are still multiplying.

Snape Vanishes them all before he has an entire classroom full to the ceiling of Flobberworms.

He stands there amongst broken glass shards, struggling with a rare feeling of bewilderment. He really wants to know how Potter crafted that alteration. A Shrinking Solution will not trigger most ward alarms set to detect dangerous poisons. Crushing an enemy to death in miniscule Flobberworms has a certain appeal.

Dobby delivers two notes after Snape has retired for the evening. The house-elf looks to be in good spirits. Snape is glad someone is; Hallowe’en is in less than a week.

 

Sir,

I’m not telling you how I created infinite tiny multiplication of matter unless I get extra credit.

Harry

 

To Snape’s bemusement, the other note is not from Potter.

 

Dear Professor,

You are taking advantage of the fact that I mastered the creation of Polyjuice in my second year. Before you even think on it, I looked up the rules, and you are not allowed to take points for incidents that happened in previous years. Strangely enough, you can still grant points, though. The Founders had very strange ideas about how to run a school. I often wonder if they were not constantly abusing certain potions ingredients.

I look forward to Monday’s challenge.

Respectfully Yours,

Hermione Granger

 

Snape drums his fingers on his desk again, realizing only then that he’s developed a nervous tic. If the stress of what is to come is already bothering him that badly, then he will have to keep a close watch on his own actions and curb any of those tendencies at once.

Respectfully. Aside from Potter’s oddness, when has a student outside of his own House ever used that word in regards to Snape? He cannot recall any other instance in his entire teaching career.

Snape composes two replies that go back into Dobby’s capable, burgundy-tipped hands.

 

Miss Granger,

Over the course of your cohort’s summer between fourth and fifth years, he discerned how to craft a Memory Projection Potion, one which did not require a Pensieve. As Pensieves are an expensive magical instrument, Potter has created a potion that will ease the financial burden among certain Wizarding families who might have need of such a thing, though he cannot publish until he is of age.

I am giving you a week’s research time before you begin crafting your attempt on Monday, as, like Polyjuice, it can take up to a full month to brew this potion successfully.

No, Mister Potter will not give you hints. If he can figure it out, you are also capable of doing so. You will also not share your ingredients or method of brewing with anyone other than myself. If your attempt fails, I am willing to point out at least one mistake in your process per attempt. (Yes, you will continue this until you get it right, and you will be expected to keep up with your regular coursework.)

Do not use primary feathers unless you want unwelcome results and exceptionally angry birds.

Sincerely,

Professor Snape

 

*

 

Mister Potter,

That is called bribery. I approve. Your extra credit is that you may skip a single homework assignment at any point during the rest of the year. Just. One.

Tell me what you bloody well did!

Professor Snape

 

When he gets the answer, Snape is absolutely incensed because he never thought of it himself. Intolerable lapse.

He does get a second note almost immediately after the first: What did you tell Hermione? She is squealing with joy. Did you soak her letter in Euphoria Elixir? This is disturbing and she is scaring the hell out of everyone else in the Common Room.

Okay, that part’s just funny.

 

Snape spends the weekend brewing up Potter’s revision until he can do it in his sleep, if he wishes. If he then sends the gift of infinitely expanding Flobberworms to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes with a precise Alio charm, nobody will ever know but him.

Chapter Text

By the time Hallowe’en arrives, Snape has firmly resolved that he is not going to remain at the Feast this year. He will not. Albus cannot make him, his attendance beyond opening remarks is not required, and once the meal begins, his Slytherins no longer take notice of his presence.

Snape thinks it shows an extreme lack of taste that Albus casts an illusion upon himself that makes every single bit of skin upon his body resemble his dead right hand. He is, however, smiling and cheerful, and Snape sees no faces among the student body who recognize the horror for what it actually is.

McGonagall looks as if she wishes to set the Headmaster on fire. To Snape’s disappointment, she does not do so. It is Poppy who might actually strangle Albus Dumbledore after dinner, but if Snape wants to witness the event, he has to stay.

Witness Albus’s death at the hands of the matron, or leave. Leaving is preferable, but only just.

Snape is about to walk past the Grand Staircase when he realizes Potter is sitting near the bottom of the steps. His arms are crossed over his knees, his chin resting on his arms. “Potter. Do you need a detention for failing to be where you are supposed to be located at this hour?”

“I don’t know. Sir. Are you offering one?” Potter’s expression is pure challenge. “Because I have to say, as much as I don’t like you, I’d rather scrub a cauldron than go in there.”

“Five points from Gryffindor,” Snape says in a bland tone. “It would be higher, but there are cauldrons that, I have discovered, now truly do need to be scrubbed. Now, Mister Potter,” he snaps, when the Bloody Bat feels like the idiot Gryffindor child isn’t scrambling to follow swiftly enough.

He sweeps into his classroom, notes that the door leading into his office is shut, and then slams the classroom door closed for the sake of outer appearances. The wards light up with gratifying speed. “You haven’t been at the Hallowe’en Feast since 1992. How do you get out of it, Potter? Please share your secret, or I might actually make you scrub cauldrons in truth.”

Potter shrugs. “I went to Professor McGonagall on Hallowe’en in 1993 and said, ‘I remember my parents being murdered today. Can I not go to tonight’s Feast?’ I’ve had a pass to skip it ever since.”

“Clearly, I have been asking the wrong person,” Snape grouses. “I don’t normally see you lurking about in the corridors afterwards, or I would have encountered you in previous years.”

“Yeah.” Potter puts his hands into his denim pockets. Without attending the Feast, there is no need for him to be in uniform, so he’s wearing a hooded black jumper in deference to October’s insistence upon being just cold enough to be irritating. “You are, uh, really twitchy. Already. Would you like to get out of this school for the evening?”

Snape raises an eyebrow.

“Bollocks, I sound like I’m asking you out on a date!” Potter slaps one hand over his face before trying again. “Your young idiot Gryffindor friend would like to see you survive until the winter holiday without actually hexing someone who doesn’t deserve it. I found an Indian place near Diagon Alley in London that Remus says is the closest thing to real Hindu food he’s ever eaten outside of actually being in India. I skipped dinner because today is terrible, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one who did that.”

“Are you actually suggesting leaving the school, Potter?” Snape asks in a silken voice, trying to peel back the mask enough to feel some sort of genuine amusement in the situation. “I do believe that can be grounds for expulsion when done without permission.”

“Are you a Professor of Hogwarts or not?” Potter smiles. “Firecall Grimmauld Place. I have it on good authority that Sirius and Remus are not home, and Madam Malfoy prefers to retire early.”

“Whose good authority would that be?” Snape asks. He honestly cannot believe he’s doing this even as he gathers up a handful of Floo Powder…but Potter is correct. If he does not get out of Hogwarts for even a spare five minutes, he might skip hexes and move straight on to blatant murder. He’s going to need to discover sufficient distraction for next year, or murder will be a certainty—aside from Albus. He hopes someone worth his time will also volunteer for the privilege once that particular task is complete.

“Dobby told me, but dear Merlin, the amount of hints, bribery, blackmail, and outright threats it took is beyond belief,” Potter says. “You’d think it would be easier to send a pair of idiots out on a date, but no, of course not. You get two people with martyr complexes together and suddenly it’s all noble, self-sacrificing shite as they save themselves from each other.”

Snape has to dust ash off of his robes before he can glare at Potter upon their arrival. “After making me consider the idea that those two idiots will bed each other, you are purchasing dinner.”

“Considering I’m the one with Muggle money and I doubt you’ve got a pence of it on you? That’s probably for the best,” Potter teases.

Snape feels his eye twitch. He had absorbed that detail and still not taken in its full meaning. “Ah. Yes.” He glances down at his robes, scowls, and then removes them, hanging them on a peg in Black’s entryway. His black trousers, shirt, and coat look Muggle enough, if probably out of fashion.

Potter is the one who knows where they’re going, so that’s who Snape follows. They walk past the motorbike in the carriage house and exit out onto an old square area of cobbled stone that would once have allowed a horse-drawn carriage to pass onto the street.

“This section here is under the Unplottable and the Fidelius Charms, so it’s a safe place to land if you ever need it for Apparating,” Potter says, indicating the old cobblestone. “Once we step onto the alley, we’re officially in Muggle London.”

Snape nods. Voldemort’s spies still haven’t figured out that the stretch of alleyway behind Grimmauld Place is the house’s rear exit at ground level. Since it is a Muggle road, he doubts it will ever occur to them. Snape knows who is assigned to watch the house, and they are rather dim individuals who utterly lack imagination.

“They never watch from this side. It’s either the front door or the roof. Voldemort might be intelligent, but his spies are idiots,” Potter says, as if reading Snape’s mind. Then he goes left, taking them directly to the end of the alleyway where it meets a busy cross street. An exceptionally modern-looking crossing light signals for pedestrians to proceed.

“We still cannot help looking like ourselves, Potter,” Snape replies, trying not to stare at the unrecognizable lineup of car headlights that box them in on either side as they cross the street.

“Nobody from the wizarding world is going to recognize us at all.”

Snape is about to scowl at Potter when he realizes that he’s not hearing a teenager’s overconfident tones. That is absolute certainty.

“Well, at least no one that would actually pose a threat,” Potter adds once they’re safely on the sidewalk. “A lot of the people who run the shops on this strip are getting used to seeing me.”

The mysterious Indian restaurant is only a block further north. Its outside is dark glass so that the inside cannot be seen, but the scents emerging from the entryway are fascinating.

Potter is intelligent about seating arrangements, asking the staff to place them in the rear of the restaurant. The waiter complies, leading them through the restaurant, weaving around occupied tables, until they’re in the very back corner. It means Snape and Potter can both put their backs to a wall; Potter even gives Snape the best view for keeping an eye out for dangerous imbeciles. This close to the kitchen, the scents redolent in the air are amazing, reminiscent of ingredients he’s more accustomed to using in potions than eating.

Snape never drops his guard, but he does gradually begins to relax. He doubts a Death Eater will march into any Muggle establishment until war has been officially declared—it’s too alien, too loud, too modern. Snape spent his childhood in the Muggle world, but things have changed so much since 1979 that he has no idea what to make of at least half of it.

His eyes are caught by the flash of light from another table, where a young woman is holding a device with a screen showing bright digital numbers across the front. A phone number? Phone books are that fancy now? They were barely interested in putting the new digital readouts on the front of microwave ovens fifteen years ago—

Snape leans back in a swift, aborted movement when the wall interrupts his progress. The young woman is now talking into the device, and it sounds just like a bloody phone call!

“Mobile phone,” Potter says, seeing where Snape’s attention has gone. “That one’s a new model, too. It flips open instead of just being a solid, half-sized brick of circuitry.”

Snape waits until a server delivers the tea he asked for, which should at least be something familiar. Muggles and wizards alike agree on tea, if not coffee, and India is the reason Britain is so caffeine-spoilt in the first place.

“You really haven’t been out into Muggle London since 1979, have you?” Potter asks, looking sympathetic.

“No.” Snape is glad the tea is a complex, savory black leaf blend. “If I stayed out of Muggle areas during the last war, I had a good reason not to have a body count composed of those who were defenceless,” Snape admits in a quiet voice. The vehicles outside are not just unfamiliar; they’re sleek, far more compact, and all but foreign. The double-stacker red bus driving by is one of the few things he’s observed to be unchanged by the passing years.

“Smart,” Potter says without a hint of judgement. Weird, strange, confounding young man, who once hated him for ridiculous reasons and now refuses to hate him for valid ones.

Snape slips his wand out of his sleeve long enough to cast a Muffliato charm. The woman on her mobile phone starts frowning, trying to get the other person’s attention, before giving up in apparent disgust. Hanging up seems to involve simply closing the phone, which turns it into a small square that would easily fit into a gentleman’s dress shirt breast pocket.

Muffliato works on mobile phones. He wonders if regular telephones would also be affected.

“In 1969, the American Muggles were trying to go to the moon.” Snape finds himself telling the story without any forethought at all. “My wizarding mother and my Muggle father both thought the idea was ridiculous, but your mother’s family didn’t. Lily invited me over to her family’s home to watch on their television, which had a much clearer picture than mine. I wouldn’t have been able to budge my father away from our television at home, anyway.

“Petunia was of the same mind as my parents, and went upstairs to hide in her bedroom for the duration, calling it all silly nonsense.” Snape sips his tea. “On the twentieth of July, at eight minutes after nine that evening, your mother and I watched as a Muggle man set foot on the moon for the very first time. We were so naïve, so excited about it afterwards. How far could we go, Lily and I asked each other, if wizards and Muggles worked together with those sorts of goals in mind?”

Potter is just watching him, something that isn’t quite sadness lurking in his eyes. “That must have been amazing.”

“It was,” Snape agrees. “Ten years later, I would remember that moment. It was the first time in several years that I’d felt such…such shame.” There; he could even admit it aloud, which would have been unthinkable five years ago. “Muggles went to the moon, and then they went back several more times. The last I heard any news about it, a spatial probe had been launched, one meant to reach the very edges of the solar system, cross those borders, and go beyond them.

“I’d been listening to a charming, depraved bastard preach about wizarding superiority for so blasted long, but what have we done, Potter? Wizarding kind has never gone to the moon. Most wizards you’ll meet, unless they’re late generation Half-bloods or Muggle-borns, will tell you that the very idea is ludicrous and impossible. What the hell have we done that makes us so much better than they?”

Potter slowly shakes his head. “I can’t answer that, sir. I don’t know enough about either group, not yet.”

“If you don’t live long enough to find out, I’ll kill you myself,” Snape mutters, and Potter laughs aloud.

The food is excellent, if far spicier than his palate is used to. Snape contemplates stabbing Lupin with the once-threatened silver ice pick for not informing him of this establishment years ago…except he wouldn’t have gone. He can’t see himself having made this venture beyond wizarding borders without Potter’s cheerful insistence.

By the time they leave the restaurant for the walk back to 12 Grimmauld Place, the crowds have thinned. The sights have become familiar enough that Snape doesn’t tense up at the sound of every passing car, though he still wants to stop and stare at everything like a bloody tourist.

He takes a quick glance at his pocket watch and notes that it’s just nearing ten o’clock. That is a longer period of time than one of his standard detentions, but not for Harry Potter, particularly this year, as his apparent hatred of the boy nears infamous levels. Everyone in Hogwarts now expects those long, grueling detentions to take place, which is not only convenient, but vital.

The music that emerges from open car windows or open windows above the street level shops is reminiscent of what Potter has been giving him, though there are softer and harsher sounds here and there.

One of the songs he hears causes him stop in honest shock. “Good God, is that Black Sabbath?”

“Nah, mate,” a top-hat wearing, cigarette-smoking girl with a nose ring (Why?) answers him, giving Snape’s clothes a quick glance that speak of approval instead of derision. That’s almost as baffling as the nose ring. “That’s Ozzy Osbourne on ’is own. Don’t think he’s been wi’ Black Sabbath since th’ early ’80s.” She nods at Potter. “You find this’un under a rock too, Harry?”

Potter smiles. “He’s been out of town for a while.”

“Yeah, but least this’un knows how t’bloody dress.” She of the nose ring flicks ash from her cigarette and tips her hat at them. “An’ me Mum wonders why I tore up that magic letter schooling nonsense so I coul’ stay in London.”

“Probably a very wise choice,” Snape manages to say. Then pedestrian traffic separates himself and Potter from Top-Hat Girl, who waves and turns back to the other girl she’d been speaking to. Ozzy gives way to Bush’s “Alien” before the other sounds of Muggle London bury the music completely.

“Who’s your charming friend, Potter?” The idea that anyone would receive a Hogwarts letter and then not attend is mind-blowing.

“That’s Jade. Her mum is a witch, and her father’s a Muggle. Jade just turned twenty-one, but she says her mum is still mad that she didn’t go to Hogwarts. Funny thing, though, you bringing up the moon landing tonight: Jade’s attending uni to study aerodynamics with a specialization in orbital science.”

All right; now Snape understands why someone could turn down Hogwarts. He didn’t even know that was a bloody option!

Potter is smiling again. “Kill Voldemort first, sir. Then you can go to university with the rest of the undereducated cretins.”

“Shut up, Potter.”

They continue to walk without speaking. Potter doesn’t break the silence until they turn onto the darker Muggle lane that backs 12 Grimmauld Place. “We should do this again.”

“We spend too much time together as it is, Potter.”

Potter shakes his head. “Not enough, Mum says.”

Snape narrows his eyes. “It is not yet midnight, Potter. It’s still a very poor day for those sorts of jokes.”

“Joke?” Potter halts and stares at him in consternation. “Snape, I’ve been able to hear and speak to her since you brought the bloody Resurrection Stone to my house! She says we’ll probably lose that when Voldemort dies, since the spell that causes it will die with him, but in the meantime? I’m not fucking joking.”

Snape tries not to look alarmed. “The intent of that stupid Stone was not to create ghosts!”

Potter glances down the street, where two pale-skinned men with bald heads are paying far too much attention to them. “Come on,” he says, nudging Snape’s arm to get them moving again. “I don’t want to hex anyone’s bollocks off tonight, and that would be the least harmful spell I’d be offering them.”

“Skinheads are still a thing?” Snape rolls his eyes. It is a tried truth of the world that some people insist upon remaining stupid.

“Remus says they’re not as bad as they used to be,” Potter replies. “And I’m not talking about ghosts. Ghosts are…well, like the school ghosts. Mum’s not a ghost. You can use death for more than just Horcruxes. She used hers to create a protection spell, and it means she’s sort of, uh, bound to me?” Potter frowns. “Not quite that, but close enough. The Stone just amplified it a bit—and yes, she knew it would happen when she told you to bring the Stone to Grimmauld Place.”

“She used me.” Snape realizes he’s smiling. “Devious, devious Lily.”

“She says somebody has to be. Dad was terrible at it, Remus got caught because he was too stubborn to abandon the others, Sirius liked to brag, and Peter Pettigrew is an idiot.”

“It didn’t seem like it at the time,” Snape says, some of his humor fading. “It seemed as if they were never caught at anything.”

“I looked up their detention counts once. Don’t tell Professor McGonagall; I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to be doing that, but it was late 1993. I was still figuring out, uh, boundaries.”

“I won’t say a word,” Snape promises in amusement.

“Their individual detention counts were all larger than the total sum of every detention you ever received, and yes, that includes Remus.” Potter pulls his wand from his jumper sleeve and taps it against the carriage house lock before opening the door. “Oh, and yes, Mum says she really is pestering you in your sleep. Stop being stupid about it, or she’ll send my Dad instead.”

The look of complete horror on his face must have been truly remarkable. Potter starts howling with laughter, leaning against the motorbike while he tries to take in oxygen and laugh at the same time.

Which is exactly why they get caught. At least Snape is the one standing there, arms crossed and looking entirely unimpressed, by the time Black bolts into the carriage house. Lupin is just behind him, and Snape is going to pretend not to notice that the man’s shirt is misbuttoned.

No. Not his business. Ever.

Black puts his hands on his hips, trying to look foreboding. “It took you until your sixth year to actually pull off something Marauder-worthy? Sixth year, Harry?”

Potter is still snickering as he points at Snape. “His face. His face!”

“Yes, his face is unremarkable, we get it,” Black says, which only sets Potter off laughing again.

Snape glares at Black. “Please stop helping!”

“Sirius, you are not supposed to congratulate the student who is not on school grounds when he’s supposed to be. I think,” Lupin says, regarding his giggling, idiotic godchild. “Or is this like Dumbledore’s kidnapping jaunts?”

“I think not,” Snape returns, mildly insulted. “At least Potter’s ideas make sense.”

“Dinner. Dinner that did not involve a Hallowe’en Feast, or Professor Snape hexing people for looking at him wrong,” Potter gasps out. “Can you imagine the look on Professor McGonagall’s face, though?”

“Virtue, Potter,” Snape says dryly.

“Yes, but I’m the one who technically kidnapped you! She’d have kittens, and then we’d have so many more McGonagall witches to contend with.”

Lupin throws up his hands and turns around to leave. “Don’t want to know. Still so very glad that the teacher-student spells regarding propriety were put into place back in the 1700s.”

Snape must be making that face again. Potter laughs so hard he hits the floor.

“Black, you owe me proper alcohol for this,” Snape declares, which at least gets him escorted into the kitchen and away from Lily Potter’s lunatic son.

The next morning is a flurry of activity when he wakes up at Black’s fucking kitchen table with exactly nine minutes to get to his first class of the day. “I blame you,” Snape tells Potter, who grins before turning back to what looks like tea-brewing. Black is resting face-down on the table, still groaning in misery. Lupin is looking at both of them like they’re stupid. Bloody werewolf physiology.

“Do you intend to get caught off school grounds for certain?” Snape asks, just before he steps through the Floo.

“No, I’m the kid who was smart enough not to sign up for early classes on a Friday morning,” Potter returns cheekily, just before shoving a chipped old Muggle mug filled with hot tea into Snape’s hands. “Don’t spill it on the fire.”

“Brat!” Snape declares in a poor attempt at a departing remark. He does not spill the blasted tea, either.

The excellent part of having a working Floo in his office is that he can arrive, sit down in his chair, and enjoy blessed dark, bitter caffeine before rising and striding into class with exactly thirty seconds to spare. He also has the bonus delight of startling an entire class of Gryffindor and Slytherin second-years into fearful obedience.

After a successful class period in which no one dies, hexes each other, or even threatens to do so, Snape retreats back to his office. A blank sheet of paper has been placed underneath the empty mug; whispering the secrecy charm over the parchment reveals the words.

 

Absolutely not late to class in the slightest. Plan ahead better, Professor.

 

Snape scowls down at the note. He takes up a quill, scratches through Potter’s message, and adds a new one:

 

Do not let Black buy alcohol ever again. Has that man ever had proper nectar of the Green Fairy in his flea-ridden life? His is substandard, else no one would have fallen asleep in the middle of bloody well drinking it.

Do not drink Black’s substandard alcohol in a misguided attempt at getting rid of it all. Its only acceptable use is drain cleanser.

 

Dobby pops into existence at Snape’s polite request, takes the folded sheet of paper, and gives Snape a brief glance. “Kreacher is sayin’ that Master Black is sick and deserves what he gets for not knowin’ abouts proper Green Fairy.”

“Kreacher is entirely correct,” Snape tells the elf. Dobby giggles and vanishes again to take the brief missive up to Gryffindor Tower, where it will be left under Potter’s mattress for future reading and incineration.

Chapter Text

The second weekend of November brings the first Quidditch game of the new season, which is Hufflepuff versus Slytherin. As expected, the Slytherin team absolutely demolishes the Hufflepuff lineup in a victorious four hundred points over eighty. Even if this has been his Slytherins before Bulstrode became Captain, the results would be similar. Snape glances at Pomona’s disheartened face and mentally begs her to sack them all and start over again just to spare her House the humiliation. The tactic worked quite well for Slytherin. Unorthodox, yes; against the rules? Not at all.

The fourth weekend in November is almost picturesque for the season, with no rain or sleet, light breezes, and the temperature climbing into the forties. The crowds gathered to watch Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw are comfortable instead of miserable. On the other hand, the Quidditch players are already starting to sweat, and the game is only a half-hour old.

It is becoming abundantly clear that Lee Jordan’s replacement as announcer, Zacharias Smith, is a complete idiot. He spends more time complaining about the players than he does on actually commenting upon the game. Minerva looks as if she wants to strangle him, and the students surrounding her would probably assist.

At one point, Potter, Miss Chang, Ginevra Weasley, and Miss Turpin all halt in the air, hovering in a tight cluster while Boot and MacDougal defend against Miss Bell’s attempts at scoring. “I will bloody well pay Lee to come back and announce for us for the rest of the season,” Potter is saying disgust.

“I have exactly one Galleon to my name right now, and it’s yours if you can get rid of this arsehole,” Miss Weasley replies.

Misses Chang and Turpin nod their agreement. “At this point, I think all of us would shove gold at Lee. At least he was…”

“Not an arsehole,” Miss Weasley says, interrupting whatever diplomacy Miss Chang was attempting to vocalize.

“Back to the game.” Potter reaches out to bump gloved and padded fists with Chang while Weasley does the same with Turpin. Then all pretense at friendship falls away as Ravenclaw and Gryffindor try to hammer each other into the ground.

Snape watches, impressed, as Potter puts lie to the idea that he’s better on the bike than a broom. Bell and Thomas do an excellent job of scoring goals with the Quaffle, but it’s Potter who pulls off scoring at times when the Keeper should have been able to block—by being a sly little shite. Boot looks utterly mystified when Potter swings off his broom, holds on with one arm, and kicks the bloody Quaffle through a goal hoop.

The recovery to remount his broom is also excellent, which earns appreciative applause even from clusters of his Slytherins. Snape can hear Black shouting his approval from across the pitch. He glances over in time to see Lupin give Black a hard elbow to the ribs before he tells Black to try and keep it to a dull roar.

It’s one of the rare school games that lasts until the sun is threatening to set. By the time Granger snags the Golden Snitch practically from Chang’s hands, the game’s points are set at an intimidating eight hundred seventy over Ravenclaw’s seven hundred ten. Snape has also guessed accurately; Potter scored more goals than the other Chasers on his team.

“Woo!” Bradley is shouting as the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws continue to circle in the air, ignoring Madam Hooch’s attempts to get them to land. “That was the best game ever!”

“It was your first game, genius,” Ronald Weasley retorts, grinning. “But yeah—if the rest of the year is like this? This is gonna be bloody amazing!”

Bell, Potter, Boot, Chambers, and Thomas fly closer together. “All in favor of collecting Galleons to replace that complete bleeding idiot?” Boot asks.

“Uh—” Potter says, and points just before there is a crash against the stands, followed by Smith’s amplified, indignant squawking.

“MISS WEASLEY!” Minerva exclaims. Snape hides a smile as he realizes that Miss Weasley intentionally crashed into their bore of an announcer.

“Sorry.” Ginevra Weasley has a look of sublime innocence on her face as she rightens herself and collects her broom. “Forgot to brake, Professor.”

“I’ll hex your—” Smith begins to threaten Weasley, just before he realizes Minerva is staring at him. Zacharias Smith wilts like a dying plant.

“STOP FLYING! SOME OF US WANT TO GO HAVE DINNER!” Maxine O’Flaherty shouts, which causes half the stadium to burst into laughter and shouts of agreement.

“All in favor of also buying Ginny Weasley a new broom for landing on that arsehole?” Thomas asks in tones of utter adoration.

“Let’s see how much it costs to convince Lee to come back, first,” Bell says dryly.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape is sitting in his office, glaring at the far wall, when there is a teacher’s distinct rap upon his door. “Come.”

Lupin opens the door and closes it again. “I know it wasn’t Quidditch that put that scowl upon your face.”

Snape considers it before reaching out with his wand to tap a secondary brick in the wall, activating the fiery green wards. “Voldemort.”

“Oh.” Lupin grimaces. “What the hell did he want?”

“Nothing yet. I’ve just spent a lot of spare time this year reviewing our plans, and what I know of what’s to come. I’ve been trying to figure out how much Voldemort might suspect my duplicity if he goes into the Department of Mysteries and discovers that the original prophecy globe is still in place.”

Lupin looks surprised. “Sirius didn’t tell you?”

“Tell me what?”

“The Prophet mentioned that quite a number of storage globes were destroyed in the battle, and of course, wrote about Sirius’s little ploy of showing up to assist. But when he arrived, the battle had already progressed towards the Atrium. That isn’t the first place he went. The original prophecy globe’s shelf also suffered a very unfortunate accident.”

Snape stares at the werewolf. “I can’t tell if he’s a genius, or if I’m going to kill Black for not telling me.”

“I think he was worried about the timing of it all, actually. He knows enough about how Occlumency works to recognize that some memories should be a bit more…spread out,” Lupin says.

“He’s not wrong,” Snape admits. “What makes me curious is why Dumbledore did not also voice concern over the prophecy’s destruction.”

Lupin looks unhappy. “I hate to say it, but perhaps he simply didn’t care? The concern was in Voldemort receiving it; Dumbledore knows the prophecy already. A good chess player doesn't telegraph their concerns to their opponent.”

“Yes, but going by that analogy, Dumbledore was absolutely rubbish at chess last year,” Snape replies. None of this makes him happy—even if the prophecy globe’s destruction is one less thing he needs now be concerned with.

The timing of December’s winter holiday means that the next Quidditch matches run back-to-back. This year it is the first and second weekend of the month, and the first game reveals that someone must have found sufficient bribery. Lee Jordan’s return to the commentator’s booth is met with cheering that makes the very ground rumble beneath the stands.

“Thank you! Thank you,” Lee says, grinning as he speaks into the charmed loudspeaker. He’s decided to act as a proper graduated Hogwarts student; his scarf is composed of four separate sections devoted to each of the differing House colors. “Now we’ve got that over with, here comes the teams for today’s match of witty Ravenclaw against our stubborn badger friends, Hufflepuff! I almost feel I don’t need to announce Hufflepuff at all—their roster hasn’t changed in five years!”

“OI!” Cadwallader shouts from the pitch.

“Oh, hey, one new face! Excellent! That would be Jon Cadwallader as a new Seeker, then!” Lee shouts happily, and goes on introducing the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw roster in a way that Smith hadn’t even bothered with.

Ravenclaw trounces Hufflepuff, but it seems everyone was infected by Lee Jordan’s good cheer. Hufflepuff loses, but by a more respectable fifty points instead of several hundred.

The game Snape has been patiently waiting for comes the very next Saturday. It’s even warmer this month than in November, which proves to Snape that the weather has taken leave of its senses. The wind is gusting along, though, which will give the players an extra challenge to deal with.

“All right, then! Everyone’s favorite spectator sport of watching sly Slytherin and glory-bound Gryffindor try to kill each other—I mean, compete with each other, has begun!” Lee pauses and stares in abject disbelief as the teams come out onto the field. “Professor McGonagall, you are a terrible person. You didn’t tell me both rosters were entirely different!”

“You should do your research, Lee Jordan,” Minerva returns smugly.

“BLIMEY—two fiery Weasleys, Miss Bell, beautiful as ever—ho, Dean Thomas, I bet he does well!—Mister Peakes, who was new to us last year, and the return of Mister Harry Potter! Who, I see, is not in Seeker’s position!” Lee watches the fliers lift off from the ground. “Dear Merlin, someone tell me that Miss Granger flies on a broom as well as she writes essays!”

“BETTER!” someone in the Gryffindor stands shouts.

“Excellent!” Lee declares. “And Slytherin still has Miss Bulstrode as Captain. Lovely face, tall as a majestic tree, please never be tempted to squash me, Madam! Entirely new faces for the rest of the team—Mafalda Prewett, brilliant ginger hair, there. Oh! Both the Greengrass sisters! This is exciting, they’ve always been a force to be reckoned with, even without brooms involved! Mister Baddock, Mister Pritchard, Mister Harper, you all look sufficiently threatening! And there’s the Snitch released, and there is Miss Prewett already trying to beat the stuffing out of Miss Weasley, apparently mistaking her for the Quaffle! I can tell already that it’s going to be a great game!”

Strangely enough, except for Miss Prewett’s antics, the Slytherin-Gryffindor match looks to be proceeding along the same lines as the Ravenclaw-Gryffindor game. Most of the players seem to be respectful of each other, even if they do not let respect inhibit their skills or propensity towards typical Quidditch violence.

No matter who incited the change in attitude, the game is fabulous to witness. Slytherin and Gryffindor are doing their best to demolish each other, and no player is going to lack bruising by the time the game is over.

Slytherin and Gryffindor’s game runs through until dark. It’s the first time in ten years that the stadium lighting has to be lit so play can continue. The kitchen house-elves bring sandwiches out for the spectators who refuse to give up on watching the game—which is most of them.

“Hermione, find that Snitch before we all fall off our brooms!” Ronald Weasley yells.

“Greengrass is on it!” Bell declares, and Granger darts in that direction. Snape can just make out the glimmer of gold as it zips through the air.

“KATIE!” Potter roars. “Quaffle, right now!”

Snape recognizes the tactic at once. The new Slytherins on the team are slower to catch on, but Miss Bulstrode does her absolute best to keep the Gryffindors from scoring. She fights a losing battle, since her opponents are apparently insane. Though she blocks many Quaffle shots, she can’t defend against them all, especially with Gryffindor’s Beaters keeping Slytherin players away from the goal posts.

Snape watches the score climb, frowning, until a loud cheer announces Miss Greengrass is triumphantly holding up the Snitch. Slytherin loses the game anyway, nine hundred ten over nine hundred points.

Snape glances up just in time to see Potter and Bulstrode slap hands as they fly by each other. Miss Bulstrode has a very rare smile on her chiseled features. Perhaps his own Captain is responsible for this newfound gaming maturity…or she and Potter are conspiring together. Neither would surprise him.

Snape is proud of his Slytherins, regardless. They fought hard and well, and unlike in previous years, they nearly took the game without cheating. Snape is not against cheating as a general rule, but the team before Bulstrode used bodily injury as their primary tool. Not subtle, and not Slytherin at all.

Snape will, however, need to speak with Miss Prewett about not using Quidditch as an excuse to assault distant, estranged family members.

“Now that was one hell of a game!” Lee declares, and is immediately scolded by Minerva for language.

Snape glances over at the Gryffindor stands, where Lupin and Black are sitting in their usual spot. When Lupin speaks, Snape can catch the words easily. “He’s right. That was one hell of a game.”

Black nods. His eyes are locked on his godson, and the proud smile on his face makes the marks left by Azkaban seem less harsh.

Snape abruptly stands up and makes his way down the stands. He can’t afford thoughts like that. The Bloody Bat has no friends for a damned good reason.

 

*          *          *          *

 

“Before most of you depart for Christmas Break this afternoon, I have some words I would like to say,” Dumbledore says. Snape is expecting Albus’s usual string of nonsense, but for once, the Headmaster does not send the students off on a ridiculous note.

“You heard what the Sorting Hat had to say at the beginning of the year.” Dumbledore peers seriously over his glasses at the students all turned to face him. There are only a few who are not staring the Headmaster in the face; Snape knows them all to have at least one parent as a marked and active Death Eater. “As I mentioned at the beginning of the year: dark times approach. This school has ever been about unity—”

“All right. That tears it. I’ve bloody well had enough!”

Snape turns his head in surprise to stare at Potter, which is what literally everyone else in the Great Hall is doing. Potter’s chair shrieks against the floor as he shoves it back and stands up.

“Mister Potter,” Minerva tuts, frowning, but Potter shakes his head. Lupin half-stands up from the faculty table, frowning, but before he can say anything, Potter is speaking in a loud, clear voice that carries easily throughout the Hall.

“Do you actually mean that?” Potter is asking Dumbledore, a look of flat anger on his face. It isn’t quite ratel temper, but it also is not Voldemort attempting to push through Potter’s excellent Occlumency shields. “Are you serious about school unity? Is it something you really want for us, or is it just words to you, Headmaster?”

“Mate, have you lost your bloody mind?” Weasley hisses, but Potter throws off Weasley’s arm without breaking eye contact with Albus.

Albus finally gives Potter a sober nod. “Yes. I really do mean that, Harry.”

“Then why haven’t you acted on it?” Potter asks.

“One can only do so much—” Albus tries.

“From our perspective, you’ve done nothing but talk,” Potter retorts, and leaves the Gryffindor table. Weasley tries one more time to stop him and fails. The Slytherins are snickering amongst themselves; the Ravenclaws whisper in confusion. The Hufflepuffs just regard the unplanned events with quiet curiosity. It’s the Gryffindors who look half-panicked, and well they should. Whatever Potter is up to may devastate their points count, leaving them in last place despite their Quidditch wins.

Snape stands up when it seems everyone else is too confused to do anything. “Mister Potter,” he drawls. “Where is it that you think you’re going?”

Potter lifts his hand in a two-fingered salute without turning. Snape is so legitimately startled by this that he forgets to do anything except stare in angry consternation. The boy had not just—!

The only warning he gets is that he sees Potter’s wand drop into his hand from his robe sleeve. Then Potter is turning the corner into the Entrance Hall.

The Great Hall devolves into shocked murmurs of baffled confusion. None of it is loud enough to cover up Potter’s shouted, “Potens anullo clepsydra!”

The next sound Snape hears is of glass shattering, followed by thousands of objects bursting out of their containers. Jewels of red, green, blue and yellow slide across the floor, glimmering in the torchlight as they skid past the entrance of the Great Hall.

Potens anullo clepsydra. Powerfully obliterate. Hourglass.

“I’ll kill him,” Snape snarls under his breath, rounding the table with Minerva and Lupin practically on his heels. Albus is just behind them, and they end up leading the faculty charge to discover what in the hell Potter has just done.

“Not if I get to him first!” Minerva snaps in a full-blown temper. She’s so angry it’s a wonder she hasn’t devolved completely into Scots Gaelic.

The students all suddenly have the same idea about investigating the Entrance Hall. Everyone is upright and shoving their way towards the exit, muttering or shouting in confusion. “Ho, shite,” Snape hears McLaggen declare, and decides that he’s had enough.

“MOVE!” he roars, the great Bloody Bat at his best. The students in Snape’s way squeak and leap aside, leaving a nice pathway for Snape, Minerva, Lupin, and Albus to walk through. The gap fills in quickly with students taking advantage, cutting off faculty members who were too slow to keep up.

“Sometimes your temper is so very useful,” Minerva says under her breath, but Snape doesn’t respond. He still has to kill Potter.

When they get to the Entrance Hall, it’s to find students staring at the disastrous mess in disbelief.

The devastation is remarkably complete. The four hourglasses that kept the House point tallies have been destroyed. One is hanging off the wall and looks ready to drop at any second. All of the hourglasses will need serious work with repairing charms to be returned to normal.

Potter is standing in front of the destroyed House Hourglasses. He has his arms crossed, his wand still clenched in his right hand. If Snape isn’t mistaken, Potter has also erected a Protego charm; he can see the faintest hint of its magic shining in the air.

Snape wants to blame James Potter, but he can’t. The expression of angry stubbornness on Potter’s face is purely Lily Evans at her fiercest, her most defensive—the times when she refused to allow injustice to continue.

“Mister Potter!” Minerva exclaims, snorting a breath of anger out of her nose. “You will explain yourself at once. Then you will spend the rest of this ruddy school year in detention!”

“I will fight you for the honor of hosting every single one of them,” Snape declares. His Slytherins perk up in interest; the Gryffindors look offended.

“He’s my godson. They’re my detentions,” Lupin growls. “Harry, what in the blazes do you think you’re doing?”

“School unity,” Potter replies, but his expression doesn’t change. “The Headmaster and some of you professors say you want school unity? Well, this,” and he jerks his left thumb back over his shoulder at the broken counters, “is one of the biggest reasons why we don’t bloody have it!”

“I would very much like you to explain further,” Albus intones. He crosses his arms as well, almost mirroring Potter’s stance. There is anger in the Headmaster’s eyes, but enough patience remains to reveal his willingness to listen.

“This isn’t for you, sir,” Potter snaps at the Headmaster. “This is for them. You want student unity? Well, then you’re going to let them hear, listen, and make their own bloody decision!”

Albus looks taken aback, as does Minerva. Snape maintains a scowl of absolute fury; the Bloody Bat knows that Potter is about to get away with something that would get anyone else expelled.

“Now that I have literally everyone’s attention,” Potter says, nodding at the school ghosts that have joined them. Even Peeves is staring at the mess with his mouth hanging open.

Potter’s voice is loud enough to cut through the din of students who do not know when to be quiet. “You know, I looked it up. Everyone seems to think that the system of House points has always been this way, but they’re wrong. The stupid points system wasn’t invented and implemented until 1493.”

That gives Potter the Ravenclaws’ full attention, and other students are starting to realize that something far more interesting than property destruction is happening. “Before 1493, the Houses argued with each other sometimes over the nature of magic, but that’s all it was. Every student in these walls understood that the Houses were in place to foster our individual strengths. The students were united because they were all here to do one thing—learn magic.”

It’s now very quiet, a silence broken only by kicked, skittering gemstones and shifting feet. Albus is still as a stone as he listens. Minerva’s expression has lost its harsh temperamental edge. Even the Slytherins are interested; Snape can tell because they’re feigning absolute indifference.

“1493 is the first year that no descendants of the Founders remained in positions of authority in Hogwarts. The moment they’re all gone, some nitwit decided it would be the wisest thing in the world to pit us all against each other!” Potter’s angry shout rings out in the Hall, making several students jump back in surprise. “There hasn’t been unity in Hogwarts since the counter went up on this ancient wall.

“Don’t you get it?” Potter asks, brow furrowed as his eyes sweep the room to look at every student from every House. “Because of these points and the idea that a House has to ‘win’ over all the other Houses, year after year, how can we ever look at each other as anything other than the enemy?”

Snape has a very uncomfortable moment as he recalls his words to Albus Dumbledore in Potter’s third year.

“You and Minerva are the definitive results of your own Houses—which is as it should be, for a Head of House. I only wish that you both could stop viewing the other Houses as the enemy.”

“They are the enemy.”

“And what are we fighting over, anyway? An ancient, dented silver cup and the right to display it for a year. That’s bloody well it, and it’s not worth it,” Potter says. “We fight in the hallways. Prefects throw young students of other Houses under the bloody Knight Bus in hopes that it will lose that House points. Teachers hold points over our heads for correct answers, and Merlin forbid if you’ve had a bad night, didn’t get to your homework and get the answer wrong.

“If someone messes up, no matter the reason, their own House ostracizes them. We’re supposed to support the people within our own Houses when they stumble, but most of what I’ve seen in the last three years shows that we all do exactly the opposite. Every House, no exception. All of that, for what? To have the highest point tally at the end of the year. We spite each other for the sake of a few gems.

“The House Cup wasn’t even the House Cup. Not at first,” Potter continues. Some of his anger is fading, even though the sternness does not. “It was the school’s Quidditch cup. The Houses understood the nature of sport, and reveled in it—I asked the Sorting Hat if the Quidditch Cup had ever caused this sort of contention, and it said no. No. It said no, not ever! Until those damned hourglasses went up, the Houses could play against each other without trying to bloody well kill each other! That hate didn’t come until we were pitted against each other for every single thing we do in this school. How does that foster unity?”

“It doesn’t,” Granger’s voice rings out from within the crowd, though Snape can’t see her. “You can’t even have a friend in another House without being treated with suspicion.”

“It’s even worse if you’re Slytherin,” a third-year mumbles, but it’s so quiet throughout the Entrance Hall that nearly everyone hears them.

“Especially if it’s ruddy Quidditch season!” someone else yells from the back.

Potter points at Terry Boot—not his wand hand, fortunately. “You! What are you?”

Boot blinks a few times at the unexpected question. “Uh—Ravenclaw.”

Potter points at Seamus Finnegan. “What about you?”

“Gryffindor?” Finnegan answers in bewilderment.

“And you?”

Millicent Bulstrode’s expression doesn’t change. “Slytherin.”

“What about you?” Potter asks Hannah Abbot.

Abbot looks baffled. “Hufflepuff.”

“Yeah. Okay.” Potter is glaring at people again. “What are we together?

“Hogwarts,” Luna Lovegood answers in her breathy voice. “We’re Hogwarts.”

“Exactly,” Potter declares. “That’s who we need to be. No more of this petty bolloxing shite.”

“Harry!” Lupin barks

Potter glances at his godfather but doesn’t respond to the rebuke. “We’re either together, or we’re nothing. I know some of you don’t realize this, but if You-Know-Who were to march into this school tomorrow, three-quarters of every House would be dead on the ground. Three-quarters of us dead, and I do mean of every House.” Potter tilts his head. “Doesn’t seem to leave a lot of wizards or witches left behind, does it?”

“Blood purity,” Zabini says under his breath.

“Oh, come off it. The Potters were Pure-blood wizards until my Dad married my Mum,” Potter replies scornfully. “The Zabinis can’t even claim that, so what makes you think Voldemort would let you live?” Zabini’s dark skin turns pale at that declaration.

“Now.” Potter lowers his wand to point down at the floor and the scattered pile of gems. “I’ll repair every single bit of this myself, but only—only!—if every single House still thinks that this shite is a good idea. If the Houses as a united front tell me that they want these counters back on the wall, then back they’ll go.

“But: if we want the House Cup to be a Quidditch Cup again? If the students of Hogwarts want to be judged on our own merit rather than on how many points we can earn for our Houses? If we really want to be a united school? Then nobody puts those counters back. Not you, Headmaster,” Potter says, scowling at Albus. “Not my Head of House, not any teacher in this school. Either you abide by the unity of the four Houses, or you lay off with the House unity nonsense while we go back to hexing each other in the hallways, until Voldemort—” Potter ignores the unhappy gasps “—comes along and happily murders everyone he doesn’t like.”

Potter’s expression turns thoughtful. “And if you think being a Pure-blooded witch or wizard will save you, you should maybe look up the records in the Ministry about how many Death Eaters were found to have been killed not by the Order of the Phoenix, but by Voldemort himself.”

“But—but if we do this, how are we supposed to know if we’ve done well if nobody gives us points in class?” The questioner is a tiny little fourth-year Hufflepuff girl who is still the size of a first-year.

“I don’t know—maybe they could actually tell us. With words,” Potter says snidely. He’s not looking at the Hufflepuff though; he’s glaring at the Professors of Hogwarts, Snape and Lupin included. “If they can open their mouths to grant points, then I’m guessing they can probably use words to tell someone they did something right, too.”

“That’s quite enough, Mister Potter,” Albus orders, but then he sighs. “You have made your point…and I find that I agree with it.”

“Headmaster, you cannot possibly—” Snape begins to say, the Bloody Bat still beyond incensed.

“I can,” Albus interrupts, holding up his hand to request silence. Snape grants it, but grudgingly. “Mister Potter is correct. How can I expect the unity I ask of our students when we dangle a trophy over their heads to fight over?”

Albus turns around to look around at the students. Most of them are quiet, shocked to somberness, though some are smiling in what looks like genuine glee—most of them Ravenclaws. Bloody Ravens.

“You’ve all heard Mister Potter’s proposal,” Albus says. “I will ask you now, and whatever the students of Hogwarts decide, I swear this school will abide by it.

“If you are in favor of the counter being repaired and returned to its place on the wall, the points restored to their previous counts, say Aye.”

There are several Ayes from the crowd, but only a few of them are firm. Most of them are desultory, as if the shouter is only saying it because a neighbor did.

Albus nods. “And if you are in favor of the points system being abandoned, of Hogwarts returning to the way things were done by the Founders—and of the House Cup being a mere Quidditch Cup once more…say Aye.”

Snape winces and tries not to clamp his hands down over his ears when the racket of so many consenting students bounces off the stone walls. That is a blatant majority, one even he cannot pretend to mistake for anything else.

“Very well.” Albus waves his hand, and the gemstones littering the floor disappear. “I will find an appropriate use for them. Perhaps something mindful of our choice of unity over squabbling. When you all return to school in January…I wonder if the air might seem a little bit clearer.”

The students begin shuffling in place, nodding, though many look stunned over the sudden change that Potter just instigated. “Please return to the Great Hall and finish your meal, if you wish,” Albus instructs. “If not, you may return to your dormitories to finish packing up for the train ride home.”

Then Albus turns around and stares at Potter. “You, Mister Potter, are in detention when we return from the winter holiday. Property destruction, cheek, language—yes, I think that covers it. There are more diplomatic ways to solve problems, Mister Potter.”

Potter stares back at him, unswayed. “Not in this case, Professor. Not in the slightest.”

“Hmm.” Albus studies the broken hourglasses while frowning. “Could you not have come to me with this concern, instead of acting in such a dramatic fashion, Mister Potter?”

Potter’s eyebrows lower into a full-fledged scowl. “I did. You didn’t notice. You were preoccupied with other concerns.”

“Did you,” Albus says, and Snape hears a note of regret in his voice. “Then know that while I don’t prefer your methods, I myself have been accused of flamboyant gestures. If I refused to hear you, then I cannot fault your choice overly much. I am sometimes a hypocrite, but I am capable of recognizing it when it is pointed out to me.”

Snape grinds his teeth and stalks away, to all appearances in the midst of a great snit. Minerva calls after him, but he keeps going, glaring his way through the crowd so that he can get to his office. The Bloody Bat is furious, and he’s making certain everyone knows it.

Far underneath the mask, Snape knows that Potter is a bloody destructive genius.

Lupin joins him later, gazing with absolute longing at the bottle of Firewhiskey on Snape’s desk. “Please, for the love of God, share that with me.”

Snape rolls his eyes, fetches a clean glass from his desk, and puts it upside down before Lupin. “Have at it, werewolf.”

Lupin drains his first glass before he says anything. “I can’t fucking believe it.”

Snape is resting his chin on his arms, which are resting on his desk, so it means he has to look up to glare at Lupin. “Are you saying you are senile, blind, or just incapable of taking in the possibility that your godson is insane?”

Lupin pours another drink, pauses, and then refills Snape’s glass. Snape sneers at him in thanks. “Insane? No. He’s right, and you and I both know it.”

Snape makes a noncommittal sound.

“How much hell have we all wrought with those hourglass counters, Severus? Houses warring for points with each other. Heads of House so desperate to win the chance to display a cup that we pit our students against each other.” Lupin sips at his drink, scowling. “What I hate is that none of this ever occurred to me before.”

“That is my very problem at the moment,” Snape replies, scowling. “The most obvious roadblock against Albus’s attempts at student unity, and I did not even consider the fucking points.”

Lupin cradles his glass thoughtfully. “How do you think Voldemort is going to react to this change in the school?”

Snape considers it and decides that drinking the third glass Lupin poured him is a worthwhile activity, after all. “I have no idea, and when I cannot predict his responses, I cannot prepare for any resulting outcome.”

Lupin raises his glass. “Ah. Well, here’s hoping you live through it, then.”

Snape hides his face against his arms. “If I die, I’m going to figure out a way to blame you.”

Chapter Text

Snape exchanges a few letters over the course of the holiday with Potter. Sometimes he also hears from Granger, who is tearing out her bushy mass of curling hair trying to make the Memory Projection Potion function properly.

 

Potter,

I cannot believe you did that to the hourglasses.

I find your idiocy in this matter exceptionally pleasing.

Snape

 

*

 

Snape,

The hypocrisy was starting to make my teeth ache. Nobody likes a ratel with a toothache.

Harry

 

*

 

Harry,

I concede the point. Still, I hope you will not continue to act in such a brash, obvious manner. You were taught to be far more subtle than this.

Snape

 

*

 

Snape,

Boldness over subtlety is definitely reserved for when subtlety is not bloody working.

Harry

 

Snape does make a trip to 12 Grimmauld Place after New Year’s Day. It’s the one meeting that near-everyone in the Order of the Phoenix can attend, and to skip it would be, at the very least, impolite. At worst, Moody would follow Snape around and ask annoying questions. There is still an edge of suspicion regarding Narcissa Malfoy’s presence, so Snape is sure to stand next to her during the meeting. It’s the best way to ensure that most of them are glaring at the Bloody Bat, not at Draco Malfoy’s mother.

“Well? Do you have anything useful, then?” Moody snaps at one point, glaring at Snape.

Albus is now in agreement with Snape that the Order should know of Voldemort’s intentions. Snape gives the Auror a drawn-out look of irritation before answering. “The Dark Lord’s spies are infiltrating the Ministry. I can tell you how, but I cannot tell you who, because that information he gives to no one.” Snape outlines Voldemort’s plan, watching as curious faces slowly settle into anger and dismay.

“And you’re sure you know who none of the spies are?” Moody prods again. It says a lot about the seriousness of the situation that Black isn’t mocking Snape in their traditional manner.

Snape nods. “He is gaining followers at an alarming pace. Anyone he sends to infiltrate the Ministry will not bear a Dark Mark. They will not even have poisons or cursed items. They will do nothing to draw suspicion onto themselves until Voldemort signals them to act, possibly by Protean charms.”

“Merlin save us,” Kingsley Shacklebolt mutters. “We can’t interrogate every single Ministry employee.”

“Watch me,” Moody grumbles.

Kingsley glares at him. “No, we actually can’t, you stubborn old bastard. To begin with, we’d give away that we know of You-Know-Who’s plan, and that endangers our spy. We need him in a position to gather information, not lying dead in a shallow grave.”

“Thank you,” Snape says in a dry voice.

“What about adding Protean charm detection to the security searches?” Nymphadora asks.

“We can do that, but I think it may be too little, too late.” Kingsley shakes his head. “We’re not even certain a Protean charm will be the signal. Damn. This is a disaster waiting to happen.”

“Then we plan for a disaster,” Lupin says at once, his voice hard. “We know the Ministry is infiltrated, and from what I’m hearing, it sounds like we’re going to lose it to Voldemort, at least for a little while. We put the plans in place now that will protect the people he will be most likely to attack. I know Hogwarts is already making contingency plans in case of Voldemort’s success, so we should do the same. If Voldemort isn’t using Protean charms, then we damned well should be! A Patronus is an excellent way to communicate, but if you’re in the middle of a battle, you might not get the chance to send one. We need a faster way to gain the attention of other members of the Order.”

“Yes, but a Protean charm is fairly simple. It is meant to inform you of a when, not a where,” Andromeda Tonks says.

“Blood magic.” Snape waits until they’re all looking at him, most of them in suspicion. “If the Protean charms are bound by the blood of everyone meant to carry them, then the person who activates the charm is not only sending a request for assistance, it gives the carriers of other Protean charms the means to find them.”

“Blood magic’s dangerous,” Cedric says, but he looks thoughtful.

“If done incorrectly? Yes,” Snape replies. “Most are not even aware that this can be done with a Protean charm.”

“And how d’you know about it?” Moody asks grumpily.

“Part of that method of summoning is embedded into the Dark Mark,” Snape says in a low voice. Part of his tone is meant to reassure as to his allegiances, but the rest is sincere regret. He hates the damned thing that mars his skin. “It is a far simpler matter to tie that sort of spell to a Protean charm than it is to a mark placed upon a person. Also, do not give me one of these charms once they are made. While I have never been physically searched when meeting with the Dark Lord, that does not mean it cannot happen. If the plots contrived here to defend the wizarding world after the Ministry falls make him paranoid, as the Dark Lord became before his previous defeat, then I will not discount any possibility.”

“All right,” Moody concedes. “How do we know some Death Eater wouldn’t be able to use a Protean charm if they get ahold o’ one?”

“If it’s blood-bound, then only the touch and intent of the living person, and the blood beneath their skin, can activate the Protean charm,” Snape tells them. “Again, same concept with the Mark. Do try to keep up.”

“Does knowing these things get you any closer to removing the Mark?” Nymphadora asks, a surprising amount of sympathy in her voice.

“It will disappear only when the Dark Lord is dead,” Snape says.

As if it’s a signal, Snape’s arm lights up like someone just dipped it in fire. He clamps his hand down over the Dark Mark, jaw clenched, and refuses to let out a sound.

“What the hell is that all about?” Lee Jordan asks, looking concerned.

“That, Jordan, is the Lord Voldemort in a temper,” Snape bites out, shutting his eyes when the intensity ramps, a summons joining the anger he can feel.

“What’s he all out of sorts about?” Ted Tonks asks.

“Without answering the call, I won’t know until I see him later,” Snape answers, relieved when the pain begins to ebb. “It is not as if I do not have a legitimate excuse for not attending to him immediately.”

“That’s bloody awful, Professor,” Angelina Johnson says.

Snape barely resists the urge to roll his eyes. “Welcome to my entire life.”

The meeting afterwards, with those who all share Unbreakable Vows, is the more important one. “He still doesn’t trust you, does he?” Lupin asks bluntly, once the others have all departed by Floo or Disapparated from the house’s front step.

“If I had a tangible copy of the living preservation potion? I think he would trust me enough to accept it, which would allow me to administer our developed toxin,” Snape says. “But without that potion? No, he does not. Maybe after our idiot Headmaster has me kill him, that will be enough for Voldemort to grant me that level of trust, but I’d like to have this part of our plan in place, and active, before that time.”

“And then there’s the whole bit about how we don’t know how to not-kill me yet,” Potter adds. He’s sitting with his chin propped on his hand, as if unconcerned about the Horcrux he carries. Maybe he truly is; he’s known nothing else since the spring of 1993.

Narcissa frowns. “If the Black library has been exhausted of research, then perhaps the Malfoy library has something that would be helpful. After I know Draco has returned to Hogwarts, I will slip over to the Manor to search.”

“Will you be safe?” Black asks.

Narcissa considers it. “It may take some effort to convince the wards to forget I was there. When the Ministry falls, Lucius will be freed from Azkaban. The wards obey him as Lord of the Manor; he would know of my presence at once. He would then not stop until he discovered my purpose for returning to the Manor, especially as I am now supposed to be allied against him.”

“Are you?” Black asks. Like Nymphadora Tonks, there is a surprising amount of sympathy on his face.

“If he continues to stand with the Dark Lord, endangering our son?” Narcissa sighs as she nods. “I am. I do not wish to be, but my husband has not been the same man I married in a very long time.”

“Perhaps we share a failing,” Snape suggests in the gentlest voice he can manage. Narcissa glances over at him, her brow furrowed. “Perhaps we both saw features and traits in someone because we wanted to see them, not because they ever existed in the first place.”

Narcissa shakes her head. “I would like to hope that my judgment has never been that flawed.”

“Voldemort,” Snape says in a curt voice. “I am well aware of my flaws, Narcissa. It is dangerous to ignore them if they exist, for then they can be exploited by others.”

By the time he can “escape” the Order’s meeting in London and Apparate to Little Hangleton in answer to Voldemort’s call, the meeting is over. Not once does Voldemort act in any way that tells Snape he is under suspicion. It is while he is roaming through the crumbling Riddle Manor that Snape overhears the name that must have instigated Voldemort’s rage.

“My Lord finally located Igor Karkaroff?” Snape asks.

Voldemort is stroking the great head of Nagini, who is curled up around his armchair. “I did, yes. You missed quite the spectacle, Severus. He begged for his life like the lowliest worm.”

“I am not surprised by that at all.” Snape looks at the snake again, who seems more content than usual. “Ah. Did Nagini enjoy her dinner, My Lord?”

Voldemort smiles, scratching his bloodless fingernails along Nagini’s scales. “Yes, I believe she did. Did you have anything you needed to report, Severus? I have heard intriguing rumors of late.”

“If you’re referring to Potter’s destruction of the House Hourglasses, they’re not rumors,” Snape replies. “Dumbledore took a student vote and accepted their decision as part of his school unity idea. At least for this year, there will be no more House Points used within the school.”

“Hmm.” Voldemort continues stroking Nagini’s head without looking up. “Do you think it should be reinstated next year, Severus?”

Snape pretends to think about it. He’s run multiple scenarios through his head during the holiday break to try and find the correct words. “I think, perhaps, it should not. In this, My Lord’s enemy might have done us a favor.”

“A favor, Severus?” That convinces Voldemort to gaze at him again, the disturbing flicker of red in his eyes. “Of what sort?”

“Dumbledore is partially correct in the need for unity, but not in the way that he thinks. My Lord wishes for Hogwarts to become a training ground for only those of sufficient blood purity to learn and reside in. Would it not be better for these children to emerge from Hogwarts as a united army when each generation graduates? Far better than four distinct factions that would have to be taught the proper way in which the world works.”

Voldemort gives the slow blinking of a reptile considering his prey. “We will try it,” he decides at last. “For the first year. If it seems detrimental, it will be an easy system to restore—or perhaps for something even more encouraging to be put into its place.”

Snape bows low, as is proper before the Dark Lord. “As My Lord wills it.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape returns to Hogwarts on the sixth of January. The students will return tomorrow, and classes will resume on Wednesday. It gives him plenty of time to prepare for the various, minor tasks needed to begin the latter half of the term, most of them based around checking ingredients stores and restocking, if necessary. Several potions are brewed and then touched with a Preservation Charm, which gives him a few examples for the first years to be terrified of until it’s proven they do nothing harmful.

Then he gets to add the ingredients which show the students how those potions can immediately become so. It’s usually just one single ingredient that will do it, too. He does it to stress how important it is to follow recipes exactly until they understand the properties of what they work with, but some days he utterly despairs of their intelligence. It matters not if he spells it out in specifics; some of them will never understand.

Potter is a terrible influence. That was not meant to be a blasted pun.

The refraction of multicolored lights attracts his attention; patterns of red, yellow, blue, and green shine onto the stone floor in the Entrance Hall. The source is the Great Hall, so that’s where he goes, and immediately stops short in the doorway.

The flags of the team that won the House Cup last year (bloody Gryffindors) are gone. Now hang flags that seem composed mostly of invisibility cloth, and attached to them are the twinkling gemstones that had once filled the hourglass counters.

Snape studies the Slytherin flags. Each has a wide black band at the top, with the House emblem blazoned in the center in the traditional silver and green. The black band has silver edging, and just below that is a single, solid line of green gemstones. Underneath that line, the gemstones are placed in a combination of all four House colors set in no particular pattern or order. The effect should be ludicrous, but it somehow is not. Quick glances at the other flags prove they have been given the same treatment. All flags have that same black band with the House emblem in the center, though the edging differs depending on the House’s colors. Gryffindor has a row of red gemstones below a gold line; Ravenclaw has blue gemstones below bronze, and Hufflepuff has a row of yellow gems just below a silver line. Snape does note that while there is a blend of all House color gemstones in each flag, the primary House color outnumbers the other gems.

The light from the many torches shine through the faceted gemstones, which throw spots of brilliant color all over the walls and House tabletops. The faculty table is left neutral, though the occasional hint of a breeze moves a flag, and a spot of color will dance over the dark wood.

Snape is still standing there, watching the flags, when Albus comes over to stand with him. “What do you think, Severus?” Albus asks.

“It is gaudy and garish. Therefore, it suits the school very well.”

Albus smiles. “I can tell that you like it. You always do your very best to never reveal when something appeals to you.” He lifts his head and studies the flags hanging in rows over each table. “Some of my best work, I think. A much more fitting epitaph than a portrait.”

Snape eyes him in disdain. “A reminder of you will be hanging above all our heads. That is not an epitaph, that is a toddler screaming for attention.”

“I always did like attention,” Albus admits, smiling. “You still hope it will not come to pass. Your necessary action.”

Snape scowls. “Yes, I still hope for that. I would prefer to use my skills in other ways and ease your passing, not speed it along.”

“Of course.” Albus gives him a pat on the arm that makes Snape grit his teeth. “I understand. Believe it or not, I would like to be able to avoid it, also. I’ve lived a very long time, and the idea of passing from this life while comfortable in my own bed has quite the appeal.”

“I doubt either of us will be granted that option.”

Albus’s smile fades, and he pats Snape’s arm again. “Dear Severus. I still hope that we will not share the same fate.”

“Of course we won’t. I’m too intelligent than to go about putting on random cursed rings,” Snape retorts, and Albus chuckles. Daft old man.

The students return, and though there is much muttering, pleased or otherwise, about the new flags, Snape catches most of the students gazing up at them often during dinner. When it is not the flags, they are following the differing colors of light as the flags ripple in a nonexistent breeze, letting those splays of color trace over student heads and hats, tables, the food, and the great stone walls.

“I think they’re terrible. Gaudy and rubbish. What was wrong with our old flag?” Snape hears Pansy Parkinson whinge near the close of the evening.

Millicent Bulstrode slowly turns her head and peers down at Parkinson with a look of cool disdain on her face. “I like them,” she says in her smoky voice. She has seen further growth even over the short two-week holiday; a musical quality lurks beneath the smoke now.

Parkinson pales and turns back to Malfoy, Nott, Davis, and Zabini, quickly filling the air with chatter about everything except the flags. When Bulstrode turns around, she notices Snape’s regard. He gives her a very slow blink, code for approval when amongst the crowds of the Great Hall.

Miss Bulstrode returns to her dessert, but there is a small, pleased smile upon her face.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Students and teachers alike slowly adjust to the idea of life without House Points hanging over their heads. Snape has ample opportunity to overhear many interesting attempts at taking or granting points before the speaker cuts off mid-statement, brow furrowing. What then follows is grudging praise or snappish correction. Snape himself slips only three times the first day before he manages to drop the habit, which is a far better track record than anyone else manages, Albus included, who finally stops muttering about points after the first week.

Besides, without points in the way, Snape can just give the dunderheads a single warning before assigning detention. Strange how that seems to straighten up a lot of troublesome classroom quarreling. In less than a month’s time, he has students who spend more time properly concentrating on the task at hand in his first- through fifth-year classes.

Snape does give those classes a warning he usually does not bother repeating when term resumes in January. He tells them all once, at the beginning of the year. That, as far as he is concerned, is enough. If they’re not paying attention, it is not his fault.

This year, given their dramatically changed circumstances, he grants an exception. He reminds the younger students that all answers to any question they may think to ask him reside in their textbooks. The answer may not dwell in an obvious location, but it is, indeed, found within those pages. It is only Snape’s N.E.W.T.-level classes who do not have that same luxury; research outside of class is a necessity. Most of them enjoy the challenge, though one of his seventh-years whines about it under his breath when he thinks Snape can’t hear.

The very same weekend the students return to Hogwarts is the first of January’s two Quidditch matches. The first is Slytherin against Ravenclaw. Snape watches the players’ relations with teammates from the opposing side more than he pays attention to the Quaffle or the Snitch. Lee is excitedly discussing the game in a way that tells Snape that Ravenclaw and Slytherin are as well-matched in skill as his House was against Gryffindor.  Cho Chang did an excellent job in choosing her team this year. Cedric Diggory is still complaining about not getting to fly against her as captain for the Hufflepuffs, and that it wouldn’t be an issue if someone had given her the job proper in 1994. Snape really does not try to understand their particular relationship; it seems overly complicated, competitive, and baffling.

A light drizzle mars some of the spectacle, but the score is a pleasing four hundred fifty to three hundred eighty as Slytherin takes the Snitch and the game. Astoria Greengrass flies around the pitch with the Snitch held up in her hand. There are a few derisive calls from other House sections, but the response is overwhelmingly positive as opposed to previous years.

Bloody hell, Snape should have put Miss Bulstrode in charge of the team the moment she entered her second year. With every win that Slytherin makes without the sort of violent cheating that would put other players in the school infirmary, respect for the team among other Houses grows.

Snape notices Albus giving him a pointed look from across the bleachers and glares at him. He has a role to play, which is why he intentionally kept his hands out of all of Miss Bulstrode’s Quidditch decisions. He cannot be accused of trying to side with the enemy if he is not the one making such overtures.

The Quidditch game on the twenty-fifth actually puts his heart in his throat, and it has not needed to reside there since the stupid Triwizard Tournament. He did not miss the sensation.

It should have been a rout as Gryffindor played against Hufflepuff. Instead, one of the Beaters for Hufflepuff takes aim to strike the Quaffle away from their goal posts and hits Gryffindor’s famous Chaser.

Potter takes the blow right across the face. Rickett's bat crushes the bridge of Potter's nose and obliterates his glasses. He nearly falls off his broom before grasping at the handle and clinging to it.

“OH, FUCK, I AM SO SORRY!” Rickett’s shout carries across the entire stadium. “ARE YOU OKAY?”

The game comes to a temporary halt, the Snitch ignored by both Seekers. Potter slowly straightens up on his broom with Rickett’s help.

Potter has one hand gripping his broom and his other hand clamped down over his nose, which is streaming blood. Then he turns and looks at Rickett. “Oi, mate, I am not the bloody Quaffle!” he says in a liquidy voice.

“Are you made of granite, you arse?” Rickett asks, looking like he’s about to burst into relieved tears. Miss Bell hollers for a time-out to give both teams time to regroup—and for someone to do something about Potter’s face.

Poppy is waiting for Potter as he slowly circles and lands with his broom, right before he trips over it. It’s only Mister Weasley’s quick reflexes that keep Potter from falling. Snape’s talent at reading lips serves him well: “Mate, seriously, you need to learn to duck.”

“Bad timing, totally my fault,” Potter replies, wincing away from Poppy’s wand. “They should adjust the rules. I imagine Quidditch on a motorbike would be really entertaining.”

“Really dangerous, you mean,” Rolanda says sternly as the Gryffindor team crowds around them. “Oh, back up and let Madam Pomfrey do her job, louts!”

“I’ve got your glasses, Harry.” Miss Granger tilts her head as she examines the bent metal and cracked glass. “I’ll be right back; I’ll need my wand for this,” she says, darting off towards the locker rooms.

“Well! Mister Rickett should definitely be pleased with the strength of his arm, at least,” Poppy is saying. “Fractured the bridge of your nose and your infraorbital foramen!”

“What?” Thomas asks blankly.

“She says Rickett broke my face,” Potter returns, which makes the Gryffindor team start laughing.

“You good to continue, Potter?” Bell asks, once Poppy is done putting bones back where they belong, healing the fractures, and cleaning up the literal bloody mess. Granger has returned with Potter’s repaired glasses, and hands them over with a smile.

Before Potter can answer them, he’s assaulted by a dog. Black wraps up Potter in a massive hug, but Snape can’t see his face to know what he’s saying.

It becomes obvious a moment later. “Fall—I’m not going to fall off my broom! I want to live!” Harry replies, miffed.

“Glad to hear it.” Bell swats Potter on the shoulder after Black releases him. “And once again, the first serious injury of the season goes to you.”

“Again?” Potter is appalled. “Why didn’t anyone tell me this was a tradition?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mister Weasley says. “Jinxed broom, broken arm, broken glasses…”

“HERMIONE!”

Granger shrugs in response to Potter’s indignant shout. “That was then, this is now?”

“Time-out’s over,” Rolanda shouts over the din. “Up into the air, Gryffindors! You have a game to finish!”

“Right then!” Lee’s voice booms out. “Let’s get on with this, and lovely Professor McGonagall is never allowed to call me on inappropriate language ever again!”

“Yes, I am!” Minerva insists, to the amusement of many.

The game ends at five hundred fifty over Hufflepuff’s decent two hundred eighty. There is familiar banter in the air as the fliers circle the stadium, though the bloodstains on Potter’s uniform are rather obvious. That will take more than a simple refreshing charm to fix.

“Well, I can’t take points. What the blazes am I supposed to do to Anthony?” Pomona is saying. Snape turns to see her commiserating with Flitwick and Vector.

“Lines,” Vector says patiently, giving Pomona a gentle pat on the shoulder. “Not being able to take points isn’t the end of the world. Make the poor fool write lines about why he shouldn’t be screaming obscenities across the Quidditch pitch.”

“Lines,” Pomona replies, looking baffled. “Oh. Right. Yes, that is—you know, I think I’d almost forgotten about things like that.”

“The more this new term has progressed, the more I find that I’m pleased Potter blew up the House Hourglasses,” Flitwick says in a musing voice. “I think we’d all fallen into the very bad habit of relying on that system for far too many things.”

“He still blew up the bloody hourglasses,” Vector retorts.

“And I’m sure Mister Potter is enjoying his entire month of detentions with the Headmaster,” Flitwick replies cheerfully.

Snape resists the urge to scowl. No, Potter is not enjoying them, though Dumbledore finally revealed the true fate of the Gaunts. Merope Gaunt, Voldemort’s mother, ran away from her family with Slytherin’s locket in her possession. When Tom Marvolo Riddle discovered his wizarding family, only his uncle remained—another speaker of Parseltongue who wore the Gaunt family ring upon his finger. Voldemort took possession of the ring and slaughtered his Muggle family, the Riddles, turning the ring into a Horcrux. The origin of the ring’s curse remains a mystery, but that ultimately doesn’t matter. An idiot put it on his finger, and now Snape has to contend with an idiot dying Headmaster.

The Gaunt family’s fate, the ring, the Parseltongue lineage—it’s all very interesting information, but still not useful! They know where the damned ring and locket are. If they are also Horcruxes, then the Cup and the Diadem are their priorities, as is finding a way to not kill Potter.

Getting to Nagini is easy enough. Snape just doesn’t expect to survive for very long after killing the snake.

The first week of February, a fifth-year Ravenclaw finally dares to challenge Snape on the idea that all answers reside in her textbook. Snape waits, his arms resting over his chest, while the girl gathers her words and tries to stop stuttering in fear.

He is absolutely terrifying to most of the student body. It’s nice to know his efforts have not been in vain.

“O-okay.” Miss Smith gulps audibly. “But—but what if I want to consider an alteration to today’s potion?”

“Then you only need to know the properties of the item in question, and how they will react with the ingredients already involved.” Snape refuses to glance in her direction, or gift her with any expression other than irritated disdain.

“Y-yes, sir,” Miss Smith replies. “But, that’s, uh—that’s my difficulty, sir. The combination isn’t anywhere else in the book.”

Snape lifts his head and looks at her. Has it finally come to this? He’s only been waiting fifteen blasted years. He stands up from his desk and approaches slowly. “Show me; do not tell me,” he instructs, glaring at the students around Miss Janice Smith. They all stop trying to peer at the girl’s cauldron and lean away in fear, instead. Better.

Miss Smith points at the original ingredient listed on her textbook page with one shaking finger. Then she points at her choice of alteration, which is bundled in with other potion supplies a safe distance from her cauldron.

Snape feels a lazy, pleased smile spread across his face that causes half of the students in the room to gasp in apprehension. “Used how?”

“C-crushed. Not sliced,” Miss Smith whispers. “One gram only.”

Snape nods and steps back. “Miss Smith,” he says, addressing the entire class, “has just earned the highest grade on today’s assignment. She is now only required to give me a foot of research regarding tonight’s new homework topic.” He glances around the room, ignoring Miss Smith’s whooshing sigh of relief, or the mutters of unfairness from her classmates.

“Miss Smith noticed something about today’s potion that is important. This can be divined from your years of study in this subject if you are actually paying attention, and is also…” He pauses, just for the effect of gulped, fearful breaths. “It is also relevant in your upcoming O.W.L.s.”

Snape lets his gaze sweep the room again in cool regard. “I want two feet from the rest of you regarding an acceptable substitution for aconite in today’s potion. You will tell me how this substitution should be prepared, what is to be used, and how those substitutions will alter the brew. This substitution must create an actual, non-toxic property, not useless cauldron sludge. Miss Smith is partially exempt because she realized one of the better substitutions, and how to use it, so she will be writing about her results.” He thinks about it. “On second thought, I will even accept a poison if it is an elegant one. Any fool can poison someone; this needs be something with finesse.”

Something about that moment creates a pattern among the fifth-years that gets more prominent as the term progresses. Finally, finally, the dunderheads are asking him intelligent questions instead of ones that are already available, and bloody well obvious!

The first game of the February Quidditch Finals takes place in a drizzling monsoon. Snape is not impressed. It looks as if both Slytherin and Ravenclaw are regretting the need to hold the final elimination round, especially as they’re having trouble staying on course, or even staying on their brooms. Real Scottish weather has arrived at last, vengeance against the relative balm of November, December, and January.

The players can barely see where to fly, let alone where to score. It takes a long time for the team Seekers to chase down the Snitch. It gives Ravenclaw the chance to rack up a respectable four hundred points. It’s a tied game until Greengrass snatches the Golden Snitch out of the air and puts them one hundred fifty points ahead, winning Slytherin the game.

That means the match on the twenty-second of February, the final game of the season, is Slytherin versus Gryffindor. Snape is pleased by that; it’s a fine tradition to maintain.

One of the two downsides to the elimination game on the eighth is that Astoria Greengrass comes down with a horrific case of bacterial bronchitis. She’s still too weak to ride a broom in time for the final game.  The other downside is the wind, which yanks at cloaks, buffets them on their seats, and nearly steals away with Filius Flitwick before Sinistra leaps up to catch his foot.

Snape has nothing against Malfoy flying in the Seeker position as their reserve. What he does not prefer is to be underneath Granger and Malfoy as they hover near each other, trading insults.

“Weasel-lover!”

“Ferret!”

“Muggle-born know-it-all!”

“Pompous prick!”

Malfoy actually draws back a bit. “Language!”

“MANNERS!” Granger shouts back, incensed.

“Someone just hex them both,” Snape mutters as Lee Jordan begins announcing the players.

“Welcome to the last game of this year’s Quidditch season. This is the Quidditch Finals, and the winner may take the House—er, the winner takes the QUIDDITCH CUP!”

It’s an admirable correction, and it does elicit cheering. Even Snape is aware of the fact that it’s been a good season, and he is glad he to have witnessed it. It may well be the last time he ever sees his House in the air, fighting so fiercely and effectively for the prize they’re trying to claim.

There is no rain, but the wind is attempting to become a gale. There is a muffled, indignant shriek, followed by dark swearing, as Miss Weasley pulls herself back onto her broom. The only thing that saved her from plummeting down onto the ground was catching her elbow around her broom handle.

“Ginny!” Mister Weasley yells from the goals.

“JUST BLOCK THE BLOODY QUAFFLE, YOU BLOODY TWIT!” Miss Weasley shouts back.

“And as Miss Ginevra Weasley, everyone’s favorite ginger of the batch, has just discovered, we’re dealing with wind gusts of up to forty-five miles per hour!” Lee informs them cheerfully. “If they weren’t illegal for use in the game, I would definitely be suggesting sticking charms to keep your seat where it belongs!”

Miss Weasley isn’t the only one to get knocked off her broom. Daphne Greengrass ducks under a beater’s bat, spins in the air, and then gets shoved several yards to the left, colliding with Baddock. She ends up clinging to her broom handle by a single hand before Braddock regains his senses and hauls her upright before the next gust of wind strikes. That one nearly sends Peakes into the ground before he yanks his broom handle up to recover; Ginevra’s brother gets clobbered by a draft that sees him colliding with the goal posts. To Snape’s disappointment, it also knocks the Quaffle off-course, keeping Pritchard from scoring.

The game has gone on for an hour and a half before Miss Bulstrode and Miss Bell confer above the bleachers, away from the other players. “Someone is going to get killed if this keeps up!” Bell shouts. They’re so distant, the wind so horrendous, that Snape is all but certain he’s the only one who can make out what they’re saying.

Bulstrode nods. “Madam Hooch informs me that the nearest weather-witch says the wind is soon going to get worse.”

“And no matter who forfeits to cancel the impending disaster, we were thirty points ahead as of last game. We’d win anyway, and that’s not bloody sporting,” Bell says.

Bulstrode scowls when another gust hits them, one that also threatens to take off with part of the stadium. “We’re tied right now, one hundred to one hundred, and Pritchard just lost the Quaffle to the wind. The hell with the goals—we make the game about the Snitch. Best flier wins.”

“Malfoy against Granger. They may kill each other in the process,” Bell says thoughtfully, before glancing at Bulstrode. “I can trust you on the goals, right?”

“Have I gone back on my word at any point in the last two years?” Bulstrode returns dryly.

“Nope. I’m really going to miss you after I graduate,” Bell says. The two wait through the next wind gust before clasping hands. The touch lingers just a moment too long, leaving Snape staring after them as they depart.

His Slytherin Captain is dating the Gryffindor’s Quidditch captain. That is appalling, and hilarious levels of ironic. He should be offended, but the previous games of the season have proved that the…the relationship has not stopped either team from trying to drive the other into the ground.

No, his Slytherin sensibilities are still offended.

Well. There are far worse choices than Miss Bell.

The end of the game nearly results in a fatality. Malfoy and Granger are neck and neck, chasing the Snitch as it gains altitude in a bid to escape. Then one of the strongest gusts of wind yet strikes them both. Malfoy is pushed off to one side and loses his grip on his broom, but instinctively clamps his legs around the broom handle. Granger shrieks when her broom flips in the air, which means she’s lost her grip and the means to properly keep her seat the way Malfoy has.

Malfoy’s right hand snaps out, grabbing Granger’s arm before she can fall…but he snatches the Golden Snitch out of the air with his left when it tries to zip by.

“HOLY SHI—I MEAN, THAT WAS AMAZING!” Lee Jordan is on his feet, as is almost everyone in the stands. It takes Snape a baffling moment to realize that he is also standing.

“MALFOY HAS THE SNITCH, BUT HE ALSO HAS GRANGER, AND THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A NASTY BLOODY FALL, THAT! THE GAME IS OVER WITH TWO-FIFTY TO SLYTHERIN, AND ONE HUNDRED GRYFFINDOR. SLYTHERIN TAKES THE QUIDDITCH CUP!”

His House has the Cup. For the first time in five years, Slytherin has the Cup—Quidditch Cup, now, but Snape doesn’t give a damn. It’s still the same silver cup, and he’s witnessed it returned to a House that rightly earned it.

Snape is barely aware of his House’s students exiting the stands in a flood to mob the fliers as they return to earth. His ears are caught far more by the dignified, appreciative applause coming from members of other Houses.

If this is the last gift he ever receives, then it’s a fine one.

Chapter Text

The first of March, Draco Malfoy comes to his office. “I’ve got it,” he whispers. Snape is about to chide him about being too hesitant in a safe space when he realizes that it’s terror keeping Malfoy’s voice low-pitched.

Snape stands up from his desk. “Show me.”

“Curfew?” Draco asks.

Snape glances down at the badge on Draco’s chest. “Prefect Malfoy, have you forgotten your own authority? Miss Parkinson has already done much complaining about you not pulling your weight. Or, apparently, not doing enough to snog her senseless.”

“I have way too much on my mind to be snogging anyone,” Draco mutters. “And—yes, sir, I’m sorry about not…Prefecting.”

“Horrible vocabulary, but since the entirety of the English language is based upon making up words, you’re forgiven,” Snape drawls in return, leading the way from his office. “Besides, your lack of attending to your Prefect duties in full has meant that you’ve paid attention to such things that genuinely require your intervention, unlike your peacock-like posturing of last year.”

Draco winces but keeps walking, the tips of his ears bright red. “Yes, sir. I’m…recognizing that, Professor.”

“Newfound maturity?” Snape asks, grimly amused. Narcissa will be pleased.

“When I didn’t have time for Pansy to her preference, she threw an absolute tantrum,” Draco replies. “It didn’t matter what I had to do, or how important it was. She had to be first, and I wasn’t doing a proper job of wooing her. So…I broke it off.”

“Your father would be so disappointed,” Snape comments.

“Good. I—have other plans. If I live long enough,” Draco adds. “So I’ll just sit on that information, if you don’t mind.”

“Wise decision, on both parts.” Snape pauses as Draco leads them to an empty corridor on the seventh floor. “And we’re going where?”

“A room. Uh—I think I heard the Weasel—Weasley twins referring to it as the Room of Requirement.”

Snape glances along both walls. “There is no door here, Mister Malfoy.”

“I know. Watch.” Draco walks back and forth in front of a particular section of the wall, muttering under his breath. After the third pass, a door manifests where none had been before.

“A Room of Requirement being…what, exactly?” Snape asks, hesitating in the doorway before following Draco inside. The room is lit from unknown sources, which is always something to be wary of.

It’s also the closest he’s ever seen to a wizarding garbage pile.

“Apparently, it’s whatever you require it to be. I haven’t tried for anything else; I was afraid I’d lose this room,” Draco explains, leading the way further into the disaster. There are stacks of books, abandoned trunks, robes and hats which are decades or even centuries out of date, broken quills, and all manner of furniture in haphazard piles. Albus would be acting the role of a child let loose in a candy store.

“This is the solution to my, uh, problem,” Draco says, pointing at a dusty, double-doored cabinet that looks to be several hundred years old.

Snape gives the cabinet a careful, up and down inspection. He can feel old magic emanating from it. “Tell me.”

“It’s a Vanishing Cabinet, one of the old transport systems they used before they fell out of vogue. The magic broke down in too many, too often, leaving wizards stranded literally nowhere,” Draco explains.

“I’m aware of the Cabinet’s history,” Snape says. Now that he knows its purpose, he understands the nature of the cabinet’s height and width. “Continue.”

“The match to this one is in Borgin and Burkes’ shop in Knockturn Alley, right in the middle of the bloody store. The magic in that one was fine, but this one had deteriorated. It took me until today to figure out how to repair it.”

“Excellent job,” Snape tells Draco. A younger Slytherin would have preened; Draco just nods in acknowledgement. “What have you told the others?”

“I made a Protean Charm set. Aunt Bellatrix has one half.” Draco shivers. “Mother is right; she’s absolutely barking mad. I need to choose the right time, or endeavor to create one—I haven’t decided on which it will be, not yet. When I do, I will use the Protean Charm, and she will lead a team of Death Eaters into the castle using the Cabinet in Knockturn Alley. They’ll sew chaos, I’ll go pretend to try and kill Dumbledore, fail, and you’ll save my miserable hide.”

Snape nods. “And the ingenuity of using a transport system that will allow Death Eaters into the castle, right past the wards, will do much to save you from Voldemort’s wrath. You did an excellent job. He will…possibly expect other such plans from you.”

Draco swallows. “I’m aware. Mother is hoping that I will be allowed to finish my seventh year of schooling instead of attending to Voldemort.”

“I will try to press the import of the matter upon him,” Snape says after a few moments of pondering. “It is not a guarantee, but perhaps a whisper of how much more effective you would be after a final year of schooling…”

“If you manage it, I’ll owe you a grand favor.” It sounds preposterous, but Draco is serious. “I don’t yet know how I’ll repay that kind of debt, but I swear I will do my utmost to find a way that is most fitting.”

Snape lifts an eyebrow, letting his mouth quirk up in a hint of a smile. “I almost want to refuse.”

“A Malfoy’s favor is foolishly refused,” Draco quotes primly. “In all seriousness—it isn’t as if I won’t have the means.”

Snape decides to disregard that concern for now. “How will you alert me? Is there a third Protean charm?”

Draco flushes dull red in embarrassment. “I tried to extend the charm to more than two objects, but I could only make it work for two. I’ll need to figure out something else.”

“Then I suppose you will have to abandon more of your duties as a Prefect,” Snape says. Draco looks up, surprise mingled with hope. “A Patronus, Mister Malfoy.”

“Sir, I will honestly say that I don’t know if I’m capable of doing that.”

Snape isn’t deterred by doubt. If he had been, he would either be dead long since, or very recently so. “It’s a good thing you have at least three months to learn it, then. If you can repair the deteriorating magic of a Vanishing Cabinet, Draco Malfoy, then yes, you are capable of learning to cast a proper Patronus Charm.”

Draco swallows and manages a wobbly smile. “Thank you for the vote of confidence, sir. Should we go back?”

“You go ahead. Pretend to at least oversee some of your Prefect duties before retiring for the evening. I wish to explore this rubbish pile before leaving,” Snape says. “How do I get back in, if I wished to?”

“Uh—the phrasing I use is, I need the room where everything is hidden,” Draco tells him. “Repeat it three times while walking back and forth in front of that section of wall. If you focus correctly, it works. If you don’t, the Room won’t return until it thinks you’ve gotten it right. I wouldn’t really bother with exploring. I’ve looked around, and aside from the cabinet, it seems to be mostly garbage—student things hidden for silly reasons.”

“One never knows when silly information is useful.” Snape watches Draco hesitate before nodding in recognition of the lesson. “I would blame the Headmaster for this room’s existence, but I’m not certain he even knows it exists. This pile would be significantly reduced, otherwise. He’s like a bloody magpie.”

Draco’s expression falls. “I still don’t want to do this.”

“He is dying, regardless. When my ability to bind the curse to his hand fails, he will not die at once, but suffer tremendously.” Snape glances down at Draco. “Sometimes, a swift death is a mercy, no matter how unpleasant the circumstances…or how much it hurts the one granting it.”

“I understand. Good night, sir,” Draco murmurs, and weaves his way back through perilously leaning stacks of junk.

The moment Snape hears the door to the room shut with a heavy wooden thud, the Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady manifest in the air before him. It is difficult to resist the urge to step back in surprise, but he stands his ground. “Good evening,” Snape offers, hiding his confusion behind the familiarity of a mask. He has never seen the Baron or the Lady of Ravenclaw Tower in such close proximity.

“We must show you something,” the Baron intones, and leads the way after making certain that Snape is following. The Grey Lady keeps pace with Snape, maintaining her characteristic silence.

The Baron shows Snape an old wooden case lying open atop someone’s discarded chest of drawers. Inside, resting on thick black velvet padding, is a tarnishing silver diadem with a single blue gem placed in the center.

Snape reads the words along the edges, and nearly sucks in startled breath. “Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure. This is what I believe it to be, yes?”

He wants to touch it, but doesn’t quite dare. Unlike the Locket of Slytherin, this is not a treasure of his House.

“It is. We were originally to tell the young savior where this was placed, but the Headmaster has interfered with all our opportunities to do so,” the Baron says in displeasure. “Damn that man and his loathsome timing.”

Snape’s agreement is bone dry. “Indeed.”

“Professor Snape. This is my mother’s diadem,” the Grey Lady whispers, the first time Snape has ever heard her speak. “This is Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem. I…” She starts to cry, silent tears running down her face.

To Snape’s consternation, she then allows the Baron to take her hand. The Grey Lady’s story may not be known to all, but Snape is aware of why the Baron has worn blood upon his clothes for centuries.

“Helena, you blame yourself too much,” the Baron murmurs.

“I allowed him to charm me. I was fooled the same way I once was fooled before, and he has taken my mother’s creation and befouled it forever,” Helena says bitterly.

Snape looks to the Baron when the Lady covers her face. “It is, indeed, one of the Horcruxes you seek. Touch it not; it is not poisoned, but you are sensitive to such Dark magic due to the cursed Mark you bear.” Snape nods, and after a moment of deliberation, closes the lid and latches the case shut.

“How many students know of this room?”

“Not many, though it is often stumbled upon by accident,” the Baron answers. “This Room has sheltered the diadem for many years, but it is no longer safe here. Not when you invite the enemy inside the castle walls.”

“If it were not necessary, I would kill them all as they emerged from that damned cabinet,” Snape mutters.

“Indeed. That is why we help you. All of Hogwarts’ ghosts know of your intentions.”

Snape rolls his eyes. A bunch of busybody ghosts. Just what he needs.

“You will destroy it?” Helena asks, wiping at her eyes with a dainty handkerchief.

“When the time comes? Yes.”

The Grey Lady, Helena Ravenclaw, offers him a tremulous smile. “Thank you. That is my last remaining task. What is done cannot be undone, and you and I both know that he will not change…but we also know that others do.”

The smile the Baron gives to the Grey Lady is stern, but it hides great affection. “We are ghosts, but we are not static entities. Even we are capable of learning from our mistakes, and of being forgiven by those we have most wronged. Tom Marvolo Riddle will never learn that lesson, and I pity him for it.”

“Nicholas believes we are shades, pale imitations of the people we once were, and that we can never move on from this place,” Helena says. Her voice remains whispery soft, as if she is afraid to speak with strength. “That is not true. He is trapped here because he believes it so, the poor dear. He is foolish, but he never meant any harm.”

The Baron looks amused. “When Tom Marvolo Riddle is defeated and all the objects that bind him to life destroyed, the Houses of Slytherin and Ravenclaw will have to find themselves new House ghosts. With our goals complete, we will be moving on, Severus Snape.”

Snape nods, but he doesn’t smile. “Baron, I fear that by the time the war is over, there might be enough souls remaining that it will cause a ghostly scuffle for one’s right to bear the title of House Ghost.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The week of Easter vacation always begins, irritatingly, on a Tuesday. Albus could just give the dunderheads one weekend through the next, but heaven forbid they go against six hundred years of Hogwarts tradition.

Sod tradition. Fuck tradition. It can go to bits along with the blasted hourglasses.

Snape will admit that he is in just a bit of a mood. “He waits until now to tell you of the Cup and the Locket? NOW?”

Potter is pacing back and forth in the Black family parlor, scowling. “He says he just found out, but I don’t believe him. He’s trying to lead me by the nose, and I hate it.”

“Leading you by the nose to do what?” Lupin asks. Granger is curled up on the sofa next to him, resting her head against his shoulder. Tomorrow, 12 Grimmauld Place will be packed for a non-stop series of Order meetings during the day, crafting the disaster planning that Lupin suggested. Such meetings are one of the only ways Snape can avoid Voldemort during what is supposed to be a free week—and he needed to not be available. Dumbledore was all too willing to oblige. Either he suspects Snape is plotting something to the Order’s benefit, or is doing him the kindness of granting Snape the opportunity to get a decent bit of rest before all hell breaks loose.

Not a chance. Not since Hallowe’en of 1981.

For tonight, though, the House of Black holds only the six of them, plus three house-elves. Snape still has no idea what to make of Dobby’s rescue of the house-elf Winky, other than to suggest squeezing her out into a succession of buckets in order to begin a brewery.

“Dumbledore is leading Mister Potter by the nose to be the sacrificial lamb,” Narcissa says in disgust. “There has to be another way to rid oneself of a Horcrux, especially since you did not consent.”

“Consent?” Granger perks up from her half-lidded doze. “What do you mean?”

“What are they teaching children nowadays?” Narcissa mutters under her breath.

“Not bloody much,” Black says. “The only reason we’re sitting in a room with two educated children is because they won’t stop reading.”

“Good,” Narcissa proclaims, and then turns to Granger. “Consent between individuals in an important facet of magic. An Unbreakable Vow, for example—it is powerful magic, and to break it means death, but both parties involved in the bond must consent to accept it. Without that acceptance, the bond cannot form.”

“Theoretically, Harry should be able to just reject the Horcrux, were that the case,” Lupin says.

“I believe the scar he bears is an attempt to do just that,” Narcissa replies. “Otherwise, prophecy or not, there wouldn’t be a mark upon him to speak of the Horcrux’s existence.”

Potter comes to an abrupt halt. “Would someone’s protective binding spell prevent that, er, ejection?”

Narcissa ponders the idea before shaking her head. “No. If anything, that would assist in the process, since you would be protected from something that is harming you.”

Black’s head jerks around. “Harming him? How?”

“That would be part of the prophecy. You used to be much less dense, Sirius,” Narcissa chides him.

Black shrugs. “Twelve years in Azkaban. Fell behind in my anti-stupidity lessons.”

Narcissa’s lips twitch. “Of course. Understandable circumstances, even if they are years that cured you of other intolerable behaviors. Now,” she continues, before Black can utter the miffed comment on his lips, “Neither can live while the other survives. This means that neither can die, or else we would have been shy Mister Potter’s presence after the Triwizard Tournament. Voldemort cannot die until all the Horcruxes are destroyed, so Mister Potter will share in that invulnerability. However, neither will thrive. Living things are not meant to be Horcruxes. The fact that Harry has not faltered is due to his youth, and the protective spell he speaks of.”

“And Nagini?” Snape asks, curious.

“Voldemort feeds her his power in much the same way he feeds her his enemies,” Narcissa replies.

Either must die at the hand of the other.” Potter grimaces. “Oh. Sacrificial bloody lamb.”

“Harry?” Granger looks at him. “What?”

“Dumbledore must believe me to be an idiot, or else he would simply tell me.” Potter is scowling again. “The only way to get rid of this stupid Horcrux in my head is to let Voldemort point his wand at me and utter the Killing Curse.”

“Absolutely NOT!” Black shouts.

“Less loudly: NO,” Lupin adds.

“If we were ready, I would tell Draco to speed up the progress on his special project,” Snape bites out.

Granger is the one to roll her eyes. “You’re all idiots.”

Narcissa muffles an undignified snicker. “She is correct. Shared invulnerability, gentlemen. As long as the Killing Curse is delivered before all other Horcruxes are destroyed? The boy would most likely survive.”

“Most likely?” Black looks outraged.

“Most likely alive is a much more pleasing outcome than most certainly dead,” Narcissa returns dryly. “The ‘dead’ part would come about when Harry survived the Killing Curse while still within a nest of Death Eaters.”

“How could we even arrange that? Without the second half becoming true, I mean.” Lupin winces when Black glares at him. “It has to be asked, Sirius. Behave yourself.”

Snape tries not to shift and betray intense discomfort. “Draco or I would have to be there in order to Apparate Mister Potter to safety. But to do so betrays one or both our positions as a spy, a position we may need.”

“Not if we bloody well end the war before it starts,” Lupin points out. “I am all for this, by the way.”

“The Headmaster would still have to die, wouldn’t he?” Granger guesses, looking at Snape.

Snape nods. “I believe so. Voldemort needs to accept that potion. It would certainly eliminate any protections he might still have in place after the Horcruxes are disposed of.”

“Explosively eliminate. Now that’s something I’d like to see captured on record and replayed over and over again,” Black muses.

Granger makes a face. “Ew.”

“Then it’s still the island for us,” Black says. “Brought you a present, Severus,” he adds, digging into his pocket before tossing an object across the parlor table.

Snape catches the locket by its gold chain. The emeralds on the locket glimmer in the candlelight. This one weighs as much as a proper locket should, lacking the vile heaviness added by a Horcrux. “Or we could save ourselves the trouble and give this one to Kreacher.”

Black shakes his head. “Vile little bastard knows the difference. If you want a potion to convert into a poison, then we get to go visit a fountain.”

“Tonight?” Narcissa asks.

“No other night would work as well. We’re close enough to the full moon that if this bloody green water makes me ill, I have the excuse to look the part,” Lupin says.

“Why are you drinking it?” Black asks at once.

“Because I’m the bloody werewolf,” Lupin retorts. “We don’t know enough as to what this potion truly does, but unless it smells of aconite? Sirius, at most I’ll have to sick it up afterwards. The rest of us would not fare so well.”

“Tea,” Granger mutters, and gives Dobby a relieved look when he pops into existence a moment later with the entire tray. “Thank you, Dobby.”

“You’re not going,” Black says, turning his glare on her.

Granger just gives him an arch look that makes Narcissa beam with pride. “I’m seventeen, Sirius Black. Not a thing you can do about it.”

Black turns to Potter to argue before wilting when he sees the expression on Potter’s face. “This is what I get for teaching you how to Apparate.”

Potter shrugs. “If Hermione goes, I go.”

“How sweet,” Snape mutters, rolling his eyes.

Both Granger and Potter give him identical looks of utter bafflement. “What?” Granger asks blankly.

“Dating?” Potter utters a moment later. “You think we’re—er—she’s dating Viktor Krum. Not me.”

“And you’re dating—”

“Quiet, you,” Potter retorts, giving Granger a flat look. “Not a word. It’s odd enough as it is.”

“I think it’s cute.”

“No, the word is still odd. And weird,” Potter retorts.

Granger smirks and sips at her tea as Potter stalks off for warmer clothes and his Invisibility Cloak, just in case it becomes a necessary tool during the evening. Snape glances at her.

“Cedric and Cho Chang,” she mouths at him.

“I HEARD THAT!” Potter shouts from the hall.

Snape looks back at Granger. “At once?” he mouths back, and she nods.

“I STILL HEARD THAT!”

“It has been a long time since Wizarding Britain had a proper triad marriage,” Narcissa says smugly.

“Please stop trying to marry off my godson before he’s even of age,” Black whines.

Kreacher and Dobby take turns Apparating them to a small, rocky island somewhere off the coast. It would be faster with Winky to assist, but Snape doesn’t trust the sodden elf not to Apparate them into the side of a mountain.

Regardless, the moment they set foot on the rock, the Inferi begin rising from the waters. “Is because you no be using the boat,” Kreacher mutters, swinging around the broken lower half of a cricket bat, daring any of the Inferi to come closer. “It’s part of the trap, Master Bat.”

“We’ll deal with them,” Potter says, raising his wand. Granger is at his back, her jaw set and her eyes hard as she blasts the first Inferi off the side of the island with a solid flash of bright light. “We’ll keep the entrance clear.”

Black looks like he wants to say something, but finally just nods. His godson is not yet seventeen, but he isn’t stupid, either.

The cave has a long, rocky path that leads to a solid wall. “A door.” Narcissa regards it thoughtfully. “The house-elf did not mention a door.”

“Blood magic,” Snape notes. “Feed it, and it will open.”

“He was my brother. I’ll do it,” Black says, taking out a short-handled knife from his boot. He is, at least, sensible enough not to drag it across his palm, but instead pricks the pads of all the fingers of his left hand before smearing five streaks of blood over the stone. The rock vanishes as if the door had never existed.

The rocky path continues onward into a dank cavern, leading to a circular area. It is surrounded by water that is already slapping against stone, stirred by the movement of what lies hidden underneath. In the center of the island, as if grown from the rock itself, is the fountain.

“Dramatics,” Narcissa sniffs. “Honestly, the lengths some men will go to in order to prove their virility.”

“Thank you; I never, ever wanted to think about that,” Black says as he and Narcissa turn to stand back to back, blasting at the Inferi who are beginning to crawl onto the island. “Make it fast, please. With our luck, that bastard figured out infinite Inferi.”

Snape circles the fountain, one ear on the chatter within, and the other on the wand blasts and shouted curses outside. The young ones are doing fine; it’s the green water within that concerns him now.

“Severus?”

“It isn’t aconite.” Snape tilts his head and touches the water. It doesn’t harm him, but splashing out a handful doesn’t change the level of water in the fountain. He cannot touch the locket he sees in the bottom of the fountain, either, even though it should be easy to grasp. “Ah. The Drink of Despair.”

“Charming name,” Black says, setting about half a dozen Inferi on fire with a single wave of his wand. Azkaban did him no favors in fine magical workings, but in cases such as these, Black’s wide blasting range of spells suit the situation.

“No aconite in the potion, but it will still not be pleasant. The only way to remove the water and retrieve the locket is to drink all of it.” Snape glances at Lupin, who just nods and conjures a cup.

Lupin is halfway through the fountain’s green water when he bends over. “Careful,” Snape warns. “If you sick it up, you’ll have to start over again.” He isn’t even certain Lupin could finish the task if forced to begin again. The werewolf isn’t complaining, but he’s starting to look like the morning after a full moon when dosed with normal Wolfsbane potion.

“Oh, I am not drinking this glop again,” Lupin gasps out. “But by God, I am going to drink a lake when we’re done.”

By the time the last few cupfuls remain, Snape has Lupin’s arm slung over his shoulder. “Keep going. You’re almost there, you bloody useless lump of a werewolf!”

Lupin growls low in his throat. He looks like death warmed over, as he did after a transformation with no potion at all. “Shut up or I’ll bite you. This is—I haven’t felt this miserably depressed since my first year after Fenrir Greyback’s attack.”

“Sterling silver ice pick, dipped in liquefied aconite,” Snape reminds him. “And you can’t infect anyone if you’re not currently a wolf, you idiot.”

“Hurry up!” Narcissa orders. “They must sense you near completion, because they grow in number!”

“Just that many more to set on fire!” Black calls out cheerfully, and does just that. The screams of burning Inferi is a horrendous, pleasing sound.

“Apparating to North America. Drinking Lake Erie,” Lupin mumbles, scooping up one of the last cupfuls from the fountain before putting the cup to his lips with an air of utter resentment.

“Isn’t that the one that was rumored to have caught on fire once before?” Snape asks. If anything, this exercise has shown him the differing ways in which the Drink of Despair affects werewolf physiology.

“It did catch fire. It still has to taste better than this.” Lupin turns almost as green as the potion in question. “Be ready. I really won’t be able to keep from vomiting after this last cup. A werewolf’s body is very good at rejecting poisons, and this definitely qualifies.”

The moment the last bit of the Drink is swallowed, Snape reaches into the fountain and snatches up the locket. Like the replacement, it is much lighter in weight compared to the Horcrux. He quickly drops the second false locket into the base of the fountain. “Done!”

Lupin immediately leans over, vomiting up nothing but pure green fluid. The fountain refills as Lupin rejects the potion, once again full to the brim with the green Drink of Despair.

Snape pockets the locket, breathing out a sigh of relief. The timing on that was much closer than he prefers…and now he has another immediate problem in the form of one enraged werewolf.

Lupin stalks over and punches the nearest Inferi in the face. “AND FUCK YOU, TOO!” he snarls at them.

“BLACK! COME COLLAR YOUR WEREWOLF!” Snape yells in alarm. The last thing he needs is to lose one of the few intelligent allies he has due to a fucking potion incident and a handful of enraged Inferi.

Snape trades places with Black, guarding Narcissa’s back, as Black all but wrestles Lupin away from trying to kill every Inferi in the cave by himself. With his fists. “YOU HAVE A WAND, YOU IDIOT!”

Lupin glares at Black. “NOT AS SATISFYING!”

Black looks at Lupin for a moment before uttering a wandless stunning spell, catching the idiot werewolf when he crumples in place. “That wasn’t getting us anywhere. Once he’s finally lost his temper, there’s nothing for it but to let it run its course, or to stun him and let him sleep it off.”

“Please, let us leave,” Narcissa insists. Snape follows her out of the cave, flinging back a few more of the more aggressive Inferi with a flick of his wand. Black is right behind him; Lupin is slung over his shoulder.

Outside, the house-elves are keeping score as to whom has taken out the most Inferi. It does not surprise Snape very much to hear that Granger is in the lead. “Time to go, everyone,” Narcissa announces.

Dobby grabs Potter first, while Kreacher takes Narcissa’s hand before they both Disapparate. When they return, Snape orders the elves to first take Granger and Black, along with his lupine passenger. “I’ll be fine as long as you come back immediately,” he insists. “Hurry up!”

The moment the house-elves have departed, with Granger still protesting about leaving Snape alone, Snape erects a ring of fire. “There. Cross that, you imbeciles,” he murmurs, watching in satisfaction as the Inferi repeatedly burn themselves on the flames.

Dobby reappears and glances at the fire curiously. “Why’s the other wizards not be doing that?” he asks.

“Some people have a propensity towards violence,” Snape says, thinking of Miss Granger. If war comes, she is going to be delightfully savage in battle. “I prefer my safety.”

“If yous really be preferrin’ yous safety, yous wouldn’t be spyin,” Dobby says primly. On Snape’s instruction, he Apparates them from the island to the distant shore. The infamous boat is waiting there; Snape takes a moment of great pleasure in turning it into tiny splinters.

He understands Granger’s feelings regarding violent outlets very well.

When Dobby takes Snape back to 12 Grimmauld Place, he is Apparated directly into the parlor. Black has Lupin lying prone on the sofa. The werewolf’s eyes are closed, his skin an unhealthy pallor with hints of green beneath, but he is breathing easily. Granger is sitting on a chair, scowling at her tea cup. The wards are already glowing, the tea tray is restocked on the table, and Kreacher is literally climbing the walls.

Snape watches him. “It will be a moment.” Kreacher just nods and wanders his way across the ceiling on all fours, muttering to himself.

“My brother died to put a fake fucking locket in that cave.” Black holds out his hand. “Please.”

Snape passes it over without a word. As long as Black allows Snape to give it to Kreacher afterwards, it doesn’t matter to him who investigates it first.

Black prods at the locket’s clasp with his wand, checking for traps, before he opens it. Inside is a piece of paper, folded many times to fit within the locket’s confines. Black unfolds it carefully, the aging paper starting to crack along its fold lines.

To the Dark Lord,” Black reads aloud, brow furrowed. “I know I will be long dead—” Black swallows. “I will be long dead before you read this, but I wanted you to know who discovered your secret. I’ve stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as possible. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more. R.A.B. Regulus Arcturus Black.”

Black hands the locket back to Snape. “Excuse me for a moment,” he says. He opens the parlor doors and strides out into the entry hall. “DO YOU HEAR THAT, YOU BIGOTED OLD BAT?” Snape hears him yell a moment later. “YOUR PRECIOUS BABY BOY DIED TO HELP US KILL VOLDEMORT!”

“LIES! LIES AND VILE SLANDER! YOU WILL NOT SPEAK OF MY REGULUS THAT WAY, BLOOD TRAITOR!” the harpy portrait of Walburga Black shrieks.

“Here’s the letter, you dried up bitch!” Black counters. “His words, Mother! In his own blasted hand!”

The silence after that is resounding.

When Black returns, he’s folding up the paper to tuck into his pocket. “She left her frame. First time she’s ever left that portrait.”

“She only has one other painting she can go to. I hope Draco enjoys the racket,” Narcissa says dryly.

“I hope he takes the portrait outside and sets it on fire,” Potter counters.

Narcissa frowns, but doesn’t suggest otherwise. “Botheration. Severus, please suggest to Draco that he do so. If she shrieks about Regulus’s actions when Death Eaters are near…”

“I will inform him. At least he doesn’t have to contend with a Permanent Sticking Charm.” Snape holds out the fake locket crafted by Regulus Black. “Oh, Kreacher…”

The house-elf vanishes from the ceiling and reappears before Snape, reaching for the locket. “Master Bat!”

“Not yet,” Snape says, folding his fingers over the locket and its chain to keep a firm grip on it. “We agreed upon a trade, remember? I verify you are giving me what I’ve asked for, and you receive your Master’s locket.”

Kreacher scowls up at Snape. “Master Bat is cruel, making me wait.”

“The faster you find that preservation potion, the faster you have the locket,” Snape replies. Kreacher growls at him before disappearing again with a pop of air that manages to sound indignant.

What Kreacher brings him is not a single piece of paper, or a spell carved onto some ostentatious object in the tradition of the older families, but an entire book. “What Master Bat be needin’ is in the middle,” he says in an irritated mumble.

Snape turns to that page easily, the book falling open to show that it had been held in that position often. The writing is in mixed Old and Middle English with runes scattered around to fill in blanks left by a language still changing from one form to another, so it takes a few minutes to interpret even the title, let alone some of the ingredients.

The moment Snape has it, he holds out the locket without looking up from the book. Kreacher snatches it from his hands, humming in a way that could almost be mistaken for happiness.

“How old is that, do you think?” Potter asks, peering over his shoulder.

Snape expects to feel his shoulders tighten, and is surprised to realize that he doesn’t mind the young man’s proximity. He simply adjusts the book so that it is easier for Potter to view. “It’s older than the fourteenth century, given the spelling. Definitely younger than the eleventh century. Middle English was not yet this developed, but it’s not quite Chaucer’s era.”

“The book was probably written around the time the Hallows came to be, then.” Potter tilts his head. “Given the runes, I bet the potion is much older. They did say that the Founders lived to be really old, even for wizards.”

“Rowena Ravenclaw was considered a renowned beauty until her death in 1092,” Narcissa adds. “Perhaps this spell was once more common.” She gives Snape a pointed look. “I will have a copy, of course. For my part in assisting in the acquisition of the locket.”

“Payment for services rendered.” Snape deliberates over the page. “First, let me make certain that it can still be safely made, and that it works. I won’t give you a recipe for poison. Second: you have to share it with the rest of your family. There will be no hoarding it, as Walburga Black did.”

Narcissa smirks at him. “While you sell it to anyone else who wishes to have it?”

Snape closes the book, wondering what else lies within its pages. “I would be a fool not to do so.”

“I wonder if it works on werewolves,” Black says.

Snape isn’t aware that Lupin is awake until he speaks without opening his eyes. “Let’s feed a sample to Greyback and see if he explodes.”

“Could always send him an owl and tell him someone came up with anti-Wolfsbane,” Potter suggests. “A potion that forces a werewolf transformation when the moon isn’t full. He’d probably love that.”

“If he lives through it, we know it won’t kill a werewolf. If it improves his appearance, then at least he’s something less ugly to look upon when I bloody well fucking kill him,” Lupin mutters.

The intriguing thing about the conversation is that Snape is all but certain he could convince Greyback to try such a potion…after Albus Dumbledore is dead. Too much hinges on him having to kill an annoying, irritating old bastard of a friend. Life is still not fair—but then, it never has been.

“Maybe we should just deliver it by dart gun,” Granger suggests, her chin planted on her hand. “We hit Greyback with your mystery youth potion, and then target Death Eaters with darts loaded with White Fire.”

“Dear Merlin, that’s such an appealing visual. There has to be a legitimate reason why we can’t do it and reduce the ranks a bit. Nothing is ever that entertaining,” Black says.

Snape has to pause; it is, indeed, an entertaining visual. “If we ever missed, and one of those unused darts came into Voldemort’s hands, he would have forewarning of his impending poisoning.”

“Bollocks!” Black mutters. “I knew there would be a good reason.”

“Most unfortunately, yes,” Snape agrees. “That aside, we did get what we wanted from this evening. Now we just have to find out what Voldemort did with that damned Cup.”

Black and Narcissa glance at each other. “You know,” Black says slowly. “I think we may know exactly where to search.”

“It is better than not searching at all,” Narcissa agrees. “We are the only members of the family free from any criminal branding.”

“You think it was hidden within the Black family vault?” Snape asks. It wouldn’t surprise him; if Regulus acquired Slytherin’s Locket, it’s reasonable to assume that he might have found Hufflepuff’s Cup, as well.

“No, I would have seen it. Might not have recognized it for what it is, but I know the family vault well. The addition of a gold cup—I would have noticed.” Black shakes his head. “But if Lucius was given a Horcrux diary…who else was in good standing before Hallowe’en in 1981?”

“I was given nothing, which was part of the mutual deception,” Snape says at once. “Besides, if I had been granted any of his possessions, I would have done my best to destroy them on the first of November that year.”

“Bellatrix.” Narcissa looks resigned. “She is my sister. With both herself and her husband branded as criminals, and no Heirs to the Lestrange Estate named, I have full legal rights to visit their vault. However, I would have to write up a contest of ownership for any property I tried to claim—if Hufflepuff’s Cup even dwells there.”

“How long does something like that take?” Granger asks, curious.

“Anywhere from one week to one year,” Narcissa replies, lips thinning out in displeasure. “It is usually wiser to assume the full year.”

“And by then the Ministry may have fallen, and Bellatrix and Rodolphus can waltz in and out of Gringotts as they please.” Black sighs. “Try it anyway, cousin.”

Narcissa gives him an irritated glance. “You could do so, as well.”

“Not really. I might have been exonerated, but the goblins of Gringotts have long memories,” Black replies. “I can get into my vault, and I can act as legal escort if Harry needs access to the Potter family vault, but that’s it. Besides, the goblins may be more cooperative if it’s a woman in good standing—you—and that you’re attempting to remove a Horcrux from their vaults.”

Narcissa’s eyebrows rise. “Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that. There may be something in the old treaty that means they cannot store such things in the vaults if its existence is revealed.”

“Can they be trusted with that sort of information?” Granger asks, startled. “Knowing that the Cup is a Horcrux, I mean.”

Black shrugs. “They’re goblins. You could tell them that you were going to bring forth the Apocalypse on the morrow, and they’d still never tell a soul.”

Chapter Text

The next morning is the first full meeting of the Order of the Phoenix since the winter holiday. None of them slept well, or at all. Lupin looks like death warmed over.

Snape had no idea the kitchen had an extending charm until Black yells at the wall opposite the fireplace for several minutes. Then, grudgingly, a very old charm begins to activate. Soon, the kitchen is four times its original size—more than enough room to hold all members of the Order. Dumbledore requested everyone’s attendance, and the idea of cramming at least fifty people into Black’s kitchen had not been pleasant. The table is then extended to match the new space, with enough chairs to hopefully seat them all.

Plenty of space is left around the fireplace for members to enter by Floo. By nine in the morning, they’re stepping out or tumbling out, depending on their preference or skill. Others arrive by Apparating onto the front doorstep and coming in through the entryway. Most of them remark on Walburga Black’s empty portrait, where only an oil lamp in the painting remains, burning with a sullen flame.

Thank God for Minerva. She’s the one to all but order everyone to their seats, getting the chaos organized into something that might actually be a functional group.

“You sure you’re up for this, mate?” Bill Weasley asks Lupin in concern.

Lupin gives him a grim smile. “Wouldn’t miss it, Bill. I’ll live.”

“Fuck the full moon, anyway,” Mundungus Fletcher mutters. “Not just the wolves to contend with, but it makes damned near everyone bloody nutters!”

“Do shut up,” Hestia Jones snaps at him. “In case it’s escaped your notice, we’re all bloody nutters. The moon doesn’t have a whit to do with it!”

Fletcher subsides with a few more muttered complaints. Albus coughs to gain their attention. He’s standing in front of the fireplace with Augusta Longbottom’s hand on his arm. The stuffed vulture on her hat glares menacingly at everyone and then sheds another feather. In a few years, Madam Longbottom is going to be striding about with an entirely bald stuffed vulture on her head.

“While we have many things to do today, I thought, perhaps, we could all do with a boost in morale,” Albus says, which makes Snape’s shoulders tense up. Albus’s ideas of morale-improvement have a fifty-fifty chance of being absolutely undesirable.

“About a year ago, one of us came to me with an idea—an idea of the sort that creates great moral quandaries. It was debated quietly for some time before Madam Longbottom ultimately gave her approval. If the two of you would join us, please?”

All heads turn when Albus faces the doorway. Snape feels a great deal of satisfaction at the collective gasp of shock.

“Frank?” Arthur whispers. “Alice?”

Frank and Alice Longbottom look rather embarrassed to be the focus of so much stunned attention. “Yeah, er, hi,” Frank says, wincing as his ears turn red. “Oh, come off it, it’s not that terrible!”

“What the—how did—” Molly gathers herself with a swift intake of breath. “You’re both…all right?”

Alice and Frank glance at each other. “Well…sort of,” Frank hedges. “I mean, we can’t remember anything beyond March of 1981, but I’m told the alternative was much worse.”

“Apparently,” Alice says in her familiar, wry voice, “you can’t be insane if you can’t remember the events that caused the insanity in the first place.”

“You were—you were Obliviated? They erased the last sixteen years of your life?” Andromeda asks for clarification, her brows drawn together in concern.

“Hmph. Someone should have thought of that years ago,” Narcissa observes.

Obliviate—forgetting. Forgetting was an easier course of treatment than the alternatives?” Granger’s mother asks in apparent vexation.

“In our case? Yes,” Alice answers, and gives Madam Granger an odd look. “I’m sorry, I don’t—and you are?”

Granger’s mother stands up and offers her hand. “Jean Granger, Hermione Granger’s mother.” She tilts her head in her daughter’s direction, who waves at Alice. “Doctor of Muggle Dentistry, entirely non-magical, and completely in over my head.”

Alice smiles back. “Pleasure to meet you. I didn’t realize we were going to be ignoring the Statutes of Secrecy to such an extent.”

“S’not like we haven’t already seen Diagonal—”

“Diagon,” Miss Granger hisses at her father.

“Diagon Alley, the bank and the lovely goblins in charge, and so much else,” Doctor Granger says, also holding out his hand. “Doctor William Granger, also of Muggle Dentistry.”

Frank takes his turn to shake Doctor Granger’s hand. “Charmed. I suppose. Didn’t get to meet a lot of Muggles during school. What do you think of our world?”

Doctor Granger shrugs. “Aside from the impending war? It’s lovely. Needs some work, but which government doesn’t?”

Frank snorts. “Probably putting it mildly, but we don’t know much of what’s been going on.”

“Wait—you still haven’t been properly briefed?” Moody looks offended.

“We know that You-Know-Bloody-Who is back, he still has loyal Death Eaters, and that James and Lily—” Alice breaks off, swallowing. “And that we missed many losses, those who died between March and the end of Hallowe’en.”

“Really, Albus?” Poppy says at last, glaring at the Headmaster. “If this was a viable solution, why wasn’t it done at once?”

“D’you know how much I had to battle St. Mungo’s over this?” Augusta snaps, looking cross. “Bunch of great blockheads! Someone finally comes up with an idea that might help my son and his wife, and they’re too busy hemming and hawing over ethics and morality! Finally just signed them out of the hospital, brought them home, and had a wizard with good sense and skill do it proper.”

“Thanks, Mum,” Frank says, a lopsided smile on his face. In appearance, Neville favors his mother, but his expressions and mannerisms were definitely gifted by his father.

“Now, mind, if they’d tried it right at the start, it wouldn’t have worked, I’m told,” Augusta adds, but she is still displeased. “Nerve damage and needing time for things to heal, or something like that. But the Obliviate just skips over all that, and things worked out fine.”

“Merlin,” Minerva breathes. “Have you seen Neville?”

“Of course we have.” Alice’s face starts to crumple before she bites her lip and refuses to break. Her eyes are glassy as she blinks away tears. “My darling. I missed his childhood, but I prefer this over never knowing him at all. He’s…he’s so excited, and so terrified that he hasn’t lived up to some impossible ideal.” She glares at Augusta, who ignores her.

“And Mum’s volunteered to share memories, so we can catch up a bit. Then there’s the endless succession of photographs. Mum should’ve gone for wizarding documentarian,” Frank adds, but he looks proud. Then his gaze falls upon Andromeda, Narcissa, and Snape, who tend to sit in a cluster; if anyone wants to glare in their direction, they face a united front. “I expected you,” Frank says of Andromeda. “But I will admit, hearing that we have an ally in Narcissa Malfoy was a bit unexpected.”

“That’s how most of us felt about it at first, but so far, I’ve not made her dead yet,” Moody acknowledges. “Merlin. Frank and Alice.  You are a sight for sore eyes.”

“Eyes? Alastor Moody, you’ve just one eye remaining to your head,” Frank returns, and the room erupts into half-hysterical laughter. Snape’s mouth twitches, but he ignores the humor, understanding its source. He glances at Dumbledore, instead. Albus give Snape a single, near-imperceptible shake of his head. Augusta wasn’t told where the idea had originated from. Good.

“Who did the Obliviation?” Poppy asks in a brisk voice, deciding that business is better than lingering emotions. Snape does prefer her efficiency, which surges forth at the most fortunate of times.

“I did, though Augusta refuses to tell anyone else who performed it,” Albus says. “It did take some careful planning.”

“The M.L.E. is after me,” Augusta Longbottom says, drawing herself up with pride. “Something about performing a permanent, mind-altering spell against those unable to consent.”

“Never mind that we’re bloody well standing here, able to cheerfully announce our informed consent that yes, this is most preferable to insanity, trapped in a bloody long-term care ward!” Frank growls. Alice pats his arm absently, but her eyes are still roaming the room. Snape suspects she is seeing the faces of those who are never coming back as well as learning new ones.

Alice’s gaze lingers the longest on Potter, who is doing his best to be unobtrusive. Right now, he has no task other than to witness, something Black insisted upon despite Potter still being underage. It’s one of the smarter things Snape has witnessed the Dog decide to do, and then hold fast in the face of many loud protests.

Tonks shrugs when a few heads turn in her direction. “Told the two younger idiots assigned to the case that if they arrested Augusta Longbottom, I’d hex their legs and arms so that they were in opposite places, and it would take one hell of a counter-jinx to fix that mess. Someone will go for it eventually, though. Outstanding warrants that remain on the boards long enough…”

“I’d like to see them try,” Augusta declares, smiling.

“Let’s not do that,” Frank tells his mother. “Albus, I want to go home before the entire day is gone. I’ve got a boy who I’d like to get to know before that bloody arsehole Riddle stirs things up again.”

“Certainly, Frank,” Albus murmurs. “The map, if you would?”

Kingsley is the one to toss a map into the air, unrolling it and causing it to flatten in place, as if mounted to a board. Hogwarts is the most easily recognizable, a glowing red dot sitting in northern Scotland; there are only seven others. “This,” Kingsley says, “is the Ministry of Magic’s map of the known and recognized wizarding schools in the world.”

Minerva stands up and steps forward. She tosses her own rolled-up map into the air, letting it cover the one Kingsley displayed. “And these,” she says in a dry voice, “are the actual number of magical schools in the world.”

“Blimey,” Fred Weasley whispers. The map is alive with dots on every continent, Antarctica included, shining in four different colors.

“Why the bloody difference?” George demands, scowling. “That’s—that’s incredible! That’s a hell of a lot more magic-workers in the world than we’re ever taught about!”

“Language!” Molly scolds him.

“That’s because the Ministry is a backwards pile of sodding—” Ted Tonks begins to rant.

He is shushed by Andromeda. “Manners, dear. However, my husband is correct.”

Albus nods. “The map is incorrect because, as of the International Statute of Secrecy, the Ministry of Magic for Wizarding Britain only recognizes a magical school if it fits the same profile as Hogwarts.”

“Oh, Imperialism. We haven’t outgrown that yet?” Angelina Johnson says unhappily.

“I’m afraid not, dear,” Minerva replies. “Now here: these red dots, the fewest in number, are for boarding schools such as Hogwarts. The blue dots mark all of the magical universities in the world, and they’re quite numerous. They take students ages sixteen and up, provided that said students have completed their primary education. The green dots are magical primary schools. Most often in many other countries, magical children attend school locally and go home at the end of the day. If the distance between home and school is too far, they use a Port Key to travel from school to home and back again.

“These yellow dots,” Minerva waves her hand at dots clustered in island regions, or places in the world where Imperial Britain carried the least influence, “mark those peoples who refuse to abide by the Statutes of Secrecy. They are tribes and nations who have always intermingled magic with their society, no matter who was capable and who was not. They refused to change their ways just because a few fools in western Europe made an uninformed decision.”

“Those groups are listed in the Ministry as having no magical populations whatsoever,” Arthur says, sounding grim. “If we don’t tell anyone they’re magical, no one will be tempted to seek them out and see how easy it is for Muggles and wizards to live together, right?”

“Dear, blood pressure,” Molly murmurs under her breath to Arthur. “Still recovering, you beloved nitwit.”

Arthur sighs. “Yes, dear. Point is, though—you won’t find these schools on any official Ministry map. As far as Wizarding Britain is concerned, only seven magic schools in the world exist, and everyone else is just shite out of luck.”

“Which is why magical population numbers are listed as being so very low,” Kingsley adds with a solemn nod. “If the British Isles knew the true extent as to the world’s magical population, Voldemort’s ideology of protecting the ways of magic from ‘Muggles that would exterminate us’ would be less appealing.”

“Then—then why the bloody hell are we not telling people this?” Katie Bell sputters in outrage. “This could potentially end the war before it even has the chance to start!”

“It is far, far too late for that, even if we were to publish this information tomorrow—if we could even convince anyone to publish it,” Snape says.

Miss Bell turns to stare at him. “You mean that?”

Snape nods. “War, at this juncture, is inevitable. Hence, this week of planning.”

Minerva tosses a book into the air, which hovers in place and opens its pages. “This is the student registry for Hogwarts,” she says. Many seated at the table lean forward, never having the chance to view it before. It is most often regarded as a book meant only for the teachers at Hogwarts. “Not only does it list every magical student in Wizarding Britain, it also lists their blood status—an aspect we cannot remove due to the Ministry’s restrictions.

“But…” Minerva conjures an unrolled scroll, and a shorter but still very long list of names appears on it. “Today, it gives us the advantage, and allows us to begin the disaster planning that Remus so wisely suggested. These are all of the Muggle-born students, either attending Hogwarts now, or who are due to begin their first year in September.”

Jean Granger’s eyes flicker back and forth between the Muggle-born scroll and the world map. “Exchange students.”

“But without the exchange,” Albus says heavily. “With Voldemort active, no other wizarding school will send their children here, especially as the only places safe to send our own children are the schools the Ministry does not acknowledge. We dare not reveal any of these places to the public, or to the enemy.”

“However,” Minerva continues crisply. “These local magical schools mean that we can also relocate the Muggle-born children’s parents, as well. They will be in as much danger from Voldemort as their offspring, and I refuse to leave them in the path of danger. No Death Eater will care that the magical child is absent—they will kill the parents for daring to birth such a child in the first place.”

“And this, ladies and gentlemen, is our focus for the rest of the week.” Albus is beginning to appear more tired, but his eyes are sharp, his jaw set, as he looks around the room. “We have a list of children, and thus we know their current addresses—which means we will not only find them, but their families. The owls were sent out earlier this month, but there are always those who scoff at the idea of mail by owl and magical schooling. The Doctors Granger have been kind enough to spend this holiday in assisting us, helping Muggle parents not only adjust to the idea that their child is magical, but that due to a madman, they are all now in very great danger and must relocate at once. Others will accompany the Grangers to soothe their fears over lost property and wages. Still others will be traveling to each school to make arrangements for new lodgings for each family.”

“We are going to try to have no more than two Wizarding families per school, but I refuse to leave a child alone in a new place with absolutely no one that they can relate to,” Minerva adds, giving Albus a stern glare. “We have already been in correspondence with many schools on several different continents, and most are glad to host our children for as long as necessary to keep them safe.” She grants them a thin smile. “I do believe some words were often mentioned that it is about time Britain left the Stone Age and began teaching the younger generations that there is more than one way to do things.”

“This means two things,” Albus says, after Minerva takes back the registry for Hogwarts but leaves the scroll hanging in the air. “The first is that the Muggle-borns will still appear on the Hogwarts registry for any Death Eater to read, but there will be no victim waiting for them to find. Once we’ve relocated all who we can, I am going to publicly announce that the Order of the Phoenix is not only active, but it is working to protect those who will be most vulnerable to Voldemort and his followers.”

Snape considers it. As far as cover stories go, it’s likely the best one he will ever have. Voldemort will be in a rage, but that is not exactly an uncommon occurrence.

“The second thing…is that we have a lot to accomplish in a very short amount of time. We must begin at once.” Albus nods in response to the excited rise of voices. “Yes; assignments will be handed out immediately, and if adjustments need be made, they will be. Doctor and Madam Doctor Granger, you are about to become far more familiar with Apparating than you might like.”

“If it helps save children like our Hermione, then I’ll put up with it.” Madam Granger winces. “Is it anything like flying?”

“No flying required,” Miss Granger assures her mother. Madam Granger doesn’t seem convinced.

Snape slips out of the kitchen once everyone is occupied by copies of maps and lists littering the extended table. He is in desperate need of a nap, and Regulus Black’s former bedroom is the one room no one enters except himself, Black, Lupin, or Potter.

Black renovated the space, but refrained from utterly remaking it as he once threatened. The Slytherin silver-and-green motif remains, but is much more tastefully done, more to an adult’s preference than a child’s.

It occurs to Snape as he falls face-first into the bed that Black did so for his benefit, and then dismisses the idea as utterly ludicrous.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Snape has the excuse of on-going Order meetings to avoid Voldemort, but he does not participate. For the safety of the children they’re in the midst of relocating, he cannot. Dumbledore has already arranged a “meeting” in which he told Snape that, for his own safety in spying against Voldemort, he cannot know much of what is being planned. If the Dark Lord decides to pry into Snape’s mind, then that is the only memory he will be allowed to find.

Thus, he is free to hide in the library. The book Kreacher gave him is full of fascinating glimpses into history, and more potions than just the one he required. Some have fallen out of favor for reasons he can’t determine; some are outright poisons; some are the precursors to their modern-day versions. A few of those, Snape thinks, were not improved by the passing years.

“I notice you’re not sittin’ in there, helping to coordinate all that.”

Snape glances up at Frank Longbottom. “I’m not, for very good reasons.”

“Still spyin,’ then. That double-agent bit.” Frank nods sagely before sitting down across from Snape, uninvited. “Me Da used to take me to the Muggle films when I was younger’n Neville. Don’t tell Mum,” he adds, smiling. “That buzzard atop her hat would explode, and she’d follow right along afterwards.”

Snape refuses to admit that the idea of either is appealing. “I didn’t know you’d ever spent time in the Muggle world.”

“Mostly theatre and the cinema. Sometimes books. He was partial to James Bond,” Frank says. “Always liked how the bloke solved problems with his head when he wasn’t running around shooting that Muggle gun of his.”

“The books were better,” Snape says, dropping his eyes back down to his own book in hopes that Longbottom will take the hint.

Frank Longbottom is either still far too damned stubborn, or oblivious to the silent request. “That they were. Did you know the bloke what wrote them, Irving, was an actual Muggle spy during World War II?”

“Ian Fleming,” Snape corrects absently. “So was Christopher Lee. Dracula,” he adds, when Frank is puzzled by the name.

“Oh, yes, him! Massively tall bloke. Pulled off terrifying much the same way you do,” Frank says, smiling.

Snape thinks about it and decides that is a compliment. “Thank you. Lee was apparently the more active of the pair during the war. Strange how many Muggle spies turned to drama afterwards.”

“Actors take on a role, no matter if they’re wizard actors or Muggle ones,” Frank says after a few moments of silence. “Maybe puttin’ on that sort of mask makes it easier to forget. Mum says those Nazis made Grindelwald look like an infant throwin’ a tantrum. I imagine there was plenty o’ things that pair had seen that they never wanted to think about ever again.”

“Six million estimated executions.” Snape memorizes the page he’s on, written in Roman numerals instead of Arabic, and closes the book. “Many historians still think the numbers aren’t high enough.”

“Merlin, that’s too much.” Frank hesitates. “I don’t want this war to be like the last one. Forty-four percent of us dead, Albus tells me. Forty-four percent. I know that’s no six million, but that’s still…that’s a lot, and that was only people fightin’ on our side.”

“Those are only numbers for the Order. The numbers for the population as a whole were much worse. We were about ten thousand shy of breaking three hundred thousand in 1975. By the end of 1981, there were two hundred nine thousand of us remaining.” Snape looks at Frank. “Twenty-eight percent of our entire population.”

“So many wizarding names, all of ‘em lost forever.” Frank sighs. “Not again. Not on my watch.”

“Preferably not.” Snape grits his teeth; he doesn’t want to say this, not ever, but if he doesn’t give the man some sort of hint, Neville Longbottom will be fighting in a war instead of attending school, the very place he needs to be. “If your son can get past his terror when it comes to facing those things he truly fears, he will be one of the greatest wizards of his generation.”

Frank blinks at him in surprise. “Never thought I’d hear you say that.”

“You didn’t hear it at all,” Snape replies testily, opening his book and lowering his head back to its pages. “He’ll still be rubbish at Potions, though.”

Frank laughs and leaves him be. Snape waits until he can hear no one else in the library before he conjures a nice, solid rock and flings it at the nearest wall. The plaster crack that erupts and traces its way up to the ceiling is not even remotely satisfying.

 

*          *          *          *

 

The second week of April, Albus calls Snape to his office. Snape comes in, notes the terse expression on the Headmaster’s face, and shakes his head. The potion he holds out is violet-tinged gold with the occasional swirl of silver. It’s some of his best work, an addition to the original gold anti-curse potion he should have thought of years ago.

“Drink it,” he orders, when Albus does nothing more than look at the uncapped phial. Snape is on the verge of prying open the idiot’s jaws before Albus finally drinks the stupid potion.

Albus gradually leans back, some of the terseness fading from his features. Truly, the man hides physical pain in ridiculous ways. The best means are to not reveal it at all. “Thank you for the assistance, Severus. I received bad news earlier, and it seems the end is near enough now that even a downswing in mood makes it worse.”

“If I ever teach Defence, the very first lesson I will impart is that one should not wear cursed jewelry,” Snape says in irritation. “What happened?”

“Death Eaters, one assumes—no proof, but at this stage it’s a safe assumption to make.” Albus pops a lemon drop into his mouth, but doesn’t offer one to Snape. Finally, the message has been heard and understood. “Emmaline Vance and Sturgis Podmore were both found dead this week. Sturgis had been missing for days, but Emmaline only went missing last night. Aurors outside of the Order located Mister Podmore’s remains, but Auror Tonks discovered Miss Vance. Nymphadora is a bit upset; they were friends in school.”

“It’s worse than that, isn’t it?”

Albus nods. “Madam Amelia Bones. She’s vanished, but given the fate of Vance and Podmore, it isn’t difficult to discern what has to have happened. I do not look forward to informing Susan.”

Snape finally deigns to take a seat. “They’re going after members of the Wizengamot who would stand against the fall of the Ministry.”

“Mm. I thought they might, but I will admit I didn’t expect them to begin outright murdering those holding Wizengamot seats until after the Ministry fell to Voldemort’s control, not before. You heard nothing of this?”

Snape gives him a flat look. “We both know what it will take for him to truly confide in me. While you still live, he is leery that you might gain information that would force him to alter his plans.”

“Quite intelligent of him.” Albus pops his lips and then blows out a little cloud of steam as the lemon drop finishes dissolving. Pepperup Potion in the centers. Snape wants to roll his eyes, but it is a good idea, given the circumstances. “Madam Bones is not the only one. Octavius Pepper is missing, as is, of all people, Florean Fortescue.”

Snape lifts his eyebrows. “Merlin knows what Voldemort wants with a seller of ice creams.”

“Florean is quite knowledgeable about ancient magic and artefacts. Perhaps Voldemort believes him to be a source of information regarding something of importance.” Albus shakes his head and changes the subject. “Members of the Order will begin patrolling the school grounds tomorrow. Given the attacks and disappearances, we can take no chances with the safety of Hogwarts students.”

“Of course,” Snape says, noncommittal. He knows exactly why they’re to be present.

“Please tell Mister Malfoy that the first half of May would be preferable.”

Snape gives the doddering idiot a glacial stare. “In a hurry then, are we?”

“Hardly,” Albus counters, picking up another lemon drop. He doesn’t eat it; he merely regards it curiously, as if it is some bauble of great value. “But it is coming, no matter my preferences. I would not see our fifth- and seventh-years suffer due to a mere funeral.”

Mere. Idiot. “Minerva might cancel the O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. exams, regardless. Your loss will be a great upset. Merlin knows why.”

Albus smiles. “I’ve asked Minerva not to do so. If Mister Malfoy’s timing works out, and she delays the exams by a week or two, the students will have time to…adjust. To grieve, if they’re so inclined.”

“It will be your funeral,” Snape retorts, standing. “The entire school will be utter chaos. Excuse me. While you ponder mortality and murder, I have things to attend to.”

Annoying, doddering old fool with a fondness for cursed jewelry. Snape might have considered being less irritated if Albus would discuss who he was in such a dramatic rush to see via the Resurrection Stone, but no—Albus plans on literally taking that information to his grave. Idiot.

The first person he finds is Minerva, though not be design. “Good evening, Severus.” She pauses at the expression on his face. “Or perhaps it isn’t so pleasant, after all?”

“First half of May,” he says as he walks past without stopping.

Several more feet down the corridor, he hears Minerva hiss, “Bloody old fool,” and feels his mood lighten. At least in this, they are in agreement.

It takes all evening to write up the remainder of the year’s lesson plans. He doesn’t need the assistance to remember them, but anyone covering his classes—if they choose to do so for anyone except O.W.L. and N.E.W.T. students—will be lost without some sort of guideline to follow. Minerva will make certain they are followed, even if she has to recopy the plans in her own hand.

At curfew, he sends a note via one of the school’s more hyperactive little owls to Draco. It is a satisfactory five minutes before Draco arrives, out of breath, and shuts the office door behind him. “You wished to see me, sir?”

Snape nods. He is realizing just how much Draco has matured in a single school term, and how far he’s come from whatever pathetic little scheme his father planned for his son. “Sit, please.”

Draco does so, cautiously, as if a venomous viper lies in wait.

One actually does. That was poorly chosen phrasing.

He considers tea, but tea will not soften this blow. “The Headmaster has requested the first half of May.”

Draco pales. He doesn’t need to be given specifics to understand what that means. “Is he fading that quickly?”

“In a sense. He is…” Snape pinches the bridge of his nose. “He doesn’t want exams for O.W.L. or N.E.W.T. students to be canceled due to the sudden necessity of a funeral.”

“Because he cares.” Draco tries to sound scoffing and bitter, but doesn’t succeed very well. Some of the old beliefs still linger, though.

Snape decides that, for once, he will address them. “Do you know why the Headmaster preached of House unity so often, even if he didn’t seem to know how to attain it?”

“I have to admit, Potter blowing up the hourglasses was pleasing,” Draco admits. “But no, I don’t know why, aside from politics and the need to appear as if he cares about all of us.”

“He does. He does care about all of us…which is Albus Dumbledore’s entire problem.” Snape rests his chin on his steepled fingers. “He cares for all, and sometimes that regard causes smaller issues to fall through the cracks. That is a failing, one that once caused him to make a grave mistake.”

“A mistake?” Draco echoes, curiosity hooked.

“Albus Dumbledore believed, when he began teaching, that yes—every House was worthy, that every student was capable of good or ill. Then he became Tom Marvolo Riddle’s advocate during the latter’s admission to Hogwarts.”

“Because everyone is capable of good or ill.” Draco shakes his head. “Well, that didn’t go very well.”

“It didn’t, no. Dumbledore clung to that belief in one’s potential for good, despite the evidence piling up that Tom Riddle was not ever going to be anything other than cruel and remorseless.” Snape leans back in his chair. “By the time I came to school, Riddle was already calling himself Lord Voldemort, and was actively seeking recruits among the older students in Hogwarts. Dumbledore forgot his old beliefs in the face of these Death Eaters, each and every single one recruited from the House of Salazar Slytherin. He stopped viewing Slytherins as anything other than automatically suspect, while favoring the three other Houses above all others.”

“Which is why you act as you do,” Draco says, eyes lighting up. “Why you insist upon us having our rightful place—”

Snape holds up his hand. “In part. I left Voldemort’s service, Draco Malfoy. I returned to it as a spy in the same week. After the war, after the trials, I was studying under Dumbledore’s tutelage, trying to cram enough knowledge back into my brain to pass the bloody N.E.W.T.s I needed to become accredited in my chosen field. I never finished seventh year, Draco,” Snape continues patiently, when Malfoy looks baffled. “Death Eater. Do keep up.”

Draco winces. “Sorry.”

“I don’t know how Dumbledore knew it was on my mind, but one night it was on my lips to apologize for the choices I’d made. Albus Dumbledore told me not to. He said he would never accept an apology from me.” Snape smiles. “I do believe I threw something at him before he had the chance to explain.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he would not accept an apology from me, because it was he who had done me the first and gravest disservice.” The smile fades quickly; it always does. “He apologized to me for allowing Tom Riddle, Lord Voldemort, to color his entire view of Slytherin and the children of his House. If Dumbledore had been following the beliefs he’d once held, that all of the children of this school are worthy of the same chances, that all hold the same potential, then I would never have been tempted by what Voldemort had to offer.”

“Would you have?” Draco asks. His shoulders are hunched, his brow furrowed.

“I don’t know,” Snape replies in utter truthfulness. “Perhaps. Perhaps not. He thinks it would not have happened, but I will grant Dumbledore that it would have at least been less likely.”

Draco bows his head. “It makes me feel so stupid. I always believed Father when he said Dumbledore was nothing more than an old fool with foolish notions—that blood purity would be the ultimate tried and true test of what Wizarding Britain could be.”

Snape lets out a wry snort. “Lucius has never been half so intelligent as he’s always claimed to be. Thank Merlin that you take after your mother.” Draco glances up at him in surprise. “Draco, my family is one of the prime examples of why Lucius’s philosophy—Voldemort’s philosophy—is doomed to failure. The Prince line, my mother’s family, has died out. So have many Pure-blood lines. Once upon a time, there were thousands of Wizarding family names in Britain that could trace their lineage back not only to the founding of Hogwarts, but to Rome, Greece, the great African kingdoms, Syria, Persia, Babylon, Sumer, and the Americas.”

Draco’s brow wrinkles again in confusion. “The Americas?”

“The world was once a much smaller place, and there are many ancient kingdoms on those continents that are long lost to us,” is all Snape will say in response to that. There is not much more he can add. Scant histories still recount those tales, and most of them are considered baseless, imaginary, or nothing but badly mangled folklore. Wizarding Britain will at least admit that Atlantis existed, and nothing of that great kingdom’s history is left except mangled folklore. “The point is that reliance on blood purity will drive magic into extinction. Thus, if you consider Voldemort’s philosophy, only one man will ultimately benefit.”

“Him,” Draco realizes, and his mouth turns down in a frown. “Well. Then I definitely plan to survive this disaster.”

“Oh?” Snape hopes Draco manages to do so. He doesn’t hold out much hope for himself. “What are you planning to do afterwards, then?”

“If he’s not already dead, I will give my father an absolute coronary by announcing my intention to court Astoria Greengrass.”

Snape nods. “Yes, that would definitely assist in the process.” The Greengrass family are Pure-bloods, yes, but they are also very much disapproved of by most of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.

Draco looks down at the floor again. “Sir…I don’t want to kill Albus Dumbledore.”

“Good news, then: you are going to fail miserably at it.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

One of the last bits of student drama Snape overhears that year is entirely unexpected. Snape pauses before he can turn the corner, intrigued, as he hears Mister Weasley stutter his way into embarrassing himself before he’s interrupted by a familiar voice. One of the Patil twins, but Snape needs to hear more from her to discern which one.

“Stop stuttering, Ron. What did you want to talk to me about?” Miss Patil asks, sounding irritated. “I’m in a bit of a rush.”

“Just five minutes, okay?” Weasley pleads. “Then you can do…go…things.”

“You’re really not going to get very far if you keep stuttering,” Miss Patil observes dryly.

“Well, I—I wanted to say that I’m sorry.”

Miss Patil sounds off-put. “Sorry? For what? Unless you’ve wronged me in a way I’m not yet aware of…”

“Nah, you’re aware of it.” Weasley sounds like he’s cringing. “I’m apologizing for, uh, the Yule Ball.”

Ah. That will be Padma Patil, then.

There is a beat of silence. “Ron. The Yule Ball was two years ago.”

“Yeah, I know,” Weasley replies. “But uhm—okay, so I realized something. Give me a second here. I’m not great at this sort of thing.”

“I hadn’t noticed at all.”

“That really isn’t helping.” Weasley clears his throat. “Harry told me off the other day about Lavender and—and a few other girls. He said that I was thinking with my prick instead of my brain. I said, ‘Course I was! I’m a teenage boy!’ That’s what every teenage boy does.”

Patil snorts. “In my experience? Yes, that seems to be the dominant response.”

“Well, whenever you manage to make Harry angry, you know you’ve stepped in something, right?” Weasley sounds bemused. “So, I did my best to try to think instead of just, ogle, y’know? And when I thought about it, I realized why Hermione is so hung up on Viktor Kum, even if I think the bloke’s the Quidditch version of a tree stump.”

“All right then,” Miss Patil says slowly. “Enlighten me, Ron.”

Weasley hesitates. “It’s—he saw her. Hermione. Krum asked Hermione to the Yule Ball before Hermione ‘accidentally’ forgot to stop Madam Pomfrey from shrinking her teeth until they were just a bit too large instead of…well, you remember the awful jokes. He asked her before Hermione put on that ball gown and did her hair up in a way that looked amazing that night, y’know?”

“She did look charming,” Patil admits. “I was highly irritated with you for being distracted, but Granger…she surprised me.”

“That’s the point, though.” Weasley sounds serious. “Viktor liked Hermione before all that. He liked her before she did anything to her hair other than her usual bushy curling mess. He didn’t care about her teeth, before or after. Viktor looked beyond all that and saw her. He saw Hermione Granger, smartest witch in our school—yes, you are exceptionally intelligent, Padma, but we all know who’s going to get top marks in our year, and it’s not you or me.”

“Fair enough,” Patil admits grudgingly.

“I was terrible to Hermione. I told her we might as well go to the Yule Ball together, since it was obvious she didn’t have a date, either. Not like anybody was gonna ask.”

“Please tell me she slapped you,” Patil says, angry. “Please tell me she knocked out your teeth.”

“Nah. Hermione’s too nice, some days. I would’ve deserved it, though. I apologized to her later, but there was no recovering from it—I was a right prat. She should’ve slapped me,” Weasley says. “But it made me realize that I hadn’t treated you the way you deserved, either. You did, y’know. Deserve better.”

Weasley utters a muffled curse and scuffs his shoe against the stone floor. “You were gorgeous that night. Truly, an’ I mean that. I was so busy staring at someone else, spiting the man she was with, that I didn’t even say it. I didn’t notice, not like I should have. So: I’m really sorry, Padma. I hope you’ll forgive me for being an idiot.”

“I—” Snape hears a book bag fall to the ground. Before he can be concerned that he’s about to have to clean up Weasley teeth, he hears the very distinct sound of two teenagers making out in the hall.

Snape turns around and goes straight back the way he came. They’re both of age. Not from his House, not his problem.

 

*          *          *          *

 

When the end of his final year of teaching under Albus Dumbledore comes to a close, it happens quickly. Afterwards, Snape can recall it all in crystal clarity, but the process itself seems like it was nothing but a rush of frenetic motion, shouting that fell directly into silence.

Draco’s Patronus alerts him after curfew the evening of the fourteenth. The corporal leopard mists in through the walls of Snape’s quarters, opens its mouth, and speaks in Draco’s voice: “The Astronomy Tower. Merlin fucking knows why.”

Snape blinks a few times at the frustrated disgust in Draco’s voice. “Go on,” he tells the Patronus. “Heard and understood.” The leopard vanishes.

“DOBBY!” Snape yells, unnecessarily loud in his own private space. The house-elf appears while Snape is scratching out swift, messy last words to alert Minerva as to what is about to happen. “Give this to Minerva McGonagall, but—” He counts the time in his head. “Delay by five minutes. I hate to do so, but without a delay, someone could be badly hurt.”

“Understood, Master Bat,” Dobby says, taking the letter and vanishing. Snape idly considers the merits of tying Kreacher’s ears in a knot for spreading that title as he uses the Floo to shove what few belongings he will need at once through the flames, letting them land on the floor in front of the fireplace at Spinner’s End. If the werewolf gets there before he does, Lupin is going to find a haphazard, ash-covered mess.

That done, Snape leaves his quarters, activates the wards that will keep literally everyone out but himself, and runs. He knows Draco planned to send Dumbledore poisoned mead for the occasion. It seems Albus decided that dying under the light of the stars was preferable to collapsing over his own office desk.

Or perhaps it isn’t the stars at all he is thinking of, but the quick escape of those who will need it.

By the time he fights his way beyond the stairwell to the tower, there are at least three members of the Order on the ground, unmoving but for the slight rise and fall that signifies wizards and witches who still yet breathe. It is the only remaining relief he will have on this night.

Atop the Astronomy Tower, awaiting him, are Draco Malfoy and Albus Dumbledore. Albus is slumped over the ramparts of the tower, an air of grieving amusement in his eyes. The Headmaster’s wand is on the ground, many feet distant from Albus. Draco’s wand is still pointed at Albus, but he’s trembling so much that even if he could manage the curse, he’d miss.

Snape glances at Albus, evaluating his gray skin and the fine tremors in his hands as he attempts to remain on his feet. The poison Draco chose for the mead is far more effective than the boy realized it would be, given the curse Albus already suffers under. If it were not for the plans of the evening, that would be a fatal dose.

Four Death Eaters are already waiting for him, as well: Amycus and Alecto Carrow, Corban Yaxley, and of all blasted beings, Fenrir Greyback, who already stinks of blood.

Snape feels his heart freeze in his chest. No, not that, he cannot. He wills the emotion away, reaching for blankness, for stillness. It is not the full moon, no matter Greyback’s apparent descent into beast-hood.

“We’ve got a problem, Snape,” Amycus Carrow says in a show of great impatience, though his eyes and wand are both pointed at Albus. “The boy doesn’t seem able to do as Our Lord wills it—”

“Severus…”

Snape grinds his teeth. Dying in moments or dying later; the result is now the same.

He shoves his way past the Carrows and Yaxley, treating them as the unimportant lackeys they are. Even Greyback seems to shrink and fall back in response to Snape’s cold regard.

Albus gives him two slow blinks, and then slips words into the forefront of Snape’s mind. Dear boy, best of all of us. If I could make this right, I would.

Idiot. Fool. Cursed jewelry. Snape forces himself to stop grinding his teeth. I know.

“Severus, please…”

Unlike Bartemius Crouch, Junior, this is no easy task. It seems like his wand weighs more than the heaviest of bricks as he raises it, but the motion is smooth, perfect control.

Avada Kedavra.”

The spell strikes hard, more powerful than Snape expected. The burst of green light sends Albus’s body tumbling over the tower wall to plummet to the ground far below.

Snape breathes out once and then seizes Malfoy by the collar, as if in disappointment. “Out of here, quickly.”

The skirmish inside the castle does very little to slow them down. Greyback, Amycus and Alecto stay to fight, the fools, but Yaxley is at his back as Snape shoves Draco along until they’re outside.

Potter doesn’t catch up to them until they’ve run halfway across the grounds, on their way to the castle gates. Snape turns to see Potter charging directly at them, head lowered, face set in grim expectation. One last part of this farce to perform.

“Run!” Snape orders Draco, who doesn’t hesitate before fleeing towards the gates.

Expelliarmus!” Potter shouts, and Draco’s wand goes flying off into the darkness.

“My wand—” Draco bleats in shock.

“KEEP RUNNING, YOU IDIOT!”

The duel Snape and Potter share would almost be amusing under other circumstances. Draco has come far, but Potter progressed to frightening levels of skill in the last year. They can barely voice curses at each other before they’re blocked, and it’s time to try another, and another.

Then that bastard Yaxley gets involved, striking Potter’s unprotected back with an unexpected Crucio. Potter is down, screaming, and all at once the only color Snape can see is blood red.

“NO!” he roars, and blasts Yaxley off his feet with a sharp jut of his wand. He has to cover this, has to—”Remember the Dark Lord’s orders! Potter is for him, not for us!”

“S’not fair!” Yaxley shouts, and sets Rubeus Hagrid’s house on fire like a petulant toddler.

“Oh, for God’s sake,” Snape mutters.

Potter is lying on the ground, gasping for breath. His wand is still clenched tightly in his hand—not disarmed then, and not defeated, either, especially since he is doing a very good job of keeping that wand lifted in the air for his defense.. Snape comes upon him, wand pointed down, and waits.

“G’nkillme, then?” Potter asks, and makes a face. “Oh, practicing that’n. Tha’s terrible.”

The peal of mad laughter Snape lets out is fitting for this moment. “No. As I said: the Dark Lord wants you. We’re to leave you here, Mister Potter. Do enjoy your nap in the dirt.”

“Bastard,” Potter retorts, and puts enough venom into the word to sound like he means it. The hex he casts is easy to block, but Snape can’t offer the same token gesture in response; he’s too concerned that it would work.

Then Snape has no choice but to flee. He hopes Potter recovers his wits quickly enough to quench Hagrid’s burning home.

 

*          *          *          *

 

A few mornings later, there is a knock on the rear door to the house on Spinner’s End. Snape is using his wand and a wad of old silk to clean off the items that landed in the soot. The books deserved better treatment, but it could not be helped at the time. It’s the first chance he’s had to come home, and the only people who know of this building’s location are a few Death Eaters, Narcissa, Voldemort, and one annoying werewolf.

Snape gets up, wand at the ready, and leans against the door before he peers through the tiny pane of spelled one-way glass. Then he growls, unbolts the door, and all but drags Potter inside.

The werewolf is a blasted tale-teller. Snape is going to kill Lupin. “Are you out of your fucking mind?” Snape yells.

“Well, yes,” Potter replies, running a hand through his perpetual disaster-hair. “Left most of it behind in a tunnel back in 1993, remember?”

Snape realizes he’s gasping for breath and drops onto the nearest armchair, trying to still his sudden panic. “Someone could find you here, you utter brat!”

“Won’t be here that long. I needed to bring you something,” Potter says. “The funeral is today.”

Snape swallows. “I’m—aware of that.”

Potter nods and pulls a wad of Invisibility Cloak out of his robe pocket. “I thought you might like to be there.”

He stares up at Potter, not sure if he’s finally cracked under years of stress. “I—you what?”

“I thought you might want to attend Dumbledore’s funeral,” Potter repeats patiently, shaking the Invisibility Cloak for emphasis. “Besides, you liked him better than I did.”

Snape lets out a short, hoarse bark of laughter. “Many liked him better than you did, and many more liked him far more than even I did. Potter, this is complete idiocy.”

“It’s only idiocy if you get caught,” Potter corrects him patiently. “Come on, stand up. I’ve figured out how tall people can wear it without showing off their shoes.”

“Really, now.” Snape stands, driven by curiosity if nothing else. Potter’s trainers have been visible beneath the edges of the cloak for the last year and a half.

“Yeah, it took me a while. I mean, school robes and old cloaks aren’t really designed the same way. Nobody really wears cloaks the old way,” he continues to chatter, while sliding invisible fabric up Snape’s arms, over his back, and finally, over his head. “Not even the Death Eaters are wearing them correctly.” He fastens something at Snape’s collar that causes the fabric to drift together, forming a seamless line in the front.

Potter steps back and regards his handiwork. “That’ll do. Much better than just tossing it over your head and hoping for the best. Take a look,” he instructs, gesturing towards the parlor mirror.

Snape steps forward and sees nothing. The hood is not pulled down over his face, but his features are invisible, regardless. He lifts his hands, and they are also hidden from sight. “What prompted this discovery?”

“Well…” When Snape turns around, Potter looks uncomfortable. “The Invisibility Cloak of the Deathly Hallows—it’s supposed to be Death’s own Cloak, if the legend is true. I looked up the old engraved images from the oldest books, and the cloak around the form of Death was worn in a very specific way. I copied it, and suddenly…it worked. It worked exactly the way it was supposed to.”

Snape pulls back the hood, feeling uncomfortable. “Is that why you disarmed Draco? The Hallows, Potter?”

Potter gives him a surprised look. “Actually, I just didn’t think it was a good idea for Voldemort to have such easy access to the Elder Wand if he ever figures out Dumbledore had it. The wand is going into the tomb today with the Headmaster, and it can stay there, as far as I’m concerned. Unless—you want it back. It belonged to your family, after all.”

Snape sits down heavily in his chair again, aware that he can’t see most of his own body. “No, Potter, I do not want it back. My life is cursed enough without adding a cursed wand to it.”

“I don’t think your life is cursed,” Potter says, surprising him. “Insanely, monstrously difficult, yeah, but cursed? No.”

“What makes you believe something so patently ridiculous?” Snape asks.

“Well…” Potter takes off his false glasses and folds them up, putting them into a robe pocket. “You have Narcissa and Draco. Sirius and Remus like you—I think they even enjoy the fact that you make a point of yelling at them as often as possible. Hermione thinks you’re tremendously brave—”

“I’m really not,” Snape whispers. Coward, his mind reminds him. You disgust me.

“Sorry, I’m not telling the smartest witch in Britain that she’s wrong,” Potter replies. “Point is, we all actually give a damn about you…because you’re worth it. I—I like you. I mean…you’re the first friend I ever had.”

Snape gives Potter a blank stare. “What?”

“I hadn’t figured out people yet,” Potter says, stuffing his hands into his robe pockets. “Hermione, Ron, the Weasleys, Sirius, Remus—they were all helping me, but I didn’t know how to relate to them. Not like…not like you’re supposed to. We’re all friends now, family even, but then it was still confusing. I think maybe they were all still trying to see if they could get the old Harry back. If they tried the right memory, the right combination of words…

“You’re the first person who didn’t do that. You’re the one who didn’t care about the old me not being around anymore. You cared about the person sitting in front of you.” Potter glances away. “So, yeah. You’re my friend. You’ll have to learn to cope with that somehow.”

“Cope,” Snape repeats, feeling numb. Then he glances back down at the invisible fabric that hides him from view.

He’s wearing Death’s own Cloak of Invisibility to attend the funeral of the man he killed. It’s the sort of irony Snape well understands.

“I’ll be there. At the funeral. I’ll return the cloak…afterwards. By house-elf.” Snape manages another swallow when he can’t seem to manage more than three words at a time. “Hogwarts?”

Potter nods. “Yeah. Hogwarts.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

The funeral is atrociously dull. Snape isn’t certain why he stays for the entirety, lurking in the background like Death waiting for the soul of the deceased.

Albus looks to be at peace. With his death, the curse on his hand faded, and it looks the same as the rest of him.

That is possibly the best thing Snape gets out of the entire funeral—the curse is lifted. Albus will not be sealed into that white marble tomb, clutching the Elder Wand in his crossed hands, with the mark of Voldemort’s curse on his skin.

It seems as if the entirety of Wizarding Britain turns out for Albus’s funeral, and large chunks of Europe decided to join in. As Snape predicted, it is chaos, but it is, at least, polite and orderly chaos.

Fawkes sings during the latter half of the funeral. Snape feels like something within his chest is going to shatter. If that blasted bird doesn’t shut up, he’ll seal it in a block of ice and drop it in the ocean.

When the tomb of Albus Dumbledore is finally sealed with the heavy, final thud of stone striking stone, Snape turns and walks away. The worst is behind him; the harshest of tests still lie ahead.

Chapter Text

Snape hears through rumor, and from a few scarce messages sent by Lupin and Black via house-elf, that Potter and Granger both declare that they will be sitting their N.E.W.T.s with the seventh-years at the end of June. Black’s scrap of paper tells Snape that the Board of Governors tried to contest it and discovered that they couldn’t. The faculty was against it, but couldn’t stop them once the declaration was made. At worst, they would sit them again next year if they failed.

Unlike the O.W.L.s, N.E.W.T.s are graded at once, the better to graduate that batch of students in the last weeks of June, or the first of July, during a properly observed ceremony. Kreacher finds Snape the day after the N.E.W.T.s are complete, hands him a scrap of paper, and pops away without a word spoken. The words in Lupin’s slanted script bring a faint smile to Snape’s face.

 

They passed. Excellent marks. Hermione and Harry have graduated Hogwarts.

 

There is another note later, this one in Black’s much more excitable scrawl:

Best marks out of the entire batch. Getting drunk. If you can safely away, join us.

 

They like you. Snape shakes off the memory of Potter’s declaration and pens a brief response for Dobby to take back to Black.

 

I cannot. Have several dozen on my behalf…and congratulate them. They most certainly earned it.

 

Snape had already been planning something for the month of July. Two graduating students just make the timing seem correct instead of random, which Snape prefers. Gifts and letters arrive at 12 Grimmauld Place the day after the Hogwarts’ graduation ceremony, delivered by a goblin that owes Snape a favor in regards to a very stubborn case of arthritis in his aging wife.

It occurs to Snape as he prepares the last letter that he is, in effect, saying goodbye. If so, then at least he has done a proper job of it.

 

To Miss Hermione Jean Granger, Graduate of Hogwarts:

Albus Dumbledore had a will, one he updated in the months before his death. He wished to wait until later for it to be read to you and your friends by Ministry employees, but I talked him out of it. Stupid, useless idea.

The Headmaster left you his copy of The Tales of Beedle The Bard. Before you scoff, as I know you have your own copy, consider that this particular book is over three hundred years old. Languages evolve and change rapidly.

From myself, you now have your own copy of Moste Potente Potions. It was formerly my own, and as such is filled with suggestions on how to improve some of the disasters this book contains. If you truly wish to push yourself towards Wizarding university level, this book and your N.E.W.T. scores will serve you well. It is useful for far more than the brewing of illicit Polyjuice Potion in a ghost’s favorite bathroom.

You will have to discern how to gather the necessary Non-Tradable materials on your own.

Kindest Regards,

Professor Severus Snape

 

*

 

Mister Harry James Potter,

You are infuriating.

You are not as infuriating as Albus bloody Dumbledore. In his will, he left you the Golden Snitch you captured in your very first game as Gryffindor Seeker by attempting to swallow it. That is not how one plays Quidditch. It is probably for the best that you do not recall such ridiculous tactics.

The point to this gift is that there is a specific item inside. Albus thinks it should be discovered when the time is right; I say it’s a rubbish idea. To discover what is inside, touch the Snitch to your lips and tell it that you’re about to die.

Yes, even if it’s not true. The spell attached to the Snitch will not know the difference. It only awaits your voice and those words.

I strongly advise you to find a way to secretly carry this item on your person at all times. It is not safe to leave unattended.

From myself, I give you a very old edition of Moste Potente Potions in pristine condition. It is very, very stolen, but the tracking spell has been removed, and…well, the former owner is far too dead to be concerned about its whereabouts. (Not my fault.)

Unlike Granger, you’ve borne my influence already. Now it is time to strike out on your own.

Do not write in this damned book. Unlike Granger’s copy, this one should remain unmarked. Flat parchment sheets are an excellent substitute for my youthful margin-scribbling.

Be careful, you idiot.

Respectfully Yours,

Professor Severus Snape

 

*

 

To Mister Ronald Bilius Weasley:

One hopes that your friends have informed you, at least in part, of the situation at hand. When you are through yelling and raging like the ginger you are, please read the rest of this letter.

Congratulations on your new relationship. Try not to ruin it through foolishness. Your father and your eldest two brothers are gentlemen; it is still not too late to learn to become one, as well.

Fred and George are beyond all hope. I believe Miss Johnson must have suffered a permanent Quidditch-based head injury to agree to become betrothed to George. Alicia Spinnet must suffer the same affliction.

Albus Dumbledore has entrusted you with the ownership of his valued Deluminator. It can not only retrieve lights to darken the area around you, it can also be a light in dark, unforgiving places. Experiment as you will, as it is harmless, but it has more properties than I can describe. I have been told they depend upon the owner of the device.

Merlin knows what the Deluminator will make of you.

Best Wishes to you in the Year to come,

Professor Severus Snape

 

*

 

To Sirius Orion Black and Remus John Lupin,

I hate both of you.

That being said…congratulations: you are fooling no one.

Lupin, you are terrible at buttoning shirts in a hurry. Just put on a blasted robe the next time your atrocious activities are interrupted.

Black, if you become a werewolf Animagus due to your lecherous ways, I reserve the right to laugh at you.

I suddenly find myself intrigued by an idea. Can a werewolf also become an Animagus? If so, would it take a different form than the curse of the wolf? Inquiring minds with nothing to do but bow and scrape to a madman wish to know.

Lupin, enclosed with this missive is the recipe for normal Wolfsbane Potion. Black can supply the money needed to procure the ingredients to make it in large batches. If you wish to convince the bloody werewolves not to side with Voldemort—and time is running out in this regard—then I would suggest handing out free Wolfsbane just before the full moon. Perhaps it would be wise to hint that there is a better version available for those who side with the Order against Voldemort. Bribery is a useful tool and should not be disregarded because of such silly things as morals.

Black, do yell at him to stop whinging about accepting charity. It’s an annoying character flaw. It is not charity if you’re in a relationship, it is called marriage.

I cannot believe I just had to write that. I genuinely blame you both.

Black: you currently have two Heirs, even if you have yet to publicly acknowledge the second. Soon it might even be three, but none bear the Black family name. Potter cannot change his, or else that line ends with him. Malfoy has a similar difficulty. I suggest asking Auror Tonks if she’ll consider an alteration. Given her attachment to her father, Tonks-Black might mollify her sensibilities. Whomever she eventually marries can be ordered to take the Black name, and then they can have ever-changing little Metamorphmagus babies, however the bloody hell that came about.

(Seriously. How. There is no history of Metamorphmagi in your entire damned lineage.)

Please stop pretending not to be involved. It is tiresome.

Professor Severus Snape

 

*

 

Dearest Narcissa,

You must go Malfoy Manor on this very day. I will send word if it suddenly becomes unsafe to do so, and tell you of a different day. If you do not hear from me, assume all is well and proceed.

Remove anything from that massive pile of brick that you wish to retain, whether it was originally yours or not. Draco will be there, waiting to help you. We have concerns that the Manor may not last through the entirety of the upcoming war, either by destruction or pillaging by those who should certainly know better.

Once you have emptied the Manor to your satisfaction, and saved those items that are part of Draco’s inheritance, do not return. Draco will tell the story of his “thieving mother” and will be forced to adjust the wards, and they will not be set to do nice things to those it considers to be intruders. Be cautious, but be thorough. Dobby still knows the Manor well; if you ask him nicely, he may be willing to assist you.

When this is done, divorce that miserly arse before the Ministry falls. Draco will automatically inherit through the old blood magic, as Lucius is in Azkaban. That title will not revert even if Lucius is freed from prison. In that sense, you will have one less concern as to your son’s safety.

Enclosed is a broach I discovered lost in a room in Hogwarts while I explored it this spring. I believe that its lovely silver leaf with berries of black pearl will suit you well.

You may consider it a bribe, if you like, though I have nothing yet in mind.

My Best Wishes to You,

Professor Severus Prince Snape

 

*

 

To Mister William Arthur Weasley and Miss Fleur Violette Delacour:

Congratulations on your impending marriage. I am sure you will thrive, no matter what others believe. You both carry the courage of your convictions, a strength that very few are brave enough to bear with pride.

While it appears to be a mere Muggle horse shoe, this is an item of the old traditions in truth. If you hang it above your doorway, one who enters the house with ill intent will quickly discover that there is a large U-shaped bit of forged iron embedded in their skull. I’ve witnessed its use one time. Believe me, it is quite the deterrent.

Do not give up on old allegiances to those the rest of the wizarding world find unsavory, for they are loyal and steadfast if you can hold their trust. They are also very fond of (temporarily) gifting children with items of great protective strength. These beings enjoy children, but fortunately not in the same ways as the Green Folk of old.

William, please do not let your father try to make deals with the Green Folk. A snake already attempted to eat him this decade, and that is probably all the adventure he needs beyond what is to come.

I wish you great happiness, though it may often seem otherwise.

 

*

 

To the Auror Nymphadora Asterope Tonks:

For the love of Merlin, please ask Oliver Wood out on a date before the young man explodes.

 

*

 

To Madam Andromeda Cassiopeia Black Tonks & Edward Deacon Tonks:

When the time comes, do not run. Go to ground.

For the love of God and Merlin, do not run.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Draco comes storming into Riddle Manor that evening. He slams his coat down onto the back of an old chair so hard that it cracks directly down the middle and goes straight to Bellatrix. “Did you tell her?” he snarls at his aunt.

Bellatrix gives Draco a careless up-and-down glance before shoving her spoon back into the cup she’s holding, retrieving another small bite of something that resembles raspberry gelato. “Tell who what, Drakey?”

Draco makes a displeased face and steps back in apparent frustration. His acting, Snape thinks, is superb. Just like his brilliance with the Vanishing Cabinet, it shows a level of ingenuity that his father lacks.

“Did you tell my mother the new key to the wards on the Manor, Aunt Bella?”

Bellatrix shrugs. “Haven’t had the pleasure of Cissy’s company since I had the pleasure of watching Cousin Sirius hand over valuable information for free. Any fool could have told him that Baby Regulus was dead.”

“What is this?”

Draco does not flinch, but his expression tightens before he stands tall and turns around in one smooth motion, completing it with a bow that is Malfoy-trained, but definitely Black-perfected. “I apologize for my hasty entry, My Lord. I just discovered the Manor in a terrible state.”

“I see.” Voldemort stands in the doorway that leads into the crumbling parlor. He is resting his wand against his hand in a deceptive, gentle manner. “What news then, young Mister Malfoy?”

Draco stands. “My mother,” he grates out, “got past the wards on the Manor. She all but emptied it, My Lord. Many items specific to the Malfoy family line are gone.”

“I see. I am sorry for your family’s loss,” Voldemort replies, assuming a sympathy that is too chill to be genuine. “Are they replaceable?”

“Some,” Draco admits, after a moment of seeming deliberation. “But not all. I was to offer you the services of the family library, but I fear many of the tomes My Lord would find most useful are long gone.”

“But not all. Not yet, at least.” Voldemort taps his wand against his palm. “Can the wards be altered, the theft halted?”

“I can’t truly restructure the wards, no. Not until—” Draco pauses mid-sentence, his head jerking to one side while his hands bunch up into fists.

Bellatrix smiles. “Oh, dear. Baby sister has just divorced Lucius.”

“I didn’t think it could happen that fast,” Yaxley grunts.

“Lucius is in prison,” Snape tells the other man in a voice that just barely hides his displeasure. “It is very hard to contest a divorce from within Azkaban.”

Voldemort seems amused by the drama. “Well, Draco?”

“If he is imprisoned, and she divorces him…I’m of age. The wards and the Manor belong to me.” Draco looks shocked. Then he shakes it off and drops to one knee before Voldemort. “Would My Lord care for a residence more suiting to your status?”

“Is it safe for our purposes?” Voldemort asks.

“It is Unplottable, and unless someone is told of its existence by those who hold its secret, no one outside of My Lord’s most loyal will ever find it,” Draco says.

Voldemort places his hand on Draco’s head, a whisper of movement that is a mockery of tousling some beloved child’s hair. “Well done, Draco. As with the Cabinets, you continue to surprise me. What use have I for your father when I have you?”

“His face has been known far longer than mine among Pure-blood circles,” Draco offers, rising when Voldemort signals he do so. “That could be useful, even if other aspects are not.”

“True, true.” Voldemort glances around at his assembled Death Eaters. “Pack up what little we’ve gathered here. It seems we are undergoing a change of address.”

Snape waits until Draco has disappeared into a different room to shake off the lingering feel of Voldemort’s hand. Then he leans closer to Bellatrix. “Are you eating frozen blood?”

Bellatrix licks off the spoon and holds it to the tip of her tongue, giggling. “Florean Fortescue made it.”

Snape rolls his eyes. “That is most unsanitary, Bella.”

Albus would be so disappointed by Florean’s death. Snape just doesn’t want to know what Bellatrix did with the rest of the body.

The full assembled might of the Death Eaters gathers in the third week of July. This is when the full plans for the Ministry are laid out, and Snape feels his stomach tighten in displeasure. The agents already in place within the Ministry are going to open doors and passageways to what is now a small but effective, bloodthirsty army. Their targets are already marked: those who are considered blood traitors; those who will not bow to Voldemort; those who are Muggle-born. Snape is relieved that the day in question falls on William and Fleur Delacour’s wedding day, so that Arthur will not be inside the Ministry when it begins.

He cannot help Percival Weasley, who still has a position within the Ministry. The idiot has maintained his absolute loyalty to the government while disowning his family. If he is intelligent and keeps his mouth shut, he may survive the incursion.

Too many others will not. He can do nothing for them.

He has spent what little free time he has brewing potions at Spinner’s End. While he lacks access to his laboratory at Hogwarts, he spent years and funds to recreate the setup in the basement of his hated childhood home. There, he can work uninterrupted on more delicate—or more illegal—projects.

Snape has been attempting, with utmost care, to recreate the preservation potion. Walburga Black and those before her apparently did not believe in the concept of notation. Two of the listed ingredients in “Ilding  a Aparpyng of Ælíf” have multiple possibilities. He takes care with his shield charms, and actually shatters a bronze cauldron, before getting a result that is not immediately explosive.

He knows the first one isn’t right, but he can’t find his way forward without testing each attempt. The aging Flobberworm it is tried upon also explodes, just as the previous failed potions. Not an auspicious beginning, but it’s a start. Even failures are ways in which to learn.

When the second Flobberworm simply flops over onto its side, dead, Snape starts over. He sits down with quill, parchment, and a stack of books, writing out every conceivable translation and meaning to every single word and rune the formula contains, beginning to end.

It doesn’t take long to realize he was incorrect in his initial translation. The potion is not, “for the preservation of youthful life,” as he’d previously thought, but, “prolonging a something of eternal life.”

Aparpyng isn’t even a real bloody word. Damned transitive periods in English language—at least if the creator had used a rune, Snape might be able to find it for proper translating. He won’t know what aparpyng really means until he gets the formula correct. The term might imply that the preserved youth is literally skin deep, or it was simply the only word the potion’s creator knew to use that wasn’t French. Idiot; at least French would be less of a complete mess than these instructions.

Snape wanted to be handing the Dark Lord a poison disguised as preservation before the fall of the Ministry, but no, oh no. Instead, he is translating someone else’s ancient, shoddy work!

By morning, he is more than a bit peaked. He is also staring at the translated list of ingredients in absolute dismay.

 

1 Cauldron of Finest Golden Pyrite, Large

Where is he supposed to find a cauldron made of pyrite? Snape can’t recall ever seeing one of those before in his entire life, let alone hearing of one being used for anything.

It does, however, make him suspect that aparpyng is meant to mean appearance.

It’s still not a real word.

 

1 Stirring Rod of Purest Silver, the Length of the Brewer’s Left Forearm

Snape scowls down at the page. Pure silver is not an effective stirring device; the metal is too soft to effectively stir a thick brew unless the rods are twice the normal thickness of a standard glass rod.

 

Measuring Scales of Purest Gold

Much like the cauldron, Snape knows of no potion that requires golden scales. Either it is the potion’s age and old alchemical beliefs of the time influencing this potion’s creation, or there really is much that the wizarding world has lost over the centuries. It is well-known that Merlin charged the Four Founders, greatest of the magic workers left in the eleventh century, to create a school devoted to magic. Perhaps this book is a prime example of why the ancient wizard gave the Founders that final command before vanishing from history.

 

All Phials of Storage, Measurement, and Preparation to be of the Most Flawless Quartz

Annoying, but not impossible. Crystal would have been easier, but he triple-checked; the book most assuredly means the stone, not glass.

 

1 Mortar & Pestle, Carved from the Stone that Held the Sword

“All right. Now you’re making shite up,” Snape mutters, resting his forehead in his hands as he stares down at the list. How the hell does one acquire a mortar and pestle carved from the stone that held Excalibur?

Moreover, since when is that blasted sword real? Merlin and Arthur represented the last gasp, the final attempt in the British Isles of Muggle-Wizard cooperation before the Muggles picked up Christianity’s penchant for burning things it didn’t approve of. The sword exists in the Muggle tales, but there is not a single hint of it in the wizarding stories.

Maybe that division had been deliberate. Intriguing.

Perhaps Snape can request that Minerva ask Albus’s portrait if such a thing exists—no. The Black family has to have one in their possession if Walburga Black was truly using this potion until 1985. Kreacher might require a bribe to search for it, or Snape can find the time and go stumbling about up there in that overly-large wasteland of an attic by himself.

He would attempt to ask Walburga’s portrait as to its location, but after Draco burnt the portrait’s match in Malfoy Manor, she has not been seen. It makes him wonder if even magical portraits can become deceased.

No. Bribery is far preferable. Black once got lost up in that stupid attic for three days.

Methodology, at least, makes sense. All dry ingredients are to be powdered only under the light of the full moon. All ingredients can only be stored for a single lunar cycle, regardless of any preservation charms employed. Dry ingredients must be kept in the dark between preparation and use; wet ingredients must be stored, untouched, on a windowsill struck by the light of sunrise each morning. Living ingredients can be kept anywhere, but the lunar cycle still applies.

All wet ingredients can only be decanted and measured under a new moon. That is also when the potion must be brewed, sunset to sunup. If the process isn’t complete by sunrise, the entire potion is ruined.

The list of ingredients itself is the bone of contention, the bane of his entire night.

 

6 Antipodean Opaleye Dracon Scales, Naturally Shed by a Female Dragon with Egg

Not Welsh Green, which is far easier to acquire—and part of his earlier blunder. The rune seemed at first glance to stand only for “dragon” before Snape went hunting for his father’s old Muggle magnifying glass and held it over the lines.

 

2 Yntsa of Blood of a Scorpion-tailed Chimera

Two ounces of blood from one of the most dangerous creatures in the world. Of course.

 

1 Yntsa of Acromantula Venom, Brewed With 5 Yntsa Honey and 1 Penig Perfect Dandelion Petals for 10 Passes of the Sun Across the Sky

Merlin, why? What possible benefit could Acromantula venom have in this potion?

 

8 Yntsa of an Enemy’s Blood

A full cup of blood. Snape taps his fingers over that one. Nowhere in the formula does it specify if the blood needs be taken from a defeated enemy, or a defeated and dead enemy. That is an important distinction, dammit! Just as important: the enemy of the recipient, or the enemy of the brewer?

He finally finds that information, a footnote buried near the end of the book’s pathetic attempt at an index. Enemy of the brewer. Preferable if brewer and recipient are the same being, but not required. Excellent.

Perhaps he can just kill someone he hates—no, that list is far too long. Stun an enemy, steal their blood while they live, and then kill them afterwards?

Snape wonders if anyone would miss Corban Yaxley if he were to suddenly vanish. He does currently rank near the top of his list of people Snape wants to see made dead.

 

A Single Blooming Water Lily, Gifted by a Kelpie

What. He would kill the maker of this potion if they were not long dead.

 

1 Penig of the Softest Down from an Adult Snowy Owl, Freely Given

That, Snape can manage.

 

Three Strands from a Male Unicorn’s Tail, Plucked With Permission

If the unicorns still try to follow Snape all over the Forbidden Forest, that is possibly also easily done, though he’s never asked them before. He usually collects tail and mane hair that is left behind on trees and brush.

 

Three Strands From a Thestral’s Tail, Removed by Crescent Moonlight

What the hell?

 

A Fire Crab, Shell of Emerald Alone, Alive and Whole

Oh, good. Now he is off to Fiji as well as his necessary visit to New Zealand.

 

8 Penig of Hair Harvested from a Defeated, Slain Pogrebin

Now Russia is also involved in the construction of this potion. Great.

WHY?

 

3 Kneazle Whiskers, Stolen

Oh, that will be such fun. He had best take those whiskers from an animal living somewhere Snape never, ever plans to return to. Maybe Russia.

 

All Juices Collected From 5 Freshly Squeezed Horklumps

That is honestly the most normal thing he’s seen yet.

 

7 Leaves from a Wiggentree, Freely Given by its Guardian

Excellent. Now he is also talking to sticks. He loathes Bowtruckles. He also loathes fairies, and gathering at least a dozen of those is now a requirement. The only thing a Bowtruckle prefers over eating Fairy eggs is attempting to mate with an actual Fairy.

God, this is complete misery, and he hasn’t even properly started yet.

 

3 Yntsa of Mooncalf Dung, Freshly Collected

Snape gives up. This list has gotten too stupid to be anything but entirely serious.

 

1 Single Drop of Veela Blood, Collected by Means of a Dead White Rose Thorn

Oh, now he is not only going to Fiji, New Zealand, Russia, and Germany, he now has a stopover in France. Snape is going to teach himself necromancy, dig up this potion’s creator, bring them back to life, and then feed the bastard to Nagini. Maybe she will choke on him and save him the trouble of having to kill her. How in the entire name of God is he supposed to—

Ah. Well. How does one bribe a Delacour, then?

 

1 Live Golden Snidget, Crushed in the Hand Just Before Use

Merlin, he’ll need to fund a Snidget breeding program just for this purpose. If he sells this potion, the birds will be extinct in less than a month.

 

The final ingredient is the one thing that may ruin the entire plan.

Hair From The One To Be Made Youthful

 

Voldemort, after the ritual of Blood-and-Bone, does not have hair. At all. Too much of the reptilian dominated the process. Snakes do not have hair.

Snape quietly, and with great dignity, beats his head against his workbench in frustration.

On the twenty-fifth of July, one week before the scheduled fall of the Ministry, Snape seeks out Voldemort for a private audience. He waits long minutes in silence, as if ignored, but he knows better.

“Rise, Severus,” Voldemort says at last, without bothering to turn around. “I had thought you busy with other projects.”

“I was,” Snape replies. There is a painful twinge in his knees as he gets back onto his feet. Voldemort’s temper grows more uncertain the closer the clock ticks down to what he considers his impending victory. The Cruciatus Curse of two days ago is still playing hell with Snape’s joints. “However, I have been researching something of interest, as well, an item that I thought My Lord might take a particular interest in.”

Voldemort finally turns around. “Show me.”

Snape refused to bring in the entire book, not on the chance Voldemort would claim it as his own. Instead, he holds out the page he removed from the stitched bindings. All of the information, original and translated from both sides of the page, is already copied onto new parchment at home, just in case.

Voldemort’s eyes dart over the original runes with its mixture of Old English, Middle English, and someone’s complete inability to use or spell real words. “A preservation spell?”

“What I also first thought,” Snape says. “It is actually a potion to prolong the appearance of youth. Walburga Black is confirmed to have used the potion through 1985, which is the year her beauty and health both failed her, just before her death. The impression I get from the potion is that it is also capable of restoring lost youth.”

Voldemort glances up at him without lifting his head from the page, a humorless smile on his face. “Severus, I did not think you minded my visage.”

“I do not. My Lord knows that I have a fondness for the reptilian,” Snape returns evenly. He isn’t surprised that Voldemort realized the potion’s purpose right away. To assume Voldemort lacks intelligence of any sort is to blithely sign one’s own death warrant. “However, as My Lord himself told me: one attracts flies with vinegar, but with honey, one attracts bejeweled birds.”

“1978.” Voldemort’s thin lips spread out in a rare smile of genuine delight. “I did not know if you recalled that.”

“I forget nothing My Lord has told me,” Snape counters. “The potion is in two parts. The first grants the returned youthful appearance. The second makes it permanent.”

Voldemort’s head twitches upwards, betraying his interest, but his voice remains even. “Permanent?”

Snape nods. “Yes. The effects will be permanent, for as long as My Lord shall live.” It is the complete truth. “I would need absolute freedom until the end of August to gather what is necessary and brew the potion, but once that is done?  It awaits only My Lord’s pleasure.”

“And if you plan to give me poison, Severus?”

“I did not kill Albus Dumbledore merely to feed you ineffective poisons,” Snape says in tired frustration.

“Ineffective?” Voldemort hands the page back, but when Snape reaches out to grasp it, it is not released. “Why do you believe them to be ineffective? You are very, very good at your job, Severus.”

“Dumbledore.” Snape lets the scorn and disbelief he’d felt in that moment fill his voice. “He believes that as long as Potter lives, you are invulnerable. The opposite, he thinks, is also true. Dumbledore spoke of it being in the prophecy My Lord was so interested in acquiring from Sirius Black.”

The page is released; Voldemort nods. “You will have your month, Severus. I will send the Carrows along to Hogwarts after the Ministry is ours, the better to begin preparing the school in your absence.”

Snape knew that Voldemort planned to make Hogwarts attendance mandatory for all Pure-blooded and Half-blood students. The Carrows, however, are a new and unwanted addition. “Very well. As long as they defer to Professor McGonagall in my absence.”

“McGonagall, Severus?” The dangerous glint of red is back in Voldemort’s eyes.

Snape breathes out a sigh of unfeigned irritation. “Whether or not the Carrow will be decent teachers remains to be seen, but My Lord—what do the Carrows know of running an entire school? McGonagall may have no love for me, or for you, but she will remain in Hogwarts due to her desire to educate, not to mince politics.”

“Hmm. I remember. She always did have a disdain for such things,” Voldemort admits softly. “But if she steps too far out of bounds…”

“She will not,” Snape promises. “If she does, she will answer to me.”

“Ah; a Headmaster and his Deputy Headmistress. You will indeed have quite the scorecard, Severus.”

Hopefully not, Snape thinks, bowing properly before taking his leave.

He Apparates to several different locations, cloaking himself with a Disillusionment Charm. He waits for several minutes each time, alert for anyone attempting to follow.

Anyone willing to follow him into the Scottish and Welsh dragon reserves gets what they deserve, anyway.

By the time he arrives in London, it’s fully dark. One of the many things that no one ever discusses about the Cruciatus Curse is how much it bloody well hurts to Apparate afterwards, especially if it is multiple times in a row. Snape knows if he tries to land in that small, charmed area of the front doorstep of 12 Grimmauld Place, he might miss. To miss is to accidentally reveal the house, and he refuses to take Potter’s home away from him.

Instead, he Apparates to the Muggle alleyway that runs behind Grimmauld Place. He lands just outside the door of the old coach house. The darkness is broken only by the faint glimmer of lights, the distant hints of Muggle London visible just beyond the end of the road.

A call for Dobby gets him immediate house-elf attention, though the elf looks surprised to see him sitting on the ground next to the warded coach house door. “Master Severus!” Dobby peers at him in concern. “Is you injured?”

“Technically, no.” Snape tilts his head at the house. “Is it a politic time to be here?”

Dobby gives the question serious thought. “It’s bein’ more than yous six. Master Ron is here, Master Bill with his battle scars, Mistress Fleur, and Master Sirius’s cousins. That is bein’ okay?”

“No idea, but I’ll have to take the chance. I need to speak with the others.” Snape considers the sign of weakness and decides he doesn’t care. This is the only place in the world he dares to reveal anything of the sort. “Help me inside, please.”

Dobby helps him to stand, pulling Snape’s arm over the elf’s thin, boney shoulders. The Apparition is so gentle it’s almost unnoticed but for his arrival in the kitchen…and the sudden trio of wands that are now pointed at his face.

“Trickery!” Fleur growls out. Her wand is getting dangerously close to the beginning movements of a rather painful hex. “Traitor!”

Then Kreacher pops into the air in front of Snape and Dobby, brandishing his half-broken cricket bat. “YOU NO BE HURTIN’ MASTER BAT!” he screeches at full volume, shocking Fleur Delacour, William Weasley, and Ted Tonks into nearly dropping their wands.

“What the hell is—oh, for fuck’s sake, put your wands down,” Lupin says in irritation as he comes down the stairs. “Our own blasted house-elf brought him in. Or do you think Dobby adopts everything he sees?”

“Winky,” William and Ted both say at once.

Snape bites back a dry snort of laughter. “They have a point, Lupin.”

“Severus—” Lupin breaks off in alarm. “Christ, man, you look like hell. Sit down.”

Dobby helps Snape to sit in the nearest kitchen chair. He tries not to let on that he nearly misses it entirely. “I’s be getting’ the tea,” Dobby says, and hurries off to the other side of the kitchen.

William finally lowers his wand. “I feel like I’m missing significant information”

“I feel the same,” Fleur mutters. Her accent is still very French, but has lost some of its more pronounced traits.

Snape sees what Dobby meant by scarring now. It looks like someone with claws slashed William across the face—

“Fucking Greyback,” Snape hisses.

“Yeah, him.” William just looks annoyed. “I’m not a werewolf, it not being the full moon that night, but I sure as hell can’t sleep through a full moon anymore.”

Ted scowls and goes out to the stairwell. “ANDROMEDA!” he roars. “YOU SAID YOU WANTED TO KILL HIM!”

“Oh, let’s just flood the kitchen, then.” Lupin rolls his eyes. “Kreacher, I won’t let them kill your favorite Bat. Please go fetch Harry, Sirius, Narcissa, Ron, and Hermione for me.”

Kreacher shakes his cricket bat at Fleur and William. “You’s behavin’!” he snarls, and disappears with his typical, indignant-sounding pop of air.

Andromeda makes it down the stairs first, and notices Snape at once. “You—am I killing you, or merely maiming you?”

“I’m only two days recovered from one of the worst bouts of Crucio I’ve ever received in my entire life,” Snape retorts. “You will have to wait in line for maiming.” He turns to Fleur and William. “Did you like the horseshoe?”

William frowns before sliding his wand back into his shirt sleeve. “Really good for denting heads, is it?”

“Mounted or used as a blunt instrument, to your preference,” Snape replies, and tries not to close his eyes. Now that he is not in immediate danger, all his body wants to do is sleep.

Andromeda understands at once. “Apparating after Crucio is harsh. How many times, Severus?”

“I lost count.”

“You need a Restorative Draught, or a Pepperup. Or both,” Lupin observes.

“I ran out. Last week.” Snape gives his trembling hand an irritated look. “I haven’t had time to make more, and I can’t exactly go anywhere at the moment to purchase it.”

“You could have come here, you idiot,” Potter interjects, leading the way down the stairs ahead of what sounds like a herd of blasted elephants.

“I did,” Snape retorts. “Or one of us is hallucinating.”

“You’re definitely the one closer to that,” Potter shoots back, rummaging around the inside of his robe before producing three corked phials. “Right now, else you’re going to fall over and be truly embarrassed.”

“You’re the one who tried to eat a Snitch,” Snape grouses under his breath, yanking the stopper before downing a Restorative Draught. The taste is off. “What the hell did you add?”

“Don’t remember eating a Snitch.” Potter takes the empty phial away and shoves the next in line at him. “And you know the idea you had about adding Felix Felicis to one of the better potions for curse-treatments? It actually works pretty well in a lot of things.”

“Luck in replenishment.” Snape considers it as the fog trying to settle in on his thoughts fades away again. “Good idea.”

“Of course it was. It was your idea.” Potter stops and stares at him, holding three empty phials in his hand. Snape can tell he wants to ask more than one question, but Potter is flanked by multiple people who are angry, confused, and likely still want to hex Snape into oblivion. “What’s happened?”

Snape lets out steadying breath. “I need help, or none of us get our wish in making Voldemort exceptionally dead. Not reaching for my wand,” he adds, when Fleur’s wand tip twitches again. For good measure, he shakes his wand out of his sleeve and leaves it lying on the table. Andromeda eyes it, but doesn’t move to take it.

Snape pulls folded sheet of parchment from his robes. This is a second copy of his translation efforts, one that Voldemort did not get to view. “This is the preservation potion Walburga Black was using…and these are its ingredients.”

Curiosity slowly overrides caution. By the time Narcissa joins them, Snape is trying not to feel penned in by too many people in close proximity.

“This list is insane, and that’s not including the cauldron,” Black says, frowning. “Hair from the one to be made youthful again.”

Snape meets Black’s eyes. “Yes. I’m going there, first. If I can’t find anything, then there is nothing we can do. We continue with the other parts of the plan and then hope someone just hexes the bastard to death.”

“Well, it’s nice to know that there is a plan,” Ted says. “Enemy’s blood, huh? Want one of us to volunteer?”

Snape rolls his eyes at Ted. “No, you idiot. Or did you miss the part where it said enemy? I wouldn’t have told you to bloody well hide, otherwise.”

“Hide. That was your handwriting. I wasn’t sure.” Andromeda makes an amused sound over the list. “An Antipodean Opaleye. That just happens to be my Patronus. It’s too bad that a Patronus does not have scales to shed.”

“Hide from what?” William asks, while Ted is still scowling over the realization as to where his warning came from.

“The Ministry falls a week from today. Plans are already in place to create some sort of forced Muggle Registration system.”

“Which will be little more than a means to round up Muggle-borns and execute them.” Granger looks disheartened. “We’ve overlooked a huge, terrible problem.”

“We were so worried about the children and their parents,” Lupin whispers, his face paling.

“We didn’t stop to think about adult Muggle-born witches and wizards.” Andromeda presses her lips together. “Can anything be done?”

Snape shakes his head. “Not at this juncture—not to prevent it. Mitigate it, perhaps. Once the Ministry falls, the Order is going to have its hands full in rescuing those who are intelligent enough not to go register. Those who do? Once they walk into the Ministry, it may be too late.”

“I wanna know two things, first,” Ronald Weasley says, speaking up. He crosses his arms and glares at Snape from across the table. “I already heard it from them.” He gestures at Granger and Potter. “But I wanna hear it from you. Did you kill Professor Dumbledore?”

Snape gazes back at Ronald Weasley. “Yes, and no.” William sucks in an angry breath but says nothing.

“S’what they said. How’s it both?” Weasley asks.

William puts his hand over his eyes. “Albus Dumbledore’s blasted withered hand. I asked him about it over the holidays, and he brushed me off. What did he do, Professor?”

“Dumbledore discovered a cursed ring in the residence of Voldemort’s maternal family. Recognizing it, he immediately put it on without first checking to see if it was enchanted or cursed.” Snape shakes his head. “It’s been almost a year, and I’m still so fucking angry at him for being so damned foolish!”

“How long did he have?” Andromeda’s dark eyes are clear and focused.

“He might have made it through the end of June, but after that—what was being done to contain the curse to his hand was already failing,” Snape tells her. “He asked for a swift death rather than extended weeks of excruciating suffering.”

“And thus ensured you got to be a proper, trusted spy.” Weasley looks a little less combative. “If you’re spying, why are you trying to help Voldemort with this, then?”

“Ron, you play chess,” William says, glancing at his brother. “It’s a feint, but the ruse has to be genuine. The trap is the part that you don’t want your enemy to see coming.”

“The trap is the easy part to prepare—Voldemort believes it is the second necessary element of the potion.” Snape taps the potion. “But first, I need this, and I have only one month to gather everything. It must be completed on the new moon…which is the eve of the first of September.”

“Oh, good, the night before school begins,” Lupin says. “Minerva says I’m finally out of a job again, too, since it won’t be safe to go back. That’s a familiar state of affairs.”

“Second question, then.” Weasley seems resigned. “What the bloody hell is a yent-sa?”

“Ent-sa,” Granger corrects idly. “The Anglo-Saxon term for an ounce.”

“Right, then. And a penig?”

“About one point six grams,” Potter says. “Even at that weight, I’d still need almost the entire month to get that much down from Hedwig.”

Snape looks to Fleur. “Miss Delacour: Veela blood, even a single drop, is one of the hardest stumbling blocks I have.”

Fleur nods, looking unhappy. “The Ministry of Britain falls on my wedding day.”

William lifts her hand and kisses the back of it. “Hey, it means we’ll never be able to forget our anniversary, love.”

Fleur grants him a sad smile that is still full of great beauty. “Professor Snape, you are promising me that this…this potion, it is to stop Voldemort, yes? Truly, that is your goal?”

“I’ll swear it under Veritaserum if you ask it,” Snape replies, utterly serious. “Voldemort killed my best friend, and then caused the death of one of the few individuals on the face of this planet that found me even remotely tolerable. I want to see Voldemort suffer, Miss Delacour, but I will settle for mere death.”

“Then you will have the blood you need, and the thorn it is gathered with. I will make sure it arrives in this house for safe-keeping,” Fleur says, her blue eyes dark with promise.

Snape inclines his head. “Thank you for such a gift.” Then he turns to Kreacher. The house-elf is standing on the table. “How often did your Mistress need to use this potion, Kreacher?”

Kreacher shifts on his feet, eyes glimmering as he thinks. “Every five years, Master Bat. Give or take a few months, if they’s had been stressful years.”

He won’t need to worry about repeat doses, then. Voldemort is going to be dead before that will ever be necessary. “Do you still wish to help avenge your Master, Kreacher?” Snape asks in a soft voice.

Kreacher stops shifting in place and stares directly at Snape. “Yes, Master Bat. Kreacher wants that more than anything else.”

“Then I know, somewhere in this house, is a pyrite cauldron, golden measuring scales, quartz laboratory equipment, and a mortar and pestle carved from stone.” Snape stares back at him. “If this is to succeed, I need those things. While some can be bought, and others crafted, the pieces carved from stone cannot be found anywhere else.”

Kreacher pulls on one of his ears, whining. “Mistress said those must always be bein’ secret.”

“Yes. I know, and I am sorry. But you can hold your promise to her, or avenge Regulus. It cannot be both.”

Kreacher whines again. “Master Regulus,” he whispers. “I’s be findin’ them. They be hidden, Master Bat. Master Sirius, Kreacher will be needin’ room on the table to put things.”

Black nods, a terrifyingly somber expression on his face. “You’ll have it. I want my brother avenged as much as you do.” Kreacher nods once and then disappears.

Dobby utters a faint cough and holds out a cup of tea with trembling hands. “I’s no wantin’ to interrupt.”

Snape accepts the cup before the distressed house-elf can drop it. “Thank you.”

“I feel like none of us know you at all,” William says in a rueful voice. “We don’t, do we?”

“You know parts of me,” Snape allows. “But to be true to the role I must still play? No. You do not.”

Lupin taps his hand on the piece of paper. “Dobby, please fetch parchment, quills, ink. We need to write down what we each of us will be acquiring, so Severus knows what items he will need to concentrate on collecting. I want this done now, while this is fresh in our minds.”

“There has to be someone in Knockturn Alley still selling Chimera blood. They will guarantee me it is of the proper species, or I will make them very dead,” Narcissa says in her familiar, business-like way. “I do believe I will be able to acquire the Acromantula Venom as well.”

Two harsh difficulties down. “Thank you, Narcissa.”

“How is Draco?” Narcissa asks, the business-like demeanor falling away for a moment.

“Playing his role so well that it fills me with pride,” Snape replies. Narcissa’s answering smile is golden light, mirrored by Andromeda’s dark moon pleasure.

“Then consider the gift that arrived with your letter as payment for what I am to acquire,” Narcissa says, and Snape nods. He hadn’t planned that when sending the broach, but it’s now very convenient.

“Malfoy, too? Bloody hell,” Weasley mutters.

Kreacher starts bringing down items from wherever they were hidden, one at a time. The golden scales glimmer in the light, true-toned in the way only pure and ancient gold will shine. There isn’t a hint of dust, as if dust doesn’t quite dare to settle upon them. The roll of cloth Kreacher brings next is a carefully packaged collection of solid sliver stirring rods, each the perfect diameter to hold up against a thick potion without bending out of shape. Then comes the cauldron, which is rough on the outside, just as a pyrite sample would be. The inside is as smooth as polished glass, without a single crack or flaw to be seen.

“This would have taken some patient skill to craft,” Andromeda says, running her fingers along the inside of the stone cauldron. “Pyrite is very fond of crumbling. If there is a charm on it to keep it stable, I can’t sense it.”

“I wonder what properties it has,” Potter says, shoving his glasses back up into his hair again. “Bronze is earth, gold is sun, silver for the moon, brass for medicinal antibiotics, vocal injuries, and sound, pewter for simple, quick brewing…where does pyrite fall in the list?”

“Fool’s gold stirred by silver.” Snape rubs at his forehead and digs through his memories. “Harder than all other cauldron metals unless you can afford platinum. Semiconductor. A sulfide of iron and sulfur. Iron is a stabilizer. Sulfur is a treatment for certain skin ailments, preservation agent, antibacterial and antifungal properties, treats arthritis, thyroid disorders, assists in healing wounds…”

“I have no idea what half of that means,” Weasley complains, and is shushed by his older brother and Granger at the same time.

“Silver, highest electrical conductivity of all metals, thermal conductive properties, catalyst in chemical reactions, water purifier and sanitizer.” Snape picks up one of the rods, which is as thick as his two of his forefingers held together. “Electrical qualities for proper chemical conversion of all ingredients, even and equal distribution of heat, medicinal qualities, preservation and purification, all stabilized by iron. That is utterly brilliant.”

“Why gold scales, then?” Fleur asks. She’s had her eye on them the entire time in envious delight. “We did not discuss such fine differences in Beauxbatons.”

Because the Beauxbatons Potions teachers are idiots, Snape thinks. “Gold is the least reactive of all known chemical elements, wizard or Muggle. It won’t react with oxygen at any temperature, but any item placed directly on these scales might pick up on gold’s anti-inflammatory properties.”

“So it’s not always about sunlight and masculinity, then,” Granger says thoughtfully.

“No. Not always.”

“Is that why you’re such a bas—uh, harsh teacher?” Weasley amends his words after getting a hard elbow to the ribs from Granger. “Because you expect us to memorize it all the way you sound like you have?”

Snape frowns at Weasley. “No, it’s because I expect you to actually read your school textbooks.

Weasley grimaces. “I do try. They’re bloody dull.”

“How the hell did you actually manage to get an E on your Potions O.W.L.?”

“Beats me,” Weasley says. “I was sure I’d done so badly it would be a Troll-level failure.”

William pushes his way past Ronald. “What did Fred and George get on their Potions N.E.W.T.? Mum thinks they won’t tell us because they failed.”

“They got Os, the complete ingrates,” Snape grouses, but William starts laughing. “If the daft little geniuses had applied themselves to all their coursework the way they applied themselves to crafting chemical formulas, they would have been top of their class. Higher marks than Percival.”

“If Percy ever gets his head out of his own arse, we have got to tell him that!” Ronald says, grinning. The expression dies almost before the sentence is completed. “Merlin, the Ministry. Will he—”

“He disowned you all, the last I’d heard,” Snape says, pretending to be absorbed by further study of the pyrite cauldron. “He’s a Pure-blood, and he’s intelligent enough to keep up the ruse of preferring life under Voldemort.” He sighs. “Idiot should have been a bloody Slytherin.”

“That would’ve been different,” William says, putting his hand over Ronald’s face as the latter splutters indignantly over the idea of any Weasley ever being a Slytherin.

“The Hat wanted to put me in Ravenclaw,” Black says, smiling at Ronald’s sputtering. “I decided that wasn’t enough to spite my parents and asked for Gryffindor instead. Poor Sorting Hat nearly had a conniption fit. Said I was already brave, if I was daring my family’s wrath, and should focus on becoming wiser, instead. Told it I could get wise in any House.”

“You failed at it,” Snape drawls, but Black just grins in acknowledgement.

Lupin nods. “The Sorting Hat told me before I could so much as get a thought into my head that if I tried to argue with it the way Sirius had, it would be highly displeased. Since there was a talking hat on my head threatening me, I didn’t dare to think a word.”

“I didn’t know you could actually…y’know, talk back to it,” Ronald says. “Not until Harry did it, anyway.”

“Fred and George did.” William has his arm curled around Fleur’s shoulders. “They said if it tried to put them in separate Houses, they’d take turns eating it. Pretty sure the Hat knew they weren’t bluffing.”

Andromeda clamps her hand over her mouth, muffling what sounds like delighted laughter. Ted smiles. “I knew I liked them for a reason. Quite practical.”

“Minerva tells me that you, young man, were almost a Hat-stall.” Lupin points at Potter.

“Uh…yeah.” Potter glances at Ron. “You going to disown me if I say that I spent almost five minutes arguing with the Hat because it wanted Slytherin?”

“When did you remember that?” Granger asks, while Snape turns his head and scowls at Potter.

Wrong. Bloody. Damned. House!

“I didn’t.” Potter shoves his hands into his robe pockets. “When I spoke to the Sorting Hat last year, it told me I insisted on Gryffindor. It had no idea why, though, and neither did I, since I didn’t tell the Hat why I didn’t want to be in that House.”

“Malfoy,” Ronald says flatly. “On the train. He acted like a complete prat, and it really left you lookin’ narked. I said you could’ve made friends with him anyway, and then you told me off for suggesting it, because he’d just insulted me. S’not like it was the first time that had ever happened.”

“And the moment my son was sorted into his favorite House…” Narcissa frowns. “Honestly, divorcing that man was not enough.”

“Well, I’m glad the Hat lost the argument,” Granger says. “Slytherin House wouldn’t exactly have been all that nice to Harry.”

“They’re better now,” Potter counters, but Granger shakes her head.

“They weren’t then,” Granger stresses. “The Hat was wrong.”

“No.” Snape pauses with his finger still resting on the cauldron’s lip. “The Hat isn’t wrong. It’s just too early.”

“What? Too early?” Ted asks.

“One of Albus’s ideas.” Snape realizes he’s frowning. He hadn’t expected those words to be spoken to him at the conclusion of the Yule Ball. Since he’d had no idea what to even do with such a concept, he’d buried the notion. “Dumbledore believed that we Sort too soon. That it should be an act reserved for the third-years, not something for first-years.”

“Stepping all over centuries of tradition. The Board of Governors would have been so pleased,” Narcissa says dryly. Kreacher arrives with two boxes full of dusty quartz jars and bottles, eyes the tableau in apparent disgust, and disappears again.

“Oh, forget them. That would have irritated everyone!” Black grins. “Can we do that anyway?”

“You’re not even sitting in the Wizengamot like you’re supposed to be,” Snape counters. “You don’t get a say.”

“I hate the bloody Wizengamot!” Black retorts.

“One cannot precipitate change without participating in the process,” Fleur says primly.

“When they throw you in jail for twelve years without a trial, then we’ll talk about participating.” Black crosses his arms and scowls.

Fleur draws herself up, indignant. “I think not!”

Kreacher arrives with the last of Walburga Black’s secret treasures. “This bein’ it,” he announces.

They all stare at the mortar and pestle with varying expressions of disbelief. “That’s from the stone that’s supposed to have held Excalibur?” Granger asks.

“I admit, I did expect something a bit more…flash,” Andromeda says, while Ted nods in consternation.

“Looks like any old rock you can kick over in a field,” Ronald says.

“And it’s all but soaked in ancient magic,” Lupin mutters. “I might have to leave the room. That blasted thing is loud.”

Snape regards the dull grey stone mortar and pestle. He can’t sense whatever Lupin can, but it does have a feel of great age. The inside of the bowl is perfectly smooth, though the outside shows a rougher carving hand. There are no decorations on the bowl or the pestle, which has a faint gleam to it from the oils of many generations of use by human hands.

He can’t take any of these items with him. The others are replaceable, but not this one thing. “Where did Walburga do her brewing?”

“Probably in the kitchen,” Black answers, but Kreacher is already shaking his head.

“Can’t be takin’ these things from the house, not from the Black house, no, no, no,” Kreacher is muttering. “Oh, but I’m not supposed to show anyone that room, not even the blood traitor son! No, no, no!”

Black winces. “Oh, I think I know which room he means.” Then he startles Snape by kneeling down in front of Kreacher, who is yanking on both of his long, palsied ears. “Kreacher. For Regulus?”

Kreacher stops yanking at his ears, looking wretched. “Givin’ away all of Mistress’s secrets,” he whispers. “Kreacher is a bad house-elf.”

“Not at all. Kreacher is the most loyal house-elf the Black family has ever had,” Black counters. “She would have told Regulus. He wouldn’t have kept those secrets from you, Kreacher. Not from his loyal friend.”

The ancient elf’s eyes well up with tears. “Friend,” he whispers. “You’s be followin’ Kreacher. I’ll show you.” He turns around and glares at Dobby. “Only the six! Not these others, Blacks or not Blacks! Dobby is makin’ sure they don’t see!”

Dobby looks baffled. “Dobby is makin’ sure of it,” he repeats.

Kreacher takes them to the furthest end of the first floor hallway. Hanging on the wall is a painting of a very familiar man—Phineas Nigellus Black, former Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Phineas eyes Black, Lupin, Granger, Potter, Narcissa, and Snape before he glares down at Kreacher. “You! You take these blood traitors away from here at once, house-elf!” Phineas barks immediately. “No blood traitors in my house—”

“You’s be shuttin’ it at once!” Kreacher yells back. “You’s only a painting, not the Master of this House! Master Sirius is helpin’ Kreacher to be avengin’ Master Regulus, and you will be lettin’ him do it!”

That seems to rattle Phineas. “Regulus is truly dead?” he whispers.

“Killed by Voldemort. You remember him—upstart Half-blood who thinks he’s going to rule all of Wizarding Britain?” Black asks, giving the painting a flat, angry stare.

“Killed by Tom Marvolo Riddle. Oh, a sad pox has fallen upon my House,” Phineas mutters, shaking his head. “At least there is a proper Slytherin standing before me!”

“I told Albus you were listening to every word,” Snape replies, unperturbed. Phineas Black is not an idiot.

“And there is, at least, also a proper Black here.” Phineas peers at Narcissa. “Great-grandniece, dear Narcissa.”

“Andromeda is downstairs,” Narcissa says in a sweet voice, which sets Phineas off on a round of entertaining swearing.

“All of my family! Blood traitors! Ruination of my House!”

“Oh, shut up,” Snape orders the portrait. “Open the damned door. The faster you let us inside and grant me free access to what lies beyond your portrait, the sooner I can kill the murderer of the grandnephew that you did like.”

“The words of a proper Slytherin,” Phineas murmurs. “Very well.” His portrait lets out a click and then opens with the grinding squeal of hinges that haven’t seen maintenance in long years. The smell of dust strikes Snape full in the face, almost making him sneeze.

Kreacher leads the way through the open doorway. “Careful, yous all should be being,” he states. “Sometimes Master Pollux’s creations wake up.”

Black shudders visibly. “Oh, that idea will lead to some grand nightmares tonight. Bellatrix never seemed to mind, but there is a reason why Andromeda refuses to overnight here.”

“She told me.” Narcissa lifts her foot and brings it crushing down on something that scurries out from beneath a cabinet. “If that ruined my shoe, I’m billing you, Sirius.”

“Of course,” Black agrees, glancing around the room. “I haven’t been in here since dear old Uncle Pollux was still alive. Creepy old bastard.”

Snape finds it interesting that Kreacher doesn’t complain about Black’s disparagement of that particular ancestor. That’s more disturbing than the remains of whatever Narcissa stepped on, which has no recognizable parts whatsoever.

He looks around while Black mutters disparaging things about his uncle. There is a fully stocked cabinet, though nothing is labeled. Even if there was something still of use, Snape would be unable to trust it. Some people have no blasted sense at all.

The workbenches are large but dusty, covered in a complete laboratory of standing glass and crystal beakers. The lack of dust rings tells Snape that the items Kreacher sought out had not been stored here. A complete lineup of every type of cauldron imaginable hang from the walls; a lead-lined, multi-paned window lets in light, and there is an hooded exhaust port right next to it in case of dangerous fumes. In a second cabinet lies a collection of tools, also in every conceivably useful metal. The bastard even has a platinum cauldron in his collection.

In short, it’s ideal.

“Kreacher,” Snape says, pulling Kreacher’s attention away from his sad perusal of the room. “Will you put all of the items still set up in this room onto a single table—that one,” Snape points at the smallest one, “and then bring everything you discovered back to this room? If you wish your Mistress’s items to be hidden, this is an excellent place for it.”

“Kreacher be doin’ it immediately.” Kreacher glares at Black. “And you’ll not be takin’ them!”

“Kreacher, I don’t even want to be inside this room,” Black replies. Muscles under his eyes are starting to tic. “Uncle Pollux had some very interesting ideas about how children should develop immunity to poisons. I hate this room.”

Lupin winces. “And that’s my cue. We’re done here,” he says, escorting Black outside.

Narcissa’s mouth has turned down in displeasure. “I am suddenly so very, very glad that Mother came to share in Andromeda’s displeasure for overnighting in our father’s family home.”

Chapter Text

The first place he goes to in Godric’s Hollow is the Parish Church Cemetery of St. Clementine. It’s habit, begun long ago. The oldest graves lie in the center, and the graveyard grew out and around them in a vast circle before finally being fenced off for good. The early 1980s had seen the last burials for the ancient graveyard; a new cemetery was consecrated on the outskirts of the village.

He always goes at night, for utmost privacy. The old cemetery never gets necking teenagers, unlike most Muggle graveyards. There are too many actual ghosts lurking about, and they are nosy.

Ignotus Peverell’s stone is starting to look so worn that it’s difficult to read his last name. Snape hesitates a moment, glancing around to ensure that he is alone, before he holds out his wand. The carvings grow deeper, revealing the Peverell brother’s name, year of his birth, and date of his death in clear relief once more. He does the same to Antioch Peverell’s stone, distant ancestor of the Prince family line.

Snape is not really surprised when the ghost peers out from behind his own stone. “Hello, great-grandchild.”

“Hello. I still don’t want your bloody wand,” Snape replies, lighting his wand and lifting it over his head. Cadmus’s grave is always the hardest to find, as if the former owner of the Resurrection Stone would prefer all parts of his life to remain hidden.

“That is good. It will not be yours.”

Snape finishes refreshing the relief on Cadmus’s gravestone. He has no affection for Voldemort’s maternal lineage, but Cadmus himself had not been evil—just burdened by sadness.

“I’m so glad you’re finally seeing sense,” Snape tells the ghost.

Antioch appears as a very young man when he fully manifests, a reminder that he’d left behind children who were likely no more than toddlers when he gained and lost an all-powerful wand on the same day. “I suppose. Are you going to make your usual visit?”

Snape nods. “That is a stupid question.”

“Might I accompany you?”

“Can I stop you?” Snape counters, tucking his wand back into his sleeve before making his way towards the rear of the cemetery.

“Not really.” Antioch sounds cheerful. “This graveyard has been ever so much more active since you decided to bleed on her grave, you know. Why, I’ve had company for the first time in several hundred years!”

“Please go bother them, then.” Snape halts in front of the single stone that was placed over James and Lily’s grave. The inscription was not chosen by anyone in the wizarding world, who would at least have remembered that James Potter had a middle name, and that Lily had not been born a Potter.

 

James Potter               Lily Potter

Born 27 March 1960       Born 30 January 1960

Died 31 October 1981                Died October 31 1981

 

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

 

No, this was Petunia’s work. Her last “gift” to Lily, and one final attempt to utterly distance herself from her younger sister. It’s only the inscription that doesn’t make sense. Snape believes it must have been added by someone else. Even if Petunia had been so inclined, he knows from bitter experience that many stonemasons charge by the letter. She would have paid the absolute bare minimum it was tactful to get away with.

Snape regards the stone in the hush of a night that’s already rounded the clock past midnight. “He did it. Not that the two of you busybodies aren’t already aware of it. Your son graduated Hogwarts a year early. I haven’t seen the records yet, since I’m a bloody fugitive, but Lupin swears he and Granger beat out every single seventh-year they were up against.”

“My great-grandnephew graduated Hogwarts early, and accomplished it well.” Antioch sounds proud. “Wonderful.”

Snape drops his wand back into his hand again. “Do you think Petunia will ever come back here?”

“Your dear friend’s sister?” Antioch snorts. “That one’s not been here since she made certain the stone was dropped over their grave, almost before the gravediggers had finished burying the coffins.”

“Then I suppose Petunia will never get to discover that I’m fixing her nonsense.”

 

                   James Henry Potter                                             Lily Juniper Evans Potter

            Born 27th March 1960                                         Born 30th January 1960

          Godric’s Hollow, England                                  Cokeworth, England

         Died 31st October 1981                                      Died 31st October 1981

       Godric’s Hollow, England                                Godric’s Hollow, England

 

                         The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

 

“Do you know who added that last line?” Snape asks, lowering his wand when the stone has been properly re-carved. He always wanted to do it before, but didn’t feel as if he had the right. At least now he knows that Lily won’t mind.

Antioch turns secretive. “Now, why would I know a thing like that?”

“Because you live here,” Snape retorts crossly.

“Leave it,” Antioch says after a few minutes of ridiculous dithering. “It belongs there.”

“Why?”

Antioch presses down the pleats on his tunic, which still bears a dark stain from where the cloth soaked up his blood. “Some things are not even for the dead to see, Severus Prince. Either you will discover why, or you will not. Just as I will, or I will not.”

He turns on his heel and leaves. “Snape.”

“I’m not going to call you by a name even you don’t like claiming!” the ghost retorts crossly. He follows Snape to the cemetery gate, but no further. Unlike his brothers, Antioch is tied to the land he is buried in. His reasoning, much like the identity of who added that last, odd inscription to James and Lily’s stone, remains a mystery.

The house is harder to face. He did it once, in 1981, and that was quite enough for one lifetime. The cottage is entirely grown over with dark green ivy, making it almost impossible to see the old stone and glittering windows.

A hint of wintergreen and warm citrus fills the air. “I get the bloody hint,” Snape mutters. He leaps over the gate, which has rusted solid, and ignores a plaque that rises in the center of the old walkway as he passes by.

The grass is waist-high, littered with rubble that threatens to trip him. The upper floor of the house is still blown out on the side that had once been a toddler’s bedroom, left open to the elements. Snape glances in the direction of the old explosion. The rubble is heaviest in that area; a child’s stuffed toy trapped under a splintered piece of wood. Something about the tableau bothers him, but he isn’t certain what.

Snape pulls out his wand and rests it across his open palm. “Locate mihi, Tom Marvolo Riddle.”

There is a moment of quiet despair when nothing happens at all. Then, finally, the tip of his wand begins to twitch towards that great pile of rubble in the garden.

Snape steps forward carefully, avoiding wood and stone as he watches his wand point him in the correct direction. He has no idea what he’s going to find, but at least now he knows there is something, somewhere.

His wand stops moving when he’s beyond the debris, almost out of the rear garden and into the woods behind the house. He turns around in a full circle, but the trail ends here.

He frowns. “Lumos,” he murmurs, and lowers the bright end of his wand closer to the ground.

Snape stares at what the light of his wand reveals. “That’s impossible,” he breathes. Then he turns around and glances up at the blown-out side of the house.

It’s pristine. It might as well have been blown apart yesterday.

“A fucking preservation charm,” Snape whispers, appalled. Not applied to the plants, or to the rusted iron gate, but everything else is held frozen by a powerful preservation charm. That’s why the toy under the broken board disturbed him—neither have rotted from exposure to the elements.

Ministry idiots, Snape thinks darkly, pulling out a clean, unused paper bag to place his discovery into. What should be property that Potter inherits was not only confiscated by the Ministry of Magic, it’s been turned into an eternal shrine to murder.

Once the bag is rolled shut and placed inside his robe, Snape bites back a scowl. What else remains untouched?

The front door is unlocked. Either the Ministry is too trusting that no one will climb over the fence, or they’re just stupid.

Once inside, Snape looks around with his jaw hanging open. “THE ENTIRE BLOODY HOUSE?”

No. Absolutely not. Even his vague sense of ethics thinks that this is a travesty, an unforgivable lapse of manners in regards towards the dead.

“Lily. If you don’t want me to do this, now would be a very good time to inform me.”

If anything, the scent of wintergreen and citrus grows stronger. That, Snape knows, is not a denial.

He nods and gets out the other bag he carries, one with an Undetectable Extension Charm. “Of all the bloody foolish absolute nonsense!” he snarls, and sets to his task.

 

*          *          *          *

 

Potter greets him at the door of 12 Grimmauld Place. “You’re back!” Snape thrusts the bag at him; Potter takes the hint, and the bag, and stops blocking the doorway. “You look like you want to murder someone. Or you actually did.”

“The latter,” Snape says, and trudges his way towards the stairs that lead down into the kitchen.

Potter follows right behind him. “Anyone we’ll miss?”

“Yaxley.”

“I asked if it was anyone we would miss,” Potter returns dryly. “Do keep up.”

Snape feels an unwilling smile cross his face. “A valid point.” He’d wanted to save Yaxley for the potion, but the fool had crossed his path at Spinner’s End, trying to spy on him.

Snape took Yaxley’s body back to Malfoy Manor. He dumped a dead man at the feet of numerous surprised Death Eaters and told Voldemort that Snape won’t be able to concentrate on what Voldemort wishes for him to do if he’s being stalked all the time…and also, truthfully, that Yaxley drew a wand on Snape first.

Voldemort suspects Yaxley wanted to weed out the competition in order to merit more favor. Snape thinks Corban Yaxley was just stupid.

“What’s in the bag?” Potter asks.

“Many things, Potter,” Snape answers. The kitchen is almost too bright, occupied by people who are also far too cheerful for six in the bloody morning.

“Didn’t expect to see you this soon,” Lupin says. The smell of cheap Muggle coffee lingers in the air, which is why Narcissa avoids the kitchen like the plague itself until Lupin is done contaminating it. “Good news?”

“In a sense, yes. The potion will most likely work if we can get everything else.” Snape watches Potter drop the bag onto the table, restraining the urge to wince. There is a Cushioning Charm built into the bag for multiple reasons, and that is definitely one of them.

Black looks up from over the edge of the Prophet. “There was something left of him?”

“Yes. Did any of you idiots sleep last night?”

“No.” Potter watches as Snape retrieves the paper sack from within his robes and places it on the table. “That sounded…uh, heavy.”

“What sounded heavy?” Weasley asks, coming into the kitchen in his bare feet, still scratching at his chin.

Snape can’t resist. “That,” he says, pointing at the paper sack.

“Oh, hey, what this?” Weasley unrolls the bag, reaches in, and then drops the bag in shock while leaping back an impressive several feet, coming to rest against the wall behind him. “WHAT THE BLOODY FUCKING HELL IS THAT?”

“That was truly worthwhile. That moment might actually get me through the rest of this year,” Snape says, leaning back in his chair to regard a white-faced Weasley with pleasure.

“NO, REALLY, WHAT THE FUCK IS IN THE BAG?”

“I am going to regret this, I know I am.” Black picks up the sack and, without looking inside, dumps its contents onto the kitchen table. “Oh,” he says, displaying the aplomb of a Black raised by Pollux, Cassiopeia, Orion, and Walburga Black. “That’s…unsanitary.”

Lupin points at it. “How in the entire hell was something like that still there, looking that…”

“Fresh,” Black finishes. “Oh, please, Ron. You’ve handled worse things in Herbology.”

“THOSE ARE PLANTS! THAT IS HALF OF SOMEONE’S BLEEDIN’ SCALP!”

Snape ignores Weasley’s hysterics. “Have either of you ever been back to Godric’s Hollow?”

Black shakes his head. “Just the once that same night, when I got Harry out of there and gave him to Hagrid to look after.”

“Only one time, a few days later. I didn’t go in—whole place was cordoned off, anyway,” Lupin says. “I haven’t tried since the Ministry confiscated it.”

Potter suddenly scowls. “The Ministry owns my parents’ fucking house?”

Snape props his elbow on the table and rests his head on his hand, pleased. “Not anymore, they don’t—and please do not upend that bag,” he says to Potter. “I have no wish to be buried by the contents of an entire house.”

That finally rouses Black’s temper. “They left—they left everything? EVERYTHING?”

“Every single thing, all of it under a very strong preservation charm. The only thing that it didn’t keep out was the plant life.”

“So…you stole everything, and then…you finished destroying the house,” Lupin says, like he almost doesn’t believe it.

Snape releases an annoyed sigh. “The Ministry crafted a memorial to murder, Lupin. There is nothing that is ever going to make that appropriate. I don’t care who killed whom. If Wizarding Britain needs a memorial so badly, they can go visit that stupid statue in the town square!”

There is a long pause. “There’s a statue?” Black asks, horrified.

“It really is kind of an ugly one, too,” Weasley offers. “What? I’ve seen it!” he protests when Lupin, Black, and Potter all stare at him. “Just, uh—whose…uh, whose scalp is that?”

Potter grabs ahold of his own wild mess of hair and pulls. “Does that look like my hair, Ron?”

“Nope. No, it does not. That would be Voldemort’s hair. All right, then.” Weasley backs away. “I’m just going to go disinfect my hands. With boiling water. Maybe fire, too.”

“Pour alcohol on your hands and then light that on fire,” Snape suggests. Lupin gives him a disapproving stare. “What? It’s effective, and skin grows back.”

“You destroyed a house last night,” Lupin counters in irritation. “You’re not allowed to pretend that lighting one’s hands on fire is a sensible solution!”

Snape stares at him.

Lupin sighs and covers his face with both hands. “You’ve done exactly that, haven’t you?”

“I told you that it’s effective sanitation.” As he is placing the trophy back into its paper sack, Snape hesitates. “The others who were here yesterday?”

“Agreed to a minor Obliviation. I’m nervous enough about adding Ron to the mix, but he refuses to be parted from Hermione and Harry, given what we may all be up to after the first of the month,” Lupin says. “Now I’m running too high on the number of Unbreakable Vows I’ve taken. Oh, and Fleur no longer knows the specifics of why she’s fetching a drop of pure Veela blood, but she’ll acquire it after the fourth and deliver it as soon as she can safely visit again. She’s aware that it must be no later than the third week of August, Severus.”

Snape nods, tucking the paper sack away in his robes again. “Thank you. I was—concerned.”

“The horror,” Black says under his breath.

Potter gets up from the table, smiling. “My bag?” he asks, patting the satchel.

“Until you unpack it, yes. There are things in there I still need,” Snape replies.

“Got it. I’m going to keep Ron from setting his hands on fire. Hermione keeps a bottle of surgical spirits with her for basic disinfecting.”

“Disinfecting what?” Lupin asks.

“The entire lavatory, probably,” Potter says, and makes his way up the stairs.

“Maybe it could do something about the smell of dust that never fades,” Black mutters. “I’ve tried everything.”

Snape is about to make a disparaging remark when something far worse occurs to him. “Black…did the house smell this way when you were a child?”

Black pauses in the middle of lifting a tea cup to his lips. “Now that you mention it? No, it didn’t. I just assumed that Kreacher wasn’t up to cleaning it as well anymore, and then it stood empty from ‘85 to ‘93 except for him…”

Lupin groans in dismayed realization. “Oh, no. The one Narcissa stepped on was bad enough.”

“You think the walls are infested by my uncle’s creepy…whatever they are, and that they smell like dust.” Black puts his teacup down and rests his face on the tabletop. “Merlin, no. There is no pest control in the world likely to be effective enough.”

“You’re wizards, you idiots.” Snape points his wand at the wall. “Vocare Creatura.

Kreacher pops into startled existence on the table. “Yes, Master Bat?”

Snape lets out a brief sigh and ignores the fact that Black is laughing at him. “That was an accident. My apologies.” Kreacher glares at them all with undisguised suspicion before disappearing again.

“Let me try,” Lupin says, fighting a smile. “Hmm. Adduc animalis arcanam!”

“Congratulations. You have summoned Granger’s cat,” Snape says as the half-Kneazle’s distinct and swift thump-thump-thump emerges from the stairwell. The orange beast comes strolling in a moment later, acting as if it intentionally chose to be present.

“Narrowing it down then, huh?” Black runs his fingers along the runes carved into his wand. “Evocant animal intra moenia!”

There is a thump and a startled squeak. Granger’s cat immediately streaks in that direction.

“And that would be a mouse.” Lupin thinks about it. “Vocare in creatione Pollux!”

“I’m so glad you were specific!” Black yelps, right before there is an extremely loud thud against the inside of the kitchen’s plaster wall. A crumble of plaster dust rains down from the ceiling.

“That was definitely not a mouse,” Snape observes. They listen to the whatever-it-is skitter around inside the wall before falling silent again.

“At least we figured it out,” Lupin says.

“Mm. Destrueri latebras creatione de Pollux!” Though it’s muffled by plaster, Snape can hear the same crushing sound made by Narcissa’s shoe when she stomped one of the creatures to death in the laboratory. “Exoskeleton. Interesting defensive mechanism.” Even Granger’s cat is staring at that part of the wall in apparent bafflement.

“They’re probably lethally poisonous, too. Fuck, my house is infested,” Black says in dismay.

Lupin grins. “Destrueri latebras creatione de Pollux!” Another crushed exoskeleton sound erupts from a different part of the wall. “Not for long, it isn’t.”

Destrueri latebras creatione de Pollux!” Black looks satisfied by the next crunch. “We could keep score.”

“We should get the kids involved. We could be done by lunchtime,” Lupin says. “Severus?”

A new toxin to study, or the peace of mind of knowing he won’t wake in the night to one of those things crawling into his bed? Decisions, decisions.

“Destrueri latebras creatione de Pollux!” Snape gives Lupin and Black a bland look. “I do believe I’m in the lead.”

“Oh, you bastard,” Black growls, and points his wand at the wall again.

“Have you all gone mental?” Weasley asks them later, staring at them as they point wands at the hallway walls on the first floor.

“I’m not mental, I’m winning!” Black shouts.

“That’s because you’re cheating,” Lupin retorts.

Weasley flinches when one of the creatures is crushed to death inside the wall nearest him. “What was that?”

Snape can’t resist the opportunity, not when it’s been presented twice in one day. “Vocare omnia latebris creationes de Pollux!”

Weasley jumps away from the wall when the sound of at least fifty exoskeleton creatures strikes the inside plaster. He yanks out his wand. “SOMEONE TELL ME THE VERSION THAT MAKES THEM SQUISH!”

By the time they make it to the second floor, Weasley has lost his terror of the things in the walls. He’s trying to rack up enough points to catch up after the kitchen extermination.

Granger comes out of her bedroom, still picking knots out of her hair with a large-tooth comb. “What are you all doing?”

Weasley casts the charm and causes another of the things to die with a squalling crunch. “Mum missed an infestation in 1993!”

“That’s probably for the best,” Granger says, raising an eyebrow at the spectacle of four grown wizards crushing mystery creatures that lurk in plaster walls. “Who’s winning?”

“I am!” Black shouts again.

Oh, that will never do. “Destruere creaturarum omnium—fuck, I can’t use that one,” Snape realizes in disappointment.

“I should think not!” Black looks appalled. “We are not crushing all living creations of Pollux. Now, if you want to modify that spell so it squashes only Bellatrix…”

Snape lowers his wand. “That isn’t doing much to convince me not to try it.”

Destruere omnia falsi creationes de Pollux!“ Lupin shouts.

Snape shuts one eye against the sound of many creatures being crushed to death at once. “Well-played.”

Weasley is scowling. “Not bloody fair. THIRD FLOOR IS MINE!” he declares, and runs for the stairs.

“IT IS NOT!” Black and Lupin race up the stairs after Weasley.

“You’re not going to follow them?” Granger asks, watching Snape return his wand to his sleeve.

“No need. I already got to kill someone I hate this morning,” Snape says.

“Hmm. That’s funny. We’re all still alive.” Granger smirks at him before going back into her bedroom, shutting the door.

Snape stares after her, aware that the expression on his face has to be undignified. “You’re spending too much time with Narcissa!” he finally rallies.

“Oh, you don’t get to blame me for that one,” Narcissa murmurs as she passes by, her chin proudly lifted into the air. “That is all your fault, my dear.”

Snape gnashes his teeth and retreats to the first floor laboratory. Now that he knows the potion can be made, he has cleaning to do.

He also has to renew the preservation charm on part of a madman’s scalp. That was definitely not in Snape’s job description when Albus hired him.

At some point during his tasks, he falls asleep in the laboratory, which is not an uncommon occurrence. He isn’t used to doing so in one that is a new space, but then, he hadn’t slept the previous two nights.

What awakens him is a loud skittering in the walls. Snape lifts his head. “Destruere omnia falsi creationes de Pollux,” he mutters, and goes back to sleep to the sounds of multiple small insect-things being crushed to death.

Snape awakens early on the morning of the twenty-eighth of July, stretching to relieve the soreness in his neck. This room needs a cot for the long spaces between certain brewing steps. The house-elves can Apparate Snape here directly, keeping him hidden from other members of the Order who will be far more likely to kill him first and worry about questions afterwards.

He seeks out Potter, who is sitting on the floor of his bedroom with the door open. There are neat little piles of things surrounding him, taken from the house he’d lived in until Hallowe’en in 1981.

“You could have just left it all there.”

“I could have,” Snape agrees, leaning against the open doorway. “But they belong to you. If you want them disposed of, it’s your right to make that decision, not the Ministry’s.”

“Disposed of.” Potter picks up a stuffed toy, a koala bear with a blue ribbon. There is still grass in its tufts of white fur from lying in the garden. The bear is small enough that he can easily hold it in one hand.

“I remember it being both hands,” Potter whispers, placing his hands around the bear in a wide grip until the toy is supported only by his fingertips. “To hold it. Both hands. It’s sort of funny, right?”

“I don’t think so.”

“No.” Potter puts the bear aside. “I can still remember Dad bringing that home. It was a giraffe at first. Every day he turned it into something new, some animal from far away. Teaching. He liked teaching, I think.”

“Perhaps he simply loved you,” Snape counters softly.

Potter nods. “That, too.” He glances up; his eyes are dry, but red-rimmed. “Do you need your bag back?”

“I do, but first we need to find an empty space to finish emptying it.”

Potter frowns, glancing around at what he has removed. There is a pile of vinyl records Snape recognizes from Lily’s own collection, several stacks of books, and the toys. “There’s more than this—you brought the furniture?”

“It’s yours,” Snape repeats, annoyed. “Some of those items have been in your respective parent’s families for generations. They didn’t deserve to be destroyed, or to be part of a mausoleum that people weren’t even allowed to see. Besides, most inheritances are received when one comes of age. You’ll be seventeen in three days.”

“Birthday. Right.” Potter frowns and then waves him over. “Look. Either I’m hallucinating, or that’s you.”

“You’re not hallucinating,” Snape says of the photo that Harry is holding out for his inspection. Lily had convinced a friend at Hogwarts to let her borrow a wizarding camera for the summer months in 1974. The two teenage ingrates captured are either waving or making ridiculous faces in response to being viewed. “I’m surprised she kept any of them.”

Potter gives him an unimpressed look. “I quote: you are a stupid berk.”

“That is not news,” Snape replies. He’s still vaguely uncomfortable with the idea that Lily is literally speaking to her son, and that is a directly related message. “I need that satchel back at some point in the next year, Potter.”

Potter nods and picks up the satchel. “Okay. Uh—there’s a bedroom down the hall that’s still completely empty. Used to be Walburga’s. Sirius hates it in there, but it’s just a room to me.”

Snape is grateful that James and Lily were dwelling in a cottage at the time, not a larger home, and that shrinking spells exist. He helps Potter unpack the rest of the bag. There is flatware and dining ware that were either inheritance items or gifts, paintings that move and paintings that do not, photographs in frames and in books.  There is also all of the furniture except the appliances, but Snape rescued Lily’s turntable. Speakers will have to be acquired and convinced to function in a wizarding household, but otherwise, it’s in pristine condition.

“Huh. Actual records and a player. I’m not sure who’s going to be happier—Remus or Sirius,” Potter observes. “Not sure who most of those bands were, though.”

“Lily was fond of Janis Joplin. God knows why. Aretha Franklin. The Runaways. Fleetwood Mac.”

Potter glances at him. “What about you?”

It’s been a long time since he’s given it much thought. “Pink Floyd. Joni Mitchell. Jimmy Hendrix. The Doors.” Snape lifts his head, focusing on memory instead of names. “We both liked Queen, though Petunia hated the band because of Freddie Mercury.”

“Why?”

“He was gay—or bisexual. Not sure I recall,” Snape answers. “Most of us who spent any time in the Muggle world liked The Ramones, but Led Zeppelin and Jefferson Airplane were near the top of the list, too.”

Lily and James had dwelled in a home that blended Muggle technology and wizarding spells, the best ideas from both worlds, without being ostentatious or ridiculous. Snape had turned in a slow circle in every room, thinking how utterly, bitterly unfair it was that he’d lived while they died. “They were happy there,” he says, the words sticking in his throat. He hadn’t meant to say them aloud.

“Yeah. They were.” Potter is holding a wizard-crafted Cuckoo Clock from the late 1700s, fifty years before Muggles figured out how to mechanically create the same effect for the emerging bird. “I hated this clock. So did Mum. Dad said it was his grandfather’s least ridiculous possession, so that’s why it got to be in the kitchen and the—the other clock was upstairs.”

Snape nods. He couldn’t recover that one; it had been destroyed in the explosion from the rebounding spell. He’d found only perfectly preserved pieces.

Potter bites at his lip, a habit Snape has never seen him indulge in. “I can’t ask Sirius this. It reminds him of how many people are gone that he knew and liked, aside from Mum and Dad. Remus, too, since his parents are dead. Snape, why don’t I have any family? Other than my aunt Petunia, I mean.”

Snape takes the clock from Potter and places it on a side table. It has multiple drawers with Extending Charms, which makes it an excellent storage device. “During the first war, Voldemort targeted the family members of those he realized were fighting against him. He started with those who were Muggle-born, or who were considered blood-traitors.”

Potter swallows. “Oh. I knew they were dead, but I didn’t know…how.”

“By the time anyone in the Order realized what was happening, many of those murders had already taken place. James Potter’s entire family was wiped out—your grandparents, great-grandparents, and a great-uncle—the one married to Dorea Black, I believe. Otherwise, there were only a few distant cousins left to the line. Lily’s family suffered the same fate, though only her parents and a childless great-aunt on her father’s side were left. Petunia survived because she had already married Vernon. She was living in Surrey as a perfectly ordinary, stereotypical Muggle, and had divorced herself so utterly from Lily and their parents that she might well have truly been a different person.”

“Did you hate her? For surviving?” Potter asks.

“I haven’t stopped hating that woman,” Snape replies, and then rubs at his forehead. “The school registry. Your original address would have been on it for receiving your first owl. All three of those idiots may be in danger after the first of August.”

“Should we do anything?”

Snape looks at Potter. “That is not a decision I can make, and not only because I can’t stand Petunia Holly Dursley. That will have to be up to you, Harry.”

“They would probably hate it here. I wonder if Hermione’s parents would be willing to shelter them,” Potter says. “Maybe they’ll like dentists more than they like wizards.”

“I highly doubt they will much like anyone.” It was obvious to anyone with eyes that James Potter was of mixed ancestry, a trait Potter shares; Madam Doctor Granger would not be to Petunia’s ill-thought preferences. “I say you’re giving the Doctors Granger an unjust and undeserved punishment.”

“Maybe.” Potter looks around the room again. “I—I really don’t know what I’ll do with any of this, but…you’re right. It should be my choice, not anyone else’s. Thank you.”

Snape is more or less prepared when Potter hugs him. He still isn’t sure what to do about hugging, but there are worse things in the world. “Thank me by surviving this war.”

 

*          *          *          *

 

“There are two more things before I leave here today,” Snape tells them all over breakfast.

Narcissa is wrinkling her nose over the smell of Lupin’s coffee, but is present because Snape asked. “Please hurry and say them so that I can escape this room.”

“The first—once the Ministry falls, it will not be safe to contact me in any capacity, house-elf included. I can request Dobby or Kreacher’s presence if I know I’m in a safe location, but they have no way of knowing the same about me beforehand. I will keep you informed if I can, but if I cannot…then that is simply the way it must be.”

“The laboratory?” Black asks, listening with a hard-edged frown on his face.

“Direct transportation inside and out by house-elf. Phineas will not have to lie to anyone as to whether he’s seen me—and that man is an awful damned liar,” Snape says, which causes Granger to utter an amused snort. She must have noticed Phineas’s failing in that regard. “The room was soundproofed long ago, so there will be no chance that anyone in the Order suspects your occasional houseguest. Whatever ingredients are collected for the potion should be placed in the room when you’re certain no one else is here, though I request that you please knock first. I might be…irritable.”

“Paranoid,” Lupin interprets.

“Justifiably so,” Narcissa murmurs. “Go on, Severus.”

“If there are too many warm bodies, Kreacher can be trusted to place the ingredients inside the room.” Kreacher gives Snape a stern, vigorous nod that makes his ears flop up and down like a bat suffering a brainstorm. “Once the potion is completed, I don’t dare return here afterwards. Not until we’re sure of what must be done regarding the Horcruxes. Narcissa?”

“I began the process, but…” Narcissa shakes her head in irritation. “The Ministry falls in three days—two, if the attack begins of a morning instead of the evening. We’re out of time. I hope that the Cup of Hufflepuff is not located in the Lestrange Vault.”

“Not impressed by the Horcrux argument, were they,” Black comments.

“They seemed more inclined to believe it a tale crafted in regards to a very public family feud.” Narcissa pauses. “Or they are perfectly aware of its true nature, and someone has terrified them into never revealing its existence.”

“I can at least give you all good news on an entirely different front.” Snape reaches into the satchel he’d emptied of Potter’s family belongings and pulls out one of the few other things it holds.

He places the ancient wooden case onto the table, flips the latch open, and stands back. “Touching it is unpleasant. Under no circumstance is anyone to ever attempt to wear it unless you’re in a hurry to end up dying from the same curse that felled Albus Dumbledore.”

Narcissa is the one to open the lid, and then drops it in surprise so that it falls onto the tabletop with a muted thunk. “Oh.”

Lupin leans forward, both eyebrows lifted. “Rowena Ravenclaw’s Diadem. Where did you find that?”

“Technically, I did not. The Grey Lady and the Baron showed me its location, hidden in a junk room inside the Room of Requirement.” Snape gives the tarnished silver a quick glance before looking away. He is in no mood to chance another reaction like the one generated by Slytherin’s locket.

“Locket. Diadem. Diary. Ring. Nagini. Me,” Potter recites. “Six out of seven. Now it’s down to the cup…and not killing me.”

“Has there been any luck among the Malfoy library’s stolen books?” Snape asks.

Narcissa shakes her head. “No, but I’ve barely had the chance to start. While the others do their jobs for the Order, I will be spending my days in the library on Mister Potter’s behalf.”

Potter smiles at her. “Thanks,” he says, and Narcissa inclines her head in acknowledgement.

“Any chance you could kill Nagini in advance?” Black asks.

“No. Not until we’re absolutely certain that we’re ready. If I betray my position, Hogwarts loses its Headmaster, and someone far more frightening than me is put in my place.”

Chapter Text

The Ministry falls on the first of August. As predicted by both sides, it’s a near-flawless coup.

Snape does one thing, the only thing he dares. The Patronus he sends to Minerva is a vocal one, though it’s Lily’s voice he grants it. “Tell them to run. Now.”

Four teachers from Hogwarts with Muggle-born blood take Minerva’s advice, though Snape knows that there will be Death Eaters hunting each one. He cannot help them, not when they weren’t willing to leave prior to the Ministry’s fall. He and Minerva will both have to hope that they have the skill to escape Britain undetected.

Professor Sasha Willowood does not flee. Death Eaters find the art teacher in her home and kill not only her, but her entire Muggle bloodline.

Voldemort inspects the school over the weekend. Snape does not witness it, but the Carrows later seem pleased with the speech given about the new ways things will be done at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Voldemort then leaves the Carrows behind as new teachers to help replace those who will not be returning.

The announcement on the front page of the Daily Prophet, regarding Snape’s placement as Headmaster of Hogwarts, is not something he ever wanted to wake up to. He looks the part of the Bloody Bat, at least. Judging by the articles, the Prophet is playing the part of Voldemort bullhorn under pretense of reporting Ministry doings to save their own skins. Snape can’t blame them for wanting to survive, but he hopes they can keep the gleefulness to a minimum.

The traditional faculty meeting occurs two weeks early. Snape Apparates to the school gates and stares up at the old castle. It’s the first time he hasn’t felt like he’s come home. It’s more like finally arriving to fight a battle, one that already promises to be long and exhausting.

The faculty lounge has been extended, the individual seating turned into one long table. They’re all waiting when he arrives, sweeping into the room without a sound. Most of the faces at the table are, unsurprisingly, full of barely suppressed rage as they witness his approach.

Minerva is sitting to the right of the head of the table, with Rubeus Hagrid standing behind her. Alecto Carrow sits across from Minerva; Amycus is seated at the opposite end of the table. Between them are Filius Flitwick, Poppy Pomfrey, Aurora Sinistra, Septima Vector, Bathsheda Babbling, Sybill Trelawney, Pomona Sprout, Firenze, Rolanda Hooch, and Irma Pince.

They stayed. They all stayed.

They’re idiots for doing so, but Snape is still grateful to see them.

Alecto and Amycus are far too used to the way Voldemort prefers to do things. “What are you waiting for?” Amycus asks, cuffing Hooch on the back of the head. “Stand up for your betters!”

“Amycus.”

Amycus pauses mid-motion. “Yes?”

“Sit. Down,” Snape hisses. “Strike a fellow instructor again without provocation, and you are going to discover if the ceiling above the Great Hall actually exists.”

“But—” Alecto tries, and then looks offended when Snape glares at him.

“Stop bleating. I don’t have time for it. We have exactly four weeks to prepare this school for a very different sort of school term, and I do not have the patience for your nonsense!”

“Yes, that’s right. Different,” Amycus says, his voice dripping delight and scorn. “Things’ll be different around here, so you’d all best just—”

Snape lifts his wand. “Stupefy,” he mutters, and hears it echoed on his right. Alecto collapses face-first onto the table just as Amycus topples out of his chair. “Really?”

Minerva pockets her wand with a disdainful sniff. “They won’t ever shut up, otherwise.”

“No, they tend not to,” Snape agrees.

“Just what kind of different sort of school term are we to be expecting, then?” Sinistra asks, giving him a haughty, cold stare.

“I have been charged with protecting the children attending this school,” Snape says, privately pleased when half of them don’t believe him, and the other half look unhappily surprised. “That is what all of us will be doing, to the absolute best of our ability. It is the job we agreed to perform when taking up posts at this school, and it is the job we will continue to do, regardless of what others might plan.”

“And if we refuse, you’ll do what? Kill us?” Babbling asks.

Snape narrows his eyes. “If you refuse to perform your job of teaching and protecting these children? No. I’ll fire you. At that point, you can try to outrun Voldemort’s Death Eaters and his Snatchers, and when they catch you, you can explain your failure to him.”

“The Carrows have said they’re taking over Defence, except they’re calling it Dark Arts,” Flitwick says in a cautious voice.

Snape glances over at Alecto, who has begun to snore. “Not fucking likely. Where is Slughorn?”

“Hiding,” Minerva says in disgust. “I couldn’t pry him out of his home. Bollocks to the forehead, I absolutely swear.”

“I’ll get him later. He’s got a damned job to do, whether he likes it or not. And Marchbanks?”

“Leery, but I think it will be possible to convince her after today,” Minerva says, a hint and warning both. “She is willing to take on Art or Music, if any student dares to show an interest, and can act as a stand-in for any of us should anything…untoward occur.”

“Very well.” Snape rests his hands onto the table, glancing around at these people who have been working with him for fifteen years. “Alecto is going to be teaching Magical Theory by the textbooks she is given. Amycus has the absolute joy of handling those students who have an interest in Ghoul Studies.”

“They won’t like that very much,” Firenze observes, an utter lack of expression on his face.

“Then I will happily make them like it,” Snape replies, glancing down at his wand.

“Imperius? For the entire school year?” Hooch is beginning to look alarmed.

“If that is what it takes? Yes.”

“Who will be teaching our new Dark Arts class, then?” Pomona growls. “You?”

“Myself, or one of the Carrows. Pick one,” Snape returns blandly. “One of us believes that defence is still a valid part of the subject. The others do not.”

“You,” Trelawney says at once in a trembling whisper. “Someone dies if it isn’t you.”

“He killed Dumbledore!” Sinistra glares at Trelawney as if she’s just betrayed them all.

Snape decides it’s wiser to just ignore them both. “Madam Pomfrey, any student who has class with either of the Carrows needs a block of free time in their schedule just afterwards in order to visit you.”

“You don’t think their subjects will stop them from being exuberant, do you?” Poppy looks tired already, and the year hasn’t even begun.

“Exuberant is the wrong word entirely, and no. It complicates scheduling, but Alecto is far too fond of Cruciatus for the possibility to be ignored.”

“Can we not just…dispose of them, and find someone else?” Vector asks, giving the nearest Carrow a distasteful look.

“There are other, worse options available, and they would not be options we would be allowed to choose.” Snape lets that sink in. “Once Slughorn has been dragged in, quite likely kicking and screaming, he is going to be covering Potions for the first- through fifth-years, and Alchemy for anyone third-year and up.”

“Sixth and seventh?” Flitwick asks, eyes narrowing.

Snape rolls his eyes. “Please. That idiot didn’t know what he was doing in the higher level classes when I was a student. I’m not even sure I trust him with the younger students, but at least their potions are less volatile.”

“The Carrows have threatened to burn any book they find unacceptable in my library!” Madam Pince suddenly bursts out.

“Then bloody well set them on fire, first,” Snape counters. “Sybill, Firenze, your classes remain split along the previous lines. Third- through fifth-years belong to Trelawney; Firenze, you have the rest.” Firenze inclines his head, but gives Trelawney an amused look when she mutters under her breath about horses and false fortunes.

“The Dark Lord named the Carrows as Co-Deputy Headmistress Deputy-Headmaster, but they’re too bloody stupid for the job. As far as I’m concerned, Minerva McGonagall still has the role, even if none of us can actually use the title properly.” That starts an irritating rumble of muttering. “Shut up. The rest of you will continue with your jobs exactly as you did previously.”

“If you’re acting as Headmaster, then you will need a new Head of House,” Minerva points out. “You cannot be both. Impartiality, Severus.”

Snape clamps his hand over his face and resists the urge to scream. There is only one candidate who isn’t a Carrow. “Bloody. Fucking. Slughorn. Is. Useless.”

Why couldn’t Albus have hired at least one other Slytherin to teach in this school? God, why?

“Until he’s pried out of hiding and brought here? Yes,” Minerva agrees in a mild voice.

Fuck. “Did the owls go out in July with Slytherin’s Prefect and Head Boy and Girl badges?”

Minerva nods. “I didn’t disagree with your or