Title: Be Good and Don't Make a Sound
Author: Naatz at Sevenmes
Team: Wartime
Genre(s): AU
Prompt(s): Chain of Command
Rating: PG-13
Warning/Kinks: *Humiliation, Slavery*
Word Count: ~18,000
Summary: How can you rush to the rescue when it's your loved ones who stand in the way?
A/N: To me, this fic is very cheesy. It's sticky, it's smelly, but I'm still unreasonably fond of it. It also came very close to getting the title 'Snarry for Beginners'. Dedicated to Ac1d6urn, for offering a figurative shoulder, much amusement, lots of help, and writing advice I would never forget.
Betas: Sazzlette, Eeyore9990, Medawyn, Unrequited Angst, Joanwilder, Perfica and Ac1d6urn. Thank you all.

Be Good and Don't Make a Sound

For in reason, all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.
- Jonathan Swift



Harry jumped when the front door was kicked wide open, breaking through the thin plaster wall of a corner alcove. He dashed into the corridor, but stumbled when he heard Sirius's raspy voice shouting out, "JAMES!"

He regained his footing and lunged into the dusty corridor towards him. Hunched under an unconscious body, Sirius was trying to make his way to the stairs, without much success.

"Sirius?" Harry asked, stunned by the blood that was running down from Sirius's swollen nose. He pretended it didn't sting when Sirius only glanced at him tiredly before hollering for James again.

"I'm coming!" Harry's dad shouted back from the floor above them. "Stop shouting, you impatient mongrel!"

James tumbled down the stairs a few minutes later, scowling and tying the sash of his dressing-gown around his waist. "It's our week off," he grumbled, but shut his mouth with an audible click when he saw Sirius and the man Sirius was carrying.

"Merlin," he breathed, and an ugly grin stretched his lips. "You got him."

Sirius smirked. "I got him good."

James's laughter was hoarse and so full of hatred and victory it terrified Harry. He was one breath away from shouting Stop! and making Sirius put the stranger down and explain.

One breath away. One breath that Harry found impossible to draw.

"C'mon," Sirius told James and shifted uncomfortably. "Help me get the bastard up to the attic."

James hopped the rest of the way down the stairs and took out his wand. "Mobilicorpus," he said imperiously with his grin still in place, and went back up at an easy gait.

"Buthe'shurt," Harry finally said in a rush. He meant that Sirius was hurt, but when his dad made the unconscious man float high in the air, his face and robes no longer sticking to Sirius, it was easy to discern that the blood that dripped to the floor came from the unconscious man's hair and sleeves, and that his face had an unnatural greenish tint to it.

The two Aurors took it the wrong way and shrugged. Sirius turned to Harry and finally said, "He deserved it." Then he turned and followed James, leaving Harry alone and in the dark.

***

Harry fussed for some time in the kitchen over the pasta he was cooking, before giving up and sitting on a stool. He put his hands in his lap, hiding them from view – especially his own.

This wasn't the first time Harry had seen people hurt and bleeding. After all, he'd been the youngest Seeker Hogwarts had had in a century. He himself had even lost all the bones in his arm when an essentially stupid teacher had tried to mend them. He'd also been in fistfights where he'd broken his nose and once, when he'd been really little, he'd played with his father's wand and almost set himself on fire.

The teacher had been sacked when Sirius had learnt what had happened, despite James's claims that Harry's arm was fine and no real harm had been done. After Harry's fistfights Sirius sent advice via owl post, or he'd Floo past curfew to teach Harry how to beat his opponents quicker.

Those were the daily injuries. There were many more that Harry refused to think about, things that others had done to him and things he had done to others with the help of his two best friends. He had no doubt that nothing would be ending quite yet, not until the war was over.

He reached a decision then and took the pasta off the stove, replacing it with a water-filled teapot. While he waited for it to boil, he looked for some gauze.

Once he had all he wanted, he took everything upstairs to the attic, feeling awkward. He wasn't supposed to be up here; it was completely off-limits to anyone who wasn't his dad or Sirius. Even Remus was banned from the attic, when he visited.

The higher Harry went, the more noise reached his ears. Moans, snarls – occasionally somebody spoke, but Harry couldn't make out the voices. Not sure what to do, he stood for a moment before he forced himself to walk to the door of the attic and knocked, careful not to hit his head on the low ceiling.

The sudden silence was eerie, as if more than one person were biting their tongues and straining not to make noise.

Harry waited, but nobody came to open the door. He put down the teapot and gauze before the door, turned around, and walked back, face still turned towards the door.

He hit his head on the support beams on his way down.

***

Way too early the next morning, a big, slobbering dog jumped on Harry's bed and woke him up.

"Urgh," said Harry in response and batted Padfoot's wet snout away, burrowing deeper in his blankets and trying hard to ignore his father's soft chuckle as the curtains were opened, letting in too much light for Harry's liking.

Padfoot barked and sneaked a lick on Harry's nose.

"Go 'way," Harry mumbled and pushed Padfoot away again, unknowingly stretching enough to allow his father access to start tickling his feet.

Doubling over and laughing, Harry started kicking – if asked he'd say it was reflex -- but James held down his legs and tickled Harry harder, sharing a grin with the dog, who promptly began licking Harry's neck.

"I give in!" Harry screeched, unable to breathe. "I give in!"

The licking stopped. The tickling stopped. Then Padfoot jumped off the bed, hitting Harry in the face with his tail in the process. Harry sat up and drew his knees to his chest, gasping and glaring at the two blurry figures.

"Good morning," his dad said pleasantly, offering him his glasses.

Now that Harry could see the dog's mocking pink tongue and his dad's shiny white teeth, he straightened and proclaimed, "That wasn't fair!"

Chuckling once more, James ruffled Harry's hair and said, "Breakfast is in fifteen minutes." Then he turned to Padfoot and asked, "Coming?"

With that, Padfoot padded to the door, looking back at Harry with his tongue still lolling out. James nudged him out firmly and closed the door behind them, leaving a groggy Harry to get ready for the day.

Harry eyed the pillow, shifted his eyes to the blankets still on the floor and sighed, deciding to get up and stretch. If he'd had any hope that after his birthday his dad and his godfather would treat him like the adult he now was, he had obviously been sorely mistaken.

He glanced at his bedside clock and groaned. It was half past six in early August and he was expected to get up?

Nonetheless, he was already awake, so what would be the harm in finishing his morning routine and being grumpy at his dad for the remainder of the day for his little morning tickle?

At quarter to seven – exactly! – Harry held back a yawn and went to the living room for breakfast. He slouched in his chair all over the table, hiding his face from view as he tried to sneak in a few minutes more of sleep.

He shifted slightly in acknowledgement when he heard Sirius grumble somewhere above him, "You could've given us a hand."

"Nah, let him sleep. He's going to be active enough in a few hours."

Harry raised his head and looked at his dad without much understanding. "Huh?"

James laughed and put Harry's plate where his head had been. "Auror training, remember?"

"Oh, shit!" Harry exclaimed. "Today's Monday?" How had he managed to forget?

He couldn't help but feel dismayed when they laughed at him.

***

Everything went wrong that morning. Never before had time gone as fast as it did then, in a flurry of stairs, clothes, almosts, and one broken mirror.

It took Harry longer than the assigned forty-five minutes to pack, which was why his dad dragged him by the scruff of his neck to the fireplace and ordered him to get a grip on himself and get moving.

Harry had never been to the Auror Complex. He didn't expect the strange Floo security measures of hands holding him still and searching him thoroughly – in his pockets, under his robes, inside his underclothes. One even tried to sneak into his mouth and under his tongue, but Harry bit down hard enough to sever a finger, had the hand been real.

At the reception hall, Harry was high-strung. The crowd was thick enough that Harry had problems going anywhere without walking into somebody. It made him irritable, nervous, and over-alert; not a healthy combination, as the Auror guards positioned there were looking for anybody jumpy.

The amount of people thinned after they passed two more security points. Only then did Harry allow himself to calm down and stop checking the people around him suspiciously.

He didn't expect it when James and Sirius stopped in front of a large door. James pressed his lips together as Sirius said too loudly, "Well, this is it."

Harry looked at the door. Past it was his home for the next six months of his training. He turned to face his dad and his godfather for confirmation. After finding it, he turned to them hoping to find reassurances.

He didn't.

Instead he saw his father's lips being pressed into thin, pale lines, eyebrows drawn together; he saw his godfather's detached, glassy eyes that refused to focus on Harry.

James's hand found his right shoulder again, and Harry shifted his attention back to his dad. He didn't like the concern he saw in his dad's eyes. He'd seen this expression after he'd fought Quirrell, after the Chamber of Secrets with Tom Riddle and his Basilisk, after he'd faced Wormtail, after Voldemort had come back to life – Harry refused to think any further, the events still too painful in his mind.

"I'll be all right," said Harry quietly.

"You can still back out, if you want," said James. "Nobody will think the less of you."

Harry squared his shoulders. "I will."

James and Sirius smiled. They were proud of him, Harry knew, and couldn't think of a happier moment than this. A bit shy, he smiled back, and said, "Well . . . bye, then."

Sirius was the first who moved, shifting Harry from his place and drawing him into a fierce embrace. "Don't you dare get hurt," he murmured hoarsely.

"I'll be fine," Harry reassured Sirius and wriggled out of his hold, only to be hugged by James and have a dry kiss planted on his temple.

Harry disentangled himself from James too, and opened the door in front of them. The people behind it all turned to look at him, and with a last smile at his dad and godfather, he went inside.

Just a moment before he closed the door behind him, he heard his dad saying softly, "There were times I didn't believe he'd live to see eighteen," but Harry couldn't respond, because he was being faced down by Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"You're late," Kingsley informed Harry and fixed him with a stare, waiting for him to take his place with the rest of the group.

***

Harry always twists and turns in bed at night. Always he dreams of bodies, some wearing black and some scarlet – like the eyes, he thinks – and of spidery, white fingers over everything there, clenching into a fist, having the world.

Harry doesn't find it easy to relive his worst moments.

There – a fire behind him and before him something that is less than a ghost reflecting in a mirror, and when he turns from that, the fire is gone and he hears dry bones crunch under his feet as he walks down a tunnel towards the known, but not the unfeared.

No – a full moon while a rat smiles and bares its teeth as it runs for freedom in the wild, and the silence that's left behind after someone has fallen to the ground, no longer breathing, makes the rat's smile widen. . . .

Another toss and another turn. Harry thinks he can see Sirius's white smile in the darkness, but soon realises it's hardly a smile, but a scream that's forever locked in the recesses of time and Harry flees to call for help, only to stare at something crimson dripping down a slab of stone, past which there is an underground lake, blocking his way.

Drip. Drip.

He feels blood spreading along his skin, and from inside the endless, excruciating pain, he can hear the one who'd taken him. He turns to look at him and demand to be let go, but the blood drips

—somewhere from above, high over a staircase. Harry looks up and sees the crimson drops fall from lanky strands of hair, slick and shiny with the moisture. The man whose hair it is is floating in the air, his mouth clamped shut tightly, his lips thin and pale.

But the man's eyes are open and are so black. "Will you look at that," he sneers. "Their little brat is here."

Harry doesn't always manage to jerk himself awake, but when he does, choking on his gasp and sitting up straight, his teammates always pretend that they're still asleep.



***



The door of the training area opened and revealed Sirius standing on the other side, waiting for Harry. "Yo," he told Harry and saluted in mock greeting, grinning.

While studying Sirius, Harry had the notion that Sirius was studying him in return. Sirius looked scruffy and unkempt, with stubble and bruises covering his face.

Distantly, Harry wondered what he himself looked like. He was probably a little paler than last month, and he knew for a fact that his leg muscles had grown stronger from all the running he'd been required to do. His back was straighter.

Little by little, Harry's commanders were turning him into an Auror. He liked it.

"What are you doing here?" Harry remembered to ask Sirius. He looked around. "Where's Dad?"

Sirius motioned for Harry to start walking to the lifts along with the other recruits, albeit at a much slower pace. "We came back from a patrol a few hours back," he said. "I volunteered to stay and pick you up for your first weekend home."

"Is he all right?" asked Harry, worried.

Sirius nodded and quietly said, "He's fine, but roughened up a bit. Nothing big. He just wanted to check up with the new servant he's got for your house."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "A new servant?" he echoed.

"Yeah. With you gone for training and me and your dad in patrols and missions, the house is going to be empty a lot. Your dad doesn't want that." Sirius grinned. "He's a riot. He's got this wicked choker around his neck."

They arrived at the lifts and waited until the doors opened.

Harry said, "It's good to be out."

Sirius chuckled. "You make training sound like prison."

Harry grimaced in reply. While he liked being turned into an Auror, the process of turning into one was daunting. Sirius's chuckle turned into honest laughter.

***

It was strange for Sirius to go with Harry to the Pound. Sirius and James might have been best friends and Sirius might have been Harry's godfather, but he almost never came to the Potters' residence unless there was a good reason. Both men claimed that by the time they got time off from work, they were tired of one another, and needed a rest.

The only reason Harry could come up with was that James was hurt badly enough to need help, but Sirius had said Harry's dad was a bit pummeled and that it was nothing major, and besides, didn't they have a new servant at home?

A dark voice in Harry's mind reminded him of the night one month ago, when Sirius had brought somebody over and stayed until the morning after. And today, hadn't Sirius, telling about the servant, sounded more technical and rehearsed than necessary?

Harry shook his head as he dumped his dirty clothes into the laundry basket. His reaction was exaggerated. There was no reason for Sirius not to be with the Potters when his godson had been recruited for the Aurors other than to be with Harry, and there was nothing sinister in coming back with Harry to the Pound the first time Harry got a weekend off from training. It was only the suspicion that Auror training was trying to instill in him acting up.

With the resolve to believe in James and Sirius and to enjoy his weekend firmly in mind, Harry stepped into the bathtub and turned the tap. He'd forgotten how wonderful it felt to not share a shower with other people, and he'd been on the brink of forgetting how good it felt to shower for longer than three minutes.

Almost blind from exhaustion, Harry stumbled once, and then twice, but decided to turn off the water only on the third time he found himself tripping over water. He toweled himself dry and dragged himself to his room, barely remembering to close the door and put on his pyjamas before diving into bed.

Harry felt very dazed and pretty much immobile. An average of six hours of sleep per night for a month certainly left a person tired, he thought.

And then he fell asleep.

Only to wake up some time later, completely confused and very, very alert.

Harry stayed in bed for a moment and listened. Since everything was silent, he was quite prepared to go back to sleep, but a repetition of the sound that had woken him up occurred.

"JAMES!"

Harry's eyes shot open and he was up before he even knew why. His heart was beating wildly in his chest, and he noted with horror that the door to his room was open a bit.

What had happened?

He crept down the stairs with his wand drawn, careful not to make a sound. He stopped every so often to just listen and feel the air currents around him.

He reached the corridor at last and kept moving until he reached the door to the living room – and stopped dead in his tracks, staring slack-mouthed at the fireplace.

"Sir?" he asked his training commander.

Kingsley Shacklebolt's harried expression calmed a fraction with Harry's arrival. "Harry," he said. "I need to talk with your father. Is he around?"

Harry shook his head. "I don't know—" he began, but when Shacklebolt's expression reassumed its panicked look, Harry quickly offered, "but I can look for him, if you'd like."

"Please," Shacklebolt asked, his face pinched.

Having an idea where his dad might be, Harry climbed the stairs with a heavy heart. Had James been in the lower or middle stories, he would have surely heard Shacklebolt's calls.

That left the attic.

He wasn't supposed to go there, never ever, because it was where his dad kept some of his work. But he was sure that this was important. His commander wouldn't look this worried if all he wanted was to invite James and Harry for dinner.

He stopped in front of the door. Then took a step forward. Then, he knocked.

Nothing happened. This time, there were no shouts or sounds stopping abruptly, no clue that there was even anybody inside. Harry almost let himself leave the matter alone and tell Shacklebolt that his dad wasn't home –

But then he remembered that this was urgent, and so he gathered his wits, gripped the knob, and turned it.

Harry didn't know what he had expected to find inside, but his expectations most certainly didn't include a room he'd find in any other place with a similar design. The floor was of dark wood, and so were the walls, what little there was of them, because the sloping ceiling took so much space from the room that little could be otherwise used. At the far end of the room and to Harry's right, there was a comfortable-looking sofa and a couple of cupboards with glass doors, filled with books.

No, that was normal.

The thing that was not normal was that at the end closer to Harry, there was a man wearing a red dress and a white apron, sitting on the floor, shackles binding his feet together and a collar on his neck, tied to a ring in the wall. The man's eyes –that are so black – were open, alert, and looking straight at Harry.

"What the . . ." Harry began saying, but trailed off.

Some distant part of Harry's mind was saying that he wasn't supposed to have seen this. However, the larger part of his brain was covered by thick fog.

Harry walked over to the man, slowly, and crouched in front of him, looking him in the eye. Something fluttered in his mind and disappeared when Harry's clarity returned to him. He gasped and turned his head, breaking the link.

Somebody was coming up the stairs, Harry suddenly noticed, and sure enough Shacklebolt entered the attic in a second. Harry stood and looked between Shacklebolt and the strange man, thinking inanely, He's not supposed to be up here either. He was supposed to still be in the fireplace waiting for Harry, and not in the forbidden attic.

But Shacklebolt was there, and didn't comment on the very visible man chained to the wall. "Harry?" he asked. "Is everything all right?"

"Yeah," Harry heard himself say. "Can't you—" and then he stopped, physically unable to mention the man at his feet.

"Can't what? Harry, are you sure you're fine? You're terribly pale."

"Yeah," Harry repeated. He risked another glance at the man on the floor, whose eyebrows were drawn together and his mouth set in an angry line. Harry shook his head and said, "Yes, sir, I am. I just thought I'd seen something."

"I don't suppose it was James, by any chance?"

Harry shook his head. "No, sir."

Shacklebolt swore, looked at his wristwatch, and swore again. "Harry, I'll need you to tell your father to contact me immediately. I can't wait for him."

"Okay. . . ."

"Thanks. I'll see you again on Monday." With that, Shacklebolt hurried down the stairs. Harry followed him, but not before he glanced back one last time at the black-haired, black-eyed, hooked-nosed man that was sitting on the floor of the attic. Something akin to recognition stirred in him, but Harry didn't have the time to examine the feeling more closely. He had to look for his dad first.

"I'll come back," he promised, not knowing whether the promise was meant to reassure himself or the man.

The last thing he saw before leaving the attic was something Shacklebolt had failed to see: a cross-dressed man chained to the wall with his head bowed down toward the floor. All in all, the entire situation disturbed Harry greatly.

He closed the door behind him.

***

Harry had spent the rest of the afternoon in a busy daze, alternating between trying to find his dad and talking to people who were trying to do the same. He had stopped sitting on the sofa to wait for the next barrage of James-lookers. Instead he summoned a few cushions to sit comfortably in front of the lit fireplace.

Worry gnawed at his mind. Where was he? Why hadn't he told Harry he was going?

Harry dozed, between fire-calls. Bit by bit, the sparse afternoon daylight bled into dusk and dusk into darkness, and when Harry would open his blood-shot eyes, a smiling crescent moon mocked his anxiety. By ten o'clock, the fire-calls had slowed to a trickle, and by half past they had completely ceased.

It was only natural that James and Sirius would burst into the house then, half-carrying and half-helping Draco Malfoy walk. The clothing of all three was torn, some articles completely missing, and their faces were grey with exhaustion.

Harry jumped up to his feet and rushed over to them. He shooed Sirius from holding Malfoy and wrapped his own arm around the blond's waist. He didn't like the way Sirius was limping.

Sirius didn't fight Harry much, which worried him even more. He tightened his hold on Malfoy, causing a hiss in pain. "Sorry," Harry muttered, and helped Malfoy limp over to the fireplace.

Sirius, the only one now with both hands free, fumbled with some Floo powder and threw it shakily into the fire. "Headmistress McGonagall's office," he called, and waited.

McGonagall's face swam into view. "Sirius?" she said with relief when she saw who was standing in front of her. She turned her head and asked, "James?"

"It was a trap," James said abruptly.

"I know."

"And you didn't warn us."

"We tried," said McGonagall, tired and resigned. Her glasses hung low on her nose. "We've been trying to contact you for hours. How is Mr Malfoy?"

"Hurt," Malfoy croaked icily from between Harry and James.

McGonagall closed her eyes for a second. When she opened them, she asked, "Can you Floo?"

"None of us should," replied James. "They hit us with something that might interfere."

"I will give you a Portkey in a few minutes, then." With that, she disappeared.

Sirius immediately turned around and went to collapse on the sofa, which obviously hurt him, as he drew his eyebrows together in pain. Harry and James shared a look, and when Harry tilted his head to the sofa in an offer that he and Malfoy also sit, James nodded.

"Should she really do that?" asked Malfoy once he and James were seated. "Take us back to Hogwarts with a Portkey?"

"Shouldn't be a problem," Sirius answered. "A Portkey doesn't rely on your magic like Floo does."

Only the fire's crackles and the clock's ticking sounded in the weary silence that stretched out. Sirius and Malfoy's eyes were closed and their heads thrown back against the backrest. James was staring at the air in front of the fire, waiting.

Harry asked softly, "Where were you?"

James sighed. "I can't tell you."

Harry clenched his fists. "A mission?"

"Yes."

"Why didn't you tell me?" he asked. He could also have asked Why didn't you wake me up? Why did you leave me here to find the man in the attic? Where were you? Didn't you know I was worried?

But he didn't.

James replied tightly, "Because it was secret. It still is."

Harry snorted in response.

"Harry," James said in warning. "Don't push it."

A minute later, McGonagall's head returned to their fire, and after a minute more, all three were gone and Harry was left alone.

Again.

***

Harry didn't know when his father had returned the previous night, but in the morning, James woke him up far earlier than Harry preferred and told him he was wanted at an Order meeting. Sirius didn't return with him.

That strange occurrence led to even stranger happenings. Harry had not expected to be waited on while he and James ate their own breakfast in their own living room in their own house.

And most of all, he had not expected to be waited on by the man he'd seen chained to the wall on the previous day, wearing knee-high socks that looked just a little too small and a red dress with a white apron that ended just over his knobbly knees. Wrapped around his neck was a metal collar that glinted in the daylight.

"This," James had introduced, "is Snivellus, our new housekeeper. Snivellus, this is Harry, my son. Do what he tells you to do."

Harry just looked up at him, stunned, and met – again – the blackest eyes he could ever remember seeing. They were too familiar for him to ignore, and they glittered – the only thing in the man that appeared alive.

"Won't you shake hands?"

Harry sneaked a glance at James and saw his mouth set in a small, tight smile that looked entirely too pleased for Harry's comfort. Harry turned his eyes back to the – back to Snivellus, and stuck out his hand.

"Nice to meet you," he said, hoping neither of the men had caught the slight crack in his voice.

Snivellus's hand was stained, thin and sallow when they shook hands, but it was also warm and dry. Harry looked up at his face again, and saw it was grim.

"Snivellus, aren't you going to greet him back?"

Harry was certain that the man's eyebrows twitched, but there had been no other indication that his dad's mocking words had got to him.

"It's a pleasure to meet you," said Snivellus, his voice deep and gritty and rich. It sent shivers down Harry's spine, and Harry didn't know why.

During breakfast, Harry tried very hard not to stare at Snivellus, but every time he glanced around, their eyes met. When he didn't look at Snivellus, he looked at his dad, trying to imply with no words that he wanted to be told what was going on.

James ignored his looks, and kept his face to everyplace else that wasn't Harry, and then, at last, he drained the last of his tea from his cup and set it down on the table. "It's time to go," he told Harry. "Are you ready?"

Harry nodded and stood, ignoring the clatters of movement behind him.

"Come on," James said impatiently and tugged on Harry's sleeve. "We have to go." To Snivellus he said with a touch of steel in his voice, "Clean up after us."

Harry took the Floo powder in his hand and followed his dad, shouting into the fire, "Headmistress McGonagall's office!" wondering how he'd land on the other side. He still wasn't good at Floo travel, but nowadays he at least remained standing.

He was glad to find himself landing on his feet and only barely swaying. Instantly, he took in the faces around him and found that he knew them all.

"Welcome, Harry," McGonagall said, smiling. "It has been a while since we've met. Please, take a seat."

Harry smiled back and chose a chair next to Sirius, who patted him on the thigh distractedly, deep in a hushed conversation with Tonks. Harry missed his old Head of House and he missed Hogwarts, but such was the price of growing up and moving on.

Once everybody was present, seated and silent, McGonagall cleared her throat. "Thank you all for coming at such short notice. I'm afraid I have to deliver some worrying news. First, allow me to stress the need for secrecy – things that will be said in this room will remain in this room. Now, some of you may know that last night, Mr Malfoy's position was . . . compromised, when he attempted to pass us valuable information. In simpler terms – the Order of the Phoenix has lost its spy, almost at the cost of his life."

Harry didn't know that Malfoy was a spy. He didn't even know that there was a spy. Or had been, according to the sudden chill and whispers that spread in the room. Harry was struck with the knowledge that everybody else around him had known.

McGonagall held her hands up. "Silence, please. That is not all! As I've said, Mr Malfoy was discovered while trying to pass us information about Severus Snape's sudden disappearance from the ranks of Voldemort's Death Eaters."

Harry flinched. Everybody else had some reaction or other – some stood, some paled, and some began shouting.

"Impossible!" barked Moody over the noise. "People are watching every step of his, there's nowhere he can go without being tracked!"

"But he is gone," said another's harsh voice. Malfoy's. "None of the Death Eaters have seen him since August, and if you send your men to look for him, they'll find nothing. Nothing. He's gone."

Murmurs.

From Harry's right, Sirius stated, "You think he's on some assignment for Voldemort."

McGonagall nodded once. "Correct. Mr Malfoy claims the Death Eaters are not looking for him, nor do they know anything of his whereabouts. It would seem that Voldemort has sent him to do something he wants to keep quiet. Harry," she said, drawing everybody's attention to him, causing him to stiffen. "Have you felt anything from your connection to Voldemort?"

Harry considered her question, thinking of the nights during training when he'd woken from bad dreams. "He's . . ." he began, seeking the right word. "His control is tighter," he said lamely. "I mean, he's disappointed over something, but I don't think he's angry. More like he's losing his patience."

"The boy could be manipulated again," said Moody to the crowd, completely disregarding Harry.

Shaking his head, Harry said, "No, I'm not. He's not aiming this at me; it's just leaking from him."

"Are you certain?" asked McGonagall.

"Yes."

"I see. Thank you, Harry. You may leave now."

Harry stared at her, shocked. "What?" he asked, not sure he'd heard right.

"I said thank you for your help," she repeated, her tone a tad softer. "You may go now; the rest of the meeting will not concern you."

Harry laughed shakily. "Not concern me? You're talking about Snape, of course Snape concerns me. Professor, you can't—"

"I assure you that I most certainly can, and that I am taking your experiences with Snape very seriously. That is exactly the reason I want you to leave now. You're not part of the Order, Harry."

"Fine," Harry managed to somehow say through clenched teeth. "See if I help you again with something that is none of my concern."

He went home, surrounded by green flames that whirled round him, making him want to hurl something against some wall. Or maybe it wasn't because of the whirling; it was simply rage.

The living room was all tidied up now. The plates were gone from the dining table, and the ash, which Harry glumly noticed only because he'd landed face-first in it, was the result of his own travel. The Pound had never been this clean of dust, he mused into the rug, not quite missing the sensation of dust bunnies under his cheek.

Seeing something moving out of the corner of his eyes, Harry scrambled up to his feet, barely keeping his balance as he fumbled for his wand – but it was only Snivellus, who must have heard him fall.

"You," Harry snarled and stalked over to him, wanting to take his anger out on something. "What are you doing here anyway?"

The corners of Snivellus's mouth twitched upwards. "Cleaning," he said, looking pointedly at the traces of soot on the rug and floor.

And again with that timbre. Harry knew he'd heard it, and knew he'd heard the silent, resigned mocking that gave it colour and texture.

"Do I know you?" he asked abruptly.

Snivellus's smile widened. "Perhaps."

Harry scrunched his face, remembering . . . nothing. Growling in defeat, he retreated back to his room, leaving Snivellus to clean. Which was apparently his job, even with the short dress, and despite the metallic collar and chains Harry was sure waited for him in the attic. He didn't want to ask right now; he was far too cross for that.

***

Harry had the suspicion that his dad hadn't meant to encounter him again that night, and the fact that he did was pure luck on Harry's side. All Harry had wanted was a glass of water, but when he walked by his father's bedroom, he heard faint rustling that he knew all too well. James was packing.

Harry turned the door handle and went inside. His dad was sorting through clothing, putting those he wanted to take with him on his bed. His face crumpled a little when he saw Harry. But just a little.

"Harry—"

"You're going again."

James nodded.

Harry was shaking. "And you weren't going to tell me."

"I was, actually," confessed James and summoned a piece of parchment, directing it to Harry's hands with a wave of his wand.

In a hurried scrawl James had written: 'I'll be gone for some time along with Sirius for work. Good luck at training on Monday. Love, Dad.'

"A note," said Harry slowly. "You were going to leave me this note and just . . . go."

"Harry . . . we've had this argument too many times now. I don't want—"

"What about what I want? I want to come with you!"

His father stopped packing and completely faced Harry now, his expression melting from weary to hard and somewhat unforgiving. Harry had to concentrate not to shy away. "Every time I tell you I'm going to a place I can't tell you about you throw a tantrum—"

"I don't throw tantrums!" Harry shouted. "It's my war, too! I have a right to know, and I've got the right to fight!"

"No, you don't!" James yelled. "You're no Auror yet, and you'd best remember that!"

"Dumbledore didn't think that!"

"And look where that's got him! To the grave!"

Harry's heart stopped beating. "Take that back," he said, his voice quivering. "Take that back!"

"Why?" sneered James. "Are you afraid of the truth?"

"I didn't kill Dumbledore!"

"Are you even listening to me? I didn't say you did," said James, his rage momentarily suppressed. "It was Snape who killed the greatest wizard of the century – the man we're all hunting, and whom you're practically begging to help hunt down. Now get out before I lose my temper!"

"No!" yelled Harry. "Stop treating me like a little kid!"

"THEN STOP ACTING LIKE ONE!" James roared one last time, breathing hard into the stunned silence.

It was at times like these that Harry wondered what his life would have been like had he had no parents at all, and didn't feel sick with shame. "Good luck with whatever you'll be doing," he said flatly and left.

He forgot to get his water, but that was okay. He wasn't really thirsty any more.

***

The next morning, the house was completely, eerily, disturbingly quiet. Harry thought it was because of the fight the evening before – he could still imagine the shouts ringing in his ears.

He craved another person's presence, but didn't know where to look. He didn't feel like talking with his friends yet, and he couldn't – and didn't want to – talk with his dad or Sirius, who had gone along with James.

The only person he had left on his depressingly short list was Snivellus, the strange man he'd seen in the attic. He didn't know what to make of him. On the one hand Snivellus was a servant here, and on the other he was chained in the attic and wearing Muggle women's clothes.

Harry didn't like the way he felt as he climbed up the stairs to the attic. With each stair his breathing hastened and his legs felt heavier. This time he didn't have the adrenaline shock of having Shacklebolt hurrying him to find James. This time, he was doing it all on his own.

He hesitated for a short moment before turning the knob and stepping inside, shutting the door behind him. To his left Snivellus sat on the floor, his legs spread out before him, his feet in an awkward position because of the shackles.

And he wore that ridiculous red cotton dress again. It hung oddly around his torso, where Harry would've expected to see signs for breasts. Where the hem ended, the white, knee-length socks began. Harry knew that some wizards liked to wear dresses, as they reminded them of their robes, but never before had he seen a man wearing a dress this short. Perhaps Snivellus preferred to have his privates feel more than a 'healthy breeze'.

"Is that dress comfortable?" he blurted, curious, and blushed.

Snivellus's eyes shot open and he tensed, his face guarded for one moment and in the next blank.

Oops – Harry hadn't realised that they'd been closed. How he could miss it he didn't know, because that feature was the one that drew most of his attention.

"Did I wake you?" asked Harry, feeling guilty, looking at Snivellus's eyes. "Sorry – I didn't know you were asleep."

If even possible, Snivellus drew further into himself, as if saying, Don't look at me.

Suddenly, Harry got the notion that he shouldn't be able to see Snivellus at all. He almost turned to leave before he shook his head and scrunched his forehead in concentration.

It must be the silence, Harry told himself and relaxed his stance, looking in Snivellus's eyes again – was that resignation that Harry saw flash in them?

Wait. Why was there silence? Harry'd come here in order to avoid the silence and have company, but ever since he'd come inside, Snivellus hadn't said a word. Harry kept expecting Snivellus to say something cutting in his shiver-inducing voice, and throw him out of the attic – wait. Why the attic?

Harry didn't want to stay there anymore. This sort of silence made him uncomfortable. "Um, I've gotta go now. Bye," he stammered and turned tail, scolding himself for having thought that this was a good idea.

***

Despite not wanting to, he remembers that the wand is lowered, almost pointing to the ground, and Harry's certain that Malfoy has decided not to kill Dumbledore.

"I can help," says Dumbledore kindly.

But he can't, because the Death Eaters make it to the tower. One squeezes Malfoy's shoulder in what Harry thinks is a painful grip, and levels his wand at Dumbledore's chest.

Dumbledore lowers his head in recognition. "Severus . . ." he says, but doesn't finish his sentence.

The hooked nose is high in the air and the black eyes glitter. The smile is thin and pleased, and the darkness hides the rest of his features. The man called Severus is silent until he speaks, saying curtly: "Avada Kedavra!" and a flash of green light shoots out of his wand.

Despite trying, Harry can't remember the man's voice. But he remembers . . .

. . . That it sends shivers down his spine the moment it says, "Why keep him alive?"

To play with, somebody replies jovially.

"Such a pity, that the Dark Lord will have your heads when he escapes."

He won't, the same person promises and recasts the Cruciatus Curse on Harry. Suddenly Harry's body is on fire, the numerous cuts and bruises pulsing heatedly in rhythm with his screams, his blood dancing in and out of his veins.

He hears laughter. Then the curse is removed and all he can see is a mouth, set in a thin line; black, limp hair covers its corners. His voice scares Harry, because of the power –

"I will not be held accountable when he escapes."

Well, what would you do with him, then?

"Kill him."



***



Nobody came to pick Harry up the second time the door to the training area opened up for a weekend at home. He went with the other recruits to the lifts and largely kept to himself, suddenly missing Ron and Hermione very much. Letters just weren't the same as seeing them in the flesh.

Tomorrow, Harry promised himself. He'd see them tomorrow at the Leaky Cauldron and everything would be just the same as always.

He landed at home and coughed out soot from his lungs, blinking tears out of his eyes. He went upstairs to his room, put his trunk on his bed and began unpacking. He hissed when his fingers encountered something damp and cool, and when he took it out, he realised that a shaving potion vial had broken and spilt its contents all over Harry's undershirts.

Harry sat down hard on his bed. This was the last straw. He was beyond exhausted. The only thing stopping him from lying down on his bed and putting his head on the pillow was his trunk, and Harry felt far too tired to even put it down on the floor.

A shower was the next logical step. Harry scrubbed off the sweat and grime that three minutes of irregular showering left him covered with. He didn't feel any more refreshed coming out of the bathroom than he had going in.

Giving up, he went back to his room, ready to throw everything he had on his bed to the floor with no consideration.

At the door a surprise greeted him – his trunk was at the foot of the bed, and everything he had taken out was set neatly on his desk for him to organise later.

Thanking whichever deities there were, Harry put on his pyjamas and crawled into bed.

***

He woke up to a gentle hand on his brow and a solid weight dipping down the mattress of his bed. It took Harry a moment to remember to open his eyes and see who it was.

James was sitting on his bed, his fingers weaving patterns in Harry's hair. His face was troubled and set with lines, and he wasn't looking at Harry.

"Dad?" Harry asked hoarsely.

James's hand stilled and drew away. Surprised and guilty, he looked down at Harry with a faint smile. "I didn't mean to wake you," he said sheepishly. "Come down when you're awake, we need to talk." He leant down and kissed Harry's temple, then left the room.

Harry didn't see his father closing the door behind him, only heard it, and that was because he was already succumbing to sleep.

He woke up not long after feeling somewhat more refreshed than he had in at least a week. Not one to stay in bed, especially at six o'clock in the evening, he got out of bed and wondered what he was forgetting.

Then it hit him – his dad wanted to talk with him. Annoyance gripped him. James had come into his room while he slept and hoped Harry wouldn't wake up. He said they needed to talk, but Harry didn't think so. Harry and his dad would never agree about Harry's part in the war. In his stubbornness, James would never listen to reason.

Despite all of that, Harry went downstairs, not bothering to get dressed. If James wanted to talk to Harry, he'd have to do it with Harry wearing his pyjamas. If it bothered James – well, good for him.

He found James in the living room, curled up on the sofa and reading the Daily Prophet. James put his legs back on the floor when Harry approached, and threw the paper carelessly to a nearby coffee table.

Harry stood at the edge of the sofa. "You wanted to talk," he reminded James stiffly.

James nodded and sighed, maybe thinking So it's going to go this way. He patted the sofa next to him. "Come and sit," he said.

"I'd rather stand."

"Harry."

"Fine," Harry bit out and sat down in the armchair across from James. "Well?"

James scowled at him. Harry pretended not to care, and let his eyes drift all over the living room. The windowpanes were sparkling, he noted absently as his fingers clenched around the edge of the armchair.

"I spoke with Kingsley a few days ago. He's very pleased with your progress."

"Good for him."

"Harry. . . ."

"What?" snapped Harry. "I don't know why we're bothering to talk. We'll just end up fighting."

"Is that why you haven't answered my letters?"

Harry remained silent.

James sighed again and scratched his cheek. He was tired too, Harry realised with a jolt. Harry knew the signs well enough by now to know that something was eating his dad from the inside out.

Slowly and carefully, James spoke. "I know you're still upset with me over our fight last month, Harry. I said some things I shouldn't have, but I bloody well meant them. It's not your war to fight – Voldemort is a threat to society, and that's why fully-trained, Ministry-hired Aurors fight him—"

"The Order isn't part of the Ministry," interrupted Harry.

"Maybe not, but they're still fully-trained, and you aren't."

Harry retorted, "Neither is Malfoy."

James glared at him. "Draco is an exception."

"And I'm not?"

"No, you're my son."

"I don't see how that changes anything."

The glare intensified and the scowl came back. "It changes everything. Unlike the Malfoys, I'm not willing to give up my son and throw him into a war he's unprepared for, and send him to kill somebody. Draco did his part admirably, but if I'd had any moral say in the matter, I'd have kept him out of it too."

Harry tried a different tactic. "What about the prophecy? You can't protect me from it forever."

"I can damn well try," James muttered furiously. "And I will."

A loud pop sounded from the fireplace, causing the Potters to jump. Somebody coughed from behind a thick curtain of smoke that should not have been there, and took a step forward.

Both Harry and James had their wands in their hands and aimed at the fireplace before they could even think. Wand-pointing was proven unnecessary as Sirius walked through the curtain, coughing violently and waving his hand in front of his face. In his other hand, he carried some bags that Harry suspected were take-away.

Still coughing, Sirius croaked out, "Water!"

Harry hurried to the kitchen, glad get away from James. He took a glass and filled it with water from the tap, and dashed back to the living room where James was hitting Sirius's back repeatedly, snickering.

Sirius shot Harry a thankful look, filled with unshed tears, and took the glass from him, drinking the water in one deep gulp. He gasped and coughed once more, gasped again, and breathed deeply.

"Wow," he said, his voice hoarse. "That must have been one of my stupider ideas."

James laughed even harder.

Harry asked, "What were you trying to do?"

"Make Floo powder of my own," Sirius grumbled. "I'm tired of paying for the stuff."

"You're right," agreed James, guffawing still. "Most stupid idea you've had in the last decade."

"Last decade?" asked Sirius, curious. "What did I do the decade before?"

"Once upon a time, there was this bird—"

Sirius covered his ears with his hands, mortified. "I can't hear you."

"She even had the feathers—" said James gleefully.

"I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!"

***

Supper came and went, and Harry was surprised to see that Snivellus was still there. His outfit had developed; from plain dress and knee socks, now he had white, frilly headwear, which stood straight from his lanky hair. A white underskirt, heavy on lace, peeked out from under his now-shortened dress. The socks had turned into gold, partially transparent stockings that did nothing for his bony legs. The collar – it was still there, polished and glittering and terrifying.

The light in his eyes was gone; his face was carefully blank. Nothing showed the unhappiness Harry somehow knew he felt.

When Sirius saw him, he'd raised his eyebrows and managed to choke out, "Nice clothes," before bursting into giggles, caused by James's wicked smile.

Harry didn't like the way acting like this made them look. They were behaving like immature, spoilt brats, and both he and Snivellus knew and hated it.

Snivellus's careful mask slipped a little when he thought nobody was watching, not aware that Harry was doing just that. His lips were pressed together so tightly that they turned a much paler shade of pink, and his knuckles turned completely white as he clutched the dirty dishes in his hands. His entire posture was stiff and reserved; a tense sort of anger.

But nothing happened.

Why he allowed it to go on, Harry couldn't fathom. Why did Snivellus allow James and Sirius to laugh at the choice of his clothes? Harry's dad might be his employer, but it didn't mean Snivellus was supposed to take this sort of abuse over his outfit.

"Well, that was nice," said Sirius and stretched, kicking Harry in the legs by mistake. He peeked down. "Oops. Sorry," he added, not sounding sorry in the least. "Hey James," he added. "I need you to look over my motorbike to check if I've missed anything."

James shrugged. "I still don't know why I'm bothering."

"In case I forgot something."

"We both know you haven't, but fine. Harry," he turned to Harry. "Will you be all right here by yourself for some time?" He grinned when Harry scowled at him. "Point taken," he said, rising to drag Sirius from his chair.

"Oi!" Sirius shouted in alarm, flailing his arms to keep his balance. "Stop dragging me by the neck, James, this is getting old—ouch, this hurts, let go!"

James stopped in front of the fireplace. "You do have Floo powder back at home, right? You didn't let your own powder mix with it?"

Sirius batted his hands away. "Yeah, yeah, I've got some left. Don't worry about it."

With bright flashes of green flames, they were gone. And so was Snivellus. Harry had his suspicion about where the man might have gone, and so he went up to the attic.

His heart was beating very loudly in his ears and he felt a little light-headed as he climbed up the stairs. He found disobeying his father thrilling and freeing in a way he hoped he'd find in battles. People always kept a tight watch over him, enough so he wouldn't have the chance to go out and fight. But this . . . this he could do, and this he would do.

He didn't know why, but he knocked on the attic door before opening it. Basic manners, he told himself, trying to make it all right to come up here. His dad would be furious if he found Harry. . . . Harry squared his shoulders and stepped inside. James wouldn't find out. James had gone with Sirius.

But Snivellus was here, seated on the floor and chained again to the wall, a shiny metallic black chain connecting his matching collar to the iron ring. He sat with his knees raised, and his feet on the floor were no longer shackled. Harry was relieved to see that the underskirt and skirt covered his private parts, and was somewhat disturbed to have looked.

Harry went over and crouched in front of him again, imitating the scene that Shacklebolt had caught him in one month ago. Snivellus shifted a little, leaning further back against the wall, flattening his back against it.

"You shouldn't let them get to you," Harry told Snivellus. "They're arses. They don't know how to act other than fool around together."

Snivellus arched one of his eyebrows in question. There was fire in his eyes now, Harry was relieved to see.

Harry scowled. "They might be family, but it doesn't mean I have to like the way they act."

Snivellus ducked his head, perhaps seeing his point. He didn't speak.

"I know you can talk," said Harry. "So drop the dumb act."

"How gracious of you to grant me my speech back," Snivellus replied sourly.

Harry scrunched his forehead in confusion. "Huh?"

Snivellus looked at him.

"You can't have gone dumb again!" Harry exclaimed, exasperated.

"I was hardly mute before."

"You wouldn't talk to me."

Shrugging, Snivellus said, "I've learnt that silence has its uses."

Harry frowned. He had the feeling that Snivellus was avoiding his question, but he couldn't tell how. He repeated the answer in his head a few more times, puzzled, then gave up. "Fine," he said. "You win this round."

"I wasn't aware that this was a game."

Harry conceded that he was right. "Fine," he repeated and asked, "Can I ask you a question?"

"You just did."

Glowering, Harry said, "You know what I meant." That was an old trick – Harry could recognise it easily.

Snivellus hummed noncommittally, his black eyes still glittering. Harry had to stop himself from shouting out 'Hell yes!' and shaking his fist upwards.

When Snivellus didn't reply, Harry took it as a sign to ask his question anyway. He couldn't believe that now, one month after he'd wanted to ask it, he finally had his chance. "What are you doing up here?"

"Where else shall I be then?"

"How about the spare bedroom?"

Snivellus's bright eyes dimmed a little as he opened his mouth—

And the door to the attic opened. It was James and Sirius, chatting with each other and laughing. Well, they laughed until they saw Harry crouching in front of Snivellus.

Sirius paled; James turned red. Harry was frozen to the spot.

"What are you doing here?" James hissed, his voice so soft that Harry had to make a conscious effort to understand him.

"I—" stuttered Harry. "I—"

"Get out."

Two months of Auror training went down the drain as Harry stumbled to his feet. This wasn't supposed to happen! His dad wasn't supposed to return so soon after leaving, not while he was still talking with Snivellus.

His movements weren't quick enough for James, who strode over to Harry and ignored the way Harry flinched from him, recoiling back and trying to avoid having his arm caught by James.

When James did manage to grab hold of Harry's arm, Harry cried out in pain, then bit his tongue to hold back the noise. He would not shout, not even when it felt like James was yanking his arm out of its socket. He feared that James was doing this on purpose, because his dad was an Auror and Aurors knew what would hurt and what wouldn't.

And this hurt.

James dragged Harry down to his bedroom and threw him over to the bed. Harry landed on it and quickly jumped to his feet, but a single murderous look from his blotch-faced father got him sitting, looking at the floor.

"Do you have any idea what you did?" James asked, his voice tight and controlled. Harry didn't dare look up. "Do you have any idea who you were talking to?"

Harry shook his head miserably.

"Then I'll tell you," said James, "that the man is a murderer who wouldn't balk at killing you in your sleep—LOOK AT ME," he bellowed. Harry flinched once more and raised his eyes.

James began again. "The attic is off limits." He paused. "Isn't it?"

Harry nodded. Yes it was, and why had he ever thought that going there without his dad's permission was a good idea?

"Yet you went there, didn't you?" James hissed.

Harry nodded.

"SAY IT!"

"Yes," whispered Harry.

"Even though you were told time and time again that you were not to go there?"

"Yes," Harry whispered again.

"Don't you ever, ever go there again. I mean it, Harry. Don't try me on this. There's nothing there that's your business."

He left then. Left Harry seated on his bed and shaking violently, denying himself the urge to give in and rub his aching shoulder. Turned his back and fled, and Harry had a clue as to why – his father was close to losing his temper on him. Really close. As much as Harry loved James, and he did, very much so, James scared him badly when he was angry. Had James not turned, furniture would have started flying.

But he couldn't be leaving yet, not now; not when Harry had questions that needed answers. "Wait," he cried out, knowing that this was a very stupid thing to do. What the heck, though. He'd already been stupid today. No harm could come out of being even stupider. He hoped.

James turned back, his eyebrows raised sceptically. Some of his anger melted away, and that was good for Harry.

"It is my business," said Harry, standing up. Show some backbone, he shouted at himself. You're an adult and so is your father. He can't just terrify you into obedience anymore. "I'm living here too."

"Harry--!" began James—

"No!" Harry shouted. "Listen to me for once! It is my business who lives here with me. There's something you're hiding from me, both you and Sirius, and don't try to lie about that."

"We're always hiding things from you. That's what the attic is there for."

Harry's mouth fell open. Had James—just admitted to—? Did he have to say it this callously, to remind Harry that he was still considered a child in his own home, by his own dad? Harry let the thoughts roll away from him. No distractions.

"Snivellus," he choked out. He took in a deep breath to calm his roiling stomach and steady his voice. "Why is he up there?"

James's eyes were glittering now, similar to Snivellus's. "Maybe he's just another secret." Was he enjoying this? Enjoying playing with Harry?

"Why?" asked Harry, who wasn't stupid, but was on a roll that nothing but answers could stop. "Why is he in chains? Why do you keep laughing at him? Why—"

"Do you have any idea what you're asking me to tell you?"

"No," snapped Harry. "Because you never tell me anything!"

"Fine," said James and raked his hand through his hair. "Fine." He walked over to Harry and grabbed his arm again, his grasp gentler this time, and dragged him to the door.

Harry flinched at being handled; he couldn't help it. The memories were much too fresh, and the bruises he could already feel forming were far too tender for his liking. But he'd receive answers now, and he considered answers he wanted more important than fighting over being taken by the hand.

James took him back to the attic. They went up step by step until they reached Sirius, who was sitting very stiffly on the topmost stair. He opened his mouth as if to say something to the Potters, but shut it again when it was obvious that neither would listen.

James stopped right in front of Snivellus, whose expression was again the blank face of somebody trying to hide. Showing no emotions must mean that you had none, he must have thought, not understanding that people like Harry saw right through it.

Harry pitied him. Pitied Snivellus for having to pretend—

"This," said James coolly, "is Severus Snape."

—and the pity shattered into a thousand pieces. "What?" asked Harry, his mouth dry, his eyes not leaving the man in skirts but not seeing him either, not the way he really was.

"Not liking the truth?" James mocked, passing his hand through his hair again.

Harry didn't listen to him though. He was busy seeing the man in black robes pointing his wand, the green light, the words that still echoed in Harry's nightmares, "Kill him" – sending shivers down his spine.

He tried reconciling the two figures, but couldn't. Severus Snape was a murderer of the worst kind, a Death Eater whose loyalty to Voldemort was legendary. Snivellus was the man wearing an underskirt, dress and stockings, chained to the wall in the Pound's attic, a servant whom James and Sirius mocked. . . .

They couldn't be the same man.

"But—" Harry said, grappling with what he'd been told. "But why?"

Smirking, James said, "Because he was there and because we could."

"That's not what I asked!"

"I know," said James haltingly. Harry turned his head to look at him and saw the most bizarre expression he'd seen on James's face since this escapade began. James looked . . . lost.

"He killed your mum."

Harry turned his face back to Sniv—Snape, confused. "He couldn't have," he determined as he searched for any emotion in Snape's face. "Voldemort killed Mum."

"He told him to look for us," James said, the bite returning to his words. "He told Voldemort the – you know what," he finished lamely, not wanting Snape to hear the word 'prophecy' despite the cracks of smoldering emotion in his voice.

Harry blinked, remembering the hunt for the prophecy at the end of his fifth year very clearly indeed. He'd almost died at the Ministry. His godfather had almost died there, but was saved at the last possible moment by James. He'd almost got his friends killed –

Furthermore, the prophecy tore his family apart. When Voldemort had heard it, he came straight for Harry, and if it hadn't been his mother who'd died, it would have been Harry himself, and all because Voldemort had been told an incomplete passage from – from a spy, from Snape. . . .

Harry remembered Malfoy's painful expression when Snape had squeezed his shoulder at the end of Harry's sixth year, and remembered the death of Dumbledore, and he remembered things he'd worked hard to try to forget and almost managed to, but then Snape brought them back to the forefront, and Harry remembered.

"You killed Dumbledore," said Harry, his voice broken by having somebody to place the blame on. One would think that having your mum killed when you were only one was more important than having your mentor murdered in front of your eyes when you were sixteen. "The Order is looking for you," he added.

He turned to James and said again, "The Order is looking for him."

"So?" asked James with force. "He's harmless here."

"But that's – you can't punish him yourself!"

"But I am," said James, almost in a purr. "And I don't see him complaining."

His words struck something deep in Harry's soul. "That's because he can't, can he?" he said, dreading the answer. "You took away his ability to talk. How? He's not mute, but he can't – is it the Imperius Curse? Dad, please tell me you haven't—"

"Look at the chains."

Harry ignored the black eyes that forbade him to come closer. The metal was black and smooth, and close inspection revealed runes, whose meaning Harry didn't know. He fingered the metal, feeling the dents the runes made, and startled when he reached the collar around Snape's neck, also covered in runes – similar to those on the chain.

"The Chain of Command," said James behind him. "One of Sirius's better inventions. Unlike the Imperius, it isn't illegal to use, and it's impossible to throw off."

Harry felt sick to his stomach. "What?" he whispered, remembering all too well the ecstasy that flooded the person under the curse. Did Snivellus feel like that too? Snape. Snape. There was no such person as Snivellus, just another mask for Snape to hide behind. His sickness increased.

"I have to get out of here," he muttered and left the attic, noticing James's smirk and hating it.

***

Sirius caught up with Harry some five minutes later, more than halfway to the playground Harry used to go to when he was younger. "Harry!" he shouted, running to his godson. "Harry, wait!"

Harry didn't wait, but did slow down his pace a bit. Now, instead of almost running, he walked quickly, not looking to the side. He didn't know why he wanted Sirius to catch up, because Harry was angry with him too.

He spun around when Sirius's hand touched his shoulder. "Don't touch me," he snarled and resumed walking.

He changed his mind a foot later. He turned to face Sirius again and asked, "How could you do that?"

"Do what?" asked Sirius, puzzled.

Harry waved his hands wildly as he spoke. "How could you just lock up a person in the attic? And use those horrid chains on him – Sirius, you and dad shouldn't do stuff like this, you aren't—"

"Harry, calm down," Sirius said slowly, and the fight in Harry disappeared.

"How could you just decide to own a person like that?" he whispered.

"Oh, Harry," Sirius sighed and pulled Harry over to sit with him on the edge of the sidewalk. Harry didn't argue and didn't fight, accepting and welcoming the guiding hand that belonged to Sirius, wrapped around his shoulder in a comforting hug.

"The truth isn't exactly what your dad said," Sirius said. "He's really angry with you for going up the attic, and so am I, but he shouldn't have said all those things." He paused. "I punched him for you after you left."

A surprised snort of laughter escaped Harry. It sounded a step short of hysterics. "Really?"

"Yes, really," said Sirius with renewed vigor. "He was a bastard, but he's my best mate – I couldn't let him do this on his own. I kept him from going too far."

"Going too far?" Harry ground out. "He's keeping a murderer locked up in the attic."

"It could have been much worse than dressing Snivellus in skirts and keeping him in chains that make him obey everything we say. We haven't hurt him in any way and we haven't taken his mind. All we're doing is keeping him away from Voldemort. When James calms down a bit from the novelty of revenge, we'll give him to the Ministry."

"Still, it's not right—" Harry closed his mouth, repeating Sirius's words in his mind. "You dressed him in those clothes?" he asked, both curious and horrified.

Sirius glanced away shiftily. "Er."

"Sirius!"

"Yeah. We did."

"Oh God," Harry moaned and buried his face in his hands.

Sirius patted his shoulder. "There's a reason we didn't want to tell you about the attic."

"I wish you'd have told me earlier."

"I wish you'd never discovered about it at all."

Harry peeked out from behind his palms. "Why?"

"You're not an Auror yet—no, let me finish—" Harry shut his mouth, "and in training you learn about all the things that should be done. This isn't a case like what you're learning – it's far more complicated. Your dad blames Snape for what happened to your mum—"

"I haven't forgot that!" Harry cried out, cutting in.

"No," admitted Sirius ruefully, "but you aren't getting it either. Your dad loved your mum very much, and he misses her, even after all these years."

"I miss her too," said Harry, a bit defensive.

"You were one year old when she died. You never really knew her."

Harry stared morosely at the road under his feet. "It's still not right, what you're doing," he murmured.

"No," Sirius agreed. "But this is war, and in war you don't always do the things others think are right."

***

Meeting Ron and Hermione had been wonderful. They hadn't changed one bit from how Harry remembered them. Well, other than Ron getting some colour on his face, and Hermione too, not to mention that they were both smiling and holding hands in a way that made Harry feel a little left out.

It was Harry who'd changed the most out of the three, as Hermione had noted. "Is everything all right with you?" she asked, worried, leaning away from Ron to examine Harry up close. "You're looking a bit pale."

Harry had laughed; somewhat shakily, but he'd laughed. "I'm fine," he promised her. "It's just lack of sun."

She pursed her lips – Gods, how Harry'd missed seeing her doing that – and said, "They shouldn't do that. You've got the right to go outside once a day at the very least—" and Harry was hard pressed not to laugh as he caught Ron mouthing her words along with her, rolling his eyes.

Then Hermione smacked them both on the head, and they couldn't hold in their laughter anymore. Just like the old times they'd had at Hogwarts.

But this was the Leaky Cauldron – a respectful Wizarding establishment where everybody went on their way to and from Diagon Alley. Harry didn't feel comfortable talking with his friends there. He asked them to move into Muggle London, where they'd wandered, speaking of things that were of no importance to anybody but themselves.

He'd tried mentioning Snape, he really did, but the same thing that happened with Shacklebolt happened with Ron and Hermione – he simply couldn't get the words out. He could think the words, he could make sounds with his mouth and throat, but the two didn't mix.

All in all, the afternoon had been wonderful and Harry was not going to allow not being able to tell his friends something to ruin it.

He got back home sometime after suppertime, and was surprised to find his father gone and a new note taped to the door to his room. Harry read it aloud in the smothering silence of the corridor.

"Gone for work. Take-away in the fridge. See you again next month and I hope you'll answer my letters when you're in training. Don't go up to the attic again. Love, Dad and Sirius."

Harry dumped it in the bin and went for a shower. He'd eaten at the Cauldron with Ron and Hermione, barely avoiding a food fight with Ron, and wasn't hungry.

A faint voice in his head was incredulous that Harry was making sure to take a shower before going up the attic, rather than taking a shower before going to meet his best friends, but Harry was pretty good at making it shut up. He got out of the tub in under ten minutes and toweled himself dry. The only thing Harry felt comfortable wearing was the least threadbare-but-not-fancy clothing he owned.

Harry frowned. Maybe the voice did have a point. . . .

He climbed up the stairs, not surprised to meet a ward to keep him out. Harry pushed against it and broke it, annoyed that his dad underestimated his magical abilities. He continued on to the door, where he stopped and ran his hand through his hair – a nervous habit of James's that Harry had picked up.

Damn.

Taking a deep breath and not backing down, he turned the knob and went inside. Snivellus was still there – no, not Snivellus, start thinking of him as Severus Snape because that's who he is, the man who killed Dumbledore and the man who told Voldemort about the stupid prophecy—

— and the man sitting on the floor who had to chain himself to the wall because he was ordered to, who wore skirts against his will, who was forced into servitude for James Potter, a man he obviously hated.

Snape arched an eyebrow. "I didn't think you would return."

Harry hadn't thought so either, but seeing the words Don't go up to the attic again written in his father's aggravating scrawl had made him decide that he should see the man again. "Yesterday was sort of . . . cut short," he finally said.

Snape smirked. "In a manner of speaking."

Scowling, Harry sat down on the floor and crossed his legs. "If I ask you something—will you lie to me?" he asked.

The question seemed to surprise Snape, whose eyes widened just a little. "I might."

"And if I order you not to?"

Bitterly, Snape said, "Then I would not be able to say anything but the truth."

"Did you really kill my mum?"

Snape stared at him strangely before shaking his head. "No."

"Did you tell Voldemort—" it was interesting to see even Snape wince at the name; Harry wasn't expecting that—"about the—" he thought hard and then decided he didn't care, "—the prophecy?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"A loyal minion would usually inform his master."

Harry glared at him. Snape shrugged. "Is that what you are? A minion?"

"We all have roles to play."

At Snape's cryptic words, Harry threw his hands up. "You're impossible."

The corners of Snape's mouth quirked up and he shifted his back against the wall. "Ah, but this is the most fun I've had since arriving."

"I'll bet," Harry mumbled, at a loss for words. He looked into Snape's eyes, and again felt something shoot past his mind. Straightening his posture, Harry said, "I'm not going to let you out."

"A pity," said Snape, seemingly undisturbed, but his face – Harry wanted to make the blankness go away. It didn't fit Severus Snape better than it had Snivellus.

"Why did they call you Snivellus?" Harry asked.

"If you haven't noticed, it's a bastardised version of my name."

"I have noticed, but there has to be a reason they call you that."

"The story is between them and me. You're not a part of it."

"Oh, come on; tell me."

He didn't expect the torrent of helplessly said words that followed. "In our years at Hogwarts, your father and his friends made every attempt to make my life miserable. One of their antics was to call me Snivellus after the sniveling I would do whenever they would prank me."

An angry, ugly flush flooded Snape's face. His expression contorted horribly and all of a sudden he was shouting. "Get out! Get out!"

"Why?" Harry asked, confused. "What happened?"

"You will not order me to spill my secrets, Potter!"

"But I didn't!"

"No?" asked Snape, and his tone made Harry glad that the man didn't have a wand in his hand or the ability to move freely. "Then why did I tell you the exact thing I said I wouldn't?"

"I . . . don't know. . . ."

"Of course you don't," Snape spat. "Which is exactly the reason you ordered me to tell you why I was called Snivellus."

"I didn't order you to tell me!" Harry argued, growing more confused by the moment. "I asked you to tell me, but you didn't have to!"

"Is that why you phrased that request as an order?"

Phrased it as an order? Oh no, he hadn't. He'd just been curious over the name and wanted to know more about it. Snape couldn't possibly be implying that Harry'd had his curiosity satisfied only because he'd ordered the answer to be said –

"Shit," he said emphatically once he realised what he'd done. "Look, I didn't mean to do that, all right? I didn't know the Chain would make you do stuff like this without wanting to—"

"You must be as daft as some say," Snape cut in the middle of Harry's little speech, "because the point of chaining me like this would be to make me do everything I am told!"

"It didn't register," Harry mumbled, tracing the wooden floor with his fingers, following the lines that separated one board from another.

Snape calmed after Harry's admission. Harry looked up at him, and his face wasn't all that terrible any more. The repugnant red stains on his cheeks disappeared and faded back to show the rough, sandy quality of his skin.

"I'm sorry," said Harry earnestly, guessing how horrible it was to tell his secrets to those you didn't trust.

He met Snape's eyes, offering him the truth, and felt his mind tighten again as unwelcome memories raced past.

"Do not repeat it," said Snape.

Relieved, Harry gave him a small smile. "I won't," he promised. "I really am sorry."

"I know."

"Really?" Harry asked, startled. "How?"

Smirking at Harry's words, Snape raised his right hand to tap his fingers lightly against Harry's temple. Harry was surprised that he didn't lean back to evade the motion. "I can read your mind," Snape said.

An instant blush spread across Harry's cheeks. Snape's fingers, though quite knobbly and a bit discoloured, felt soft against his skin, and the warmth of his digits overheated Harry's face; of course, it was only heat. Only heat.

Snape's smirk turned feral, and Harry found himself looking into his eyes again, drowning in them and searching for the glitters he liked, seeing only a darkness he knew all too well, even though he'd always tried to hide it for James's sake.

Harry knew what it was like to receive attention he worked hard to avoid. He knew what it was like to have his secrets told to those he didn't trust, like, or know. Newspapers and gossipers were not always careful with what they said.

I know you, Harry almost blurted aloud as he realised that. He couldn't put his finger on exactly why, but seeing Snape shut down when he wanted to lash out, and seeing him try to keep to himself –

I know you now, Harry told himself silently, tasting the way the words rolled on his tongue. He smiled, lowering his eyes back to the floor, and missed Severus's frown.

***

Harry's conversation with Severus on the previous day had blunted some of Harry's anger. Definitely not all of it – it would take more to make Harry forget all that had been said and done – but at least he didn't feel like he was going to burst from the steaming rage.

Maybe it was because he was still angry, or maybe it was out of spite, but Harry's legs carried him up the stairs the next day as well. What drew him up there, he couldn't tell, but it was strong enough to make his legs start walking on their own.

Severus was truly asleep when Harry saw him. There was no mistaking the open mouth and snores, nor the creases that decorated his forehead. Harry wondered what he should do. Should he leave?

He decided to stay. He went to the side opposite Severus's corner and perched there, watching Severus as he waited for him to wake.

Severus slept, still as the dead. Aside from the movements of his mouth as he breathed in and breathed out, he was as still as corpses came. Harry knew – he'd seen the dead to whom he'd just compared Severus.

He didn't know how long they remained like this, Harry staring at Severus and Severus being unaware of Harry. Harry thought he'd dozed off for a few minutes while he stared. He found the silence comfortable. Comforting.

Severus awoke with the same dedication he gave to sleeping. One moment his eyes were closed and his mouth open, and in the next, his eyes were open and his mouth closed.

"How long?" asked Severus, his voice gruff from sleep. He cleared his throat for a longer time than Harry thought was normal.

Harry felt his cheeks heat. "Not too long," he muttered.

Severus curled his hand into a fist and rested it against his thigh. "Is watching people sleep a habit of yours?"

Harry stared at him, puzzled. "What?" he managed to force out in a shameful squeak. "No!" he exclaimed. "I don't get a kick out of watching helpless people—"

Some muscle twitched in Severus's face. Harry was sure of it. "Are you calling me helpless?"

"N—no!" Harry stuttered. Even with the Chain and the collar and the ring in the wall, Harry would never be able to think of Severus as helpless. Certainly, Severus was in a very bad spot, but helpless? The word didn't fit him. He didn't fit the word. Nobody helpless would be forced to wear women's clothing and not make much of a fuss over the subject.

Severus frowned. "Then what?"

Harry wondered what he should say. He'd never ever say that he pitied Severus, and he'd never say he empathised with him. "Nothing, really! I wanted to talk with you, that's all."

That same muscle twitched again, somewhere between Severus's eyebrows. "You wanted to talk. With me."

Some answering muscle in Harry's face twitched in return. "You don't have to repeat everything I say," he said, a tad bitter.

A slight touch of amusement cleared Severus's remaining sleepiness, and he said, "It is called reflection, and its purpose is to allow you the space of mind to reconsider what you've said."

Displeased, Harry scowled at him. "You're playing with me."

"You make it so easy," Severus drawled.

Harry ducked his head as he blushed, and avoided looking at Severus.

"Potter," said Severus suddenly, his tone soft and desperate. Harry looked up, alarmed, and found himself staring for the first time at Severus's passionate expression. "Harry. Let me go. Please."

Harry's breath caught. "I—" he swallowed past the sudden dryness in his throat. "I can't." His heart was picking up its pace, growing stronger and faster. In a whisper, he added, "When they got me last year – you told them to kill me."

"Would you have preferred to be tortured to death?"

Shaking his head, Harry said, "You're definitely playing with me now."

"Harry, please."

"No," said Harry firmly. "There's nothing that will promise me you won't join Voldemort—" Severus winced, "—again after you leave, and then try to kill me." His voice rose to a pitch Harry was mostly unfamiliar with. "You're a Death Eater!"

"I am a minion," corrected Severus. "The Dark Lord uses me as a pawn in his war against everything Muggle."

Harry laughed. "Are you saying you're no Death Eater?"

"No."

"Then no – I'm not letting you go."

"You are saying this as if sure I would return to the Dark Lord!" shouted Severus, an angry flush staining his cheeks like misapplied powder.

Harry blinked. "And you wouldn't?" he asked, incredulous.

"Would it matter?"

"Yes!" snapped Harry, realising he was passing his fingers through his hair, and stopped in the middle. "If I free you now – I'll be dead, and so will my dad and Sirius! Won't we?"

Severus didn't look away. Harry refused to avert his gaze first, and instead stared right into the black eyes. "If I am given the order, then yes," Severus admitted, and Harry felt like he'd just received a punch to his gut. "Assuming the Dark Lord will see past the Fidelius charm."

Forcing himself not to curl his arms around his stomach in a hug, Harry gaped at Severus. "The Fidelius charm?" Once, long ago, when his mum had still been alive, the Potters had lived in Godric's Hollow under the Fidelius charm. So that was why Shacklebolt hadn't seen Severus, when the Death Eater had been right under his nose, and that was why Sirius had told him in great length about the servant and the choker around his neck.

"You didn't know."

Harry shook his head and gathered his thoughts along with the movement. Now wasn't the time to think of Shacklebolt not finding Severus! "I can't," insisted Harry. "If you go—"

"Listen to me," Severus hissed. "This is not a matter of can or cannot, but a matter of will and won't!"

"Well then, I won't!" Harry took in a deep breath. "Come on; I don't want to fight. Let's change the subject."

The emotion disappeared from Severus's eyes. "Very well," he said, and Harry was astounded to hear it perfectly cool, polite and decorous, "but before you think of a new subject, I will let you know that I was the one who saved your father's life when the Dark Lord came to you." A small shine appeared in his eyes. "I am not a monster."

Harry absently licked his lips. "What?"

"You will reconsider allowing me to leave."

"Wha—no, I can't—no, wait," Harry stammered, looking for the right answer for Severus. "Alright," he said. "I'll—er, I'll think about it," he promised, consoling himself he could always say no again.



***



It wasn't that Harry didn't want to go back home and see his family and friends. Something from last month was still echoing around somewhere in his mind, telling him he should feel excited and comfortable.

Well, he didn't. Harry's palms were damp and his scalp was itchy. His mouth was terribly dry no matter how much he drank. More than once he'd refused the urge to run after Shacklebolt and beg to remain at the training area.

But he was three months along in Auror training now, and he hadn't been sitting on his arse doing nothing. Harry thought that if people didn't learn bravery in Auror training, they never would.

So he went home.

He noticed the cleanliness of the fireplace. Because his head was half in it, Harry noticed that the chimney was very clean as well.

Stepping onto the rug, he glanced around the living room and saw that the table had been recently polished. The pillows of the armchairs and sofa were all fluffed up, and the windows sparkled in the dim wintry daylight, their glass-panes reflecting Harry's image.

In the clean room he stuck out like a sore thumb, with his hair a sweaty mess stuck to his head, his robes wrinkled, and an internal storm that was out of odds in the strict neatness of the living room.

Maybe his bedroom would be better . . . but no, it wasn't; the carpet had been vacuumed, the bed aired and thoroughly made. There was nothing on the desk for the first time ever. Harry almost felt guilty putting his trunk at the foot of his bed and rummaging though the items to take out some things he wanted.

The hallway to the shower was blessedly empty.

In the middle of his shower, however, somebody rapped on the door and shouted, "Harry, is that you?" The voice, muffled by the water-flow, sounded vaguely like James.

Harry shouted that yes, it was, and wondered who else it could've been. With that thought he finished his shower and went back to his room, hoping to take a brief afternoon nap to catch up on his lost sleep.

He found himself eyeing the bed, not really wanting to go to sleep, but rather to go upstairs, where he could feel elated again, knowing that he knew.

Where he could be let down and discover that he knew nothing and nobody. Where, if James discovered him, he'd lose more than what he thoguht he had.

Making his decision, Harry slipped into bed, enjoying the feel of his clean skin against his pyjamas, enjoying the silence that meant his sleep wouldn't be disturbed, and knowing full well that he wouldn't be able to sleep at all.

Sleep had become a rare commodity for him during October. Whenever he was awake, he could think of little else but drowning deeply into black sleep, and whenever he was in bed, he would think of drowning deeply into black eyes, muting the voice –

Harry sat up, swearing, trying to clear his mind. This wasn't working. He threw the blankets aside, rumpling them into a much more lived-in look, and went downstairs for a glass of water.

At the bottom of the stairs, he stopped, thinking he'd heard something. He strained his ears and didn't dare even to breathe as he listened.

"Will it take long?" James asked, his voice low.

"It might," replied Sirius's voice, muffled by the fire's cracklings. "Gawain recalled the entire team again."

"The idiot!"

"Doesn't mean we can afford not to go."

"I don't want to leave Harry at home alone, not with – you know," said James, sounding frustrated.

"Can't help you there," Sirius said cheerfully. "But I don't think he'll do much harm. He's probably asleep and won't wake up until you get back."

"Fine," sighed James. "Give me a few minutes to get my stuff, all right? I'll meet you—"

Here Harry snuck back up the stairs and to his bed, covering his head and pretending to be asleep. He could hear his dad's footsteps on the floor outside his room, could feel their sudden slowness, and then they picked up their pace. Five minutes later, James passed by the door again on his way downstairs.

A minute later Harry peeked out from under his blankets. Another minute later his entire head was uncovered. Two minutes more saw him seated on his bed, legs still under the blankets.

He waited with his eyebrows drawn together in concentration, searching for any unexpected noise that meant James hadn't left yet.

Nothing. Good.

He got up; his course of action might be prudent, but being caught by James was the last thing Harry wanted. He opened the door to his room as loudly as he could and went downstairs, careful to step on every creaking spot and make as much noise as possible, so that James would want to enquire about it, if he was still at home.

He did drink his water in large, deep, loud gulps. He made sure the glass chinked against the sink as he put it there for washing later.

And still there was nothing, and Harry was glad.

He made his way upstairs then, his steps much softer, avoiding the spots he'd earlier sought. Every few steps, he stopped in his tracks and held his breath, waiting for James to jump on him from some shadow and lock him in his room.

The wards were still in place from the prior month. They weren't stronger and they weren't weaker; they were exactly the same way that Harry had redone after breaking through them. His dad and Sirius hadn't noticed that Harry'd tampered with them, the last time he was home.

The attic was the same as well. Nothing had been moved, but more importantly, Harry couldn't think of anything that had been removed.

Severus was still there. Harry's heart missed a beat at the telling greyness of his pallor, emphasised by the familiar red and gold he wore. He was leaning heavily against the wall, his breathing more laboured than Harry thought was healthy. His eyes were closed, his mouth slightly open.

All the nervousness he'd felt in his month in training dissipated, leaving only a faint trail of unease. "What have they done to you?" asked Harry, horrified.

The effort Severus put into opening his eyes was heartbreaking. Harry rushed over to him to put a hand on his shoulder, either for stabilising or for comfort, he couldn't decide; couldn't know. Wouldn't know.

Severus licked his chapped lips with a tongue almost as equally dry. "Go away," he whispered, his voice cracked.

"What?" Harry asked, incredulous. "No! You're—" he began and grabbed one of Severus's hands in his. He paused. "Freezing!" he exclaimed.

With what Harry thought was all the strength that remained in his body, Severus pushed him away. "Leave me," he snapped, his words more puffs of air than voice.

"No," said Harry. "What have they done to you?"

Laughing bitterly, Severus asked, "What haven't they?"

"But Sirius promised—"

"Of course you would listen to Sirius Black," said Severus in a tone that was supposed to be cutting. It was tired.

"He wouldn't—"

"He would, and he has."

Harry snapped his mouth shut.

"Leave me be," said Severus then, broken.

Harry tightened his hold on Severus's hand, trying to warm him. To give comfort, he decided. "No," he said. "Tell me what they did to you after I left."

Severus paled even further and closed his eyes before beginning to speak. "After you left, your father was under the notion that I was to be blamed for the argument I witnessed. Since then he and Black have gradually increased my workload, reduced the amount of food I receive, and removed the heating charms from the attic as punishment."

That wasn't all, Harry knew. Severus was hiding everything that wasn't the big things. He would admit the painful truths Harry was seeing; he would not admit the insufferable secrets he wanted to hide.

Harry could order him to speak; in fact he—already had. . . .

"Oh, hell," he said helplessly.

"You promised," said Severus, his eyes still closed.

Harry felt sick to his stomach. "I know."

But he didn't have time for this. He took out his wand and cast several warming spells on the room, concentrating hard to not raise the temperature too quickly. He waited for the room to lose the chill he only now began to feel, after the excitement of seeing Severus again had worn off, clutching Severus's hand in his and not letting go.

"Is there a reason they hate you this much?" Harry asked.

Mildly, Severus asked, "Other than my being a Death Eater and causing the death of your mother?"

Harry shuddered at the tone, and shuddered at the words, and promised himself to forget them by bedtime. "Yes."

"Then yes. They have many other reasons for hating me."

Harry stiffened. He'd hoped Severus would say No, but he'd said Yes. "What are they?" he asked.

Severus opened his eyes again now. Some colour had returned to his skin, and he'd regained some control over his voice. He cocked his head to the side as if thinking. "You should leave," he said after a moment.

"No," insisted Harry.

"So be it," said Severus. Just at that moment, James raced through the door, Sirius at his heels.

A brief flash of panic shot through Harry, making him want to bolt to safety and hide in his cupboard like he had when he was small.

"Let go of him!" shouted James and pointed his wand at Severus while coming near them.

Nobody moved.

"I said, let go of my son!"

Severus said, his tone unreasonably stable and his face a mask again, "Your son is the one holding my hand."

James, not lowering his wand, turned to his son and frostily asked, "Harry?"

Harry cleared his throat, thinking of how to get out of this mess. His mind didn't supply him with an answer, and so he said the first thing it did supply him with. "You were killing him!"

His dad didn't respond for a long moment, in which all three men stared at Harry, who felt stupid.

Harry continued: "He was almost frozen to death when I came up here!"

"Does he look dead to you?" demanded James.

"No thanks to you!"

"Why do you think he isn't dead by now?"

Frowning, Harry let go of Severus's hand and squared his shoulders. "Because you're having too much fun playing with him!"

"And why do you even care?" sneered James, advancing some more. From behind him, Sirius made a strangled sound and shot closer to James, ready to grab him if James suddenly decided to really harm Harry.

Harry didn't notice this at all. His mind was stuck on his father's question. Why did he care? He didn't have any answer other than the often-used one that this wasn't right, but somehow now it sounded wrong.

"Because this isn't right," he said anyway, looking between Severus and his dad. "What you're doing is just not right."

***

"BLOODY FUCK!"

The sound from downstairs startled Harry in his place under his blankets. The blankets fell to the floor, and only the end of them remained wrapped around his legs.

Trembling slightly, he picked them up and snuggled beneath them again, curling around himself and staring into the darkness. Knots were forming low in his stomach, making him nauseated with nerves at the thought – the knowledge – that James was going to burst into his son's bedroom any moment.

He wasn't disappointed; James did come into Harry's room without knocking, and without waiting for Harry to uncurl and take his head from under the blankets, said, "Sirius and I are called back to active duty. Voldemort's beginning something in London—" he paused. "I suppose it would be useless to tell you to stay away from the attic."

Sitting up, Harry nodded, not looking directly at James, but rather at his hands.

"If the new wards don't stop you from going there, don't do anything drastic. I'm serious about it."

Harry couldn't help retorting bitterly, "What, does feeding him count as a drastic offence?"

"No, but being rude is. I've got to go now, be careful and don't do anything stupid. It might be a diversion."

Harry said with a heavy, dry tongue, "Good luck."

His dad flashed a quick smile at him. "Thank you." He hesitated and added, "I love you," and left.

Harry swallowed back a lump that rose in his throat. "I love you too," he whispered to the door that James had closed behind him.

It took Harry a few minutes to compose himself. That was the most James had ever revealed about his job, and now Harry worried more about the fact that his father was in a battle rather than that his father might be in a battle. He almost regretted wanting to know.

The moment he felt ready, he dashed out of his room and up to the attic, wondering what wards his dad had set up; he realised he'd discovered them when he found himself being thrown down the stairs, almost breaking his neck.

"Bloody—" he began and trailed off. Was his father trying to kill him?

Harry retreated to his room and took a pen back to where the wards were, a few steps from the attic. He threw it directly at the invisible wall, and when it was thrown back, Harry was forced to duck to avoid having his glasses broken by the pen tip.

He studied the magical flow of the ward, and thought of his dad saying that if the ward didn't stop him. . . .

What the hell, Harry thought, took out his wand and pointed to the centre of the wards. "Reducto," he said, certain that it wouldn't work but trying anyway, releasing most of his magical energy.

Strangely, it did work, leaving Harry dizzy and swaying where he stood. Harry wondered if James had purposely made it easy for Harry to destroy them.

Not that Harry was complaining.

He hopped up the rest of the stairs and opened the door to the attic—

And found it empty.

Severus wasn't there. There was no hint of the man, and not even a shred of his lacy underskirt was in sight.

Harry felt a pang of panic. He looked around him, thinking that maybe his eyes had missed the man, but no. There was nothing to miss. There was only the furnishings that had become familiar, and nothing more. Where was Severus?

He had to resist the urge to start looking in the drawers and cupboards. He took a step forward. Where could he be? There was no chance he was anywhere else at the Pound, the ring for the Chain of Command was there, and –

He drew in a deep breath and bade himself to think. Much easier said than done, he mused idly, but tried doing it all the same.

Severus had been here earlier that day. He and Harry had talked, and then James and Sirius had come inside and thrown Harry out of the attic. In between then and now, Harry had hidden in his room, huddled under his blankets and pretending to try sleeping, and James had sulked around the house. Nobody other than Sirius and the Potters knew that Severus was at the Pound. There was no place he could be taken without serious repercussions for all involved.

And the Chain of Command – Harry glanced at the ring still in the wall, certain that the Chain needed its ring. Severus was still here. Somewhere, but here.

He circled the room, his steps small and light, landing gently on the parquet, his ears and eyes straining to notice anything that would be out of place.

There – a swish of fabric to his right. Harry jumped to where the sound came from, his hands open and ready to close around whatever it was that moved – and missed.

"I know you're here," Harry said loudly. He stood in the middle of the room, his hands by his sides, his breathing soft. He imagined he heard its echo to his right, at a much faster and shallower rate. Walking in a wide circle around it to not raise any doubts, Harry continued his circle.

He made a show of turning left, but twisted and jumped right, colliding with something tall, heavy, and very much human.

"Oomph," both he and Severus grunted when they hit the floor.

Harry regained his senses first. He removed the fabric he'd heard swishing, and found himself holding his own invisibility cloak. His hands clenched into fists, wrinkling the smooth fabric, and he berated himself for not hiding the cloak better—from his own father.

Under Harry and the cloak lay Severus, his hair spread messily on the floor, the ridiculous lacy head-covering still in place.

Harry had never had his face this close to Severus's. Severus's eyes were wide open with surprise and possibly pain, his nostrils flaring and his mouth opened a little, showing lines of crooked, off-white teeth. Harry stared, transfixed.

A long time later one of them shifted in place, and Severus murmured, "Get off me." His chest vibrated with the words, and in his place above him, Harry felt the soft, deep voice turn into sensations and he gasped, scrambling off Severus—

"I'm sorry," he said, sitting a good foot away from Severus, his face a deep red. He kept his eyes on the invisibility cloak on the floor, which created a solid border between them.

When Severus said nothing, Harry raised his head and looked at him again, finding Severus studying him, a serious expression on his face.

Harry cleared his throat and the moment passed, leaving the air heavy, tantalising and so very painful.

"Coming here was not particularly wise."

Harry laughed weakly, passing his hand through his hair. "I know."

Severus sat frozen, his face a mask that made Harry's heart beat hard. Harry longed, yearned to hold his hand to Severus's face and bring back the small wrinkles of displeasure that were usually there. At least then Harry knew what Severus was thinking.

"Why, then?" asked Severus.

Laughing again, his pitch higher than usual, Harry said, "I can't leave you alone."

Severus seemed to understand. Harry wished he did too.

"You killed Dumbledore," said Harry.

Severus inclined his head. "You fight the Dark Lord."

"You—" began Harry and had to stop. He shook his head. "You—you won't kill me, will you?"

"I might," said Severus.

"Don't kill me."

Severus's mouth quirked upwards. It wasn't a real smile, but it couldn't be anything else either. "You promised."

Harry smiled back and hoped his lips didn't tremble. "Yeah, well, I lied."

The quirk widened. "You didn't."

Harry averted his face and studied the sky he could see through the window. "Well, yeah."

Fingers – knobbly and stained, but warm, dry and gentle – touched Harry's chin, turning his face back to Severus's. Harry found himself drowning again in glittering eyes, and only now he realised he was so utterly lost. "Thank you," Severus said.

Harry raised his hand and touched Severus's cheek, easing away the rest of the crumbling blankness. Then his hand slipped downwards to Severus's throat and rested on the collar.

"Do you know how to take it off?" he asked.

"The regular way."

Harry raised his other hand and put it to the clasp of the collar, getting the hang of it. "They forbade you to take it off?"

"Yes."

Click.

The sheer magical energy that escaped when the collar opened was unforseen; it knocked the breath out from both Harry and Severus. The Fidelius charm no longer affected Severus.

"You may go now," said Harry, finding it hard to speak.

Severus was smiling. "Thank you," he repeated, and raised his own hand to his neck to remove Harry's. Harry hadn't realised they were still touching. He drew them back quickly, his skin grazing Severus's calluses.

Severus stood and stretched his limbs, leaving Harry seated on the floor with the cloak and the Chain. Scowling, he ripped the upper part of the dress from his torso and revealed a corset, which he dropped next to Harry in disgust. Next went his headpiece, and the stockings and apron came after that. He didn't remove either his skirt or his underskirt.

Harry found himself thinking that Severus would look odd in robes and not in skirts. He watched Severus as the man went to one of the drawers, opening it and removing a wand.

In utter silence, without a word or even a backwards glance, Severus went to the door. Harry felt his heart shatter, breaking into a thousand tiny pieces, and found he couldn't breathe. He clutched the Chain of Command to his chest so hard that his knuckles turned white, forbidding the metal to cool now that it was no longer warmed by Severus's neck.

But Severus stopped before walking out of the attic; he turned around, as if he'd only now heard Harry's plea not to kill him. He wasn't smiling any longer – his face was grave.

"I won't," he promised, and left.

THE END

Don't forget to go back to vote and review on LiveJournal or on InsaneJournal

Disclaimer: Harry Potter, Severus Snape and other Harry Potter characters belong to J.K. Rowling, her lawyers, handlers, editors, personal umbrella carrier, pedicurist, and those guys in the suits from the WB. The Snarry Games and its participants want nothing to do with that lot or their money. Okay, we'd take their money, but they aren't offering. Web space doesn't come for free, ya know?