Title: When Angels Fall
Team: Wartime, baby!!! Whoooot!!
Genre(s): Angst & Romance
Prompt: War Crimes
Warnings: See Snarry Games post for Warnings!
Word Count: ~19,000
A/N: Oh, man, so many THANK YOUs to give, so little space to give them! To my wonderful betas: knightmare and VL, and to the long-suffering SNARFS for being there on a nightly basis while I whined and wrung my hands and screamed and clawed my way through this fic. To my teammates, for not booting me off the island. To the mods, for being so patient with my numerous “I’m such a dumbass” emails. And to my flist, for being understanding in the face of my nearly fic-free journal.
Disclaimer: I own nothing but my sick and twisted mind.
Summary: While the world around them goes to hell in a handbasket, Snape and Harry plow on. (OMG, not THAT kind of plowing… you perverts!)
When Angels Fall
Voldemort strolled through the gathered throng,
noting which of his followers held the stench of betrayal on their sweating,
visibly shaking bodies, and which of them stood humbly bowed before him, their
minds clear and open, hiding nothing from him, their acknowledged Master.
Stopping before one of them, he pressed a long, scaly finger to his lip-less mouth and spoke. “Severus.”
The figure did not so much as twitch, telling Voldemort that this one follower, at least, was paying exquisite attention to his every movement. The question that needed answering: was he perhaps too careful?
“We have a traitor in our midst, Severus. What say you?”
Without looking up or adjusting position, Severus answered, “Any traitor should be dealt with swiftly and with the maximum amount of pain. When the traitor is found, I will gladly show him the error of his ways.”
“Your pardon, my Lord. As I cannot conceive of any one of your followers—any one of my comrades—betraying you, I spoke out of turn.”
“Be that as it may, Severus, I have become increasingly aware that information which is given to the very privileged of my Death Eaters has fallen into the hands of the enemy. How do you suppose that might have happened?”
A pause—long enough to show that careful thought was being given but not enough to provoke suspicion—filled the chamber with silence. “Is it possible to narrow down those attending each planning session to just one among us, my Lord?”
“My Lord, if you but give me the name, I will dispense with the disloyal traitor at once.”
“How would you do this, Severus?”
“I have a potion, my Lord—”
Voldemort threw his head back and released a hissing laugh. “Oh, Severus, you do amuse me. A potion? Is it really that simple?”
“My Lord, this potion would slowly burn a person from the inside out, yet keep them alive until it reached their heart. The pain would be… unimaginable.”
“Ah, and do you have this potion with you?”
“Yes, my Lord. I have but recently finished developing it. I had hoped to present it as a gift to you.”
“A gift? But what good would such a gift be without a demonstration?”
“My Lord, I had planned to present it as a demonstration. Several Muggle-born—”
Severus inclined his head beneath his hood, shifting the fabric. “Of course. Several Mudblood witches were captured at the raid in Tottenham; I was prepared to use one of them.”
“Ahh, I see. However, I do believe I have a better idea. If you do not object to me changing your plans?” It was not a question, and he knew Severus was smart enough to realise this.
“Of course. The gift is for you; how it is presented is at your discretion.”
“Stand, Severus.” He watched as the black-robed figure rose smoothly, with an elegance that gave lie to any tension the man might be feeling. “The potion?”
Without so much as rustling about, a vial appeared in Severus’ hand, extended toward him. Voldemort raised one hand and waved it away. “No, do not offer it to me, Severus. Give it to the traitor in our midst.”
Long fingers tightened around the vial, nearly the only trace of pale skin showing. “If you would but name the traitor, my Lord, I will do so immediately.”
“Why Severus, I do believe you know the traitor.” Turning away, Voldemort strode to the high-backed, throne-like chair he used for these gatherings. “You’re slipping, old friend. Lucius, detain him.”
A flurry of black out of the corner of his eye brought Voldemort’s attention back to Severus, who was now clutching a small, framed object in his hand. A smirk and a “Portus!” saw him spinning out of their reach. Lucius’ hastily cast disarming spell sizzled through the air where Severus had been standing to hit Bellatrix.
With a frustrated shout, Voldemort rounded on Lucius. “You dare to fail me again? Crucio!”
The slits of his nostrils opened wide and narrowed rhythmically for a few long moments before he released the spell on Lucius. When the man’s shrieks turned to short, gasping breaths, Voldemort approached him and said, “What would you do, Lucius, to win back my favour?”
“Any… thing. Anything, my Lord.”
Voldemort looked across the room to where Narcissa stood, heavy with a late-term pregnancy. He allowed a small, cold smile to stretch his mouth. “I will hold you to that, Lucius.”
Harry twisted on his bed, caught in a series of nightmares that seemed so very real.
You’re slipping, old friend…
Harry’s restlessness at Voldemort’s voice echoing in his dream tangled the bedsheets around his waist hopelessly.
Blinding pain made him whimper in his sleep, hand pressed to his forehead.
What would you do?
“Anything,” he whispered with Lucius.
Kill her. Cut your baby from her womb.
“No!” he screamed, even as Lucius started forward, a knife suddenly gleaming in his hand.
I have use for you, Narcissa. Save yourself. Come to me.
“Save yourself,” Harry muttered, then woke with a gasp as a solid weight landed on him. With a muffled shriek, he sat up, pushing at whatever was lodged against his legs, holding them down. Whatever it was he was fighting against rolled over, cursing fluently but quietly. That voice, though, was unmistakeable.
“Snape!” Harry said, voice filled with loathing. Making a grab for his wand, he shouted, “Incarcerous!”
No sooner had the words left his mouth, causing ropes to shoot from his wand and wind tightly around Snape, than Harry heard Dumbledore’s voice calling to him from the portrait that hung on the wall.
“Harry! Harry, no, wait!”
“Damn you, Albus, you didn’t warn him?! We’re lucky he only bound me, you old fool!”
“Shut up!” Harry screamed, advancing on Snape. “Shut UP! How dare you talk to him like that!”
“Harry!” Dumbledore called again, more urgent, more demanding.
Harry, shaking, stopped moving, but didn’t take his eyes from the man lying quiescent in his bonds as he told Dumbledore, “I’m going to kill h—”
“Harry Potter!” Dumbledore snapped, and Harry’s head whipped around to look at the painted figure of the old man. His every muscle was twitching with the desire to maim, torture, and then kill Snape, but some part of him went still at the command in Dumbledore’s voice.
“Release him, Harry,” Dumbledore said, surprising a bark of laughter out of Harry.
“Like bloody hell I will! This is Snape, sir. The one who killed you, remember?”
“Harry, listen to me. Please. Severus is not culpable in my death.”
“What?” Harry said, laughing in disbelief.
“Culpable means ‘guilty,’ Potter. What are the Muggles teaching in primary school these days?”
Harry spun back to Snape, infuriated beyond words.
“Severus! You aren’t helping. Please be silent while I explain things to Harry.”
“Explain things to me? I know what happened, sir! I was there! I—I know you probably don’t remember—” a green jet of light striking the beloved Headmaster in the chest, propelling him over the wall of the Astronomy tower “—but I was there. Snape… Snape used the Killing Curse on you, sir.” Harry’s voice dropped to a softer register as he explained this. Dumbledore had trusted Snape so much that it did truly seem as if he’d merely somehow managed to block that final moment of his physical life.
Suddenly remembering something, he turned and kicked at Snape, ineffectual in his bare feet, but still satisfying nonetheless. “And I know what culpable means, you fucking bastard.”
Snape opened his mouth to respond, but Dumbledore’s voice cut through the tension that had filled the small room. “If you’re both going to act like children, you’ll be treated as such.”
Harry turned back to the portrait and placed his hands on his hips. “How can you say that, sir? He’s a traitor. A coward.”
“Don’t you call me—”
Crooked teeth snapped together with an audible click.
“Harry, I need you to listen to what I have to say. Can you promise not to interrupt me until I’m done?”
Harry couldn’t help sliding another glance to the bound man on the floor of his room.
“Harry, I promise to explain all to your satisfaction.”
“Is that wise, Headmaster—”
“Don’t talk to him!” Harry hissed at Snape, feeling a renewed surge of fury.
Snape just rolled his eyes and wriggled around into a more comfortable position. Harry’s wand hand twitched with the pure need to hex him.
“Harry, I asked Severus to kill me.”
“What?!” Harry asked, his voice cracking with incredulity at Dumbledore’s statement.
“It was necessary.”
“How could that possibly be—”
“Do you see how useless it is to assume the boy will hold his tongue, Albus?”
“Stop it! Now! Both of you will be silent.” Harry had never heard such a tone from Dumbledore before; it made him shut his mouth faster than a Silencing Charm would have. He didn’t think portraits could perform magic, but it certainly wouldn’t do to find out differently now. He slanted a glance at Snape to see that the man was leaning back against Harry’s camp bed, eyes closed, but not exactly relaxed.
“Now then, Harry, I did indeed ask Severus to kill me. Only if it became absolutely necessary, you understand, but I bound him with an Oath. He is not a coward, Harry, and I won’t allow you to malign him in such a way.”
“My apologies.” Snape’s voice was light, but smug, and Harry ground his teeth, fighting the urge to jump back into the conversation. He swallowed it down, though, and after counting backward from twenty, was able to once again listen to what Dumbledore was saying.
“I couldn’t allow Draco Malfoy to carry out his task, Harry. I’m sure you understand my desire not to have one of my students become responsible for my murder.”
A small noise from Snape distracted Harry, and he looked over to see a pinched expression on Snape’s face.
“Severus…” Dumbledore’s painting sighed and there seemed to be some sort of silent communication between man and portrait. “Regardless,” Dumbledore said after a long moment, “I asked Severus to take on this task, as he’d already sworn an Oath to Narcissa Malfoy to save her son.” That last bit sounded pointed, and Harry heard a short sigh behind him.
“We knew my time was short, Harry. The damage my body sustained with the destruction of Gaunt's ring was not reversible. And, Harry, it was ultimately fatal. When I commissioned my final portrait for Hogwarts, I included a special order. Harry; if you would release Severus, he has something to show you.”
Harry’s back stiffened and he was about to argue when he heard a silky whisper of, “Frightened of me, boy?”
The fighting instinct took over then, and he turned and used a Severing Charm on the ropes, watching them fall with satisfaction, even as he held his wand on Snape.
A cool chuckle from Snape reached him then, and he blinked warily.
“You’ve always been so delightfully easy to manipulate, boy. One would have thought you’d have worked on that. Especially after it led to the death of your… godfather.”
Harry closed his eyes against the remembered pain of Sirius’ death, and when he opened them again, Snape held something in his hands. Smallish, framed. Like a photo frame, actually. Forehead wrinkling questioningly, Harry stepped forward and glanced at it.
There was a dark background, but nothing else.
“Okay. What is it?”
“It’s a miniature, Harry,” Dumbledore’s voice said, rising from the small, dark frame. Harry jerked back with a gasp and turned to look at the full-sized portrait on the wall.
He stared at Dumbledore for a long moment before he said, “That’s how you knew. That’s where you were getting all your information.”
“McGonagall knows, doesn’t she?”
Harry waved Snape off, focussed on Dumbledore again. “That’s…” He blinked and shook his head. “That’s bloody brilliant, actually.”
He stood there, miniature in hand, turning over everything in his mind for several minutes. Since Dumbledore’s portrait had woken, shortly after his memorial, he’d known things. Important events that Voldemort was planning. No one knew where he was getting his information, and Dumbledore hadn’t exactly been forthcoming.
Because he’d been protecting his spy.
“Don’t think about it so much, Potter. You’ll strain your last remaining brain cell and we can’t have that, can we?”
Harry narrowed his eyes at Snape and turned to Dumbledore. “The only thing I can’t understand, sir, is why, with such a fool-proof plan, you’d place any amount of faith at all in a man who has shown time and again that the only side he’s on is his own. I’m just surprised he didn’t give your portrait to Voldemort—“
Snape hissed and clipped him ‘round his ear. “Idiot! Fool! Don’t invoke his name, you little twit!”
Harry turned and did something he’d been longing to do since his first Potions class all those many years ago. He made a fist and punched Snape right in his mouth. God, the satisfaction was nearly overwhelming. Better than chocolate. He’d never have a problem repelling Dementors ever again.
Of course, that was supposing he survived the next five minutes.
Severus’ whole body turned with the force of Potter’s right hook. He had a moment to think about ducking, but for some reason his body didn’t listen to the instructions of his brain. As he took the full brunt of Potter’s anger, he felt his teeth give and his lips—both top and bottom—split open. A pained grunt left him and he stumbled a bit, but was able to remain upright by sheer force of will.
Whipping back around, he looked at a triumphant Potter and—ignoring Dumbledore’s shouts—grabbed the boy’s arm, twisting it behind him until he felt and heard the give of the shoulder joint.
Over Potter’s pained shriek, Severus whispered in his ear, “Never again, Potter. Never again.”
Deciding that he’d suffered the fool’s company long enough, Severus turned and sketched a mock-bow to Dumbledore, who was shaking his head in dismay, and swept from the bedroom of the flat. He needed to regain control. No one had ever been able to climb beneath Severus’ skin in quite the way that the male members of the Potter family did.
Fucking rotten-with-hero-complex Potters.
The throbbing pain in his mouth, added to the too-sweet coppery taste of his own blood, convinced Severus to perform a wordless healing spell on his mouth. He knew if he tried to speak the words to the spell that he’d simply end up slurring them, and slurred words were never good when dealing with unpredictable self-healing magic.
The walls of the room seemed to be closing in on him, so Severus crossed the less-than-spacious living/gathering area and pulled open the door, slipping through into the darkness of the garden that lay beyond it. Severus sighed and looked up at the crystal clear sky; mind too filled with thoughts of how to go on now that he was no longer a double agent to appreciate the beauty of the night. Early morning. Whatever it was now.
Casting a quick Tempus, Severus cursed to see that it was past three o’clock in the morning. Too late to get proper sleep and too early not to hear the complaints of his overly-tired body and the white-noise type of buzz in his numb mind. Oh well, if nothing else, he’d be able to blame his lack of sleep on the fact that Potter had been able to carry out his attack on Severus’ person. That would normally be inexcusable, but Severus was honest enough with himself to admit that Potter had always had amazing reflexes.
Severus reached into the pocket of his robes and withdrew a slim silver case, opening it to extract a cigarette. It was a filthy habit, but Severus had spent too many nights lying awake sleepless not to take whatever aid he could get, in whatever form that meant. Raising the cigarette to his mouth, he lit the tip with his wand and took a long drag, shuddering as the smoke filled his lungs.
The reassuring weight of the miniature in his pocket reminded Severus of what was going on inside the house. He withdrew it and looked into the empty frame, sighing lightly before tapping it with his wand.
He winced slightly, but only because he knew Albus couldn’t see him. The Headmaster was greatly disappointed in him and was just about to give him hell for—
“What happened to your self-control, Severus? You knew Harry would not react well to you appearing like that—“
“I wasn’t aware that I would appear like that, Albus, which you well know! Also, what the hell were you thinking, setting the Portkey to the boy himself?”
“Minerva and I discussed the situation and decided that linking the Portkey function of my portrait to Harry served a dual purpose. You would be able to find him wherever he was, no matter that he was under the Fidelius, and, should you decide he needed to move quickly, you would be able to simply grab hold of him and Portkey to the secondary location. Regardless of that, I must tell you that I am quite displeased with how you conducted yourself in there. You’re quite lucky Harry has become proficient in healing charms, or I would have to summon Minerva, who would then have to summon Poppy. What were you thinking, Severus? You acted and reacted like a callow youth! You must be able to work with him. If you cannot… If you cannot, we will very likely lose all. And you are in no position to survive in the event of such an occurrence.”
Severus felt the cold rush of reality hit him. So much had happened since his audience with the Dark Lord that he hadn’t really had a moment to appreciate what tonight’s events meant to his future. He was, for the first time in his life, operating without a safety net.
In the past, he’d always had the empty satisfaction of knowing that no matter which side claimed victory in this war, he would be able to find a place for himself in the world at its end. Now, he had no such comfort. If Potter failed to kill the Dark Lord, Severus’ life would be worth nothing.
Severus sighed impatiently and took another drag on his nearly-forgotten cigarette.
“You must find some way to gain his trust and work with him.”
“He still doesn’t trust me?” Severus asked, venom dripping from his tones. “With everything that I’ve done, he still doesn’t trust me. Of course he wouldn’t. Your precious Potter can’t see beyond the tip of his smug little nose.”
“Have you given him anything to trust? Severus, before you yell at me, stop and think a moment. The boy’s last memory of you is from that night atop the Astronomy tower at Hogwarts. He watched you kill me. Such an act doesn’t really instil trust in a boy like Harry.”
Severus clenched his jaw and dropped his cigarette, grinding it beneath his heel as he expelled streams of smoke through his nostrils. “And does he understand why I killed you, Albus? Hmm? Have you truly explained that to him?”
“I’m doing so now.”
“Ah, such amazing multi-tasking skills you’ve gained with your death.”
“Sarcasm has never been an effective shield with me, Severus, as well you know. Please, take my advice to heart and bury this animosity before it ruins us all.”
“All? Us? You have the luxury of already being dead, Albus. So don’t lecture me on what I must do to continue living. You, of all, have no right to do that.”
Dumbledore sighed, which Severus thought a ridiculous affectation considering the man really couldn’t breathe anymore, and shook his head again, looking weary. “I will be content with your lack of forgiveness for all that I have asked of you, Severus, if you would be willing to but set aside this foolish pride that stands between you and Harry. You must gain his trust, Severus. I don’t know how else to stress this issue to make it more important to you.”
“I am fully aware of what I must do, Albus. I will work with the boy; I will do what needs doing. After all, haven’t I always?” Severus knew his bitterness was leaching through into his words, but he didn’t bother trying to hide it now.
“Yes, my boy. Yes, you have. And if you would allow me to suggest—“
“I am not foolish enough to believe I could stop any suggestion of yours, Albus.”
A faint smile curved Dumbledore’s lips and a hint of a twinkle brought a spot of white paint to his pale blue eyes. “Try to make friends with the boy. It will make everything that much easier.”
Severus threw back his head and laughed uproariously, an act he hadn’t performed in god knew how long. When he was finally able to bring himself under control once again, he asked, “Friends? With Potter?” And that set him off again.
Dumbledore patiently waited until his chuckles had died off slightly before saying, “It might help if you could think of him as ‘Harry’ instead of ‘Potter.’ I am fully aware that the name Potter brings to mind more than Harry himself. Take time to get to know the boy he is instead of the boy you believe him to be. You might find yourself quite surprised, indeed.”
“Oh? Surprised by Potter? That would almost be worth it, Albus. And how do you propose I,” another chuckle escaped him, “befriend Potter, hmm?”
“You might try talking to him. Break the ice. He’s a very personable young man. You would do well to court his favour, Severus. With you by his side, we will win. And when that happens, if you have his trust, you will be well-placed. As a Slytherin, can you do any less?”
“Sly, Albus. Very sly.”
“Thank you, my boy. I do try.”
“Go away, old man, and leave me in what little peace I have before my day is completely ruined by interfering and obnoxious Gryffindors.”
Harry stepped out of his house just as dawn’s first light was creeping through the trees around it. He loved the freedom being under the Fidelius offered him, even if he did miss his friends. He had argued vehemently about not being able to go with Hermione and Ron when they left with a pack of Order members to seek out and destroy the last known Horcrux, but even he could not disagree with the logic that Voldemort would be guarding it fiercely now that the other five had been destroyed. Voldemort’s anger when he found out had been vicious enough to leave him in the infirmary for three days with a scar that wouldn’t stop bleeding.
Actually, he would have to remember to ask Dumbledore how Snape had managed to find him. It shouldn’t have been possible—
A voice cut through the silence, making him jump and whirl toward it.
“And have you finally learned the truth, boy, or will you continue to bury your head in the sand and ruin us all?”
Something about the sound of Snape’s voice made gooseflesh rise on Harry’s body. He blinked down at his arms, half-bemused to see the hair standing on end there as the soft breeze that seemed to always come at daybreak ruffled it. He let out a shaky breath and raised his eyes, gathering his courage for the task ahead of him.
He stepped forward slowly, narrowing the space between them a fraction at a time until he was close enough to breathe the same air as the man before him. Maintaining eye contact, he lifted his hand and held it forward, squaring his shoulders as he waited. And waited.
As he stood there, feeling faintly foolish with his hand nearly jabbing Snape in the stomach, the same breeze that had been flirting with the hair on his arms came along again; a bit stiffer, a lot colder. It pressed the front of his robes to his chest, pushed the hem between his planted feet, outlining his legs. His fringe parted and Harry saw the quick flicker of Snape’s eyes to his newly revealed scar.
“Put down your hand, Potter. I have already promised to aid you in defeating the Dark Lord. There is no need for such a gesture.”
“There is,” Harry said, stubbornly keeping his hand out.
Snape’s lips pressed together, thinning them ever further. Shaking his hair back over his shoulders in an impatient gesture, he raised one hand, briefly clasped Harry’s with it, and dropped it again before Harry could truly register how thin and cold Snape’s hand was.
“We need to reach some sort of compromise, Snape, because if we don’t, one of us will end up killing the other.”
Snape snorted but didn’t deny the truth of Harry’s statement beyond a rather contentious, “Don’t fool yourself that you could ever be wizard enough to kill me, boy.”
Harry took a deep breath and let that go, just let it slide right over him. “I have information for you. I wanted to tell Dumbledore, but he wouldn’t listen, said I’m to come to you with anything important.”
“And what is it you think is so pertinent, Potter?” Snape asked, not bothering to hide the fact that he was simply humouring Harry.
“I had a dream tonight. Just before you showed up.”
Snape clicked his tongue in disgust. “You’re still putting faith in those dreams of yours, Potter? Merlin, you really don’t learn, do you?”
Harry looked at him and just maintained his silence. Finally, Snape cracked under the strain of his own curiosity. “Well, what do you think is so important, then?”
Harry inclined his head and walked back inside the house, leading Snape into the living area. “In my dream, the first part dealt with you. You were in a room full of Death Eaters, and all of you were kneeling. You were the only one that wasn’t moving and V—the Dark Lord was talking to you. He was leading you; he already knew you were the traitor, but he was trying to trip you up.” Harry waited, looking for some sign that Snape was surprised or interested or… anything, really. When Snape remained impassive, Harry sighed and continued.
“You offered him a potion, something to use on ‘the traitor.’ He ordered Lucius Malfoy to detain you, but you escaped before he could stop you. The miniature was also a Portkey, I guess?”
Snape remained silent for a moment before nodding once. “It is how I was able to locate you. When you touched me and spoke, the Fidelius charm on you accepted me.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. He hadn’t known that that was a possibility, but it didn’t truly surprise him. There was still an awful lot he was learning about ways to manipulate magic. Shrugging that off, he continued, “After you left, he got angry, really angry, and cast the Cruciatus on Lucius Malfoy.” Harry lifted a hand and brushed his fingers over his scar at the memory of the pain, missing the way Snape’s eyes flicked to it. “After he took it off, he made Malfoy prove his loyalty. He asked him to…” Harry shook his head. “I—it doesn’t make sense, and maybe this is the part where I was just sleeping or something, but… he asked Malfoy to ‘cut the baby from Narcissa’s belly.’” He laughed softly and held his hands up. “I know, I know, you probably didn’t need to hear that, but…”
“Why would I not want to hear that, Potter?”
“Well, Mrs Malfoy isn’t pregnant!”
“Yes, Potter. She is.”
“Why do you sound so shocked?”
“I… dunno really. Isn’t she too old to have more kids?”
“Narcissa is my age, brat. Be careful who you call ‘old.’”
Harry rolled his eyes, but conceded the point. Then the reality of what Snape was saying hit him and he began to chew on his lip. “Er, then…”
“Well, there was more, but I didn’t pay it much mind. I mean, I thought I was just having a regular nightmare.”
“Vol—er. He. He offered Mrs Malfoy a way out, a way to save herself and her baby.”
“What was it?”
“I, erm, don’t know. That’s when you landed on me.”
Harry watched as Snape began to pace, putting his rather intimidating intellect to the task of solving this mystery. After a few moments, Snape turned back to Harry and said, “Can you have that dream again?”
“What do you mean?”
“You need to see what he offered Narcissa. It may be nothing, but it may be vastly important. It is obviously too late to ask you to shield your mind from the Dark Lord, so we’ll make use of your link to him as we can.”
“I… well, er, it should work, but the only other times I’ve ever had the same dream were when Volde—er, when he was trying to get into the Department of Mysteries.”
“Clear your mind and sleep, Potter. If it works, it works. If not… we’ll try something else.”
Harry drew a deep breath and nodded before walking into the small bedroom and lying down on the bed. The rustle of fabric told him Snape had followed him and he wasn’t quite sure how he felt about that. How was he supposed to sleep with Snape standing over him, watching him?
“Cease your mental wanderings and relax, Potter.”
“That’s rather difficult to do with you staring at me… sir.”
“If your intention is only to offer me false respect, Potter, don’t bother with the effort. It is not merely annoying but infuriating as well.”
Harry squirmed a bit before offering a token, “Sorry.”
“The same holds true for insincere apologies. Sleep, Potter.”
Harry sighed and closed his eyes, hiding the way they rolled at Snape’s words. As soon as his eyes were shuttered by their lids, however, his exhausted body began to relax into the remarkably comfortable bed. To his own amazement, he felt his mind start to clear out and drift away…
Narcissa Malfoy was lying back on a stone slab, her distended belly pointing to the ceiling as she tugged lightly at the magical ropes binding her down. Her head moved back and forth, eyes wide, helpless and frantic, as she watched the proceedings around her. The struggling form of Rufus Scrimgeour was led into the large chamber where she lay, and a high, cold voice rang out, rising above the assorted noises.
“Ah, Minister. How utterly agreeable that you could make time in your busy schedule to join us.”
Narcissa stopped listening and went still as Lucius entered the chamber, walking with slow, measured steps to the Dark Lord’s side, murmuring something to the… man… before he stepped back, cold grey eyes sweeping the room before landing on her. Narcissa turned her head and closed her eyes, all too aware that he’d been perfectly willing to kill both her and their child mere moments before.
The Dark Lord’s voice rose and fell around her, but she couldn’t pull her mind back to the present; couldn’t focus properly. She knew something horrible was coming. The Dark Lord was not one to let wayward followers go unpunished and she had managed to remain unscathed for nearly two years now. Her time had come.
Narcissa felt the baby stir in her womb and tried to move her hands down to soothe it; forgetting for the moment that she was tied up. She whimpered as it rolled again, seeking comfort from the awkward position she was in. She averted her gaze; no matter how she might enjoy the feeling of new life growing within her body, she found the sight of the baby moving beneath her skin to be disconcerting at best.
A sharp scream brought her focus back to the men in the room, and she watched as the current Minister for Magic was carried bodily closer to her. Oh god, what were they planning?
Her frantic gaze flew back to the Dark Lord who was raising his wand. “Avada Kedavra!”
Green light flooded the chamber, sparking over her. The backlash of power stirred her hair, obstructing her view so that what happened next could only be heard.
“Condio corpus!” The words were high and eerie, rising to a crescendo of sound. Power built until it was a steady pressure all around, thrumming down from the ceiling and flooding the area until the urge to simply stop breathing nearly overrode Narcissa. Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she flung her head from side to side, shrieking even as she felt the baby go completely still.
“Noooo! Oh god, what have you done to my baby?!” she shrieked, tossing her head and looking directly into the face of evil. The lipless smile sent shivers down her spine.
“Rejoice, Narcissa, for I have bestowed upon you and your child a gift unlike any other. You are the vessel I have chosen. Because of you… I will live forever.”
Cold fear washed through Narcissa as the meaning of his words penetrated her. He had made her child… Oh, god, no.
Her whole body heaved with sickness as his high-pitched, hissing laughter filled the room. And the baby stirred once more…
Severus watched as Potter’s eyelids fluttered and his chest began rising and falling slowly, his breathing deepening out as he fell asleep.
Soon enough, Potter’s body went stiff and his face twisted with a grimace. His head began to toss on his pillow as he spoke, clearly but disjointed. Each word was merely a fraction of what Potter heard in his dream, of this Severus was certain.
Sweat broke out on his brow, then, “Corpus.”
A scream, loud and agonizing.
No words this time, but the trickle of blood down Potter’s face from his scar was rather disconcerting.
More twisting snapped his attention back to the words pouring frantically from Potter’s mouth.
“Noooo! … Baby!”
Absolute stillness then, and when Potter’s voice came, it was high and flat, sinister-sounding. “Live… forever.”
Severus heard a sound behind him and whirled to see Albus peering out of his wall-portrait, also watching Potter sleep.
“How often does he dream like this?” Severus asked, pitching his voice low.
“His visions are irregular at best. He can go weeks without a single dream and then have a series of them that leaves him exhausted for more than a month. Or go months with nothing and have one truly horrific dream. It is difficult to judge and seems to be triggered by certain moods Tom experiences.”
Severus stood quietly and watched Potter sleep, one arm crossed over the other, hand raised to his face. He stroked his chin absently, trying to piece together the bits of Potter’s dream he’d managed to overhear while he waited for the boy to wake.
Finally, after nearly an hour of silent contemplation, Potter began to stir, eyelids fluttering against his cheeks as he slowly rose from the depths of sleep into wakefulness. Severus moved forward, conjuring a straight-backed chair and lowering himself into it.
“What did you dream, Potter?” Severus asked quietly, his voice commanding enough to draw attention but not so much that he would startle the boy into snapping out of his post-dream state. The more Potter could recall of his dreams, the better for them all.
Potter pushed himself into a sitting position and began to speak, telling them of the horrors of his dream. Severus remained silent, waiting until Potter’s voice trailed off as he attempted to recall the final bits of his dream before they turned to mist and slipped away.
“And then, when they released her from the table, she said something to Lucius… something… God! I can’t remember. But anyway, she left.”
“What do you mean, she left?”
“She ran from the room, out of the house, and Apparated away.”
“In her condition? She must be truly desperate.”
Severus looked at the Headmaster and nodded, trying not to let his worry show. “Indeed. One wonders to whom she was running.”
“Or from whom.”
“That’s obvious, isn’t it? She was running from Volde—erm, the Dark Lord,” Potter paused to roll his eyes, “and her husband.”
Severus closed his eyes and pictured the scene Potter had set with his tale, one detail bothering him. “You were telling this as if you were Narcissa. Have you ever had a shared memory with the Dark Lord which did not look through his eyes?”
“Yes, all the time. Sometimes I’m Nagini, sometimes Wormtail, sometimes… well, other people. I remember…” Potter looked down and plucked at the bedsheets before he swallowed roughly and said, “I still sometimes remember the way it felt to attack Mr Weasley. When Nagini bit him, I could feel the meat and blood and…” He drew a ragged breath and shrugged. “Sorry. I guess you just wanted a straight answer, huh?”
“Nagini – Wormtail – others…” Severus murmured the names aloud to himself and glanced up and around, meeting Albus’ thoughtful gaze. “Those with whom the Dark Lord shares a mental connection, perhaps?”
Albus nodded slowly. “It seems to be so, yes. The others… his true followers, perhaps. Those whose minds he has been able to freely enter. Those he might have a small bit of possession over?”
“Possession… yes. It is plausible, at any rate. And Narcissa has never been proficient with her mental shields, so it stands to reason that he may have a form of mental hold over her.” Severus looked back at Harry and said, “Tell me again, what words did he use in the spell?”
Potter shook his head. “It wasn’t a spell, really. I… I don’t know what it was, but I know it wasn’t anything so simple as a spell. I could feel it. It was… it was huge, and it seemed to just press down on me and suffocate me until I thought my body would be sucked inside out or my chest collapse or my brain explode.”
“Ritual magic,” Dumbledore said, and Severus felt his eyes widen.
“Dark magic combined with elements of ritual magic. My god, Albus, I know what he was doing.” Severus turned to Potter again and looked into his eyes. “I need to see this, Potter. Let me in?”
He watched as the boy shrank back a bit before steeling himself and nodding slowly. “Not that you need my permission; you’ve always been able to shatter my shields.”
Severus nodded his acknowledgement before he pressed forward, smoothly entering Potter’s mind. He watched the flashes, fragments really now, of Potter’s dream; saw the movement of the baby inside Narcissa; watched the jet of light that passed over her and struck Scrimgeour; felt the press of building magic as the Dark Lord collected his own soul as it tried to escape him.
He pulled back quickly but cleanly, leaving no trace of himself in Potter’s mind. As he turned toward Albus to discuss the situation, he missed the look of amazement that came over the boy.
“He created a new Horcrux. He used Scrimgeour’s death to fracture his soul which he collected and… it shouldn’t be possible,” Severus said.
“Tell me, my boy. What shouldn’t be possible?”
“Narcissa Malfoy is pregnant.”
“Yes, I am aware that the Malfoys are seeking a new heir.”
“What?” Albus and Severus both ignored Potter’s question; too much was resting on this moment to stop and answer insignificant questions now.
“The Dark Lord was somehow able to create a Horcrux of the foetus.”
“Oh, my.” Dumbledore turned and began to pace the confines of his portrait, stroking one hand down his beard. “You are correct, Severus. This should not have been possible.”
“What? Will one of you talk to me and tell me what you’re on about?”
Severus glanced at Albus and saw him tilt his head slightly to the right. Smoothly, he turned to Potter and sent him out of the room to fetch a healing balm for the scar that continued to drip blood down his face. Distraction was key at this time; they could bring Potter up to date later, if it became necessary.
Though Potter rolled his eyes, he nodded and left the room, a wince of pain letting Severus know that he hadn’t been oblivious to the cut. Severus turned to Albus and continued their conversation, albeit at a lower volume as Potter could return at any time.
“You do realise that it is now imperative that we find Narcissa Malfoy and… remove the Horcrux.”
Albus wiped one hand down his face, ending at his beard, which he gave a tug as he thought over the situation. “Would that we could find an alternative, but… yes, Severus; it is of the utmost importance that you find her. But do you truly think you can?”
Severus turned over everything he knew of Narcissa Malfoy as he paced the small room. “I am as certain as I can be that Narcissa will flee for the coast. She won’t be able to move quickly.”
“She could take Muggle methods.”
“She won’t. I know Narcissa, sir. She would never take Muggle transportation.”
“Apparation would be harmful to her baby.”
“Assuming she cares about the baby at his point.”
Albus ran a finger down the length of his nose as he fell silent. Then he straightened his shoulders and stared out at Severus, his gaze solemn, but challenging. “She cares. I would stake my… well, I suppose it would be disingenuous to stake my life on it at this point, eh? How do you suppose she will travel then?”
Severus thought about this long and hard. “Short Apparations with plenty of rest between. No more than five or so miles at a time? It would be relatively harmless, but would allow her to move quickly if the need arose.”
“Yes, I agree. How do you propose to follow her, then?”
Severus looked at the ceiling and sighed. “The house was in Cambridge. She will take the most direct route to the busiest crossing point. So… Dover, then. We’ll leave tonight. First, though, we need Minerva. She’ll have to remove the Fidelius on Potter so that he can communicate with Order members if the need arises.”
“I shall let Minerva know. And should she inform anyone of your return?”
Severus paused for a moment before shaking his head. “We cannot afford the delay it would cause to answer their questions at this time.”
“If Harry doesn’t—” Albus was interrupted by the reappearance of the boy in question.
Severus shook his head and murmured, “Pray he does. If he does not, it won’t matter, anyway.”
They set out, each carrying a small pack apiece, plus a tent that Snape carried initially. Harry wasn’t entirely comfortable with the fact that they were travelling alone, but finally began to relax when Snape huffed at him after the first day of their journey and pushed Dumbledore’s miniature on him.
He appreciated the gesture, but ended up giving the small frame back to Snape when they entered Sawston on the morning of the third day because Dumbledore and Snape continued to hold conversations that Harry had no hope of understanding. Dumbledore apparently had some way to contact another portrait who had a portrait in a library that knew another portrait that might know something specific about Horcruxes… It was convoluted and secretive and generally just served to make Harry feel completely and utterly useless.
He knew he was acting sulky, but he honestly didn’t care. He was still rather angry with Dumbledore for hiding the truth of Snape’s role, angry with Snape for continuing to treat him like a child—to be seen and not heard and only seen when absolutely necessary—and angry with himself for allowing the situation to go on like this.
In theory, Harry had the power in this relationship. He was the one who would ultimately kill Voldemort—he refused to contemplate any other outcome, as to do so left him with a weak stomach and a feeling like his heart was going to explode from his chest—so really, they needed him. But for some reason, every time he thought to bring this up, Snape would look at him in much the same way he had when Harry had been a recalcitrant student and Harry’s words would die on his lips.
Fetching firewood and water had never held so much appeal in his life.
Days bled into one another, and suddenly Harry realised that he hadn’t spoken a word in nearly a week. Not one word. That was the same day he saw the headlines on a discarded Muggle newspaper showing still photos of a horrific explosion in downtown Sawston.
At the bottom of one article, a survivor had told of seeing a trick of firelight making what seemed to be a skull reflected against the clouds of smoke in the sky.
His stomach rolled and he ended up dry heaving into the grass for a good five minutes before he went to seek out Snape. It might be coincidence, but Harry knew without a doubt that Voldemort was following them as surely as they were following Narcissa Malfoy.
“You cannot allow this situation to continue forever, Severus.” The former Headmaster’s daily—no, hourly—litany made Severus snort with disgust as he leaned over the small worktable, chopping some local herbs finely to add to a gently bubbling base of willow sap for a light pain potion.
Severus had converted the small bedroom their tent contained into a workroom, needing the space for brewing. Potter hadn’t argued, just shrugged his shoulders and enlarged the small loveseat in the living space into a full-sized sofa that fit his small frame perfectly.
“You can’t do anything to stop me, now can you?” Severus asked, not bothering to hide his smirk. “Did you foresee that when you decided I should kill you, Albus?”
“Enough, Severus. You are… upset… with me. I understand that, but you are taking that anger with me and unleashing it on the boy. Don’t you think he has enough on his plate to be going on with, without having to deal with your moods?”
“Moods, Albus? I don’t have moods. I have one mood. Which is surly. Were I to become anything else, the war would be lost because Potter would expire from the shock—”
“Professor Snape!” Potter’s voice broke in on their conversation before the boy himself did. Severus jerked a bit at the address and managed to prick his finger with his finely honed potions knife.
“You--” Potter stopped to clear his throat and continued again, his breathing more rapid than it should have been. “You have to see this. I think… I think he’s following us.”
He threw a folded-over newspaper onto the workbench, earning himself a dark scowl as it overturned a bowl filled with freshly diced safflower roots. Severus gingerly plucked the paper from the bench by the corner, the blood that stained his fingers instantly soaking into the thin paper.
He read the headlines and snapped his head up, looking closely at Potter. The boy was fidgeting, hopping from one foot to another before he seemingly lost all patience and pointed to the bottom paragraph of one of the side-column articles. Severus read it three times before he lowered the page and sank wearily onto a stool.
“He is either on our trail or hers, Albus.”
“Muggle or wizard? How many dead?”
“Seventeen killed, thirty three injured. We’ll need to find a wizarding newspaper to determine which were Muggles.”
“How do you do that?” Potter asked, and Severus raised one eyebrow at him. “How do you say three words to each other and convey an entire newspaper article of information?” He sounded a bit hollow, the trail of laughter at the end of his statement rising in pitch and volume in what sounded like hysteria.
“We’ve been working together for a long time, my boy,” Albus said kindly.
“Too long,” Severus rejoined before conjuring a glass of scotch for both himself and Potter. He smirked at Albus before sniffing it appreciatively and taking the first burning sip.
“Not impressive,” Albus said in a faux whisper. “Now, share a sherbet lemon with the boy, and I’ll cast a longing look your way.”
Severus rolled his eyes when he heard Potter choke at Albus’ choice of phrasing.
“Never fear, Potter. A few more weeks of my illustrious company and you’ll be casting longing looks my way as well. I’ll have more beaus than any thirty eight year old wizard has any right to.”
Potter choked again, though this time was on a surprised laugh.
Severus put off on teasing Potter to read the article more closely, reading between the lines. The Muggle reporter had done her job well, interviewing anything that would stand still, apparently. After he read that article, he scoured the rest of the newspaper for any other news that might suggest the Dark Lord had visited the town.
There was nothing.
It took Severus and Harry six long, gruelling weeks to finally track down Narcissa Malfoy two Apparation points north of Devon; six weeks during which they first began to grudgingly trust one another, then found an odd spark of rather black affection and then... Well. And then.
It was all due to the suggestion of one meddling old fool of a deceased former Headmaster who didn't know enough to just be dead, already.
Break the ice, indeed.
Severus implemented Albus’ plan in the darkest part of night, not long after that first newspaper article, waiting until Potter had stopped fidgeting and all was still around them. He wasn’t certain that Potter hadn’t already succumbed to sleep, but a small part of him hoped that was the case, as he was quite willing to procrastinate on this.
“I hate my name,” he said, the words coming out hesitant. He scowled into the darkness, irritated with himself for such weakness.
He heard Harry shift on the sofa and turn toward him. “What?”
“I hate my name,” he said, this time forcing the words to come out in a sure, steady tone.
He could almost see the look of confusion on the young man’s face. He sighed heavily and tried to find another way to do this. This “ice breaking” thing Albus had suggested. He still thought it was a stupid phrase—obviously Muggle—as well as a stupid idea. He and Potter didn’t really need to become less hostile, did they?
“It’s why I don’t allow many people to use it. Of course, Albus and Minerva are both oblivious to my wishes, or they simply overlook them, as always.”
“Mmm, Dumbledore isn’t one for being very formal.” Potter’s voice was sleepy and slow, as if he were on the very verge of sleep.
“No, he isn’t,” Snape agreed, then added, “Sleep, Potter. We’ll talk again later.”
A rustling then, and Potter’s voice came again. “We were talking?”
“Words were forming by the combination of the force of air through our larynxes and the manipulation of the sounds emitted by our lips, teeth, and tongue. Therefore, yes, we were speaking.”
“There’s a difference, you know.”
“Really, Potter? Do enlighten me.”
“Speaking and talking are very different. Speaking means you don’t care if the other person is really paying attention. Talking suggests a conversation. It means you want the other person to respond. So were we speaking or talking?”
“Potter, your convoluted thought processes quite literally make my head throb. You do realise that the definition of those words is the same, yes? They are synonyms.”
“Maybe the dictionary defines them similarly, but… Hey, you didn’t answer my question. Were you telling me that to provoke a conversation, or was it just…?”
Severus was rather certain the snapping sound he heard was the truth finally dawning on the brat.
“You don’t ever just say something. You do want to talk.”
Severus rubbed his hands over his face, silently cursing Albus to seven different kinds of hell. He was certain he would lose some brain matter in the next few minutes, but he stubbornly pushed forward anyway.
“I… it would behove us to become less… antagonistic toward one another.”
“Why, indeed. Goodnight, Potter.”
Five minutes later, he was just about to fall over the edge of sleep when Potter’s voice jolted him awake.
“I meant, why do you hate your name?”
Severus smirked at a star that had the audacity to twinkle down at him through the transparent ceiling of the tent and said, “It’s long and awkward and far too pompous. I would rather have been a John or some such.”
“John? I… can’t picture you as a John.”
“Potter, regardless of the name bestowed upon me at my birth, my genetic makeup would have assured that I would have looked exactly the same as a John as I do now.”
“Do you think?” Harry asked. “Maybe that’s true, but I bet you would have been different somehow. I always thought people rather fit their names.”
“No, really! Think about it. I look a lot like my father. He also had a rather common, ordinary name. And well, not to put too fine a point on it, but we both became rather common, ordinary looking men. Your name, though, has character. It tells something about you. It sounds dark and brooding, and, well, you are.”
Silence stretched between them again, until Potter asked, “Are you angry with me?”
“Should I be?”
“I didn’t mean that as an insult.”
“Which is fortuitous, as you do not have the skill necessary to insult me.”
“Shut up. Git.”
“Go to sleep, brat.”
A pause, then, “We’ll talk more tomorrow?”
“That means yes, then. Goodnight.”
Mysterious Fire Breaks Out in Harlow Primary School. Ten Trapped Students Burn to Death.
"Why is Vo--shit, erm, the Dark Lord after Mrs Malfoy? I mean, she's running like she's scared of him, but... Well, it's not like he's going to hurt her or the baby, right? Because then he'd be doing our job for us and... Wait. Not that I mean we're going to hurt her or the baby. "
Severus sighed and rolled his eyes, secure in the knowledge that Potter couldn't see the action. "Our plan is to detain Narcissa, by any means necessary, Potter. If detaining her requires us to injure her, then we shall injure her. It is not the ideal situation and we will attempt to avoid such a circumstance but do not expect that we can shirk this duty. For any reason. As to why the Dark Lord is pursuing her… I cannot say. Perhaps to keep this final bit of his soul close to him."
"Snape... if we will do anything, stop at nothing, then what separates us from the people we're fighting against?"
"Merely the reason for fighting. This is war—do not to forget that."
Lullingstone Castle Destroyed By Sudden Storm
Severus set down his knife and braced his arms against the worktable, head drooping wearily.
“What ails you, my boy?”
“Too many questions with no answers.”
“Such as, why is the Dark Lord following Narcissa? It is such an obvious question that even Potter thought to ask it.”
“And what did you tell him?”
“That the Dark Lord is ensuring his last Horcrux stays safe.”
“But you don’t believe that.”
“Of course I don’t. I’m not as simple-minded as Pott—”
“Call him Harry.”
“You are still transferring your anger at his father onto the boy. Take this one small step, and I won’t bother you any longer about how you treat him. Well, as long as your treatment of him doesn’t deteriorate.”
“For that alone, I will call him any bloody thing you like.”
“Harry will do for now. Please continue.”
“Fine. I was saying that P—Harry was easily convinced. But I am not. There is another reason, one that I fear we might be too late in discovering.”
“Should we abort this mission?”
“No. No, we cannot do that. Regardless of what lies at the end of this journey, we are committed to our path. I simply wish I knew what Lucius and the Dark Lord have planned.”
Some odd tone in Dumbledore’s voice made Severus’s attention sharpen. “Yes?”
“Tom… if he uses his link with you, the one to your mark, would he be able to track you that way?”
“No. I’ve been very careful to take a blocking potion. As long as I take it on time every day, his link to me is severed. But he can track Narcissa’s. I’m… surprised, really, that he hasn’t done so.”
“You’re not surprised. You’re worried.”
“Quite. I fear he might have more planned, and that we may have unwittingly sprung his trap.”
Flood Sweeps Through Village, Destroying Crops and Livestock
"So we spent all day searching Brentwood, and only spoke to each other. Does that mean it's time to talk?"
Severus turned his head and looked at Potter across the room before settling himself more comfortably onto his own little sofa. Well, not so little. He had also made use of his transfiguration skills and made his sofa large enough for his frame and firm enough so that he wouldn't wake up with a sore back. He snorted as he thought to himself that Potter had probably turned his into a fluffy soft air bed. "Yes, Potter. We can talk."
"Oh." Potter sounded surprised, which made Severus roll his eyes.
"Ah, I was just trying to find something to talk about. I didn't really expect the ice-breaking thing to last longer than a day, honestly."
“Your amazement is second only to my own.”
“Erm, so… what have you been doing the past year and a half?”
Severus rolled his eyes and settled in for a long discussion. He had given himself to his course and there was no turning back now…
“I have been surviving, Potter.”
He spoke at length about his role as a spy, feeding Potter information in small pieces. It wasn’t until a lusty yawn from across the room stopped him that Severus realised the time.
Oddly enough, speaking to the boy had been rather… therapeutic. Perhaps Dumbledore’s suggestion hadn’t been such a brainless one, after all.
This time, when he said, “Have a good night, Potter. We’ll talk again tomorrow,” he found that he was actually looking forward to it. How very peculiar.
Illness Strikes in Faversham; Residents Quarantined
“Why are the Malfoys trying for a new heir?” Harry asked, holding his breath as he awaited the answer. It was night again, the time to talk, to tell secrets they couldn’t bring themselves to speak during the day.
Snape took a long time to reply, long enough that Harry was certain he’d either fallen asleep or simply wasn’t going to answer. Finally, though, Snape spoke.
“The Dark Lord does not look favourably on those he counts as failures. The Malfoys have been collectively failing him since your second year at Hogwarts. He was less than pleased with Draco’s inability to cast the killing curse on the Headmaster.” Snape paused then, and Harry drew a ragged breath.
“He killed Draco, didn’t he?” Harry asked, and then wanted to call the words back. He really didn’t want to know the answer.
Snape shifted on his sofa, drawing Harry’s gaze from the fire to him. His long, lean body was stretched from one side of the sofa he’d chosen to the other. Harry blinked suddenly when he realised that Snape was rather… well, rather fit. He shook his head at the inappropriate observation and focused on the matter at hand.
That was when he noticed that Snape was struggling, just the slightest, with what he was about to say. It was so very unlike Snape, that Harry went perfectly still and paid strict attention. Whatever had happened to Draco, it had affected Snape deeply enough that the man couldn’t help but show it.
“After we fled the castle that night, we returned to the Dark Lord’s headquarters in Cambridge. Everyone was there, including Lucius Malfoy. Lucius was given a choice: either he could kill Draco, or he could die in Draco’s stead. Lucius chose to save himself.”
Harry felt his breath seize in his lungs. He’d always hated Draco Malfoy, but no one, no one should have to spend their last minute on earth knowing that their own father loved himself more than his own child.
“My god,” Harry whispered. “That man needs to die.”
“And so it shall be done, Potter. I assure you. I will take more pleasure than you know in being the one to put an end to Lucius Malfoy once and for all.”
Harry nodded and fell silent, thinking over what he now knew. Draco Malfoy was dead. And… had been for the past eighteen months. Good lord, he’d only been seventeen. Scared, alone, hopeless. Harry could close his eyes and remember the look of panic that had been on Draco’s face that night so long ago. It seemed impossible that the boy could really be dead.
But then, Harry remembered also the horrendously cold and callous man that Lucius Malfoy was and decided that perhaps, it wasn’t so difficult to believe at all.
The only other words spoken that night came nearly an hour later when Harry whispered softly, “Good night, sir.”
Mines Collapse in Sittingbourne; No Body Count Yet, Though Expectations Grim
“I’m a virgin.”
Harry couldn’t hold back a smile as Snape choked on something across from him. He didn’t dare raise his eyes, but that was more so Snape wouldn’t think he was laughing at him than anything else. He expected to be teased mercilessly, but he was comfortable enough with Snape now that he didn’t hold back during their nightly chats.
For two weeks they’d been talking deep into the night, discussing mostly dark matters pertaining to the war, and Harry was quite in the mood for a change. Just for tonight, if nothing else, he wanted to have a normal conversation that didn’t revolve around the war. Talk to someone like he was eighteen.
Thankfully, Snape seemed somewhat willing to accommodate his desires. “I’m, ah, surprised that the Weasley brat didn’t relieve you of that.”
Harry shook his head. “No, Ginny and I broke it off after… umm, just before the end of sixth year.”
“After I killed Albus, then.”
“Erm, yeah, that.”
“For your elucidation, I was actually referring to the other Weasley brat. Ronald.”
This time it was Harry’s turn to choke. “What?! Ron’s not… I’m not…”
Snape snorted. “Whether you’ve admitted it to yourself or not, you are; I’ve seen inside your head, remember? With the way he dogged your footsteps, I’m sure I’m not the only one who was under the impression that the two of you shared a special relationship. Or perhaps a ménage with Miss Granger.”
Harry went dead silent then, trying in vain to get the images that Snape was hurling at him out of his head.
“Good night, Snape,” he said, clearing his throat when his voice came out squeaky.
He could feel Snape’s smirk. “Sweet dreams, Potter.”
Severus was highly amused over the next few days as Potter began sliding long, considering looks at him. It therefore, came as no surprise when the subject of sex came up once more.
“What about you?” Harry asked, voice full of false bravado.
“When did you…? Was it after you became a Death Eater?”
“You wouldn’t be referring to my sexual initiation, would you, Potter?”
“Actually, I was asking who popped your cherry and when, but yeah.”
“Heh, I’m growing on you, aren’t I?”
“Rather like a wart.”
“Wait, you’re avoiding the question. Who, when, where?”
“I’m not avoiding anything, Potter. Unlike someone, I find it in rather poor taste to discuss my sexual exploits.”
“Well, I’d probably find it in poor taste, too, if I had any to discuss.”
“You could always rhapsodize over your right hand. I’m sure that would be scintillating enough to ensure a solid ten hours of sleep for myself.”
“Eloquent, as always.”
“You use your right hand?”
Severus maintained his silence, not willing to dignify that question with an answer.
“Come on, Snape. You started it. Answer the question.”
Severus sighed heavily, realising that Harry would continue pestering him all night if he didn’t give in just a bit now. “Potter, when I have urges, I… oh, bloody hell. I’m not having this conversation with a child.”
Now it was Harry’s turn to let the silence stretch taut between them.
Severus sighed heavily and said, “What, Potter?”
“Well, for one thing, I’m not a child. For another, I’ve always used my left hand. Now, if you’re finished avoiding the question, when did you, you know, do it?”
“On the night of my initiation ceremony into the Death Eaters, an orgy was held. Thirty Muggle virgins of both sexes were assembled simply to pleasure me.”
Harry sat up and gaped at Severus. “Bloody hell. Really?”
“No, you dolt. Merlin, you’d believe anything, wouldn’t you?”
Harry recognised the humour and chuckled softly. “Well, we always talked about it, you know. What sort of depraved things Death Eaters did at their gatherings. We figured it was something like that. With the Muggle virgins and all, I mean.”
“Potter, the Dark Lord’s idea of an orgasmic experience is casting the Cruciatus until blood runs out his victim’s ears. Pleasure is a rare occurrence, indeed.”
“Why join him? Or did you think it would be different?”
“I was young, full of my own sense of immortality, and stupid. I was also quite an easy mark, as I felt that my… talents… were unappreciated.” Severus’ voice was cool enough to put Potter off of pursuing this line of questioning. Or not.
“Oh.” A short silence, then the small sound of Harry’s voice broke the stillness. “What talents?”
Severus blinked and snorted. “Strangely enough, there are actually some who presume me to be fairly passable at Potions and the Dark Arts.”
“Oh! Oh, yeah, I just… I thought you meant…”
Severus let out an exasperated breath. “Potter, I will tell you this one final time. Meetings between the Dark Lord and his followers never involved orgies or sex or anything else you can think up in that adolescent, addicted-to-the-idea-of-sex brain of yours. Merlin, deliver me from sexually deprived virgins.”
Harry muttered something that sounded rather a lot like, “Shut up.”
“Go to sleep.”
“It is, indeed.”
Harry rolled over and propped his head on his hand.
"I thought perhaps now would be an ideal time to remind you that the Headmaster is privy to every sound we make. Which includes our conversations."
Harry felt his stomach drop before lurching up into his throat. For a moment, he thought he would be sick.
"He's... he's... he's... !!!"
Severus smirked up at the night sky, barely seeing the clouds that blocked the stars as he pictured the expression on Potter's face.
"Now, will you let your curiosity go, or should we continue our... conversation... from last evening?"
The rain that started to lightly fall on the roof of their tent obscured the sound of Severus’ quiet chuckles.
Severus wasn’t quite so struck with humour two hours later when Harry’s strangled groan woke him. “What is it, Potter?”
“I just… I wanked this afternoon! I… I had my fingers up my… oh, god, he heard me! He saw me! I know he did!”
Severus blinked up at the night sky, quite at a loss for words. He’d been successful in managing to think of the boy as a … well, as a boy. But the image Harry’s words forced on him sent desire thrumming slowly through him.
Harry’s young, strong, lithe body twisting with pleasure as he used one hand—his right, naturally—to finger himself, and the other to slowly stroke the length of his cock.
Severus’ willpower was such that even this was nothing that he couldn’t push back down, but that one image was a leak in the dam of his tightly held self-control.
Drawing a steadying breath, Severus rolled to his side, putting his back to the brat while he fought his body’s natural reaction. “Go to sleep, Potter. No doubt the Headmaster didn’t even notice.”
Another groan was his only answer, which really didn’t help his problem. Neither man slept for the rest of the evening, the same thought keeping them both awake, though for vastly different reasons.
The wickedly teasing Snape from their night-time banter was lost in the cold light of day when they finally spotted Narcissa Malfoy in Whitfield. Snape left Harry immediately, cautioning him to stay hidden as they still did not know if Voldemort was following them or her.
“Wait!” Harry called, running after Snape. “I want to go with you.”
“Potter, are you daft? You can’t come with me.”
“Why not? You said I’m in danger here; well, so are you!”
“We’re all in danger, idiot, but you’re far more important in the grand scheme of things than I am.”
“Don’t call me an idiot! You’re rushing off after her! Well, guess what? They might have seen her, too! Did you ever think of that?”
“Stop screaming at me, Potter. Of course I thought of that. Of course I did. Do you think I’ve survived this long without thinking everything through to the very last detail?”
“Then… why not take me with you? I could be your backup? Guard you. Something.”
Snape closed his eyes, lips set in a grim line. “Potter, I need you to stay here. If you’re out there, with me, I won’t be able to look to my own well-being and defence because I will be far too concerned for yours. So do as I tell you, for once in your life, and just… stay.”
Harry clenched his fists and opened his mouth to say something, but Snape cut him off.
“Dammit, boy, I’ve known dogs easier to train! Just stay here. If it will ease your mind, I will take the miniature with me.”
Harry let out a breath and considered this compromise. Slowly, he relaxed his hands and nodded. “Okay, just…”
“Yes, boy,” Snape muttered, obviously impatient to go. “What is it?”
“Come…” Harry swallowed roughly. “Come back. I—well, I still want to know who your first was, right?”
Snape stilled and looked at him oddly before his lips twitched slightly and he said, “Indeed.”
Severus stood in the doorway of the room Narcissa had let under the name Andrea Bell. A tribute to her sisters, and one that had been immediately obvious to Severus. His eyes swept her thinly-clothed body, taking in the emaciation that running had caused, which only highlighted how heavy with milk her breasts were. Her stomach was flat and as he looked around, he saw no sign of the babe. A disillusionment spell, perhaps, though they were risky to use on the very young.
He stepped closer, allowing his feet to make sound, disturbing her rest. She rolled over with a sharp cry; her body curving around an object that his eyes told him was not there.
“Narcissa,” he called, his voice firm, almost sharp. It was deliberate, this seeming coldness. He watched with satisfaction as she stiffened, then straightened, smoothing down the worn, rent garment she wore. Her face lifted to him and he nearly flinched at the abject hopelessness that was stamped so clearly there.
“Severus,” she said, rising shakily to her feet. She approached him then, not looking at anything else in the room, especially not the baby, though they both knew he was aware of its presence now. “You look… much better than the last time I saw you.”
“It would be rather difficult to look worse, but then you always were a master of understatement.”
She raised a hand to him and he didn’t so much as glance at the dirty, broken nails before he kissed it lightly on the back. He allowed his fingers to caress the underside of her wrist as he released her before saying, “Gracious, as always.”
“And you?” she asked.
He raised a black brow and shook his head. “Gracious? Have I ever been?”
“You helped me once, Severus. Perhaps not with gentility, but you did come to my aid when I needed you. Would you do so again?”
He hesitated, trying to find words to assure her while not promising something he might not be able to deliver. His silence had gone too long, though, apparently, for she suddenly dropped to her knees and pressed her forehead to his thigh, the classic pose of the supplicant.
“Please, Severus,” she whispered harshly. “I need your help.”
He leaned down and gripped her arms—shaken at how terribly thin and frail she felt—and pulled her to her feet. He wiped the silver tears from her cheeks, smudging the dirt. “Narcissa, I am not the safest person for you to seek help from. The Dark Lord wishes me dead, and the armies of the Light aren’t exactly assured of my innocence.”
“Severus… I can’t do this alone. I’m tired of running, but I can’t stop. I can’t allow them to find h-me.” She caught herself just before she slipped, but he heard it still.
“If you want my help, Narcissa, I demand that you trust me.”
The look in her eyes was haunted, hunted. She was close to her breaking point, and knowing what a strong woman she was, he wondered at all that had happened to her. He relented then, allowing her a bit of space.
Releasing her, he stepped back and said, “I am not travelling alone, Narcissa. There is another person with me—”
“No!” she screamed, running to the corner of the room and rummaging through a pile of rags before she held up a wand. “I won’t let you take me to him!”
“Narcissa, put the wand down. I won’t let anyone hurt you. He won’t let anyone hurt you.” He kept his voice low and soothing.
Her laughter was almost manic, her eyes wild as they rolled around frantically, trying to see into every corner. She was edging toward the sleeping mat, until she stood between Severus and the baby. “He wants me dead, Severus. He has his hounds sniffing all up and down England looking for me. There is no way out; no escape.”
Severus blinked and relaxed his shoulders. “I’m not travelling with Lucius, Narcissa. Nor the Dark Lord.”
Her eyes snapped to his again and her wand hand trembled as she tried to decide if he was lying to her or not. He held up his hands, showing them to be empty and said, “Trust me a moment more, Narcissa. I’ll show you proof.”
He reached slowly into the inner pocket of his robes, withdrawing the miniature of Albus. Tapping the frame three times, he waited until he saw a flash of white before he held it out to her.
Her eyes flicked to it once, then twice, before she stepped hesitantly forward. Seeing Albus, she cried out and dropped her wand, raising her hands to her face as she sank to the ground in tears.
Severus returned to the campsite that afternoon to see Harry pacing, agitated. When Harry heard the ‘pop’ of Apparation, he looked up, relief etched on his face as he ran forward, stopping just prior to throwing himself at Severus. He whacked Severus on the shoulder instead, garnering himself a narrow-eyed look.
“I located Narcissa Malfoy and her daughter.”
“A girl?” Harry asked, voice lilting in surprise.
“Yes. Why do you sound shocked? There are, actually, more women on earth than men.”
“Shut up. I know that, it’s just… odd, somehow. I thought it would be a boy.”
Harry shrugged and looked away, lost for a moment in memories of childhood fights and rivalries. Shaking himself, he turned back to Severus and, shielding his gaze from the late afternoon sun, said, “Where is Mrs. Malfoy, then?”
“She is with Albus.”
“And the baby?”
Severus smirked and said lightly, “Did you think I would bring a squalling, puking, pissing little ball of humanity with me?”
Harry thought about it for a moment and said, “Yeah. You would. So where is she?”
Severus raised an eyebrow and said, “Well done, brat. She is strapped to my back, under a disillusionment spell.”
“Isn’t that… dangerous?”
“It would be more dangerous for her to be found.”
Harry swallowed and nodded before patting gently along Severus’ back until he felt the downy softness of the baby’s head. With a deep breath, he tapped it very, very lightly and watched as the pink skin of a newborn baby appeared. The fuzz on top of the head was nearly transparent it was so pale, making the baby appear bald.
“What’s her name?” he whispered, lips curving in a small smile as he saw the tiny eyelids closed over her eyes, her impossibly small hands clutching Severus’ robes so trustingly. He had to blink a few times to get rid of the hot, dry, scratchy feeling in his eyes. He raised a hand and drew the tip of his finger down her skin, marvelling at how incredibly soft it was.
Severus pursed his lips and said, “Emily.”
He watched as Severus quirked an eyebrow at him, and blushed. “Sorry, erm, it’s just that… well, Emily is such a normal-sounding name. I like it! I mean, it’s a good name! It’s just that I didn’t expect something like that.”
“’Draco’ was a family name, Potter. Really, you shouldn’t presume to know what a family like the Malfoy’s will do. You are far and away too different from them.”
Harry rolled his lips under and nodded, watching Severus closely. Deciding to change the subject, he asked, “What should we do?”
“First, we wait for sunset. Then we perform the ritual. After that, we’ll make whatever plans need to be made.”
Harry’s stare was steady as Severus turned back to him. “Am I what?”
“Are you hiding something?”
“I am hiding everything, Potter. Everything.”
Harry sighed gustily and said, “No, I mean, something from me?”
“I am hiding more from you than you can possibly imagine,” Severus said, allowing his eyes to lock with Harry’s.
“Because, as much as it pains me to admit, I am not willing to sacrifice your innocence on the brutal truths this world has to offer. Not yet. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must go prepare the potions we’ll be using in the ritual.”
He was allowed five steps before Harry’s voice reached him. “What if I don’t mind sacrificing my innocence?”
Severus shook his head and continued toward their tent. He didn’t have the time necessary to frighten the young man out of his natural curiosity. He ducked under the flap and made his way to the bedroom/laboratory.
Gently easing the sleeping baby from his back, he settled it as comfortably as possible into a cradle he transfigured from a small stool. Setting a privacy spell around the cradle so that nothing would disturb the baby’s rest, he turned to the workbench along one wall. He had barely started a fire under the cauldron when a draft let him know that he was no longer alone.
“You’re disturbing my laboratory, Potter.”
“I’d rather be disturbing you,” Harry muttered, so low Severus just barely managed to hear him.
You’re doing so, brat. Severus rolled his head on his neck, trying to relax for the upcoming ritual as he knew that it would require every bit of his concentration. The tiny shifting sounds coming from behind him continued to distract him, however, and he finally turned to Harry, perturbed. He allowed his exasperation to colour his tone as he said, “Really, Potter, what do you want?”
“I want you to talk to me,” Harry replied, petulant.
“I haven’t the time for that now; we haven’t the time.”
“Can’t you just—” Harry cut himself off, one hand dragging through his fly-away hair as he obviously fought some internal battle. Severus waited, lining up ingredients, for Harry to finish with himself. A fleeting image of a debauched young man ‘finishing himself’ flitted through Severus’ mind before he expelled it—forcefully.
“I’m scared, Snape. Frightened out of my mind. I don’t know—I don’t know if I can do this.”
“Yes, the ritual, the hunting, the… everything! When we do this, Snape, there’s nothing else standing in the way. When this is done, I have to find him.”
Severus’ hands stilled and he glared down at the bits of green foliage that floated in his potion base. He put down the mortar and pestle he had been about to crush the beetle wings with and turned to Harry, schooling his features into blandness.
“Would you like for me to stop? It isn’t necessary that we perform this ritual. Nor is it necessary that we rid Narcissa’s child of the Horcrux the Dark Lord placed in it. Certainly it isn’t necessary for you to find him, to confront him, to kill him.” He hated himself in that moment for the hope that flared so quickly in Harry’s eyes before he brutally squelched it. “We can go on as we’ve been doing: fighting one losing battle after another against the Dark Lord and his supporters, neither of you killing the other. We can allow more Muggles to end up like those in Sawston, watch more villages burn to the ground in the name of blood purity, watch more and more witches and wizards turn to the Dark because they can find no hope for salvation in the Light. And eventually, we will be destroyed.” He spoke the bleak truth with a voice so matter-of-fact that even he wondered where he found the strength. “But I can stop, Potter, if that is what you wish.”
He watched as Harry dropped down into a crouch, hands locked at the base of his skull, elbows on his knees. Relenting slightly, Severus stepped forward and placed one hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing lightly, before he continued across the room to retrieve a journal he really didn’t need.
When Harry’s voice came, it was muffled by his position, but that didn’t lessen the impact the ragged query had on Severus. “I’m going to die, aren’t I?”
“No! No you bloody well will not, Potter! I haven’t sacrificed this much to simply let you die.”
Harry lifted his head, his hands sliding down to clasp around the back of his neck. His glasses were smudged and slightly fogged, which dimmed the brilliant green of his eyes.
“Now, then,” Severus said, voice slightly rough, “if you are quite finished feeling sorry for yourself, I believe this would be a most excellent time for you to learn your part of the ritual we are about to perform.”
He felt an emotion akin to relief when Potter pushed himself to his feet and came forward, a far more willing pupil now than he’d ever been in Severus’ memory.
At dusk, Harry watched, his chest feeling as if it would cave in at any moment, as Snape ladled some of the potion Snape had been working on into two ritual cups. They were rough, and earthenware, but Harry knew they would be as pure as magic could make them.
Harry’s voice cracked a bit as he asked, “What’s the potion for, again?”
Snape handed him one of the cups and stared into the vibrantly purple depths of his own potion before he replied. “This is a binding potion to combine our magic. In effect, it will double the power we each hold, for that is the only way to protect ourselves against the power that resides in the Horcrux. A soul, even a fraction of a tarnished soul, holds more power than the most powerful wizard. We would be safer if we had a third, as three is a number of power. However, I do assure you that you are as safe as you can be. The Headmaster and I were fully capable of maintaining control during the process on two other occasions.”
“How—how did Hermione and the others destroy the ones they had?”
“Do not forget they have the aid of the Headmaster, himself. As he has been a participant in this very ritual the exact number of times as myself, he is quite capable of advising them.”
“But what about the potion?”
Snape looked up at him, his lips quirking at the corners, and said, “Potter, Albus Dumbledore was one of the foremost wizards of our, or any, age. He was and is fully capable of instructing someone with Miss Granger’s intellect of the proper way to prepare the potion.”
Snape just rolled his eyes and handed him a vial. “Yes, well… bottoms up, Potter.”
“Cheers, Snape,” Harry muttered before he held his breath and drank the potion down in two quick gulps. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the way his body felt, wondering when the potion would take effect. After several minutes had gone by, he blinked and looked up, catching the flash of humour in Snape’s eyes. Deciding he’d already shown his ignorance and nothing could really damage him further in Snape’s view, he shrugged and said, “I don’t feel any different.”
“What did you expect, Potter? That you would be able to hear my every thought; feel my deepest emotion?”
“Erm, well… yeah. Something like that.”
Snape shook his head and returned his ritual cup to the table top. “Such romantic nonsense is the stuff of pure fiction, Potter. If a potion existed to allow anyone into my thoughts, I would never willingly quaff it.”
Harry snorted. “If that isn’t the gods’ own truth. You’re the most suspicious person I’ve ever met.”
“You think that’s a compliment? Remember, I know Mad-Eye Moody, too.”
“Ahh, definitely not a compliment, then. But do take into consideration that were it not for my oh-so-suspicious nature, you would likely have perished in your first year at Hogwarts.”
“Huh. Yeah, well, still. You could stand to be a little more…”
“But Potter,” the wicked gleam in Snape’s eyes alerted Harry to the fact that he was about to make another of those outrageous statements of his, “I thought we had both come to the conclusion that you prefer it… hard.”
Harry blushed and groaned, dropping his head onto the surface of the worktable in front of him and pounding it several times for good measure. “You. Are. Evil.”
“So I’ve been led to believe.”
“No, really. You do this on purpose. And only when Dumbledore isn’t around to hear you!”
“It’s called excellent timing, Potter. God willing, one day you might acquire a bit of your own.” Snape swept from the tent, but somehow Harry heard his dark chuckles long after he’d gone.
Harry stepped out of their tent into the clearing, momentarily taken aback at how different it was. Snape had obviously been busy. Where once there had been a brush-pile, a craggy-sided, smooth-topped granite altar stood, surrounded on all sides by pure, rich brown earth.
The baby was laid out on the stone, but didn’t appear to be in any discomfort. Harry wondered if it was possible that Snape had placed a cushioning charm on the altar. Rituals sometimes went weird in the presence of magic and Harry worried for a moment that whatever was causing the baby to lie so still might be harming it.
As he stepped up beside the altar, he noticed that the baby was simply sleeping. He smiled softly and reached a hand out to touch her, wanting to feel that soft skin against his finger again, but Snape stopped him.
“Don’t, Potter. Concentrate on gathering your magic now.”
Harry nodded and drew a shaky breath, closing his eyes as he felt inside himself for the place where his magic always seemed to emanate. After a moment, he opened his eyes and looked up. Snape was standing across the altar from him, arms raised above the baby, palms out, facing Harry.
Harry raised his own hands, pressing them lightly to Snape’s. He gasped when he felt their magic meet, and looked into Snape’s eyes as the other man began to chant, beginning the ritual.
Narcissa set her empty teacup on a low table and turned back to the miniature portrait, a slight smile on her face. “Thank you, Headmaster. I… I suppose I was due for a breakdown.” She looked at her hands, which rested properly in her lap, wishing in that moment that she was the sort who could show her unease by gripping them tightly. But she’d already embarrassed herself and her family enough for one day. Crying, and in front of an audience, at that. It was unthinkable.
Raising her gaze again to the dots of blue paint in the tiny frame, she said, “With everything that has happened in the past few months, I find it nearly difficult to believe that I am here with you, sharing tea and conversation.”
Albus Dumbledore smiled politely and stroked one painted hand down his beard as he regarded her with a kind, but intelligent gaze. “With everything that has happened, indeed. Narcissa, one thing we have yet to understand fully… why did you run? Surely there was nothing for you to fear at that point?”
Narcissa lowered her gaze demurely again, hiding the sudden flare of anger that was tinged with fear. “Nothing to fear? How wrong you are. The… the Dark Lord. He owns my husband in ways you do not understand. I have already lost one child to this war. I am not prepared to lose another one.”
“Lose your child? But, my dear, if I may be so bold… surely Tom would never dare to harm the child that is the vessel for one of the last remaining pieces of his soul.”
Narcissa frowned and looked up. “The vessel for… what? I’m sorry, Headmaster, but that makes very little sense.”
Albus smiled quizzically. “My dear, surely you are aware that the ritual Riddle performed was to place a portion of his soul into your womb.”
Narcissa’s expression matched Albus’, she was sure. Had he been speaking Greek, he couldn’t have confused her more. “I’m sorry, Albus. I don’t follow.”
“Your child, my dear. The baby.”
“Yes, I understand that this has something to do with Emily. What I don’t understand is… what are you talking about? What ritual?”
She watched as Albus went perfectly still before gripping the inside edges of his frame and pressing forward until only his face showed in its confines. “There was a ritual. Just before you left. You were bound to an altar and Riddle killed the Minister. He used that death to capture a portion of his soul and implant it in your daughter.”
Narcissa shook her head, still confused. “No. No, he didn’t. I escaped when he told Lucius to cut her from my womb. I simply was not willing to allow another of my children to be sacrificed to the Dark Lord’s madness.”
Dumbledore looked at her for a long moment, his expression one that Narcissa had never seen on the old wizard. The silence was broken by the cries of her child, and Narcissa stood automatically, her mother’s instinct directing her toward her child. Her motion must have snapped Dumbledore out of his state, because the next moment he was urging her to run. “Stop them, Narcissa! Stop them! Before it is too late!”
Narcissa’s blood ran cold at the panic in his voice and, without stopping to pick up the portrait, ran out of her tent. As she cleared the flap, she heard a high, pain-filled scream.
The terror-filled scream of an infant, followed by complete silence.
Harry stared down at the petite body, wondering what the hell had happened; what had gone so horribly wrong? He stumbled forward and stretched his hand out, not thinking, just somehow sure that if he could touch it, he might be able to stop the life from leaving it.
The skin, which had been a healthy pink colour moments before, was now chalk white and waxy looking on one side of the tiny face and darkening with every breath on the other. Like someone had taken face paints to it for a football match, only this was far and away more grotesque.
Before his hand touched the pale skin, he heard a shriek behind him. It sounded eerily like the egg he’d had to decipher during the Tournament in fourth year, and wasn’t it odd that he was thinking of the Tournament now? But perhaps it wasn’t so odd, really, when he remembered Cedric’s death then, and here he was responsible for another…
“Narcissa.” Snape’s firm voice cut through Harry’s nearly hysterical thoughts. He took one deep breath, followed it with another, and turned to see a look of such devastation on Mrs Malfoy’s face that he could hardly stomach it. The potion that he’d swallowed earlier churned in his gut and threatened to come spewing forth, but he forced it back down, not wanting to draw any attention.
“Narcissa… please.” Harry’s head snapped around; he could hardly believe that he’d heard correctly. Snape had never used the word ‘please’ in his life, as far as Harry knew. Snape held tightly to Mrs Malfoy, trying to keep her from the baby, to shield her from the brutal reality of its death, but she wrenched away.
Mrs Malfoy continued screaming, great sobs shaking her frail form as she ran forward and knelt beside the small altar they’d erected for the ritual. He had no idea what to do, what to say, how to make this not so horriblewrongevil. Swallowing again, he opened his mouth and said, his voice barely more than a broken whisper, “Mrs Malfoy…”
As soon as the first sound left his mouth, she stopped screaming to turn and spear him with a look so filled with pain and loathing that his breath dried in his lungs. Harry felt a chill of foreboding race down his spine. If a mother’s love had destroyed Voldemort all those years ago, what would a mother’s wrath do?
“I trusted you,” she said, and her voice was… different. Not the light, dainty sound he remembered. Turning to Snape, she said it again, “I trusted you.”
Severus watched Narcissa warily as she gathered the still, limp form of the baby to her chest. It didn’t occur to him until it was too late that she still carried her wand.
She turned to Harry and said, her voice dead, "You killed my child."
Harry attempted to say something then, a choked word that was cut off at the sound of Narcissa’s hard, shaking voice. "You killed my only surviving child. Draco... died for choices he made. I thought I would die with him, but then I was blessed with this precious life. And you killed her. She was a chance to start anew, a hope for a better world." She stood and pointed her wand at him, and her words rose eerily on the air. "You will live. You will live so that I might have vengeance for my daughter, who cannot seek vengeance for herself. You will see her in your dreams at night; hear her cry in the wind. And when you finally know the miracle of birth, every single time you hold that baby in your arms, you will remember what you took from me. The life you stole from her will be yours."
“Live, Harry Potter, so that you might know my suffering.”
Severus shook his head and started forward. “Narcissa, stop this! You cannot blame the boy; he didn’t know. He didn’t know!”
Narcissa turned to him and laughed, and it raised the hairs on his arms at the sound of it. It had taken twelve years in Azkaban for her sister Bellatrix to sound like that.
“Oh, Severus. Ignorance does not excuse responsibility. You, above all, should understand that. You, who taught me that. You pleaded with me, did you not? To join you. Just today!” She gave that neck-ruffling laugh again and hugged the body of her baby closer to her chest. “’Join us, Narcissa, if not for yourself, then for your baby.’ Is that not what you said, Severus? Just before you took Emily and brought her here?”
Severus was saved from making a rejoinder by the sudden, startling appearance of the Dark Lord in their midst.
“Severus. Did you truly think you could call upon such powerful magic and I would not feel it? Every magical creature for miles will have felt the surge.”
Severus simply raised one eyebrow at the creature and replied, “I was less than concerned. The most powerful ally you have is Lucius Malfoy, and… well. He’s not much of a threat.” Severus coughed politely, smirking at the anger that flashed through Voldemort’s slitted gaze.
“Yes, well, Lucius is no threat to anyone anymore,” Voldemort hissed. “Did you truly believe that I would allow him to continue to live after he failed me so spectacularly twice in the course of mere minutes?”
A sharp, high gasp and a stifled scream reminded Severus of Narcissa’s presence. From the corner of his eye—he wasn’t likely to allow himself to be distracted by anything with the Dark Lord standing mere feet from him, wand held lightly in his grasp—he watched as Narcissa approached Voldemort, her baby still clutched closely to her bosom.
“My husband. You… you killed my husband.”
“Really, my dear, you should thank me. After all, he killed your precious son, did he not?”
“On your orders!”
Voldemort’s lips twitched in satisfaction. “Of course.”
Narcissa was visibly shaking, tears streaming down her white face. “My family, all of them, destroyed.” She stepped closer and whispered harshly, “On the whims of a filthy half-blood.”
Severus sucked in a sharp breath and made to move forward, but he was not fast enough. The twisted look of rage on the Dark Lord’s face as he held her under the Cruciatus was frightening to behold, even for a man as inured to terror as Severus had become.
Raising his wand, Severus did the most foolish thing of his life. He cast a disarming jinx at the Dark Lord. Thankfully, it worked, and also served to turn the man’s wrath on him instead of Narcissa.
When the curse lifted from her, Narcissa raised her head, and Severus spared a moment to look into her eyes. The blankness there sent a chill through him—the last time he’d seen a look like that was after Bellatrix Lestrange had finished with Alice Longbottom. The magnitude of the spell was reflected in the physical evidence that his practiced eye catalogued, the shaking of her arms as she raised up, the tremors that wracked her thin form, the two stains on her gown--milk released by the physical reaction to the immense pain--her gasping breaths, all told him that Narcissa was beyond all hope of healing.
Severus forced himself to look away when Narcissa placed the blue lips of her dead child to her breast, cooing at it and stroking the downy hair of its head. Harry moved closer to him then, drawing the Dark Lord’s attention.
Harry barely heard Narcissa’s keening, demented sounds, still trying to process everything that had happened that evening, and could only stare in dumb shock at Voldemort. He felt Snape at his side, like a dark shadow, but could not find the comfort he’d thought he would draw from such a feeling.
“Well, well Potter… all grown up,” Voldemort said, red eyes sliding over Harry’s body in a way that made his stomach twist with nausea. Accio-ing his wand, he said, “It is past time we ended this farce.”
“Finally something we can agree on.”
“Ah, good. You’ve prepared yourself for death, then?”
“Death seems to be the prevailing theme for the evening.” Snape’s cool voice cut through their banter, shaking Harry a bit. He was used to pre-battle grandiose speeches. Without them, there was nothing left to do but fight. And Harry suddenly didn’t want to fight.
He felt his hand start to tremble where it gripped his wand and he took several gasping breaths, trying to keep them quiet so Voldemort wouldn’t know how close he was to losing control. Voldemort’s evil, lipless smile was enough to tell him he’d failed spectacularly.
“Tell me, Potter. It’s been so long since my first kill that I simply must know. How did it feel?”
“I didn’t kill—”
“Nonsense, Harry. Of course you did. It was alive when you started your little ritual and dead when you finished it. Of course you killed it. So again, I ask: how did it feel?”
Harry’s throat worked frantically, trying to breathe or swallow or speak or something, anything. He felt his eyes burn as tears began to cloud his vision and somehow his hearing remained unaffected by the buzzing that seemed so loud in his ears.
“Horcrux. You did it, you evil bastard,” he choked. He knew it didn’t make sense, but he also knew Voldemort would understand him.
“A Horcrux?” Voldemort’s ringing laugh echoed through the clearing, tearing at Harry.
A soft, “Steady, Potter,” reminded him of Snape at his side, and he felt a small wave of strength roll through him.
“Really, Severus,” Voldemort continued, nearly convulsed with hissing laughter, “what did you teach those impressionable students?”
“More than you did, my Lord,” Snape said, sketching a small, mocking bow. “Oh, but then, you never were accepted for a teaching post there, were you? Something about being unstable, I believe it was?”
Voldemort’s expression went from humour-filled to furious in the space of a heartbeat. “I may not have been accepted by that fool, Severus, but at least I understand the Dark Arts. How can someone who isn’t even schooled in something as simple as a Horcrux possibly teach Defense? Hmm?”
“Really, Tom, you do blather on,” Snape said, flicking at the sleeve of his robe, seemingly disinterested. Harry noticed, though, that he was tense as ever, his wand gripped tightly in his hand, ready.
“Tell me, Severus. How many souls does a being possess?”
Snape didn’t even bother to answer the question, simply looked at Voldemort with his most disdainful expression.
“Harry? Feel free to answer the question, if you’re able.”
Taking his cue from Snape, Harry remained silent.
“Ahh, I see the class doesn’t know. Allow me to provide instruction.” Voldemort swept around the clearing, raising his wand in the manner of a Professor about to give instruction on a chalkboard. “Humans, all creatures, really, have only one soul. While it is true that a soul can be split, many times, the total number of whole souls that can inhabit a being is still just one. Tell me, Severus old friend, if this statement is… oh, I don’t know… interesting to you, in light of recent… events.” In the blink of an eye, Voldemort was standing in front of Snape, right up in his face.
Harry watched Snape, who just blinked in a very bored fashion, but something was niggling Harry. Something was making his gut begin to churn in dread. Voldemort was about to tell them something simply awful, he just… knew…
“What do you mean, just one? What did you do to that baby before you turned her into a Horcrux? Did you…?” The idea was so awful, so incredibly repulsive and evil, that Harry felt his stomach heave. “Did you suck her soul out?”
“No, Harry, I left that for you.”
“Wh—what? That doesn’t make any sense.” Harry felt Snape move fractionally beside him and he turned to look, to gather the strength from Snape that he couldn’t find in himself to continue this confrontation to its conclusion. What he saw was a look that was so blank, he knew Snape was using every bit of his concentration to keep any betraying expressions off his face.
The only question now was: Who was he hiding from? Harry or Voldemort?
Harry moved a step closer, drawing Snape’s blank, bleak gaze to him. The thin lips were set so stiffly that Harry wanted to reach out and touch him, just to see if he was as wooden in reality as he looked. To see if his skin would give or remain unmoved.
“What is it?” Harry asked, his fear spearing through him and colouring his words.
But Snape only continued to stare, unblinking. As if, were he to breathe, he would shatter into a million pieces.
Harry turned back to Voldemort and shouted once, long and loud, letting the building tension inside him out before he snapped from the force of it. “What? What, you bastard? Tell me whatever it is you think is so damn funny, then!”
“Why, Harry, I do apologise for my lack of forthrightness. I am simply… stunned, you might say, that Severus did not inform you of the nature of the spell you performed this evening.”
Harry didn’t say anything, simply let his body language speak for him.
“You see, Harry, the spell used to destroy a Horcrux actually seeks out the soul in an object and… tears it apart, for lack of a better term. And since, as I already informed you, a body is only able to contain one soul…”
“You took hers and replaced it with yours?” Harry asked… no, pleaded. Because the alternate was too horrifying to contemplate.
“Oh, no, Harry. When I want to destroy a child, I simply kill it. I would never be so cruel as to savage its soul.” A hissing laugh, then, “Well, perhaps I would, but not this time. You see, Harry, I left that to you.”
Harry felt himself beginning to shake uncontrollably. It wasn’t true. It couldn’t be true. He couldn’t have…
His stomach heaved and he couldn’t hold it back this time. It felt like everything he’d eaten for the past week came back up at that moment, and the only satisfaction he felt, miniscule though it was, was that he hit the hem of Voldemort’s robes with his vomit. But even the fact that his stomach seemed to be searching for a way out of his body didn’t stop the overwhelming horror from filling him up, seeping through every vein of his body until he couldn’t contain it a moment more.
He looked up, eyes bloodshot and overflowing with tears in reaction to sicking-up, and lifted his wand. Time seemed to slow and every small thing sprang into focus. There were dust motes that sparkled and shimmered in the air between him and Voldemort; the thin veins that stood out on the back of Snape’s too-pale hands; the lines in Voldemort’s face that made him look more snake than man; the blade of grass he could see in his peripheral vision that was so bright a green it made him want to shield his eyes… All of these things seemed to take an hour of his time to study, but he knew they hadn’t. They couldn’t have.
Because Voldemort’s wand was still slowly coming up to point at him.
Harry heard his own breathing.
Time stood still.
Then, the bubble that had seemed to envelop him burst with the sound of his own voice. “Avada Kedavra.”
It had been a mere whisper. Just the softest of noises, really, but when every cell of his body was focussed on pushing death into the man in front of him, apparently speaking up was superfluous.
As slowly as everything had been moving mere moments before, Voldemort crumpled to the ground shockingly fast. It was graceless and quiet. Not a sound, not a scream, not even a deep breath. Just… nothing.
Harry looked at him, unable to tear his eyes away. A hand on his shoulder brought him back to himself and he looked up, allowing Snape to see the absolute horror on his face.
Harry shook his head, and this time the tears couldn’t be explained away by illness. “It can’t be. It can’t be over. It’s all wrong.”
“It is, Potter. Come along, now. We have to go inform the Order.”
But Harry wouldn’t budge. He yanked himself away from Snape and crawled over to Voldemort, looking at him, seeing him. And his tears continued to fall. They hit Voldemort’s scaly, papery skin and rolled off.
“I killed him,” he said.
“You were meant to.”
Harry shook his head again. “Why do I feel so awful? Why does it hurt so much?”
“Death is never easy, Potter. But it is certain. Everyone dies, Potter. Especially in war.”
“I thought… I thought if I won that… that it would be over and I would be able to go on and… It’s not going to be like that, is it?”
“If you won?” Snape closed his eyes for a brief moment before sinking slowly to his knees beside Harry.
Harry sniffled and swiped a hand under his nose; it came away wet, the dirt and grime combining with his tears and snot to make a muddy mix. He blinked and let out a shuddering breath before looking at Snape, waiting for the words he was sure were coming.
“One of the truths that war forces so unbearably onto us is that there are no victories. Innocence dies and in the end, there is only an echo of justice. Too many dead, too many lost souls left to wander homeless and hopeless. Losing your innocence is painful, Potter. As it should be.”
“So… what happens next, then? How do I—how does anyone—go on? We killed tonight, Snape. Intentional or no, we killed her. I killed him. And I don’t know how to go on from here. I just don’t know…” Harry stopped as his breath caught on a sob. He wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t cry.
He ignored the fact that he couldn’t stop.
“Life goes on, Potter. Another inescapable truth. You take a breath and just… go on.”
Harry took a shaky breath and asked the question that had been hovering on the tip of his tongue. "You knew, didn't you?"
The unnatural stillness that came over Severus told Harry all he needed to know, but still the man tried to prevaricate. "Knew what?"
Harry lifted his face to Severus, his expression hard. "That we were going to kill her. That the ritual, the Horcrux removal itself, would kill Emily."
Severus met his gaze and held it, his black eyes blank, waiting. "Of course I did."
Harry shook his head in disbelief. "And you didn't tell me."
"If I had, you wouldn't have performed the ritual."
"And she would still be ALIVE!"
"So would Voldemort!"
"No, he wouldn't! Because she wasn't ever a Horcrux to begin with, was she? That's what he was telling us!"
"And you believed him?" Severus’ tone of voice was incredulous, but something niggled at Harry’s memory.
"That's what you meant, when I told you my dream. That's what you meant when you told Dumbledore it wasn't possible. You knew it wasn't possible for her to be a Horcrux, but you killed her anyway. You allowed me to assist you in murdering her!"
"And if I was wrong, Potter? What then? Grow up, boy! You wanted an end to this war as much as anyone, as much as I did! If you truly thought you could wage war against darkness without sacrificing some of your own light, you're as pathetic as I always assumed you to be."
"It wasn't my light! It wasn't my life! I don't care what happens to me! I was prepared to die!" Harry opened and closed his mouth, wanting to go on, but realised it was a futile gesture. Severus would never understand how incredibly wrong he’d been.
"I wasn't!” Severus stepped back and drew a deep breath, eyes steady and voice firm as he said, “I told you before, Potter. I didn't sacrifice this much, didn't come this far, to allow you to die. I was prepared to do anything—anything—to ensure your survival. Even if it meant fracturing my own soul in the process."
Severus stepped forward and grabbed Harry by the upper arms, pulling him roughly to his feet. “I would have sacrificed anything and anyone to keep you safe, Potter,” he whispered. “No sacrifice would have been too great.”
Harry swallowed roughly and dropped his gaze, unable to bear the emotion in Severus’ eyes. “So now... what? I just take a breath? It's not that simple, Snape."
Severus eased his grip with a sigh, letting Harry go. "Nothing ever is, Potter. Nothing ever is."
Notes: condio corpus--preserve the soul
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