Title: Two Lockets
Genres: Hurt/Comfort, Romance
Prompt: Grimmauld Place
Summary: Harry, Snape, and the grim old house that keeps its secrets.
Word Count: 57,000
A/N: Thank you, Team
for the beta-reading, blasting away writers’ block, comments, advice, and all
your help. Thanks also to La
Onza for posting her
floor plans of Grimmauld Place.
child is full of woe.
Thursday’s child has far to go.
All the light in Grimmauld Place went where Harry went. As soon as he lit the
candles and turned away, they hopped down from the mouths of their runespoor-shaped
candlesticks, breaking their fall by landing in trampolines of cobwebs, and bouncing
from there to the floor. They waddled after Harry in a row like ducklings, short
and fluffy and dripping wax all over in their excitement at being alight and having
company at last. Harry shrugged and let them trail along after him.
He headed downstairs for no other reason than because moving was more bearable
than sitting still. Around the candles the darkness flickered; long shadows fled
up the walls and faded into the gloom of the high ceilings. The shortest of the
flock rushed after the others and nearly put out its flame on the breeze of its
own haste. It paused to catch a breath, and after its flame blossomed back, picked
up its wax drip skirt and toddled faster on legs of unwound two-strand wick.
When Harry arrived at the ground floor, he reached past the moth-eaten curtains
of one particular portrait niche, and drew a tally mark on the dusty canvas by
Walburga Black’s snoring head. He only did it to see if he could get away with
it without the portrait waking up and screaming the whole Place down. It wasn’t
as though he’d ever forget the count – four Horcruxes down, two to go – but it
felt so good to test the house’s patience the way Grimmauld sometimes tested his.
At the foot of the stairs, across from a hollowed-out troll leg with three umbrellas,
Harry sat down and picked up his old Potions text. He’d left the dog-eared, scruffy
book lying open on the bottom step when he’d started his restless wanderings after
Just before they closed Hogwarts down, he’d gone back to the Room of Requirement
for the book. The Half-Blood Prince’s half-readable scribbles filled the margins
of practically every page. No, not the Prince’s. They were Snape’s, and
his scrawl had no right to look that different when it wasn’t red or scathing
or all over Harry’s Potions essays.
Harry had almost destroyed that sodding book so
many times. He wanted to burn it or rip it to shreds or stab it with a basilisk’s
fang just to see if bled like Riddle’s diary.
Once, he’d mounted the top of the ladder in the library like a
broom, ripped a dozen pages out of the book, folded them into paper planes, and
chucked them one by one at the vicious old writing desk in the corner. The desk
had devoured the lot with loud snaps of its rolltop lid, and Harry’d thought they
were gone for good, and good riddance to them! But the distant sound of a door
slamming again and again in the drawing room had pulled Harry’s attention away
from tearing out any more pages, and he’d climbed down the ladder. He’d made it
into the drawing room just in time to see the curio cabinet open its door and,
with a disgusted ‘ptui’, spit out the last of his paper planes before slamming
its door shut again. Two summers ago, the cabinet’s shelves had been left bare
after they’d cleared out all the Dark artefacts it’d held, but now as Harry peered
in he could see a familiar spidery instrument on one shelf, crouched protectively
over a silver snuffbox. Huh. It’s as though the things are moving back in:
Merlin only knows how they find their way. Oh well, they can stay there for all
Apparently the curio cabinet was more hospitable toward cursed artefacts than
paper planes. And it wasn’t just Harry’s planes it objected to, ‘cause when he’d
knelt down to pick them all up he’d found two more, buried in the dust under the
cabinet: a yellowed swan, and a parchment swallow that Harry didn’t even know
how to fold. The swan had turned out to be a sheet of letterhead embossed with
the Black coat of arms, addressed to Walburga, Kitchen: Found your ring in the
library. Attached. No need to make any additions to your mother’s head collection.
The swan’s elaborately hooked beak had held no ring. Bloody typical, Harry’d
thought, Even the furniture in this Place is a bunch of crooks and thieves.
From one little king to another the swallow’s wings had said, I’m so sorry,
S. I had no choice. Look after yourself. Harry’d thought it was sad that Sirius
never got the note, and sadder still that Sirius was gone, and would never be
able to tell Harry who the note was from and what it meant. Harry had slipped
the parchment swallow in among the pages of Snape’s textbook, after he’d finished
Reparoing all his ex-paper planes back into the binding. Then he’d taken
the book into Sirius’ old bedroom and had studied each stained, yellowed page
from Levicorpus to Sectumsempra until the scrawled notes had blurred
before his eyes: all those potions, all those poisons, all those curses. All
that inventiveness, Harry’d thought sadly, as he’d tucked the swallow’s delicate
wingtip further between the pages, out of harm’s way. Then he’d frowned, remembering
a tower, a face twisted by loathing, a flash of green. All that bloody malice.
The next time I cast these curses, or anything else, I won’t fail.
Now he was sitting on the main staircase, the same textbook open in his lap. Still
studying. Still haunted by the memory of Dumbledore’s murderer swatting Harry’s
curses like flies. Harry’s mouth twisted, bitter with the taste of hatred and
aborted Cruciatus. I won’t fail. I promise you that.
Harry hoped Voldemort still had enough humanity left to feel pain. I want that
bastard to suffer! That’s what he deserves, him and the whole damn
lot of them, and Snape more than anyone! Harry lived for that moment. The
trouble was, living for that felt empty: as if the flat of a silver dagger of
revenge had pressed down on him for so long it’d crushed the last drop of joy
out of him and left him dry. These days he only had one constant companion left,
his never-ending mantra: the diary… the ring…the key… the wand… the cup… the
It wasn’t that no one wanted to be with him: beyond those heavy doors the whole
wizarding world still wanted their hero. But Dumbledore’s gone and I can’t
be what they want. Ridding the world of a madman isn’t noble or heroic. People
do it because they’re furious, grieving, and bitter, and they want it all to end.
On Bill and Fleur’s wedding day Ron had twirled a grinning Hermione around in
the Burrow’s sitting room, to riotous applause from Ginny and the Twins. But even
on that golden day of peace, Harry had watched their joy from the sidelines, planning,
worrying, waiting. How good it would’ve been to forget – Horcruxes, Voldemort,
Snape – and join the celebration just for once. But he knew there’d be no rest
for him, not until Voldemort was gone. All the while, as he watched and clapped
and smiled, all he could think was Who’ll be next? Ginny? Hermione? Ron? I
can’t lose them. I have to end this, once and for all. Alone.
At first he wasn’t alone. Ron and Hermione made it easier: facing the Dursleys
and the unknown. They’d found the key to Godric’s Hollow together, and no one
got hurt when that Horcrux was broken. But then… He was so drunk on that first
victory; he should’ve thought it through! He could’ve done it all differently
– waited or called the Aurors – before looking for Ollivander at the Wandwood
Glade. He could still see the pale agony on Ron’s and Hermione’s faces as their
shaking hands joined on the handle of the Ravenclaw wand, their magic unwittingly
drained just to destroy Riddle’s relic.
At least they were alive. Hermione still sent letters and photographs – the unmoving
kind – and they looked happy in them. Those last few days when Harry’d said it
wasn’t safe to stay, they’d been determined to act as if they were going away
on a holiday, but even then the permanence of it all was too much to bear. Ron
had joked at first that the burn scar on his palm in the shape of a reverse R
– where he’d grasped the Horcrux – really stood for ‘Ron’ and not some old Ravenclaw
initial. But as Harry called the Knight Bus for them, out of the corner of his
eye he noticed Ron staring at his upraised wand the way he used to stare at Harry’s
Firebolt: with the same terrible, longing envy. Then Ron gripped Hermione’s hand,
as tight as a drowning man clutching his only lifeline.
It’s done, and I can’t fix it now. Harry knew that breaking the wand mattered
more to the outcome of the war than the magic of any two people. Even if they’re
my two best friends.
Harry frowned down at the ink-scrawled pages in his lap. Curses – the freshly-learned
and the as-yet-unfamiliar – swam and blurred before his eyes. The candles had
arranged themselves on the steps in a half-circle, looking up at him raptly for
hours as he read. Now, their flames flickered out one by one, settling with tiny
sighs of fragrant smoke into blankets of fluffy melted wax. Harry took it as a
sign to get some rest as well.
A carved golden badger snarled at Harry’s finger and started racing round the
rim of the cup, so fast it tickled to hold onto it. Harry clutched the cup to
his chest and could feel the curse already, that faint magical burn that made
his skin crawl. Is this what Ron and Hermione felt? It’ll only get worse. I’ve
got to get away before the Lestranges find me, get back to the library at Grimmauld
and find out how to break the damn thing! First Malfoy, then Ollivander, now this:
is that what Riddle did with all his Horcruxes, gave them away as gifts? ‘Here,
have a piece of my soul for years of faithful service. Oh, and do watch out for
the dark curse.’ Sodding bastard. Pity I can’t just stab this one with a basilisk
fang and be done with it!
He Apparated to an alley off Mornington Crescent: the closest deserted location
to Grimmauld Place. If I’m not bloody lucky this time, I’ll end up with more
than a blackened hand. If Dumbledore got himself cursed like that trying to break
just one Horcrux, how the hell did he expect me to get rid of all the rest?
Harry peered cautiously out of the mouth of the alley. Seems quiet tonight.
Hope no one saw me. Got to be more careful. There’s so much I’ve still got to
Hang on, is someone there? What’s that sound? A car? …A door?
NO! Apparation! Death Eaters!
As if to illustrate his fear, a tall, dark figure materialised out of thin air
next to his hiding place. The stranger was cloaked, but the hood was lowered.
Bellatrix Lestrange’s heavy-lidded eyes gleamed darkly as she stared down at him.
Harry drew breath to curse her, but a sudden, sickening wave of disorientation
burst from the cup, pouring through him from the hand that gripped it. His mind
blurred and slowed, his body reeled, his eyes unfocused, and even his tongue was
thick and imprecise: he’d barely managed to slur out the first syllable before
Bellatrix’ “Petrificus Totalus” hit him and he fell, his entire body locked
A slighter figure appeared at Bellatrix’ side. Her face was hidden, but the long
blonde hair spilling from the mouth of the hood left her identity in no doubt.
“At last,” said Narcissa Malfoy. “The Dark Lord will be pleased.” There was a
triumphant smirk on Bellatrix’ sinister face as she stepped aside to let her sister
pass. Mrs. Malfoy raised a long, dark wand, too large for her slender fingers.
When she spoke the Killing Curse, the burst of poisonous green blinded Harry into
Harry woke with a dim sense of surprise. If this is the afterlife, then I’m
in hell; it hurts too much to be anything else! Maybe I’m still alive. Did she
miss? Harry stared at the tiny pits and flaws in the concrete he was lying
on – I’m still out on the street – then managed to turn his head with an
effort and a groan of pain. Someone must’ve lifted the Petrificus.
He blinked in disbelief. Bellatrix’ body lay sprawled a few inches away, an indistinct
dark lump on the footpath.
Mrs. Malfoy crouched next to her sister, picking up her fallen wand and pulling
the sleeve up Bellatrix’ limp arm to bare the Mark, dark against her pallid skin.
She muttered something long and complicated under her breath, touching the tip
of Bellatrix’ wand to it. The Mark flared bright green, but then the green died,
swallowed by a burst of blue flame. The flame surged suddenly higher, devouring
the body down to a pile of grey ash in mere seconds. Harry closed his eyes against
the grisly sight; even as close as he was, he felt no heat from the unnatural
He didn’t get a chance to wonder what would happen to him: at once Mrs. Malfoy
marched over to him, seized his limp arm in two sharp-nailed hands, and hauled
him to his feet.
Harry’s breath went out of his lungs in a moan. His mind was too full of pain
and disorientation to let a single thought form; his body felt as unresponsive
as Bellatrix’ corpse. He sagged helplessly against Mrs. Malfoy, stumbling as she
pulled him toward Grimmauld Place. Dizzy, he collapsed against her shoulder as
she halted by the overflowing rubbish bins of Number 11. Shabby Number 13 followed
“Fuck,” she snarled under her breath.
Harry was too dazed to care. The world spun as if everything was already going
down the drain. Failed, he forced the thought past the dizziness. Least
when I’m dead the pain’ll stop.
She seized his shoulder and shook him hard, sending his head lolling back and
forth: the added dizziness was too much and he vomited abruptly, spraying both
of them with bile. “Wake up!” she cried fiercely, “Where is it?”
“There,” Harry’s arm jerked up and waved, imprecise as a marionette in the hands
of a child; he slurred with a tongue that felt as thick as a sponge, “NmbrTwelv.”
Don’care. FUCKitHURTS! C’n have th’dump. Sirius! Mum’n’Dad! dawned
dimly in Harry’s addled mind; he clung to the idea. If I let ‘er in, I’ll see
‘em sooner. He leaned weakly against the scratched, shabby door, and fell
over the threshold into darkness, as limp as a corpse falling into an open grave.
Where am I? The pillows smell like that awful, fruity stuff Hermione always
put in her hair. I’m still in Grimmauld, right? Gotta be. Dunno anywhere else
where the curtains’re that doxy-eaten. Which room? Nightstand, mirror, something
black and shrivelled – Hearts? – No, just dead rosebuds. Loads of tiny perfume bottles.
Must be the room Ginny and Hermione stayed in. They said Kreacher tried to move
all this rubbish from Sirius’ mum’s bedroom into theirs, after Buckbeak stayed
in her room and made a nest out of her gowns.
What happened? And how much did I drink? I never get drunk. Ow! Shit, that HURTS!
My head’s already throbbing; I don’t need you making it worse.
Another painful prod sent hot pokers through his mind. Stop bloody prodding
me! …Huh? Mrs. Malfoy?
His head was lifted and Harry choked on something cool and tasteless. Poison?
he wondered for one brief, terrifying second. No, only water. He managed
three gulps and pushed away the glass.
“Who else can get in here?” a voice murmured near his ear.
“Just me. Even the Floo’s blocked.” With a sick pang he realised what he’d just
given away, and who he’d given it away to. No escape now. Even the Order members hadn’t been
able to enter Grimmauld ever since Sirius’ will was read to him. Urgh, still
feels like I’m drunk. Was that Veritaserum? But it doesn’t work that fast. Does
it? With a frantic effort, he forced his drooping eyelids open. He couldn’t
make out much in the dim light, but he could just see the corners of Mrs. Malfoy’s
lips curling in a very unpleasant smirk.
“Lie still,” she ordered. Then his glasses were dropped unceremoniously on his
Harry fumbled them on and squinted, trying to make sense of his surroundings as
his vision cleared.
Mrs. Malfoy sat at his bedside, like a hospital visitor instead of a Death Eater.
Though she looked cross, she wasn’t acting much like the woman who’d stormed out
of Madam Malkin’s rather than spend a few minutes in the same shop as him. Questions
crowded his mind; he summoned his strength to croak out the most pressing. “Why’d
you kill your sister?”
“I’m not Narcissa, you cretin,” she hissed before snatching up a bowl of foul-smelling
yellow goo from the bedside table and dipping his hand into it. It felt slimy
and cold and horrible but at least it didn’t hurt, so he let it be for the moment.
“Should’ve let you lie there and be dragged off to the Dark Lord. My life would’ve
been much simpler for it.”
When she’d picked up the bowl, she’d knocked over a hipflask that was also sitting
on the table; its cork had been dislodged and as Harry watched, a grey, muddy
substance oozed out.
Harry hadn’t seen the yellow goo before, but he knew that grey sludge. It was
the same stuff Hermione made, the same potion Slughorn showed them on the first
day of term: Polyjuice.
As if echoing his thoughts, Mrs. Malfoy’s body wavered like a mirage. Her hair
and eyes darkened as tremors ran over her face, turning her delicate features
harsh and ugly. Black eyes glared hatefully down a hooked nose. Greasy hair hung
like limp curtains around a cruel face: the face of a traitor, a murderer.
Harry screamed, incoherent with fury as he lunged. His hands curved into strangling
claws around Snape’s throat.
They fell, grappling – Harry forwards, Snape backwards – hitting the wall with
a sharp crack. Panelling, Harry wondered, or the bastard’s spine?
He wrenched himself free and backed away, yelling “Accio wand!” without
much hope. But a dresser drawer flew open at once and his wand zipped through
the air toward him; he snatched it out of thin air like a snitch and turned it
on Snape. Snape’s eyes had a sinister, dangerous glint to them. His long body
coiled on the floor like a cornered serpent, readying for the final, maybe lethal,
“Bravo!” Snape’s mouth twisted in a smug smirk, and then the git declared in his
classroom voice, “You’ve finally managed the basics of wandless casting.
Now you might last, ohh, a whole ten seconds against the Dark Lord!”
“Yeah, you sadistic shit.” Playing the teacher won’t save you anymore.
“Wanna bet it’ll only take me five to send you to hell?”
“I see you still haven’t learned anything else,” Snape sneered, “Not even how
to tell your allies from your foes. And here I thought Dumbledore
taught you better than that.”
The Headmaster’s name felt like fuel thrown on the fire. “Don’t you dare
say his name! He trusted you, traitor!”
The accusation rang out like a death knell. In the choking silence afterwards,
Snape’s wand hand moved snake-fast and SECTUMSEMPRA! Harry didn’t even
have time to say the curse; it resonated through his mind and into his wand which
was good ‘cause that prick deserves to be cursed with his own invention
and holy shit!
Snape was flung backward by the sheer force of impact as Harry’s spell hit him
with a sickening wet crunch. Like a rag doll he sprawled, amid the ruins of the
nightstand and a clattering hail of small round phials of Mrs Black’s perfumes-potions-poisons.
Down the right side of his chest a gash gaped, as deep as an axe-blow.
Fuck, is it supposed to be that deep? What’ll I do? Still got his wand. Is
he dead? Not even twitching. Wait – there. His head moved a bit.
He looks disappointed. In me? What’s he got to be disappointed about? He always
expected me to fail…
Shouldn’t Snape want me to fail?
Oh shit has he stopped breathing? What’ll I do? What’d he
do? How’d he heal Malfoy? What the fuck was that chant? Potions book, music notes,
wish I could read music. At least I remember the words: Mens sana, corpore sana,
sempre sana, fiat sana… Or was it sano? Dammit!
Blood already soaked the entire front of Snape’s robes, saturating the dull wool,
black on black. Harry was only sure he wasn’t bleeding darkness because of the
spray of red dripping down the side of his face and off the point of his nose.
He slid his hands around Snape’s shoulders and lifted him a little, to try and
keep him from drowning in his own blood. Snape’s eyes had rolled up in their sockets;
his head lolled almost as if his neck was broken. The rusty reek of gore washed
over Harry, heavy and hot, and his throat closed in a wave of nausea. He fought
it down and tried to sing the healing chant, tried his best to imitate the tune
he remembered Snape singing over Malfoy’s body. He thought at first that it wasn’t
working, but then the sickening bleeding was stopping, and Snape’s lips moved.
“Why did he trust you?” Harry cried, wanting to shake Snape, but not quite daring
to do so.
Instead of answering, Snape rasped feebly, “Y’can’t carry a tune in a bucket.”
Harry had to lean down to catch the next words: “Listen. Follow…” and a faint
humming: the melody.
The tune sounded simple. Harry tried it. There was a wet, suctioning sound and
Snape winced and choked, coughing up blood. Harry rubbed at Snape’s rough-stubbled
jaw to clear away the spray of gore. There was a much smaller gash on one side,
as if his jaw had caught the upper edge of the same axe-swing that had split his
chest. It’s nearly closed. So the chant’s working.
Snape’s head still lolled limply. Looks like he’s too weak to even hold it
up. Harry slapped him, even if it was with much less strength than he’d meant
to use. That made Snape look up and Oh, shit, Occlumens! Harry thought.
Snape didn’t even blink. Too late! An image was pushed into Harry’s mind
– a green bottle, in some dark and narrow cupboard – along with the wordless knowledge
that the bottle held a healing potion.
Why did he trust you, you murdering fucker? Harry flung at the invader.
Mental fingers riffled swiftly through Harry’s memories, just like he’d paged
through the Half-Blood Prince’s notes, and stopped on one particular scene: himself,
standing in the Hospital Wing, telling Professor Lupin and the others that Dumbledore
had trusted Snape because he’d expressed remorse. The last image – Lupin’s disbelieving
expression – lingered in Harry’s mind’s eye. Over it he heard the merest whisper
of thought, threaded through with a tang of irony. Do you really think Grindelwald’s
killer trusted me just because I asked him to?
THEN WHY? roared Harry. But perhaps he’d used a little too much
force. Or maybe Snape was underhanded even in the mental realm: whatever the reason,
the contact was broken as Snape slumped against Harry, out cold.
Prick! Just had to have the last word, and without actually saying anything!
What do I do now? Focus! I’ve got to make sure the wound’s closed. Got to keep
him alive. The potion in the cupboard! He must’ve wanted me to get it. Either
that or he’s completely delirious.
If I splinch trying to Apparate to somewhere that doesn’t exist, I’ll kill him!
Harry gripped Snape’s shoulders to him. Which won’t be hard: all I’ll have
to do is sit back and let him die. At least he’s lighter than I thought. Hell,
he’s skin and bone under this lot. Harry winced at the clammy feel of Snape’s
robes, heavy and sodden with blood. He cleaned the worst of the blood with a quick
“Tergeo”, then he concentrated on that cupboard in his memory. Hope
The memory was of a real place, after all: not quite the Potions storeroom Harry
had expected, though it was almost as dark and cramped. Actually, it was a kitchen,
and not even a wizarding one, judging by the battered old gas stove. The warped
wooden cupboards lining the walls looked like they’d survived a fire and a flood.
A rickety old table took up most of the middle of the room, leaving only a narrow
path around it.
Harry dumped Snape in the only chair. Snape slumped over the table, lifeless,
like the rest of the place.
The cupboards were dark, filled with cobwebs and a jumble of dusty jars and boxes.
Harry dropped a few of them before he found the bottle that looked the most like
the one he saw. Is it? Doesn’t matter! Harry hauled on a handful of greasy
hair until Snape’s head tipped back, then poured the bottle down Snape’s throat.
The potion stank of iodine, and Snape spluttered and coughed. Harry shrugged inwardly.
If this bottle doesn’t work, I can always try some more. If the miserable
He should do, Harry told himself after a pause. Unless I accidentally
poisoned him. But who keeps poison in their kitchen? Still, Harry argued with
himself, I suppose Aunt Petunia kept rat poison in hers, but… OWfuck! Harry
banged his hip on the edge of the table for the umpteenth time. “Th’hell is this
“Snape Manor,” a faint, mocking voice rasped behind Harry. “What’d y’expect?”
Harry jumped and whirled, banging against the damn table again. Manor? If this
dump’s a manor, then Grimmauld Place is a castle! Huh, looks like I found the
right bottle after all. He grabbed Snape by the shoulders and shook him roughly.
“Look at me!”
Instead of obeying, the git actually had the nerve to close his eyes, shutting
out any attempts to penetrate his thoughts. “If even I couldn’t train you
to Legilimens your way out of a wet paper bag,” Snape husked, “what makes you
think you’ll see the truth, when Voldemort himself failed?”
Harry jabbed his wand against Snape’s neck. “For two cents I’ll finish you off,
“If you kill me,” Snape whispered, “you’ll never find out why.”
Yeah. The arsehole’s right, damn him!
“If only he could see you now: the one he loved above all others,” Snape’s voice
was still dry and weak, a far cry from the insinuating satin Harry remembered,
“about to commit murder.”
Harry felt Snape swallow, the Adam’s apple shifting his wandtip; by way of reply,
he dug it a bit further into the soft skin of Snape’s throat.
“One student-turned-murderer was quite enough to serve his purposes,” Snape croaked.
“He wanted me to save Draco from sharing my fate; do you think he would’ve wanted
less for you?” Snape opened his eyes at last, and looked up at Harry, but there
was no hint of Legilimency in his weary gaze.
“Why would you even care?” Harry cried.
“Care?” Snape gave a dry, sardonic huff. “Good question. No one else does.
Or did the Order never bother to tell you about the phoenix Patronus that’s been
relaying intelligence to them for months?”
Just when I think I’ve figured him out, he throws something like this at me,
and it doesn’t make any sense! He’s a bloody traitor! He’s not supposed to say
things like this! Harry’s eyes narrowed in mistrust. I shouldn’t believe
a word of it! But his wand hand wavered, just a bit. He knew Snape felt it
through the tip still pressed to his throat, though the sod was careful to stay
“Did you think the Headmaster could still cast a Patronus?” Snape returned Harry’s
jabs, with words instead of a wand.
The bastard’s probably playing me. Just trying to make me doubt his guilt,
to distract me and… But what if he’s telling the truth?
“Right,” Harry spat abruptly, “Prove it!” I’m probably going to regret this,
knowing that prick. He tossed the wand he’d confiscated from Snape onto the
table, and backed away, watching him and keeping him at wand point all the while.
“Cast.” Harry gripped his own wand tighter, and stepped out of Snape’s line of
fire, just in case he tried a nonverbal spell.
Snape scooped the wand off the table as slowly as if it weighed a great deal.
For a long moment he just sat there, with his head lowered and the wand cradled
loosely in his lap. Clearly Harry’d given him too much credit. Snape’s face was
drawn and pallid, his head still down when at last he raised the wand. When he
spoke, it sounded more like a plea than anything Harry’d ever heard him say.
The sallow light that followed was bright enough to fall harshly on the dark circles
under Snape’s eyes. Then the phoenix – a copy of Fawkes, in ghostly gold flame
– settled on Harry’s shoulder, just like the living bird used to do with Dumbledore.
Harry gaped at it; in his shock he forgot all about Snape. Impossible!
It crooned once, low and mournful, and dimmed in a wash of warmth. With Snape’s
Patronus gone, the drab, unlit kitchen only seemed even more dreary and Muggle.
In the gloom, Snape slumped even lower in his seat, wand lax in his fingers. His
head was bowed almost to his chest, and his hair had fallen forward, shrouding
his face. He whispered, in tones as dry as dust, “Satisfied?”
Am I? Harry lowered his wand and crouched in front of Snape. “Are you all
Snape’s lips curled back like a cornered dog’s, baring teeth as yellowed as any
cur’s. The dry, recurrent jag in his breathing that shook the bony shoulders was
a pretty strong contender for Humourless Laugh of the Hour. Harry remembered quite
a few of these coming from his own throat.
“Unless this is the antechamber to hell, then I’m alive. I suppose that qualifies
as ‘all right’.” Snape husked. “It’s a damn sight better than I expected to be,
two seconds after you summoned your wand.”
Harry spared a brief glance at the wreck of the kitchen; he had to admit that
most of the wreckage had been caused by his own rapid search. Back in the Potions
classroom, just one dropped phial would’ve made him go completely spare. Now,
it’s like none of this mess even exists. Is he out of it that badly? “This
place doesn’t quite look like hell,” Harry said finally, “but you do. Is there
an actual bed in this ‘Manor’ of yours?” he tried his best to impersonate
Snape’s mocking delivery of the word.
“Upstairs.” Snape braced himself with a hand against the table and gathered himself
for an attempt to stand. As he began to move, he bared his teeth in a silent snarl.
Harry watched him, wondering if the freshly-sealed wound and the still-knitting
bones would come undone with the effort, and Snape would fall apart right there,
his chest hacked open like a carcass in a butcher shop.
Is he even going to make it? Should I get out of his way or… or maybe even
help? I’d rather pat a cobra! But he looks like he hasn’t got a single drop of
blood left. All thanks to that curse. The one I cast. Shit! If Ron or anyone
normal’d just been carved up like that, they’d be whimpering with pain or passed
out by now, and I’d be taking them to St. Mungo’s. I don’t reckon that healing
spell worked perfectly: I’m no mediwizard. I’m just lucky it worked at all.
Hesitantly, Harry offered an arm. “I can… maybe, er – if you want.”
“Gnngh.” An irritable shard of sound forced past clenched teeth.
“What?” Harry asked, but Snape apparently ran out of the energy to clarify and
folded sideways, strengthless as a scarecrow. Harry took it as a ‘yes’.
“Sitting room.” Snape’s jaw clenched as if choking down cries. His greasy head
lolled against Harry’s shoulder. His pallid skin was sheened with sweat; his breathing
was shallow and rasping. He’s worse off than I thought. If only the bull-headed
bugger’d said something, instead of waiting till the last second to collapse!
“Bookcase,” Snape gritted out.
Harry nearly dropped him. Bookcase? He’s half dead and he wants books? He’s
bloody mental, worse than Hermione! Harry slung an arm around Snape’s scrawny
body and held him up. “Hang on. I’ll… we’ll get you there.” Somehow.
The sitting room was even darker than the kitchen, like a large cupboard with
a sofa and a table, and a cobweb-shrouded lamp empty of candles. Floor-to-ceiling
bookcases lined all four of the bloody walls. “Which bookcase?”
Snape reached for one, his pale hand as bony as a Dementor’s claw. At first Harry
thought he was getting a book, but then one of the bookcases swung open with a
creak, and behind it was a staircase, narrow and steep. Oh, brilliant. How
am I supposed to get him up all those stairs?
By the time Harry did, he was cursing his own curiosity more than ever. Life
would’ve been so much easier if I never wondered why Dumbledore trusted
the sod. Ironically, he was no closer to an answer.
Harry watched Snape until his breathing evened out. Then he stumbled back down
to the room filled with books. Snape’s ‘Manor’ felt even more Muggle than
the Dursleys’ house, but it was far more cramped and squalid and shabby: a mere
two-up-two-down row house by the looks of it, with enough dust and cobwebs to
give Grimmauld Place a run for its Galleons. If not for the odd book out of place
on the bookshelves and the half-finished bottle of elf-made wine in a corner of
the sitting room, it would’ve looked unlived in: if anywhere as old and rundown
as this dump really qualified as living space. Harry looked around for clues,
in futile hopes of solving Snape’s riddle, but the house revealed no more about
its owner than the owner himself had.
He poked his head into the kitchen, picked the scattered potion bottles up off
the floor and put them back in the cupboards.
The cupboard he’d used as Apparation coordinates was wide open and nearly empty, apart
from a pencil drawing thumbtacked to the back of one door. He hadn’t noticed it
before, in his frantic search for the right potion, because its paper was so yellowed
it blended into the cupboard’s bare wood.
Strong, caricature lines showed a stern-faced woman in a hastily-sketched Muggle
jumper with a toddler sitting in her lap. The toddler stared at the locket around
her neck, fascinated by its shine, and his hands tugged at the locket’s chain,
twisting it round tiny fingers and tangling the chain into a knot. Harry blinked.
A knot like that should’ve been impossible to make on a chain without a clasp.
The woman stared sternly down her sizeable nose. Her lips moved. Harry had to
lean closer just to hear the words: a whisper barely louder than the crackle of
paper. “Tsk! Put tha’ back th’ way t’ was.”
The infant stared up at her, his dark eyes wide. Defiantly, he tugged on the knot
– just the right size for a small hand to hold – and used it to wiggle the chain
up and down. “P’itty!”
The woman hmphed. “Aye, s’a ‘pity’ yeh’ve already got a mind o’ yer own, innit,
The mother and child in the sketch traded proud grins. But besides that yellowed
old scrap of paper, Snape’s kitchen seemed just as unlit and unlived in as the
I haven’t had anything to eat in ages. I don’t suppose Snape’d mind too
much, under the circumstances. Not that I’m about to ask; that’ll just give the
mingy bugger a chance to say no. A few more cupboards later, Harry realised
that the kitchen contained far more potions than food. They seemed organised,
but in a way that would’ve driven his house-proud Aunt Petunia mental. Maybe some
of those bottles and jars had something edible in them, but Harry couldn’t tell
by looking whether that white powder was sugar or poison and come to think of
it, Snape’d be just the type to keep a thousand different poisons at hand, so
Harry wasn’t about to risk taking a sniff of the stuff, much less a taste. He
saw tea earlier in a bag next to the stove and the kettle was sitting on one of
the burners. He had to pour out its contents first and Scourgify everything
twice, including the teapot, before he felt game to make himself a cuppa.
As he drank, he wondered. Should I check on him? Make sure he’s not dead? Or
leave him be and get out? Has he got any more healing potions around here?
He searched through his memory for the bits and pieces of mediwizardry he’d picked
up from his frequent visits to Madam Pomfrey. I probably should go up at least
once before I leave.
In the next hour Harry re-measured the sitting room one bookcase at a time, looking
for a book that might contain healing spells. The dingy Muggle surroundings seemed
to sap the magic from the very air, like a Dementor. Nothing. Dammit! He
kicked the bottom shelf and jumped back immediately.
Did that book just growl at me? First sign of magic round here since
Snape’s Patronus. He bent down and there was just the sort of book he’d been
looking for: The Healer’s Helpmate, tucked in between Magick Moste Evile
and Antient Bewychements et Charmes. Harry smiled at the familiar cover,
just like the one he remembered seeing in the Burrow. He found a spot on the couch
where the dislocated springs seemed less bumpy, and started reading. After a fair
attempt to learn more about healing than what he knew from his past trips to the
Hospital Wing, he closed it and headed for the stairs.
They were rickety enough to give a catburglar nightmares; the last one creaked
so loudly in the silence that Harry jumped and nearly tumbled all the way back
He peeked through the open door at the bed. Its occupant was so silent and still
Harry began to worry he might’ve died. But after a while Harry picked up the sound
of faint breathing. He couldn’t quite help a bit of a relieved sigh of his own.
He stared for a while longer, trying to decide whether it was safe to leave Snape
alone, and then took a step closer.
Now that he could see Snape’s face, he could tell Snape was awake after all, watching
Harry like a hawk through distrustfully narrowed eyes. He didn’t speak, so Harry
didn’t either. There were no chairs, so Harry gathered his courage and sat on
the foot of the bed, opening The Healer’s Helpmate. “This says I” – he
glanced down at the page and quoted – “‘have to check if the bones knitted properly’…”
He glanced up, cautiously gauging Snape’s reaction.
Snape looked about as happy as a Bowtruckle faced by a lumberjack. He tensed and
glared as Harry tried to pull his ripped robes apart to check for injuries. It’s
a wonder he’s not snapping at my hand like one of Hagrid’s pets. Through the
gashes in fabric, the uneven scar looked swollen and sore.
“I wasn’t quick enough to heal it.” Harry winced. “It’ll probably stay that way.”
Snape stared at him in disbelief. His hands moved abruptly, shoving Harry’s away
from his chest, before gingerly peeling back the cut halves of his shirt. There
was a net of old scratches and scars on his chest: some were almost as wide as
the raw slice of Harry’s Sectumsempra.
Bloody hell! Looks like another scar’s the least of his worries. “Er. D’you
want anything? Food? Water?” He thought back to the contents of the kitchen cupboards
and hoped that Snape wouldn’t ask for anything complicated.
Snape stared warily. There was a flicker of something almost like hunger in
his expression, but he hid it at once behind a scowl. “I ‘want’ you,” he quoted
derisively, “to piss off! Now that you’ve salved your precious Gryffindor conscience
by patching up what you broke, I refuse to be your pet project any longer!”
“Fine!” Not without satisfaction, Harry slammed the door on his way out. The
bastard’s obviously better: he’s already back to his usual shitty self. Slimy
sods like him would probably survive the world’s end. Stuff this for a lark, I’m
off! With that, Harry Apparated back to the quiet alley off Mornington Crescent,
and walked to Grimmauld Place. The shabby black door of Number Twelve had already
become familiar to him over recent months. As he opened the door, the serpent
knocker twisted itself briefly into a new shape: a silver heart.
After the Muggle drabness of Snape’s dwelling, even the dark, sinister magic of
Number Twelve Grimmauld Place felt refreshing. The candelabra in the front hall
hissed its joint welcome: silver runespoors twined in pairs in their cobwebby
nests. The portraits along the wall gave quiet snores. The shrunken elf heads
along the stairway seemed to have waited for him to return: some ogling him, some
frowning, and others sticking long tongues out and blowing raspberries. One disgruntled
troll head in the middle – half the size of the house elves surrounding it but
with a snout just as large – sniffed disdainfully. Perhaps the troll was small-headed
to begin with, or its head had been over-shrunk. It always sniffed, and Harry
didn’t know if the troll didn’t like the view of its hollowed-out leg being used
for an umbrella stand, or if the sobby elf head above it – bawling and leaking
tears – gave it a permanent cold.
I should probably clean Snape’s blood off the floor, before the rugs develop
a taste for human blood. Bad enough they chewed through my boots. But he didn’t
have enough energy left for a single spell much less a long trip up the stairs,
so he didn’t go further than the front hall. Serpent-shaped door handles gleamed
and flicked their silver tongues, hissing: pick me, pick me! Curtains lifted
from their portrait niches and windows as if borne on unfelt breezes, to flutter
and brush against his robes. Grimmauld Place welcomed him with creaking floorboards,
swirling dust motes, and probably many more bloodstains in its upstairs rooms,
Evanesco-ed or covered up with thick Persian rugs. The persistent silvery
mould in the hall blended in with the constantly swirling dust motes. The mould had its own
favourite spots: lightly framing the frayed curtains, climbing up the carved legs
of the tables, filling in damp niches in wallpapered halls that hadn’t seen
light in decades.
The mould never touched the library books. When Harry entered the library and
drew a deep breath of that still air, he noticed it smelled different from the
rest of Grimmauld Place. It wasn’t any fresher, but it was drier; it had its own
exotic scents of papyrus and parchment, ink and leather. The book covers gleamed
as if late at night all the grimoires gathered in pairs and threes, and lovingly
groomed each others’ spines like cats with their tongue-bookmarks.
Here, the world made sense, even if everything that’d happened outside in the past twenty-four
hours – his Sectumsempra, Snape’s disappointed glare, Snape’s Patronus,
Snape’s shabby little row-house with its crooked kitchen cupboards and wall-to-wall
bookcases – was a complete mess. Here, Harry could forget that he’d
almost become as much of a monster as Voldemort, that he’d come far too close to killing someone, without remorse.
Even if that someone was Snape, even if he deserved it. That’s what Voldemort
does. I never want to hurt someone like that again, and not feel a thing.
When Harry sat with a book on his lap, thinking of what all these page-rustling
volumes got up to when no one was watching, he smiled, careless and genuine.
“M’sorry,” he told the books as they glided off the shelves to his feet, as light
as paper planes. “When I tried to give you away to Mrs. Malfoy. I mean, not her:
Snape. The Snape Mrs Malfoy. Or maybe the Mrs. Malfoy Snape.” He thought about
it for a while. “Mrs. Snape-Malfoy? Oh bloody hell! S’just. I didn’t mean
it, all right?” The books rustled agreeably and nudged at his ankles like affectionate
It felt like coming home after a long day.
Saw Margery Daw
Johnny shall have a new master
Every one of Grimmauld’s magical defences prickled uneasily through the soles
of Harry’s trainers as he crossed from the library into the main hall.
“Ssh!” he stroked the handrail of the staircase, trying to soothe it like
a restless thestral. But the wood creaked and groaned with unknown grudges and
bristled with a million splinters. Harry jerked his hand away. “What’s the matter?”
he grumbled aimlessly at the ceiling. “Y’weren’t this bad even right after I inherited.
Yes, you’re being lived in again, get used to it!”
Something scuttled in response behind the skirting board. A serpent candelabra
on a rickety table jittered like a rattlesnake.
Harry hmphed and traced the fifth mark, for Hufflepuff’s cup, in the dust of Mrs.
Black’s sleeping portrait, just to spite the whole bad-tempered bloody Place.
He winced; headache and nausea lingered, as persistent as a hangover.
Harry whirled, startled by the venomous, surly drawl from the direction of the
him. Snape! How’d he get in? No wonder the house was acting
up: it wasn’t angry, it was trying to warn me!
“Kneazle got your tongue? Well, now that you’re at least semi-conscious, I suppose
we can begin.”
“Remedial Potions.” Snape strolled down the stairs, giving Harry the same haughty
sneer he always had in the classroom.
Get a load of him! Cheeky sod! What happened to ‘piss off, Potter’? “Remedial
what?” Harry did a mockingly exaggerated double take. “Oh, yeah, very funny, ha-bloody-ha!
What’re you gonna do if I don’t want any damn lessons? Give me detention? Y’know
what, we’re not at Hogwarts, you’re not my teacher, you’re not welcome in my
house, so you can just sod off out of it! I’ve got better things to do than
listen to you.”
“Potter,” Snape spat Harry’s name as though it was an insult, “your ‘manners’
are only exceeded by your aptitude for learning.”
“So? Go whinge to the Headmaster!”
His way upstairs was cut off, so Harry turned for the front door until strong
fingers twisted his ear sharply and yanked him back against a bony chest.
“Do you think this is a joke?” Snape hissed into Harry’s abused ear. Harry
stumbled back into the portrait niche, sending new swarms of dust motes billowing
from the curtains.
“Lemme GO!” Harry roared, twisting in Snape’s grasp, but it held.
Underneath the grey layer of dust, Mrs. Black’s eyes snapped open and she screamed
“INVADERS!” Then her dust-blurred stare went from Harry to Snape and her screams
abruptly stopped. She peered. “Oh, Severus.”
Bloody typical, Harry fumed. Should’ve known those two evil gits’d get
Snape eyed Harry and tapped the side of his mouth with one finger, as if deep
in thought. “Let’s see, shall we? Should I allow you to run free and compromise
my cover the first time Voldemort decides to rummage though your minuscule mind?
I don’t think so.”
“There’s still one more Horcrux out there! I need to find it.”
“Seems to me, all you’ve managed to do so far is to almost get yourself captured.
I’m surprised you lasted a day on your foolhardy treasure hunt.”
“That’s all you know! I’ve got to destroy them all!”
“You’ve ‘got to’ stay right here, until you learn to keep your mind closed.”
Snape told Harry flatly.
Greasy bastard’s probably pissed off that I got to
see him at his weakest, Harry scowled, and now he’s taking it out on me.
“I spent years waiting in servitude.” Snape continued, “You can damn well wait
a bit longer and learn.”
“Learn? From you?”
“Yes! Who better to teach you the skills you’ll need to defeat the Dark Lord?
Now will you stop…”
“Severus?” Mrs. Black’s portrait interrupted suddenly. “Have you seen Regulus?”
She sounded so normal, Harry couldn’t’ve been more surprised if she’d
asked Snape about the weather.
Harry tried to shout the portrait down. “You show up here and think I’m going
to do what you say like a good little boy?” He glared furiously and took one step
closer, itching to punch Snape right in that bloody big beak. “Just who the fuck
do you think you are?”
But Snape never even glanced away from the portrait; he stepped up to the frame,
shoving Harry completely aside. Harry’d never seen him, or anyone stare at a portrait
like that: as if a ghost had suddenly floated out of the canvas, and Snape had
no idea what to do about it. “No,” he finally murmured, quiet and careful, “I
haven’t seen him. Not for eighteen years.” He raised his arm and gently rubbed
the sleeve of his robe down the entire canvas, cleaning it of dust (and Harry’s
Horcrux tally) in one stroke. He absentmindedly wiped the worst of the grey, feathery
dust off his sleeve and drew himself into a more upright stance, by a sudden clutch
at the curtains. His face had gone sickly pale.
“Come along, Potter,” Snape said softly. “We have work to do.”
“Work?” Harry stared at him. Snape rising from the dead would’ve been less shocking
than Snape chatting politely with Mrs. Black’s portrait and pestering Harry about
lessons. Just yesterday Harry had seen him get carved up like a Christmas
goose. Yeah, and I was the one doing the carving. Hastily, he shoved
that last thought aside. “You’re gonna keel over where you stand. How can you
even be walking with that…” He gestured at Snape’s chest.
“That’s none of your concern.” The contrary sod sidestepped so swiftly,
it was as if Harry’d drawn a wand on him. The movement ended rather abruptly with
Snape leaning against the wall. He glared irritably, refusing to let on that he
hadn’t meant to end up like that all along.
Stubborn git! He’s going to fall, and even if he doesn’t break his neck I’ll
still have to stop the yeti skin in the hallway from trying to maul him. Harry
imagined the woolly beast chomping Snape’s nose off in one bite. Maybe I won’t
stop it after all.
The hall Snape marched him into was in perpetual twilight: the grey, furry dust
on the windowpanes dimmed the light. A row of heavy curtains covered alternating
windows and mirrors with similar frames. Occasionally they switched places: more
than once when Harry tried to look out a window only his own reflection stared
– and startled – back.
But now when Snape approached one of the niches and parted the curtains with the
tip of his wand, there was no mirror or window inside. Instead, on a cracked pedestal
with a cobweb-anchored base, there was a basin of black marble: as glossy and
free of dust as its base was not. Harry was almost convinced Snape had snuck it
in while he was sleeping, but the family crest on its curved front – greyhounds
supporting a shield – indicated otherwise.
“What’s that for?”
Instead of a reply, Snape dipped his hand in and pulled out a handful of squirming,
wiggling worms, no thicker than a hairsbreadth. He threw them down on the dimly
lit strip of rug, where they stilled and dissipated with a hiss. Pensieve memories,
Harry realised, as Snape repeated the task several more times. They must be
years old. Each time the memories looked like a hair knot dripping with grey
slime. Snape examined the bowl carefully and then used his wand to extract one
silvery, wiry strand of thought from his temple and guide it into the bowl. Occlumency,
Harry groaned inwardly, and here I thought I’d never have to suffer through
another lesson again. As far as I’m concerned, the paranoid git can hide all the
thoughts he wants. See if I care!
On the opposite wall hung the portraits of Blacks long dead: captured amid the
excesses of wealth and fashion: miles of silk and satin and even more lace than
fabric. The oldest portraits were frozen forever, even their magical existence
expired when the charms finally faded away; others, on the verge of fading, took
their decade-long naps; and the newest, only a few centuries old, moved freely
in shiny gilt frames. They were the ones that glared at Harry or each other when
he ran too fast by them or knocked their frames askew.
Some of the portraits talked, like the bloke Harry’s age, who never stayed in
his own frame for long, abandoning it for neighbouring canvases. He looked a bit
like Sirius, only Harry suspected Sirius never would’ve been caught in such a
swotty pose: poring over Hogwarts: A History open in his lap as he sat
on a stack of thick books. Mind you, for a portrait, he’s pretty good company.
Wonder if he ever gets bored, with only sleepy old relatives around?
“Well?” The impatient question distracted Harry from seeking out the
bloke and waving at him. “I don’t have all day.”
Harry blinked. Snape gestured at the bowl.
“Y’mean you want me to look at your thoughts?”
“Sometime this century, one would hope.”
Harry shrugged and stepped closer, looking in. He cautiously dipped one finger
in, then the wiggling strand of thought grabbed him and he was tumbling deeper and deeper in.
It would’ve been great to see some sort of explanation of why Dumbledore thought
Snape wasn’t an utter arsehole, but instead Harry landed somewhere already familiar:
an alleyway not far from Grimmauld Place. A slender figure in a dark cloak
– Mrs. Malfoy – crouched in the shadows of the rubbish bins, spying intently into
The real Snape landed silently in the memory and stood, wand out, beside Harry.
Mrs. Malfoy held the same dark wand in her slender hand. She impatiently clawed
her fine, blonde hair back out of her face. Polyjuice, Harry thought. “Did
you kill her?” The question got out before he could stop it.
“Surely not!” Snape snapped. “I haven’t harmed a hair on her head.”
looked round and saw an especially unpleasant smirk on Snape’s lips. I’m
trying to understand you, you prickly sod, really trying. But you’ve just got to make everything
so damn difficult!
There was a movement in the alley, and Harry saw his memory-self stumbling slowly
through the shadows. It was a shock, to see himself in a way he’d never seen himself
in a mirror: skinny and sickly, with the shaky, twitching walk of a spider. Even
Harry’s grip on the cup seemed feeble, as if the thing had weighed like a stone.
Bloody hell! I look half dead! Was I really that worn out? Harry frowned
stubbornly. No! No, it’s got to be ‘cause this memory’s Snape’s. Typical of
his twisted mind: seeing me in the worst possible light.
“Idiot,” muttered Snape, almost as if he’d overheard Harry’s thoughts, but he
was glaring at Harry’s memory-self instead. “I’d Apparated there just seconds
before. I deliberately made a hasty job of it: my arrival must’ve been clearly
audible.” He rounded on the real Harry, “That sound alone should’ve been more
than enough warning for you to flee, if only you’d paid attention!”
Too late. With a dry pop, the looming dark shape of Bellatrix appeared right before
memory-Harry. He fumbled for his wand, fell.
“There! You had ample time to Apparate away! But you didn’t even have your wand
out, you cretin!” Snape hissed. ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ stalked over to memory-Harry who
lay sprawled on the footpath, and Snape followed, dragging the real Harry with
“I couldn’t think!” Harry protested. “I was sick, everything was spinning.”
“Of course you were sick; you were holding a Horcrux in your bare hands!
No doubt at the same time as your tiny mind was full of nothing but plans to destroy
that very same Horcrux. Doesn’t the great Harry Potter know even the most basic
facts about defensive curses: that their two most common triggers are proximity
and intent to attack?”
Harry winced at the green flash of the curse that caught Bellatrix square in the
chest. The next moment Snape’s words caught up with him, and the discomfort of
a moment before, sharpened into a more painful, personal fear. “It cursed me?”
Snape peered at ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ as she kicked the cup away from Harry’s limp grasp.
It bounced once with a tinny clang, rolled, and came to rest beside Bellatrix’
body. “Of course. The cup’s curse resembled acute alcoholic poisoning. Another
few minutes of direct skin contact and the process would’ve been irreversible.”
“And I’d be dead,” Harry breathed.
“Of cirrhosis of the liver,” Snape replied with a certain degree of ghoulish enthusiasm
as he and Harry followed ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ back to Bellatrix’ corpse, “But by that
time your brain would’ve been so badly damaged you probably wouldn’t have noticed.”
“Do you understand now, just how fortunate you are? Horcruxes are not to
be trifled with!”
“But they can be broken.” Harry said flatly. He thought back to Dumbledore’s blackened
hand. That was a curse too, wasn’t it: from the ring. If even Dumbledore couldn’t
manage to reverse the damage, then… “How’d you do it?”
“Sacrifice,” Snape’s reply was as calm as if he were reciting instructions during
a lecture. “To destroy the soul-fragment a Horcrux holds, a similarly large loss
Harry blinked. “What do you mean?”
“Sacrificial magic: a life for a life, a soul for a soul.”
Less than an arm’s length away from them, ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ pointed her wand at the
cup, encasing it in a glowing bubble. She chanted; quick, harsh words that caused
a silent, angry flash of an explosion within. When the light dimmed, there were
only shards of twisted gold. There was something strange about the way they floated,
lining the edges of a precise sphere: as if some invisible bubble was the only
barrier that kept them from flying apart like shrapnel. It seemed ‘Mrs. Malfoy’
couldn’t maintain the barrier for long. With an audible crack, the protective
bubble disappeared. The shards rained down on the footpath, and as if compelled
by some magnetic force slithered closer together; ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ doubled over them,
as if their curse affected her too. Yet she knelt on the footpath at Snape’s and
Harry’s feet, collecting the shards one by one, and with every one she touched
her gloved hands shook more and more, as if with some horrible palsy. Huddled
into herself and swaying, she crouched over Bellatrix’ corpse and tilted its head
“Fortunately for both of us,” Snape murmured, “Bellatrix found you before the
curse had time to really get to work on you. And I’ve never been one to waste…
Harry watched as ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ pressed the shards of the cup, one by one, into
the mouth of Bellatrix’ corpse. A particularly long shard protruded from between
her teeth, and for a moment Harry saw a golden badger’s paw twitch and writhe
against her slack lips before ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ shoved it further in. Harry swallowed
against a wave of nausea. “Are you mad? What were you doing to her, you sick bastard?”
“Shut up,” Snape snarled, “and be thankful I lacked the time to perform the traditional
ritual: opening the chest cavity and packing the remains of the Horcrux around
the sacrifice’s heart.” As more and more of the shards were tucked away, ‘Mrs.
Malfoy’ seemed to gain strength again. When the last one was safely out of sight,
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ closed the corpse’s jaw with a click of teeth and staggered to her
feet, clutching her wand.
“Why are you showing me this?” Harry cried.
“So you can see exactly what you did wrong, and hopefully, how not to make
the same mistakes again.”
“Dumbledore still got himself cursed. Did you murder anyone to save him too?”
Snape’s eyes narrowed. His face was unreadable. Harsh. So different from the man
who just yesterday summoned a phoenix Patronus to prove his allegiance.
“What did the ring do to him?” Harry asked quietly.
Behind the rubbish bins, fire ate away Bellatrix’ body. Snape turned away from
Harry to watch it: lurid blue flames glazed the black mirrors of his eyes.
“A Horcrux for a Horcrux,” Harry persisted. “I’ll answer your questions if you
Snape turned abruptly on his heel and strode toward the flames, as if determined
to immolate himself on Bellatrix’ pyre.
“Wait a minute! Where’re you going?”
Too late. Snape’s walking silhouette faded out of the pensieve, leaving Harry
alone inside the memory. And as ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ dragged his memory-self’s swaying,
stumbling weight inside Grimmauld, Harry surfaced from the memory too.
He turned away from the bowl of silvery liquid, expecting to see Snape walking
out the door, but instead a summoned scroll of parchment hit him square in the
face. A black quill flapped after the scroll and hovered over Harry like a vulture.
“I want three feet listing all of your mistakes that night, and the three best
ways you could have avoided each, by tomorrow.”
“Three feet? Bloody hell!”
“And not another word out of your mouth unless it’s a wandless spell.” Snape loomed,
every bit as menacing as Neville’s Boggart. “Speaking of wandless spells…”
Riddikulus, damn you! Harry thought. Why not? No other curse
seems to affect the miserable sod. This one didn’t affect him either, of course,
but spite gave Harry enough hope to keep him from doing in reality what he’d
been doing in his dreams for years: hexing Snape to bits in the middle of his latest
“I’d rather deal with a herd of raging erumpents than another hopeless halfwit.
I distinctly remember having more sense than that when we were young.”
Twelve-year-old Regulus peeked over Sirius’ shoulder and shrugged; Sirius gave
a charming grin and tweaked the fringe combed over Regulus’ ear. Sirius couldn’t
have been older than six when he sat for this painting; perhaps that was why his
portrait managed to escape Walburga’s wrath unscathed, the way his name on the
tapestry had not. The fact that Sirius’ canvas was hung in an inconspicuous corner
of an out-of-the-way stairwell must have helped.
‘Sirius wasn’t anywhere near as bad before he went off to Hogwarts,’ Regulus always
used to say; but the only Sirius Black whom Snape himself had ever known was a
bully and a braggart. Snape deliberately glared over Sirius’ head, his gaze fixed
only on Regulus as he muttered: “Your mother’s asked about you. You should pay
her a visit.”
Regulus shook his head and backed into the shadows near the edges of the frame.
Snape arched a menacing eyebrow. “She’s worried about you. Go on.”
Regulus rolled his eyes and shoved Sirius off the tall chair he’d been perched
on, before taking off. Snape watched him run from frame to frame down the stairwell,
rousing his sleeping relatives. As he watched the still-rambunctious child, Snape
wished that – even when he had been a child himself – he could have felt the childish
belief that things would work out for the better.
How good it would be, for one brief moment, to believe that there was still a
way out for him: that everything he’d sacrificed (his good name and his future)
and everything he’d become (the monster he’d been most terrified of turning into)
and everything he’d done to keep an incompetent wretch safe from the Death Eaters
(a thankless and despicable chore that no one among the living would ever acknowledge)
would not be in vain.
Oh, but it was in vain. All of it.
Severus Snape no longer felt any hope for the Wizarding World. Whatever chance
he himself might’ve had for a future was as dead as Dumbledore, but he’d realised
that back when he’d first been told of the Headmaster’s plan. Since then, he’d
had the time to… if not exactly accept his fate, at least to stop constantly tormenting himself with it. But his last spark of hope for the future of his world had died when
Potter – regardless of the disorientation he’d felt at the time – had invited
the wife of a known Death Eater into the former headquarters of the Order.
Tantamount to suicide. Dumbledore would’ve been horrified. Even when Potter
was still determined to fight, he never stood a chance of survival, not on his
own; but now, no one opposed to the Dark Lord has a hope, if the idiocy I saw
from him yesterday was any indication.
In an effort to stop himself from simply giving up and putting the little bastard
out of everyone else’s misery, Snape had left Potter stewing and pretending to
write, and had gone to do some exploring of his own. Inevitably, his restless wanderings
led him back to the library, with its endless aisles of bookcases towering overhead
and its scent of parchment and paper, leather and wood, wax and webs. The floor
was dustier than before, but other than that it was just as he remembered: clearly
the books were still willing and able to look after themselves. He knew this room
and its occupants like the back of his own hand; he’d known it almost as long
as he’d known Hogwarts’ library, and the memories associated with this place were
rather better than the school. The whole collection here would’ve qualified for
the Restricted Section at Hogwarts; yet here there’d never been any prissy Madam
Pince to get in a huff when he exercised his boyhood knack of making friends with
even the nastiest-tempered grimoires.
Perhaps the books knew a kindred spirit. Even now, as he wandered
down the aisles lost in reminiscence, the volumes were riffling their pages
and bouncing on their shelves in shameless bids for attention, rather than simply
leaping off to bash out his brains or eat his limbs. As he walked he stroked
his fingertips softly along one leather spine after another, and the susurrus
of parchment sounded like delighted sighs as the books shouldered each other
aside to crowd to the front of their shelves.
The sound and the waft of musty air brought a particular memory to the forefront
of Snape’s mind. Himself, still in uniform, having skived off from his first
Hogsmeade weekend with Regulus. Sitting at the foot of a bookshelf, grimoires
sidling slyly off their shelves and plopping to the floor left and right, so
they could huddle up against his sides, leaning into him like cats angling for
a scratch. He was only dimly aware of Regulus sitting across from him and watching
with a smile, as he patted Severus’ Monster Book of Monsters (which tended to
get jealous). For his own part, Severus was almost completely absorbed in his
communion with the large and leathery volume currently filling his lap. Its parchment
rustled happily under the scratching of his quillpoint as – drunk on knowledge
– he scribbled obsessively in the grimoire’s margins.
As always, any moments of happiness or peace in his life – then as now – were
doomed to interruption by the powers that be. “What the devil do you mean by
it, boy?” roared Orion Black as he strode down the aisle toward them, “Defacing
Severus remained still and looked up, daringly, but inwardly he cringed: the
shouting reminded him of his own Dad when he got into one of his vicious moods.
Dad was bad enough, and he was only a Muggle; who knew what an angry wizard
could do? He’d laughed when Regulus had told him how furious his parents were
when Sirius had sorted into Gryffindor, but right now, he didn’t feel like laughing
Mr. Black snatched the grimoire away from him as if it, not Regulus, was his
favoured son, and scowled down at the minutely-annotated pages. The scowl shifted
to a blink. Severus held his breath.
“Oh, I say, that’s rather subtle,” Mr. Black muttered under his breath, before
glaring at Severus, “Chimera venom? Are you quite sure?”
Severus nodded, not daring to reply aloud. Regulus bragged once that his dad
was nothing compared to his mum at doling out punishment when Regulus himself
got in trouble, but right now Regulus’ dad was terrifying enough.
Mr. Black harrumphed. “Get up, boy. Up, I say!” Severus (reluctant to disturb
the books huddled up to him) hadn’t moved quite quickly enough. Mr. Black seized
him with a hand that closed entirely round his scrawny upper arm, and frogmarched him
down the aisle to a locked escritoire which loomed only slightly less ominously
than a volcano, and whose pigeonholes, Regulus had once assured him, would eat
any bird, up to and including ostriches. “Sit down, boy. Sit!” Mr. Black
ordered, dumping Severus on the seat in front of the escritoire as he unlocked
it. “Here’s some proper quills and ink, so you can write legibly.”
Severus let out a sigh and exchanged relieved glances with Regulus, but after
that day he vowed never to write notes in anyone’s books but his own. In the
long run, his belated caution hadn’t mattered: it hadn’t stopped Regulus’ father
from bragging about ‘his heir’s best friend, the Dark Arts prodigy’ to the Lestranges
and the Malfoys, and from there the rumours hadn’t taken long to reach the ears
of the Dark Lord.
Snape dismissed the memory with a headshake. No matter how happily any of his
memories started, sooner or later they all led back to Voldemort.
A worn leather spine nudged against his fingertips; Snape glanced down and nodded
hello to an old friend. He lifted the volume off its shelf and into his arms,
his spidery hands turning its pages swiftly as he searched for a specific reference.
His finger paused and he lit his wand, reading intently in the brighter light.
For a while, he thought over what he’d read, as his fingertips stroked the wrinkled
cover by way of thanks. In reply, a red ribbon bookmark curled around his fingers
like a pup’s tongue. At last, he closed the book, and gave the tall aisle of shelves
one last parting look, before turning quickly and striding out, carrying the book
in his arms.
It’s high time that ingrate learns to do his own research. Whenever I
try to teach him anything, he’s furious enough to power a Cruciatus. Ahh, if only
hatred alone were enough to kill. If it were, Voldemort would’ve been dead for
good, before you’d’ve even heard of him, boy. I’d’ve personally ensured it.
The git’s mental, and he’s slowly driving me that way out of sheer spite:
it’s the only possible explanation! Harry had spent an entire evening checking
every nook and cranny, combing though Grimmauld’s wards, ensuring the whole Place’s
cooperation so that no one, not even Snape – especially not Snape! – would slip
in through the cracks somehow. The next morning, instead of an alarm just slightly
short of a siren, Harry was woken up by the sound of distant knocking.
As he staggered downstairs struggling his way into a shirt, he could hear it was
coming from the front door.
He opened it and peered out blearily through a haze of dirty lenses and bedhead
and general morning muzziness. Snape stood there on the doorstep, as calm and
collected as if he was paying a courtesy visit on the Blacks.
“About time!” he spat, instantly ruining the calm facade. “Do you have any idea
how much risk it was to…” He strode inside and slammed the door shut. “Out of
Harry should’ve known then, that this would be the final straw. But it wasn’t
yet. He lasted longer: about two hours into the lesson.
“Focus, dimwit!” Snape hissed for what seemed to be the tenth time.
“I am,” Harry grated out, sparing a moment to think, Yeah, and ‘focus’
you too, you sarky shit, before gripping his wand tighter and trying to visualise
the spell in his mind: Impedimenta, Impedimenta!
“Honestly, of all the idiots I’ve taught – and there’ve been far too many of those
– you have to be…”
‘What?’ Harry wanted to yell, ‘The only one desperate enough to put up with you?’
But he stuck to his resentful silence, knowing that if he bit back, then Snape’s
rant would only last longer.
“…the most scatterbrained of the lot. I wonder if you’ve managed to include a
single actual thought in the three feet you wrote.” Snape stuck out his hand for
the scroll; when Harry didn’t summon it immediately, Snape’s expression somehow
managed to become even sourer. “You did do as you were told, didn’t you?”
he inquired in a thoroughly pessimistic drawl.
Harry didn’t answer. What was there to say? Three feet? He’s off his chump!
Snape let the resulting silence drag on before erupting suddenly, “I don’t believe
you! What do you…” The sentence trailed off as Snape’s angry flush faded with
startling suddenness into a deathly pallor. Only then did Harry spot the clawlike
clutch of Snape’s fingers, digging into his forearm. “I’m summoned,” he hissed
through gritted teeth. “I expect you to use this reprieve productively, and have
your homework finished by the time I return.”
All thought deserted Harry, leaving only a twist of fear behind. Harry had never
even thought about what Snape did when he wasn’t invading Grimmauld Place. He’d certainly
never wondered whether, after everything that had happened, Snape was still spying
on Voldemort. “Are you gonna be back today?”
“Good question,” Snape snapped. “Would you like to come along and ask the Dark
Git! He didn’t have to mock me.
Snape Disapparated from the front door, his expression tight with anger, his skin
still pale, his hand still clutching his forearm. I reckon even if he’s in
Voldemort’s good books for his last murder, he still gets the same summons as
‘I spent years in servitude,’ Snape had said to him that first morning. Years!
I don’t understand how anyone could do that. I’d go spare just from the waiting. Put
in those terms, it was almost too easy to think of Snape as a normal bloke like
Harry: sick to death of it all, but hanging on anyway; just waiting for Voldemort
to be gone, for everything to be over. Only it’ll never be that simple for
Snape, ‘cause as well as Voldemort he’s also got the Aurors and the rest of the
world to worry about. But that’s his problem, Harry reminded himself with
a frown, not mine.
Snape crashed into the wall, elbows striking stone one painful moment before his
spine hit. His head tilted back, his teeth clenched behind his mask in a silent
snarl. His woollen robes were stifling hot; if it weren’t for the mask, the torch
would have burned his face, set his hair ablaze. The dull point of Macnair’s fire-heated
blade gouged into his shoulder, sizzling and smoking as it carved his flesh, reopening
the old wound, retracing the scar as a reminder, his own particular brand of shame
He directed all of his strength to maintain Cruciatus-weakened Occlumency. Focus.
Disconnect. Life was pain; he’d learned that lesson so thoroughly and so long
ago that it didn’t really trouble him. Only his body cried its instinctive, animal protests.
He let it do so on its own; as he had done too many times before, he left the cruel
current reality behind, in favour of a dark, quiet corner of his mind. There he
hoarded, more jealously than any dragon, the few pleasant memories he’d ever known.
The Quidditch stands were bloody freezing. In the two hours of the
game, the sleet quickly turned to snow. As a final insult, when the Gryffindor
Git shoved Narcissa Black out of the way to get to the snitch, stealing sure
victory from her, only the green and silver quarter of the stands booed the
“It’ll be all right.” The firstie trailing after Severus back to the castle
sniffed into his scarf. “Well we’re better than they are anyway! We’re Slytherins.”
“Slytherins?” Severus turned around and glared down his nose at the unfortunate
sprog. “Do I know you?” he drawled. Severus did know, of course: who could forget
the spectacle of the Sorting Feast, and the firstie who craned his neck to stare
at the Gryffindor table every chance he got. Inexcusable, older brother or
not. The chance to bring nosy, Pureblood know-it-alls like this one down
a peg or two was too good for Snape to miss.
“Regulus Arcturus Black. Of the
Most Noble and Ancient House of Black,” the firstie declared, in just the sort
of toffee-nosed accent that got on Snape’s wick something fierce. “Officially
that is. But you may call me Reg.”
Resentment seethed in Snape: at silver-spoon-sucking gits like the Blacks and
the Potters, at the stands full of Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws (they at least
should know better) all cheering on those cheating Gryffie bastards; resentment
at the whole damn world. His ‘ugly-Muggle’ face twisted into a particularly vicious snarl. “Well, Black,” Snape spat, throwing the implied offer of
friendship right back into “Reg”’s face, “Lemme tell you summat ‘bout
th’ Houses.” He was surprised to find himself shaking with the sheer
force of his pent-up rage: abruptly the simmering resentment boiled over and
he roared, “It’s SHITE bein’ in Slytherin! We’re th’ lowest o’ th’ low!
Th’ scum o’ th’ fuckin’ Earth! Th’ most wretched miserable pathetic trash ever
shat out on th’ Wizardin’ World!”
The firstie gaped at him, flabbergasted, but Severus was too far gone to care
or even notice his reaction, or who else might’ve been listening. Borne away
on a frothing torrent of fury he ranted, “Y’d reckon ah’d hate Gryffindors,
but ‘appen ah don’t. They’re just wankers. We, on th’ other hand,” Severus
waved one arm at the pitch, “just let ourselves get thrashed by wankers!
Can’t even find a decent team t’ get beat by. Nooo, we gotta get our
arses handed t’ us by effete gobshites like Potter an’ your fuckin’ brother,
while th’ rest o’ th’ school cheers th’ bastards on!” He kicked the ground and
a pebble flew from under his boot, round and bouncy, about the size of a snitch.
“Nah,” he sneered, in a low, bitter growl, “Slytherin’s a shite House
t’ be in, Black, and all th’ pure blood in th’ world,” he positively
spat the word ‘pure’, “don’t make a tinker’s fart worth o’ fuckin’ diff’rence!”
The firstie stared up at him, awkward and blinking, and it was so obvious the
kid had missed two words out of three. But what else could be expected of Mr.
Pureblood Pride when hit by a rant like that? Especially when – after all Severus’
efforts to lose it – the Tyke accent had crept back into his speech like
an oil stain, until it was just as thick as Dad’s in one of his drunken rages.
This little Pureblood prat would never know why Severus had begged the
Hat last year to sort him into Slytherin. How could a spoiled little sod like
him ever understand the bitter truth: that though Mam could’ve altered her old
third-year robes by hand to fit her eleven-year-old son, she didn’t have enough
bloody magic left for a single spell to change the green trim to Ravenclaw blue.
So, Severus reckoned, it was either Mam’s House at Hogwarts, or back to Muggle
school for him.
Of course this rich kid’d never understand. So he’d just dismiss Severus as
an ugly Muggle-tainted git, like all the rest.
But instead of the contemptuous look Snape expected, the firstie gave him a
wide smile. “Call me Reg,” he repeated, and then he actually had the gall to
reach up and pat Snape on the shoulder. “Don’t worry, the Gryffindors will get
what’s coming to them, you’ll see.” he confided in contented tones. “Cissy’ll
be positively livid, and she’s mean when she’s got a grudge. All my cousins
are,” he added proudly. “I say, do you know where the library is in this place?”
Severus boggled down at the cheeky brat. “C’mon.” he muttered. “I was going
there myself anyway,” he added, to save face.
Perhaps it was worthwhile cultivating a firstie shadow, if only to stick it
to Sirius Black. He and his gang would be belching slugs when they saw Black’s
precious ickle brother following Snivellus around. “Didn’t your cousins
show you where the library was? Oh, wait, of course, they’ve got house elves to
get their books, and probably to read them for them as well.”
He took Regulus the long way, past the Restricted Section. It was against the
rules, of course, but Severus wanted to show the brat what he was missing.
Regulus gaped at the chains attached to the thick volumes, reached out to tug
at one of them. The book attached to the other end snarled. “It’s not right,”
Regulus mumbled. “Keeping them all chained up like that. Books ought to be free.”
Severus blinked at that, but covered it up with a shrug. “I saw one of the books
in here gnawing on a human clavicle last week. Probably a firstie about your
size.” He stared meaningfully at Regulus, even though he himself wasn’t all
that much taller.
“Can’t be human,” Regulus protested. “They only ever eat those who can’t read.
I bet it was a house elf. My books ate one once.”
“Yeah. And Dad’s. We’ve got a library at home. Dad says it’s the best library
of Dark Arts around. Enough for a dozen of this Restricted Section, and no chains
Boastful little bugger, Snape thought. Yeah, the Black’s’ve probably
got a library but I bet it’s not all that good. “What kind of books,
precisely?” About time I called your bluff.
“All kinds!” Regulus puffed out his chest and started to rattle off titles.
“The Necrotelecomnicon. The Liber Paginarum Fulvarum: the deluxe edition,
where the fingers on the cover really do the walking. Armageddon Some: Mass
Destruction For Fun And Profit. How to Win Fiends and Inferius People. Culmuggles’
Herbal. The Oxblood Dictionary of the English Curse: the long edition, you
know, the one with the Appendices. And the tails. And then there’s…”
“The Joy of Hex?” Severus cut him off mid-list, fixing the boy with a
“The illustrated edition!” Regulus beamed proudly up at him.
Severus gave him the smile of a shark. Perhaps there was another reason to let
a firstie follow him about.
Somewhere far away Snape heard a cry of pain, weakened, hoarse: perhaps even his
own. A boot thudded into his stomach and he folded up around the impact, but the
pain was almost drowned out by stronger agony. On his shoulder, the brand burned.
One half. Unworthy. Disgrace. One half a wizard; one half a beast.
But Snape was not there anymore, not in that dark and dingy dungeon of a room.
He was at Hogwarts: a surly boy with his forearm not yet sullied by the Mark,
his shoulder unmarked by the brand. Still a Prince more than a Snape: at heart,
he was free.
He spent hols that winter with Regulus, basking in the shocked and
insulted glares of Sirius Black. For that reason among others, his stay there
was the best Christmas present he’d ever had: worth every moment of the trouble
he’d had explaining to Dad why he had to Floo to London, and what the Floo was.
Amid all 666 volumes of the Encyclopaedia Satanica and a multitude of
other, even more interesting volumes, Severus felt at peace; at home in a way
he never had in the pollution- and conflict-poisoned atmosphere of Spinner’s
End. He knew all of the authors better than family, since Mam had told him about
them all his life. She spoke of people like Urquhart Rackharrow and Herpo the
Foul far more often than she ever mentioned the family that’d disowned her for
having him. He stroked the musty pages and thought, I could live here, in
this library, with these books.
Years later, when Sirius Black was long gone from Reg’s house, Severus still stayed.
He kept visiting under the excuse of seeing the famous library again. It wasn’t
as if he’d had to pretend very hard. It was almost the truth.
The whole truth was Regulus: of fourth year and of fifth and that – something
– between them. The thing manifesting in the scribbles on the margins, the notes
hidden amid the pages, and this raw and comfortable sensation, as natural to Severus
as his love for books, that took over his only experience in friendship and turned
it inside out, taking on a new life.
“Hang on, Reg. Let me copy this at least.”
“It can wait.”
“And that… Hey, give me that back!”
“You’ve got the rest of your life to spend with your nose in a book. Relax.
Mum’n’Dad are at the Lestranges’.”
“Reg…” Severus flipped the page. Underneath his most recent theory-scribble,
another hand – a very familiar one – had written:
I can’t stop watching your hands as you write.
I had the most exquisite dream last night…
By the next line, Severus blushed and was tempted to cover the single rotating
eye on the book’s cover, and all of its ear-marked pages, to prevent it from
seeing or hearing what Regulus’ writing and voice were suggesting.
“We’ve got this whole Place to ourselves.” Regulus breathed in his ear. And
Severus knew that the library definitely wasn’t the reason he kept coming back.
Harry liked the staircase; he could read there by Lumos light without catching
the disturbing whispers or clacks from the top library shelves, or feeling the draught
that seemed to trail from one bookshelf to another for absolutely no reason but
made the hair on the back of his neck stand up all the same. At times Grimmauld’s library
was still a bit too creepy for his taste. Yet today there was a different reason
for Harry’s hair to bristle like the staircase’s handrail in a bad mood.
It wasn’t enough for the bossy bugger to show up yesterday and demand three feet
of homework; before he swanned out today he’d assigned (Assigned!) Harry a reading:
some nasty book on Dark relics, which had a temper almost as bad as Snape’s and
a taste for human flesh. The bloody thing had snapped at Harry’s finger
five times in the first hour.
Harry wasn’t about to be caught napping by Snape again: figuratively or literally.
He woke at first light and camped out on the staircase all morning, watching the
front door like a hawk. Harry wasn’t one to sit still, so by ten, he was sprawling
upside down on the staircase, his head on the bottom step, his feet up against
the railing. “Let’s see if the words run to your Preface before the blood runs
to my head,” he grumbled at the damn book. It rustled grumpily back at him, but
at least it didn’t bite. By noon he’d finally trained it to trust him enough to
stay open as he stroked its spine.
“‘Three feet listing all of your mistakes. Three best ways you could’ve avoided
them. Three thousand points from Gryffindor for breathing!’” Harry mocked
Snape’s scornful tone and snatched the flapping quill out of the air. The bastard
had charmed it to follow Harry around. It was a strong charm too; the quill resisted
Harry’s strongest Stunners, repaired itself, and when Harry tied it up with curtain
cord, the damn thing just sliced right through it with its nasty sharp nib, leaving
the curtain looking very down indeed.
“Detention with Filch until the end of term, Potter!” Harry spat the name
as he groused to himself in an unnaturally low tone, curling back his lips from
his teeth in a parody of a well-remembered sneer, “I said slice finely, not mangle,
Potter! On your feet and let me probe your mind ‘till your fucking head
explodes, Potter!” Harry tried to take back the roll of parchment he’d
given that horrible beast of a book (to distract it from chomping his fingers
off) but the book wasn’t about to give it up easily, and it took a long and growly
tug of war before the chewed end of the scroll tore. Luckily, Harry was left with
the lion’s share: he smoothed out the war-torn scroll while the book groused and
grumbled and gnawed its bit into confetti.
I’ll show that bastard! Harry spread the parchment over the book and scribbled:
‘First (and only) mistake: Ran into Severus Sodding Snape. Three best ways
to avoid:’ Now, let’s see… ‘Invisibility Cloaks, skiving off Potions, keeping
away from any dark dingy corner only fungus would lurk in…’ Bloody hell, how
do I use up three feet just explaining the obvious?
A single candle had kept Harry company ever since he’d passed the entire flock
sleeping round the biggest candelabra on his way downstairs. Now, when Harry
was absorbed in a really furious scribble, the candle peeped around his elbow.
Unfortunately, it leaned a tiny bit too close; its flame caught a torn corner
of the scroll and spread like wildfire. Harry jumped. The quill flapped out of
the way and the Beastie Book threw itself off his lap and thump-thump-thumped
all the way down the stairs, coming to rest in a corner where it cowered with
a Snape-like snarling curl to its pages. Harry waved the scroll around madly until
the fire was out, then he glared at the sad and smoking scrap in his hand: the
only thing left of his essay. Just as well, anyway, Harry sighed to himself, Snape would’ve set me on fire if he’d read that lot.
He squished the scrap of scroll into a snitch-sized ball and chucked it down the
stairs. The book and the yeti skin both lunged for it, but the book snatched it
out of thin air mid-bounce, devouring its catch with a chomp, followed by a satisfied
belch of smoke and ashy confetti. The move was so startlingly agile from such
a large volume, it made Harry wonder Did that book ever eat any of the smaller
ones? If it had, would their text show up inside it, in an Appendix or something?
He was brought out of his odd reverie by the flickering and waning of the light.
The tiny, quivering candle had sheltered behind him from all the commotion of
the burning scroll; now Harry could see two clear waxy tears trickling down its
front. It shied away from his gaze, trying to make itself smaller still by huddling
down into its wax drip skirt. As a result, its flame diminished to a mere spark.
“S’allright,” he found himself consoling it grumpily, “Looks like I’ve got loads
of time to find another scroll. The greasy git probably never meant to come back
soon anyway. He just wanted me to think he would. I’ve worked all morning and
he isn’t even going to turn up!” Harry complained to the candle. It let out a
long, smoky sigh of relief that Harry’s ire wasn’t directed at it, and its flame
stilled, tired out from all the excitement.
Harry took to sleeping during the day. It was better to wake up to grim daylight
instead of a dark, sinister house that creaked and groaned more than a haunted
dragon carcass as Harry’s nightmares hit. He contemplated doing some more of Snape’s
homework but even the thought of it sounded boring; he quickly said “Sod it,” and
stretched out on the downstairs sofa, staring at the webs and cracks on the ceiling.
The sofa’s armrest was soft and comfortable. The whisperhiss of the silvery serpents
on the chandelier lulled him to sleep.
The only part of the Potters’ house in Godric’s Hollow left standing was the front door. A door to nowhere, it cast an ominous shadow across the ruins, like the
sharp arrow of a sundial. It seemed so small and purposeless, without the house around and behind it.
Harry picked his way toward it over the rubble: bricks and broken glass. At first, he thought
there was a twig or a plant poking through the keyhole, but no – when he came closer, he could see it was a key. That’s weird. Still locked.
It didn’t seem right, after all these years – with all four walls crumbled and
gone, like the residents within – that the door should still be locked, as if
it was locking someone in, or keeping something out. Harry reached out for the
key then, and turned it, or tried to. The key was stuck: and really, what else
did he expect, after so many rainy seasons and winters of snow? But Harry hung
onto it and twisted it with all his strength, because suddenly he couldn’t bear
to see that particular door locked.
Harry awoke with the orange light of sunset streaming through the downstairs windows.
The dream left him with a sinister and dark feeling of not being quite over yet.
But it is over! The key was the first Horcrux we destroyed together. It’s gone for good. Harry remembered breaking it all too well.
With a sharp, brittle sound, the key snapped in the keyhole. Fuck!
A deep gash in Harry’s palm welled with blood. It didn’t hurt at first. Just
shocked him. In a burst of temper he shoved at the door, trying to push it open
with all his strength. No luck. His hand left a gory print on the boards. It
must’ve bled more than he thought. He shook his hand. “Hermione, c’mere.”
“What is it?”
Harry held up his wounded hand. “You’re good with healing spells’n’all. See
if you can mend this?”
Hermione winced. “You’ve got to be more careful. And learn the basics! I can’t
believe with all your trips to the Hospital Wing you haven’t even bothered to
learn a simple – Episkey!”
Harry hmphed. His hand felt the same.
“Odd,” she said, giving her wand a tap. “Let’s try again.”
“Ow! Don’t poke it, just stop the bleeding,” Harry hissed.
“Oi, mate, what’s that?”
Harry spun around.
The place where he touched the door was hissing and black. A handprint. As if
Harry’s mere touch was like acid, charring and crumbling the wood, like Quirrell
at the end of Harry’s first year. A burn mark still spread with a poisonous
hiss and smoke, like an oozing bloodstain.
“H-harry, this is as creepy as spiders!”
Ron stepped away from the door. But as Harry looked, it wasn’t the handprint
that attracted his attention. It was the keyhole: as the remainder of the key
disintegrated leaving the keyhole open. A beam of orange sunlight shone through.
“Ron, back away,” Hermione called out wide-eyed. “Something’s wrong … I think
it’s a Horcrux. Think about it! Where better to hide something like that? And
in Godric’s Hollow. Something of Gryffindor. Step away from that door!”
“S’OK,” Harry said. “I think the door’s fine. I think – I maybe sort of touched
it. And the key broke. See?”
Ron was still pale after Hermione’s shout, but he took one look at the remains
of the key in Harry’s hand, and beamed all over his freckled face. “Wicked!
Let’s just hope the rest of You-Know-Who’s You-Know-Whats are that easy to break.”
“Ron!” Hermione rolled her eyes at him before turning back to Harry. “All right,
let’s take care of your hand now.”
The scratch stopped bleeding after the second time, and scabbed over a few days
later. It was rather slow to heal, sore and seeping blood. Harry shrugged it
off. It didn’t hurt that much. “Thanks, Hermione,” he smiled. It was nice to
have someone to count on.
Snape trudged up the narrow street, past the row of boarded up houses to the one
at the end. He pressed his palm to the shabby door, hoping his exhausted magic
was still strong enough for the wards to recognise. When the door opened with
a screech, he half-stumbled, half-fell in.
Not having the strength to make it up the staircase, he toppled onto the sofa
downstairs. Snape closed his eyes to block out the Muggle drabness and poverty
of his childhood home, and took a slow, ragged breath of the mould-sour air, willing
his racing heartbeat toward calm. He tried to shove the endless taunting litany
of ‘half a wizard’ out of his mind, groping for something else, anything else,
to think about. It was that or the temporary – and addictive – relief of Draught
of Living Death, if he was to have any hope of getting even a few hours of more-or-less
pain-free oblivion (not counting the inevitable nightmares, of course). He had
to dig decades deep, but at last his inner search for peace ended, as it had done
so many times before, back at Hogwarts: with books, with Regulus.
While the rest of the third-years were savaged silly by their books,
Regulus’ Monster Book of Monsters lolled about at Severus’ feet with its pages
spread shamelessly wide, angling to have its binding tickled.
“Stop screaming,” Severus ordered Regulus. “You’ll frighten it.”
“I’LL frighten IT?” Regulus squeaked. “Are you mental?” He waved his arms emphatically
“It’d take the whole library of my grimoires to scare that one.”
The book snapped at Regulus with a warning growl, but when Severus glanced down
at it, it quickly flopped to Severus’ side with a soft, page-rustling purr.
Severus patted its cover with a smirk. “As I said…”
Regulus pouted as he glanced between Severus and the book. “Why didn’t you sort
into Ravenclaw again?”
Severus thought of a surly firstie acting years older than he looked, worrying
about his robes being the wrong colour, too ashamed to confess his desperate
poverty or his mam’s near-Squib status to anyone, much less ask the teachers
for help. Then he thought of all the good things: Potions, the Library – here
and at Grimmauld – Mam’s old textbooks and all those new books. Being able to
use a wand – even if it was Mam’s, even if they couldn’t afford a new one of
his own – somewhere where Dad wouldn’t find him and go spare.
Severus’ glance inadvertently strayed toward the chair in the common room where
Lucius Malfoy used to sit and hold court. The tall Prefect with the shining hair
was long gone, but Severus remembered his first-year hero-worship like yesterday.
Even now he stayed close to upper-years like the Lestranges or Rosier, hoping
to catch any word of Lucius’ doings from them. “Less benefits,” he finally answered,
and eyed Regulus in turn, smirking, “Why didn’t you sort with your brother?”
Regulus snorted and pretended to gag. “Same,” he said, and the gaze he turned
on Severus was serious and affectionate and wistful. It was the same look Severus
thought he might’ve had as a firstie, watching the popular, rich, impeccable
Lucius stroll through the common room. Only Regulus was no ordinary firstie;
Severus’d known that ever since his reaction – or lack thereof – to Severus’
rant. What he didn’t know was why Regulus – a Pureblood, a rich boy, more popular
already in Certain Circles than Severus with his questionable heritage could
ever be – would choose to look at him like he was just then.
Yet Regulus kept eyeing him with that soft, wistful smile, even when Severus
looked down, hiding his confusion under the curtain of his dark hair. Regulus,
he admitted to himself, makes Slytherin House bearable.
“I’m a Slytherin to the core, mate,” Reg said. “And so are you. Admit it.”
Severus looked up at him, and nodded. “Was there ever any doubt?”
Harry couldn’t sleep. He saw Riddle growing from every shadow during his nighttime
wanderings through Grimmauld’s corridors, heard Voldemort’s sinister whisper
in every Parseltongue comment from the doorknobs. He passed Walburga Black’s portrait
and that was practically the first time he’d seen her act like a normal Wizarding
portrait instead of a disgruntled dungeon ghost. Perhaps it was because she was
focused on a boy no older than a firstie who was sharing her canvas; both of them
ignored Harry completely.
“I hate my name!” the boy scowled. “Did you just stub your toe one morning, and
think ‘That’ll do, I’ll just name him after my left foot!’”
“Who told you that?” Walburga asked. When she wasn’t screaming fit to beat a banshee,
she had a rather pleasant, low voice.
“Sirius. He said that’s what ‘regel’ meant: a foot, a nasty, smelly one with big
toes.” The boy glared down, as if contemplating the size of his own toes.
“You know better than to listen to your brother!” Walburga murmured softly. She
bent down, holding a metallic tube with multiple cogwheel-controls and thin spidery
legs. It was a wizarding telescope, and she aimed it off the canvas, possibly
toward a window only those two could see.
“When I wondered what to name you, I went looking at my stars. There – keep it
steady and point it over there by the moon. See that bright star in Leo? That’s
Cor Leonis, the Lion’s Heart. Nicolaus Copernicus called it Regulus, for ‘Prince’.”
The boy peered, fascinated, through the telescope, then turned to look up at his
mother’s face. His own face brightened. “Y’mean I’m not a foot?”
She smiled, which made her seem a decade younger. “No, dear. You’re not a foot.”
She reached out, ruffling the boy’s hair softly. “You’re a star, about three hundred
and fifty times brighter than the sun.”
Harry felt like he was intruding, so he went upstairs where the portraits were
mostly asleep, so they couldn’t be bothered if he looked at them or not. Even
the portraits in this place have got somebody. Never before had Harry felt so
alone in the world. His previous life seemed so far away. He wandered aimlessly,
on and on, as if he could return to that life just by looking around the next corner,
or the next, or the next. But in his heart he already knew the truth: no matter
how many corners he turned, there’d be no turning back.
a ring o’roses
A pocketful of posies
We all fall down.
Next morning, there was no sign of Snape either. But in the afternoon, Harry thought
he heard voices on the second floor. He went upstairs and peered around the doorjamb.
Who could Snape be talking to? He poked his head deeper into the hall.
There’s no one there but…
“… just reads your old Potions text and forgets to eat for days. It’s rather sad,
the way he wanders about like Mum’s old kneazle, the one that never got fed.”
…Portraits, and Snape, looking as dark and worn-out as the curtains. His head
was turned away from Harry, facing the canvas on the very back wall. “Have you
noticed anything unusual,” Snape asked softly, “Anything at all?”
That spying sonofabitch! How’d he get past me?
The bloke Harry always talked to (at least, when he was in his frame), perched
on a tall stack of books and tossed back his wild mane of hastily painted hair.
“Nothing really unusual. But I’m waiting for him to start gnawing on my library
books. Or for the books to gnaw on him if he gets too weak.”
Harry held his breath and sunk deeper into the shadows, fuming. It was infuriating,
how Snape just showed up and won over all the portraits’ trust before Harry even
got the chance. Sirius’ mum, I can see. But why would that portrait help Snape?
How would they even know each other?
“Why are you even teaching him?” the portrait muttered, as grumpy as if he was
echoing Harry’s mood, “He doesn’t like you.” He pouted and flipped another painted
page in his lap.
“I promised someone.”
“Is that all?”
“Besides the fact that I don’t want another young man to die a horrible death
on my watch, yes. That is all.”
“Like me?” the portrait asked softly.
Tension filled Snape so that his whole bony body looked unforgivingly hard and
brittle; but his expression – or what Harry could see of it past his lank hair
– was softer than Harry had ever seen it. Even his voice was soft as he whispered,
“Then you’d better keep an eye on him. You were always good at that.”
“Not good enough.”
The portrait gave Snape a look of exasperated fondness. “I’ve told you before,
it wasn’t your fault.” A critical glance, “You know, you ought to start watching
out for yourself too.”
“I always do,” Snape huffed.
“Yeah? I suppose that’s why you’re as pale as a petrified elf bum, and just as
miserable,” the portrait declared with the superiority of a Pureblood know-it-all.
“Grimmer than this Auld Place.”
Snape snorted and declared, “I’m not surprised you know what a petrified
elf bum looks like.” Frighteningly, Snape’s manner was just as teasing as the
Painted shoulders shrugged, “Mum keeps about a dozen of them in the cellar, half
with wiggling tails, half without: she wanted to replace Gran’s old head collection,
but Dad wouldn’t let her. The only argument I’ve ever seen him win.” The two of them
shared grins, then the portrait murmured, “So, look after yourself for once, all
“I’ll consider your advice.” Snape replied tersely, cutting him off.
“When?” the portrait persisted, “Next century?”
“For your information, this century is almost over. Now, if you’ll excuse
me, I have an idiot to teach.”
A snicker. “You sound even more like our professors.”
Snape drew himself primly upright. “I was a Hogwarts professor. How else
am I supposed to sound?”
“Like someone who isn’t about to take points just for stating the obvious.”
Snape hmphed. “I never took points from Slytherin without good cause, and I’m
not about to start now…” he paused, sniffed, and growled without even raising
his voice, “Potter, stop eavesdropping this instant and get over here. With a
spare day to wander about, I expect you finally gave your homework the attention
Harry bit back a sarky reply and stepped out from the shadow of the doorway. Even
the portraits aren’t to be trusted. First thing I should’ve done is turn the lot of
them to face the wall. That would’ve kept the spying sods in the dark. Who knows
what secrets they’ve already babbled?
There were times when Harry still hated Snape, but unfortunately he hated Voldemort
much more, so he had to put up with Snape in the meantime. I reckon we’ve made
a deal. He hasn’t turned me over to the Death Eaters, so I probably shouldn’t
kill him during lessons. He stepped forward, accepting his fate and expecting
another unpleasant trip down the pensieve, yet as soon as he faced Snape’s piercing
stare, he felt that annoying, probing invasion. Without any warning! That’s
not fair! Bloody cheat!
Snape smirked. A flash of Cedric’s body lying on the cemetery grass was dragged
up from the depths of his memories, vivid down to the last painful detail. Ooh,
poor Potter, the already familiar mental whisper taunted snidely, did you
expect the Dark Lord to play fair?
How is he, by the way? Harry taunted right back. Did he give
you detention for being late?
But Snape’s mental voice was triumphant as he replied, Responding to provocation
will only allow me in deeper. No matter how Harry struggled against it, the
flashes and noise of Diagon Alley rose from the depths of his memory. The winding
streets and the sunlit shop windows; the world seemed to shine again like the
Wizarding marketplace as Harry, Ron, and Hermione, strolled down the street, delighted
after their first victory.
“Disappeared? Rubbish!” the broad-shouldered bloke at the door of
Quality Quidditch Supplies declared heartily. In the afternoon light, his sunburned
bald head shone like a polished quaffle. “All last summer, he talked about taking
a holiday, spending some time with his family. Son, I think.”
“Do you know where he might’ve gone then?” Harry ogled the Cleansweep Thirteen:
Dirty Dozen advert in the window.
“Old family property, I reckon. Wandwood Glade. The Spanish oak for the Cleansweep
line all comes from there.”
“Thank you. Come on,” Hermione elbowed Ron and dragged them both across the
“A pleasure, miss,” the man beamed after her. “Do come back.”
“Oi, wait!” Harry protested. “We didn’t even get to go in!”
“Harry, something’s very wrong – and would you forget Quidditch for one second!
– Ollivander hasn’t got any children.”
“Yeah,” said Ron. “I doubt they made many improvements since their last release
– mind you, there isn’t much to improve, the Cleansweep Eleven’s perfection!
Er, I mean,” he glanced at Hermione, “Dad always said he was the last Ollivander
in the long Wizarding line. We oughtta look into it.”
“Wandwood Glade, then,” Harry said. “Shouldn’t be too hard to find.” Who’d’ve
thought, with school closed, this is almost like taking a term-long holiday.
All that’s missing is a Florean Fortescue’s famous sundae. He stared longingly
at the boarded-up windows of the ice-cream parlour.
“Might be even easier to find that place on a new broom!” Ron chimed in. “OW!
Hermione, what’d you do that for?”
Harry laughed at his friends, but then a dark, taunting voice broke his carefree
reminiscence into a million shards.
Still treating life like a game of Quidditch, I see. And Harry was back
then, back in the hall at Grimmauld: scrambling up from his knees just like he
had in Snape’s dungeon in fifth year. Snape pressed deeper and Harry was a moth,
pinned down for study.
He gritted his teeth. With all the mental defences he had, Harry shoved. Sod
off! “Occlumens!” he hissed aloud like an insult.
Snape just snorted and slid his slimy thought tentacles deeper inside Harry’s
mind, and no matter how much Harry didn’t want to think exactly what Snape wanted
him to think, that particular memory overwhelmed his senses like a flood. The
crisp, earthy smell of Wandwood Glade’s branches, the creak of the open door leading
into the dusty shack, the bowtruckles buzzing from the treetops against the night
The wand glistened in the moonlight. Carved with runes, it looked
almost as brittle and sharp as the bowtruckle corpses strewn in a wide ring
around it. Several still twitched.
“Just look at this! Is it… Rowena’s?” Hermione reached past the twiggy bowtruckles.
“A Founder’s wand, here! Imagine that!”
“Maybe we shouldn’t…” Harry intervened. Who knows what happened here. Even
the forester’s hut is empty. Only this one wand’s left out on the table.
The dead bowtruckles’ limbs stuck out at unnatural angles, like broken twigs.
Something was terribly wrong. “Wait! Let me handle this part.”
“No offence, Harry, but I think a Ravenclaw wand needs a more… bookish touch!”
Hermione stared, mesmerised by the relic. “How fascinating: all those sigils.”
“Then let’s all try, the three of us together!”
“Harry!” Ron pointed somewhere past him. His face went pale. “Look!”
Harry spun. Ollivander was standing in the doorway: watery, moonlight eyes shone
from a face as worn as oaken bark. His arms were outstretched like a bird’s
wings protecting its young. When he raised his wand, hundreds more slid out
of wand cases lining the walls all around them. Moving as one, they trained
themselves on Harry, surrounding him, as menacing as stakes pointed at a vampire.
Instinctively Harry stepped between their attacker and his friends. “Get the
Horcrux,” he hissed at them. Ollivander’s eyes went as wide as an owl’s.
Harry didn’t get a chance to see if Hermione took the wand. Branches of every
wand wood imaginable – holly and yew, cherry and willow, ash and elm, ebony
and birch – reached down from the log-covered ceiling like anacondas. They whisked
Harry off his feet and upside down, coiling around him all in an instant as
if intent on making him the core of one gigantic wand. They trussed him so tightly
that he could barely breathe, much less raise his own wand. He dangled in midair,
helpless to do anything but watch the scene unfold below.
He was just as helpless here with Snape, and just as before no spells came to
mind, only a mindless litany of getoutGetOutGETOUT! And suddenly Snape’s
presence was gone: in the world outside their minds, he stumbled back, as if he’d
been physically shoved.
Harry fell to his knees. But still, he raised his head with a defiant glare. Whew!
“Stay out of my head!”
“Pathetic,” Snape sneered.
“Pathetic?” Harry roared. “Kicked you out, didn’t I? So who’s the
‘pathetic’ one now?”
“Pathetic…” Snape repeated pointedly, “is your constant habit of not paying
attention! Ollivander’s older than dirt! Your reflexes have to be faster
than his! Once is sloppy, twice is a pattern of error, and that’s suicidal!”
The words stung. Perhaps because Snape wasn’t telling Harry a damn thing he hadn’t
already told himself, over and over again. “We’re still alive!” he flung back,
which was the only way nowadays that he could silence his conscience long enough
“Yes,” Snape stated bluntly. “Only now both of your friends are squibs, all because
you behaved like a careless cretin.”
Smug prick! Where the fuck does he get off, breaking into my mind and then
slagging off at me like that? He wasn’t even there when it happened! “You
think you know everything, you bastard, but you DON’T! It WASN’T my fault!”
“I know one thing: we’ll have to rid you of that unfortunate weakness before it
kills you. Hexumbrae!” Snape hissed the unfamiliar incantation quickly
and then there were shadows: six of them, rising all around Harry in a circle. The shadows
grew and gained form: Snape’s billowing robes and his pale features. Each one
glared at Harry. “You need to learn to focus on the right target.”
The shadowy figures slid and wove and stalked around him and in a moment Harry
had lost track of the real Snape in the prowling crowd. “How’s that supposed to
“Stop whining and focus,” one of them sneered. Harry spun around trying to figure
out which one of them spoke, but they all spun like a kaleidoscope in front of
him. “Seven targets, only one is real,” they said in unison, drawing their wands.
“Figure it out.”
Spells of different colours and brightness went off at once. Harry ducked. Four
hit the ground around his feet. Two went over his head. One hit his wand hand
and went right through it. An illusion! Yet Harry almost dropped his wand.
“Next time I won’t miss on purpose.”
Ohshit, which one of them said that? One Snape’s more than enough to deal with.
Seven of them? The world’s not ready!
“Come on! Do you think you can fight the Dark Lord by spinning around and making
faces like a gibbering idiot? A mere squib could do better than this!”
Harry glared at the seven identical figures and clenched his fists. He’s mental!
He’ll kill the pair of us, trying to teach things that can’t be taught. Ever
since his first year, Harry’d thought Snape was a horrible git. That certainly
hadn’t changed. In fact, in this Place, where nearly everything reminded Harry
of Sirius, he seemed to feel a new depth of hatred: hotter, more prickly and personal.
He wanted so bad to march up to Snape, shove his wand in that ugly mug and say
the Killing Curse with less remorse than swatting a fly; only there were seven
of the bastard and they all circled Harry, surrounding him with identical sneers.
No way to tell which is real. “Give it your best shot. Now!” all seven
Snape’s face collided with something solid and as heavy as the impact of a falling
brick. He felt his nose crunch and, it seemed, indent itself through his skull,
smashed with brute force. His vision flashed brilliantly white and went dark.
Dull, throbbing pain flooded his brain; there was a blood-red blur behind his
eyelids and a piercing ringing in his ears.
He gasped for air. His nose felt as if it’d swelled up twice the size in seconds.
Snape blinked and forced his eyes to stay open, just to make sure that there wasn’t
a second blow coming any time soon.
Potter stood there gaping at the illusionary doubles as they dissipated one by
“This,” Snape inquired waspishly as he waved the blood away with a nonverbal
Tergeo, “is your brilliant tactic for defeating the Dark Lord?”
Crass little sod! He gave Potter yet another cold glare.
“Yeah! And why not?” the brat replied with smug satisfaction. “Like you said,
he won’t play fair. He’d mind read any hex coming a mile away, but maybe he’d
be so busy watching for curses, he’d miss me punching him in the face!”
Amateur. Fortunately it was far from the first time – and it almost certainly
wouldn’t be the last – that Snape had a broken nose to deal with. He waved his
wand and muttered three rapid-fire charms. The first one reset the bones, with
a wrench that was every bit as bad as the initial blow, and the second dulled
the pain somewhat. Both were strictly temporary stopgaps, until he could dose
himself with healing and pain-relieving potions in private, out from under Potter’s
overly judgemental eye. The third charm was a glamour to hide any swelling or
bruising that might show between now and whenever he might eventually manage that
moment in private.
The joint result, however, did look like an instant healing charm: pretty impressive
for someone like Potter who surely wouldn’t know any better. He stood up, as dignified
as he could manage, and squared his shoulders, refusing to succumb to Potter’s
crude provocations. “Potter the Pugilist,” Snape spat. “At least the alliteration
lends itself to an Heroic Title.” He studied Potter narrowly, reading his expression
without quite crossing the line into covert Legilimency. “How did you identify
who to hit?”
Potter rubbed his knuckles with a wince. “Lucky guess.” Unlucky’s more
like it, his glare added mutely.
“The Wizarding World really ought to have a backup plan. At this rate, all the
Felix Felicis in the world won’t help you defeat the Dark Lord.”
“It wasn’t all luck.” Potter narrowed his eyes.
“Then what was it?”
“They were all…” he waved his hands. “Lifeless, like shadows. But your cloak billowed.
And that bloody chemical smell. Like the Potions classroom. Ugh.”
Perhaps the lesson wasn’t a complete failure, after all. Snape’s own nose,
unable to detect any scent at the moment, nonetheless felt better.
“And then I looked around again, and your nose stuck out just the right way. I
wanted to punch yours the most.”
Smug whelp. “Marginally acceptable. However, hit me again, and you’ll
end up with far worse than bloody knuckles.”
“Fine,” Potter mumbled, gaze falling from Snape to his hand; he flexed his swollen
fingers. “What the hell did you do, stuff a brick up your nose?”
Something about Potter’s right hand seemed wrong. “Let me see.”
“Your hand. Show it to me.” Snape seized his wrist and turned it.
“Oi, what the hell? Lemme go!”
At a first glance the nitwit’s hand looked as normal as a starved scarecrow ever
could look. An old scratch stretched from wrist to palm across the – as Snape
looked closer his heart sank – life line which wasn’t there.
Divination might never have been Snape’s strong suit, but he knew enough to know
this was Trouble With A Capital Fuck. He drew an unsteady breath. “Give me your
other hand. Now!”
“What is it?” Harry asked, worry ringing through his frustration.
On Potter’s left hand, the life line stood out wide and long, curving into the
pulse point. Snape compared the two. The right palm looked empty, only the scratch
against the smooth skin. “When did you get this?”
“Oh that,” Potter shrugged. “S’nothing. Just a scratch. Almost gone by now. What’d
you think it was?”
“Nothing,” Snape muttered.
“Whew!” Potter breathed. “From the look on your face, I thought I’d caught the
plague, or leprosy or something. Could you not… look like that any more? And
can I have my hands back now?”
Snape fought the impulse to smack the brat upside the head, just to see if his
skull really was empty enough to echo. Instead, he lifted both of Potter’s
hands, palms up. “Your life line.” he informed Potter, slowly and clearly enough
that even he should understand, “Is. Missing.”
“…What?” Potter squinted. Blinked. “Wow!” he finally said, flexing his hand. “You’re
right! Now you mention it, it does look weird. Doesn’t feel weird though. Why’d
it vanish like that?”
Oh, just brilliant. Even Legilimencing the idiot won’t tell me anything, if
he doesn’t even know what happened. Snape traced the line – or the smoothed
out skin where it should be – with his wandtip. “Finite incantatem,” he
grumbled without hope, and eyed the lack of change without surprise. “I’d say,
because of a Curse: something potent enough to affect you directly. When did it
Potter’s face turned white. “Y’mean, like a Horcrux Curse. Like from the cup.
C-cirrhosis?” His eyes were wide, his palm shook.
“Much stronger,” Snape examined the palm again. “Enough to change the course of
your entire life. And cast subtly enough to go unnoticed. How did you get this
Mutely, Potter stuck his hand in his pocket. He brought his fist up, then opened
it to reveal a key of heavy bronze, fitting into the hollow of his palm like a
keyhole. Snape looked closer: it was really only the handle of a key, broken off
mid-shank. The design of the handle was distinctive, an ornate ‘G’. It was an
all-too-familiar sight to Snape, even after all the years that had passed since
the last time he’d seen it: in Wormtail’s hand (ironically, the same hand the rat would
later sacrifice in another offering to the Dark Lord).
“No, please! NO! My lord,” Wormtail cringed. “I bring you a gift.
A key, to the house where your enemies hide. In Godric’s Hollow.”
Voldemort’s eyes flickered as he examined the offered object. “Something of
Gryffindor. I give you another chance and this is how you repay me?”
Wormtail desperately tried to occupy even less space.
“Get him Marked and get him out of my sight!”
Instinctively Snape pulled back, wary of touching the object Potter held so trustingly.
“There.” Potter said, gravely. “It scratched me when it broke. And yeah, it was
a Horcrux! Satisfied?”
Calm. Be calm. Focus. The Horcrux is broken, though how the whelp managed that
is beyond me. Broken, yes, but will it break him in turn? No wonder he’s been
looking half-starved and half-mad lately, even for a scrawny whelp like him.
He examined Potter critically. Lifeless eyes that had almost lost their colour.
Pallid skin. Nervous and easily irritated. Snape pinched the bridge of his nose
to ward off the headache he could feel building. “And you’ve only informed me
of this NOW after how long?”
“Look!” Potter waved his arms. “I didn’t know! But now I do, and you do. So tell
me how to fix it.”
Potter, you bloody idiot! “You can’t.”
Potter scowled like a firstie denied a chocolate frog. “So that’s your brilliant
advice, is it? Just give UP?”
“I said you can’t fix it,” Snape corrected him calmly. “Curses like this
one sink their claws too deep. You’ll have to fight it, every day of your life.”
Worry – almost an intelligent reaction, for once – flickered in Potter’s glare.
“What happens then?”
“Eventually, you’ll get tired of fighting it, and ‘give up’.” Dumbledore’s
blackened hand came to mind too easily. “And then you’ll die.”
“Well, that solves everything,” Potter sneered, his face pale. “Is that
what you told Dumbledore too?”
“Dumbledore did a damn sight better job fighting than a loudmouthed, arrogant brat
like… Potter!” The boy staggered as if Snape’s harsh words had been physical blows.
His legs juddered under him; before they could fold completely, Snape seized him
by the upper arms, tried to haul him back onto his feet.
“Let go!” Potter exploded, stumbling out through the door. “Y’know what? Get out!
NOW! I don’t want you here.”
Odds are the curse won’t kill him after all. I might just do him myself.
The portraits in the corridor cringed as Harry slammed the door. “It’s all his bloody fault! I never should’ve listened to him to begin with!”
He stormed down the corridor at full speed, and by the time he rounded a corner and
saw the row of candles waiting for him, it was too late. He tripped over one and
sent it flying, into a corner with a mouldy tapestry. It immediately began smoking
where the flame hit.
“Fuck!” Harry snarled. “I oughtta snuff the lot of you before you burn the whole
Place down!” He rushed forward to smother the flames with his sleeve before they
really caught hold.
The flock of candles cowered in the corner, accepting the shaking, thrown one
into their midst. They heaved a deep sigh in unison, and one by one dimmed their
lights and stilled.
“Wait!” Harry cried. “I didn’t mean that!”
The candles didn’t respond, turning stiff and still as their wax cooled.
He retreated into Sirius’ room. Even now – when the whole Place turned grimmer and felt
older than usual – in this one room it was as if a shadow of Snuffles loomed right
before the doorway, keeping everything bad out. Harry pictured him, all bared
teeth and growls, lunging and biting Snape, and it left him satisfied.
It’s all Snape’s fault. The spying, lying, slimy bastard showed up here all
‘perfectly normal’ and convincing, and somehow he slipped back into teaching as
if I was still at school. Only he taught me loads more than he ever did at school
and somehow he lulled me into thinking that things’ll work out OK, and I should’ve
known better than to trust him like that! Should’ve known he had something
up his sleeve from the start. Something bad. Like this. Should’ve known he was
just waiting for me to let down my guard.
It’s so bloody frustrating! At Hogwarts there was always someone who knew just
what to do: Ron and Hermione, the Professors, the Order. I could always run up
to the gargoyle statue and Dumbledore’d be there. Harry smiled a bit
as he remembered Dumbledore and his warm, well-lit office with Fawkes, tea and
sweets, and all the answers to Harry’s uncertainties. But his smile faded almost
at once. Not anymore. Now there’s only Snape and the candles. But I’ve scared
off the candles and I told Snape to get out.
When the door slammed shut, Sirius’ bedroom felt just like the cupboard at the
Dursleys’. Harry didn’t have any light. He had his wand, but casting Lumos
just seemed like too much effort. Instead he climbed onto the windowsill and stared
down into the dark street below. Every crack in the old wood creaked. White chips
of peeling paint stuck to his hands and trousers. He sat on the grimy windowsill
and looked outside over the roofs and the narrow streets where only the streetlamps
marked the way. Occasionally a car went by: a Muggle car on a Muggle road with
its unsuspecting Muggle driver. I might’ve been better off as one of them.
But then I never would’ve met Ron or Hermione.
But the way things turned out, they would’ve been better off without knowing me.
No, I didn’t mean that! I can’t have. I miss them. I hope they know how sorry
I am. Harry wanted them so desperately: Ron’s friendly slap on the shoulder,
Hermione’s warm, soft hugs. They’d chase the chill of this Place away.
But that’ll never happen. Harry sighed. All I’ve got is this old dump, and
things’ll never be the same again with Ron and Hermione. All because of that damned
Horcrux at Wandwood Glade and it wasn’t my fault! Snape’s wrong! He doesn’t know
anything! He wasn’t even there! I was! I’ll never forget how it went…
“Don’t touch it!” Ron had yelled at Hermione. “What if…”
“I know what I’m doing,” she’d cried, “Let go…”
Ron had tried to take the wand from Hermione before she could be hurt. “No,
you let go! Fuck, it’s burning!”
Harry, suspended at the ceiling in a cocoon of branches, had seen it first: on
the moonlit wall, from their joined shadows, another shadow had arisen. In the
Glade, the tick-tock rattle of live bowtruckle swarms had faded into a deafening
silence. And the shadow had grown taller and more distinct, until it had taken
on a familiar, frightening form.
There was Ron’s muffled groan, Hermione’s strained breathing, but they seemed
to be in a trance as the shadow broke away from the wall and gained form and
flesh. That horrible, handsome face was impossible to forget, though Harry had
only seen it once before in person. Tom Riddle stepped forward.
Harry wanted to scream at his friends to do something but there was a branch
between his teeth along with a mouthful of oak leaves. Ron and Hermione’s faces
were pale and frozen, almost like Ginny’s in the Chamber. They still held onto
the Ravenclaw wand.
“Tom,” Ollivander murmured from the corner, his owlish glare absolutely wild.
“I know… son, I know how much you want to live again. But not like this, not
Riddle tilted his head toward Ollivander with all the fascination of a spider
watching a fly.
“Through me,” Ollivander continued, “You promised. You were… I’ve never
met anyone else with such craving for life, such power, such potential for greatness,”
the old man’s voice was soothing, lullaby-soft. “And you deserve it all. Take
There was a spark of interest in Riddle’s eyes, an odd thrill on his face. “Say
‘please’,” he hissed.
Ollivander’s form grew tense and for a moment Harry wasn’t certain if he’d lunge
or scream like a lunatic. Then his lips barely moved. “Please, Tom.”
“Ahhh. Right then.” Riddle shook his head, smiling like a child who’d been given
a long-desired toy for his birthday. “Anything you ask…” He lifted his hands
to grip Ollivander’s shoulders and leaned in, resting his forehead against Ollivander’s
chest like a boy nestled against his father. “Fool… you sentimental old fool!
Don’t you understand?” Riddle looked up so suddenly, Ollivander’s gnarled
hand twitched where it lay, cradling the back of Riddle’s dark head. “I don’t
want to harm you, you stubborn old man!” Riddle cried sharply, shaking
him. “I never did! But then you beg me so sweetly, I have no choice!”
Tom fixed Ollivander with a maddened, wild stare.
Ollivander’s gaze was soft with sorrow. “Hush, son,” he murmured tenderly, drawing
Riddle’s head back down to rest on his shoulder. “Nothing to be afraid of,”
he sighed. “It’s only death.”
And with that, Ollivander’s pleading gaze settled on Hermione’s shocked one,
over the top of Riddle’s bent head. ‘Break him!’ he mouthed silently.
‘Sacrifice,’ Snape had said. Is that what it takes to break a Horcrux as well
as make one? Harry had stabbed Riddle’s diary with the fang of a dead basilisk,
the first time he’d intentionally, deliberately killed another living thing. It
was all about giving away something large, important, precious. Ron and Hermione
gave away their magic. Snape took a life. What did Dumbledore give up to break
the Gaunts’ ring? What did I give up, when I broke the key at Godric’s Hollow?
Harry concentrated, and to his horror, realised that he did not know. He only
knew that something important had slipped away; he hadn’t even noticed
when it had happened, but without it he felt empty and alone. The only company
he could count on was Grimmauld Place and the collection of broken relics in his
pocket. He clung to them and counted them in turn. The fake locket: its chain
tangled in Dumbledore’s ring. No wand pieces, Hermione kept those. The key from
Godric’s Hollow. He didn’t have to guess whose hand had placed it into the keyhole
last. What better way to break the Fidelius charm than the key to the house?
This key must’ve led Voldemort right to Mum and Dad. All he’d’ve needed then after
he got into the house was a final sacrifice to make this thing into a Horcrux.
And everyone, even Dumbledore, was so occupied with saving me, they never even
noticed that key in the door.
What did the key take from me when it broke? What curse did it leave me with
instead? Harry was too scared to guess.
“The bastard’s gotta be wrong!” Harry whispered, staring at the ornate handle.
“We destroyed you, didn’t we? And no one had to die. Soon it’ll all be over, I’ll
break the last of you and then I’ll kill Voldemort and I’ll never have to see
He sat in the dark for a long time, until he heard a movement, then saw a ray
of light stretching up from the keyhole and the same flickering light underneath
“Snape?” Maybe he hasn’t left yet. But all was silent.
When he opened the door, a single candle – its flame tremulous and wan – was waiting
for him in the middle of the dark hallway.
Never before had a candle looked so good. Harry beamed and opened the door wider,
welcoming it in. The candle toddled closer to Harry, its flame brightening, and
at that, another six hurried in from the hallway, all rushing through Harry’s
door like a flock of ducklings to their mum.
Harry ran his fingers over their flickering flames, petting them, just as he’d
seen Dumbledore do so many times before. And as he did so, the inevitability and
the loneliness that seemed to have taken over his life retreated back into the
shadows, if only for a little while, until the candles dimmed again one by one.
Hermione stared at the Horcrux in her hand as if it was that and not
her palm that bled. Ron sprawled lifelessly on the table, yet he still stubbornly
held onto the wand with his last strength.
“Break it!” she whispered.
“I’m trying. How?”
But Ollivander only stared blankly past her. In Riddle’s embrace he turned as
pale and non-existent as a shadow, as the spectres of Cedric and Harry’s parents
that came out of Voldemort’s wand after Priori Incantatem. Tom held him
up now, the shine of life in his eyes and the tint of blood in his skin. Blind
and deaf to everything else, he stared aghast at the body in his arms: a young
viper, faced for the first time with what his venom has done.
“How do we break it?” Hermione breathed, her face pale, resolute.
Ron’s other hand closed on the wand tip and his arms tensed. And then, with
the sickening crack of a breaking bone, the wand snapped in two.
Frozen, Harry heard Riddle’s forlorn wail, watched the filaments of raven-black
feather falling out of the two broken halves, twirling on the breeze and gone,
disintegrating to dust. Wind sprung up in their wake: stronger, wilder, coiling
in a whirlwind around Riddle and Ollivander. The gale was so strong it made
Harry’s eyes water; he could hardly breathe for its suffocating force. Harry
looked on, helpless to do otherwise, as first Riddle, then Ollivander with him
became more and more insubstantial, as if they were being swept away by that
wind out of reality. It was as if Harry was hanging onto the edge of a cliff,
watching the two of them fall forever, dwindling down and away, plummeting to
their deaths. Dizzying to watch. There one moment and gone the next.
Harry didn’t know how long he continued to stare in shock, after the whirlwind
had finally died.
“That’s it? All we had to do to break it was… break it?” Hermione stared
in disbelief at the snapped half of the wand in her hand.
“You tell me, Miss Know-it-all.” Ron examined his burned hand, then his half
of the broken wand. “Ow! I’ve got a feeling we really shouldn’t spellotape this
It’s finally over. Harry thought. It’s all over. Hermione let
out an unsure chuckle, then tossed her half of the wand on the table and pursed
her lips. “Ron, you really are an idiot.” She took a step closer then simply
lunged at him, hugging hard. “Such an idiot.”
Ron froze, pale and shaking, almost looking more scared of her than he’d been
of Riddle. Awkwardly he reached out to pat her shoulder. “Y’meant idiot in a
good way, right?”
Harry spat out a mouthful of oak bark and sap, and asked in a still-somewhat
muffled voice, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but will someone get me down from
Ron and Hermione chuckled in unison, “Finite Incantatem!”
Dread spiked cold through Harry’s chest at that moment.
It hadn’t really stopped since.
Harry roamed Grimmauld until all of its doorways and staircases and hidey-holes
seemed like one giant funhouse with mirrors and spooky things lurking in the dark,
spinning like a merry-go-round. As if stumbling into a newfound exit, he found
his way back to stillness, in the hall with the tapestry and the sleeping portraits.
Harry sat, then moved into the corner, keeping still so he wouldn’t disturb the
walls into spinning again. He leaned against something soft and fuzzy with dust.
Tapestry… The Ancient House of Black… The Old Black House… The Grimmauld Black
If I sit here, how long will it take till Grimmauld thinks I’m a part of it, like
those names on the wall? Maybe they had the right idea, keeping track of family
like that: all on one tapestry. All in one place. This Grimmauld Place. He
grabbed a handful of old cloth and yanked. The tapestry fell off its hooks, wrapping
itself round Harry’s shoulders, cloaking him in Black-ness, as if accepting him
into something bigger than himself, something tangled as a spider web. But it
didn’t feel nice at all, not like Harry had hoped it would. It was sinister, heavy,
and unpleasantly sticky with cobwebs. Harry pictured himself, years later, a captured
fly, still swathed in the Black tapestry like a shroud. A skeleton with Grimmauld’s
cobwebs for hair, empty eyesockets staring off into nowhere through dust-covered
glasses. The tapestry smelt of dust and smoke, but at least it was warm.
He fell asleep there, or thought he did. Maybe he just lost track of time.
A voice startled him.
He stared at black boots in a rectangle of morning light.
Little boy blue, come blow your horn,
The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.
Where is the boy who looks after the sheep?
Under the haystack, fast asleep.
“Potter,” a voice barked from somewhere above him, “What the hell are you
“Thinking.” He was cold and tired and just wanted to sleep. He wrapped the tapestry
tighter around himself, stirring up a cloud of dust motes. “Go’way!”
The pointed toe of a shiny black boot nudged at the edge of Harry’s tapestry cocoon.
“Have you discovered a new fashion?”
“S’not fashion. S’family. Grandfathers, godfathers.” Harry squinted at
the names woven over his shoulder, then he poked his finger through the singed
hole Sirius had left in the fabric of the family, and pointed at someone else.
“Charlus Potter,” he read. “Y’think he’s my great-great-great-grand… something?”
He thought again, putting the dates together and guessed pensively. “Maybe not
all that ‘great’. Probably ‘great’ just once.”
“My Gran’s brother is on that tapestry.” Snape said carefully. “I believe you
were drooling on him just now.”
“Oh,” Harry said. “Sorry.”
“He despised Gran, and my mother by default. I never met him.” Snape bent down,
and for some reason tilted Harry’s head up, turned it right and left, touched
Harry’s forehead. His hands were too rough and quick. Harry batted them away,
or tried to.
“Has Gran got a name, b’sides ‘Gran’?” Harry asked around a thick, sluggish tongue.
He eyed a sallow finger that for some reason moved right and left in front of
“Yes,” Snape gave an odd huff; it almost sounded like he was laughing. “Elphaba.
Went a bit kinky in her old age: developed a thing for flying monkeys.”
“Really?” Harry’s head poked out a bit further from the tapestry: he looked up
and around, like a wary turtle peering out of its shell. “Monkeys? Where?”
Snape sighed. “What year is it?”
Harry frowned at the dates on the tapestry. “This one?” he guessed, pointing at
the number below another singed hole. “Or that?”
He didn’t have a chance to point out any more years, because Snape hauled him
to his feet, yanked the tapestry off him, and shook him roughly. “Wake up!”
he commanded. “If you’ve got pissed just a week after your liver survived a terrible
strain, then Merlin help you!”
“Not a drop.”
“Then you’ve no excuse!” Harry made a protesting noise – it was too much effort
to whinge in words – but Snape was already frogmarching him to the nearest window
in the hall. “I am tired of your constant idiocy!”
Snape ripped the curtains angrily aside with the hand not holding Harry up, and
Harry thought for a moment that Snape was going to pick him up off his feet and
chuck him straight through the window and out onto the street, but Snape only
nudged him forward into the window niche. The ground spun under Harry’s feet.
Shaky from being curled up so long, Harry looked out the window and it was dark
outside and there was a ghost looking in. “M’I dying?” Harry asked Snape or the
ghost or simply the cold night air. His voice was detached; the question didn’t
feel particularly important. The ghost was all pale and wispy and skinny. Weird,
the thought trudged wearily through Harry’s mind, why’s a ghost haunting the
outside; shouldn’t it be inside the house?
“No, you’re not dying just yet,” Snape drawled, before asking “When was
the last time you ate?”
“Dunno. Tea time?” Tea at Snape’s place stood out the clearest. But that was
ages ago. I think. “M’not hungry.”
“If you’re planning to lock yourself away here for the rest of your life, you’ve
chosen a dangerous crypt.”
“Don’t insult m’house! It hates greasy gits already.” Harry protested, staring
at the window some more. The ghost in it had a familiar key on a chain around
his neck. That key. What’s a ghost doing with my key?
Bloody hell, it’s not a ghost! It’s not even a window. Must’ve swapped places
with a mirror when I wasn’t looking. Or maybe not, because what it reflected
back looked even worse than the distortion he’d seen in Snape’s pensieve. Can’t
be me! He squinted. The reflection’s eyes, dulled to an almost-blind looking
grey, squinted back out of bruise-dark sockets.
“Is this what you want?” Snape, a mere shadow standing behind him, whispered into
Harry’s ear. Oddly, the brush of warm breath ruffling his hair was the only bit
of warmth Harry could feel, outside himself or in. “Do you want to waste your
life? To waste away?” Harry stared into the mirror, mesmerised. Shocked to the
core. “To stay trapped in here, and haunt this Place until it’s dust, and
never ever leave?”
Oh God, Harry thought. M’paler than the Git! How’d this? How’d I… is
that really me?
Snape went away; then he was back, rain dripping off the point of his nose. Or
maybe Snape was really a storm who looked like a man: robed in black clouds that
billowed with blustery winds, with eyes cold as sleet and a distant-thunder grumble
of a voice. He even smelled of lightning, as well as something earthier, wetter.
Harry inhaled the rusty reek of the damp smears on Snape’s black sleeves. Were those
stains there before? Harry shrugged inwardly. Probably the Death Eaters’
idea of a party. Or maybe Snape dissects Muggles in his spare time, and
boils them up in his cauldron for soup. The front door shut the storm out
with a bang, but the storm was still inside anyway, on Snape’s face and in his
eyes; all over him, except for a bag that, Harry suddenly realised, smelled of
garlic and spices. Like takeaway from the Chinese place up the road, and even
though Harry didn’t much care for thunderstorms, he really liked the way the takeaway
smelled. So Harry followed that bag downstairs into the below-ground kitchen:
a place he usually visited as little as possible.
A warm container of soup was thrust into his hands, his cupped hands were lifted
and, Honestly! M’not a toddler! “Lemme ‘lone! Can do it m’self!”
“Fine,” Snape snorted.
Harry tried to drink it. It was hot and sticky and the carrots got in the way
and tickled the bridge of his nose. The world turned watery and fuzzy for a second
but then he took his glasses off, and he could see better again. He was quite
proud of himself for that discovery.
Snape stood in the middle of the kitchen. “Expecto Patronum,” he muttered.
Fawkes, but a ghost, flared to life from the tip of his wand like a flame from
a match. S’pretty, Harry thought, staring. Fire. We should make some
“Felis.” Snape whispered to the ghostly shape. “Thirteen. Seventy-four. Forty-nine.
Ninety-seven. Eleven. Six.” The fire-bird nodded and spread its wings, soaring
away through the ceiling, leaving them in the dark. Harry wanted the fire back,
but Snape just charmed his robes clean.
Harry stared at the ceiling. “Fawkes left,” he said, ‘cause it was too hard to ask all the questions in his head.
Snape eyed him. “Yes.”
“Why’d y’chase him off? Call him back.”
“Tomorrow,” Snape said carefully. “He has a job to do.”
“OK,” Harry agreed. “Promise?”
Snape nodded, and he didn’t look quite so much like a storm anymore.
“Ah,” Harry nodded. Somehow that made sense. “Thirteen?”
“Number of new initiates this month.”
“A Death Eater vault at Gringotts.”
Snape hmphed. “If I told you anything else, I’d have to Obliviate you, so what
would be the point of explaining it to you?”
“S’OK,” Harry said, just to have the last word. “Don’t wanna r’member.”
Snape didn’t reply.
The walls whirled like a mad merry-go-round and the ceiling either stretched insanely
wide or shrunk to a size of a cupboard, but at least he could focus on random
things again and comprehend where he was without his vision blacking out. If Harry
squinted and looked directly above the kitchen door, he could just barely make
out a scorched stain on the ceiling that looked like smoke damage. He waved
his wand at it and said “Evanesco,” but it only crackled back menacingly like
all nasty curse residues. There was plenty of it in the kitchen walls too, along
with a sooty child’s handprint that reappeared every time it was wiped off the
hearth and pumpkin juice stains on the window, but those stains were all shapeless.
The one on the ceiling – Harry tilted his head to make out its shape and gasped
in horror – was the profile of a long-eared house-elf, complete with a chef’s
hat and stirring spoon, his limbs all askew.
“That’ss what Ssizzly got for sstirring Master’s potion like it was jusst another
sstew,” a snake-handled ladle hissed in explanation, giving Harry a mournful silver
stare. He almost dropped it back in the drawer.
“Honestly Potter,” Snape told him, “If you can’t pay attention to a kitchen utensil
that large, the Wizarding world is doomed. Focus!”
Can too! Harry thought about asking Snape to stun the ladle first but that
was too much bother to explain, so he just dipped the entire ladle into his soup
– it was an awkward fit into the small container – and slurped from the ladle’s
bowl, just to prove to the greasy git that he could pay attention.
He hadn’t even known how hungry he was until he’d eaten a bit and then eaten some
more. Snape perched at the counter the whole time and picked crossly at his share
with a silver fork engraved with the Black family crest. For all his complaints
about Harry, Snape didn’t eat enough to feed a bird. Obviously, he was a vampire
who hoarded a large supply of Muggle blood in his Potions stores and slept hanging
by his toes from the rafters, or so the school rumours went. But then, vampires
didn’t bring people garlicky takeaway.
Snape was in the worst mood, takeaway or not. He glared as if the world and the
weather and the state of his robes and the cold and rainy drippiness of his hair
were all Harry’s fault, but the food was warm and better than something Harry
could make out of the preserves and stale grains stored in the kitchen cupboards,
even with the ladle’s instructions. And if Snape didn’t talk and didn’t move,
it was easier to ignore him altogether and then Harry could pretend that he’d
finished at Hogwarts long ago and just turned forty and had lived alone at Grimmauld
for years, sitting at the rickety kitchen table and eating Chinese takeaway all
his life. He could pretend that everything else – like Voldemort or Snape or Dark
Curses or Horcruxes – simply hadn’t happened.
Somewhere far away someone was calling him. “Potter!” He swatted at the sound
like at the fly.
“S’OK. I dunno,” he grumbled. “Do you?” he asked the ladle.
“How ssweet,” it hissed, coiling around his wrist. “Losst ssoul, like the Missstress.”
Snape grabbed the ladle and took it away before Harry could ask it what it meant.
The blanket covering him was all wrong; Harry wanted the tapestry back. It was
heavy and he liked the dusty smell of it and the feel of embroidered names under
his fingertips. He ran his palm over the blanket and pretended it had the names
of family on it. It worked a bit and he burrowed further into its warmth.
The voice coming from the bottom of the stairway wasn’t Snape’s. It was feminine,
soft and pleasant. Harry poked his head up over the arm of the downstairs sofa.
It was Mrs. Black and she wasn’t cursing or yelling at all. She just sounded sad.
“Perhaps it’s time to step out of the shadows and live. Eighteen years is enough
to mourn one man. Even my son,” she said.
“Mourn? I never did.” Snape grumbled.
“Perhaps you should,” the portrait said.
“No.” Mrs. Black said. “But my Regulus is still with me. Bothering me rather often
I should say, all thanks to your efforts in pointing him to my canvas.”
They chatted softly, back and forth. Harry couldn’t hear well but he didn’t want
to lift his head any higher for fear of being discovered. If Snape saw, he’d take
the pretend-tapestry away from Harry too.
Eighteen years. I used to think Snape was a monster, a murderer, a Death Eater.
But now, I don’t know what he is. He’s not a sick bastard like Voldemort’s Death
Eaters, not quite. He’s almost normal. He talks to portraits and he looks at them
like he’s lost something or someone very precious, and they’re the ghosts of it
staring back at him. Monsters aren’t scared of portraits, and they don’t grieve
for portraits either. Maybe he’s just like everyone else. Like me. If I’d spent
eighteen years mourning someone, like the portrait said, would that make me a
lonely bitter sod too?
Snape pulled a thin, loosely braided tress of white hair out of his pocket, carefully
extracted a single strand from it and fed that into the mouth of his hip flask.
Then he raised the flask to Mrs. Black’s portrait as if toasting it, before he
took a sip. Seconds later, ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ took his place. Harry wondered what the
portrait really thought about seeing Snape turn into her niece. Snape cast a charm
that Harry’d never heard before, “Vestimorphus!” and Harry watched as his drab
black robes shrank and brightened and became an elaborate dress.
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ took a few steps. The way she moved reminded Harry of Ron at the
Yule Ball in his formal robes.
“Mind your walk! Stop striding like a man!” the portrait noted dryly. “Your shoes
ought to have a bit of a heel to them. Your buttons are on the wrong side and
you ought to carry a handbag.”
“Blast!” ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ jabbed Snape’s ebony wand irritably at herself, “Sartoreversus!
…How’s this?” she asked in a calmer voice, pacing to and fro in the portrait’s
field of view. One white hand held her skirts up so the hem wouldn’t trail on
the floor; she was walking with a caution that suggested she was trying very hard
not to trip over the newly grown heels.
“Better, but stop swearing. Tsk. Those shoes even sound transfigured. My
new dragonhide shoes ought to be upstairs. Resize them to fit.”
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ left, Harry could hear the steady beat of footsteps rising up the
stairs and fading, and then a few minutes later he heard a more uneven tread coming
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ almost made it to the bottom of the stairs before catching the toe
of one shoe on the lacy hem of her dress. Only a hasty grab at the banister kept
her balance. “Bugger!”
The portrait chuckled. So did Harry.
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ spun around and staggered. “Not a word!” she declared in a tone
that would’ve been much more threatening with Snape’s voice. She eyed the sofa
menacingly and before Harry could even begin to pretend snoring, added, “Both
Harry clapped his hands over his mouth and fought the urge to slide off the sofa
and laugh himself legless.
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ pulled her hair back in a modest bun, like McGonagall’s, and strode
for the door.
“Remember, small steps!” the portrait called after her.
The front door slammed.
“So stubborn, that boy,” Walburga sighed. “Once he makes up his mind, neither
a whip nor a wizard would sway it. Reminds me of myself, only younger, before
I married. But that one’s a true bachelor.” She pursed her lips. “It must be nice
to lead a single life, and not be obliged to keep a husband just to secure a family
Harry nodded, for want of anything polite to say. He didn’t know whether marriage
had improved Mrs. Black’s temper or spoiled it even further. Either way, it was
good that some poor witch wasn’t subjected to Snape’s even more horrid temper.
Imagine being married to Snape! What a nightmare that’d be!
Then he sat and watched a spidery silver instrument sneak out of a gap in the
skirting board and skitter between the table legs toward the drawing room. The
thing was carrying something round and golden on its back.
Harry stood up and walked around, and then he couldn’t find the sofa again. But
that was all right as long as he didn’t trip over and wake up the yeti skin snoring
in the middle of the hall. The creaking stairway’s steps leading from the main
hall to the upper floors were wide enough to be comfortable: even more comfortable
than the library chairs which Harry suspected had some sort of hex on them, ‘cause
no chair could’ve been so uncomfortable on its own. But the stairway had a thick
Persian rug spread over it and if Harry picked exactly the right step and stretched
out his legs it felt just like his bed, especially with the Prince’s book for
a pillow. He spent so much time upstairs anyway he needed a change of scenery,
yet he simply wasn’t interested in walking outside. That’s it, I’m just out
for a walk, only inside Grimmauld instead of outside, and I’m definitely not waiting
for someone – no, not Sirius: that’s impossible, a lost boy’s wish and a crazy
dream from two summers ago – and not Snape: Merlin’s balls, definitely not Snape!
– to come through that door. Not for all the Chinese takeaway in the world! If
I never see him again it’ll be too soon. Though I wouldn’t mind if the Prince
He dozed off at the foot of the stairs after eleven; the Persian rug smelled like
a desert made of all the sand that’d ever escaped from smashed hourglasses.
In his dream Mrs. Malfoy made her way across Knockturn Alley, her
long hair breaking out of the bun and streaming down her back. She was quite
beautiful, and it was wrong – so wrong – to think that way about Malfoy’s mum,
but she was and he couldn’t help it. Maybe cause she wasn’t really a
Malfoy. That was just a shell, Polyjuice. She could be anyone underneath. Why
of all people would Snape choose her to turn into? Why would Snape go to Knockturn
Alley this late, Polyjuiced into a pretty woman? The idea of Snape in a Polyjuice
brothel was completely mental, but by the time Harry tried to convince himself
why, the idea had spawned ten thousand variations of itself in his head.
Harry followed Snape, taking a leaf out of his own book and chasing him under
the cover of Polyjuice. Only the trouble was, he couldn’t quite see who he’d
turned into, he just knew that he’d changed, and it drove him spare until he
caught a glimpse of himself in a grimy shop window and Snape’s hook-nosed face
I should run and hide somewhere, the thought struck him,
‘cause it can’t be safe to be seen with Snape’s face, what with wanted posters
of him all over the Wizarding world. But it was really quite ironic to be
in Snape’s shoes, to try and beat the bastard at his own game as he came face
to face with the actual Snape on the street, and so he did, approaching ‘Mrs.
Pale grey eyes widened as Snape caught Harry’s eye in the crowd. One white eyebrow
arched, but she didn’t have time to say anything else.
“Look,” someone in the crowd between them cried out, “It’s the traitor!”
Apparation pops sounded, rapid as gunfire, and Harry was soon held at multiple
sharp wandpoints. ‘Wait!’ he tried to say, ‘It’s not me! It’s him! Catch him!’
But it was as if he hadn’t said a word: no one listened, they all just glared
at him, getting ready to attack.
Then, slowly, Harry felt himself reverting
back as the Polyjuice stopped working, and it was as if an invisibility cloak
was lowered over him. The Aurors turned away. The crowds in the streets started
walking around him, not paying any attention to Harry standing there.
real Snape still stared straight at Harry, not even blinking, as Polyjuice-pale eyes and hair darkened and
delicate features turned gaunt and sharp. He was the only one who saw Harry. The only one who even knew he existed.
But Snape turned his back on Harry and disappeared into the crowd in a
billow of black robes. Leaving Harry alone. Forever. Just like he’d always wanted.
“Stop!” Harry sprinted after him, his heart pounding desperately. “Wait for me!”
But he was just a second too late.
A pop of Apparation outside roused Harry from his sleep. Seconds later ‘Mrs. Malfoy’s
slender form slid through the front door and made her way to the portrait. Her
hair wasn’t gathered in a bun anymore: instead it spilled all the way down her
back, long and tangled, just like in Harry’s dream. Her cloak was all askew as
if someone has been chasing her.
“Severus! What happened?” the portrait exclaimed in shock. Apparently Snape looked
even worse up close.
Snape arched an aristocratic, thin eyebrow. “You did tell me to live my life to
the fullest,” he rasped, in a voice that wasn’t quite his or Mrs. Malfoy’s. It
sounded like he’d caught a cold. “Excuse me. I’d rather be out of your shoes before
I change back. Potter,” he turned and marched right up to Harry, putting something
cold and horrible to his lips. “Drink.”
Harry gulped, first something bitter, then the air. His brain seemed to clear
just a bit and he remembered things better. ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ stumbling on the stairs
in her high heels, then walking out the door. He made some more wild guesses about
how Snape spent his evening as Mrs. Malfoy, and finally decided that he didn’t
want to know. Then all of a sudden another thought dawned, just as he felt the
running, feathery warmth of the potion spreading down his chest. Where’s the
real Mrs. Malfoy?
He thought of fake Moody. But Snape really didn’t seem the type to keep shrunken
people locked away for a semester like Crouch Junior.
There was only one other explanation. How could I be this thick? Idon’tbelieveit!
“Y’murdered her!” Harry cried, spitting at the aftertaste of bitter muck. Hot Pepper-up
steam tickled his ears and purged the last of the fuzz from his mind. It all
makes sense now!
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ stared at him, just like Snape had when Harry had started talking Parseltongue back in second year. “What?”
“You cut her hair, and now you’re whoring around in her body!” Oh wow!
Harry’s face heated at that thought. Some conspiracy! Through all the shock
and confusion there was one stray thought that spun in his head: Wonder how
much he charges? Is that how he makes a living?
The Polyjuiced impostor’s lips twisted into a smirk. “It’s nice to see Pepper-up
still has an effect on you. And for your information, I didn’t ‘murder’ her, I ‘saved’ her.”
Harry didn’t listen. Mrs. Malfoy mightn’t’ve been a very nice person, but Harry
didn’t want to see her dead! “Sick fuck! I almost trusted you!” What with your
Patronus’n’all, and that talk about spying for the bloody Order! I should’ve known
‘Mrs. Malfoy’ was completely silent for a second, then she hmphed: it might’ve
been a sound of ironic amusement. “There are no words, Potter,” she muttered in
Snapeish tones. “No. Words. Quite a few curses, however. When you’re
Harry couldn’t really explain why his face was so warm. His ears had long ago
stopped steaming. But his face had been that way ever since he’d thought of Snape
in Mrs. Malfoy’s body, in the seediest alleys of Knockturn, naming his price to
a stranger, that tight bun of white hair unravelling slowly all the way to cover
her shoulders and bodice. Then manicured fingers were unlacing that bodice, as
deftly as ever they’d wielded a stirring rod in class…. NO! Mrs. Malfoy’s not
attractive. Not attractive attractive. She’s Malfoy’s mum, what’s
wrong with me? It all sounded so wrongdirtywicked, but that would’ve been
too easy to leave it at that. Harry didn’t like danger or rule breaking in that
way, honestly; even though that would’ve been the most obvious explanation, it
“I assure you, Narcissa is quite safe in Durmstrang, with her son. More safe than
she would’ve been in this country.”
There was an odd, ungraceful grace in the way ‘Mrs. Malfoy’ moved, despite Mrs.
Black’s loaned shoes: it was a predatory stalk, every step as smooth as the swooping
folds of a cloak. Snape might’ve looked like Mrs. Malfoy: lips soft and delicate
instead of thin and cruel, long hair soft and light instead of dark and greasy
and uncared-for. But her softer woman’s voice had his quiet, familiar sarcasm
resonating through every word.
“Oh,” Harry said, staring at ‘Mrs. Malfoy’s modestly covered cleavage, then let
his forehead thump against it, finally putting the two and two together. “Y’mean
she asked you to wh- wear her body ‘round like that?”
“Potter,” that strange half-and-half voice croaked, as fingers closed on his shoulders and pushed him
upright with a firm shake, “How the bloody hell you survive without thinking
once in a while is beyond me.”
Harry stared. It was really quite fascinating. Mrs. Malfoy was supposed to act
snobbish. All grace and high-society style and Pureblood to the core: to the point
it made Harry gag. But then Snape spoke to Harry, clawing her white hair
back harshly and glaring down her nose and it all turned into a huge contradiction
between behaviour and appearance. And Harry just watched and watched and couldn’t
get enough it was so bizarre. There were Mrs. Malfoy’s soft features, but Snape’s
sarcastic twist of lip, Snape’s tilt of the head and furious glare. Even the manicured
talon-nails tapping impatiently against the handle of the black wand were oddly
It’s all so… wow! But not the parts that belonged to Mrs. Malfoy, although that was
what logically should’ve affected Harry. It was everything that didn’t belong to her:
mannerisms, carriage, gait. And that confused Harry the most. Enough for him to
keep watching Snape out of the corner of his eye, waiting for those un-Malfoy-like
glimpses, so he could tally them in his head.
Even when Snape turned back to his normal greasy git self, and pushed him through the front door, outside, and took him somewhere falling and spinning,
Harry still kept watching those hands on his shoulders, checking for manicured
Potter didn’t make a sound, just stared: first at Snape, then at the cover of
Snape’s sixth year Potions book, tracing its title, quietly fixated on the ‘o’s
in Potion-Making as if they were snitches. As they Apparated to Spinner’s End,
where Snape could brew in more familiar surroundings, Potter had pressed the book
to his chest like a toddler holding a teddy bear, and he hadn’t let go of it since.
Candlelight was the only other thing that managed to hold his attention for more
than a second. As Snape looked for other stimuli while waiting for the brew to
reach its next stage, Potter sat in the very corner of the sofa, his feet pulled
up, as if he expected Snape’s threadbare and tatty (and extremely non-magical)
rugs to nibble his toes.
An hour later, he began flipping through the pages, mumbling to himself. Snape
just managed to make out, “Wonder what the Prince’d do?”
“He’d tell you that you need to drink this,” he grumbled after the fifth time
Harry swatted the phial of finished brew away as if it was a bug buzzing around
his face, “and eat more than a mouthful, and get some sleep.”
Potter looked up at him, and for the first time in many days, those eyes weren’t
empty. Comprehension spread over that upturned face, brightening his expression
until Snape fancied he could almost see the lightbulb going on over Potter’s head.
“Yeah.” The grin that dawned then was as wide as if he’d just discovered the world.
“He would. You would. How come I didn’t think of that?”
Half an hour later, Snape had finally managed to get enough Draught in his patient
to put him to sleep.
This isn’t good. Snape sat wearily beside the bed and stared down into
that familiar face, relaxed at last in sleep. He studied Harry as intently as
if he could read the turmoil in his mind by the tiny flickerings of his expression,
the minuscule frowns or smiles. Carefully he reached out and tucked back a lock
of hair that threatened to flop against those closed eyelids. Whatever curse
is affecting his consciousness has clearly focused at Grimmauld Place. Grimmauld
is driving him mad – all right, madder – but outside it, he isn’t much
better. It’s almost as if the curse has bound him to the Place, and if that’s
the case then he can’t stay here for long.
He tucked the blanket more securely around the sleeper’s body, and headed silently
for the door. He had a lot of research to do, and only one place still open to
him where he could do it.
Snape wasn’t officially introduced to the Grimmauld grimoires until he’d
already spent years studying them.
“Here, boy, take a look at this,” Mr. Black said, leading Severus
to a secluded shelf. “The only piece of Muggle filth that will ever find its
way into this Library. They sugarcoat it nowadays, feed you stories about Wendelin
the Weird and her burning fetish, but this here, this is history. A memory
of our ancestors: weakened, proclaimed unnatural, hunted and killed. This is
the true story.”
Severus looked at the old book: stored under preservative charms that kept it
looking less worn than many of the well-thumbed spellbooks he’d seen. Malleus
Maleficarum, the cover read. The Hammer of Witches, Severus translated. Meant to crush us
all from the world.
He remembered the verse from his father’s Bible, Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.
“Everyone’d be better off if the Muggles were gone,” he muttered.
Mr. Black’s beady stare focused on him as if he were a particularly fascinating
insect. “Really?” he drawled. “Rather strong sentiments for a half-blood. Your
own father’s one of them.”
“My father,” Severus’ voice was low and deadly, “is scum. When he learned
my mother was a witch, he feared and hated her so much that her powers withered
to nothing. For as long as I can remember, she was little more than a squib.
And it wasn’t enough that he hated her magic: he had to drink as well. Had to
take out his hatred on us when he was drunk.” Severus’ eyes were slitted and
distant, lost in memories. Gradually his voice had lost all intonation until
he spoke the next words as flatly as if he were describing a play. “One night,
he beat her to death, with his fists, on the kitchen floor. Told the police
she must’ve interrupted a burglar, while he was still down at the pub.”
He added in a murmur so soft it was completely toneless, “Her face was …unrecognisable.”
Mr. Black stepped back; his eyes and mind showed surprise at hearing the story
told so rationally by a surly seventh-year.
Severus snarled, unable to stop himself from throwing all of his anger against
this man who’d been willing to judge Severus’ beliefs just by his
last name. Suddenly it seemed so important to prove him wrong. “The Ministry
refused to step in and punish that murdering Muggle bastard, and it still refuses
to prevent more tragedies by banning contact with the Muggle world!” He growled
“How could I not want them gone?”
“Indeed.” Mrs. Black stepped out of the shadows, sliding her hand over Mr. Black’s
shoulder. “Your poor, poor mother,” she breathed. “Such a tragic lesson in the
fact that mingling with Muggles will never lead to anything good. Just think
of the wizard Severus could’ve become, if only he had a proper father. Which
is not to say that he isn’t a bright boy,” she added. “Orion, perhaps it’s time.”
“Do you think so? Perhaps…” Mr. Black murmured. “Severus, a good friend of mine
from school is taking on a group of new apprentices. He is very interested in
true Defence Against the Dark Arts, and I don’t mean the kind taught at Hogwarts.
He only takes in Purebloods of course, but perhaps in your case, if we put in
a good word, he’d overlook your unfortunate heritage. If you’re interested in
studying with Regulus after Hogwarts, then…”
Mr. Black was going to say more, but all Severus heard was ‘Regulus’ and ‘after
Hogwarts’: the very things that had been the focus of mingled anticipation and
dread all year. Returning to his Muggle town, a gulf of miles – and worse, a
gulf in class – would separate him from Regulus, instead of living just one
Severus would’ve said yes to anything. He was ready to jump up and hug Mr. and
Mrs. Black right this instant. “Yes,” he said. “I’m willing to try. Anything.”
“Well,” Mr. Black stroked his moustache. “That’s settled then. Where bloodlines
have failed, my associate will make a true wizard out of you, boy.”
Now, Snape had lived through enough to know that there was no such thing as ‘true’
wizards, only men whose desperation – not pedigree – made them capable
of achieving the impossible.
Snape sat at the escritoire, volumes from all over the Library in ever-growing
piles at his feet and all around him. He rubbed his stinging eyes and leaned
his chin on his elbow, staring down at the book currently lying open on the desk
before him. The hush of the long aisles was broken by a rustling, restless and
constant as the surge of the sea. On the floor-to-ceiling shelves stretching away
into the darkness on all sides, the grimoires flickered their pages and shouldered
each other out of the way in their hurry to press their opened pages under his
hand and offer him their knowledge.
Beside the ever-changing parade of books, the only other thing on the desk was
the broken key that he’d taken off from round Harry’s neck.
“Yes,” he sighed at a woodcut illustration of a graveyard, “I know the curse will
kill Harry, if it’s not broken. In fact,” he added as he set that book aside,
“I’m surprised it didn’t kill him instantly: it’d certainly do its damnedest
straight off. First time I’ve been grateful for that stubbornness of his,” he
added in a mutter, before lifting his head to address the library as a whole,
“What I want to know is, how does this curse work, and above all, how can it be
A Herbarium Blackwellianum nudged him shyly in the ankle; he scooped it
up and it fell open to a delicate engraving of a flower. Lilium convallium,
the caption read.
Snape arched his eyebrow. “Lily? Harry’s mother?” The book flopped even further
open, as if its spine had gone limp with relief.
“The protection of his mother’s sacrifice? It took that from him?”
The book flipped its page corners at him with an impatient zipping sound, echoed
by the solid ‘hear-hear’ thumps of heavier volumes still on their shelves.
“Right, then,” Snape replied to the books’ show of cheek with a challenging cry,
“see what you lot make of it.”
He Leviosa-ed the key onto the floor a short distance away, and let the
grimoires pile themselves into a rustling, crackling huddle over it. Some of the
bolder ones examined it: holding it between their pages, curling bookmarks of
silk ribbon around the broken end, as if feeling the exact contours of the jagged
metal. A few pairs of leathery old tomes acted together, pressing the key between
their covers as if literally forming an impression of it. The rustlemutterhiss
swelled like the tide, washing out to the farthest shelves and echoing back, as
the entire Library held council with itself. The centuries-old mind of Grimmauld
Place consulted its stores of learning and wisdom, every volume in it conferring
among themselves. Then, at last, the susurrus fell completely still: the silence
felt to Snape as though he’d been hit with a Deafness Curse.
THUD! Snape startled badly; a heavy ironbound volume had abruptly fallen from
a high shelf and landed on the desk in front of him. It was followed by a smaller
book bound in basilisk hide, and a third whose fine leather bindings Snape could’ve
sworn were human skin.
He didn’t even need to glance at their titles: he could feel the emanations of
Dark magic from them, making his throat dry with sick anticipation.
The iron lock on the largest book fell open with a dull clang and it flung its
pages wide, to a section on the Tarot. A tinted image of The Hermit stared up
from the age-spotted parchment, beside descriptions of the retreat from the world
into the solitude of monasticism. Then the basilisk-skin book slithered impatiently
on top of the first one and opened itself to reveal a treatise on Oubliette Curses:
a category of curses which killed by driving their victims slowly away from the
realities of their own five senses, and into deepening wells of insanity within
their own minds.
Snape’s first question had been ‘How does this curse work?’ He nodded grimly as
the two books showed him their secrets; his sharp eyes flicked whiplash-fast along
the rows of print. The curse must be a variant on the Eremitical Seal: forcing
the victim to renounce the world, and fade from it, and be forgotten. Presumably
Riddle modified it to add madness and death to the punishment of exile. Ironic
– and predictable – that someone as egomaniacal as he was, should’ve crafted a
curse like that to protect one of his Horcruxes.
“Help me stop it!” Snape lifted his head, calling out again to the Library as
a whole. “I know you’re strong enough.” It surely doesn’t wish to see another
owner wasting away, talking to house elf heads and eating cobwebs. Snape’s
last visit to Grimmauld before Walburga Black had died was memorable for its unpleasantness,
even by Snape’s high standards for unpleasant memories. She’d screamed, and stared
at him with such horror, Snape had wondered whether the half-blood mark Macnair
had cut into his shoulder had begun seeping fresh gore through his shirt.
“Do you want another owner to go the way Walburga went? You can’t have found her
madness pleasant,” he shouted at the top shelves.
Above the ceiling, thunder rumbled. The smaller books huddled silently about his
feet, as if seeking his warmth to drive away the chill of that thought.
“Then how can I keep Harry alive and sane?” With an incongruous flitter-flutter
another, much smaller book flapped down like a particularly eccentric butterfly,
landing right on top of the larger, more menacing stack of three. Its brightly
coloured cover declared it to be “Little Olden Books: My First Jinxes”. A rainbow
blur of pages flickered before the flighty little book settled on one verse in
large, bouncing letters.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn’t keep her.
Above the verse, a florid-faced wizard – with enough freckles and red hair to
be a Weasley – sat surrounded by jugs of pumpkin juice, amid a flourishing pumpkin
patch. Green grass snakes twirled amid the pumpkin vines and nibbled playfully
at the hem of his orange robes. A short, miserable-looking witch stood in the
distance, her bun of grey hair bristling with knitting needles, wand, and an occasional
He put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.
said the second page, along with a detailed illustration of a house transfigured
out of a single giant pumpkin, complete with a merrily smoking chimneystack carved
out of the pumpkin’s woody stalk. The same witch’s face was framed in a round
barred window: all in all, she looked surprisingly cheerful for someone who’d
just been imprisoned in her own home. The red-headed wizard, looking just as cheerful,
was standing by the front door, padlocking it shut.
“You want me to keep him here?” Snape’s voice was sharp with protest, “But that’s
exactly what the curse wants: for him to retreat from the world!” The book rustled
the page with the pumpkin house at him, as if emphasising “kept her very well.”
Snape didn’t miss the X-shaped bars on the window, nor the giant padlock on the
door: it was very shiny, and was shaped like a heart.
“Very well.” Which it wasn’t, of course, but it was the best option currently
on offer. “But how long will he need to stay here? How can the curse be broken,
once and for all?”
The books rustled enthusiastically among themselves, several of them tumbling
over his boots, wrestling each other like energetic pups. At first Snape took
heart in the swell of sound, but then the encouraging cracklerustlemutter of the
volumes’ consultation began to dwindle. Slowly it ebbed, and Snape’s hopes faded
with it, until at last all sound died and a terrible silence loomed. The volumes
lay inert, seeming as dead and drained of magic as their Muggle counterparts.
“How do I break it?” Snape’s cry had the raw sound of a man at the ragged
edge of his wits.
No answer followed. Only the single candle that had sat all this time at the escritoire,
flickered in response.
Please, Snape didn’t know who he was asking, if anyone. Please. Let
this work. Severus carefully picked up the candle, stepped over the books
still piled about his chair, and stalked out of the library. In his wake, flocks
of books scattered back to their shelves, like autumn leaves blown by the black
gale of his passing.
Only one book remained behind. The last of the three that had originally been
chosen to commune with Snape; the one that had been pre-empted by the children’s
book and had never had its chance to share with him what it knew. The grimoire
with that disturbingly fine skin binding sat up alertly, then took off with a
flap of winglike covers, patrolling the shelves like a guard before swooping up
to the ceiling. As if in response, or in warning, thunder rumbled just beyond
the ceiling’s vault, and the book swooped down and away. It dropped into a gap
on one shelf, then on another, nudging this volume, rubbing covers with that.
But none of the others showed the slightest sign of activity; none returned its
overtures. They’d had enough of consultation with each other for one night: indeed,
the Library hadn’t seen activity like this for decades.
There would be no further discussion. The books – and hence, the whole Place –
knew that, if it intervened in its Master’s curse, the house itself might take
on a trace of his trials, in penance for that intervention. It might be rendered
unliveable, disappearing from memory: like a malign version of the Fidelius it
had already endured for so long. If it acted to save its Master, its destiny was
to be forgotten… until a year of Sundays had passed. The page on which
those fateful words were printed crackled restlessly as the last grimoire finally
slid back into its own place on the shelves.
No further deliberation was needed. The decision had been made. As one, the books
hunkered down, shuffling back to the very rear of their shelves, huddling against
each other like wild things settling down for hibernation, in the grim knowledge
of a long, harsh winter ahead.
“How good of you to bring him back.” Walburga yawned, woken up by the slam of
the front door. “He brings a bit of life to the Place. It’s all been so quiet,
ever since Regulus… left us, and since you sent Orion to hell where he deserved
“I didn’t,” Snape interrupted, manoeuvring Potter the Puppet up the stairs.
Walburga shook her head. “Don’t you worry about it. If I hadn’t discovered his
bootlaces in the library, I’d’ve put arsenic in the bastard’s tea myself. How
could I have been so blind, sheltering an asp in my bosom all these years without
even knowing that the weak-spined coward would betray the house of my fathers.
His heir, his only son,” she insisted, as if she had truly never
borne more than one boy, “sacrificed to greed and fear.”
“I did not murder your husband!” Snape repeated, almost desperately.
“Now, now, Severus, no need to play coy.”
“Stop it. He said he didn’t.” Potter’s glare was lucid. It was the first conscious
word from him today. “You oughtta believe him.”
Snape was just as shocked as Walburga by this sudden response; he stood mute as
the portrait focused her scrutinising glare on Potter. “Well, you certainly do,”
she murmured, eyeing him for the first time like someone who talked back instead
of a piece of furniture (even though Potter in his delusional and starved state
could’ve easily passed for a coat rack). “You trust his word?” she questioned.
“On something that happened before you were born?”
Potter held his head high and hung on to the portrait niche’s curtains, taking
a step forward, for once without Snape nudging him to move in the right direction
or holding him upright. “If Snape had killed someone, he wouldn’t lie ‘bout it.
Not to a portrait,” he argued, sticking his nose against Walburga’s painted one.
“How curious,” she muttered to herself.
“What?” Harry blinked.
“Seeing Severus with such a spirited protector at his side. There are still” –
she eyed him from top to bottom – “small miracles in this world.”
“Small? Hang about! Are you calling me titchy or something?” Potter demanded
angrily. But Walburga had already left the frame.
The candles flocked to them and tagged along behind, lighting the corridors, and
the bedroom. As soon as Potter’s body hit the covers, he frowned. “S’not my bed.”
Snape nudged him to lie down and covered him with a heavy blanket before the brat
decided he’d rather be wandering about. Regulus’ room was closer. “Sleep.”
It is Regulus’ room. It’s his bed, and I didn’t even think of that till
now. The accumulated weariness was starting to slow him down. But I can’t
waste too much time now. Plenty of time to sleep when I’m dead, which with my
luck will be entirely too soon.
“Yeah, s’pose I ought to, m’beat,” Potter mumbled into the pillow. “Ask Ron t’wake
me f’r dinner. Twins said it’s stew. I like stew.”
Then the Sleeping Draught worked, and Potter didn’t say anything else.
In the light of the candles that had snuck into the room like visitors at a sick
bed, Snape looked down at Potter. With his messy hair and drawn, pale face, without
the glasses and with his eyes closed, Potter reminded him not of his father for
once, but of Regulus. Especially sprawled in Regulus’ bed like this, his dark,
grown-out mane spilt all over Reg’s old pillow.
The resemblance should’ve been even more startling when Potter’s eyes were open: they’d been fading gradually, until now they were almost grey. But it just makes him look blind. Snape squared bony shoulders. I don’t want him to look like Reg. I want the colour back in his eyes. I want him to look like himself again.
“‘Bring him back here’, you said. You’d better know exactly what you’re doing,”
Snape grumbled at the high ceiling. The house responded only with a creaky sigh,
all four walls of the room contracting in a breath like a ribcage.
Lucy Locket lost her pocket,
Kitty Fisher found it;
Not a penny was there in it,
Only ribbon round it.
Everything was a blur: like waking up from a long, painful nightmare.
As Harry hobbled downstairs he heard a loud banging of pots and pans from
the kitchen, and for one crazy moment he thought that Mrs. Weasley had come for
a visit. Harry peeked in. There was no one there, except Snape.
Snape loomed over an assortment of saucepans on the stove, as if their contents
were student potions about to be inspected and given a mark of T. His expression
was a sour grimace, the kind that always appeared when Neville was about to create
yet another spectacular explosion.
He rotated his wand in a circular motion over the largest stockpot: it started
to steam and bubble in a very ‘toil and trouble’ish manner. In his left hand,
he held a kitchen knife, its blade large and shiny and undoubtedly sharpened to
perfection. Harry wondered what sort of things that blade had already been tested
on, and tried not to look at the contents of the pot.
Harry thought about sneaking back upstairs. But he wasn’t about
to be afraid of cutlery, so instead of staying out of Snape’s sight, he leaned
against a wooden chair. His attempt at casualness went a bit wonky when the chair
scraped suddenly across the uneven stone floor and he stumbled a little, deprived
of its support. So he propped himself against the kitchen table instead, running
his hands over the surface roughened by a slicing knife, dented by small hexes,
stained by tea and Fred’n’George’s old graffiti. Craning his neck, he peered at
the stove without moving any closer.
Snape didn’t acknowledge his presence with anything other than a grumbled “Sit down
before you fall down.” He didn’t even bother to glance round, just tucked his wand
behind his ear and picked up a ladle. The knife glistened murderously in his left
Harry gathered his courage. “What’s that?” he asked, nodding at the ominously
Snape eyed him. “What does it look like?”
Harry considered the possibilities and chose the most harmless. “Dinner?” he blinked
“Half an hour.” Harry’s stomach growled as if on cue; Snape smirked in reply and
added, “If you can survive that long.”
No one’d cooked for Harry before. There were Weasley family dinners and house
elves at Hogwarts, but no one’d ever cooked a full meal just for him. Certainly
not the Dursleys. Of all people, he’d never expected Snape to be the one to do
that for him: he’d expected Snape to kill him, for making a complete mess of destroying
the last Horcrux, but cook for him? Never.
“What’s for dinner then?”
Harry didn’t think Snape would answer him at all, with his nose in the boiling
brew like a cartoon witch from a children’s book, but then he finally said: “Stew.
My mother’s old recipe.”
Harry thought of the photo Hermione found, and decided he didn’t trust Eileen
Prince’s stew any more than he trusted any of Snape’s concoctions.
At first, Snape glared at Harry as if he’d grown a second head. Finally he grunted
and thrust the knife and something else into Harry’s hands: some sort of thin,
pasty roots that looked like they’d been plucked from the ground a minute ago,
dirt and all. “Clean and slice these, then start grating the cheese.”
Harry cleaned the roots but eyed the chunk of cheese on the counter – solid as
a brick and a bit mouldy around the edges – with apprehension. He really hoped
it hadn’t been kept in the cupboard all this time, since last year or even before
The stew turned out to be decent after all. Or perhaps Harry was hungrier than
“So,” Harry asked, “Why’ve y’been acting so strange the past few days?”
Snape hmphed. “I’m ‘acting strange’? Project much, do you, Potter?”
What’s he on about? Normal people don’t ponce about pretending to be Malfoy’s
mum. Harry waved his spoon. “First you ask weird questions, then you do all
these crazy things without explaining, like pushing me around and dragging me
places. I’m not the one off his chump.” He struggled for explanation, and then
a suspicion dawned. “Did you drug me?” It has to be! “You did!” Harry
stared in horror at the stew and pushed away the bowl.
“I medicated you,” Snape huffed. “And if you can’t tell the difference,
then your ignorance is your problem, not mine.”
Medicated? But… that’s mental! I wasn’t sick or anything, just… Harry stared
at his reflection in the spoon and that slowly brought back the memory of a ghostly
image of himself in the mirror. “Oh.” Harry dropped the spoon. Things slowly began
to come together. “Was I sick?” Am I still?
“I’d hardly waste perfectly good potions on you if it wasn’t strictly necessary,”
Did they work? Harry frowned. Must’ve. “I don’t feel sick…” He shrugged.
“Huh. Thanks, I s’pose.” Dunno why I bother thanking Snape. But just in case
he has gone a bit weird, I probably shouldn’t make him angry.
“Ingrate!” Snape barked. So menacing it sounded, Harry’s hand trembled and sent
his spoon flying off the table. “Do you have any idea how lucky you are to be
alive? What the hell do you think about? Do you ever think?
Merlin’s balls, boy, when I was your age, if I’d meandered my way through life
like you do, I’d never have lived to be my age! I’d’ve been slaughtered
the moment I left school!”
So maddening it all was, from the very day Snape first showed up at Grimmauld.
“I’m not a boy and I don’t need you telling me what to do, so stop lecturing me!
Voldemort’s my responsibility and my fight, not yours.” He just keeps coming
round and teaching me and saving me and doing it all so much better than me without
even breaking a sweat and it drives me mental! I hate owing him anything and he
keeps making damn sure I do! “I’m not one of your firsties and I can bloody
well take care of myself!”
“Oh, and what a wonderful job you’re doing, too!” Snape’s words dripped acid.
“Let’s count the ways, shall we? Half-mad. Cursed to be locked away and forgotten.
Oh, and starved,” Snape added, as if it was an afterthought. “Keep going like
this, and they’ll be carving ‘I can take care of myself’ on your tombstone!” Snape
gave Harry a contemptuous glare, “Quite the hero.”
“I’m not a hero, or your student, or one of your bloody Potions ingredients!
You treat those sodding portraits better than me and I HATE it!”
Harry slammed the door, climbed the stairs and crossed the hall on shaking legs.
His old mantra had returned but now it repeated on a single note: the key the
key the key. Something Snape said stuck in his mind, and he had to be sure.
Locked away and forgotten. The front door loomed, dark and terrifying,
as if it too was waiting for Harry’s touch to absorb his blood. The closer
Harry got to it the heavier his feet and thoughts became. It was as if some
invisible thread had stretched to its limit, not letting him past the threshold.
Even the feeble rays coming through the dusty fanlight were too bright. He walked toward
the door until he couldn’t walk any more, then he collapsed to his knees and rubbed his
face, as if trying to clear the cobwebs out of his mind. There was something strange about his right hand: too plain, too bare. Of
course! My life line… gone. The scar from where the key had scratched him was
almost gone too. “What’s happening to me?” It felt like he was breathing water.
I am cursed, aren’t I?
Snape stalked up and stood behind him; there was a big ironbound book in his arms,
and a smaller one with a snakeskin cover stacked on top. “Fortunately, the house
is protecting you. But it needs to keep you inside.”
Snape spoke some more: “Oubliette”, Harry caught. “Eremitical Seal”. Descriptions of
curses spun dizzyingly in his ears and eyes. Harry goggled at the picture of a
Hermit looking up at him from the big book’s musty page. Is that what I am?
Forgotten? So if Snape walked outside right now and asked a stranger in Diagon
Alley who Harry Potter is, would they know? Would they even see me if I was the
one doing the asking? Or has that curse already erased every trace of me from
the outside world?
And if it has, would that be so bad? I’m sick to death of all the lying articles
in the Prophet, and reporters following me around and people gawking and whispering.
If the world wants to forget me, let it. I won’t forget the people that matter.
Snape wouldn’t forget me.
A stray image passed through Harry’s mind – a dream he’d had: following ‘Mrs.
Malfoy’ into the crowds at Knockturn Alley – and his heart jumped.
“Are you listening?” Snape snapped.
“‘Course I am!”
“What did I just say?”
Harry shrugged. Words swam through his head: driven mad, wasting away, and other
horrible visions of his future. “That everyone’ll forget me,” he finally picked
the least horrifying. “Good.”
“The world should be so lucky to forget about you,” Snape scoffed. “But it’s
unlikely to happen any time soon. What I find hard to believe is that you’re not
throwing a fit about being trapped in this house until it lets you leave.”
“I didn’t say I liked it,” Harry grumbled. “I can’t kill Voldemort unless he decides
to drop by in person for a little visit. That’s pretty damn inconvenient.”
Snape snorted. “Perhaps it’s for the best. At least this’ll stop you from finding
any more dark artefacts and adding to your collection of curses in the process.”
Nasty bastard just had to rub it in, didn’t he? Harry took another
deep breath in an effort not to respond. Instead of Snape, he directed all of
his angry focus at the front door. The world outside that door seemed so harsh
and wide and dangerous, it made him shiver with dread. In his mind he knew it
was the curse acting, but that didn’t make the irrational fear any easier to bear.
Harry clenched his fists and took a few firm steps forward, fighting the invisible
leash that seemed to tighten around his throat, making it hard to breathe. One shaking
hand wrestled with the doorknob – the metallic rattle was loud in the stillness
– and he threw the door open and staggered blindly outside. Into the rain.
He stood there catching the drops with his tongue until the dizziness and disorientation
felt unbearable, as if the rainwater was vodka and got him more drunk with each
drop. Just a few days ago I wanted to hide here in Grimmauld all my life. I
didn’t even think then how limiting it’d be.
Harry shambled back inside and slammed the front door after him, shutting out the dizzying enormousness
beyond. He sagged against the closed door and took deep breaths until his thoughts cleared. “If I give you the memory,
will you be able to tell me what the key took from me?” He swallowed, “You said
it needed a sacrifice, right?”
Snape nodded, but instead of replying aloud he simply fixed Harry with a mute,
expectant stare, so Harry led him into the hall where a pensieve stood in a hidden
niche in the wall.
It felt nice, giving that memory up, as if one of many weights had been lifted
off Harry’s shoulders. Snape bent over the bowl for a while, deep in thought,
motionless as a statue. The pale light softened his features. The hair falling
over his face made his nose look almost proportional to the rest of his head.
“What did it take?” he asked when Snape straightened up and stepped away from
the pensieve. Harry took a deep breath and braced himself for the answer that
he’d already half-guessed and dreaded: the largest sacrifice of his life had been
stolen away, unnoticed.
“Your mother’s protection.” Snape answered softly. “It was in your blood. When
the key scratched you and the doorway absorbed your blood, it burned away the
last traces of the protective spell.”
That was it: the final verdict. It hurt more than anything else Snape could’ve
said, more than the grim future of living with the curse. That future hadn’t happened
yet, but this loss was final. Mum. It was the last trace I had of her.
As far back as Harry remembered, he’d always liked to think of her as an angel,
watching over him wherever he went, always with him. But as Snape said that, Harry
finally realised just how lonely he’d been these last few months: that sense of
someone watching over him had disappeared and he’d been too wrapped up in his
solitary self to even notice. Harry felt like hiding his head under the tapestry
again. “I never even knew her, but this is like losing her twice, and I can’t
But I should’ve known! I should’ve realised sooner. Every time he
saw himself in the mirror: every time he looked into it and refused to believe
his eyes were turning duller and duller. Every time he paid less and less attention
to the world around him, he lost her all over again; bit by bit, he’d let his
last link to his mother slip away through his fingers.
Snape’s expression was unreadable. “Paying attention means watching for trouble
within as well as without.” His hand settled on Harry’s shoulder, squeezed briefly.
Harry nodded grimly, but his chest felt just a bit lighter after those words.
Snape stalked away to the corner, where the tapestry still lay in a rumpled heap
on the floor after Harry had used it for a blanket. Snape Leviosa-ed it back
up onto its hooks, and as its swaying folds settled,
his fingers lingered on one of the countless names of Blacks. This
one was right next to a scorched hole about the size and shape of Padfoot’s ear.
“That’s where Sirius’ name was,” Harry said, not quite out of spite. “I wish I
knew how to mend tapestries.”
Snape’s fingers slowly stroked the neighbour name that remained intact. “It’s
fortunate then that your skills aren’t that honed. Reg was pleased to have him
gone. He never did like to share.”
“Reg?” Harry echoed, ‘cause it sounded strange to hear Snape say it.
“Regulus Black,” Snape replied quickly. “He was a year after me, in Slytherin.”
‘Reg’, eh? Harry thought. He was awfully quick to correct himself. Wonder
what that was about?
Snape had learned long ago not to search for Regulus in the face of every stranger,
but as he entered the library, he couldn’t help but stare at the profile of the
young man there, bent over a book. The pose was so familiar, it made time rush back
a couple of decades. Reg? …No, his rationality reminded an instant later,
Regulus is dead and gone.
Potter was curled up in Regulus’ favourite chair, looking right at home with a grimoire.
About time he finally finished that homework: I assigned it to him ages ago.
There was something about his profile that made Snape’s gaze linger. Familiar
lines in that long fringe hanging over Potter’s forehead, familiar twist of a
smile. Regulus would’ve been about the same age as Potter when he died, too
Abruptly Snape turned away, stopping himself from looking for any more signs of
resemblance. Regulus and Potter have nothing in common.
Regulus had a certain charm. A single look could imply a world of possibilities
and leave Severus wanting to explore each one. Potter, with his gaping, flabbergasted
stares, was an open book, the gaudy kind filled with illustrated nursery rhymes:
much like the book in this library that had first told Snape how to counteract
the key’s curse. Yes, it was true that children’s books had a habit of surprising
adults, with their odd charm and unexpected wisdom. Potter, he told himself sternly, had neither.
Snape had only ever seen Regulus openly flabbergasted once: as Regulus had looked up at him from
the plain locket cupped in his palm.
“You mean it’s mine? To keep?”
“Yes. It was my mam’s.” Severus added dryly, “The Prince fortune.” Or what’s
left of it.
Regulus’ fingers softly caressed the smooth shell of his locket. His thumb pressed
against the seam and snapped the halves open. There was no picture, no lock of
Severus’ neck felt bare without its comforting weight, but in a
way, a great weight had lifted off his shoulders.
“How strange,” Regulus said, tracing the soft sheen of the locket’s worn gold
case. “Dad’s got a cursed one from one of the Founders. Every time I touch it,
I can feel the magic bristle. But I’ve never seen one without any magic at all.”
“It used to have some charms,” Severus said. “They wore out before I was born.”
Just like Mam’s magic. My dad has that effect on things.
Regulus smiled, smoothing out the chain, closing the locket and caressing it
gently like a touchstone.
Severus’ hands closed over Regulus’. “I just wanted you to have it,” he said. “A present.”
The less Dad sees of it, the less chance he’ll have to pawn it. It’s in good
Potter looked up from his reading, bleary eyed. “Still here?” he mumbled. “Don’t
you ever sleep?”
“I could ask you the same question.”
“Who, me? M’just reading.”
The volume in Potter’s hands was upside down; its bookmark dangled, wagging in
amusement, from its inverted spine. Snape arched an eyebrow at the cover but didn’t
mention it. It’s good that he’s spending more time with the books, even if
he isn’t always reading them. They’ll lick some sense into him eventually.
“OK, actually… um.” Was that a blush showing on that pale face? “I don’t want
to sleep, just yet.” Snape nodded and prepared to leave the brat to his books
when he heard a mumbled admission, “M’a bit scared.”
“‘Scared’,” Snape echoed, voice and face briefly blank with surprise before he resumed
his familiar, snide mask. “The great Harry Potter, scared of something. Imagine
Potter snorted, but didn’t rise to the bait. “I was thinking – and don’t say it!
– Anyway. What if I do fall asleep and the curse takes over again and Grimmauld
Place won’t be able to stop it?” he asked, glaring down at the book in his lap
rather than at Snape. “It’s frustrating, knowing I’m doing things all wrong but
not knowing how to fix it.” His restless fingers toyed with the frayed bookmark.
“You don’t have to know how to fix it all now,” Snape interrupted him, gruffly.
“This Place will keep you safe, if you let it. It’s stronger than you think.”
Echoing him, the book Potter was cradling gave a reassuring rustle, its pages
curling round his fingers.
“What you said once,” Potter murmured, stroking the book’s spine, “that I can’t
break this curse. That I have to fight against it. Every day. Is that true?”
“Is that what happened to Dumbledore? Did he get tired of fighting?”
And from then on, Dumbledore was as good as dead. “Yes.”
I have to believe Potter won’t suffer the same fate. Loneliness isn’t the same
as the curse that rotted Dumbledore’s flesh, that would have turned him into an
Inferius. Loneliness can be lived with. I should know; I’ve lived
with mine all my life.
“Is that why you killed him?” Potter asked suddenly. His gaze was clear and just
as disturbingly honest as it was when he was a firstie, but beyond that openness
there was something intuitive and searching, so similar to the way Dumbledore’s
Legilimency used to feel.
But that can’t be! The boy doesn’t have the skill
to cast wandless, wordless Legilimens!
“Did you do it out of pity?” Potter murmured. “Cause that’s OK. I’d understand.
Involuntary revulsion spiked through Snape as the gentle, wordless coaxing to
reveal his secrets – to spill his guts – intensified. He stepped back as if the
unintended mental attack was a physical invasion of his space. “You ought to pay
more attention to your studies, instead of wasting your time questioning things
that cannot be changed.”
Potter scowled, and that insistent probing sensation was gone, as if it had never
Snape must’ve exhausted his limited supply of ‘nice’, because halfway through
the conversation the git was suddenly snarling more than the yeti skin in the
hallway, and Harry hadn’t even said anything too annoying to him.
“We are studying,” Harry told him, gesturing at the books and the candles
around them, hoping it’d make a difference. “When’s the next lesson?”
“Why do you want to know? Are you getting bored, or is it your ‘fan club’?” Snape
glared at the candles clustered around Harry. When Harry simply shrugged and resumed
reading instead of answering him, Snape bent down and snatched up the nearest
candle. Its flame quivered at the unexpected capture as Snape lifted it to his
eye level and gave it a shark-like snarl. “Even now, when you’ve got more important
things to think about, you still have to be surrounded by admirers, don’t you,
Potter?” The candle wriggled in his grasp, scattering waxy sweat drops.
“Oi!” Harry only just managed to grab it out of Snape’s hand before it died of over-exhaustion.
“Get your own light!” he scowled at Snape, and turned to discreetly pet the terrified little thing.
Snape gave Harry the same snarl he’d just given the candle.
What’s got up his dirty great nose? Harry groused to himself,
Did a doxy fly up his robes and bite him on the arse? Anyone’d think he’s jealous!
The candle hid helplessly in the crook of Harry’s hand, its flame timidly starting
to grow again. Snape glared irritably at it, then at Harry. Then he drew his wand
out of his sleeve and gave it an arrogant flick. With an echoing fwoomph,
every gaslight burst into full flame. Their blue flares gave the room the appearance
of a mortuary. Harry squinted against the sudden glare. The flock of candles gathered
in Harry’s shadow, their warm yellow light seeming small in comparison. But Harry
thought even the smallest candle was worth more than all the gaslights in the
Place. The gaslights were always cold and aloof, with their hungry, creepy sounds:
hissing like snakes, but with none of their meaning.
“Put ‘em out!” Harry demanded. “I don’t want the gaslights on.”
“You shouldn’t keep this house completely in the dark,” Snape declared. “Who knows
what might be lurking in it?”
Yeah, jealous sods like you! Harry glared, knowing Snape could see right
into his mind with that focused stare, but beyond caring.
With a satisfied “Hmph,” Snape stalked through the lit corridor, in all his billowing,
“Nox,” grumbled Harry, and stood protectively over the candles until the gaslights faded with a sullen hiss. “Git!”
On the other hand, the thought of Snape returning to his normal gittitude was
I must’ve been mistaken. Snape decided. No one that hopeless at Occlumency
could manage Legilimency at all, much less nonverbal, wandless Legilimency.
In his attempt to escape the memory of Dumbledore haunting him so belatedly, Severus
walked all the way up to the top floor, to the small observatory on the roof.
The wizard space of the observatory loft was so much wider than the attic below.
Stars shone overhead, brighter than anything visible from streets shrouded in
Muggle smog, dazzled by electric lights. A spidery telescope shrouded in cobwebs
stood in the corner. Snape reached for a smaller one, lying on the table along
with Walburga Black’s doxy-eaten gloves. There was also a bottle of ink – long
gone dry – and a quill, resting on top of a pile of star charts. Snape traced
the dot marked Alpha Leonis on paper before ever finding it in the sky.
‘Have you ever mourned him?’ Walburga had asked. Severus could never decide what
Regulus was to him to mourn the exact loss – he just knew that the loss was terrible:
too terrible to think about. A young boy with silver-grey eyes and a flash of
a smile: a lion cub among jackals. No one recalls all the firsts in their life,
but first loves – and first griefs – make marks every bit as permanent as the
Regulus and he had shared so many firsts, among themselves. That first glance
that began it all, and Regulus’ morbid sense of humour that prompted a smile of
affection on Severus’ face all too often, then a bed – where that affection eventually
led them – and finally, thanks to Orion Black, the Mark. An apprenticeship, they
were told, but Severus knew better by then. It was a cult, dark and powerful,
the kind you stood with or stood against: anyone trying to merely stand aside
from them would be trampled to death. And there was no way that Severus – a half-blood
with no family and no fortune – could hope to stand against them. The Dark Marks
connected all the new initiates into one great circle and no one noticed that
in it they were also linked to each other, for better or worse. No one cared because
ultimately all the Marks were connected to the Dark Lord, as Mr. Black’s associate
It didn’t take Severus long to see that the pain came nonetheless, to Goyle, to
Lestrange, to Regulus and then to Severus, echoing on and on around the circle.
Their parents, uncles, brothers watched from the sidelines, cloaked. “Discipline,”
they called it. “Order. Lessons. Brotherhood.”
For five delusional days Severus tried to think that there was something else
connecting them all, besides shared pain. Then Regulus ran, before Severus could
plan his own escape.
And then Regulus was killed. Severus knew the exact moment, because the terrible
backlash from Regulus’ pain hit Severus full blast through his new Mark. The force
of it must’ve propagated through the entire circle of new initiates when the intended
target had no life left in him, but it reached Severus just a fraction of a second
before everyone else, and part of Severus died with him.
It wasn’t Voldemort who killed Regulus, not in person, but he might as well have
done so. Because at the precise time Regulus died Severus had looked into the
Dark Lord’s eyes and knew exactly who had ordered his death. Severus’ tentative,
slithering Legilimency skills were finally shocked into their full power by the
painful truth: Regulus was dead, because the Dark Lord had wanted him dead.
Regulus had so much to offer this world, but he never had the chance to become
the Alpha Leonis that Walburga named him after. He simply lived to be the part of Severus’
life that, like all good things, was too good to last. After a while, Regulus
turned into the memory of a beautiful dream that Severus might as well have never
had at all, a dream he failed to protect: bright but distant, like the star bearing
his name. Every time Snape saw Sirius Black afterwards – the one so close, the
one who lived – he lashed out for all the right reasons, and sometimes for the
wrong ones too: just because he saw a twist of a smile whose slyness reminded
him painfully of his loss. Other times, he searched for Alpha Leonis in the night
sky and remembered that just once in his life, he’d had someone to love, someone
to watch over, someone who understood him better than he understood himself.
‘I’d understand,’ Potter had said. He understood nothing.
Regulus would never have had to state the obvious.
There once was a time Harry asked himself What would Dumbledore do? But
that wouldn’t help him now. Dumbledore was gone.
If he kept thinking of Dumbledore, he’d only dig himself deeper and deeper into
a pit of despair, and he’d already lost so much time. He’d let himself get distracted
while he still had a job to finish: one more Horcrux to find.
The entire world depended on him, counted on him to do it. He had no idea where
to begin. And what was worse, he was stuck here, in Grimmauld Place with no way
out. Harry stared into the Potions textbook, which had become a placeholder for
all his notes. What would the Prince do?
Somewhere he could almost hear Snape’s insistent, soft tones: “He’d tell you that
you need to drink this, and eat more than a mouthful, and get some sleep.”
Right, Harry thought, What would Snape do? Probably use every resource
he’s got, and examine them thoroughly. So then… Harry reached into his pocket.
The locket Harry had found by Dumbledore’s body was plain and smooth, the coppery
colour of low-karat gold, with the velvety glow that only comes from generations
of handling. It was covered in tiny scuffs, especially in the centre, as if someone
– or several someones, sensitive or nervous, thinking with their hands – had the
habit of rubbing it like a touchstone. Several of the links in its heavy chain
were dented or twisted a bit, as if the chain had been yanked on more than once,
tangled by childish hands or brutal ones. In one place the chain was knotted,
which was a bit odd since the chain had no clasp and it would have to be broken
to tie – or untie – that type of knot. There was a note folded inside the locket;
Harry’d read it a dozen times.
To the Dark Lord
I know I will be dead long before you read this,
but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.
So many times Harry’d wondered, What about R.A.B.’s own secret?
Who was he? Where did he take that Horcrux?
I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.
I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once
Harry stared at the mysterious note. What did he do with the Horcrux locket?
Did he destroy it? Hide it?
The bitey grimoire Snape had once given him for homework nudged his elbow. He
glanced down at it. It opened itself to a page with writing in the margins. At
first glance Harry almost thought the page had been torn out of his Potions
textbook: the Prince’s cramped, spiky script was that familiar.
Jarvey saliva adds compulsive swearing to the potion effects!
That’s brilliant! a different hand had added below. Just clean the ink
off your nose before you leave the library.
And lower, in the Prince’s handwriting again, Sod off!
For once it wasn’t the Prince’s words that caught Harry’s attention. The handwriting
on the mystery reply looked slim and delicate, with a sharp twist to its loops.
Harry opened the locket again, took out the note folded within. It had sharp twists
but the loops were hurried and although the handwriting was similar – just as
thin and small – Harry wasn’t quite sure if it was the same person who
wrote it. As he moved, the Prince’s textbook shifted in his lap and a bunch of
folded notes fell out. Among them were the paper swan and swallow he’d found under
the curio cabinet. Harry set the swan aside but kept looking at the swallow. One
wing had a rough edge as if it was torn from a larger sheet of parchment, light
and thin. The feel of the parchment reminded him of something. Although the note
had no signature, it struck him that he’d seen that spindly handwriting before:
the unusual ‘I’s that looked like ‘J’s, the looped ‘L’ whose final stroke
underlined the following letters.
Harry remembered Walburga’s hushed explanation to her young son. Little kings.
One of them has to be Regulus. That’s what she said ‘Regulus’ meant: prince. Prince.
Wait, the Half-Blood Prince?
That’s brilliant! Just clean the ink off your nose before you leave the
…I know I will be dead long before you read this…
…I’m so sorry, S. I had no choice…
That S. on the note! Why didn’t I think of it before? Regulus wasn’t writing
to Sirius, he was writing to Snape!
From one little king to another…
Harry stared at the swallow’s wing, then at the swan found with it and suddenly
saw it in a completely different light. They’d both carried something,
he realised. Something that had been stolen from them.
Harry couldn’t believe his eyes. He’d roamed this house a thousand times, he’d
even watched the cursed artefacts sneaking back into the curio cabinet, one by
one. He’d definitely seen and read (and, he dimly remembered, been enveloped by)
the Black family tapestry, now back up on the wall. How could he have missed that
Regulus Black, Sirius’ younger brother, had the same initials as the note inside
the decoy locket? Why hadn’t he thought of the locket they’d found in Grimmauld’s
cabinets that hols, two summers ago? He could remember that time, when Sirius
and Dumbledore were both still alive, as clearly as yesterday: Sirius and the
twins were clearing out the rubbish left behind by a long line of Blacks, cleaning
the cabinets in the drawing room. Everyone had worked and grumbled and grinned,
and all his friends were whole and well and
with him. And among all the dusty bits and bobs, there’d been a heavy locket,
that none of them could open.
Harry smiled grimly; it was as if he could almost hear the last piece of the puzzle
sliding into place. Lucius Malfoy kept the diary at Malfoy Manor. The Lestranges
had the cup in plain view: on their mantelpiece, like a bloody Quidditch trophy.
What if another Horcrux has been here all this time, in another old Pureblood
home, right under my nose? That’s it! It has to be!
Because if it wasn’t, Harry had no idea where else he could look.
Harry glanced at the writing desk in the corner and immediately his gaze strayed
to the drawing room. The barest hint of pre-dawn grey seeped through the gap in
He stole as quietly as he could past Mrs. Black’s portrait in the corridor: he’d
never been less eager to waken it. He entered the drawing room, treading softly
to avoid disturbing dust or doxies, intent on searching the curio cabinet there.
He saw a ring, which the parchment swan had been intended to carry from the library
to the kitchen, but he gave it only a passing glance, for there were other things
in there as well that hadn’t been there before. Behind the spidery instrument,
some tarnished old seals and a musical box Harry didn’t dare to touch again, was
a locket. The locket that no one could open. Harry thought he knew now why that
But there was only one way to find out for sure. A vision flashed through Harry’s
mind: Dumbledore’s blackened hand, and a ring with a cracked black stone on his
withered finger. Drawing a deep breath, he reached out…
Harry paused, pulled back, and rubbed his sweaty palms together as if getting ready to catch a particularly difficult snitch.
Wait. An image flashed through his mind of Snape in the pensieve memory,
berating him for not being cautious. Defensive curses. Contact.
Harry gave the gleaming artefact a determined frown. Then with two tugs he pulled
the sleeves of his jumper over his bare hands, and only then clasped the locket,
clawing at it awkwardly, his wool-covered fingers trying to prise it open. He
scowled fiercely at it, with all the force of his burning desire to see Voldemort
gone for good.
Even through the warmth of Mrs. Weasley’s jumper, the Horcrux felt heavy and cold.
Then it snapped open and a burst of green flame hit him square in the chest.
The locket’s chain coiled round his neck like a python, cutting, crushing. White-hot
agony wrapped his throat like the lash of a whip, like the slashing impact of
a curse, the same one Snape used on Harry when he’d yelled: “Don’t call me coward!”,
but worse, oh fuck so much worse, and this time the curse didn’t end
and Harry had no Buckbeak to save him and no Snape to save him either.
Harry smelled burnt fabric and saw the bare flesh blackening on his chest where
the locket’s fire hit him. He screamed, but only a wheezing sound made it out. He
clawed at the chain in an instinctive attempt to tear the cursed thing free; but
at the smallest movement the agony peaked so high he almost blacked out. Dimly
through the nauseating waves of pain he realised that if he lost consciousness here, where
no one else could hear him, he was dead.
He didn’t know how he stumbled to the door or staggered down the hall, but nonetheless
he was making his way across it. The locket, still dangling around his neck, seared
him with every step. It was so hard to breathe as agony
thickened in his lungs. This is the worst one yet. Oh shit!
“Help!” he wheezed. His throat tightened and it felt as if the locket’s chain
was getting shorter and shorter, slowly garrotting him. Unable to fight
it any longer, he collapsed on the dusty floorboards. “Snape!” he panted; forced
out of his lungs like this, the air burned. Snape!
Then there were hands all over him, and a persistent, deep voice in his ear. He was
lifted and carried somewhere, the ring of agony around his throat ebbing to a
dull throb. As the blackness closed over him, his last memory was of the sick
stench of his own curse-corroded skin.
Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!
Snape hadn’t expected his patient to awaken so soon, but there was an uneven,
deeper breath, then green, unfocused eyes flickered and opened. “How bad?”
A knot twisted in Snape’s gut. “I’ve seen worse.”
“Ah. Like Dumbledore’s ‘worse’ or worse ‘worse’?”
Snape gazed in past those eyes: a familiar mental routine, only this time Potter
never pushed back; he just let him in, into a chaotic whirlwind
of visions and sounds, a disordered mess only Potter could control.
Dumbledore in the doorway of a Muggle house, Dumbledore drinking from a cup, Dumbledore’s
blackened hand: that unstoppable cellular death reminding Snape once more that
there were injuries that even all of his knowledge couldn’t heal.
There was also an ache, a burning – not an actual pain of his own body, but an
induced kind, like the Dark Mark’s summons – forced into his brain, like the visions.
Snape sighed as he broke the mental contact.
“Honestly.” He paused and swallowed. The image of Dumbledore’s blackened limb
lingered fresh in his mind, especially with the same blackened flesh on Potter’s
chest and throat. “You saw his hand. If the same curse had struck you, your neck would have
been too withered to support even your completely empty head.” He smiled painfully.
Even with every potion, every countercurse at his and the Headmaster’s command,
it had taken less than six months before even Dumbledore had admitted it was hopeless.
“The locket,” Potter wheezed. “Did I get it?”
Snape glanced up past his patient’s line of sight, to the headboard of his bed
where a locket with an ornate S dangled from its chain. He snuck it off the headboard
and safely out of Potter’s reach with a wandless, silent Leviosa, even
as he looked down at Harry. Somewhere behind his composed mask of a face he berated
Potter for suicidal lunacy, though aloud he only murmured, “You got them all,
bravely, as usual.” He brushed back the hair that threatened to fall into Potter’s
eyes, imprecise and defenceless without his glasses. “Go to sleep.”
“Wait,” Potter protested weakly. “Gotta give you something.”
“Later,” Snape insisted. “Sleep.” For once he didn’t have the heart to tell Harry
the bitter truth, just as he knew he didn’t have the guts to yell at him. Damn
Potter for growing up and not turning into his father, for turning into someone
deceptively like Regulus instead.
Or not like Regulus at all. No matter how much I’ve tried to teach him, his mind
is still an open book: his heart on his sleeve, his thoughts in his eyes.
For the first time, these thoughts twisted Snape’s gut with worry rather than
resentful rage. Yet another reason why he will be lucky to survive the Dark
Regulus was never so foolish, so daring, so damn reckless. Harry can’t go on
blithely opening one dark artefact after the other and expect others – expect
me! – to save his skin. Not when I can guard him day and night, and still
fail to keep him safe! He managed to set off that curse here, on my watch, and I couldn’t stop it in time.
I can’t let him die! Not like this.
‘Protect him until the final battle,’ Dumbledore had said. ‘Only until the final
battle, then it’s up to him, as he faces his destiny.’
Until he faces Voldemort. Every road in Snape’s life led to the Dark Lord.
So did the lives of others, who hardly deserved the end he would give them.
Snape pushed away those thoughts – With my luck, he’ll summon me soon enough
– and unwound a fresh roll of bandages. It didn’t matter at that moment whose
wounds they would soon conceal; Snape welcomed any refuge from his fears, even
the temporary one offered by the work of tending to Potter’s curse wounds. Scourgify
to sanitise the cloth; Tergeo to clean out the discharge; manually apply
a layer of salve: the wizardly will working with the ancient magic of caring touch,
pushing healing energy beneath the surface of the skin, deep into tendons and
muscles, joints and bones. Though healing had never been among his natural magical
gifts, by now such battlefield mediwizardry was an all-too-familiar routine. It
It’s maddening to have so little to work with: like trying to fight a wildfire
with a wet rag. At Hogwarts I had not only my own resources, but Pomfrey’s, Sprout’s
and Hagrid’s, all at my beck and call. I could’ve done so much more. First-rate
facilities, wasted on the trivia of schoolchildren. But now, with Harry… My hands
have never been more tied. I only have a kitchen to brew in, only the ingredients
for simpler, slower remedies. And what few ingredients I do have won’t last much
longer: there’s still some rosewater and honey, and plenty of olive oil, but one
more batch and I’ll be out of saffron and truffles…
When Harry woke up again, bandages were wrapped tightly all around his
chest and neck. It didn’t hurt, in fact, his entire chest was numb.
There was a note next to his pillow. Harry unfolded it.
Summoned. it said. Back
tonight. Our next lecture will be on common sense!
The script spiked angrily at the end, as if Snape could only barely restrain himself
from adding insults.
He said he’d be back tonight. Harry stared at the window, worried, chewing
his fingernails and glaring at the portraits. He’d misplaced his Advanced Potion-Making
book. Maybe I left it in the library. I ought to check it again. Or do something
else more productive than sitting here and worrying over nothing. Still, Harry
sat at the bottom of the stairs, gazing blankly across the hall at the stubbornly
motionless front door.
Last one gone. I should add a sixth tally mark to Mrs. Black’s canvas, only
she’d wake up and start asking about it. Instead Harry lifted the edge of
the bandages on his shoulder and caught a glimpse of something dark and tentacled
under the surface of his skin, like an odd bruise. No! he told himself.
He said it wasn’t like Dumbledore’s. Harry swallowed. But even if it
is, it’s worth it.
The thought did nothing to dispel the heavy anxiety at the sight of the angry
mottling of his skin; it did nothing to banish the thought of other curses.
I hate waiting and not being able to leave. What if Voldemort knows Snape’s
helping me? No, I shouldn’t think of that. Snape’s OK. He has to be. He promised
he’d come back.
But what if he’s hurt, or worse? I can’t leave here to help him. If he never comes
back, I’ll be stuck here forever.
But maybe I will be able to leave, eventually. I wonder how long you can ignore loneliness
until you forget it’s there? Can you Obliviate yourself to forget something like
that? I wonder if Snape’s ever tried that. If he even cared. Or if he likes being lonely.
Or what if he isn’t so lonely any more? What with Regulus’ portrait around to talk
to. Is that why he keeps coming back here? ‘Cause of Regulus? At that, Harry felt a sick pang in his chest. And here I thought he cared about me. But why
would he? He’s only using me to kill Voldemort. For revenge, ‘cause Regulus died.
There was a time when Harry liked that portrait – the bloke his own age, who spent more time in others’ frames than his own – but now Regulus seemed like the rest of the Pureblood prats. Horrible, the
lot of them. All the Blacks. Every single one who’s still got their name
on that tapestry. I don’t know what Snape sees in a dusty old portrait. A portrait
isn’t a person, how can he not know that? Just shows what a mad bastard he is.
There was a dry pop outside. Harry rushed to the front door and swung it open,
not caring if Voldemort himself and every last Death Eater were out
there waiting for him. But Snape was alone. He leaned against the doorway and
panted, gathering his strength, before staggering inside.
Instinctively, Harry reached out and held him up. It punched a spike of agony through
his chest and Snape winced as if the same agony speared through him as well. Harry
felt something wet and cold, and for the first time he wondered if the stains
on those dark robes were Snape’s blood instead of someone else’s. “What happened?”
A wry smile stretched across Snape’s sallow face. “I haven’t had a welcome this
warm since… never, actually.” His hands shook. He didn’t try to pull away. “The
Dark Lord’s temper wasn’t the best.”
“What’d he do to you?” Harry cried. Snape must’ve really felt like shit, because one long arm draped itself over Harry’s shoulders for support; Harry hoped the support he was offering wasn’t just physical.
“Ohh, nothing out of the ordinary,” Snape was trying for airily casual, but to
pull that off, Harry reckoned he would’ve needed his usual silky voice, not this
hoarse-from-screaming rasp. And he would’ve needed his usual prowling stride,
not this shocky, unsteady totter: even worse than when he’d first showed up at
Grimmauld place, after Harry had damn near cursed him in two. “Now that I’m back
from my latest pleasure jaunt,” Snape croaked, “let’s take a proper look at your
First thing after breakfast, Snape converted the kitchen into a Potions lab: conveniently,
it was even located in the basement. And even though it lacked slimy jars and boxes,
it smelled like a Potions lab when Snape locked himself in there till teatime,
banging pots and pans around. Multicoloured smoke seeped under the door. It smelled
like old boots. So did the potion that Snape fed Harry afterwards.
“Any luck?” Harry asked after swallowing down the third batch. At least this one
was different: it smelled like boiled cabbage and tasted like tar.
Snape glanced at him blankly and rubbed the bridge of his nose, concealing the
tired circles under his eyes. “I’m making progress,” he said levelly.
Harry snorted at that.
“I’ve learned a lot of things I shouldn’t try again. It’s a start.”
“Did you learn anything you should try again?”
“It’s time for your lessons,” said Snape, ignoring Harry’s question. “You didn’t
think you’d get out of them just because of a mere chest injury, did you?”
I’ll show you ‘chest injury’, you rotten sod. …Or, no. I’ve done more than
enough of that already. “Not me. You didn’t think you’d get out of
them just ‘cause of your Potions experiments?”
“How droll,” Snape drawled; yet, somehow, it lacked the chill of his classroom
Regulus’ canvas in the corner was empty today. Harry was suddenly glad of it, even
as he caught Snape’s searching glance at the vacant frame. The portrait’s neighbour,
an old witch in an elaborate gown and a dust-powdered wig napped on a painted
sofa: the same sofa as the one downstairs, Harry recognised the armrest. Irma
Black, the plaque on the frame said, and if the tapestry was right, she must’ve been Walburga Black’s
mum, the one who’d collected all those house elf heads.
“What was it that I’d futilely attempted to teach you during our first lesson?”
Snape asked over the portrait’s ominous snores, which were loud enough to rattle
the surrounding canvases. “Do refresh my memory.”
“How to make a sleeping draught, I think,” Harry shrugged. “Asphodel’n’wormwood,
“Draught of Living Death,” Snape couldn’t help correcting, before growling irritably,
“And I meant our current lessons.”
“Oh.” Harry glanced at the pensieve in the corner. He remembered it quite well.
“Horcruxes are dangerous. They like sacrifices. And I’m not supposed to touch
“So then, why did you?”
“I didn’t! Look, I remembered that bit right away, and I pulled my sleeves over
my hands so I wouldn’t touch it. I suppose it just looked so harmless,
like the rest of the junk, when we first cleaned out Grimmauld. And what else
was I supposed to do? Leave it there?”
“Ask for help, perhaps. I realise consulting a Death Eater on this issue might
not seem entirely advisable, but you did have an entire Dark Arts library at your
In his pocket, Harry’s left hand clutched at the plain locket with all its strength.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you. I do, but…” Harry’s throat was suddenly,
betrayingly tight. You’ve already sacrificed too much,he thought, gazing
straight into those hollowed, dark eyes, willing Snape to see him, to understand
what he meant. I wasn’t about to ask you to sacrifice more.
“You, trust me?” Snape stared at Harry as if he’d suddenly sprouted
“Well… Yeah. Innit obvious?”
“Why?” Snape breathed.
“You’re on our side. You showed me your Patronus.”
Snape’s strangely open, stunned expression faded into his usual shuttered, cynical
look. “I don’t suppose you ever verified my story with the Order?”
Harry blinked. Never even thought of that. I probably should’ve, but what’s
done’s done.He shook his head.
“Typical!” Snape cried. “I could have easily created an illusion of a Patronus;
I could have been acting on the Dark Lord’s orders. It wouldn’t’ve taken a minute
to gain your trust and then abuse it, but you didn’t even consider the risk then,
and you still haven’t considered it now. That’s precisely the sort of thinking
– or lack thereof – that’ll get you killed! …As well as me.”
I can’t get anything right with him, can I? “If you’re so afraid of getting
killed, why do you keep coming back here and risking everything?” Harry snapped.
“I almost killed you, and in return you saved my life. Again. What
‘sort of thinking’ is that?”
“The sort of thinking that realises someone has to keep you alive, since
you’re clearly incapable of doing so yourself.”
“That wasn’t what I asked!” Harry protested. “Stop changing the subject. The point
is, I can owl the Order any time, or tell the Aurors all about you. I know where
your house is. The next time you go there, or come back here, a trap could be
waiting for you. But it won’t be,” Harry said hotly, “‘cause sometimes,
just occasionally, it’s all right to trust people!”
“Once,” Snape’s quiet tones overrode Harry’s raised voice as effortlessly as ever
they did in class, “I put my life into the hands of another man, simply because
I had no other choice,” he concluded sternly, “Don’t insult me by assuming that
I would ever make the same mistake twice.”
“M’not asking you to do that, or to prove anything to me. Or even tell me what
happened!” Harry blew out a breath, and when he spoke again, the strident note
of protest was gone from his voice, leaving it level, certain. “I don’t have to
ask you anything. ‘Cause I trust you anyway.”
“That’s precisely the problem. You trust things, even though there’s no logical
reason why you should.”
But Harry thought of many reasons why he trusted Snape, large and small: the way
Snape reacted to certain portraits, the way he’d killed Bellatrix Lestrange, just
so Harry could live. The way he kept coming back here again and again, brewing
him potions and patching him up and teaching him, even though Harry knew he drove
Snape spare in the process. But he didn’t say any of that, because he was more
or less crap with words. He said something else instead, something he could explain.
“I want to kill Voldemort,” he told Snape quietly, and then asked, “Do you?”
hand rose to cover his left forearm. “For the last eighteen years,” he replied
just as quietly, “I’ve wanted nothing more.”
“Right, then.” Harry nodded. “We’re good.”
“Yeah. That’s what normal people do. They trust each other, without Marks or anything
like them. Didn’t you ever just trust someone before?”
Snape nodded slowly. His reply, “Once.” was so soft it was barely more than mouthed.
“So, d’you really think it was a mistake, going to Dumbledore? Being his spy?”
Harry asked that night as he followed Snape downstairs.
There was a long and awkward moment of silence, as Snape stood facing away from
the staircase, looking at the serpent candelabra in the corner. “Don’t mistake
me for a hero. I merely chose the lesser evil.”
“Evil?” Harry asked. “How d’you mean?”
Did Snape’s face just turn gloomier? “Do you really want to hear this?”
“Yes.” Course I do! He’s never said anything about Dumbledore. “I promise,
I won’t… do anything to you, or start hating you, or… I just want to know.”
“Very well,” Snape finally said. “I swore an Unbreakable Vow.”
“It’s a spell. I was magically bound to obey him. Any infraction meant my inevitable
Harry frowned. “But that’s… that’s slavery! It’s almost as bad as a Dark Mark!
Dumbledore’d never lower himself to Voldemort’s level!”
“At least his methods of ensuring obedience were less sadistic.”
“Dumbledore was not like Voldemort!”
Snape turned his back. The movement reminded Harry of the scars Snape’s inevitable
black cloth armour hid. A heavy silence fell; full of the weight of voiceless
dissent to Harry’s last cry. At last, Snape breathed into the stifling hush, “Are
“Sorry.” Harry sighed. I really, really am. For everything.
Harry took a sniff of this evening’s potion. “They’re different, every night,”
he grumbled, “but they all smell and taste bloody awful – different, but awful.”
A thousand different horrible tastes. Like Bertie Botts Beans, for masochists.
He scowled at the glass and tried to swallow it all at once. It was just as ghastly
as he’d thought.
“They’re good for you,” Snape said, taking the empty glass. As if that explained
“It really is worse than what Dumbledore had, isn’t it?”
Snape said nothing, just peeled the bandage back and set it aside. His hands felt
cool against Harry’s inflamed chest. Must be time for the numbing salve.
Snape put it on him every morning and evening now, and it took all feeling from
his chest completely.
“How long would he have lasted, if you didn’t… help him?”
The hands rubbing the salve into his shoulder were gentle, from what Harry could
tell before the salve worked. “A week longer, at most, even without the potion
he drank at the cavern.”
Harry flinched at the memory. “So, at least nine months to go. Good. Got time then.” He tried
his best to smile, to sound normal. “Right, I’ll just figure out how to break
the curse tomorrow morning, and sort Voldemort before supper. What’re you doing
day after next?”
Snape replied dryly, “I’ll be up in the observatory, doing a bit of research on
the moon,” He paused for a beat then added, “to find out if it’s made of Stilton
Harry’s smile widened. “Well, I was thinking about going on a holiday, and I reckon
I’ll want you along with me.” He explained earnestly, “No one else’ll be able
to tend to the wound.”
Was it just a trick of light, or was that an answering grin on Snape’s face?
“I was thinking, Italy. Or maybe France. Or Romania. And London,” he added quietly.
I want to see if Ron and Hermione are really all right. I want to tell them
that no matter what, some curses can be broken. Maybe they’ll have more luck than
me. “Have you ever been to Romania?”
Snape shook his head. “Reg went one summer, after the O.W.L.s. He liked it.”
There he goes, on about Reg again. “That’s where we’ll go then,” Harry
nodded. “You can have fun watching me go green when you dose me with your horrible
potions day and night. And I’ll…”
His given name caught Harry by surprise. “What?”
“You are not going to die. Not from a Horcrux curse, not from Voldemort.”
“Y’don’t know that!”
“I do,” Snape shoved another foul-smelling concoction under his nose. “I’m not
going to let you.” he added. Quiet, final.
Wish it was that simple! Harry thought. But looking into Snape’s dark,
serious eyes, he came very close to believing him.
“You’re finally starting to learn something. Will wonders never cease?”
Harry snorted. “I’d’ve learned sooner if you’d decided sooner to be a teacher
instead of a sarky sod.”
“I did nothing but teach,” Snape huffed. “It wasn’t my fault if you lot
of hormone-addled nitwits couldn’t be bothered to learn.”
“Oh, come on, as if your lot never had hormones,” Harry laughed. “Y’mean to say,
back in your day you never snogged someone in the Astronomy Tower, or the Quidditch
stands – OK, maybe not the Stands,” he amended at Snape’s appalled glare, before
continuing cheerfully, “The Dungeons? The Library?”
“The Library? Certainly not!” Snape bridled, his lips thinning as if he’d
just been insulted. “While the Gryffindors were in a hurry to breed the next generation
of dunderheads in every spare broom closet, and die a brave and horrible death
shortly thereafter, the normal students were busy revising for Potions N.E.W.T.s.”
“‘Normal students’?” Harry echoed, ignoring the jibe about his parents.
Potter blinked. “Who else was ‘normal’ then?”
Snape arched an eyebrow. “Who do you think?”
Harry glanced at the wall tapestry where, next to the scorch mark that was all
that was left of Sirius, ‘Regulus Black’ was still stitched. Snape’s gaze lingered
on that name, and his harsh face seemed to soften, just a bit. Aha! Harry
tried to sound as casual as possible. “Y’mean to tell me your Reg was happy to
spend all that time revising without trying to cop a feel at least once?”
Snape’s eyes widened.
Gotcha! Harry smirked, deliberate and gleeful. It felt good to be the one
to catch the paranoid prick unaware for a change, instead of Snape always catching
him. “That’s not ‘normal’, that’s mental!”
“It was two weeks before the Potions N.E.W.T.!” Snape snapped. “He spilled tea
all over the notes I’d kept since the preparation for my O.W.L.s. He was fortunate
I let him stir my cauldron.”
“Stir your cauldron.” Harry waggled his eyebrows. Puts a whole new spin to
that song Mrs. Weasley likes so much. “I see. Is that what they
called it back then?”
Snape’s glare could’ve given him scorch marks to match the tapestry. “Get your
mind out of the gutter.”
Harry gave him a ‘who me?’ look and hummed the Celestina Warbeck tune with what
he hoped was his innocent face.
Snape arched an eyebrow. “Did you know,” he drawled, “that an intelligent thought
is considered to be an orgasm of the brain: those able to achieve it experience
true pleasure…” he regarded Harry and added with a mock sigh. “The rest have to
Harry gathered his courage. Now or never. He seems in a good mood today.
“I’d like to check something if you don’t mind. Before you run off to your horrible
Snape’s eyebrow lifted. “Oh?”
“I think I know why I’m crap at Occlumency. Maybe it’s ‘cause I’m better at attacking
than defending. Maybe if I attack first he won’t even have time to… Let me try
this.” He stepped up closer to Snape. Looked into his eyes, gazing deeper and
deeper and trying to read that enigmatic face with all his strength. “Legilimens,”
At first Snape looked shocked and Harry braced himself for the bristly, grumpy
lecture that would surely follow, but Snape didn’t break away. Instead that dark gaze
turned clear and relaxed, though the tension in Snape’s shoulders and arms
hinted at the effort such openness demanded from him. “Concentrate,” he
murmured. “Faces are masks. Something we put on for the crowd. You must see past
that mask, into the eyes. Into the mind. Gather all your focus, reach out, and above all
Harry tried, looking deeper, past the black mirror of Snape’s irises, past his
own reflection in them. Past the darkness and the emptiness to whatever lay beneath.
He reached out with his body as well as his mind, until his hands cupped Snape’s
face, until the murmur of Snape’s voice melded with the murmur of his thoughts
and that murmur gained an image, then a feeling.
Perhaps if I could fake it somehow, Albus would still stand a chance. What spells
are least harmful to an Inferius? He’s nearly become one already!
The Killing Curse. I’m prepared.
I can’t! There has to be another way. I can still…
That’s an order!
NO! Don’t force me! Take it back!
DO it! NOW!
When Harry broke out of that shared thought, they were both breathing heavily.
For a moment he had to steady them both from falling, like chess pieces tumbling
off the board. Harry relaxed his clutching grip, then gently rubbed the blood
back into a cluster of white fingertip marks on the sides of Snape’s face.
They didn’t speak. Everything that could’ve been said already had been.
In the privacy of Grimmauld’s kitchen, Snape stared at the boiling cauldron. As
he continued the routine of stirring, mincing fresh asphodel leaves, watching
the flame so the contents wouldn’t boil over, his thoughts were far away.
“You can’t possibly expect me to do that. Let me try again, there
has to be a way. I can do better.”
“You’ve done your best, and I appreciate your efforts. But perhaps, when all
the books and cleverness cannot make a difference, it’s time for action of a
A calm, even gaze focused on Snape.
Snape felt the chill of the rooms despite the blazing fireplace. “What are you
asking of me?”
He reached out with his mind and for once, Dumbledore welcomed him in, without
“Now, now. I am not the monster you take me for. To give up one’s life for another’s:
such sacrifice only comes from the heart. It takes nobility and courage. Not
everyone has that courage, Severus, and not everyone should, on my behalf: Gryffindors
are only good in moderation…”
Something fell with a clatter of broken glass. He’d dropped a beaker full of crushed
wormwood and hadn’t even noticed it. Dumbledore’s quiet words still rang in his
“Funny thing, death: an adventure not even Voldemort can escape. Sometimes it’s
everything, and sometimes it’s nothing. Don’t let this one be nothing, after all
we’ve done. When the time comes, you must choose, and if you make that choice
– you must make the Killing Curse swift.”
“You spent all day with your cauldrons,” Potter complained. “I hardly see you
unless you show up to pour more potions down my throat. Where’s my regularly scheduled
torture? Or lesson, as you call it.”
“Miss me, do you?” Snape sneered.
“‘Course!” Potter beamed, not convincing a bit. “Terribly. Can’t you see?”
Snape hmphed derisively at that.
“No, honestly, do I look mental? Miss you? After all your bloody insults and detentions.
I’ve missed you something rotten!” The imp grinned. “All day! Oh, come and stir
my cauldron…” he hummed and pretended to swoon.
Snape eyed the brat and yanked hard on the strip of cloth he was wrapping around
Potter’s ribs. “Manners.”
Potter just snorted and continued singing. “And if you do it right….”
Clown. Snape was tempted to shove the bandage in his mouth. But that’d
only stop his insolence for a little while, even if I wrapped him up from head
to toe like a mummy.
“I’ll boil you up some hot, strong loooove. To keep you warm…”
“Fine!” Potter’s glare settled on Snape: cold, resolute, all that teasing lightness
suddenly gone. It was getting harder to avoid that piercing glare. “I
will. How soon’m I gonna die?”
“You don’t have to pretend. What with your potions and all. I know I’m running
out of time. So I’ve got to try and kill Voldemort. Somehow! Ready or not! Or
it’ll only get worse.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Snape muttered, setting yet another healing potion in front
of him. “You still need practice. If I thought you were out of time, I’d personally
invite the Dark Lord for a visit to Grimmauld, so you could take your best shot.
But things are not that desperate just yet.”
“All right.” Harry shifted his glare from Snape to the potion. “M’sorry I yelled.
You didn’t force me to go after that locket, I did it myself,” he said before
he upended the phial. “And I’m not sorry ‘bout that. So when it’s my funeral,
I want Celestina Warbeck playing. And I want you to sing along.”
Snape gave him a We-Are-Not-Amused stare.
Harry grinned. “All right, no Warbeck. Weird Sisters playing ‘God Rest Ye Merry
Snape snorted. “Anything would be an improvement over Miss Warbeck.” Snape told
himself that he wasn’t at all amused by Harry humming the blasted song; he reminded
himself that the seventh mention of it in two days was downright annoying.
But all the same, it was times like these when Snape couldn’t help hearing Regulus’
Black humour in Harry’s voice. He had to gather all his self-control to dispel
Dunno why Snape’s so stubborn about keeping my chest all bandaged up,
Harry thought, picking at the frayed edge. I don’t even feel anything, so the
burn or the bruise or whatever was hurting has to’ve healed by now. It’s awkward
as hell to practice for battle with my ribs all wrapped up like this, I can’t
even take in enough air to yell out a decent curse… oh wait, I’m not supposed
to yell them, I’m supposed to cast nonverbally. But either way, how’m’I supposed
to cast wandlessly if I can’t breathe? Besides, it’s rough and tight and the bandages
tickle my elbows when I sleep and, right, that’s it; I’m taking them off no matter
what Snape says. How bad can it be? It’s probably all healed anyway. Ha, I was
right, no blood or anything, not even a scar. Only my chest’s still bruised. Hang
about, that’s not a bruise, can’t be! Harry peered closer, poked himself in
the ribs. Doesn’t hurt. That’s weird. When he looked closer, the bruising
over his ribs in the mirror looked like a snake… a snake and a skull, like the
one on Snape’s forearm only bigger.
He stepped back from the mirror in shock. Glanced down. Saw nothing. He pulled
off all the bandages and stood in front of the mirror, and in the reflection it
was obvious, a clear shape of a Dark Mark darkened his chest… where the eye sockets
were, his skin was just beginning to turn black and flake off like a shed snakeskin.
Harry covered it with his fingertips but felt nothing but smooth skin beneath.
He looked in the mirror again and there it was, the Dark Mark.
NO! Impossible! Did that fucking locket Mark me? Or is it… is it like
what Dumbledore had? Is that why Snape tried to keep it covered, so I wouldn’t
see? Wouldn’t realise this thing’s getting worse and killing me?
How long will it take for the reflection in the mirror to start showing up in
It’s not fair! There has to be a way! There has to!
But is there? Shit, how can I even think of that now when Voldemort’s still
around? This isn’t just a life line disappearing or something like that. This has
to be worse! I’ve got to kill him, and soon, before his fucking curse kills me!
‘Not yet,’ Snape said. I hope he knows what he’s doing. He must know, otherwise
he wouldn’t see any point in keeping up with those lessons of his. I suppose I
should try and trust him, but it’s not as though he makes that easy.
Snape had brought him to a different hall today: Harry could tell because actual
sunlight was streaming through the dusty panes, bright enough to show galaxies
of motes in every ray. The twins had left their mark here, that summer before
Harry’s fifth year. They’d taught the beastie-legged chairs to tango, and the
scruffy old curtains to slip into people’s pockets and nick spare change. Then
Mrs. Weasley caught them at it and took all the charms down while yelling fit
to beat a Howler; though the twins whispered to Harry afterwards: “Be careful
anyway, mate, she missed a couple!”
Sodding slave driver! Harry eyed his wand, which was currently in Snape’s
clutches. “I am!”
“You are not! All you’re doing is screwing your face up and panting. You’re
about to burst a blood vessel. We’re done for today.”
“No, lemme try…”
“You managed to summon your wand before. It’s a start.”
“But I haven’t done it without words yet. You’re not giving up, are you?”
“It’d take more than your incompetence to make me give up!” Snape groused, but
after a searching look he added in quieter tones, “You’re too tired to cast properly
anymore; all you’ll accomplish now is to exhaust yourself further.”
“Rubbish! I can do this! I know I can. Show me again, dammit!”
“If you must,” Snape sighed; he muttered something about stubborn Gryffindors
as he rose slowly to his feet, circling behind Harry with that bloody unnerving
prowl of his. Suddenly, hands descended on Harry: long, narrow, bony hands that
slid over his forearms, shifting them into a new posture. Firm fingertips pressed
into the muscles of his shoulders, straightening them with a jerk.
“You’re absurdly tense,” Snape was close enough behind him that the whisper was
clearly audible. “You’d think a Gryffindor would know a proper duelling stance
His hands lingered on Harry’s shoulders. Hard. Skilled. And warm. Harry tilted
his head back, relaxing, at last.
“Try it now,” a soft rumble brushed Harry’s ear with heat.
We’re about the same height, Harry thought when he turned his head and
found Snape’s face so close to his own. Strange. He should be taller. I’ve
always thought of him as taller than me. Snape gave him a heavylidded stare,
and his eyes weren’t just dark anymore. They were warm. A bit warmer and they’d
almost be like Ginny’s. Harry didn’t want to think of what that might
mean, so he closed his eyes and tried not to think at all.
And then those hands were gone from his shoulders, all too sudden and all too
soon. “Not quite what I expected of you,” Snape’s voice broke his reverie, “But
the ability to surprise others is a very good trait.” Thin lips quirked; he might’ve
almost been fighting back a grin. “You may stop.”
“Stop what?” I haven’t even done anything yet!
“Levitating us.” Snape declared with ironic patience.
Harry glanced down. The floor was a lot further down than he remembered, probably
because they were floating near the ceiling. And then the floor rushed up really
fast and it took Harry a moment to realise he was falling.
Deft hands caught him by the elbows before he fell far, and magic fell over his
shoulders like a black cloak still warm from another’s body, as Snape took over,
lowering both of them gently the rest of the way to the floor.
When the floor was steady under Harry’s feet once more, he realised he was right.
He and Snape were about the same height, when they faced each other, eye to eye.
Seven days passed before the mark was visible without a mirror. Harry didn’t have
to look in the mirror any more to know that the patches of skin under the bandages
would be withered and black, forming the vague shape of the mark.
Harry sprawled boneless in bed, in a fuzzy state of half-awareness, trying to
resist the lulling pitter-patter of the rain, yet too lazy to get up. His fingers
automatically kept tracing the place on his palm where his life line used to be
and was not. “Sod it!” he muttered. He slowly rolled over until he got to the
nearest edge of the bed and then he stumbled in his nest of sheets, out of the
bed and eventually – after finding a clean set of robes – out of the room.
Harry felt restless. There were only so many books on the library shelves that
didn’t snap back, and only so many rooms to explore. He took to a new pastime,
listening for Snape in the kitchen to see if he could guess what he was up to.
He imagined him at the cauldron, the precise movements of his thin, bony hands
grasping the knife or the stirring rod.
He didn’t have to dig into his memories deep at all to come up with that image.
It just rose to the surface.
He caught a scent – musty, smoky, enticing somehow – and followed it up the stairs
and through a bedroom to an open doorway beyond. Snape was in the bathroom, standing
by the sink, ladling something out of a small cauldron into single-dose phials.
“Er… What are you doing?” Harry asked.
“Oh.” Harry had never really considered what Snape lived on after he left Hogwarts,
but his teacher’s salary couldn’t’ve been much anyway and it’d been a while since
he’d had even that, and those potions probably didn’t bring nearly enough. “If
you want, I’ve got some; I’d never use it all anyway. I can lend you a few galleons…”
“I don’t want your money,” Snape hissed, and added before Harry could, “Or the
Fair enough. Harry craned his neck and peered at the potion bubbling in
the small cauldron. It smelled dusty and musty, like Grimmauld Place itself only
more so: like Snape’s makeshift Potions lab. “What’s that?”
“Amortentia,” Snape explained with a disgusted curl of his lip. “There’s always
a market for love potions and slow-acting poisons, but I ran out of the ingredients
for the latter.”
That’s weird. Harry sniffed the air again, just to make sure. “It can’t
Snape raised an eyebrow. “I think I can identify what’s in my own cauldron
better than you, thank you very much.”
“It’s just… there must be something wrong with it,” Harry clarified.
The offended glare Snape gave him was even worse than previous one. It was accompanied
by a ‘Get out of my sight before I hex you’ stab of his wand toward the door.
“It smells different!”
“Of course,” Snape nodded. “Amortentia does that.”
“What? It can’t just change!”
Harry must’ve had the most puzzled expression on his face because an amused smirk
twitched at the corners of Snape’s mouth. “Amortentia is fickle. Especially for
brainless fools about your age.”
OK. Fine. It can change. I can see that, even if I’m not the kind to get random
crushes like a fourth-year Hufflepuff. The scent of Amortentia always used
to remind him of Ginny, but after months of not seeing Ginny, and months of trying
not to think of her after his decision to leave them behind, the summers at the
Weasleys’ seemed so far away. Funny how the knowledge of imminent death changes
your perspective on things. I haven’t flown a broom since forever. I dream of
travelling to places like Romania or India. And Amortentia doesn’t smell the same
anymore. But it still shouldn’t smell like that! It smells like… I dunno, like
dust and dark, cold places, and, and… Grimmauld. It smells just like this
The revelation didn’t worry him as much as it should have, instead it brought
him an odd sort of peace with himself. As if finally there was one direction in
his life that was worth it. Yeah, it smells like dust, so what? At least
it wasn’t empty and dry like the need for revenge that’d driven him through most
of his Horcrux hunt. It’s a change of heart, and change for the better’s hope
and hope’s good! Harry told himself firmly I thought I’d given up on hope
a long time ago. But hey, looks like I’m not dead yet. For that, I can put up
with the smell of dust if I have to.
This discovery, and the resolution that followed, lifted some of the wearying
fog of melancholy – almost as bad as a Dementor – from his brain. With that clarity
came a jolt of surprise, as Harry remembered something. Something he had to do.
He dug through his pockets for the parchment swallow, now folded around the fake
locket, and laid both of them on the table amid Snape’s ingredients.
“I think this is yours. And Regulus’.”
Snape stared at the parchment swallow. Then at the note. “Where did you
“Cabinet in the drawing room. It’s how I knew where to start looking for the locket.
See,” Harry showed Snape first the note on the swallow’s wings, and then the note
hidden inside the locket.
As the wings unfolded into a letter, Snape’s eyes widened. He looked up, his glare
so shockingly piercing, it was as if he didn’t see Harry at all but instead saw
the ghost of the man who’d written those notes.
Once Snape unfolded the note signed R.A.B. Harry smoothed out them both,
pressing their torn edges together. They were a perfect fit. “Professor Lupin
told me he died ‘cause he was afraid and ran from the Death Eaters. But he didn’t
just die. He died for something.”
Snape hmphed and regarded him with a sombre stare. “Only you would be so eager
to ‘die for something’,” he accused. “The rest of us want to live for it.”
“No,” Harry protested, “I meant, he tried to make the world better.”
“Well, he made it worse, by leaving it. Stubborn sod.” Snape husked. “He was doing
it for me as well as for himself. Couldn’t stand to see either of us bound by
the Mark: like the grimoires at Hogwarts, chained to the shelves.” For the longest
time, Snape traced the handwriting on Regulus Black’s notes with a tentative fingertip,
as if he wanted to make sure they weren’t an illusion. And when Harry gave him
the locket the note was found in, it received the same reverent attention.
“What was he like?” Harry asked.
“He never was one for foolish heroics,” Snape said sadly. “But he was very passionate
about the things he believed in.”
“He sounds…” Harry swallowed, through a nasty pang of something very close to
“He loved libraries, and had a wicked sense of humour. And he taught me what it
meant to be Slytherin. To be proud of it. Though, to be fair, he always said he
learned compassion for Half-Bloods, Muggleborns and Muggles from me.”
What’s wrong with me? I ought to be happy to have a normal conversation with
him for a change! “There, see, you both influenced each other for the better,”
Harry argued. “That counts for something, doesn’t it?”
“It was the downfall of us both.” Snape’s gaze was distant, his voice quiet and toneless.
“For what it’s worth,” Harry smiled, “I can’t imagine you not proud to
be Slytherin. You’re a Slytherin to the core.”
Something flickered in Snape’s dark eyes, but it broke the ice. “When did you
find this?” Snape murmured, holding the locket as carefully as if it were a holy
“The swallow was here, but Dumbledore helped me get the locket. We thought it
was the Horcrux.” Harry shrugged. “Kept it in my pocket ever since.”
“Ah. The pockets of a Gryffindor.” Snape’s lips twisted in a near-smile. Fond,
wry. “No telling what surprises they might hold.”
Under that unblinking, focused stare, Harry felt his face burn. Stop, he
ordered himself, pushing those thoughts out of his mind. I’m a pervert. And
not a very good one either, since I’m being one in front of a trained Legilimens.
He tried to break eye contact before Snape did catch what was on his mind.
I can’t, Harry berated himself later. I shouldn’t even think about things
like that around him. What’s the point? Even if I did have more than a few months
to live, Regulus sounds so wonderful when he talks about him. I’m just me. I’d
never even come close to compare.
Snape stood in the downstairs hallway, facing Mrs. Black’s portrait. There was
a strangely wistful expression on his harsh face. “He does manage to annoy me
just as much as your son used to at times.”
“Not as much as the pair of you annoyed me,” Mrs. Black chuckled. “Playing tag
and herding my books up and down the stairs when you knew perfectly well they
were not to leave the library.”
Snape raised an eyebrow. “Regulus put them up to it. I was merely trying to restore
Harry laughed softly, picturing Snape’s indignant glare. Then Snape turned and
Harry ducked, escaping through the long narrow corridor, away from the voices
turning unclear, away from the stairs, before Snape saw him there and chased after
him and… no, he didn’t want that, honestly, he didn’t want to be in Regulus’ place.
He didn’t want that young, breathless Severus of Mrs. Black’s memories to
catch him a few steps later, tackling Harry and pinning him down in all the dust
of the narrow hallway floor. Feathery dust and hair strands tickling Harry’s face,
making him sneeze and laugh even harder, and Severus’ arms around him, strong
and steady, like that one time Snape caught him to keep him from falling and held
Snape never came after him. And that, Harry knew, he did want, strongly,
desperately: like he wanted to see Mum’n’Dad or Sirius again, like he wanted Ron
and Hermione’s magic back, like he wanted to rid the world of Voldemort.
For once, the kitchen smelled of something edible.
A ladle with a serpent handle, the one that once told Harry about a house elf’s
fate, coiled itself lovingly around Snape’s wrist and flicked its tongue against
Snape’s pulse point, like a pet. It never did that with Harry, and he was Grimmauld’s
rightful owner, but now that Snape was touching it, it acted as if it planned to mate
with his hand and have lots of tiny teaspoon babies. He stared at the ladle, but
what shocked him more was what he heard next.
“Hold me closser, ssqueeze me – ooh like that – what lovely sserpentine fingers,
ssuch warm skin…”
Harry’s face heated.
Snape raised an eyebrow. “I assure you, there’s absolutely nothing that even an
overgrown teenager like yourself could find blushworthy about cookery!” he declared
Yeah? That’s ‘cause you’ve got no bloody clue the ladle’s chatting you up, mate!
Harry smirked and sauntered over, reaching out and trailing a finger up the silver
handle, just to see if it would pay any attention to him. It didn’t.
“Such firm touch,” Harry translated the next round of hissing compliments, “Such
precision: it’s shiver-inducing to be handled by a true Master.”
Snape threw a disbelieving look, first at Harry, then at the ladle in his hand
when Harry gave him a cheeky grin and nodded at it.
“Sspoilssport!” the ladle grumbled at Harry as it curled closer around Snape’s
wrist. The serpent-head on the end of the handle flicked its tongue out, as if
tasting the delicate web of blue veins on the underside of Snape’s wrist. Snape’s
lips tightened in a repressive line. Ever so slowly a drift of pink eased its
way up his throat and along the gaunt cheekbones.
Harry slid two fingers over Snape’s wrist and against that licking tongue, scratching
the underside of the serpent-head’s chin. “I think that last bit was about me,”
he added smugly. “I own it after all. The silverware in this place can get very
friendly, don’t you think?”
Snape lifted an eyebrow. “I ought to find a spatula and spank you with it, you
impertinent scamp!” His cheeks reddened.
“Y’can’t.” Harry pointed out. He tried so hard not to break out laughing as he
turned around and concentrated on chopping up the roots. “Your secret admirer
here will get jealous.”
“Uh-huh. It said you’ve got a ‘sstrong, sseductive grip’, by the way.”
Impossible brat. Harry’s thoughts made it clear that the grip he meant
was definitely around something other than a spoon handle. By habit – honed by
being around dozens of hormonal nitwits – Snape stopped himself from delving further
in, even though in this case he was rather tempted.
“If you like its commentary so much, perhaps I can persuade it to give you a ‘strong’
grip, somewhere where it’ll be the most ‘seductive’.” he rumbled.
“Only if you let me come and stir your cauldron.” The imp leered. The ladle echoed
him with an appreciative hiss at the idea. “Y’know I’ll do it right.” Harry’s
hand joined Snape’s at the handle, scratching the triangular serpent head. His
eyes glistened impishly under his overgrown fringe. “Y’can both count on it.”
“Tease,” Snape declared, but his voice was warm with approval, just as his gaze
was dark with promises.
“Ah,” Harry beamed as if it was a compliment. His fingertips trailed along the
back of Snape’s hand before pulling back. “But only when it counts.”
“When does it count, then?”
With a slight nod, Harry leaned forward, closed his eyes and inhaled, so close
his breath fanned the side of his face. So close, yet for once Snape couldn’t
recognise a single thought behind those closed eyes, and Harry didn’t answer.
“Does teasing me count, or not?” Snape repeated. He refused to be irritated
by whatever game the brat seemed to be playing.
“Absolutely,” Harry finally murmured, never really answering the question.
Then he clutched at Snape’s shoulders, his face pale.
“What?” Snape asked, worried. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah,” Harry smiled. “Just need t’sit down for a bit. I think I overdid it with
all the… standing, n’ walking.”
“Bed,” Snape said sternly. “Now. And you will take the Sleeping Draught tonight,
“Not till after dinner. Please. I can last that long.”
Snape sighed. Potter still looked as pale as a ghost but at least some colour
had returned to his lips. Stubborn imp. “Fine.”
Harry’s entire world had changed.
The change was all-encompassing, but so slow that half the time Harry thought life had always been this way. It felt as familiar as breathing, or speaking, or ‘biting back’ every time Snape snapped at him, but now the whole world was inside out, upside down, and so confusingly vivid and raw.
He didn’t know what to make of it or how to react, now that something familiar – something that should, by all rights, have been unpleasant – had suddenly changed into an awkward, brilliant, wonderful feeling: wanting, and daydreaming, and holding onto hope and other foolish thoughts.
For the first time in ages, Harry’s nightmares had gone, and other dreams took their place.
The brat had insisted that Snape didn’t need to help him up and out of his room.
He was pretending everything was all right, but Snape could tell by the strained
breaths, the coltish wobble to his legs, that Harry was gradually taking a turn
for the worse. More energising potions, he told himself. That should
last him another few weeks, to keep him from wasting away. Then we’ll have to
try more drastic methods.
They sat on the stairway facing Mrs. Black’s snoring portrait.
“Grimmauld,” Harry said, or something close to that; Snape couldn’t tell between
Harry’s strained breaths.
Harry shrugged. “Grim’n’old. S’what this house used to be. Just a grim ol’ place.”
Snape blinked, surprised. “Regulus used to say that. ‘A grim old place for the
grim, old creatures.’” He also claimed things were going to change when he
took over the house.
“Not anymore! I’m not one.” Harry protested with a defiant smile. “And neither
“Don’t lie,” Snape smirked and reached, tousling Harry’s messy hair. So familiar
the gesture and the feel of it was, it would’ve been so easy to pretend that it
wasn’t Harry who was sitting here, but Regulus. “I’ve been one for a long time
and you will be, soon enough.” He stretched his lips a bit in a parody of a smile.
“In twenty years you’ll come back here and this Place will fit you just perfectly.”
“Twenty years!” Harry repeated it as if Snape had told him a memorable joke. “No
need. Fits already, don’tcha think?” Harry leaned back and stretched on the stairs
like a cat trying the stairway out for size, raising a solemn eyebrow. A gesture
he borrowed from watching Snape for hours at a time no doubt.
“Too charming,” Snape murmured. “Work on it.”
He withdrew his hand and moved as far back against the railing as he could get.
The temptation to reach again for that unruly black hair, to move to the top buttons
of Harry’s robe and bury his face there, to let his hands and his mouth roam where
they would, to let go, to forget the present and immerse himself in the past (or
was it just the reverse?) was becoming too great. Harry likes me for some reason.
I could make it happen; we aren’t that different, he and I. It wouldn’t be easy,
exactly, but it’s so tempting.
He focused on the portrait’s dusty frame instead of the tempting sight. I can’t.
Harry deserves so much more. Someone young, something like what Regulus and I
had. He deserves someone who would love him for himself. Not because in certain
lights he resembles a man who died before he was born.
After a minute of stillness, he felt something: a soft touch. Harry, perched two
stairs below him, pressed his forehead against Snape’s knee.
Snape let him. After
a long moment spent looking thoughtfully down at that tousled hair, he let one
hand drift to rest atop it. The natural curve of his fingers seemed a perfect,
inevitable fit for the warm curve of Harry’s head.
Harry rested more of his weight against the side of Snape’s leg; one hand came
up to hide a yawn.
“It’s late,” Snape informed him.
“What was in that potion of yours?”
“Many things. All of them good for you.”
“M’tired, is it s’posed t’make me tired?”
“A side effect. Sorry.”
“Are not, y’sly sod.” Snape could hear the smile in Harry’s voice; he could even
feel it in the curve of cheek against his knee. “Knew it was a sleepin’ draught.”
“Come on,” Snape murmured, “Let’s get you upstairs.”
Once they reached the room, Harry started talking, Snape suspected if only to
keep himself awake for a while longer, fighting the draught. “Y’know. This was
Sirius’, right? Every time I look at all those bite marks on the bedposts I wonder
if they’re Padfoot’s.” Harry reached out then and slung one arm around Snape,
moving closer to where he was on the edge of the bed.
Snape bared his teeth in a feral smile at the gashes and scratches on the bedpost,
but then he turned back to Harry and leaned over, just barely brushing his lips
across Harry’s forehead. “Sleep. Everything will be better in the morning.”
“Night,” Harry murmured.
Snape didn’t reply.
Afterwards, he climbed the stairs to the dusty attic. There he stared out though
a grimy window at the London smog, which blanketed out the stars behind the sallow
glare of the city. But despite all that pollution, of chemicals and of artificial
light, still he could see Regulus, shining in his mind’s eye.
But by the time he came back downstairs, moving silently in an instinctive effort
not to disturb the sleeper, the present – and Harry – had once again eclipsed
In the corridor, he sidestepped a candle. The foolish thing had probably mistaken
him for Harry. It scurried after him, its flame a-fluttering and casting deep
shadows on the walls.
“Oh come and stir my…”
“Don’t start that again! Even the house elf heads sing it better than you by now:
at least they’re in tune.”
The ‘drastic methods’ that Snape tried did restore Harry’s energy:
for two hours at a time, anyway. At least they didn’t leave him drowsy or weak
with reaction afterwards.
Harry grinned and shifted some stacks of books and study notes he had all over
the bed onto the floor. It was that time of evening again. The part of their routine
that had him looking forward to evenings all day long.
It was really a pity that Harry couldn’t feel it when Snape applied the salve
to his shoulders and chest. The salve numbed everything it touched. Usually Snape
had to soak his hands in some other foul-smelling goo, just to get the feeling
in his own hands back. I suppose it’s just as well it numbs everything so much,
‘cause I’d probably be in a hell of a lot of pain otherwise. But just once I’d
be willing to take that chance, so I could know what his hands feel like.
Snape finished all too quickly.
“No horrible brews for me today?” Harry teased.
“Not now. Perhaps later.”
The reply sounded so resolute and sombre, even for Snape, that Harry had to ask:
“Have you given up?”
“No,” Snape shook his head and looked up, his lips stretching into something that
might’ve been a smile. “In fact, I believe I may be making progress.”
“Yes,” Snape nodded, just as serious as ever. “Really.”
“But that’s great!” Harry beamed. “Brilliant!”
“Uhm,” Harry looked up and realised, that’s it. “Y’know, I was thinking and…”
For a second after he said it, he paused. How the hell could he even begin to
explain ‘I think I like you and I’d like to spend all the nights I’ve got left
showing you just how much, before my silverware beats me to it’, to Snape, of all
people? Especially in a way that wouldn’t get him hexed? There was still a chance
not to say it, to throw something silly and wild at Snape instead, to take both
of their minds off what was in Harry’s thoughts and about to escape from his
mouth. But Harry was a Gryffindor, and that meant he had a reckless streak that
made him charge ahead when others ran. It’d kept him going this far, and hadn’t
Snape looked up at him and Harry wondered Is he reading my mind? “I’m…”
“Shh.” A finger against Harry’s lips silenced him as Snape pressed yet another
potion into his hand. “Drink this.”
Harry groaned. Wanting to get it over with as quickly as possible, he downed it
in one go. I’d’ve much rather be licking that fingertip instead! Or something
else… With a flash of daring Harry held that thought in the very forefront
of his mind, locking gazes with Snape in the next best thing to a gilt-edged invitation
to come in and see what he was thinking, as he handed back the empty phial. “Thanks.”
“Welcome.” Those warm fingertips against Harry’s hand were all he could focus
on. With his whole body, Harry leaned into that gentle contact.
Snape pulled away all too quickly. Does he know? Harry didn’t have the
chance to find out.
Snape took a thin golden chain out of his pocket. Harry’s broken key to Godric’s
Hollow dangled from the end. Snape held it for a bit longer, as if unsure how
to proceed, but then reached out and slid the chain around Harry’s neck, locking
it on the back, leaving the key hanging over Harry’s bandaged chest. “Dumbledore
wore the Gaunt ring as a keepsake,” he said. “I believe you should do the same.
True achievements are seldom marked by medals; but some battle honours mean just
Harry felt his face warm up. He might’ve been blushing. “I haven’t done much to
deserve a medal.”
“You have. Don’t ever doubt that.”
“Um. Well. In that case,” Harry closed his hand on Snape’s – which was still over
the key on his chest – just in time to catch and still it in place. “We both deserve
that honour.”…Because both of us have fought this war, on our own, for far
Snape’s hand was perfectly still. His face was unreadable. Harry leaned closer,
gauging his reaction. Snape didn’t move away, so Harry tilted his head, and leaned
closer still. Maybe, Harry thought, the strongest curses can be broken
without a spell, if we just make the improbable happen.
It was only then that Harry sensed something had happened, by the way Snape’s
eyes widened. He looked where Snape stared and it was Harry’s hand he was staring
at, his thumb brushing absentmindedly against the pulse. I can’t see anything different about it. What’s he seeing that I’m not?
The rays of candle light fell on Harry’s palm in a fine filigree, a little like
the ornate handle of a key from Godric’s Hollow, but imprecise, as if it was dissolving
into light. “Curious,” Snape whispered. “What if…” He reached for a candle and
before Harry could ask what that was for, tilted it over Harry’s hand.
Harry sucked in his breath. A spatter of wax drops, clear as tears and and warm as blood, pooled in the cup of his palm. Just as the wax cooled and hardened and turned creamy white,
Snape lifted the edge of it with his wandtip and peeled it off like a shed snakeskin.
Underneath – Harry couldn’t believe his eyes – three lines, not two, crossed his
palm again. His lifeline circled the base of his thumb, as clearly as if it had never been gone. Its curve was as insistent as the curl at the back of his head that never lay
Harry gaped. “Wow,” he breathed, “How’d you do that?”
“I didn’t,” Snape murmured, triumph glinting in dark eyes. “You did.”
“Really?” Harry gave an adrenalin-shaky laugh, “All right then, how’d I
A dry chuckle shook Snape’s chest. “By retreating here, you made Grimmauld the
target of the curse.” he explained softly, “It became your prison and it would
have been your tomb. But despite the curse, the solitude, despite everything,
you brought back life to this Place, and light to its inhabitants, simply by being
you.” He nodded at the candle, whose flame bowed in reply: Harry beamed at it.
“For the curse to be broken, they had to be willing to help you.”
Harry smiled warmly at Snape. “But you helped me too. I’d’ve never even known
how to do all that, or how to keep going if it wasn’t for you. We did it together.”
Snape stared at Harry’s palm. With his long black hair hanging in his face, he
looked oddly like a gypsy who’d just found a particularly interesting fortune
to tell. “Mm, perhaps we did.”
Harry nudged Snape amiably, eyeing his palm, “What’s it say?”
“You ought to know by now,” Snape declared loftily, “that people choose their
“Then what was all the fuss about it being gone?”
Sallow fingers traced the line on Harry’s palm. Gentle, clever. “That was exactly
what the curse robbed you of: the capacity to make such a choice.”
Mind if I test that?” Harry leaned up. “Stay,” he murmured, his heart in his throat.
Snape’s hand tensed.
“I want you to. It might be the last night either of us will ever get to spend
the night in Grimmauld, or maybe anywhere. D’you really want to spend it alone?”
Something flickered in Snape’s dark eyes that Harry’s tentative Legilimency couldn’t
quite catch, but then Snape’s chest rumbled in a purr like an approaching thunderstorm.
“When you put it that way, I don’t have a choice, do I?”
Harry chuckled warmly. “Oh, but you are my choice.” Mine. He slid
his hands – fingers splayed – against Snape’s forearms and nudged Snape down with
him into the nest of blankets and warmth. The grimoires on his bed shuffled grudgingly
to the foot of it, rolls of parchment clenched between their pages, reluctant to
surrender their hard-earned space.
“The choice of a Chosen One. How can I argue with that?” Snape murmured wryly,
sitting on the edge of the bed as if on the edge of a cliff. He met Harry’s eyes
again and added, warmer. “So be it.” His hands left Harry’s to open the fastenings
of his robe and tug at the laces of his shirt.
There were scars on Snape’s chest; Harry definitely remembered them from the glimpse
he’d had at Spinner’s End. He looked and tried to figure out what left them and
who, and at the same time tried not to make Snape even more self-conscious by
staring; but there was that one fresh scar, cutting across so many others, that
still shocked Harry just by being there. The scar was raised and pink: when Harry
brushed tender, tentative fingers down its slanting length, he found it was a
little warmer than the surrounding flesh, as if it was still a bit feverish. But
there was no sign of infection; perhaps it was just that Snape’s body heat was
that bit nearer to the surface, that bit easier to feel. Beside it lash marks
criss-crossed over his ribs and there was a rip from a belt-buckle
at his side, the symbol ½ cut into his shoulder and I’m just as bad
as all the rest of them! Harry choked out, “I’m sorry,” as his fingers traced
the ridge from his thoughtlessly cast Sectumsempra.
“Sorry?” Snape’s mouth curled sarcastically. “Have I put you off so quickly?”
“Not a chance! I just… listen, I didn’t mean ‘choice’ in that way. It’s not an
offer offer, y’know.” It’s not that kind of offer, I don’t want him
to think I only want a shag. I just want him to stay, even if nothing happens.
Even if we talk all night, or snore all night. Doesn’t matter what we do; I’d
just like him here, with me. Only, I don’t have much time to waste and I can’t
afford to let this one chance pass by. “Not unless you want that. I just don’t
want you to spend tonight sleeping all the way across the hall. And I think –
um, I hope – you don’t want to either.”
Mutely, stained fingers curled around Harry’s, lifting them gently away from the
scar: terrible looking on its own, but on Snape it just blended into the background
of a hard life. Thin lips brushed Harry’s fingertips, dry and light as the flick
of a black robe’s trailing edge.
“I never saw it heal,” Harry half-explained, half-apologised. It looks like
they tried to turn his skin into one giant tapestry …and I tried to cut
his heart out. He closed his eyes and leaned into the touch, forehead against
jaw, against shoulder. One hand was still trapped between their bodies, the other
held on tight. “I didn’t mean to; if I only knew then I, what kind of… How much
I… if I knew all this! I’d’ve never… I’m so glad you’re alive!”
A gust of warmth ruffled Harry’s hair and the chest under his hand hitched with
Snape’s wry, dry, amused snort. “I can’t say I’m disappointed, myself.” One wiry
arm wrapped around Harry’s body, as single-minded as a snake wrapping its mate. The other hand slithered
up the back of Harry’s neck, fingertips stroking the soft hair there. “Especially
given a recent … ‘not an offer’.”
“Um.” Harry hoped his face wasn’t as burning red as it felt. “What’s this from?”
He trailed his hand down Snape’s chest, possibly picking the one farthest away
from the scar whose story he knew for certain, because he left it. “I mean. I
don’t mind, they’re just scars. I’ve got one – a few – myself. Besides the…er.”
He tilted his head into the touch of those fingertips, a flick of a fringe covering
his lightning bolt scar. I didn’t mean that one! I’m such crap at this! How
does anyone ever just talk, in bed?
Suddenly it was so important that Snape knew: Harry really didn’t mean the scar
on his forehead. It mattered that Snape knew he was talking about the scars that
weren’t famous: one on the back of his knee, another on his ribs where the belt
buckle tore across skin, almost in the same place as one on Snape. But there were
warm hands on him and warm breath against his cheek, and dark, questioning eyes.
“Yeahh,” Harry breathed. “What was I saying again?”
“Entirely. Too. Much.” Snape murmured, punctuating each word with warm brushes
of lips against Harry’s jawline. Then his hands slid up and down Harry’s shoulders,
kneading and stroking as he reclined back against the covers, pulling Harry with
Huh, Harry thought. Here I was trying to seduce him, at least I think
I did and then… What just happened? Did it work? Is he seducing me back?
Then that mouth was on Harry’s throat, warm lips and slick tongue making his whole body tingle.
He is! Wow! He leaned back a little, braced over Snape on elbows
and knees, and just stared down, wide-eyed with awe, as he fought to catch his breath. Fought not to come. His hair hung in Snape’s face, and the key dragged across Snape’s newest scar, before coming to rest over his heart.
Snape’s gaze remained dark and scrutinizing on Harry’s, and his presence in Harry’s
mind was unmistakeable. Harry leaned down, closer, but as the teasing git had been doing all evening, he pulled back again, his hands rubbing distracting circles on the small
of Harry’s back. No. Kiss me, Harry thought, please!
Snape’s eyes widened in surprise, but he craned swiftly upward. At first it was
light, gentle, tentative, testing and tasting the way, then his kisses intensified
into a demanding, hungry exploration and Oh wow! In return Harry tried
for something fierce and skilled, but he probably only managed fierce and clumsy.
Harry didn’t know how long the hot-slick-wonderful feeling lasted; he only realised,
breathless, that Snape was panting against his skin.
“OK?” Harry asked. Please, let it be OK!
“You underestimate yourself.” Snape’s breath was warm as he tilted his head against
Harry’s neck, his lips moist. “You are so much more than merely ‘OK’.”
And then it all was so warm and awkward; even Harry hadn’t thought it could be this
awkward. He’d certainly never dreamed it could be this incredible. There were covers and books and buttons and noses all getting in the
way, but Snape was there with him as well, and that made all the fumbling worthwhile.
There were a thousand things Harry wanted to try right now, if he could only decide
which one to start with. So Harry tried several at once, then he tried others
one at a time, and only then realised – from the feel of a hand sliding up his
naked thigh – that the sneaky sod had been banishing his clothes, wandlessly,
silently, one by one, starting with his socks and working his way up.
Snape was so much better at this seduction thing than Harry was, and it was all
so good: that mouth soft and hot against his own, then trailing down his
neck and chest. Those clever hands kneading and knowing and learning Harry’s body
an inch at a time; moving so slowly and deliberately that Harry whimpered in frustration.
S’not fair, ‘cause I started it, but he’s just taken over and he’s still teaching!
But I reckon I could really love learning these lessons. And life’s not fair anyway,
but sometime’s life’s good, and right now it’s bloody brilliant!
There was one especially vivid moment, amid Snape’s warm, skilled touches and
Harry’s frantic need, when Snape stopped that slow, wonderful torture and looked
up at him: dark eyes gleaming in his pale face, dark strands of hair framing it.
In that moment, the realisation struck Harry. He’s so damn sexy! I must’ve
been blind! Why didn’t I see it before? The desire to explore and taste every
inch of his skin, look deep into his eyes and his mind and lose himself
in that skilled sensuality, was almost unbearable.
So Harry held him close, and did exactly that.
The light dimmed, and Harry noticed all of the candles but one hopping off the
bedside table and trailing out the door. Harry looked at the one that remained,
which apparently had no plans of leaving. Snape noticed it too, he reckoned, ‘cause
of the “Bloody little voyeur,” he grumbled under his breath.
“No it’s not,” Harry pointed to the one that stayed, “It just doesn’t want
to leave us in the dark. Look, it’s even blushing.” Indeed its flame had turned red
and thinned, yet the candle remained lit, snuggled down into its wax drip skirt. Harry cupped
his hand loosely around the flame, shielding the bed from the glow, as he leaned
closer to Snape again. The light turned the flesh of his fingers a rich fiery
red, and cast long shadows on the bed. In the warm darkness, Snape’s eyes glistened
and Harry could hear each breath. This time he was careful and slow, tilting his
head and kissing Snape almost with reverence. The warmth of the candle flame and
the warmth cascading down his body burned like banked coals.
They fell together onto the bed, rolling and rubbing until they settled into a
steady rhythm: sliding and slick with sweat, hotter and harder with every thrust
and So fucking good! Ohyes, again! Over and over until Harry melted into
Snape’s arms like wax running from a candle and pooling in a palm, like a waxen
voodoo doll with a living, pounding heart.
Snape wrapped his arms tighter around Harry, placing a gentle kiss on his forehead.
Harry felt him breathing, slow and deep.
“G’night,” Harry murmured to Snape; in response, the candle too settled down and
flickered out, leaving the room to soft shadows. Harry wriggled deeper into his
nest of blankets. His eyelids were heavy and his mind languid, but he thought
he heard Snape reply.
“Good night… Harry.”
Harry slept, his hands curled like a lion’s paws around Snape’s forearm, cheek
against his wrist. He wouldn’t’ve let go for anything.
Harry had traced his scars as if tracing the page of a book, his fingers examining
the raised letters.
Not that it was too much of an exaggeration; Snape’s scars contained quite a few
letters. SNIV, white and raised: a brand in firewriting, one letter per Marauder
before they were interrupted by Hagrid as Wormtail traced the V. There were multiple
souvenirs of Auror interrogations, not just the usual manacle scars and whip weals,
but a sigil on his back, left over from a spell they’d cast to enhance the sensitivity
of his skin. There was ½, carved into his shoulder by Macnair in a creative
fit of punishment.
There were some scars he wasn’t in a hurry to talk about, for various reasons.
There were the claw marks on his arse, from Reg’s overprotective owl divebombing
him while he was in the middle of… well, of Reg! Mad sod of a bird, Snape
smiled a bit at the memory, though he certainly hadn’t been smiling much at the
time, lucky for Reg I was too busy using my other wand, to hex it into
a feather duster!
The smile slid away from Snape’s face as he remembered the oldest marks of all:
from Dad’s belt and his fag ends. He was particularly glad Harry hadn’t asked
Harry had responded to Snape in a way he never would have expected. He remembered
Harry’s nearly immediate transformation from a teasing imp to someone with all
of his wants and vulnerabilities wide open, his body writhing on the bed shared
by a jumble of books. He’d bitten his lip and fisted his hands in an attempt to
keep still against Snape’s mouth. Wicked. Wonderful. Snape had seen those
thoughts in his eyes, and many more: need and desire and brilliance and Severus.
Now, Harry slept on his stomach, sprawled over most of the bed like a skinny frog,
just as vulnerable and awkward as the frogs on Snape’s workbench. His knobbly knee
was poking Snape’s side, his nose was cold against Snape’s shoulder, and his tousled
hair tickled Snape’s skin with each breath. He was still holding onto Snape’s
Snape could smell the lingering, waxy scent of smoke from the now-unlit candle. Moonlight
filtered through the window, painting Harry in dreamlike hues of misty silver
and soft shadow: a young personification of Sleep.
Snape had never felt more awake in his life.
‘You lie awake night after night, thinking, turning over all the possibilities
in your mind, until one night you realise that there’s only one possible way to
succeed.’ Dumbledore had told him that once, long ago. ‘And that there’s no one
else but you who can do what must be done. And when you realise that, you act
on it. Because you must.’
Snape didn’t think he was ready. He didn’t think he could ever be ready to lay
down his life for a Noble Cause, like a Hero. Like a Gryffindor. But there was
no cause here. Just Harry, slowly eaten alive by a curse. Just Snape, the only
one who could stop it.
He slid out of Harry’s embrace, careful not to wake him. He stood by the bed,
memorising Harry’s face, then he bent to wrap the blanket a little closer around
Harry, protecting him from Grimmauld’s chill.
And then, having made his choice, Snape left.
Because he must.
Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight.
Snape retrieved Slytherin’s locket from where he’d hidden it after Harry was wounded,
so Harry wouldn’t know he’d failed, and get the suicidally heroic idea to try
again. Despite all Harry’s desperate efforts, the locket was still intact, the
curse on it still unbroken, and for one very simple reason: Harry was still alive
and whole. The necessary sacrifice had not yet been made.
Severus dipped his hand into his pocket where he kept another, very different
locket – smooth and plain – the one he’d once given to Regulus.
He tried to focus on Regulus, but another memory haunted his thoughts: that same
locket in Harry’s hand, offered back to him. I must be strong now; this is
for both of them. Perhaps I will see Regulus again, after it’s all over. As for
Harry, there’s so much I cannot give him, but this is one thing I can.
A life for a life. A soul for a soul. Mine will be enough for the sacrifice,
and Harry deserves to go free.
After his mother’s locket, so familiar by feel even after all these years, Slytherin’s
heavy, ornate locket felt wrong: polished by magic instead of touch. Slick, cold,
and cursed. To Snape’s senses, honed by a lifetime’s expertise in the Dark Arts,
it crawled with a surface magic that raised the hairs on the back of his neck
in a shiver of instinctive, animal dread. It was like Legilimencing a madman:
when any contact even slightly too deep, could trap him and drag him into the
Irony curled his lips as he stretched out on Regulus’ bed. He thought back to
the nights they’d spent right here, discovering each other, all those years ago.
He’d never thought this bed would also become his deathbed. As he cast locking
charms on the door and silencing charms on the room, he felt as though he was a cur, crawling into a corner to die.
Might as well get it over with. Snape put the heavy chain around his neck.
Carefully, he raised the cursed locket to his face, his fingers tensed and ready
to claw it open. He lowered all Occlumentic shields at once, deluging the locket
with decades’ worth of rage and pain: the distilled, boiling, bottled fury of
a man mourning a terrible loss. All because of this damned thing that hid the
soul of a murdering monster. But not for much longer.
The locket snapped open and the first waves of concentrated dark magic hit him
full blast. His body thrashed, but he took his old, familiar refuge from agony,
retreating from the outside world, reaching for strength, for memories of happier
times in the distant past with Regulus. Soon, it’ll all be over. Perhaps then,
we’ll meet again. It was the only thing left to look forward to.
Regulus. He saw him clearly in his mind’s eye: so much like Harry, so very
different. A slim young man, elegant and roguish, with wavy black hair and sidelong,
silver eyes. Tiny quirks of Reg’s features rose again from Snape’s mind, all the
details he’d forgotten. Apparently, approaching death did wonders for the memory.
Was it merely memory? Instead of a pensieve-perfect re-enactment of their
past, Severus was in the quiet darkness of his mental refuge with Regulus, who
was more vivid and complete and real than he’d ever been before.
Ghost, Severus thought. What else can he be?
“‘Ghost’? As if I’d haunt you, you arrogant sod!”
That same devil-may-care laugh, that same affection beneath it left no doubt that
he would’ve done just that, in an instant, if only he could.
“Reg?” Something bright and sharp and sweetly painful – grief, joy, or both –
pierced Severus. “How?”
“You go and do a thing like this, I’m not about to just ignore it, am I? Especially since
it involves me.”
He was here all along, Severus realised with a shock, trapped in the locket for years. Decades. On the
heels of Severus’ horror, grim determination arose. My death will free Regulus
as well as Harry.
Physical agony spiked suddenly, battering at the walls of Severus’ mental sanctuary. He tried, in
instinctive terror, to shore up those faltering defences, striving to postpone the
inevitable. But hands he’d once trusted completely slid onto his shoulders and
turned him away from his futile task. Regulus smiled softly at him. Severus reached
for him and held on tight, and was held in turn by the arms he never thought he’d
“I’ve been through this and it’s nothing you want to stay around for.” Warm breath
fanned Severus’ ear. Severus’ body arched, overwhelmed, but Regulus pressed a
whisper-soft kiss to his forehead, holding him through the convulsions. “M’just
here to help. Come with me. Come away.” And with that he rose again, pulling Severus
with him, drawing him up and out, away from the pain. “It’s time.”
He held on as Severus’ lips drew back in a fierce grimace. “So brave,” he whispered,
awed. “Half-blood, but twice the mind. Twice the courage. Twice the heart.”
Severus felt as though he was seventeen once more, wrapped in his first lover’s arms, as if they would never be
parted again. His body jolted off the bed in a spasm of bliss and agony, before collapsing. The cage of the flesh, the lonely decades of duty
and pain: everything that had kept him from Regulus before, fell away, shed like a
chrysalis. Raw magic gathered in him, and Severus felt himself rising.
After a decades-deep dive into cold, dark waters, at last he floated effortlessly
closer to the surface, where freedom waited like warm air and sunlight just out
But his ascent ended with a startling jolt, as though a leash had snapped tight
about his throat. No! Not yet. He was held back by something. He turned
back to the world below and shuddered, shocked. On the bed below him lay
his own corpse: a far cry from the youth who had loved Regulus.
This corpse was many hard years older: a rawboned, hatchetfaced man with skinny muscles and stringy hair, a
body scarred and worn and ill-used by life. From such a distance, it seemed like a long-lost relative
of his father’s: no one important or close. It lay like a sacrifice on an altar,
a carved knight on a tomb. On its chest lay a scrap of metal that, despite its
small size, contained more death than any natural corpse.
The body’s eyes snapped wide and focused on him. There, in the black depths of
his own stare, he saw a gleam that once belonged to a silvery gaze, and he couldn’t
look away. Beyond Legilimency or thought, this was an intimate communion, a mind-to-mind
dispute and confession and, at last, farewell.
The malignant swell of locket’s magic pulsed like a heart. Its opened halves gaped
wider, and what Severus had thought was the smoke of curse burns rising from his
flesh, thickened and darkened and took on coherent form. A serpent, fouler than
the skull-vomited snake of Morsmordre, oozed from the cracked eggshell of the locket. It coiled
around the reanimated corpse, a python crushing the last spark of life from its prey.
Regulus! Severus looked on from afar at his own body that now held Regulus’
soul. He fought desperately to intervene, but he was as powerless as a ghost,
unable to do anything but watch and despair as Regulus suffered in his place,
as the curse tightened its cruel grip.
All at once, everything changed. With the eyes of the spirit rather than the flesh,
Severus saw a second presence erupt into being, sudden and strong as the sun bursting
from behind cloud. The battered body in the serpent’s coils was eclipsed by the
blaze of a mighty lion. A powerful, princely presence: his mane a comet, every
muscle aglow with celestial fire. The lion sunk claws that burned like meteors
into the serpent’s coils and ripped them to shreds of shadow that frayed and faded
like smoke. The lion lifted his head to Severus, and as he met that gaze Severus
knew it was the end. The lion’s form grew brighter until it blazed more fiercely
than any physical stars. But the heart of the lion burned brightest of all, until at last Severus had to close his overwhelmed eyes.
His eyes burned: stinging wetness trickled from their corners and trailed down
the sides of his face. He opened them with an effort, stared up just long enough
to identify the bedroom ceiling, and closed them again. He was back in his body
In the darkness behind his eyelids, he ran through all the corridors of his mind,
The only one left in Severus’ body was himself. His chest jolted in a bitter laugh
or a sob at the shock of that idea, and the fact that it was a shock.
The movement disturbed the locket; it shifted with a metallic clink. His fingers
scrabbled at the chain pooled at the base of his throat. The touch brought no
pain, no sensation of corrupted flesh: then again, the necessary sacrifice had
already been made.
Blinking wet out of his eyes, Severus lifted the locket into view. It dangled
open and half-melted, blackened and twisted and as empty as a shed snakeskin.
He’s won. He’s free!
Moving as stiffly as if his body had truly been a rigid corpse, Severus sat on
the edge of the bed they’d shared this one last time. His chest hitched as he
drew a long, steadying breath. Amid the pillows and the dust and the disarrayed
covers, he thought he could still catch traces of a familiar, beloved scent. Farewell,
Regulus, he sighed, his throat too tight to whisper it aloud. Alpha Leonis,
Cor Leonis, Lionheart.
“Divestimenta!” Severus heard distantly past his absorption
in the book in his hands. He hmphed absently as the grimoires on the bed settled
into a comfortable pile around him.
“Oh, Se-ve-russs…” Regulus singsonged teasingly as he sprawled across his side
of the bed. The sheets barely covered his arse as he fixed the other youth with
a wicked, knowing look, just waiting for Severus to glance up and catch sight
“Just one more page, I swear!”
Regulus chuckled. “What’s the matter? I know you want this and you know
you want this, so would you kindly stop fondling my books and start fondling
me?” The sheets slowly shifted downwards…. One eyebrow arched as Regulus scooped
up a grimoire with the same easy tenderness someone else might hold like a stray
kitten. When the book sighed happily open, Regulus laid it face down, letting
its leaves serve as fig-leaves.
“You must have a danger kink if you picked that one to cover your bits.” Severus
nodded at the book, “It hasn’t been fed yet.”
Regulus beamed. “Y’better c’mere and rescue me then.”
Severus snorted but set his book aside, spelling the curtains around the four-poster
bed closed as he slid under the covers. “You aren’t the one who needs rescuing,
mate. Your dad ought to nag you instead of me for ‘defacing his grimoires’.”
Regulus tilted his head. “What about corrupting his Son-And-Heir, then?”
“Oh, yeah, as if there’s anything left for me to corrupt!”
“Good point.” Regulus lunged and Severus was laughing and wriggling, as fingers
slid quick as snakes over ticklish skin.
The first rays of dawn woke Harry: he stretched, slow and catlike, under the covers.
Sated sweetness melted every muscle he had. Or, almost every muscle; he grinned
downward, as one particular muscle twitched.
His smile shifted to a frown of concentration, as he realised that something felt different.
He felt stronger, more alert, more focused. Ready to face the world. His thought
was quick again, without the weary, woollyheaded confusion that’d taken over his
mind these last few weeks. His body felt light and agile. Hang on. There
was an imprint of something hard and small in his cheek: after a moment’s fumbling
with his pillow he found it: the key. Severus. It was all real! Where
is he? Why didn’t he stay?
The blanket was tucked around Harry in a careful way even though Harry’s covers
always ended up on the floor by morning. Did he do that? That thought warmed
him even more than the blankets did; he grinned at the sleeping candle on the bedside
table, then reached across the bed, just to feel if that imprint of a second head
in the nearby pillow was real. It was, of course, but as he moved his forehead
bumped against something large and flat.
The Prince’s old Advanced Potion-Making textbook sat on the pillow by his head.
Harry’s glasses were with it, one earpiece tucked in between the pages as if to
mark the place where Snape had left off reading.
Harry opened it to that page, fished out his glasses and put them on. He blinked
at something that he knew the book didn’t have before: the last page was now covered
in the spiky script he knew so well. It was wider and more legible than Snape’s schoolboy hand, but Harry still wasn’t used to seeing it in any colour but red.
By the time you read this, you will have been cured of the last Horcrux’
That’s what’s different! I’ve got feeling back in my skin again! And
I hadn’t even noticed! Snape’d kill me for ‘not paying attention’ if he knew.
Harry grinned as he lifted up the edge of the bandage on his shoulder and looked
underneath. Instead of the black and peeling mess he’d feared, there was just
skin. He unwrapped the strips of cloth layer by layer and it was all the same.
No black, withered texture, just perfectly ordinary, normal skin; newly regrown
overnight, as if the curse had never even touched him.
Not that I was wrong of course; it was true that the locket’s curse could
not be broken.
However, it could be transferred, as long as the recipient willingly accepted
– Severus Snape.
“Snape?” No! Can’t be!
Harry jumped out of bed, barefooted and bare-chested, still seeing that unmistakeable
handwriting scrolling before his eyes as the rest of the world dimmed. Severus!
NO! With a single dry-eyed sob, he rushed through the doorway, his legs refusing
to hold him. He stumbled, nearly fell, banging his shoulder against the wall,
then he was running, sprinting down the dark hallway. Without his glasses, everything
seemed a dreadful, spinning blur. A nightmare, please, be a nightmare!
Where is he? Downstairs?
“Snape? SEVERUS!” He pounded down the stairs in three-at-a-time leaps, landed
badly on one and nearly lost his footing, caught himself on the handrail with
a last-minute wrench, then he was off the stairs and sprinting from room to room
to empty fucking room…
Harry spun round, so fast one bare foot skidded out from under him on the dusty
wooden floor, and then he was stumbling and falling and... not hitting
the ground. Being lifted and steadied and held against something solid and dark
and utterly bloody brilliant!
Severus! Wiry arms wrapped around Harry, holding him up as his knees caved
with the sheer physical rush of relief. Harry ran his hands down that long back, buried
his face in the side of the warm throat, hung on with all the strength he had
in him, and just breathed.
Solid, real. Here. Alive!
After making sure he was alive and well – by tasting every bit of skin he could
reach – Harry finally noticed the mangled locket around Severus’ neck. He drew
one shaky breath, lifted his head to glare at the suicidal sod, grabbed said sod’s
skinny shoulders and shook him as hard as he could. “You’re NEVER doing
that again, d’you hear me? If you EVER get any more stupid ideas about pissing
off and sacrificing your life without even SAYING anything first, I swear, I’ll
“– kill me yourself?” Severus even gave Harry the Eyebrow, the unscrupulous bastard.
“I’m certainly not planning any repeat performances,” he continued in his most
maddeningly smug drawl, “That was the last Horcrux, remember?” When Harry
spluttered at him, Severus cut in again, “Besides, anyone with your track
record of solitary, suicidal searches really shouldn’t be the Potter calling the
Harry didn’t know whether to laugh or thump him or kiss him. So he did all three.
Even though that first disoriented, laughter-threaded attempt at a kiss nearly
broke Severus’ nose, and Harry’s thwap was answered by a swat which somehow landed
right on Harry’s bum, neither of them felt like complaining.
Before the door to Grimmauld Place closed behind them, Snape talked to the bloke
in the portrait for the longest time. Harry waited for him, petting the candles.
He wasn’t jealous, not really.
He’s mine now. Harry sat on the front steps of Grimmauld and watched Snape
gather the Prince locket and Regulus’ notes, reach out to smooth out the painted
mane of Regulus’ portrait. Till the very end. That’s something no one can change.
Not Horcruxes, not Voldemort, not the past.
Only the smirk on Snape’s face and the sly nudge at his mental defences indicated
that perhaps his thoughts were heard.
Harry didn’t mind. If that had been a true attack, he’d strike back, as quick and strong
as a provoked lion. He knew he could. But this time, something more important
than Legilimency was worrying Harry.
Harry glanced up, with a pang in his chest, and for a moment he was lost in the depths
of those eyes, and the warmth hidden within them, all over again. “What’ll we
do now?” He confessed, “M’always afraid, now, that I might not look close enough
when it counts, and miss my chance at Voldemort. ‘Cause I reckon I’ll only get
the one chance.”
“I doubt you’ll miss a thing; I haven’t been training you all this time for that
to happen. But if it ever begins to look like a possibility, then, I’ll simply …remind
you, just as I’ve done all the other times you didn’t pay enough attention.”
Harry grinned. Yeah, he’s got a way of ‘reminding’, all right. More like dragging
you back to bitter reality. Which is probably good ‘cause I just don’t know how
much of that bitter reality I’ve still got left to live.
“You’re not dead yet!” Snape broke into Harry’s train of thought, “Focus!”
“Yeah, yet.” Harry muttered as an excuse. “That’s kind of the point.”
“Voldemort is so much closer to death at his strongest than you were at your lowest
ebb. He’s just a pathetic broken shard, with only one-seventh of a soul left,”
Snape said softly. “The sooner you understand that, the easier it’ll be.”
Harry shrugged. “What difference does it make? Broken or not, he’s still powerful
enough to kill me.”
“Voldemort has nothing left but avoiding death at all costs. You are fortunate
to have your whole life, which is something he will never have. Understand that,
and you will win.”
“This, after all those times you told me I didn’t stand a chance?”
“So prove me wrong!” Snape hissed. “You’ve certainly tried enough before.
Rid the world of him and live. Just live! You’ve already shown me that you don’t
need a map traced on your hand for each tomorrow. It’s the only hope you have
of surviving this: live out the life line you’ve had, the life you’ve decided to
live.” Snape grabbed Harry’s wrist, lifting his hand up. His grasp was strong.
“You already know what you have to do.”
Harry nodded, a bit shocked, not quite knowing how to respond otherwise. “S’why
I always hated your lectures,” he murmured. “You always turned out to be right,
every single time, even when I wanted you to be wrong.”
“If only you’d realised it sooner, you impossible whelp, perhaps…”
“That, and you’re a terrible teacher!” Harry cut him off.
“It works out then.” Snape said with a menacing stretch of his thin lips. “Because
you’re a terrible student. For one thing, you’re weeks late on your homework.”
Harry chuckled. The git couldn’t even apologise properly, but he’d never forget
to remind Harry of his shortcomings.
Being outside again, on the Muggle street after so long, felt strangely… bearable.
Especially with Snape around. For the first time in a long while Harry slipped
out the door of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, and shut it behind him. It felt as though he was leaving it for good.
He knew that wasn’t necessarily true. They might return here someday, Snape and he. One day,
perhaps, when Harry’d reached forty: old and suitably grim. But Harry had many
plans before then. He wanted to see the world, to visit many distant places: India, France, perhaps
even Romania. He had a life to live.
He’d finish this one thing he absolutely had to do, and then he’d come back and
rediscover all the friends he’d left behind, when he’d been driven away from them by a curse. Perhaps one day, when
he was ready, he’d talk to Ron and Hermione and let them know that sometimes even
unbreakable curses can be broken. But first he had a job to finish: to remove
Voldemort from the face of the earth, erase him like a bad memory, quickly and
with minimum damage. Cut him out like a cancer. He still felt driven, but not
by hate anymore, only by a sense of duty and of an important task so far unfinished.
One more piece of the puzzle to solve, one more Horcrux to break. That’s all
Voldemort is: just a piece of a soul that should never have survived, so twisted,
for so long.
Harry hugged the book to his chest, the same dog-eared and stained Advanced Potion-Making
text. The one he’d wanted for so long to take out his hatreds on, the one that now
held his own jumbled thoughts in its margins, next to Snape’s. He thought of all
the hours he’d spent – that they’d both spent, over the years – turning the stained,
yellowed pages, and poring over the notes written there: all the potions that
could be brewed, all the curses that could be cast. Wandlessly, wordlessly, with
a secure mind.
“I’m ready. The next time I use them,” Harry said, “I won’t fail.”
Harry led Snape outside, where the shadows ended and the morning light began on
the Muggle street. For a long moment they stood, face to face, as the day brightened
all around them. Then Harry leaned forward, closed his eyes, and rested his forehead
against Snape’s one more time: taking refuge in him, from the blaring sounds and
the glaring lights of the outside world.
He was really starting to like the lack of difference in their height.
The wizards left us and it was quiet, and it would be quiet for a long, long time,
as the key’s curse was redirected upon us instead. Dark days loomed ahead, almost
as dark as that one day many years ago. When I was still a man.
The shadows filled my library, which was as silent as usual. I cast
Tergeo upon my sleeves until it cleaned the lace to white.
How could my son have been be so foolish? Caught red-handed in the cave like
a traitor. Imagine what would’ve happened if he had crossed the lake.
How could I have been so foolish in return? Oh my boy. Please don’t let
Walburga find out. I’ll tell her it was Riddle who carried out the final punishment.
She has to believe me. He forced me, it was almost the truth.
A rustle. Too heavy to be a book. “Who’s here?”
A boy was huddled in the corner: Regulus’ friend, the filthy half-blood rat
Walburga had taken such a liking to. His dark robes looked like they hadn’t
been changed in days, his hair fell in greasy, matted hanks on his forehead,
and his black eyes burned in his ugly, sallow face. Eileen Prince’s Muggle-spawned
son. Such a common girl; I knew she’d never amount to anything.
Why what? “What are you doing here?”
“Why did you do it, you bastard?”
“Severus,” I used his given name, pretending a friendliness I’d never felt for
the guttersnipe, “you’re not yourself.”
“Where did you kill him? Here? He ran home, he could’ve found me but he came
home to you, he thought you’d protect him!”
“He was your friend, and it might be hard to understand. He was my son but…
treason must not go unpunished.”
“Treason? He just wanted out! He was scared!”
Scared? So, he knows nothing. Regulus didn’t tell him about the Horcruxes. This
half-blood didn’t incite rebellion in my son after all. Pity. But nothing can
be done now. The boy stared up, and then the entire Library was shaken by a wandless,
wordless burst of wild magic.
A prodigy indeed. It’s wrong. Such pure talent shouldn’t run in such polluted
blood. Still, mongrel though he is, I have to be careful. I stepped back, hiding
my shock at the strength of that instinctive magical flare. In the shadows behind
me, my grimoires gathered.
“Didn’t you hear me? He wanted OUT, and you MURDERED him for it!”
I drew a breath, but I never had the chance to speak.
It wasn’t Severus who attacked me; no, the boy stood stock-still. There was
no telling which book lunged first: they all did, plummeting from the high shelves
all around me. A barrage of massive metal-bound tomes clubbed me to the floor
until I was buried beneath an avalanche. Thousands of grimoires tore into my
magic and into my body like a flock of leathery crows round a carcass. Piece
by piece, each book moved away with something new of me – patches of skin for
their covers, strands of hair to bind their fraying spines, blood to renew their
faded ink – and as soon as one book took what it needed many more took its place.
Until there was nothing cohesive left of me but pieces, scattered amid the volumes:
excerpts and quotations and abridged editions of myself. Until I was no longer Orion
Black. The parchment of my physicality had been scraped clean and overwritten
like a palimpsest, and I had become part of the Place and the books and the
There was still a boy in the corner, who had fallen to his knees. And we hastened
to him: his face as pale as our pages, his hands clenched in tight fists. Many
of us, all those who had communed most closely with him, rushed to surround
him, as kittens will run to their mother, rustling our pages and creaking our
covers; earmarked, stained, and nonetheless sympathetic.
Mostly, I kept my distance, but there were pieces of me, in other books, on
other pages, that did not.
The boy slumped lower and held out his arms, circling as many of me, of us,
as he could, surrounded by the huddle of dozens of warm leather spines: a makeshift
embrace of slim chapbooks and heavy tomes alike. Together we mourned the reader
who once caressed our pages, admired our illustrations, and loved our wisdom.
We – I – mourned my son, as I never had before. Then, finally, Severus broke
down, trying to touch every page that Regulus once touched, reaching for each
book that once was Regulus’ and his to share: all of Regulus’ scribbles in the
margins, and the notes charmed to open only for him tucked between the pages
of encyclopaedias and Dark Arts volumes.
Severus sat on the floor, all alone – save for books as shunned and misunderstood
as he: banned and bound into brotherhood, works that had collected me, as once
I had collected them – and, all alone, he cried.
If I could weep, I would still be shedding tears today for my son, whom I sacrificed
to my fears and my weakness. But I am not the man I once was; I am scattered,
if not to the four winds, then at least to the four walls of this Library. Grimmauld
is my resting-Place, amid grimoires covered with skin or stitched with hair that
once belonged to a wizard. Lost between pages growing illegible with age, I am
a tale cursed to go unread, in a Place cursed to be forgotten.
‘Perhaps they’ll be back,’ the portraits still whisper. ‘Perhaps this is not forever.’
But I know better. The wizards were happy as they left here, and happy people
do not return to live in crypts. I grieved to see them go – we all did – but for
my part, this is a mild penance for my crime and I accept it willingly. We all
agreed: such solitude is a small price to pay for the happiness of two people.
Harry kept his promise. He didn’t fail.
Despite all of Severus’ teasing about brainless fools and affections, it took
years until Harry caught anything other than the musty smell of Severus’ potion
stores in Amortentia’s scent. Different times and places in their lives, he reached
for the small phial in his pocket and checked, just to be sure. Eventually, the
scent of Hogwarts dungeons and Grimmauld Place faded like winter mist, replaced by clear skies and summer
days: heated Indian spices, sweet Romanian wine, the fresh scent of Mediterranean rain in his
lover’s dark hair, or the warm salt of Egyptian sun bronzing his lover’s sallow skin.
But every once in a while, when Harry lifted the stopper on the phial, he’d catch
that familiar, complex scent again: damp stone and musty parchment and iron and
smoke and the sharpness of bitter herbs. It seemed as if time had turned back
on itself, and in a moment from now Snape – not yet Severus – would stalk down
the stairs, stalked in turn by potions fumes, and yell at Harry for being late
for his Occlumency lesson.
He remembered Snape as if everything happened just yesterday. Those cavernous eyes, and the lank, black hair hanging limply over the harsh planes
of his sallow face. Nothing attractive in him at all, one would think; but in time Harry grew to welcome the
sight of those harsh features. Just as he always took a deep breath in dark, narrow,
enclosed spaces, hoping to catch a trace of that stale but somehow beguiling smell:
potions and books and dust.
As always, after every such trip down memory lane, Harry stoppered the small phial
as tight as he possibly could and carefully hid it from sight in the bottom of
his pocket. Hiding all of his memories safely away with it.
When the name of the Dark Lord was little more than a footnote in the history
books, eclipsed by Harry’s triumph, and Harry’s lightning bolt scar had faded
to pale, Harry did return to Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. He grinned at Mrs.
Black’s portrait, half hidden behind moth-eaten curtains. A mischievous gleam
brightened eyes as green as ever behind round-framed glasses, just like the sunlight
from the opened doorway brightened the dusty frame. In that sunlight, Harry traced
a smiling face – two dots and a curve, as wide as his own smile – in the deep
layer of dust covering the canvas. He might be getting old, but he was far from
grim: that was one thing his younger self had turned out to be wrong about.
Mrs. Black’s portrait squinted at him. “Severus? Did you finally get that nose
seen to by a mediwizard?”
Harry snorted. He was past forty now, and he’d let his hair grow, and with that
wild black mane, he could’ve passed as Severus, he supposed. Or a younger brother
perhaps. Or maybe she couldn’t have told a wizard from a witch through all that
dust on her canvas.
Then a row of trunks floated through the entrance, and Severus poked his head
round the door and grumbled, “I can still Incendio you, you mad old bat!”
Mrs. Black beamed as if he’d paid her a tremendous compliment. “Now that’s
the Severus I know!” she crowed. “Good to have you back.”
Harry smiled fondly at Severus as he glared at someone who, for once, gave him
a run for his Galleons in the crotchety old sod stakes. “Aww,” Harry declared
in teasingly sentimental tones, “There’s no place like home!” He took a deep,
relishing breath of the familiar scent of dust, and released it in a sigh of sheer
contentment. He might’ve been pulling Severus’ leg, but he knew deep down that
those words were true, all the same.
He thought he heard Grimmauld itself answer him with a happy sigh of its own:
doors and floorboards creaked, and dust motes swirled like dancing galaxies as
a breeze blew through the open door past him and lifted the fluffy grey shroud
from the windows and the canvases. Then as he looked down the hallway he saw the
candles kindling to life one by one, fire and light racing from one to another
along the hall and up the stairway, passing the flame and the news of their arrival
from room to room.
Then there was a movement in the very walls: in every painting a shiver, and in
every room a whisper growing to a murmur growing to the sound of an approaching
crowd: “They’re here! They’re back! They’re home!” Then Harry saw them, the portraits
waking up and running from frame to frame, the people in them hurrying from every
canvas in the house, crowding into to the single frame in front of him. One became
two became a gathering became a party.
More and more of them reached the canvas, and they all looked back at him, smiling.
Harry looked into the faces of the other people on the canvas behind Mrs.
Black – no, Walburga – and little Regulus; and there was so many of them gathered
there: Phineas Nigellus, smiling for once instead of sneering, and little Sirius, poking
his head out between Phineas and snoozy old grandmother Irma, who was finally wide
awake and regarding Harry with a curious stare. There was even a little old man
with Harry’s knobbly knees: the others made room for him near the front, “Say
hello, Uncle Charlus, your grandson’s back!” There were even portraits in there
that Harry’d never seen move before, ones that he’d thought dead. And everywhere
there were unruly heads of black hair like his, and noses like his, and even wide
grins, like his. Harry looked at the portraits and realised what that crowded
frame reminded him of: staring into the mirror of Erised when he was still a boy,
and seeing his family for the first time in his life. And now all of them
were flocking to Walburga’s canvas, to welcome Harry back to his home.
Just when Harry thought it’d all be too much for his stinging eyes and his tight
throat, Severus came up to stand behind him: as it had done for decades now, his
quiet presence grounded Harry.
For the first time in his life, Harry felt he was where he belonged: with the
family of his blood standing before him, and the family of his heart standing
behind. Both had their faults – sinister and dark and brooding – which they made
all too apparent to the outside world. But Harry knew they had their virtues too:
loyalty and pride and strength that they often showed to no one but those they
loved. Harry’s hand slid up to cover the hand on his shoulder, and he leaned back
against the warm support of Severus’ wiry body. He’d had enough practice putting
up with Severus all these years. He had a feeling he’d get along with the rest
of them just fine.
That night, in the middle of unpacking, Harry followed Severus down the hall when
he tripped over something furry and soft and almost fell. He didn’t have a chance
to say anything else ‘cause the furry-and-soft beastie under his feet shook and
lunged up with the strength of a mauling bear. The yeti! Just my luck it’d
rather chomp on my nose instead of Severus’. I suppose mine’s a more convenient mouthful.
Harry gave a startled yelp when the woolly beast’s mouth closed instead on a target much
closer to the ground than anyone’s nose, except maybe a house elf’s. Everything
else Harry might’ve said came out as a squeak.
The yeti skin growled and gummed him gleefully. Harry was extremely thankful that
it was so old it was missing all its teeth.
Severus turned around to stare at the kerfuffle. In fact, both of his eyebrows
rose and his lips quirked, before he gave up and broke out in an honest-to-Merlin
chuckle. “And here I thought house guardians weren’t supposed to jump the Lord
of the Manor,” he observed, with that breeziness that said he was laughing like
hell on the inside.
Sadistic sod! Harry wheezed and waved his hands through the hair- and dust-filled
Severus gave him an amused look before turning his attention to the yeti skin
instead. He tut-tutted to it, “Are you sure that’s wise?” When the yeti skin kept
happily slobbering around its mouthful of Harry, Severus leaned down and asked
the beastie in a faux-discreet stage-whisper, “D’you have any idea where that,”
a meaningful glance at Harry’s favourite bits, “has been?”
Glass eyes boggled up at Severus, then the yeti skin spat and spluttered and slunk
off to hide under the sofa. Harry could’ve sworn it was blushing, though it must’ve
been a hell of a blush to show through all that fur.
Harry folded up at Severus’ feet. Just then, it felt like he’d probably have to
haul himself up Severus’ body like a ladder, hand over hand, if he ever wanted
to stand again. “I’ve been” – he wheezed – “mauled by a monster, and you just
had to make fun of me!” If he could’ve reached, he’d’ve been tempted to go for
Severus’ throat and see if he couldn’t choke him like a chicken.
“‘Mauled?’ Hardly. That looked more like an enthusiastic tonguebath to me. In
fact, I wonder just how much of that wet is yeti saliva, and how much…” When Harry
interrupted him with an incoherent yell of protest, Severus drawled, “Oh, don’t
be so melodramatic.” By way of a peace offering, Severus helped Harry to stand
and dusted off the worst of the stray hairs. “After all,” Severus added after
a pause for judicious consideration of the affected area, “it’s not as though
it was a big mouthful…”
This, of course, provoked another yell of protest from Harry, though this time
there were rather more actual words in it. “What? Yeah, maybe not for a yeti’s
mouth, but it’ll do to shut your gob!”
The gleam in Severus’ eyes turned positively wicked. “That,” he declared with
every evidence of vast – and growing – anticipation, “sounds like a challenge.”
A cheerful call of “You show that beaky bugger what for, son!” from the direction
of Charlus Potter’s portrait widened Harry’s grin, just a bit, as did the yeti’s
mortified whimper. I’m going to Accio you out here and shag on you,
you overgrown shag carpet! Teach you to tackle my tackle!
Harry shifted his grin into a leer and fired it at Severus. Yes, Harry
thought as he revelled in the answering flare of heat in dark eyes, I reckon
I’ll get along here just fine.
The final trace of the curse on us has long faded, and at last, they have returned:
the Master and his lover, who was also the beloved of my chosen Heir. Two sons
of this House whom I never sired, whom we’ve lost, whom we’ve mourned. But I,
we, all of us, have them back again.
They’re home, and because of that, they make us a home. They live here now, and
they bring light and life with them.
Welcome. Well come, indeed.
Two Lockets has been inspired by Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,
Ranty McRantyPants, Celestina
Hermit – and Harry’s look-alike – from the Art Nouveaux Tarot (Carta Mundi,
Belgium, 1989), and these origami
The Hermit in the ironbound grimoire is a tarot
card from the I Tarocchi deck, Italy (date unknown).
Walburga Black is a painting by Antun Aron: Portrait
of an Old Woman (1887).
Grimmauld is Strahov Monastery Library and St. Vitus cathedral in Czechoslovakia.
Crescent is a street in Camden, London.
You don’t have to go to Grimmauld Place to browse through the Herbarium Blackwellianum.
We borrowed The Necrotelecomnicon and the Liber Paginarum Fulvarum from the library of the hilarious Terry Pratchett. (We promised The Librarian we’d return them before their due dates.)
The idea that Elphaba from Wicked is an older relative of Snape’s was previously used in Harry Potter and the Ill-Tempered Potions Master by ze_dragon (a.k.a. dragon_light) and dementordelta. In Two Lockets, Snape invented her and her flying monkey kink to test Harry’s grasp of reality (not to mention his knowledge of Muggle culture). Poor Harry scored a T on that particular test.
The song which Harry tortures Snape with is “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love”
performed by Celestina
Warbeck: a “particularly jazzy number” with sentimental associations for Mrs.
Weasley and the following lyrics
Oh, come and stir my cauldron,
Any time Snape hears Harry perpetrate it, he returns fire with a Warbeck ‘timeless
masterpiece’ beginning with “You charmed the heart right out of me,” (adding sarky
allusions to a Sectumsempra scar). If Harry’s being particularly cheeky, Snape often adds another Warbeck song “You stole my heart but you can’t have my cauldron” to the auditory spanking.
And if you do it right,
I’ll boil you up some hot, strong love
To keep you warm tonight.
Postscriptum: Acid did a drawing of the Grimmauld Place candles on May 9, 2007 to thank the Anonymous Rose Donor.