Title: Just Another Soldier in the War
Team: Team Wartime
Genre(s): Romance & Angst
Prompt: Hostile Territory
Warnings: See Snarry Games post for warnings.
Word Count: Almost 35,000
A/N: Thank you to Team Wartime for your help and support from looking through my initial idea to helping me with the finishing touches. A special thanks to joan_wilder for betaing.
Disclaimer: (optional) All characters and anything Harry Potter are the creation of J.K. Rowling. Will return after I'm done playing with them.
Summary: Being in the wrong place at the wrong time -- it happens sometimes to soldiers in the war, even when the soldier is Harry Potter.
Just Another Soldier in the
He opened his eyes. Blurred shapes in different colors -- mostly grey and dark -- came into view. It was dark outside too, reminding him that he woke up not from a good night's sleep, but from a few hours of exhausted blackout in the fruitless attempt to make up for days of sleeplessness. His hands instinctively reached for his glasses. Oh wait, he no longer wore them. Old habits were hard to kill, he supposed. He sat up, yawned and stretched, and slowly made his way toward the bathroom.
Harry looked at his reflection in the mirror. Green eyes no longer hidden behind awkward glasses, hair short and finally manageable, and his scar -- red and prominent on his forehead -- always there to remind him why he was fighting in this war. Over the years, Harry noticed his neck had thickened and his shoulders had broadened. And if he looked carefully, there were now tiny lines at the corners of his eyes that would deepen on the rare occasions when he'd smile. He looked at once distinguished and normal. Just another soldier who happened to have the name Harry Potter. His reflection stared blankly back at him. Sometimes he could barely recognize himself.
Harry Potter. Twenty and four. He was older than James Potter had ever lived to be.
There were things even magical mirrors could not see. Harry had grown more stoic, more practical (he now understood why Muggle soldiers tend to have shaved heads and wear contact lenses -- a particularly bleak battle in a muddy swamp had taught him that), more cynical. He could move at the speed of a Snitch and with the stealth of a kneazle. He was a skilled duelist; countless well cast Expelliarmus had saved his life many times over the past six years.
But they were still losing, the Order's roster dwindling as each battle pitted them against new faces from the Death Eater ranks and fewer survivors from their own side. There were still two more pieces of Voldemort's soul to destroy -- the one residing in his body, and one other one, hidden Merlin-knows-where, that had thinned out Harry's patience for over three years now.
Harry sighed, and ran a hair through his short hair, more out of habit than to tame the once-wild strands. He wasn't feeling too enthusiastic about visiting St. Mungo's tonight. There was only so much half-hearted comfort he could offer before he'd start berating this particular batch of injured soldiers for making the stupid move to attack Malfoy Manor, believing it would work. What Harry really wanted to say to them was, "I told you so!" But this was war, and fellow soldiers were supposed to encourage each other. Or so Hermione had told him.
As if on cue, her voice called from outside the bathroom: "Harry! Are you ready?"
"Almost!" He hurried to put on his grey jumper before donning his robe, also a dark shade of grey. They were going out at dusk. Better to blend into the darkening sky when trying to travel inconspicuously.
Checking the mirror one last time ("What a handsome outfit, Dearie!"), Harry stormed down the stairs of Grimmauld Place. "Coming!" he called. "Just needed to make sure I had dark clothing for our little excursion."
Ron and Hermione were waiting by the entrance, also in dark clothes. They hardly wore any bright colors nowadays. Shades such as red and yellow were simply too cheery for the war, even for wearing indoors. Harry hadn't worn his Gryffindor scarf in years.
"Let's go," he said, and led his friends to the Floo. "I've cleared access with St. Mungo's to go directly into the fourth floor. We'll only see Neville's parents if we're lucky. And even if we run into Lockhart, he's too far lost to rat on us."
Ron nodded, and Hermione smiled a grimace that almost looked like a frown. None of them wanted to do this; none of them had any morale left to try to build their injured warmates up.
But they were soldiers in a war, and soldiers did camaraderie things like that.
"Harry, how dare you --"
Ron took a few steps backwards to allow Harry to tumble out of the Floo, shouting into it all the while. Though from the look on his face, Harry thought Ron'd rather reach forward and strangle him.
"Move. Hermione's coming through," Harry said.
Ron muttered something under his breath. Harry thought he heard the word "heartless."
"Excuse me? What was that I just heard? You think risking my life to visit injured people when there's a madman out there who wants me dead is heartless?"
"Boys!" Hermioned shouted as she stormed out of the Floo. "Stop that, both of you!"
Harry and Ron ignored her.
"We're in a war," Hermione continued as if she hadn't been regarded as invisible, "we can't just --"
"Oh, Harry can bloody well do what he absolutely bloody pleases!" Ron screamed. "Telling them it was a bad idea to attack the manor? To their faces? I know it was a bad move, but you've practically called them stupid and incompetent!"
"That's what they are!"
"While you're so great?" Ron's face was getting really red, almost as red as his hair. "While Harry Potter, the object of the prophecy, plans to do everything by himself? You're not that special, you know, not when this war isn't going anywhere and you're nothing but a figurehead who only drags everyone's spirit down."
"I didn't drag anyone's spirit down!"
"Anyone with half a brain knows not to target Lucius Malfoy!"
"They were trying to help us!" Ron screamed. "Fend off the Death Eaters to give us space to work on our own little 'project,' which they know nothing about!"
"Well, they obvious didn't help --"
Hermione's shrill voice stopped their shouting. Harry took a deep breath. He needed to leave. He needed to be alone. And as he stormed toward the door, a sudden, malicious thought arose in his mind.
He could leave for more than just a few hours. In fact, it suddenly seemed like a great idea to go hunting for the final Horcrux by himself, if only to prove that he could do it without dealing with everyone mucking everything up.
He swung the door open angrily and heard it rattle the doorframe as it slammed shut behind him.
That was the last thing he remembered before everything turned black.
Harry opened his eyes and looked around. The sky was a hazy shade of grey -- but different than the evening grey -- which meant it must have been the moment just past dawn, right before the sun decided to rise higher and shine over the earth. Harry swore under his breath. Had he spent the entire night outside? How much more careless could he have been?
He stood up with a sigh. He supposed he should return to Grimmauld Place. A full-blown lecture by Hermione was sure to be waiting for him, and it would most certainly be accompanied by Ron's half-accusatory, half-guilty look. Harry started walking toward the closest Apparition point. Better to get his friends' reactions over with and then get ready to launch into his apology speech.
He had no idea how he ended up in Knockturn Alley, but the familiar criss-crossing of the streets told him he'd ventured much further into an important war zone (alone, his conscience berated him) than he had thought. It was saddening to see how quiet the once-infamous quarter for the Wizarding world's debauchery had become. There wasn't even a single hastily dressed wizard in the street, fleeing in disheveled embarrassment after a night's visit with a whore.
Harry made a right turn into a corridor, which he knew housed a secret Apparition point. It was on the left, past the third... fourth... fifth...
He did a double-take. Wasn't the Apparition point in between the fourth and the fifth houses? Retracing his steps, Harry turned back and counted again. Yup, one, two, three... he was past the fifth house, and still no Apparition point. He walked back out into Knockturn Alley. Maybe he'd turned into the wrong corridor?
His eyes searched for Borgin and Burkes, a landmark he'd use over and over again. He needed to turn into the corridor right before the infamous Dark Arts shop...
But where was Borgin and Burkes?
His eyes must've been playing tricks with him in the early morning. The shop couldn't have closed over the span of a few days; he'd been in Knockturn Alley just this past Tuesday to acquire some rather unconventional ingredients for Hermione to attempt yet another soul-tracking potion (failed and discarded).
Come to think of it, where was the apothecary he bought his ingredients from?
Harry frantically looked around. Something wasn't quite right -- something was very, very wrong. He was definitely in Knockturn Alley, but --
"You there! Who are you, and what are you doing in our Lord's territory?"
Jugson. The Death Eater Jugson. A much, much younger looking Jugson.
Harry stared. And gaped.
He had gone back in time.
"You there! Who are you, and what are you doing in our Lord's territory?" Jugson asked, his words ringing loudly inside Harry's head as he came to the realization that he was in Knockturn Alley of a different time.
Say something, a voice inside him prodded. Say anything before he starts firing hexes at you.
"Er... I got lost," Harry said lamely.
Jugson narrowed his eyes into two ugly slits. "Liar. No one comes here by accident. What are you, Dumbledore's spy or something?"
"No!" Even in panic, Harry still knew it'd be a terrible idea to confess to any affiliation with the late Headmaster in front of a Death Eater. "I have nothing to do with Dumbledore in this very moment --" Which was true enough. "-- I... I have more ties to the Dark Lord than you'd think!"
Harry absentmindedly raised a hand to his scar, and was relieved to discover that the Glamour he cast'd on his forehead from last night was still in effect. He had no idea what year it was or if Harry Potter had been born yet in this time, but he most absolutely did not want this particular connection with Voldemort of his to be known by anyone.
"You do, do you now?" Jugson jeered. "Because all Potters are so closely associated with our Lord."
"H-How..." Harry looked down, and discovered to his horror he was still wearing the visitor's badge from St. Mungo's. The letters that spelled out his surname were printed boldly in black, so there was no use denying what he was called. Harry's mind reeled. At least his given name wasn't printed on the badge.
Think, Harry. Now, who in the Potter family was at least neutral during the First War?
The familiar image of the Black family tree flashed in his mind. Over the years of staying at Grimmauld Place, Harry had had many chances to study that particular tapestry.
"Charlus Potter!" Wait, he couldn't be Charlus Potter. His age wouldn't match. "...'s son. Er, Junior. Unexpectedly born during my parents' old age."
"Charlus Potter, Junior? Never heard of him," Jugson dismissed. "I'll have to ask Bella about it."
The knots in Harry's stomach eased a little. At least Jugson wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed, and Harry was very, very glad of that. Recalling the family tree, Harry proceeded to lie, "Charlus Potter married Dorea Black and had a son, don't you know? His name was never officially recorded in the family record because, er, his precise parentage is in question." One thing Harry knew he couldn't lie about was non-pure bloodedness. There were spells and potions to find that out, and he'd like to stay alive until he found a way back to his own time, thank you very much. He quickly added, "Of what my father was, that is. Some, er, claim that he's a half-blood."
Jugson looked intrigued, so Harry pushed on. "So you see, I'm very much tied to the Black family. In fact, I have nothing to do with the other Potters you might know -- perhaps you've heard of James and Lily Potter? I don't know them, have never met them. And I hold no sympathy for Muggle-lovers like Sirius Black, not since he... left, er, left the family, that is."
Controlling his fluster, Harry stopped talking and began eyeing Jugson closely. Jugson was thinking about something; it seemed his fabricated story had been accepted. Harry quietly exhaled. Even if Jugson repeated the entire story in front of Voldemort, there'd be no way to disprove it. Voldemort would just dismiss the story and maybe torture Jugson with a round or two of the Cruciatus Curse, and no terrible harm would be done in terms of messing around with time. As long as Harry returned quickly back to his time, it would be as if he'd never stumbled into the First Voldemort War era at all.
"Right, now... give my regards to Bellatrix and --" Who else was among the Death Eater ranks? Oh, yes. "-- Regulus, will you? I have something I must attend to. Good day."
Before Jugson had a chance to reply, Harry turned the other way and ran as fast as he could toward Diagon Alley.
Like Knockturn Alley, Diagon Alley was the same mixture of the familiar and the different. Shops that seemed to have been in existence since the beginning of the Wizarding world were still there -- Ollivanders, Fortescue's, Gringotts... but Harry noticed some shops that he'd never seen before, including a cauldron shop owned by someone different than in his time and a joke shop rather reminiscent of the Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes that was to come.
"Flower for your lady back home, sir?"
Harry turned toward the voice, surprised that someone other than a Death Eater was out and about. He considered for a split second if he should talk to the stranger, but with encountering Jugson, he'd already messed with this timeline enough. Harry tightened his robe around him and kept walking; he needed to avoid all further contacts and figure out how to get back to the present.
A giant bouquet of what could only be described as weeds was suddenly shoved into his face.
"Flower for your lady back home?"
Brushing the bouquet aside, Harry eyed the boy before him. He was a good two heads shorter than Harry, and couldn't have been older than ten. A street peddler. Harry knew the type well -- a product of the war, the desperate, the poorest of the poor who were forced to gather anything remotely profitable in hope of making enough money to continue their skin-and-bone existence. Harry spotted more boys loitering about out of the corners of his eyes. No, he couldn't buy these flowers, or he'd be harassed with the dozens of others selling things to him. He walked on by.
The pathetic weeds blocked his field of vision again.
"Please, sir, help me out and make a lady happy --"
"I don't want it," Harry said, annoyance bubbling inside him.
"But sir --"
"THERE'S NO LADY BACK HOME!"
The boy froze. He looked about to cry, but to his credit, only sniffled once and managed to blink back the tears. He took a step forward.
"H-How about two bouquets for the price of --"
Magic surged in the nearby air, and by the time Harry could control himself, the boy was already lying on the ground, unconscious, flowers scattered on the ground around him. Harry cursed to himself. He didn't mean to hex the boy; he was just being so damned persistent. And with what he was going through, Harry wasn't feeling particularly charitable either. The boy should have known better than to out-stubborn the infamous Harry Potter.
But he didn't know. There was no way anyone could have known Harry's predicament, nor that he was the Harry Potter.
Harry took another look at the boy, who, despite the lack of proper nutrition, was still young enough to have rosy cheeks. A twinge of guilt stirred inside Harry, and he reached inside his robe and took out a Galleon. All the other street boys had fled by now. If Harry put the Galleon inside this boy's pocket, no one would know to go look there.
No one, except --
"Bravo, young man. That was quite an impressive demonstration of wandless magic."
Harry whipped his head around to the hated face of long blond hair and cold grey eyes. Lucius Malfoy. He inwardly berated himself for his carelessness. Why would he assume Jugson to be alone, when one of the first rules of war was to never venture out without backup?
Lucius seemed to have taken Harry's silence as acceptance of his praise, and he continued, "Your magic is very powerful, and I could tell you aren't just another pampered son of a rich old man. I even wonder if you have been properly trained in the art of dueling..."
Lucius was eyeing him too closely. He looked away.
"No need to be shy, young man, you have a lot of potential. In fact, I have a proposition for you."
Harry couldn't believe his ears. There was no doubt in his mind what "proposition" Lucius had in mind -- this was war time, after all. Even Harry himself had made quite a few propositions for recruitment in his time.
"I'm sorry, I'm not interested," Harry said coldly.
Lucius smiled warmly (though the smile didn't reach his eyes, Harry noticed), as if Harry hadn't just turned him down. "It would be the opportunity you have always dreamed of, a chance for you to be recognized and to shine. Don't misunderstand, I'm not doing this for myself; you won't be serving me. We'll be serving the most powerful wizard together, the one they call You-Know-Who, if you've been reading the Prophet.
"Consider this very carefully, young man. It is in your best interest to accept."
Harry's war-trained eyes told him that the slight stretching motion of Lucius' right hand was a very well disguised act of retrieving his wand. Harry tightened his jaw. So Lucius wanted to resort to violence. Fine. He lowered his head and shrugged, playing the indecisive vagrant, while also slipping his own wand into his hand.
"Most young men I approach would jump at the opportunity to get out of a life on the streets." Lucius paused. When Harry made no move to accept his offer, he continued, "Though I suppose you're not interes -- Petrificus Totalus!"
Harry dropped to the ground, averted Lucius' hex, grabbed a handful of flowers and threw them toward Lucius. He was pleased to see the look of surprise on Lucius' face as he took several steps back, barely managing not to fall as the hodgepodge of flora landed mockingly all over his body.
Remembering the skirmishes he had had with Lucius Malfoy during the war in his time, Harry gave himself no time to pause as he quickly cast Colloportus before Lucius could send another curse. As expected, Lucius followed with a cutting hex, but the spell was only half pronounced before Harry's curse sent him flying to the ground.
Harry stood and blinked in shock. Lucius was weak. He was horrible at dueling! He was... not much older than Harry in this timeline.
Harry extended his wand to cast a final binding hex. Lucius was still conscious and groaning; Harry needed to immobilize him if he were to flee for good from the Death Eater. He took aim with his wand --
As Lucius laughed. He threw his head back and laughed, long and hard, making strange heaving noises that reminded Harry of Draco-the-bully's cackling.
He forgot all about casting the immobilization curse. "What's so funny? Stop it!"
But Lucius laughed even harder. "Oh, you're good! Jugson was right, you are quite a gem -- haha -- among the scums dirtying the streets of Knockturn Alley. And to think, of all people, a Potter… hahaha --"
Harry grinded his teeth, fuming. He should have never let slip his heritage to Jugson, panicked lie or no. Harry lowered his wand and waited for Lucius to get up. Lucius had leverage over him, Harry knew, and knew that Lucius knew he knew.
Hysterical laughter finally died down as Lucius staggered onto his feet. Harry let him take his time; the thought to lend Lucius a hand didn't even pass his mind.
Lucius' hair was disheveled and his eyes wild, but when he spoke again, the familiar aristocratic drawl was back and Harry couldn't help but be impressed at the man's ability to recover. "Charlus Potter, Junior, eh?" Lucius said. "What would you do if the Dark Lord's followers keep track of you from now on, using you as bait to the demise of your second cousin, James Potter?"
"Nothing!" Harry snarled. "You can't blackmail me. I've already told Jugson I've got nothing to do with James and Lily Potter. Don't link me to them, it's useless."
Don't link me to them, please.
The smirk on Lucius' face told Harry he hadn't given the right answer. Harry gulped. He had hoped to disassociate himself from his parents as much as possible, knowing what a target they already were to Voldemort. He hoped he wasn't the reason the Potters were attacked in the future. The thought sent a chill down Harry's spine. Oh God, what if he were responsible for his parents'...
"Then prove it."
"You say you have nothing to do with those Potters? That you're loyal to the Black side of your bloodline? I wonder if you're speaking the truth, Mr. Potter, if you were so adamant in refusing the highest honor of serving our Lord."
"I don't want to be a Death Eater!" Harry snapped. It was the wrong thing to say and he knew it, but damned be everything if Harry Potter of all people agreed to become a Death Eater.
"I think you misunderstood me," Lucius said coolly, retreating back to his initial indifferent civility. "I'm not recruiting you to become a Death Eater -- that honor needs to be earned -- I am merely extending you the opportunity to try out whether serving our Lord is your life's calling. To test the waters, as the saying goes. To distance yourself from the other Potters."
The emphasis on "the other Potters" was clear. Whether Lucius recommended to Voldemort that they attack the Potters next or some other Auror's family was dependent upon Harry's answer. Harry knew his parents would have faced Voldemort at least three times -- four if he counted that fateful night at Godric's Hollow. But he didn't want to be the cause of more encounters between Voldemort and his parents. Then again, what if he was meant to bring about conflict between his parents and Voldemort? There must be a reason why he was sent back in time, right?
"I have no need to distance myself from James and Lily Potter," Harry said defiantly. "I didn't have anything to do with them before now, so why would that change?"
"Oh, it won't change," Lucius said dismissively. "Because you're not going to live long enough to make contact with them."
"What?" Harry suddenly felt something behind him. He turned around, and... there was Jugson, not five feet away from him, his wand pointed directly at Harry's head.
Harry turned back to Lucius. "Why did you want to recruit me if you wanted to kill me in the first place?"
"Oh, my proposition to you was genuine, Mr. Potter, and it can still be if you accept."
"But aren't you going to be --"
"Suspicious? Of course, which is more the reason to have you join our ranks. Better to keep the enemy close. I'm sure you know the saying."
Harry closed his eyes. Maybe he could quickly Disapparate into Muggle London. He was sure the physical coordinates of places didn't change over time. But even with his eyes shut, he knew there were now two wands pointed at him; his chance of getting away successfully was close to zero.
He could fight. Lucius was surprisingly bad at dueling at this age, and Jugson would only be worse. He could cast a wordless binding spell on Jugson so he could concentrate on Lucius alone -- damn! That would have worked if Harry hadn't taken so long thinking, before a wand now poked uncomfortably into his neck.
"I'm losing my patience, young man," Lucius' voice warned, sounding very impatient indeed.
Harry tried to ignore the wand, but couldn't. Lucius was capable -- extremely capable -- of taking innocent life. Harry knew he didn't want to die, couldn't die, not when Ron and Hermione and Ginny and the Order and everyone else were still counting on him to defeat Voldemort back in his own time. He wondered if someone else would suddenly take over his role as supposed Savior of the Wizarding world if he died here. Maybe this was it, the solution to shirking off his responsibility.
But if Harry were truly honest with himself, he just simply didn't want to die.
He took a deep breath, and slowly opened his eyes, meeting Lucius' impassive ones. "Fine. I accept."
He'd never hated himself more.
Harry thought about risking whatever horrible consequences bound on him to not show up at the so-called "informational meeting" that Lucius had set up with all the potential-Death Eater recruits. Wizarding oaths read intents, right? It wasn't as if Harry were jumping at the chance to promise Lucius, under Jugson's wand point, that he would show up at the meeting. He was forced, and the oath should know that.
His skin tingled with the feeling of thousands of crawling creatures the moment he turned away from the Apparition point. Images of Aragog and his army of spiders flashed through Harry's mind. He shuddered. No, he didn't fancy dying from a creepy creature curse.
Sighing, Harry turned around and dragged his feet toward the Apparition point. Might as well check out what Lucius had planned. Maybe he'd get to decide against joining Voldemort's ranks after hearing the "information." He snorted at the thought. Highly doubtful, that, but definitely worth a try.
He materialized at a coordinate not too far from the Riddle Manor, judging by the surroundings and the unmistakable eerie feeling that Harry had come to associate with Voldemort. So Voldemort used his childhood residence as a base during the First War; Harry mentally filed away the piece of information for later use.
The Muggle church where the meeting was held was easy enough to find; it was the only building that didn't look like it was in its last stages of decay. Not that he blamed anyone who used to live near the Riddle Manor. He would hate to be Voldemort's neighbor.
The thought of a domesticated Voldemort frying bangers in the kitchen suddenly took hold of him, and he let out a chortle. No, definitely not a good thing to be Voldemort's neighbor.
Harry had seen plenty of Muggle movies featuring an indomitable protagonist joining the army, receiving boot camp-like training before being sent off to battle. The protagonist would almost always be the one to save the day, stopping the world from certain destruction or preventing aliens from taking over the earth. Dudley loved those movies, though Harry had always thought them unrealistic. He and his classmates never got any training; they were thrown into war the moment when Voldemort decided to strike. Harry sure didn't feel like he was born with any innate superpower to save the Wizarding world. He was just the unfortunate target, and he supposed someone must play that role, so it might as well be him.
He was immensely amused, then, when he stepped into the church basement and walked into the exact replica of a "training class" he'd seen numerous times in the telly. There was Lucius, preening in all his vain glory, waiting for all the recruits to arrive so he could give the official welcoming speech. Harry rolled his eyes and found a seat at the very back of the room. He supposed it made sense, Tom Riddle's only exposure to Muggle warfare would be through Muggle films.
Voldemort cooking bangers and watching television. Harry wondered what other images of his nemesis would flash through his mind before the end of the day.
"Oi, hullo there! Name's Ronald. Ronald Kensington."
"Ron?" Harry said, his heart thudding. He looked up into the face of a boy of no more than eighteen, blond hair and fair skin. No, this wasn't Ron. Not his Ron, at least.
"Ronald, I don't go by Ron," Kensington corrected. "And you?"
"I'm --" Harry almost said his name before remembering whom he was supposed to be. " -- Charlus. Charlus Potter. Er, nice to meet you."
Ronald smiled. "So you're early too, huh? I reckon there must be a line at the Apparition point by now, with the meeting not five minutes away. I wouldn't want to be late for the most important meeting of my life."
The most important meeting of his life? Harry bit back the "I'm sorry" that threatened to slip out of his mouth. It wasn't his place to try to pass judgment on people in this time. Hermione's voice about not messing with time travel echoed in his ears. He probably shouldn't even be talking with Ronald at all.
"Too nervous to talk?" Ronald smiled. "I thought I was going to sick up just a moment ago, so you're in the right company. Say, you don't mind if I sit next to you, mate?"
Harry shrugged, and Ronald sat and began recounting his life story. Harry was right, Ronald had just become of age and had eagerly enlisted himself for Voldemort's cause. He couldn't believe this boy -- with puffy cheeks like Neville's -- was talking about eradicating Muggles and weeding out Mudbloods.
"...will be so proud when I finish training. I hope I'll become a Death Eater someday, with the Mark to prove it..."
Harry absently rubbed his Glamoured scar, his unique mark from Voldemort, and decided it was useless to try to dissuade Ronald. Though he did feel an overwhelming desire to curb this frightening enthusiasm of his. "Ronald," he interrupted, "there'll be a long way yet until we're even deemed worthy for the Mark." And by then, he'd better have found a way to go back to his own time.
"Not with the war escalating by the hour! I bet after this informational meeting, we'll get to fight in our first battle real soon."
"I bet you're right." Harry grimaced. He cast a glance at Lucius, now busy counting attendance or doing something that looked remarkably like a mother hen fussing over her chicks.
So ready to lord over the lot of them and to fight in the name of Voldemort. Harry sighed. They were all in this very deeply indeed.
"Say, Charlus, you're not from around here, are you?" Ronald asked after the meeting ended. It was the most excruciating three hours ever, of hearing the biggest prick in the world brag about his accomplishments as a Death Eater, in the hope of inspiring some of the recruits to train and fight hard. Harry felt like vomiting the entire time. Too bad un-joining the recruits wasn't even an option at the meeting, not with the way Lucius would periodically look at him pointedly and smirk with too much glee for Harry's comfort.
Harry shook his head. "My home's far away. I don't know how I got here, really."
"Want to stay at my house? It's nearby. My parents would be thrilled to offer board to a fellow recruit."
Harry didn't fancy meeting Ronald's Voldemort-supporting parents. But he didn't want to spend another night wandering the streets of Muggle London, and the thought of a soft bed and a warm meal suddenly sounded very appealing.
"Thank you," he said, meaning it.
Ronald was right when he predicted immediate participation in skirmishes. No sooner had Lucius held a pompous, completely useless (in Harry's opinion, of course) "emergency meeting" in which he demonstrated common duelling spells that even a third year would know, the entire group of twenty or so recruits got called into action. Harry would have feigned sickness, if his skin hadn't started crawling with creepy creature sensations again.
He shot his most hateful glare at Lucius during the emergency meeting. Lucius smirked, then assigned Harry to the frontline of the raid.
"Stop looking at me like that," Harry snapped, annoyed.
Ronald huffed and muttered something about unfairness under his breath.
"I mean it. You think I volunteered to be put in the frontline? I'd much rather stay behind. Take a nap, grab a bite somewhere else... anywhere but in the middle of the spotlight."
"See, that's what I mean about Malfoy being unfair," Ronald said, just loud and whiny enough for a few other recruits to turn their heads. "You've been brash and insolent since the first meeting -- calling Malfoy by his given name the first day! -- and yet this? To be given the chance to shine? What was Malfoy thinking?"
Harry knew exactly what Lucius was thinking. Lucius wanted to keep an eye on him, to put him in a position that would force him to show his loyalty. And Lucius wasn't stupid. Harry was the best fighter of them all, and he knew it. If Harry were the main operative of tonight's raid, he would have placed himself at the center front too.
He was in prime position to foil the raid.
"Ronald, calm down, I'm sure I'm not going to 'shine' tonight, all right?" I'll make sure I won't.
Ronald hesitated, but slapped a firm hand on Harry's shoulder. "Good luck, mate," he said. "Look, I may be feeling a bit peeved, but... good luck."
That sounded like something Ron would -- and had -- said. Harry forced a smile and swallowed hard past the lump forming in his throat.
He needed to find a way back soon.
Harry was placed in between two other recruits -- Marcus somebody and Edward something. He had no plan to get to know anyone and didn't fancy being friendly, and was only too glad when Marcus stared coldly at him after Harry realized he had failed to respond to Marcus repeatedly calling him Charlus.
"We need to make sure there are others entering the house on the side while we barge in through the front door," Harry said.
Edward snorted, and Marcus gave him that cold glare again. "That's what I just said," he spat. "What are you, Potter, deaf? Or are you too self-centered to notice anyone else around you?"
"I'm not deaf," Harry said. "Can't I just confirm your words? This is war, after all. What if we get split up? Will you always be there to give orders?"
Marcus' face flushed red from anger. "I wasn't giving orders. And if you recall, I was trying to consult you. You were the one who kept ignoring me. You --"
"Break it up, you two," Edward interrupted. "We're all in the front line. This is our chance to prove ourselves to Malfoy. We all want to become Death Eaters, don't we? Infighting isn't going to help."
I don't want to be a Death Eater, Harry thought, but knew better than to say it out loud. "Fine, sorry for ignoring you, okay?" he snapped. "And remember what I said about getting split up. It might happen."
"There are so many of us, we won't --"
Harry ignored Marcus for real this time. The recruits were inexperienced, mere boys. Wait until their raid failed tonight and everyone got split up. Harry and Lucius would be the only ones who knew what to do then.
"In your positions," Lucius commanded as the group of about twenty drew near to what looked like an abandoned Muggle house. "Remember, this is a family with ties to Ministry Aurors, so use your best dueling skills if anyone inside resists. No killing tonight; our goal is to give the Ministry a scare."
Harry drew his wand and began inching toward the house as soon as Lucius stopped speaking. He could see Marcus and Edward, hesitating from his peripheral vision, but soon the two followed his lead. Just a scare tonight. Harry started plotting in his head how best to lead the inhabitants to safety while twenty recruits bumbled their ways about the house like foolish schoolchildren.
A simple detection spell told Harry that the front door wasn't locked -- a very careless mistake in the midst of a war. He pushed the door open and waved for Marcus and Edward to enter.
"Where are they?" Marcus asked, not so overconfident anymore.
"Just wait for them to come to us," Harry said.
"What are you, stupid? We're supposed to go find them! This is a raid --"
"A scare, Marcus. Running about with no idea of where to go isn't going to scare anyone."
Harry looked to Edward, who shrugged. "Sorry Charlus, but I think I'm siding with Marcus on this. I wouldn't want to have nothing to report back to Malfoy."
Harry rolled his eyes. Weren't almost all Death Eater Slytherins? Marcus and Edward were behaving awfully like Gryffindors, and Harry knew too well it was a telltale sign of impending failure. Gryffindor foolishness. Recklessness. Call it what you may, but the end result would be the same.
"Listen, unless we stay in here and wait for the people inside to come look for us, we're only going to risk getting ourselves trapped --"
Harry paused. Why was he giving them advice? He didn't like the Ministry much and doubted it was any better twenty years ago, but the Ministry was at least nominally opposed to Voldemort's cause. He was here to foil the raid, he reminded himself, not to help the recruits succeed.
"-- but since you don't believe me, why don't you two go explore while I wait here?"
Marcus eyed him suspiciously. "You're not going to claim our credit for tarrying about --"
"I won't. I promise."
Edward, clearly unwilling to waste any more time arguing, motioned at Marcus. "C'mon, we'll leave Potter here. At least he can prevent people from escaping. We'll go find them."
Marcus nodded, and casting yet another glare at Harry, followed in Edward's direction.
Once alone, Harry looked around the sitting room. The house wasn't big, but it was nicely decorated with Wizarding pictures hanging on the wall and an overstuffed bookcase. By all accounts, it was a very homey house. Harry looked at a particularly lively family portrait with the parents and two children -- all waving enthusiastically at him -- and thought back to Lucius' words. A family with ties to the Ministry. Not directly tied to any side of the war, then. Harry wondered if the parents would be too scared for their children's lives to offer immediate surrender. That would be one automatic victory to Voldemort Harry didn't want to see.
Harry heard footsteps rumbling up the stairs and shook his head. Marcus and Edward sounded like a stampede of elephants; it was a wonder no one in the family had noticed the break-in at all. Harry knew the other recruits had probably blocked up all exits to the house by now. He glanced at the clock on the wall. Someone needed to show up soon and take him to the floo. Or else no one was going to escape without being noticed.
"This way. They're upstairs and shouldn't be down again for a while," a voice said.
Finally, Harry thought as he heard footsteps walking toward the sitting room. The family wasn't stupid after all. They were waiting for the invaders to search around before attempting to escape.
"Thank you..." a woman's voice said, trembling.
Instinct told Harry to hide behind the bookcase. Something wasn't right... was someone else trying to help the family escape? The wife -- if the woman's voice was who he thought she was -- sounded both scared and grateful. Surely she wouldn't act so formally toward her husband?
"Hurry," the first voice said, and this time, Harry felt the nagging feeling that he ought to know the owner of this voice. "Where's your Floo?"
"In the sitting room," a male voice answered. Now this was the husband, Harry concluded. Which meant there were three adults, one of whom was trying to help the family escape.
A fluttering of footfalls filled the room as Harry saw from behind the bookshelf the backs of five bodies walking toward the fireplace. He was right, there was the family -- the parents and their two children -- and a fifth person who didn't look like he was related in any way to them. This fifth person was tall and lanky, with black hair, and moved with such stealth and ease that reminded Harry of someone...
"Floo powder?" the man asked.
"In the tin by the leftmost picture, over there." The husband pointed. "Here, children, take a handful, both of you. Now hold onto each other's hands and say 'Grandma's House' on three. Got it? One... two... three!"
Three clearly enunciated syllables and a flash of green light later, the children were whirled away by the Floo. The wife traveled next, and the husband, shaking the man's hand once, nodded grimly before stepping into the Floo and also disappearing to "Grandma's House."
"Lucius will have a lot to answer for failing," the man muttered, snorting in a rather amused way as he too stepped into the Floo. "Spinner's End!" he said in clear syllables as he threw a handful of Floo powder downward, turning around just in time for Harry to catch a glimpse of hooked nose and dark eyes.
"Oh, god..." It couldn't be. Not him, not... but it was.
Severus Snape had helped the family escape.
That night, Harry lay in the guest bed of Ronald's house, unable to sleep a wink. He hadn't seen Snape since that night, that fateful night up in the Astronomy Tower, and he'd spent the past years trying so hard not to think about losing Dumbledore...
But here was Snape, fresh out of Hogwarts and doubtless a newly initiated Death Eater, helping the other side -- his side -- still very much Dumbledore's spy. Harry rubbed his concealed scar. He couldn't reconcile the two Snapes, he really couldn't.
Not unless he saw this Snape for himself.
He crept out of bed and tiptoed into the Kensington's sitting room, all resolve to not mess with this timeline forgotten. Snape had gone to a place called Spinner's End. Harry didn't know where it was, but surely the Floo that took Snape to Spinner's End would send him there also?
He grabbed a handful of Floo powder. "Spinner's End!" he said, and the nauseating feeling of Floo traveling overtook him.
Harry tumbled out of the Floo into a room full of books. Something inside him knew instantly this must be Snape's home. And since he exited in a home having uttered only a street name, Snape must be living among Muggles. It didn’t make sense; he'd pictured Snape Manor or something like that for years. But the evidence was against him. No one would tumble out of a house if more than one fireplace in Spinner's End was connected to the Floo Network.
He walked past an armchair and immediately felt the familiar hair-raising sensation at the back of his neck. He wasn't alone.
"I don't treat trespassers kindly, you know." Snape's voice was cold.
Harry turned around, making sure his glare was in place.
Snape's eyes narrowed. "You! I should have known..."
"You know nothing!" Harry shouted, even though he had no idea what Snape was talking about, or why Snape seemed to have recognized him. Did he know the real Charlus Potter, Junior, if there was even such a person in this timeline?
"I know behind the bookcase is a terrible hiding place, and that only idiots hide there," Snape said, and waved a hand at the opposite armchair for Harry to sit. "Go on, sit, or I'll have you slice newt livers for me."
Harry felt small, like he was a first year in front of Hogwarts Potions Professor Snape. But he was the older one here! "Don't you... hey, you're not even twenty-two yet! Don't boss me around."
Snape's eyebrow raised. "You know my age," he said.
Harry mentally slapped himself. So much for playing along as a junior recruit. It hadn't even been ten minutes and he'd already blurted out something Charlus Potter shouldn't have known.
Snape stood and eyed Harry closely, in that uncomfortable way that caused Harry to want to fidget. He slunk into the proffered armchair, stalling for time. Now, how would a recruit know one of the Death Eaters' age? His mind went blank on him at coming up with an explanation, any explanation, that would get him out of the hole he just dug for himself. "I..."
"Lucius mentioned you're a Potter," Snape cut him off, "a distant relative to the Black family, loyal to our Lord's cause." Snape was now circling him as he spoke, like a lion pondering which part of its prey would taste the best. "But you were there, in the living room, obviously plotting to let those Muggle sympathizers go."
Without warning, the lion struck. Harry felt a hand grip his chin, tilting it up harshly, and gasped when the pointy end of a wand poked into his neck. He wanted to move back, to raise his hands, but only realized belatedly that Snape had somehow wordlessly immobilized him within the past blink of an eye -- yes, he could blink and could still struggle to turn his neck, so the immobilization was only partial. And he could still speak.
"'ape, ou as 'ard!"
"That I am," Snape said, his voice smooth. "I wonder, Mr. Potter, if you weren't sent here by the Order to infiltrate the Dark Lord's ranks." Snape sneered triumphantly, as if he would Apparate Harry to Voldemort any time, ready to claim his reward for turning a traitor in. For a moment, Harry thought Snape was going to do just that, and he struggled to speak, to say anything that would prove to Snape he was loyal to Voldemort.
Sensing Harry's desperation, Snape loosened his grip on Harry's chin by a fraction.
"The Order didn't send me!" Harry cried. Damned if he couldn't protect himself and needlessly get the Order in trouble.
"I'm sure they didn't. They only like to advertise their existence to blathering idiots such as you."
Damn and a half. Charlus Potter wasn't supposed to know the Order even existed. Harry panicked. "They didn't send me, really! I-I came here by accident! I was only pretending to know what you were talking about! I'm not a traitor, I'm honored to follow Vol- the Dark --"
The next thing he knew, Harry landed gracelessly on the ground, his arse and the part of his lower back that impacted with the hard surface aching terribly. Harry shifted his weights to... oh, he could move again.
"May I suggest you work on your lies, Potter? Blatant deception never works. People are most easily fooled with a mixture of truth and semi-truths. You must also learn to control your emotion. Never wear your heart out on your sleeve. That alone will get you killed."
Was Snape... walking away?
"Your rank among the recruits is still low, the Dark Lord will not take notice of you yet. Guard your speech, occlude your mind. Fabricate a story for yourself and believe fully in it. Only then will you survive." Snape's eyes met his. "Charlus Potter."
Harry gaped, too astonished to say anything as Snape walked out of his study and left Harry alone.
He stared at the space vacated by Snape long after his former professor had gone. Snape was giving him advice, teaching him! Yes, he knew that by this point Snape was already spying for the Order (if what he witnessed earlier was anything to go by), so it'd make perfect sense for one spy to look out for the other, even if Harry wasn't exactly a willing mole. But -- but wasn't Snape friends with Lucius Malfoy, at least in name? How could someone be civil with someone evil to the core?
Never wear your heart out on your sleeve. That alone will get you killed.
Harry hated to admit it. If Voldemort were to see Harry hiding behind the bookcase today, so obviously plotting to help the other side, he would have been promptly executed.
Cold hearted, murdering bastard.
Cold hearted, murdering bastard who was still alive in Harry's time.
He needed Snape's help.
The next two weeks were spent with Harry pretending to pay attention during Lucius' ridiculous training sessions, while trying to figure out a way to go back to his time, and socializing with his fellow recruits at the only pub where they and the Death Eater seemed to go to. Harry liked most of the recruits, pureblood ideology aside, but he usually found himself sitting with Ronald at their own table, talking about nothing.
"So, what do you know about the Death Eaters?"
Harry almost choked on his drink. It took him a few coughs to realize it was an innocent question. Ronald had no idea how much Harry knew, and hated, everyone in the Death Eater ranks; he merely asked to start a conversation, just like Ron and he used to do at the beginning of each year, wondering about that year's Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.
Besides, Harry was sure no one wanted to talk about yet another failed raid. Snape was there again tonight to help the targets escape, and all the recruits were convinced that, just like the first time, the house was empty. This left an embarrassed Lucius snarling at the lot of them to leave and take the night off. Ronald had dragged Harry to the pub, not willing to go home as Harry had suggested.
"Not much," Harry said cautiously, nursing his drink and hoping that would be the end of this particular conversation.
"Not much means you do know something. C'mon mate, what do you know?" Ronald looked so excited, so eager to learn everything about the path he had chosen for himself.
"Well, a lot of them were formerly Slytherins, and they're mostly pure-blooded."
Ronald rolled his eyes. "Everybody knows that. I want secrets, things we're not supposed to know. Things about the most mysterious of them. Say, what about Snape? You've heard of him, right? What do you know about him?"
Too much, Harry thought. But outwardly he grimaced. "Who would want anything to do with him? I heard even the Slytherin classmates in his year ostracized him. He's the loner type, up to no good, I'm sure."
"Ah, but that's what everyone says," Ronald said. "You know what I heard? I heard he's one of the rising stars. He's got connections with Dumbledore and that makes him very much in favor with our Lord. Do you think if we kiss up to him, we could --"
"You honestly think he could be blackmailed? What would people bribe Snape with? Giant newt eyes? Boggart livers?"
Ronald smiled slyly. "I heard he's queer."
Harry sputtered. "He's -- what?"
"I heard you. What's that got anything to do with... oh, no. You're not thinking about whoring yourself to that git, are you?"
Ronald waved his hand in the air nonchalantly, a dismissive gesture. "I'll do what I'll have to do," he said, and turned back to his drink.
Harry took as long as he possibly could to finish his drink, all the while casting surreptitious glances at Ronald. Ronald didn't seem to notice, but then again, he'd had two more gin and tonics since they had stopped talking, and he didn't seem to think the silence was awkward. Was he always this comfortable around blokes?
Ronald turned to Harry with a bright smile. "Yeah?"
"You're not... queer. Are you?"
Harry was sure had there been liquid in Ronald's mouth, he would have spewed it all over himself. "Is that what you've been thinking about all this time? No, 'course not! I have someone, a girl. She's still in school, though, so we won't get married until after the war."
Harry didn't respond. So Ronald thought the war was going to be quick and easy. A year of service, rise to the Death Eater rank, finish with the war, then go home and get married. If only he knew there'd be at least two more years of fighting. As far as Harry knew, he hadn't even been born in this time yet.
"Yeah, I'm taken," Ronald went on, his speech now definitely slurred. "How about this? I stay faithful to my future wife, and you get Snape."
Harry didn't like the direction this was going. He grabbed Ronald's arm. "Let's go. You're drunk."
Ronald pulled his arm free and gave Harry a sloppy grin. "Oh, don't be shy. Snape's not a bad looking bloke if you ignore that giant nose of his."
Ronald had a point there. But what would Snape be without that nose? "I mean it, let's go."
Ronald looked up. "You haven't come to terms with it yet, have you?"
"Come to terms with what?"
"That you're queer."
"I'm not --"
"Ah, I've just answered my own question." Ronald smirked. "We're mates here, Charlus. I'll keep your secret."
"I'm not queer."
Harry pulled Ronald's drink out of his hand and started dragging him out. But that only made Ronald double over and laugh. Harry felt himself blush. By now everyone had turned their attention to them, including some fellow recruits a few tables down.
"Yeah, Charlus!" one of them shouted. "Let it all out! It's good for you."
Harry glared at the offender. "Shut up." But the group only jeered louder.
Marcus chimed in, "Oh, you're a feisty one, Potter! Maybe Ronald's not the type for you. You need someone older, someone who can control you."
Snape's not older in this time, Harry thought, and froze. No, he did not just think that. No. That was the alcohol doing the thinking. It must be. He was as drunk as Ronald. They really should go.
Harry dragged hard, and finally, Ronald followed, stumbling and giggling along. Harry turned back and snapped, "Come on!"
He caught sight of a dark figure when he turned his head back. Black eyes, heavy robe, someone shadowed and hidden in the corner. Their eyes met and that sent Harry's heart racing. He gulped.
It was the alcohol. It had to be.
"Today," Lucius drawled, "you're going on your first paired mission. Since the nature of paired missions is more dangerous, each of you will be assigned to a seasoned Death Eater, most trusted by our Lord..."
Harry ignored the rest of Lucius' speech. He knew whom he was paired with, all the recruits already knew. Lucius was wasting everyone's time.
Which gave Harry the chance to agonize over his assignment. Snape. He wondered if Snape had anything to do with getting Harry paired with him. Probably, judging by the way he always eyed Harry at the bar. Ever since that night when Harry'd dragged Ronald out by the arm, he had seen Snape hiding in the same corner, just watching everyone.
But just how was Harry not going to look into those inscrutable eyes and not see a future murderer? He was fine with keeping distance, with not interacting directly with Snape. But if anything spouting out of Lucius' mouth was true, it was that the nature of paired-up missions required teamwork. And Harry couldn't quite picture Snape as the cooperating type.
Sighing, he grabbed his wand, walked away from the dispersing crowd, and headed for the Floo. He'd been given a set of coordinate points to travel by Apparition, but he didn't want to queue up and wait when everyone else was also traveling by Apparition. Besides, it wasn't as if he'd never tumbled out of Snape's fireplace before.
Locating the one Floo-connected fireplace of the church that Harry knew worked, he grabbed a handful of Floo powder and departed for Spinner's End.
"You're late," Snape said as soon as Harry tumbled out of the Floo.
"How'd you know..."
"I don't expect you would queue up for Apparition," Snape answered. "Now come with me, we have a lot to go over before beginning our assignment."
Harry sniffed. Why was it every time he talked with Snape, regardless of their ages, he felt like a student again? He was glad they seemed to be heading out of the study. More books and a few jars of unknown ingredients weren't helping him feel more adult in front of Snape. "Where are we going?" he asked.
Snape's back tensed up for a split second, though he didn't stop walking. Harry followed him into what looked like a dining room.
"I thought we could eat something first, since we have time," Snape said, gesturing awkwardly to the dining table without making eye contact. "Would you like tea?"
Harry sat gingerly on a chair while Snape disappeared into the kitchen for the tea. There was a plate of scones on the table, and two meticulously placed table settings. He breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted a label with a bakery's name attached to the plate. He really didn't want to think about Snape baking in the kitchen. He tentatively touched a finger to what looked like a blueberry scone.
"They're not set out for display, you know." Harry looked up to an amused Snape and a teapot and two cups floating after him in the air.
Was that a joke? From Snape? "I-I wasn't sure if I should start without you."
Snape levitated a teacup toward Harry, then sat down across from him. The sense of keen eyes on him in the silence was unnerving.
"I take that as a yes," Harry said, quickly grabbing the nearest scone and shoved it into his mouth. "Wow, 's 'ood!"
Snape had barely taken a bite out of his scone before Harry reached for a second one. He thought he'd give the cranberry-looking one a try. Snape lifted an eyebrow. "Deprived of food much during your childhood?" he asked wryly.
"Hey, how'd you --"
"Deduction. You're observant, Potter, but what you see doesn’t pass through that brain of yours. You didn't dare take a scone until I sat down at the table; and every night at the pub, you devour the menu as if you were never given the opportunity to choose. A child growing up with an overabundance of food would never behave like that."
If Snape had said this in Harry's time, Harry would have accused him of cheating; he'd looked inside Harry's head plenty of times, after all. But this Snape didn't know anything about him, and still he described Harry's life with the Dursleys as if he'd been there.
Not wanting to say anything remotely affirmative or complimentary to Snape, however, Harry changed the subject: "You mean... you've been spying on me all this time? Is that why you're at the pub every time I was there? You... you stalker!"
Snape's cheeks seemed to have turned a slight shade of red, but it must have been the lighting of the room. He did pretend to take a sip from his tea, though, unless Snape could swallow without moving his throat.
He looked intently at Harry after setting his cup down. "You're a good friend."
"You're different. And I don't mean different in the sense that you're not wholeheartedly serving the Dark Lord." Another fake sip. "What I mean is, anyone I know would have left Kensington behind the night he made a fool of himself. But you took him home."
Well, that was something new. Snape seeing something involving Harry that wasn't negative. "Well, for one thing, I live with him. And I'd never leave a drunk mate to fend for himself." He locked eyes with Snape. "Friends don't leave each other behind."
Snape's gaze turned contemplative. "Not leaving anyone behind," he mused. "You'd make a good soldier for the war, Potter."
The rest of breakfast passed in silence, though it wasn't as uncomfortable this time. Harry kept wanting to look around for a clock on the wall. Weren't they going to be late for whatever mission Voldemort assigned to them?
"We have time yet. Before we leave, there's something I need you to understand."
Harry glared at Snape. Two Galleons he was using Legilimency on him.
"I'm afraid I don't have two Galleons to spare --" He ignored Harry's scowl. "-- but do constantly practice Occlumency until it becomes a habit, especially for someone in your predicament."
Harry supposed Snape was right. He for one wouldn't want Snape to find out too much about what he knew, both about the past and the present. He halted his thoughts. Who knew if Snape was still using Legilimency on him?
He decided changing the subject was his best tactic. "So what do I need to understand?"
Snape studied Harry for a moment. "You may be a good friend and comrade in arms, but being spy and a soldier fighting for a different side -- and yes, we can speak freely of it here, as I have this place warded, but do keep your Occlumency up -- sometimes necessitates the ability to... ah, abandon the ones in need."
Snape nodded. "You cannot save everyone."
Images of failed raids and of snatching fellow soldiers from imminent danger flashed through Harry's mind. Fellow soldiers who were also friends and former classmates. How could Snape say this? Harry had always saved everyone, or at least tried to, in every battle he'd been in. Sometimes he'd imagine what it must feel like to be the wounded soldier lying on the field, waiting to die. The horror of it had made Harry swear he would never desert someone in such a state, whether friend or foe.
"Can't? I see you've been in battles before, perhaps smaller ones than the one we're both in, battles that allowed you to be the hero to save the day --" Harry hated the sneer brewing just beneath the surface, the sneer that any Snape from any time would still cast Harry's way. "-- but whoever you are, you're here to gather information. Get your true identity exposed, and the Dark Lord will target you next."
Harry stubbornly looked away. What Snape said might make sense, but how could he, under any circumstance, abandon anyone?
Snape levitated a piece of parchment toward Harry. "Our assignment for today. We are to... evacuate... the home of a certain Muggle-supporting family. Burn the house to the ground, and then cast Morsmordre over it." He let the parchment fall when Harry made no move to take it. "I will perform the unsavory task of ridding the house of its occupants. You may set the house on fire if you choose, but your main task is to cast the Mark over the house once the deed is done."
Harry opened his mouth, but Snape had already anticipated his protest. "No rescues this time, Potter. I may have sabotaged Lucius' pompous missions, but this mission will be closely monitored by the Dark Lord."
"Do you understand?"
No! Harry wanted to say. He took a deep breath. "No rescues, right."
He suddenly felt the need to grab another scone and start eating it, even though his stomach was threatening to upturn its entire contents. Snape had practically told him they were going to kill innocent people today. A fun post-breakfast activity, get it done quickly, and they might be back in time for lunch. Splendid. He stalled for more time.
Harry kept eating.
Really, if Snape really was spying for Dumbledore, then what sort of a report would he give him? Headmaster, I'm sorry I killed several innocent people today, but I can't risk blowing my cover. And maintaining my cover is much more important than saving the lives of people, you know. I'm sure you don't mind, do you? Now good day, Headmaster, I shall return to more people-killing.
"Wh –" Harry dropped what was left of his partially eaten scone onto his plate. Right. He'd forgotten his pseudonym.
"Stop pretending to eat. We must go. As I said, your only task is to cast Morsmordre, and to burn down the house if you choose. I will... take care of the rest."
Snape gave him no time to pause. A forceful arm grabbed his and dragged him out of his chair. The same arm twined around Harry's and despite the grimness of the situation, Harry felt a flutter spread from his stomach to the rest of his torso. He didn't have time to dwell on this tingly feeling, however. The next moment, the familiar (and unwelcome) feeling of Side-Along-Apparition overtook him and he was no longer in Snape's home at Spinner's End.
If Harry were to recount his first paired-up mission to Ron and Hermione in the future, the majority of the tale would have focused on how nauseated he felt and how he sicked up for no less than three times. Snape disappeared into the "Muggle-supporting family's house" as soon as they'd materialized from Apparition, leaving Harry walking around in circles before realizing which house among the row of four or five Snape had gone into. He supposed he should have known to feel for a surge of magical intensity within one of the houses. But when one was emptying the content of one's stomach, one's mind wasn't usually the sharpest.
By the time Harry opened the door, Snape was already walking toward the entrance, the deed apparently done. The sight of the dark face and glinting eyes sent a chill down Harry's spine. Snape's features may have looked younger and his limbs a bit ganglier than the Snape of his time, but at this moment, there was no difference between the monster who'd murdered Dumbledore and the supposed Death Eater spy who helped the Order during the first Voldemort war.
Harry pulled out his wand. "How dare you..." he grounded out through gritted teeth.
"Move out of the way!" Snape barked. "The neighbors aren't all Muggles and the sooner we leave, the less chance there is for us to be discovered."
Harry didn't lower his wand. His eyes felt prickly, be he'd be damned if he let Snape see him cry. "You just walked right in and... you – you monster!"
The gleam in Snape's eyes, if possible, flashed even brighter. "Don't you dare think for a second I enjoyed performing my tasks for the Dark Lord. Now move aside. I'll cast the Incendio and you'll take care of the Morsmordre."
Without another word, Snape barged ahead and with his arm, flung Harry's wand-holding hand aside. "Stay in here if you choose, Potter, but I'm going to burn down this house."
Harry suddenly felt too weak to even be angry. He sank down onto his knees. So it was over. Not even five minutes, and three lives perished, just like that. He didn't hear Snape cast the spell, but soon there was smoke filling up the house and it was getting hot. Harry looked as random furniture caught fire: a couch burst into flames, the family portrait charred and its frame started crumpling as the people in the picture ran around in panic, a book caught fire and nothing but the covers remained...
Suddenly there was a flash of white, and Harry thought he heard someone speaking. "Who is it?" he yelled, hoping desperately for a response. He was ready to stand up and dash into the flames at any second. He wasn't going to leave anyone behind, dammit, not after what Snape had done.
"Woof!" There was the noise again, though distinctly not human. A familiar.
Harry extended his hand. "C'here, little friend. Over here!"
Whatever the familiar was, it was hesitant at first as it hid behind a not-yet-burning doorframe, sticking only half its head out. Then, apparently deciding Harry was trustworthy, it darted out and ran toward him, tail wagging.
It was a crup. A baby crup -- if Harry's limited knowledge of magical creatures served him correctly. He scooped the tiny creature up. "Here, here, 's okay. Let's get out of the fire."
The crup woofed again and started licking Harry. This caused him to smile despite his overwhelming sadness, and... for some reason, the hatred he was harboring wasn't really there anymore. "We'll take good care of you, 'kay?"
Harry walked away without casting any Dark Mark over the house or searching for Snape. He walked with unsteady steps, suddenly unsure whether he was holding the crup or if the crup was the one holding him up. He murmured comforting words to the young creature and seemed to believe that as long as it was okay, then everything else would be fine.
He was in the middle of telling the crup about a friend named Ron when he bumped into a body. "Hey, watch where you're going!"
A hand grabbed his collar and yanked him upward. "I'd watch where you are going, Potter," Snape hissed, in that low tone that Harry was all too familiar with, a low tone that meant Snape was extremely angry.
He gulped, holding the crup closer. I'm older than Snape here, I'm older than Snape here, I'm
A hand was prying at his arm. "Give me that!"
"No!" He pulled back, holding the crup tighter. "I found him. He's mine!"
"I believe you picked it up from the house." Snape's voice was smooth. "And you know what our orders are concerning every living being inside the target house."
"Don't you dare!" Harry snarled, feeling suddenly fierce. "He's a harmless baby crup and you're not going to do any more killing today!"
"Is that so?" Snape pulled out his wand.
Harry stepped into Snape's wand. "Yes."
Snape's left shoulder twitched, his eyes glinting, which only made them seem darker. Harry didn't know how long they stood like this, eyes locked in a silent match, with Harry fuming and Snape calm and calculating. He didn't care. The crup in his arm was warm and furry, and it was depending on him to keep it safe. Harry may not have been able to save people today, but a life was still a life, and this crup mattered.
It felt like another stretch of eternity before Snape lowered his wand. "Very well, Charlus. Take that infernal creature to the local pound. Do not let it darken my doors or take it back to Kensington. We're done for today."
Harry stormed away without another word, nor did he give much notice to the crowd that was now gathering around the burning house. No one cast a glance his way; he supposed he should be glad, but he didn't care. He also didn't need to look back to know that when Snape finally cast Morsmordre, it was done with all that Snape'd been holding inside. The sky flared a terrible green, which only made Harry grip the crup tighter and continued walking.
"I hate him sometimes," Harry told the crup. It wagged its tail and licked up the angry tears rolling down Harry's chin.
"How did your mission with Snape go?" Ronald asked.
Harry tried not to let on too much. At least the crup found a good new family to live with, he reminded himself. "Bad. I botched up everything and he had to finish the entire mission for me."
Ronald waved a hand dismissively. "Everyone messes up now and then. Better to get it over with on your first paired mission than later. Group stuff, there's always the chance to blame other people. But no such luck with paired missions."
"You and your know-it-all attitude," Harry muttered. He was in a terrible mood.
"Augustus told me all about it," Ronald said with a shine on his face. "We had some time to spare while waiting for the Muggles to come home, so he told me all about the inner workings of paired-up raids."
"Augustus?" Harry paused to figure out who "Augustus" was. "Wait, don't tell me you two are on first name basis already."
"You and Snape aren't? I'm surprised. You were the one with enough gall to call Malfoy 'Lucius' the very first day of training. How hard is it to do that with Snape?" A sly smile spread across his face. "Or are you really that repressed, my queer mate?"
"Don't you dare bring that up again --"
Ronald held up his hands in surrender. "All right, I won't! I'm sorry!" he said, not looking particularly contrite. "Though I must say this: thank you for not leaving me at the bar that other night."
"You're welcome," Harry said automatically. Then a thought struck him. "You know, all you Slytherins think I would just leave people I consider friends to fend for themselves."
Ronald shrugged. "I would. If you were the one making an arse of yourself that night, I'd have shoved you over to Marcus' table and washed myself clear of you. Oh, don't give me that look! I reckon Snape would've done the same to you too!"
Well, that was true enough. "He told me I'm a good friend," Harry admitted. "Even though I did what everyone in my life would have done for me." Simply because I'm the Boy-Who-Lived and my life's more 'important,' he thought bitterly. It still stung to think about Ron's hurtful words that day. Maybe it was a good thing he was here. At least he had time to heal apart from them.
It took Harry a few seconds to realize Ronald was looking at him intently. He looked up, forcing a stop to his mental wallowing. "What?"
"I'll never leave your drunk arse at the bar alone if that ever happens. Not after what you've done for me. Promise."
Harry smiled. "Thanks."
Ronald smiled back, but it quickly turned mischievous. "Neither will Snape. You seemed to have captured his attention at the bar."
"Well, not after the botched --"
"Did he offer you food before the mission? I heard he's the task-oriented type and never did anything human like eat with new recruits."
"Ronald! Stop it, I mean it --" I really don't want to think about that bastard right now.
"And when you said you botched up your mission, was he the one who finished it for you? Edward and Carlyle were sent home last night, you know, because they failed their missions. If Snape's covering for you, this means --"
"This means nothing! Shut it!"
Ronald finally took the cue and stopped talking when Harry made to draw out his wand. Laughing, he rambled off some insincere apology and promises and all but choked himself with his own laughter.
With a humph, Harry pocketed his wand, Ronald's words racing in his mind. Snape, whom he wanted to walk up to and rip his head off for the unforgivable things he did. Snape, who had heartlessly taken life all in the name of responsibility. Snape, who had offered him food... Snape, who could have killed Harry and then the crup, had he chose to, because he could have, knowing how much rage was behind the Morsmordre he cast...
Yet here he was, alive and still in the ranks of the recruits. What did this all mean?
"Go to him," Ronald said. All amusement was gone from his face and he now looked utterly serious. "There's a lot going on between you two that I won't pretend to understand. But I know there's something."
Harry shook his head, though he knew what Ronald said was correct. Like it or not, Snape was the only ally he had while he was trapped as a recruit for Voldemort. He was also the only one Harry was sure was still on Dumbledore's side, recent events notwithstanding. Harry may have already burnt the bridge with the failed paired-up mission. But if he knew anything about Snape, it was that he'd always protected him, whether he was Harry or Charlus.
Right, Charlus. Snape had called him Charlus right before sending him away with the crup. Not Potter. There was... something. And as tenuous as this all was, a possible something was better than nothing at all.
Harry fidgeted as he knocked on the wooden door, careful not to make too much noise as to alert the neighbors. He'd spent days figuring out where Spinner's End was, and the effort had been vital in not letting him back out on visiting Snape. He wasn't about to let all his work go to waste simply because his stomach felt fluttery every time he thought about Snape. It was a sort of flutter he'd never felt before -- so intense with anger and with something else, something definitely quite opposite of anything negative like anger.
Harry waited for what felt like forever. This was their first meeting since the paired-up mission. For all Harry knew, Snape could simply open the door and cast the Killing Curse on him.
The door opened. "Charlus," Snape acknowledged and, to Harry's surprise, simply stepped aside to let him in.
"Sn – Severus," Harry greeted in return. It didn't feel right to maintain the formality when Snape seemed to have adopted the use of Harry's pseudonym.
There were no scones this time, though Snape did Summon two cups of tea. Harry was glad of that. He needed something to hold, and sipping on tea had always been a good filler for awkward moments.
"The crup found a new family," Harry began after they were seated in two lumpy couches. "He took an immediate liking to them at the pound, and the witch who works there said that almost never happens."
Sna - Severus took a gulp of tea.
"And then I went home and Ronald told me Edward and Carlyle are gone. I... I mean, I completely botched up the mission. Why wasn't I sent home?"
Severus seemed to like drinking his tea a lot. Harry waited. The teapot that was floating in the air tipped over and refilled Severus' cup, and Severus finally spoke, "Sending you away would have been the easy solution. It'd be giving you what you wanted."
"So why don't you?" Harry asked, feeling frustrated. "You bastard! Do you think I want to be here? To go from war to war so I can witness more deaths? I want to leave, Severus, to be quit of this!"
"If I have one fault, it is that I'm selfish."
"That you are," Harry muttered. "Wait, what does that have to do with anything? Are you like Ronald and the rest of them who want to do everything on a mission so you can take credit for everything? Just so you know, I have no objection to that --"
"Charlus, I don't want to see you go."
Was that supposed to be a compliment?
Severus sighed. "For what it's worth, you're my only ally here. Forgive me for saying this, but you're horrible at deception, and that allowed me to know with certainty you are indeed sent here as a spy." Severus looked away. "I've looked, subtly, constantly, and have yet to find another Death Eater dedicated neither to the Dark Lord's nor his own agenda. But then you showed up."
Harry couldn't believe what he heard, would never in his life imagine Sna - Severus capable of confessing a need for others. But here he was, saying in plain words that he wanted Harry around, that he --
"But you hate me."
Severus' eyes were back on Harry. "What made you think that? I was angry a few days ago, yes, but if anything, it was because you were being a horrible double agent."
Harry let out a nervous chuckle. "I am, aren't I?"
"I... don't hate you," Severus said, as if testing the sound of the words. It was Harry's turn to sip on his tea. Severus wanted to say more, Harry could feel it. "You're what I'll never be. I follow orders, from both Masters. I do horrible things, things you refuse to do."
Harry sipped hard and swallowed loudly. So Severus had a conscience somewhere inside him after all. But "following orders" was a terrible excuse to justify everything he'd done, and --
"I know that," Severus snapped, and Harry looked up. "You have to constantly occlude your mind, you must."
Harry shrugged. "Not with you," he said, and paused before deciding to add what had been going through his mind. "I trust you... at least enough to not be in full Occlumency mode." There were definitely things he kept hidden from everyone at all times, like everything that involved Harry Potter and the second Voldemort war.
Severus seemed taken aback at Harry's declaration, but his shoulders relaxed slightly, as if what Harry'd said allowed him to remove at least one layer of his masks. At this thought, a smile threatened to break on Harry's face. He didn't know why, but it felt good to not be hated, to be... needed.
Harry placed his tea down. "I, er, guess I should go," he said, standing up. "Hey, you never sit with anybody at the pub. You know you can always join Ronald and me."
"I prefer not to be seen mingling with recruits. Nothing personal --"
"What about somewhere else then? I was walking around Muggle London the other day and spotted several restaurants."
Severus' expression was inscrutable. "Are you propositioning me?"
Was he? Had he -- he'd just asked Severus out, hadn't he?
"Er... yes?" Harry fidgeted. He really should go. But since the offer was out, he might as well wait for Severus' rejection.
The many layers of Severus' mask were back on, his face passive and revealing nothing. But after an agonizing stretch of silence, his features relaxed and he smirked. "Very well. Friday, at six. Come here and we'll go to Muggle London. Use the Floo. Now wipe that ridiculous grin off your face and get out."
If possible, Harry's grin grew even wider as he hurried to Severus' Floo.
Once back in Ronald's house, Harry's head was finally cleared enough to wonder if he'd just done the most idiotic thing in his life. Him and Severus, alone, in a Muggle restaurant? What a setup for disaster. And yet there was that fluttery feeling in the pit of his stomach again, and this time there was a lot less hatred than that... other feeling of...
He could just imagine Ron and Hermione's reaction: Ron would turn green and want to throw up, while Hermione would launch into lecture mode about the impropriety of student-teacher relationships and the inherent differences between their personalities.
Harry winced. So now he was thinking about a relationship with Severus? But that didn't make Severus any less of a bastard, less of a two-faced murderer, less of someone Harry still couldn't be sure he could completely trust.
He shook his head. No, if he were to "date" Severus, then it would have to be for something greater than the sudden, inexplicable liking he'd taken to him. Harry needed to get closer to Severus; he needed to learn from the spy extraordinaire what it was like to survive both Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Harry was a recruit, but Severus was a Death Eater. If he could use Severus to get into the inner circle, he could potentially take back some invaluable information about the enemy for use in the future.
Yes, he should do that. What Ronald said a few weeks ago made sense. The Death Eaters were an opportunistic bunch, so why wouldn't the recruits -- Death Eater hopefuls -- not also be constantly on the lookout for chances to move up in the ranks? If he could use that to his advantage, to be opportunistic about gleaning information here to take back to the Order in his time, then he shouldn't care what getting close to Severus might seem to people, not even if it'd cast him as an arse-kissing homose...
Harry shook his head and sighed. There was a reason why he and Severus were going into Muggle London, away from everyone's scrutiny.
Three butterbeers and a sandwich later, Harry found himself sitting, parchment in front of him and quill in hand, making a list of things he would need before Severus and "Charlus" could work out.
- A believable story about why
Seve Snape and Charlus will be spending
so much time together
- Must impress Snape. Charlus Potter cannot be a dunderhead
- Must not hold
old future grudges against Snape of this time
Harry grimaced as he wrote this, past and present grudges flashing across his mind.
- Must trust Snape to be a spy for the Order, at least for now
He put the quill down and sighed. How could he possibly get through with this plan and come out with vital information about the inner workings of Voldemort's plans without ripping Snape's head off ten times over (and then regretting it immediately afterwards)? He glanced around the room and his eyes landed on a picture of a toddler-aged Ronald, who was smiling and waving at him. He sighed again. He needed friends -- where were Ron and Hermione when he needed them? He supposed Ronald was his friend now.
He added "Must get friends' support to want to get me and Snape together" to the list.
Just then, an irritably cheery Ronald burst through the door. "'Lo there, Charlus! Oi, what'd you have there?"
Harry scrambled to cover his list, and thought he managed to do it just in time until Ronald leant in, then walked away with a sly expression on his face. "Finally plotting a move, I see. Good luck!" Ronald said as he sauntered into the kitchen.
Harry looked down. Yes, everything was covered, except "...me and Snape together." His face suddenly grew very warm. He was sure to hear about this from all of the recruits for days to come.
Well, at least he managed to accomplish the last item on his list before anything even began.
As Harry had no money with him besides what he stole from people during various raids, he took a trip to a Muggle area, pocket filled with transfigured Muggle money, to buy himself something more fitting than Ronald's second-hand clothes.
He also trimmed his hair back to the cropped length he had before he came into this time. It was only a dinner, but it was also his way into gaining information for the Order, and -- he blushed -- the first time he went to dinner with just one other person, alone, since that one time with Cho.
He would've hated himself for breaking into smiles at random times, if he hadn't felt so inexplicably giddy.
At precisely 5:59, Harry stepped into the Floo and tumbled out into the study at Spinner's End. "Severus?" he called as he walked through the study, noting the room was empty. He paused to dust off the soot from his shirt and flared-ankle trousers -- the latest style of Muggle attire, according to the sales clerk.
Severus was waiting for him in the sitting room, his back so straight, he barely looked like he was sitting on a couch at all. He, too, seemed to have consulted a Muggle clothing store sales clerk, as he was wearing a deep blue outfit that Harry had seen on display in one of the Muggle shops he'd visited.
"'Lo," Harry greeted.
Severus all but jumped up, his nervous energy palpable. His face was slightly flushed, Harry noticed, and realized how very young he looked when not functioning in Death Eater mode.
But Severus Snape wouldn't be who he was if he didn't compose himself quickly. After hiding his initial awkwardness, he looked Harry up and down. "Transfigured money?" he asked, arching an eyebrow.
Harry laughed. "Yeah, those poor Muggles, they're probably wondering right now why there are so many pieces of old newspapers in their tills!"
"I see I'm not the only one," Severus said smoothly. "We shall make a good spy out of you yet."
Harry grinned. It was relieving, to be able to be in someone's company without needing to watch his every word, or to make sure he sounded enthusiastic about everything involving Voldemort. Maybe that was why Severus enjoyed Harry's company so much. Between them, there was a mutual breathing space, a freedom to be soldiers fighting both sides of the war, to quickly acknowledge their dual identities and then move on to something more interesting, more personal -- like Apparating into a street full of Muggle restaurants and deciding on where to eat.
They settled for an inconspicuous-looking Indian restaurant. It was too commonplace for the likes of Lucius Malfoy, Severus said, and other Death Eaters with less aristocratic snobbery didn't really like Indian food. Harry filed that away in his mind. Even in a situation where they were relatively safe from being discovered, Severus still took precautions -- he never let his guard down.
Harry stole a glance at Severus as they were waiting for their table. He looked more at ease than Harry had seen him in a long time -- both past and present -- and bit by bit, Harry allowed himself to relax too.
"So... anything good here besides curry?" Harry stuck out his tongue when they were seated and reading their menus. "I don't like curry too much."
"There are plenty of non-curry choices on the menu. You do know how to read, I presume?"
Harry scowled, though he didn't feel particularly offended. He was getting used to Severus acting so much like, but yet different, than the Snape of his time, and he liked reacting to the same jibes positively. Amusement had always been preferable to blinding rage, even with someone like Snape.
Nothing on the menu interested him though, and he refused to look at Severus as he ordered pasta from the waiter, an item buried somewhere under the "Kids' Choices" section. Harry could hear Severus in his head right now: Very "refined" taste, Potter... I see you haven't had your share of mass-produced kitchen food from school yet... My, how your family has deprived you of food, so much so that you can only order child-portioned items...
When the expected insult didn't come, Harry couldn't help but look up, and was surprised to see how uneasy Severus looked.
"You don't like Indian food."
Harry shrugged. "I wouldn't say I don't like it. I just didn't get to eat too many different things growing up. It's all right, really. I'm sure they make pasta differently here."
Severus didn't seem satisfied with Harry's answer. "We could go somewhere else," he suggested. Was he... worried?
"No, I'm fine," Harry answered quickly. "I just saw the menu and realized I was craving pasta." He let out a self-deprecating chuckle. "I'm weird like that. Don't mind me."
Maybe it was the sincerity in Harry's voice, or maybe it was the timely arrival of na'an breads that Harry immediately dug into as soon as the waiter placed the basket down. Whatever the reason, Severus let the issue go and they began eating, and Harry filed away yet another piece of information in his head, that Severus was capable of caring for the interests of someone other than himself after all.
That was all the information-gathering he did this evening. Talks about the weather led to their food, then onto Quidditch and somehow arrived at Potions. Well, he did learn one more thing -- that Severus was rather charming whenever he quirked his lips into an almost-smile.
They chose to walk back from the Apparation point closest to Spinner's End instead of taking the Floo for the remaining leg of the trip. Voldemort was gaining a foothold in the Wizarding part of northern England at the moment, and as long as Severus didn't feel embarrassed of being seen with Harry (to Harry's delight, he didn't seem to), he saw no point of nauseating himself with Floo travel when they could continue their very fascinating conversation on time travel.
"I have a friend who once regularly used a Time-Turner. She gave it up after a year though," Harry said.
"Oh?" Severus raised an eyebrow. "And has she since gone insane?"
"She's the sanest person I know. Logical, smart, brave... and a great friend."
Harry didn't notice Severus had stopped walking until he realized he was walking alone. He turned around. "Is something wrong?"
Severus was looking at him in that unnerving way that Harry hated. He felt like the very core of his being was under observation. Harry walked toward Severus, but not before shielding his mind around everything that had to do with Ron and Hermione.
Severus was silent at first. Then: "I take it you were rather enamored of her?" There was a hint of animosity in his tone, and it took Harry several seconds to realize why it was there.
Fear. Resentment. Jealousy. Severus was feeling jealous of Charlus' logical, smart, and brave friend.
If this had been in the present, Harry would've excused himself, run back to Grimmauld Place, and shared a good laugh with Ron and Hermione at Snape's expense. But this was now, and this was Severus, worried that someone was going to come in between himself and Charlus.
Not that Harry was willing to disregard the depth of his friendship with Hermione. "She's my best friend, of course I love her!" His heart clenched at the glimpse of resignation that flashed through Severus' eyes. Was he that accustomed to rejection? Harry softened his voice. "But it's you I 'propositioned.' Heck, we just went for food and did you see me bring her along? I don't play games with people, Severus."
Severus still looked awkward, standing in the middle of the street, but his posture looked less tense, and Harry felt his own shoulders easing. He tugged at Severus' arm. "Come on, let's go home."
At some point on the rest of the way back, Harry was glad for the first time since he'd got here that he was in a time not of his own.
That night, Harry lay in bed wide awake, thinking about a side of Severus he'd never seen before. So the nasty Potions professor-cum-Death Eater had a vulnerable side after all. And -- replaying the exchange they had about Hermione -- Harry was quite sure Severus was very lonely.
He knew lonely. Loneliness was when he had nothing better to do than counting spiders inside his cupboard. Loneliness was when he wandered around Hogwarts under his Invisibility Cloak in the middle of the night. And loneliness was when he conveniently excused himself from Grimmauld Place so Ron and Hermione could have some time to each other.
Conflict raged inside him. He knew Snape -- yes, the Severus in his own time could only be "Snape" -- was probably just as lonely in the future. But that was the least of punishments a murderer like him deserved.
Could he change that?
He thought back to the time travel conversation they'd had. Severus was a strong advocate of not using Time-Turners at all. Changing the past could be fatal, he had insisted.
But what if changing the past led to the reversal of fatality?
He needed information to bring back to the Order. Maybe information slightly before his time. He could return (if he returned, his mind piped up), procure a Time Turner somehow, and then go back to the middle of sixth year, when Dumbledore was still alive...
The last thought he had before drifting off to sleep was that he really needed to find a way back.
The "dates," Harry decided, were successful. He had learned things; like the inner structure or lack thereof of the Death Eaters (Voldemort on top and infighting among everyone else, which amused him to no end), the means to get noticed or remain unnoticed by key players of both sides of the war, and -- he had been unable to talk without feeling a lump in his throat for minutes afterwards -- that the Potters had already fought face-to-face with Voldemort twice.
Severus also knew a great deal about Lucius Malfoy. While they weren't exactly friends, the two seemed to get along in a very diplomatic way. Severus recognized Lucius' connections in every sphere of influence and Lucius acknowledged Severus' favor with Voldemort, due to his ties with Dumbledore. Harry tried his best to remember every quirk and secret Severus shared about Lucius; he knew he could use them against the Lucius of his time.
Inevitably, the dinner conversation would turn into getting-to-know-you sessions.
"So... how'd you learn to act so old, anyway?" Harry asked, munching on his crisps.
"Yeah. I mean, you're barely out of school, and sometimes your mannerisms make you seem older than Lucius. He's, what, twenty-seven?"
Severus' face darkened. "War forces people to grow up. You should know that."
"I suppose," Harry agreed. "But don't you want to do something fitting for people our age sometimes? Like going out for ice cream, or buying a few Chocolate Frogs?"
Harry almost laughed when Severus looked like he had sucked on a lemon. "And why would I want to do that?" he sniffed. "What would careening about, doing pointless --"
"For fun. That's what my friends and I used to --"
Harry stopped short. Severus had no friends, there was no need to remind him of that. Well, none beside him, but even "Charlus" was to a certain degree fake. "Used to. I don't hang out with my friends anymore either," he said sheepishly.
Severus seemed to understand, and looked as sympathetic as Snape could look. His voice was barely above a whisper when he spoke, "I can't take chances with my enemies, Potter. There are no friends in war."
No friends in war. So that was how he ended up that way, so mature beyond his years, and practically an anti-social git by the time he --
Harry felt his face flush. He knew Severus was right, but he wasn't about to warn Severus not to become a friendless, anti-social git in the future. It wasn't true anymore anyway; Harry should qualify as a friend by now, even though part of the reason he went on these "dates" was because he needed to get information...
"Do you now?"
Harry slammed the walls of his thoughts down, and cringed at the dark expression on Severus' face. "Do I what?" He tried his best to look innocent, even though he was failing terribly at it. "I wasn't thinking about anything!"
Severus looked at him with accusation. There was no need for words; Severus had just uncovered Harry's motives for obtaining information for the future Order. He'd probably also seen the part of Harry's thoughts about his not having any friends too.
But at least he wasn't hexed yet, so maybe Severus didn't see everything. Harry decided it was a good time to start an entirely new conversation. "Well, how about it? We can go to Fortescue's sometimes..." No sign of backing down from Severus. "...maybe get some sweets? Or what about going to the apothecary or a bookstore? You like books, right?"
A spark of interest flashed across Severus' eyes at the mention of books. Harry wanted to fall on his knees and thank whichever deity was helping him. "Have you heard? Gilderoy Lockhart just published his second book. I bet he's written all rubbish."
Severus snorted, and Harry had never been more glad to hear that sound.
"I really doubt someone who cares about beauty as much as he does would be willing to visit an Egyptian tomb. Can you imagine how dusty the desert is? Lockhart would never survive a second in that environment. I bet he's never even met a mummy in real life."
"His adventures sound realistic enough," Severus interjected.
"You know what I think? I think -- no, I know -- he probably took someone else's experience and claimed it for his own..."
Harry relaxed as he went on with his "theory" about Gilderoy Lockhart usurping other people's stories. He was glad when the earlier tension seemed to have been forgotten, and that by the time dinner was over, Severus had already promised to get a copy of Lockhart's new book and would lend it to Harry once he finished reading it.
"Severus, you wanted to see me?" Harry stepped out of the Floo. It was unusual for Severus to initiate a meeting with him, and even more unusual when they had only gone out a few days ago.
Severus was sitting in a tattered couch, but stood up stiffly as soon as Harry arrived. Harry's heart pounded faster with every second of silence that stretched between them. Severus didn't look welcoming at all, and it would take an utter idiot to not realize that what had happened during their last dinner had not, in fact, been forgotten.
"It won't work, Potter."
The words created a loud ring in Harry's ears. "Wh-What do you mean, it won't work? Why? Things were fine last --"
"You're using me. Or trying to. And you're horribly inept at it."
"Wh -- I don't understand." He was practically pleading. He did understand, but had thought, had hoped, that Severus had somehow dismissed what he'd seen as inconsequential and forgotten about it. These "dates" Harry had dragged Severus to had turned out much better than he thought, and he found himself actually enjoying Severus' company. He even felt a bit of the same giddiness he used to have when he went with the Weasleys for ice cream at Fortescue's. To end this would -- Harry gulped -- it would be devastating.
"I saw it in your mind, don't deny it," Severus said, heatedly. "You intend to get close to me so you can extract information about my loyalty to the Order. While my allegiance isn't a secret with you, I wonder, Potter, why you would want to play spy on a spy."
Harry closed his eyes. No. This was like Professor Snape looming over Harry the first year student, telling him exactly what had gone wrong with his potion, step-by-painful-step. While Professor Snape would've at most deducted House points and dished out detentions, Severus -- he opened his eyes to an unrelenting Severus -- was he truly serious about this not going to work thing?
"I... no! That's not -- I'm not trying to --"
Severus sneered. "Ever so eloquent, Charlus."
A jibe taken directly from Professor Snape's mouth. Harry was flabbergasted, upset, at both Severus and at himself, but mostly at himself for being so obvious about his motive for getting close to Severus for information.
But was that his motive... anymore?
Severus had just called him Charlus, and Harry thought there might still be a chance to save this... thing between them.
"I really enjoyed our dates," he said, emphatically, sincerely. "I really, really enjoy your company."
Something flashed in Severus' eyes, and he looked thoughtful for a moment.
"I-I admit I'm curious, about you and the Order and all that. But --" Harry took a deep breath. "-- but it's more than me being horrible at spying. It's been more than that, since that day you covered my arse at the botched mission, since... since we, er, went out."
God, he must look like a delinquent caught wandering the halls of Hogwarts afterhours. Severus wasn't helping either by being utterly silent and unreadable. Harry held his breath. He -- it suddenly occurred to him -- didn't want to stop "dating" Severus.
"You're horribly transparent for someone claiming to be a Slytherin," Severus said, as if pronouncing Harry's personal flaw to a public audience. Harry's shoulders slumped.
"However," Severus continued, and Harry looked up. "I... too, enjoyed our 'dates,' as you put it."
"Does that mean --"
Severus held a hand up. "It doesn't mean anything. I simply... refuse to purchase Gilderoy Lockhart's inane book at cover price if I can't give it to someone else to read."
Harry grinned -- beamed. He must've looked like such an idiot, if Severus' barely suppressed eye roll meant anything. But he didn't care, not about his personal dignity, nor about failing to bring any information back to the Order in his time.
They would still go get the book together. Severus didn't break things off with him.
That night, Harry lay, wide awake, in the guest bed that was now "his" bed, thinking hard.
If Hermione were here, she'd be admonishing him about what a horrible spy he was being. He could just hear her now: "Harry, the Sorting Hat almost placed you in Slytherin. You have to do better!"
And Ron would chime in halfheartedly with some noncommittal agreement to keep Hermione from getting angry at him, but would give Harry the understanding look in silent support. Poor Ron -- Harry smiled -- always trying so hard to be there for both of them.
His smile froze when the image of Ron and Hermione morphed into the jeering face of Voldemort, taunting him, mocking him for being a horrible Slytherin. Give up, Potter, Harry could almost hear him say, You've got nothing on Severus, but he's got you tied up with his puppeteer strings.
Harry fought his panic and squeezed his eyes shut as tightly as possible. He found himself calming down when Voldemort's face eventually morphed into Severus', sneering but not mocking, with a hint of warmth in his eyes that Harry had come to recognize. "You can do better, Potter," the image of Severus said.
Harry smiled back to Severus' non-smile. With that image held tightly in his mind, he slowly drifted off to sleep.
For the following weeks, Harry set to observing Severus whenever they were assigned in raids together. Voldemort was building his forces, which conveniently meant Harry had a lot of opportunities to see the Order's spy in action. He tried to be secretive about it, but the winks and knowing glances sent his way by all the recruits only confirmed Harry was horrible at stealth, and that Ronald spent far too much time convincing everyone of his apparent infatuation with Severus.
"Stop looking at me like that!" Harry elbowed Ronald in the stomach.
Ronald batted Harry's arm away and snickered. "Then stop looking at him. You're being really obvious, you know."
"No, I don't know," Harry muttered, turning his head deliberately to keep Snape completely out of his sight. Time to talk about something else. "The recruits are in charge of blocking all escape routes, you say? Then maybe we should separate, each of us guard a door or a window or something like that."
"Good thinking, Charlus," Marcus chimed in. "We should probably split into pairs."
"But there aren't enough of us," Harry argued. "Who knows what our Lord would say if we left an escape route open simply because we want to do it in pairs?"
"I like the pairs idea better," Ronald said.
The charmed buttons on their robes glowed. Lucius' signal.
"There's no time," Harry said. "There are seven of us, right? Ronald and Francis, take the front entrance. Marcus and Wesley, you'll guard any side and back doors. Jim and Alexandra, keep an eye out for the windows. And I'll block the fireplace."
"Hey, why do you get --"
"We don't have time!" Harry shouted. "Do you want to fail and get sent away? Go!"
To Harry's surprise, all six recruits hastened to their appointed stations without further argument. This was just like the DA, Harry thought, and a pang of nostalgia settled in his chest. He wanted to slam his head against a wall. What was he doing? He'd just given orders -- good orders -- on how to trap the very people he wanted to help escape. Harry grimaced. Unless he managed to escort the targets out of the house via the Floo, he was sure he'd just become responsible for helping Voldemort win this raid.
He gingerly stepped inside the house, wand in front of him to check for any anti-invasion wards the family may have set up, but detected none. The Death Eaters had already breached all defenses, and Harry could hear faint sounds of fighting coming from further inside the house. He followed the noises, heart thumping as he prepared himself for a battle he wasn't ready to fight. Not on the side he was fighting for, at least.
He stepped into the kitchen and barely ducked a jet of red light sent his way. "What are you doing here?" Lucius spotted him and shouted.
"We're blocking all entrances, and I'm assigned to watch the Floo."
Lucius fired something purple at a middle-aged wizard, then tilted his head to his left. "That way, in the sitting room."
Harry ran toward the door connecting the kitchen to the sitting room, dodging another spell in the process. The family must have received words of the attack; there were at least five or six capable fighters here. Harry hoped they could hold off the Death Eaters until he could properly set up the Floo.
"No!" a voice screamed behind Harry as he felt a curse sent his way. Harry wordlessly deflected the curse and turned to see a woman with wild hair and blood all over her clothing. Ignoring a hex fired toward her, the woman cast yet another curse at him.
Harry deflected the second curse, only to have a few more curses fired at him. "Bloody witch," Harry fumed, frustrated despite himself. If he didn't get to the fireplace soon, Lucius and his band of Death Eaters would overpower the remaining resisters, and no escape would even be necessary. "Protego!" he yelled, shielding himself as he ran as fast as he could into the adjacent room.
Several more hexes were fired and bounced off him. Frustrated, he turned and, without thinking, stunned a bearded man who looked about forty.
"Good job, Charlus!" Lucius said as he sent something toward the fallen man, who immediately shrieked in pain.
Harry winced. He hadn't meant to do that. It was sheer instinct. Lucius smirked at him before turning back to fighting, and the approval only made Harry feel worse. He hurried through the door, thankful that no more curses were cast his way.
He stepped over the threshold, and halted his steps. Inside the sitting room were at least fifteen children -- all less than twelve or thirteen years of age -- huddled together in the center. The older children sat on the outside, wands out and held in shaking hands, their faces pale with fear. Harry Summoned an invisible wall around the children, so none of them would accidentally fire a spell at him. He then lowered his wand. "'S okay, I'm not going to hurt you," he said.
It was only when he tore his eyes away from the children, that he realize he wasn't the only adult there. A dark figure was standing by the fireplace, casting a series of spells at the Floo system that sounded extremely complicated. That voice --
Severus finished one last spell and turned around. "Congratulations, Charlus. You have successfully mobilized your minion to block every means of escape in this place."
"They're not my minion," Harry said sheepishly. "And it wasn't my idea. I was asked to be in charge of guarding exits. We all were."
"And yet you took charge and did such a good job with it."
"Look, I know what you're trying to do with the fireplace," Harry snapped. "Do you want help or not?"
"No need, the Floo is already set up. It's now connected directly to one of the Order members' houses." Severus gestured at the children. "I need you to choose five of them."
"Just five?" Had he heard Severus correctly?
Severus nodded grimly. "Any more escapees, and the Dark Lord will get suspicious. This is war, Potter. Only the strongest survive."
Harry said nothing. Severus' instruction was clear: choose the five strongest children, and let the rest die. "I... how about six?"
"Five. Or less, if fewer are capable of living through the trauma. You have two minutes; the battle in the kitchen is almost done."
Harry gulped. He couldn't bring his eyes to meet any of the children's. They were all so innocent, all so young. He walked around them once. Logically, the oldest ones would have the best chances of survival. But they would also remember the most from tonight, and their desire for revenge might get the best of them and get them killed. Harry knew the impulse well; he had seen too many Gryffindors die in battle.
He mentally picked out four older children whose wands were held in the best positions. Good duelling skills were essential to surviving wars. He walked around the circle once more, unable to choose one final child while sentencing the rest to death.
"Charlus," Severus growled.
As surreptitiously as he could, Harry pointed out the four he'd chosen. Severus nodded and seemed to agree with his choices. Harry walked around the group again, and stopped mid-step when he raised his head.
A young child, a boy of no more than six, looked back at him with fearless, determined eyes. He had no wand, but everything about the boy, from the way he set his jaw to the defiant way he was sitting, told Harry that if anyone would come out of this a stronger person, this little boy was it.
He pointed his wand at the boy. Severus looked at the boy and then at him, and once again nodded.
"What now?" Harry asked as Severus closed off the floo and some of the remaining children started to realize they weren't going to get out. His heart ached at the terrified faces. He wished he could save more of them. Five wasn't nearly enough...
"We cast sleeping spells on the younger ones," Severus said. The fighting noise next door lessened. "And then the others from our side will be here."
Just as Severus predicted, Lucius emerged shortly after Harry sent the last small boy snoring. The older children looked up, eyes wide with fear.
"Finite Incantatem," Lucius whispered, and the shield Harry had cast around them earlier disappeared.
"Well done, Charlus, for sealing off the Floo and for keeping these vermins bounded together." Lucius smirked. "I hope Severus here wasn't too much of a distraction."
Harry grumbled. So even Lucius believed in Ronald's rumor. He pressed his mouth into a straight line, refusing to acknowledge both the compliment and the implied accusation about him and Severus.
"I think Potter here has done enough for tonight," Lucius drawled, turning lazily to Severus. "Don't you think so?"
Severus nodded curtly, and drew out his wand. Harry watched in horror as Severus' eyes gleamed dangerously, his shoulder slightly tilting, and cast curse after curse at the children.
They were gentle curses, spells that caused the older children to have seemingly fallen asleep, and the already-sleeping younger children to simply stop their soft breathing. But Harry stared, mouth agape, and felt like déjà vu had taken him back to that day of the paired-up mission, when the figure of Severus Snape turned into a monster in front of his eyes.
Severus continued casting deadly curses. Harry turned and ran, as fast as he could, out of the sitting room.
Snape's on Dumbledore's side, Snape's on Dumbledore's side, Snape's on Dumbledore's side... Harry chanted, hugging his knees tighter into himself. This was the first Voldemort war. This was history, history Harry already knew. Harry'd seen it in the Pensieve, had seen Dumbledore confidently defending Severus at his trial, never a shadow of doubt cast on his loyalty.
Snape's on Dumbledore's side...
He should hate Severus, ought to hate him for doing what he did, for -- Harry's breath still hitched every time at the thought -- for murdering Dumbledore. No, he had no pity whatsoever for the Snape in his time. But in the midst of all the enemies here, just when he'd thought he found someone who shared his devotion to the Order, someone with whom he could openly be a traitor to Voldemort...
Severus was still a murderer.
How could someone on Dumbledore's side kill innocent people, kill innocent children?
All Harry could see was that flash of Severus' eyes, that slight tilt of his shoulder as he readied his wand for curses that brought forth nothing but death.
Dumbledore had never wavered on Severus' loyalty.
Yet Harry, with the benefit of future knowledge, was starting to doubt.
When Harry returned to the Kensingtons', Ronald smiled at him with that annoying knowing look of someone who didn't really know anything.
"I knew you and Snape would make a good team."
"'Why, thank you very much for the compliment, Ronald!' No problem, Charlus."
Harry glared. "If you don't stop it now, I swear I'm going to make you regret it."
"Whoa, calm down, Charlus! You're acting like you haven't managed to get some."
"Wha --" Harry threw up his arms. "What makes you think I've been getting any, with anyone, let alone with Snape? I saw him do it, Ronald. He cast curse after curse, killing children!"
Ronald looked at him with a strange expression, and Harry's heart jumped, making him wonder if he'd accidentally let out too much. But the strange expression gave way to one of understanding. "Oh, I get it, you're jealous. You wanted to be the one with all the glory." Ronald scrunched his nose. "But isn't being there to keep the children in enough? You did more than any of the other recruits, you know. You can't expect to rise higher than the Death Eaters overnight. You're only --"
"I don't want recognition!" Harry screamed. "Not for doing what Severus did. Never for that!"
Ronald eyed him curiously, then shook his head. "You really need to get laid," he said.
Harry stormed off in a huff. He needed to drink himself to oblivion.
All Harry remembered was ordering at least four Firewhiskys, downing all of them within ten minutes, and then wanting nothing more than to grab the closest human being next to him to get some long-pent-up release.
He also vaguely remembered being tossed about like a ball -- no, not tossed about. Someone seemed to have been keen on pulling him away from every wizard (wizard? Since when had his preferences changed?) he attempted to attach himself to. That person was also following Harry around, keeping him from falling, even when Harry managed to kick himself in his own leg and tripped over with his feet all tangled up.
Oh, and he remembered how good it felt when he finally found someone to rub against. All he did was back that same person into a corner, actually, and... Harry thought it may have been that person rubbing against him first, but he wasn't sure. Whoever he was, he was good.
Harry blacked out shortly after he climaxed. But he remembered a voice, that person's voice, calling him with a name that wasn't really his and saying things like don't give up and trust me. The voice sounded so familiar, and Harry felt so warm...
He woke up in his bed at the Kensingtons' the next day, with no trace of a headache, even though Harry thought his breath smelled like alcohol. He also didn't remember what he had done last night, except that there was some raid, and then he went to the pub afterwards.
Severus behaved very strangely around him over the next week or so. But all things considered, Harry was happy with this development, whatever-it-was between them.
Harry was in the middle of playing Exploding Snap with the recruits when the note popped into existence. My place, half past nine, the familiar spidery script read. He Banished the note with a wave of his wand, but not before Alexandra leaned over and squealed in a pitch that was far too shrill for the comfort of his ears.
"Ooh, Charlus is invited to a date!" she said in a too-loud voice, causing everyone in the room to turn toward him.
Harry scowled. Why did Severus send him the note? It couldn't really be an invitation to dinner, could it? It'd always been Harry making the initiative. "It's not a date --"
"Liar," Alexandra said, and Harry hated that hint of teasing in her tone.
He snapped, "Look, think what you want, but it's not a date --"
He didn't know how it happened. The next thing he knew, his wand was out and sparks of green were shooting out of the tip.
"Whoa, calm down, Charlus. Dates are a good thing."
"Come on, put that wand down."
"Alexandra was only teasing."
"...thought we're all mates here."
Harry breathed deeply. None of what the others said helped, but he refused to resort to playground fighting over something as trivial as a date.
Harry was certain this was about something else. But still, Severus had sent him a note, had taken the initiative. And that... all of a sudden, he didn't feel so angry anymore.
He lowered his wand. "Fine. Help yourselves to whatever poor choices of entertainment you have while I have the time of my life with my date," he said, and walked out of the room.
The room was filled with sniggering as he exited.
There were still about twenty minutes before the appointed time, but Harry Flooed into Spinner's End anyway. It wasn't as if he would find Severus in the middle of company. He immediately started salivating at the smell of whatever Severus was cooking in the kitchen. It wasn't often when Severus cooked, but when he did, Harry always liked the end result.
But Harry didn't find Severus in the kitchen; he was in the house's makeshift potions lab.
"You're early," Severus said as he stirred perfect counterclockwise circles in a cauldron of white-grey liquid. He snorted when Harry's stomach grumbled. "This isn't food, Charlus." His hand paused for two counts before he started stirring in the other direction. "But it's for you, so you may consider this an aperitif of sorts."
"Aperi – what?"
Severus didn't answer, but began chanting in a soft voice. The grey potion glowed a strange light before settling down again, completely clear.
"Is this... Veritaserum?"
"No, but it's not a bad guess." Coming from Severus, this was practically a glowing compliment.
"Then what is it?"
Severus carefully stoppered the potion inside a small vial, and handed it to Harry. "It's a potion that will make you invisible to most eyes. I will drink its counterpart so I can see you, and you must remain out of the Dark Lord's sight, for he will be able to see you."
"Where are we going? What are we going to do?" Harry asked. Though in his own time he was used to both, he didn't like the implication of being invisible and in Voldemort's company, here, as a recruit, at all.
Severus reached for a vial of blue potion that Harry supposed was the counterpart potion he was talking about. "I don't know. I was summoned to perform a specific task, and instinct told me you should be there as well." Severus unstoppered his potion. "And I hope you've figured out from the potion that you are to remain invisible and silent. No spells, and no attempting to be the hero to save the day."
"Sure," Harry said half-heartedly, earning him a glare from Severus. "I won't do anything stupid," he said, more sincerely this time, and was glad when Severus seemed to have believed him.
He unstoppered his potion and raised it into the air. "Well, cheers!"
Harry decided he liked being invisible without the inconvenience of navigating under his Invisibility Cloak. It was also good that Severus could see him, and that even if he couldn't, he wouldn't be looking for Harry like Professor Snape used to during his late night rounds in the corridors of Hogwarts, hand grasping at air, looking so suspicious, so hateful.
There were times when Harry wondered if he'd rather just stay in this timeline and never go back.
Severus had told him it was highly unusual for Voldemort to plan an attack without broadcasting it to everyone. Harry had snorted and called Voldemort a praise-seeking bastard, to which Severus responded by gracing Harry with one of his rare almost-smiles.
They Apparated to the given coordinate. "Let's get inside before anyone else gets here," Severus said. "And remember, you're not here, don't try to save anyone tonight."
Harry nodded reluctantly. Severus may as well have told Harry that there would be deaths.
A simple Alohomora unlocked the house's front doors. Once inside, a wave of uneasiness washed over Harry. He knew this place. He'd seen it before.
"Feel free to wander around as you please, I'm to report to the second room to the right. I'm sure once the Dark Lord gets here, you'll know where to find us," Severus said.
Harry lightly touched Severus' arm and sent him what he hoped was a reassuring smile before walking deeper inside the house. He wanted to explore, to find out why he thought he'd been here before. As far as he knew, this was a building located in a Muggle region. Maybe he had been here during one of the rare trips when the Dursleys had taken him along?
But the more he explored, the more he saw inside most of the rooms -- black and white tiles covering the hallways, thread-bare furniture, broken toys, hand-me-down clothes -- Harry suddenly knew where he had seen it all before.
A dark-haired boy, sitting on grey blankets with a book in his hands; a younger looking Dumbledore, news-bearer to the boy that he was a wizard; the moment in time when the most powerful wizard Harry knew first met the Darkest wizard of all time...
This was the orphanage in which Tom Riddle had grown up, Harry was sure of it. But where were the children? The place looked practically deserted, and there was no trace of Mrs. Cole or whoever her successor might be. The place looked like it hadn't been in operation for years, decades perhaps.
Harry found himself walking the same route he did when he had first visited this place via Dumbledore's Pensieve memory. He passed by Mrs. Cole's office, walked down the eerily familiar corridors, and found himself at the threshold of what used to be Tom Riddle's room. He walked in and began touching each piece of furniture as if to ascertain they were real. So this was where Voldemort had had his beginning. The thought sent chills down Harry's spine.
As if his thought could summon others, Harry suddenly felt another presence entering the orphanage, and he knew Voldemort had arrived. "Severus." He heard the dismissive acknowledgement. "Follow after me."
Harry looked around. The wardrobe he had once seen in the room was still there, and it suddenly seemed like a very good idea to hide inside it. Others might not be able to see him, but Severus had warned that Voldemort would likely see past the effects of the potion, and Harry had rather not needed to come up with a story of why Charlus Potter was at a place he wasn't supposed to be.
No sooner than he secured himself inside the wardrobe, leaving the tiniest of slit between the two door panels, did Voldemort, Severus, and someone else walked inside the room. Harry almost gasped out loud when the third person turned her face toward the wardrobe -- it was Mrs. Cole, the former matron of the orphanage, looking much older than Harry remembered from the Pensieve memory.
"I'm sure you remember this room well," Voldemort said, his voice low and serpentine. "My 'room,' and yet you never gave me the freedom or privacy to do as I pleased."
Harry wasn't sure if Mrs. Cole had been forcibly robbed of speech, or if she were too scared to speak. She looked old, in her seventies or eighties, and so very fragile.
"Did I mention I despise hypocrites?" Voldemort continued. "Matron Cole, whose job was to look after the children in this orphanage, hiding, running for her life when my servants came here to destroy the place years ago?"
Mrs. Cole took walked backwards until her knees hit Tom Riddle's former bed and fell backwards onto it.
"Madam Cole, who would punish naughty boys for stealing, took for herself something that wasn't hers?" Voldemort walked forward, reached a hand into what must've been a pocket in Mrs. Cole's outer coat, and drew out a wand. "Tsk, tsk, Mrs. Cole. You should have returned what's not yours."
Inside the wardrobe, Harry's mind raced as he tried to put all the pieces together. So Voldemort had somehow ordered his Death Eaters to decimate the orphanage years ago. Which made sense, considering how cruel and vindictive Voldemort was. Mrs. Cole had managed to survive, and had picked up a stray wand left behind by one of the Death Eaters. Had she tried using the wand? Did she draw attention to herself with it? Why had Voldemort let her live, with the wand, for so many years afterwards?
It wasn't until Voldemort addressed Severus that Harry remembered he was in the room. "Severus, can you tell me what I am holding?"
"A wand, my Lord."
"And is there something unusual about this wand?"
Severus considered the wand for a moment before answering, "It appears to be quite ancient. A family heirloom, perhaps."
"Very astute," Voldemort said, though there was not a hint of approval in his tone. "This was a wand I spent many years looking for. Never mind how it got into the hands of someone careless enough to have misplaced it -- that servant has been dealt with accordingly."
Harry winced. He could only imagine what cruel death the unfortunate Death Eater had suffered for losing such a valuable artifact.
A valuable artifact. The young Tom Riddle liked to collect trophies... souvenirs, if you will, of particularly unpleasant bits of magic... Dumbledore's words rang in Harry's ears.
This wasn't an ordinary wand. If Hermione's predictions were correct -- and Harry had no reason to believe why not -- the wand that had fallen into the possession of Mrs. Cole was none other than Rowena Ravenclaw's wand.
Harry felt the air around him chill. Mrs. Cole was going to die tonight, and Voldemort was going to use her death to create a Horcrux.
Harry gritted his teeth, his hands balled into tight fists as he exerted all his self control to not burst out of the wardrobe to stop Voldemort. Ravenclaw's wand was the only Horcrux left to find and destroy in his time, and who knew it had been created -- and was perhaps still hidden -- in the orphanage? He had checked, with Hermione and Ron, on the location of Tom Riddle's orphanage. The orphanage had been long gone, burnt to a crisp, according to the landlord of the building that now occupied its place, and Hermione had performed spell after spell on the location to make sure it wasn't a place charmed to appear to be a normal building to Muggles.
"Severus, your task here is done. I'm sure Mrs. Cole is grateful for your part in inviting her here tonight," Voldemort said, an ugly smile on his face.
Severus tensed ever so slightly. "Yes, my Lord," he said, and took the cue to exit the room. Before leaving, Harry caught him sweeping his eyes once over the room, as if he were looking for Harry. He also saw the trace of uneasiness in those eyes, worried that Harry would react negatively to his part of luring an old lady into certain death.
Harry cleared his mind. He would deal with that later. Right now, he cared more about not letting Voldemort create the one piece of Horcrux he had yet to find.
Voldemort turned back to Mrs. Cole. "Since you like the wand so much, I thought it would be appropriate to use it to send you on your way." He pointed the wand at her and whispered an immobilization spell. The spell froze even her eyes, their expression suspended in time in pure, unadulterated horror. Harry quietly slipped his wand into his hand. He refused to hide and watch a helpless woman die; he knew he was no match for Voldemort, but he didn't care.
"Normally, only one death is required for what I am about to do," Voldemort continued. "But it seems like we have a guest here..."
The next thing Harry knew, he was simultaneously seeing red eyes turned his way, hearing a loud blasting noise, and feeling the too-familiar tug-of-the-belly sensation of traveling by Portkey.
He crashed most unceremoniously right outside of Severus' house. Severus was already there, standing at the door and looking down at him, a sneer on his face.
"I knew you wouldn't be able to stay hidden," he said, and held out a hand.
With a sigh, Harry grabbed Severus' hand and allowed himself to be pulled up. "You took my wand," he accused.
"I merely added a sedative to your potion and took the opportunity to switch your wand for a Portkey," Severus said conversationally, and Harry hated the smugness hidden just beneath the surface of Severus' words. He hated it even more that Severus was right, that no matter what, Harry wasn't able to keep himself out of things, even when it meant jumping right into the middle of danger.
"Come in," Severus said. "I'll give you back your wand."
Once inside, Harry snatched the proffered wand from Severus' hand angrily. "So what was that for? Bring me along to enjoy the show, to watch an innocent woman die?"
Severus' expression darkened. "I hope you know by now that I was merely obeying the Dark Lord's orders --" He held up a hand to keep Harry from speaking. "I wanted you there so you can confirm my conjecture."
Severus rolled his eyes. "Guess, supposition, theory. I have a theory."
Harry was suddenly very interested.
"As you have seen, the Dark Lord found an extremely ancient -- and I daresay valuable -- wand. He also chose a very significant person in his past to kill. Now, I don't know what the link between an ancient artifact and a meaningful murder points to, but I know for certain it is no coincidence."
Harry nodded. Should he tell Severus about the Horcruxes? His mind jumped to the future Severus -- Snape -- who would one day betray Dumbledore and the side of Light. Would it be better if Snape didn't know anything about the Horcruxes at all?
"I believe our Lord is wielding some very Dark magic right now," Severus said. "And I have narrowed it down to two possibilities: blood magic or soul magic."
Harry nodded again, but still chose to remain silent.
"I also know the Dark Lord's desire to conquer the Wizarding world is second only to one other ambition, and that is to achieve immortality."
Harry waited with baited breath. Any time now, Severus was going to follow his logic to the correct conclusion. He felt conflicted. Should he let Severus figure it out? Or should he throw Severus off the track, leading him to draw false conclusions so the future Order would be safe from whatever the Snape in his time was plotting?
Severus looked almost excited -- he only looked this way when he was on the verge of completing a complicated potion. Harry bit his lips. He hadn't the heart to purposefully mislead Severus. If nothing yet had happened to the Order and his hunt for Horcruxes in the future as a direct result of Snape, then maybe it wouldn't matter whether Charlus tried to change the future.
"I believe the Dark Lord is creating mirror pieces of his soul -- a reserve, if you may, saved for times of emergency when he would call upon them to keep him from dying."
"Are... are you sure of this?" Harry asked.
Severus shook his head. "No, I'm not. But that's the logical conclusion." He looked directly at Harry. "This was why I brought you along. I need your help, Charlus. The Dark Lord is up to something, and we need to figure it out soon if we both want to stop him."
Harry felt useless, as he could think of nothing else to do but nod yet again. But Severus seemed content to have him there as a sounding board.
"So do we go back to the orphanage?" Harry asked.
"No need. Our Lord will have taken care of everything by now."
Harry shuddered, as images of the orphanage on fire flashed in his mind. Burnt to a crisp. He walked up to Severus. "Maybe we can go back just in case..." Severus went suddenly pale. "Severus?"
Severus didn't answer, but tried to gain control of himself. He was failing, however, as his breathing became heavier and a touch to his hand betrayed the trembling he was trying to hold back.
"Severus, say something, please!"
"I... it wasn't easy..." His eyes flashed fiercely. "...planning for days to lure Mrs. Cole into the orphanage..."
Harry wrapped Severus in his arms, and for once, Severus didn't protest to a physical contact that was more than light arm-touching. Harry muttered a wandless levitation spell to make Severus lighter as he half-held and half-guided him into his room.
"Here, sit on the bed, just like that. Let me loosen you up," Harry said, and started unbuttoning Severus' coat and shirt, once he settled them both comfortably on the bed.
Severus only tensed up briefly, and said nothing as Harry carefully removed his clothing from the waist up, then turned him around so his back was facing Harry.
"You just sit here and let me take care of you," Harry whispered. "I don't blame you for obeying orders. I mean it."
That seemed to be the right words to settle Severus' sudden anxiety attack. Harry turned his attention to the body in front of him.
He stared, and was fascinated. Severus was rail-thin, but underlying the thin arms and almost-skeletal body was stubborn, unyielding strength. There was a scar, now faint, that ran from his left shoulder to just under his right shoulder blade. Harry traced a careful finger over the line.
"A Dark curse," Severus said quietly. "I cleared the lingering effects but couldn't get the wound to heal without scarring."
Harry thought about his concealed scar. He knew Dark curses well, and wished he could show his scar to Severus. But the scar belonged to Harry Potter and not to Charlus, and this Severus had no need to know about something that hadn't happened yet.
Harry raised his hands to Severus' shoulders and began kneading and squeezing in a soothing fashion. Severus stiffened at the first touch, but soon relaxed and leaned back ever so slightly into Harry. Harry rolled his left thumb over a particularly tight spot at the base of Severus' neck, and pressed hard.
Severus hissed in pain, but didn't move away as he allowed Harry to loosen up the knot in his muscle. It took Harry a good five minutes before moving on to the next spot.
"You tilt your left shoulder whenever you're forced to do something you don't want to do," Harry murmured.
"I do no such thing --"
"It's all right, it's not obvious," Harry cut him off. "I only realized because I've been, er, observing you a lot." He continued rubbing a stubborn knot on Severus' upper back that refused to relax. "And your eyes, there's a different kind of glint to it when you follow Vol – the Dark Lord's orders. They get darker, like you're trying to shut your emotions out."
When Severus still didn't say a word, Harry wrapped his arms around him and drew him close. Severus' body was warm, and a part of Harry wanted to take his shirt off also. But he didn't want to scare Severus. "I know it's not easy for you. How often do you get these shaking spells anyway?"
"Enough to know I've not yet perfected my self-control," Severus said stiffly, as if admitting to a shameful defeat. "I hide it from Albus. I don't let him see how I fall apart. Everything is so easy to him. Severus, do this for the greater good -- he has no idea!"
"No, he doesn't," Harry murmured, his hand roaming across Severus' body. When his finger slid over a taut nipple, something in his groin stirred. "Severus..." he gasped, "I think I should go..."
In response, Severus pressed his body backward, his breathing growing heavier, matching Harry's. Harry tried moving away, but only managed to squirm about, his lower body trapped as his arousal was unmistakably pressing into Severus' back.
"No, Charlus." A hand grasped his. "Stay."
Severus turned around, and Harry let long fingers tug at his clothing and remove his layers piece by piece. His skin felt like it was on fire. Severus looked equally flushed in the dim light; a vulnerability Harry had never seen before was etched on his face.
They held each other tightly, caressing, tasting, rubbing. Two soldier-spies seeking comfort and reassurance in the embrace of the only other person they could trust. Both came silently; war had taught them the necessity of keeping secret one's romantic tryst.
Harry allowed himself the luxury of whispering Severus' name as he released the evidence of his climax.
As the war raged on, Harry felt like he was transported back into the future -- the same routine: wake up (sometimes in the middle of the night), prepare in a rush, report to some pre-assigned duty, wait, battle, wait some more, battle some more...
The only break in the routine was his visits to Spinner's End, much more frequently now. Most of the time he would stay the night, or he would wake up early and return to the Kensingtons' before the day began. Ronald always gave him knowing looks, and Harry hated how his face would flare bright red every time Ronald sent a wink his way.
He remembered feeling disillusioned when the series of non-stop skirmishes first took him, Ron, and Hermione by surprise. It was worse, when all was said and done, how insignificant everything seemed -- gaining a house here and losing a field there -- what was the point? He had had to force himself to believe in the larger meaning of the war, that at the end of all this, Voldemort would be dead and everyone in the Wizarding world would live in peace.
He couldn't hope for such a thing here though. He was fighting on the wrong side, and it wasn't as if a lowly recruit could do much more than rescue a few people here and there. Harry yawned. It was a slow day, and despite being tired, he was glad. He was getting tired of trying to help the other side of the war while appearing to be a dedicated recruit for Voldemort.
"Charlus!" Well, there went his peaceful morning. "Come, Black's in trouble!"
Harry sighed, rubbed his Glamoured scar, and abandoned his station in favor of following Ronald. Nine times out of ten, Ronald would call something an emergency when it was actually quite a petty matter. That kind of reminded him of Ron, and under different circumstances he might even find it endearing. But as Harry ran after Ronald, all he could think of was how he'd rather stand around doing nothing.
Ronald turned right into an alley, but Harry heard voices ahead of him to his left. Rolling his eyes at Ronald's incompetence, he ran the two blocks, turned, and stopped in his tracks.
Two wizards were pointing their wands at each other. Two brothers. Harry's eyes were glued only to one: Sirius -- ruddy, young, handsome, and extremely full of life.
"Charlus, step back. This is between me and Sirius," Regulus shouted.
Sirius gave Harry a quick look-over. "So this is the one? Our supposed second cousin? I say he's a fake. Never heard of Dorea Black having a son."
"She wouldn't tell you if she did. Besides, wasn't that Potter she married supposed to be mixed-blood? Not like that pure-blood, Muggle-loving James Potter of yours, mind you."
"Reg! You're making it sound like James and I are together or something! He's married to Lily, I thought I'd already told you."
Harry looked from Sirius to Regulus. They didn't look like enemies who were about to duel to their death at all. They behaved like... siblings.
Harry lowered his wand. "Regulus, everyone's looking for you. Just leave Siri... Black."
Regulus was unmoved. "Tell the others I'll join up with them in a moment. I have family business to take care of here."
Harry knew Regulus wouldn't harm Sirius -- Sirius didn't die until... he swallowed thickly. "Very well," he said, turning away. His presence here was useless anyway.
He stopped mid-motion. There was another person lurking about. Someone he had just spent the night with not long ago, the silhouette so familiar. Harry's heart pounded. No, he couldn't leave. Severus hated Sirius!
"Charlus, I said go!" Regulus sounded irritated. He sent Sirius an 'I'll deal with you later' look and walked toward Harry, looking as if he were about to physically drag him out into the main street.
Just then, Sirius' eyes flashed with a rage Harry had never seen before, as he aimed his wand directly at Severus and shouted, "Re --" at the same time Severus started saying, "Sect --"
Without thinking, Harry lunged past Regulus, pointed his wand at Sirius, and screamed: "Protego!" The jet of light from Severus' wand hit the magical barrier and bounced off.
The next thing Harry knew, Sirius Disapparated while Regulus quickly followed, and he was left alone with Severus, whose look was so accusatory he didn't need to say anything.
Harry had chosen to protect Sirius over Severus. He had sided with, to Severus' eyes, a stranger, a Black -- over fighting alongside a lover.
"Severus, I'm --"
Severus Disapparated before Harry could deliver his apology.
If Harry thought his first Floo trip taken in second year when he accidentally stumbled into Knockturn Alley had been bad enough, it was because he didn't know how much worse it was to floo right into a blocked fireplace.
Harry rolled back out of the Kensingtons' fireplace, his head pounding in ten different ways from slamming into an invisible wall, a ward specifically set to keep him out of Severus' house. "Bastard," Harry cursed. "Petty, grudge-holding bastard!" Who on earth would change the wards not even an hour after they returned home?
This was Severus Snape he was dealing with, Harry reminded himself.
He went out with Ronald that night with the intention of getting drunk. In the haze of his alcohol-induced headache, he was alert enough to realize there was no Severus watching him in his usual corner tonight.
Harry pounded on the door. He didn't care if all the Muggle neighbors heard the noise. They wouldn't be whispering about magic anyway -- that wouldn't be the first thing that came to mind when spotting a young man visiting another single male, and that kind of gossip, Harry decided, could pass around the entirety of England for all he cared.
Though apparently, Severus cared. The door whirled open and a hand all but gripped his collar and dragged him in.
"What are you doing banging on my door at six in the morning -- "
"You blocked me from the Floo!" Harry said. "You didn't even let me explain --"
"There's no need to explain. Black's your relative --"
"-- and his life is more dear to you than mine. The point's perfectly clear." Severus thrust Harry against a wall before letting go of his collar. "You got what you wanted, now leave me alone."
"What I wanted!" Harry exclaimed. "You think all this time I was only trying to... to... God, you're impossible!"
No sooner did Harry storm out of Severus' house than the front door shut loudly behind him. Well, he supposed Severus' wasn't afraid to alert his neighbors now.
When Harry arrived back at the Kensingtons', Ronald had just finished washing up.
"Charlus, where have you been? Did you hear?"
"Tonight! Malfoy just owled us with the news. Here --" He thrust the letter toward Harry. "-- it says it right here: all recruits are to report to Our Lord's manor and participate in tonight's mission. Do you know what this means?"
Harry's mind was still muddled with thoughts about Severus. He shook his head. "It's just another mission, isn't it?"
Ronald looked at him incredulously. "Charlus, are you so thick? Tonight's going to be it -- we'll be in the presence of Our Lord, we'll finally get a chance to been seen, and --" Ronald's face was flushed with excitement. "-- he might even select a few of us to become full Death Eaters!"
Tried as Harry might, he just didn't feel excited. "Wow, that's great," he said, forcing a smile. "Hopefully you'll get your chance to shine."
Ronald grinned, completely oblivious to Harry's half-hearted reply. "If things go well tonight, we might both be true Death Eaters soon."
Harry followed Ronald with his eyes as his friend bustled about the house, acting like an overexcited puppy. Great, so he was going to get to see Voldemort tonight. He took a deep breath. He needed to focus on what mattered -- on going back to the orphanage to destroy the wand Horcrux, on taking information back to his own time, and -- he berated himself for neglecting to work on this -- on actually trying to figure out a way to travel forward in time instead of forming stupid, foolish relationships with people like Severus. Yes, perhaps it was a good thing he'd get to see Voldemort in action tonight. He had a war to win back in the future, after all.
The pre-mission meeting, or whatever this gather-in-a-big-group-to-hear-Voldemort-s
"Dumbledore has some new recruits, boys fresh out of Hogwarts," Voldemort said. "We need to target them. The old coot is a sentimental fool. If we take out his pups, we will lower the Order's morale substantially."
He turned to the half-circle of Death Eaters before him. "Dolohov!" Dolohov stepped forward. "You will be stationed at the Three Broomsticks. Your target is that oaf of a half-giant. Get him drunk and give me a complete list of all new Order recruits since the summer."
Dolohov bowed, and left the room.
"Rosier! You will scour Diagon Alley and negotiate with shop owners to give us cover and access when our planned battles take place --" Harry had a feeling these weren't going to be friendly negotiations. "-- If they refuse, take care of them."
With a gleeful glint in his eyes, Rosier bowed and also left the room.
"Karkaroff!" Harry barely held back a gasp at the name. "You will secure any outside forces willing to join up with us and find them a way into Britain. Those that are not allies, keep them off the Continent."
Karkaroff bowed and left.
"Avery! You are responsible for acquiring me a spy from Dumbledore's new rank of recruits. Do not return to me until this is accomplished."
Avery's face paled, but he bowed like the others and left the room.
Harry darted his eyes around the room. Only the new recruits and the most favored Death Eaters were left.
Voldemort smiled an ugly grimace. "Lucius, my trusted general. You will lead our new recruits into battle. Let them deal a loss to Dumbledore's pups. I trust you have sufficiently trained them? Recruits, go with your commander!"
Lucius bowed, gracefully as ever, and turned on his heels. Harry followed the recruits out of the room.
Before the door fully shut behind him, Harry heard Voldemort give one more order. "Severus, you will go to that old fool and secure your access to Hogwarts..."
As Harry walked, he realized he simply couldn't muster up the same enthusiasm so evidently displayed by the other Death Eaters-to-be around him. Ronald and several others chatted as their gaits practically bounced, each taking turn boasting about getting noticed, and hopefully promoted, by Voldemort, as if the killings they would so readily commit were merely techniques practiced on a hunting trip. Harry was glad no one tried to engage him in conversation. He didn't want to admit it, not aloud anyway, but...
It had to be the wrong word, but Voldemort impressed him. Having served his share of time in his own war, Harry knew a good leader when he saw one. Here was Voldemort, someone he hated and wanted dead since the day he entered the Wizarding world, displaying not only competence, but excellent deployment skills, coupled with intimate knowledge of the other side -- Harry shuddered. With Dumbledore gone in his time, there was no way anyone, Kingsley or McGonagall or Moody, could even come close to matching Voldemort's tactical brilliance. The only advantage they'd be able to claim was that Voldemort had visibly gone more psychotic over the years, but even then, insanity didn't necessarily mean a decrease in brilliance.
"Scared?" Lucius' voice asked, and Harry didn't need to cast a glance at Lucius to know he was sneering.
"A bit," he admitted, his mind still lingering on the inevitability of facing Voldemort at a huge disadvantage when he would go back to his own time. "The Dark Lord is brilliant, but what about Dumbledore --"
"Dumblefore trusts too easily," Lucius said. "He will meet his downfall soon enough. Severus will see to that."
Harry ignored the painful, gripping feeling on his heart at the name. Severus. Even with their recent disagreement, they were still fighting on the same side.
And even tactical geniuses like Voldemort made mistakes.
Harry reminded himself that he knew how the First War ended, and how Severus stood by Dumbledore all the while, at least for this war. The Order had won, partly because of his mother's love for him, but partly because of Severus passing vital information on to Dumbledore.
Personal feelings aside, Harry didn't feel so scared and hopeless anymore.
The rest of the mission passed in a blur. Everything started out well enough, with the Death Eaters and recruits taking territories that Harry had hoped were pre-arranged between Severus and Dumbledore for the Order to willingly give up. Advancement through retreat -- wasn't that a rule of warfare by some successful general at some point in history?
But then things took a downturn for Voldemort's side, and pleased as Harry was at the Order's sudden turn of fortune, it wasn't good for him personally, when he was so outwardly and evidently on the "other" side. All Harry remembered was a bunch of magical creatures joining up with the Order, increasing Dumbledore's army exponentially. Not that he caught a glimpse of Dumbledore. The battle was more or less under the command of Mad-Eye Moody, and Harry hated how panicked he felt as his consciousness slipped away, knowing that he'd fallen into the hands of one of the most ruthless, unyieldingly justice-seeking Aurors he had had the pleasure to know.
When Harry came to, there were already people inside whatever building he was in. Most of them were either bustling about with determined faces or in deep discussion with one or two others; a few were turning over nearby rubbles, trying to find more survivors. All of them were Order members.
Harry took in all this information. Obviously -- and to his delight -- the mission had failed miserably for Voldemort, and he was sure Severus had something to do with that. Judging by the chaos around him, he hadn't been out for too long. Harry searched for Severus with his eyes, careful not to turn his neck too noticeably as to catch the attention of his captors. He found him in the far corner of the room, talking heatedly with a younger looking Alastor Moody.
These two never got along. Harry doubted Moody initiated the conversation, so this must mean... warmth spread throughout Harry's chest. Severus must be trying to defend "Charlus Potter" to Moody! Somehow, to have an ally in the midst of captivity, despite the fact that Severus had practically shut him out of his house earlier, made Harry's pounding head less painful, and his bound wrists less sore. Harry had an advocate; he wasn't going to be falsely accused as a Death Eater (not that he was one, yet). Maybe they'd even free him soon.
Or maybe not. Harry's confidence dropped a few notches when Moody's eyes -- there were still two human eyes on this Moody -- roamed up and down Harry's body, glinting with visible suspicion even from far away. He clearly didn't believe whatever Severus had said to him about Harry.
And why would he? Harry had no active ties to the Order, and for all Moody knew, Charlus Potter was working against Voldemort because he wanted out, not because of some undying loyalty on his part to the side of Light. Even Harry himself wouldn't trust such a person in his time, were their places switched. In fact, if "Charlus Potter" fell into Harry's hands, he would keep him under surveillance, question him, and... Harry gulped... maybe even perform some not-so-legal spells on him to force a confession of motivation, all with the justification that since war was an interconnected web of fluid loyalties, one should never take chances.
Panicked, Harry tried his best to ignore Moody's gaze while he sought for Severus'. When their eyes finally met, Harry put every ounce of sincerity into sending him a pleading look. Don't let them take me into custody. Help me.
Severus' expression wasn't so cold anymore, and unless Harry was imagining it, there was a flicker of concern in his eyes. His nod was barely perceptible, but it was there.
Before Harry could send any other signals, however, Severus turned on his heels and walked away. Moody gave some instructions to several nearby Order members, then walked up to Harry.
Harry tried not to show any fear when looking up at his future mentor. It was silly, but Harry could never shake the feeling that Moody hated him, because Barty Crouch Jr., who once wore Moody's face, wanted him dead. It didn't help that this was the real Moody, who probably would also sooner see Harry dead than released.
There was nothing friendly about this Moody as he placed his hands on Harry's sides and forcefully jerked him up. "Follow me," he said brusquely. The binding spell was partially released to allow Harry to walk. Trying to ignore the sudden pins-and-needles sensations attacking his feet, Harry hobbled after Moody.
As he limped along, he noticed the other captives -- he was glad when he didn't see Ronald among the group -- were being led down a different corridor.
"They'll be fine," Moody said, though Harry didn't feel reassured at all.
They stopped in front of a door, where Severus already stood waiting. Severus approached and released him from the rest of the binding spell, giving one of his shoulders a squeeze before using the same hand to turn Harry toward the door. As soon as all three of them faced the door, it opened by itself.
Harry steeled himself before walking in, but nothing could prepare him for what he would see inside. There were several people in the room, people he knew in his time and had missed terribly. Sitting behind a desk cluttered with all sorts of bizarre trinkets and looking intently at him was none other than Albus Dumbledore -- younger looking than Harry had ever remembered. McGonagall was there too, the Headmistress and makeshift commander-in-chief of the war in Harry's time. She looked younger too, but no less stern.
"Sit down, young man," Dumbledore said kindly, indicating the empty chair across from his desk. Harry sat.
"Mr. Charlus Potter," Dumbledore greeted, and Harry nodded. He instinctively occluded his mind to keep out anything that had to do with Harry Potter, but made sure to leave some holes in the hope that Dumbledore wouldn't realizing he was using Occlumency.
The gentlest of prods touched Harry's mind, and Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, looking impressed. Well, so much for fooling Dumbledore about not knowing Occlumency.
"Severus told me a few things about you," Dumbledore began, "as well as how you had protected Sirius Black a few days ago. I trust you are willing to testify in front of everyone here of your true loyalty?"
Harry looked at Severus. Say yes,, he seemed to be telling Harry through the slightest of head movements. But all Harry could think of was how it must have hurt Severus to tell Dumbledore about that day in the alley, when his own lover chose Sirius Black over him.
Did this mean Severus cared enough about Harry to protect him?
"Charlus?" Dumbledore prodded, and Harry blinked several times to bring himself back to the present.
"I-I'm not on Voldemort's side," he said. Several people in the room gasped. "Er, I mean the Dark Lord... I'm not on --"
"Thank you, Mr. Potter," Dumbledore said. "I think you may have just given us the biggest evidence of your loyalty. Everyone, we are done here."
Moody opened his mouth to argue, but Dumbledore shot him a look that instantly closed his mouth. Others who were less trusting shuffled about, but everyone eventually left the room, even Severus.
It was only Harry and Dumbledore, and it felt like sixth year all over again. "It's so good to see you, sir," Harry said, and quickly added, "I've always, er, heard so much about you. It's really nice to get to see you. In person. Face-to-face."
Dumbledore smiled. "I could say the same about you. Severus doesn't share much of his personal life with me. But from what I could glean, your support means a lot more to him than he'll ever be willing to admit."
Harry didn't know what to say to that. A week ago, he may have been able to believe Dumbledore's words. But now, after being shut out of Severus' house... it was a surprise that Severus had spoken up on his behalf tonight at all.
"What about the others, sir?" Harry asked.
"They will not be ill-treated. You have my word on that, Mr. Potter."
Harry nodded. Even though they were mere words, Harry somehow believed Dumbledore.
"Now, if you are agreeable to it, I'm going to send you back to Severus' house via the Floo in this building. Would you like to travel back with Severus?"
"Yes," Harry answered, "Wait, I meant yes, I'd like to go back by the Floo, but not with Severus. I-I think Severus can stay here to help you with all the post-battle tasks."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, in that unnerving way that told Harry he knew far more than Harry would like him to know. He hurried to the Floo, located just on the other end of the room.
Harry turned. "Yes, sir?"
"I have a dear friend, a phoenix named Fawkes. He periodically goes through the agony of death by burning, but there's always life waiting to welcome him back. People are like phoenixes sometimes."
Was Dumbledore trying to tell him something about Severus? Probably not, except Severus was all Harry could think about right now. "Um, thanks, sir. I-I'll go now."
"Goodbye, Charlus," Dumbledore said.
Harry didn't realize his cheeks were wet until he tumbled out of the fireplace in Severus' study. The Dumbledore in his time hadn't even have time to bid Harry goodbye. Everything had happened so quickly, so unexpectedly -- Snape had just appeared in the Astronomy Tower and...
Harry didn't know what to think. He'd never give the future Snape another chance, but his heart was telling him to try, here, to mend things with Severus.
Two nights later, Severus was back in his usual shadowed corner in the pub. Most of the captured recruits were back too, though Harry had no idea what sort of negotiation went on between Lucius and the Order to get them all back. Rumor had it that the participating Death Eaters had a very unpleasant meeting with Voldemort after their embarrassing defeat.
Harry ordered an extra bottle of butterbeer and approached Severus. "Fancy a drink tonight?" he asked.
Dark eyes roamed up and down Harry's entire body. "If this is in repayment for my bailing you out, then there's no need."
Harry sat down. "It's not. This is trying to buy my way into your favor again, so I can at least visit you without doing this soliciting-in-public thing." He gestured at the few pairs of eyes that were looking at them, hoping it was enough of a threat to change Severus' mind.
Severus considered Harry for a moment, then finally took the bottle. "Who is Black to you?" he asked.
"He means a lot to me," Harry said, looking straight into Severus' eyes. He refused to desecrate Sirius' memory. "But that doesn't mean you don't also mean a lot to me."
Harry stood and started walking away. He'd said all that he'd come to say; Severus would have to make the next move.
"Charlus, this way!" Marcus called, waving a hand high above his head.
Harry passed a Portkey to the couple he was secretly trying to save, then looked up. Marcus was far enough from him to not see what exactly he was doing. "I'm coming, just let me deal with these Muggle-lovers first!" he said. To the couple, he whispered, "The activation word is 'Quidditch,' got it?"
The wizard still looked suspicious, but took the Portkey and wrapped an arm around his wife. "Thank you," he mumbled, then hurried to utter the activation word.
Harry stood and wiped his arm across his brow. Voldemort's side was winning this time, and it was hard work trying to find stray survivors and convince them that the Portkeys he was passing out were meant to take them to safety, especially since they were in the middle of some thick forest at Merlin-knows-where. Severus was nowhere in sight, which meant whatever plan he had to foil tonight's mission probably hadn't worked.
Not that it was easy working with Severus lately. There was a strange tension between them since their semi-truce, so that even the ever oblivious Ronald asked if their "relationship" was hitting "a bumpy ledge."
Harry sighed, and ran toward Marcus' way.
"What now?" he asked. The words came out harsher than he had intended.
"Nothing. We're winning this time. I just thought you'd be interested to watch the show." Marcus signaled a hand toward a clearing in the middle of the battle area. "Snape's there too. You two been okay lately?"
"We're fine," Harry snapped. Since when had Marcus been following the gossip about 'Severus and Charlus'? Must've been Alexandra. Harry mentally noted to speak with her later.
"Well, if you're fine then there's no need to hesitate." Marcus grabbed Harry's shoulders and all but shoved him into the clearing where a circle of Voldemort's followers stood -- right up against Severus.
Harry pretended not to notice Severus' glare. Instead, he looked, and right in the middle of the circle he was now part of were two captured Order members -- a witch and a wizard. He was about to lean over to ask Severus who they were, when the woman turned her face and Harry saw she looked exactly like a female version of Neville.
"Frank and Alice Longbottom!" Harry gasped. His conclusion was confirmed with a responding harrumph from Severus -- the vein on his temple was bulging, a sign that beneath the impassive exterior, Severus' mind was racing.
"What should we do?" Harry whispered.
"Whatever the Dark Lord requires of us," Severus answered, his voice tight.
Harry turned his attention back to the Longbottoms. A surge of admiration flooded his chest when he saw how fearless and defiant they were in the face of certain doom. It made Voldemort's gleeful gloating pathetic, cowardly even. Not hearing a word of whatever self-congratulatory speech was currently spewing out of Voldemort's mouth, Harry quietly slipped his wand into his hand.
"No," Severus hissed through almost-closed lips. "It's useless. You mustn't endanger yourself."
But Harry didn't care. He could always blame it on ignorance, claim he didn't know he wasn't supposed to draw his wand on Voldemort's loot. After all, none of the other recruits was allowed in the circle, so he wouldn't expect anyone to really know this. He really shouldn't even be here, but was probably accorded the special honor because everyone knew he and Severus had become inseparable. He gave Severus' hand a surreptitious squeeze, pretending acquiescence, hoping it was enough of a distraction to draw his wand without Severus noticing.
"So eager to prove yourself, Potter?"
This was most definitely not Severus' voice, and Harry jumped, releasing his wand immediately. But the wand was already out of the sleeve holster. The fall seemed to have happened in slow motion, but it was all too soon when the wand clattered to the ground.
"Idiot," Harry heard Severus curse above his head as he scrambled to pick it up. For once, he completely agreed with Severus' assessment of him.
He could barely meet Voldemort's eyes when he stood again, so he kept his head lowered, hoping he looked contrite enough to avoid punishment. But of course, Voldemort wouldn't be Voldemort if he wasn't a sadistic bastard. He seemed curiously interested in Harry, and when the tip of Voldemort's wand reached under his chin to tilt his head up, Harry couldn't do anything but look into those calculating red eyes.
"Should I give you the honor," Voldemort said in a tone that demanded obedience to whatever he was going to say next, "of breaking our prisoners?"
The "no" was stuck in Harry's throat, not because he was too afraid to refuse Voldemort at wandpoint, but because a sudden wave of panic swept over him. What if I'm the one to torture the Longbottoms to insanity? What if Bellatrix only claimed credit for what I will do? I-I... Neville will never forgive me!
"I take it you know the Unforgivables?"
"No! I won't -- I mean, no, my Lord! I... I've never successfully cast an Unforgivable."
"But you have tried, yes?" The wand dug into Harry's chin harder.
Harry gulped. Oh, he'd tried, a pitiful attempt on Bellatrix to avenge Sirius. But this -- he wished with all his heart that he would still fail miserably at all his Unforgivable attempts. "My Lord, I..."
"Have you?" Voldemort's voice was no longer appraising. It was demanding, impatient, and Harry detected a hint of annoyance that could only signal trouble.
"Excellent." Voldemort turned to Lucius. "You have a very promising recruit, Lucius. I'm pleased with your training."
Lucius' chest stuck out just a little further. Face beaming with pride, he bowed and thanked his Lord in a most obsequious manner.
There was a slight pause before Harry felt the hair at the back of his neck rising, and knew instantly that Voldemort's attention was back on him. "But you have yet to perfect a Cruciatus, you say? Should Severus be to blame? Is he taking too much time from your training?"
"No!" Harry screamed, very much not caring at the moment to whom he was speaking. Why was it even Voldemort knew about his... close ties with Severus? "Severus never --"
"My deepest apologies, my Lord," Severus said as he yanked Harry back and bowed, stepping forward just enough to put himself in between Harry and Voldemort.
"Perhaps you should teach Potter some manners."
"Yes, my Lord. Sorry, my Lord."
"As well as some curses."
Severus raised his head. "My Lord?"
"Go ahead. I've seen you cast Unforgivables before. Let me see you administer a proper demonstration for our illustrious Charlus Potter here."
"You --" Harry could barely get a start on his string of choice words before he was silenced. He saw Lucius' shoulder twitch. Had he cast the Silencio to protect him?
Next to him, Severus was pulling out his wand and aiming it at the Longbottoms. What are you doing? Harry wanted to scream. They're Order members. Like you! On your side!
But Severus didn't bat an eyelash. Without flinching or faltering and only with the slightest roll of his left shoulder, he whispered, "Crucio," and sent Frank Longbottom screaming and rolling on the floor. The spell was held for at least half a minute.
"Very good," Voldemort said in approval. "Now Potter, do the same to the filthy Muggle-loving woman."
Harry shook his head.
"Ah, you cannot speak." Voldemort cast a sideway glance at Lucius. "So protective of your recruit, Lucius? Though I agree, this one needs to guard that impetuous mouth of his."
As Lucius pretended that Voldemort's compliment was without a jab of disapproval, Severus stepped forward again, pushing Harry two steps backward. "My Lord, allow me... please."
Voldemort looked amused. "You really hate them so much? Very well. Teach them both the lesson they deserve. Thoroughly."
Harry wished he was blind and deaf in addition to being currently dumb. Severus took to the task seriously and screams of pain flooded all of Harry's senses. He wanted to grab Severus and yank his wand out of his hand, but Lucius had immobilized him at some point and all he could do was watch, horrified, unable to even close his eyes.
"Enough!" Voldemort finally said, and Severus, face red and beads of sweat rolling down his face, ended the curses.
"We will send these two back to that old fool as messengers. You two --" He stepped over and kicked Frank in the stomach. "-- go tell Dumbledore to give up now, or there will be more bloodshed." He turned to Severus. "Severus, kindly escort out guests out."
Alice spat and was about to speak, but Severus grabbed both of them, activated what must have been a Portkey, and all three of them disappeared.
Harry was left standing, long after Lucius ended the immobilization spell and after Voldemort summoned all the Death-Eaters-proper away from the recruits watching on the edges to give out more orders. He was too shocked to move, to empty the content of his roiling stomach, to think.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Harry screamed. He'd never felt so angry in his life, not even when he'd witnessed Severus commit the other crimes in his timeline, because this time -- this time, he could have done something to prevent it. This time, he'd caused it.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Severus barked. His face was uglier than ever, with blotches of red and veins bulging out visibly on his head and neck. "You never, ever, say no to the Dark Lord."
"I'll say no when I want to! What he asked me to do was wrong."
"It doesn't matter!"
"Doesn't matter? Have you lost your mind? Is that why you asked to do the torturing? What side are you really on, Snape? They were Order members -- people on your side!"
"And my job with the Order is to stay undercover, at all cost." Severus voice was low, almost a hiss. Chills ran down Harry's spine.
"That's a load of crap, and you know it," Harry said, his voice trembling.
Something like pure, unadulterated fury flashed through Severus' face. But it was quickly gone. Harry gasped and suddenly understood. Severus blamed him for being forced to torture the Longbottoms. And Severus was very, very angry.
"Leave now, Charlus."
A small voice inside Harry urged him to go. But he was never really good at listening to that small voice.
"Severus, let me explain --"
"Get out. Now!"
Instead of turning around, Harry took a few steps forward and opened his mouth again.
Severus' face was now deathly white, and if Harry looked very carefully, Severus seemed to be trying really hard to keep himself from shaking. "Potter..."
"I... but you can't say you weren't wrong eith--"
Hot, searing pain engulfed Harry. Every nerve ending in his body felt on fire, and was that his leg twitching and his arms flailing about? He wasn't sure; everything looked blurry.
He heard someone screaming. Was that him? He wasn't sure either. He couldn't really think, couldn't really focus on anything but the intense pain eating away at his body that seemed to grow stronger by the second. He tried, tried to draw his legs up, to curl into a ball, but moving even his fingertips hurt. His face felt wet -- was he crying? But his head felt wet too and his shirt was stuck painfully to his back, so it could all just be sweat. And then his tongue was tasting something sweet... sugar? More sweat? No, sweat was salty... Blood?
When the pain was finally gone, Harry was indeed curled up into a ball, sobbing, his head buried between his knees. It hurt; every part of his body hurt. But what hurt most was the thought that Severus had done this to him. That made the core of his being hurt.
He was pretty sure Severus had left. Shaking violently, Harry let his tears flow and cried himself to sleep.
Harry reported to Lucius' so-called "post-operation meeting" early the next day. No one was there except for Lucius, dawdling about, doubtless plotting up schemes to make himself look more important to the recruits than he really was. Not feeling particularly cheerful, Harry slunk off into a corner without acknowledging the other man's presence. He should probably thank Lucius for preventing him from doing anything (even more) stupid yesterday, but thinking about what'd happened made him think of Severus, and that was someone Harry was trying really hard not to think about.
He sighed. Why was Severus on his mind, again?
Lucius walked over, a vial of potion in hand.
"If it's from that bastard, I don't want it."
Lucius thrust the vial forward and snarled, "I don't know what game you're playing, Potter. You may be good at the ways of battle, but you don't impress me. In fact, I don't trust you, and I'm not about to let you drag Severus into trouble. Understood?"
Harry glared at Lucius, breathing hard. What Severus had done had taken a lot out of him. Just looking at someone was making Harry's whole body shake.
Lucius kept his arm extended. "Drink it. As your commander, I order you."
"You can't butt into my private life!"
Lucius smirked knowingly, and waited. Another ten seconds or so of glaring, and Harry started shaking uncontrollably. He bit his lips. Damn Lucius for seeing him so weak. Damn Severus for making him weak!
"The shaking doesn't become you, Potter," Lucius sneered.
Harry balled his left fist. With his other hand, he snatched the vial from Lucius' hand and stormed away, not caring that he probably looked more like a limping three-legged dog.
Harry breathed a sigh of relief when he returned to an empty house that evening, Ronald and others having gone to the pub as usual. For all Lucius' jibe about not being able to handle the day's strenuous activities (Harry finally caved and downed Severus' potion during lunch), it had actually been a very laid-back day, full of roundtable talks and strategic planning. Harry couldn't resist participating in the discussion on each of the more prominent Order member's strengths and weaknesses. He knew far more about most of their strengths and took the opportunity to share what he knew would intimidate his fellow recruits without leaking too much information to Lucius. He paid close attention when each Order member's tactical and personal shortcomings were dissected -- Hagrid, McGonagall, Moody.... Harry committed everything to memory; he would use this information to the Death Eaters' disadvantage when he got back to his time.
His heart ached when all the recruits agreed that the fault of younger Order members such as the Longbottoms and the Potters (Lucius looked pointedly at him at that) was their brashness -- too "Gryffindor," Wesley concluded. Harry couldn't help but agree. It made sense, Voldemort would have never known about these new Order members had they not so openly challenged him, so many times. There would've never been a prophecy if none of them had thrice defied Voldemort. Harry felt cold sweat running down his back. He really was like his parents. They were all reckless, foolhardy Gryffindors.
But now he was back "home," and his thoughts turned from Longbottoms and Potters to Severus. Was this what Ron and Hermione felt like after every time they fought? So angry still, but couldn't help worrying about the other person? He wondered what Severus must have been feeling, but quickly dismissed that thought. That heartless bastard would never feel sorry for what he did, not when casting the Cruciatus Curse apparently meant as little to him as a simple levitation spell.
And why would Severus have any positive thought left for Harry? After all, didn't someone need to conjure real hate to cast a successful Unforgivable? If Severus hated Harry enough to hurt him, then there was no way he would love -- or even like -- him again. Harry sighed. He supposed he should get used to a Severus Snape who hated him from now on. Not that it was anything new.
Harry wandered around Diagon Alley. It was the same Diagon Alley as a few months ago when he'd first got here -- empty, eerily quiet, and very foreign. It wasn't the Diagon Alley he knew and loved. He didn't belong here -- Harry Potter belonged in the future.
It was time to figure out a way to go back, but before that, he had one more task to complete. Focusing on the image of the grim-looking building he was sure no longer existed, Harry Apparated.
The orphanage was no longer there. What charred pieces of debris remained were burnt to a crisp, and Muggles had put up fences around the plot. No wonder Harry couldn't locate Tom Riddle's orphanage twenty-four years from now. As far as the new owner of the reconstructed building was concerned, there had never been an orphanage in the area.
But Voldemort couldn't have left his Horcrux for Muggles to discover and destroy. It must be hidden, securely, somewhere among the ruin.
"I would turn back if I were you," a voice said, coming from his left. Harry didn't need to turn around to know to whom the voice belonged.
"You have no business trying to stop me here," he hissed, balling his fists. "Traitor!"
"Turn back," Severus said softly.
"No!" Harry snarled, the turbulence of emotions he'd experienced over the past few days unleashing. He couldn't believe how calm Severus was, appraising Harry with cool, detached eyes. It was as if Charlus had never meant a thing to him. He glared angrily at Severus; Severus eyed him back.
Harry knew Severus was trying to out-stubborn him. And no, he wouldn't have that. Severus was not going to make Harry feel guilty for his own actions. He was the one who'd cast multiple Unforgivables on the Longbottoms. He was the one who'd tortured Harry. He was the one who'd left without saying a word. Harry was done with being the one trying to fix every single breach in their relationship. It was Severus' turn.
The staring match went on for several minutes. Harry thought he heard Severus inhale at some point, as if about to speak. But when no word was forthcoming, he relegated that to his imagination, his wishful thinking of a Severus amenable to reconciliation. Did Severus even feel sorry? Harry huffed. It didn't matter anyway; a simple "sorry" couldn't wipe away the fact that Severus was not only capable, but also willing, to hurt him.
But he was still holding on to a hope of something. Against his better judgment, Harry decided to mentally count one last time to ten. Maybe Severus would relent...
One... two... three...
Severus inhaled sharply again.
Four... five... six... seven... eight...
If Harry were honest with himself, he'd admit to feeling disappointed.
He waited half a beat longer.
He got his confirmation. Severus was an impossible git. "Bastard," he spat, not caring that it came out almost like a sob. Pushing past Severus, Harry walked toward the ruin.
"Charlus." The name came out as barely above a whisper. It sounded like... a plea. Harry halted his steps. "I'm not at liberty to elaborate. Just turn back... please."
"You just want to protect your precious Dark Lord's soul," Harry fumed. "You're nothing but lies. All this talk about being on Dumbledore's side, and here you are, safeguarding Voldemort's soul."
"Charlus, there's no time!" Severus sounded irritated, annoyed, and almost desperate. Harry ignored him and took another step forward, but just as he began walking again, he saw out of the corners of his eyes that Severus was grabbing his left forearm, his expression pained.
Harry didn't need to turn around to see who the presence he suddenly felt behind him was.
"So, Severus, you've caught the traitor in our midst," the serpentine voice said.
Severus went pale. "My Lord, this isn't what it seems --"
"And isn't this traitor your professed lover? Immobulus!"
Harry strained to move his muscles, to make just the tiniest movement... but all to no avail. His mind raced. He was so close to one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. He could have gone in and looked for it, if it weren't for Severus stalling him --
Severus was now holding him, taking him back to whatever torture Voldemort had in mind for Harry. He refused to look at Severus -- he was starting to despise Severus -- Snape -- through and through.
Severus shifted his body around and his left shoulder came into view, tense and tilting back.
You tilt your left shoulder whenever you're forced to do something you don't want to do, Harry had once told Severus.
And apparently, no matter how hard Severus had tried afterwards, he still couldn't keep from betraying himself with his shoulder.
Harry was thrown into what appeared to be the Riddle Manor's dungeon. No, not thrown; Severus had carefully placed him down, his hands staying in contact with Harry for as long as possible, until it was becoming odd that he should need to still be supporting Harry when he was already fully laid onto the floor.
"My Lord," Severus said, bowing deeply before Voldemort. "May I --"
"Have the honor to call the others to witness Potter's betrayal?" Severus tensed. Voldemort sneered, "I didn't think so. To think, one of my most trusted followers, having illicit liaisons with a traitor."
Severus' eyes flashed angrily, but he didn't dare explode on his master. Voldemort continued, "I shall deal with you later, based on your performance on the task at hand."
Severus swallowed thickly. "The task at hand, my Lord?"
"You know what I mean. How do I punish traitors?"
Severus dropped down to his knees. "My Lord, I promise you Charlus was only curious --"
"Crucio!" Voldemort said, waving a hand in the air, and sent Severus writhing in pain on the ground. He ended the curse after a few seconds. "Do as I say, Severus, or I may start suspecting you as well."
Voldemort waved his hand again and released Harry from paralysis. "You have five minutes. Say your goodbyes, but don't let me find Potter alive when I return." With a final sneer, he walked out of the dungeon.
Harry rushed to Severus' side as soon as his limbs started listening to him again. "Severus... I'm so sorry, so, so sorry... a-are you all right?"
Severus struggled to sit up. He reached a hand inside his robe as if to look for something. "Charlus, take this. The activation word --"
"No!" Harry shouted. "No Portkeys, not from here!"
"You heard the Dark Lord. We have to try, we must take a risk --"
Acting on instinct, Harry bent forward and crashed his mouth into Severus'. "No," he said in between breathing and sucking and licking. "No."
His job was done here; he couldn't get to the Horcrux, and that would have to wait until the future to be destroyed. And so, there was nothing left for Charlus Potter to accomplish in the past. It was time for him to go.
It came to him suddenly, with unblinking clarity. For some reason, Harry knew, just knew, that if he were to die here, he'd still live on somewhere else -- back in his world, in the future. What he couldn't risk was Severus' well-being. The first Voldemort War was still raging; it wasn't Severus' time to go yet. And -- Harry hated to admit it -- he truly cared that Severus live and continue as spy. No, Severus couldn't die. He couldn't, simply couldn't...
"Kill me," Harry said, ending the kiss. "Do as Voldemort says. Keep yourself safe."
Harry grabbed Severus' wand from its holster and shoved it into his hand. "Do it now!"
Severus' eyes narrowed and he opened his mouth to object.
"Come on, use your common sense! Severus, please!"
Realization -- horrified realization -- dawned in Severus' eyes as he seemed to finally admit to himself what must be done. Slowly and steadily, Severus raised his wand and pointed it toward Harry.
"I..." Severus' neck muscles visibly constricted. He looked away, refusing to lock his gaze with Harry. "I won't regret having to do this," he said, more to himself than to Harry. "It's for the best."
Harry nodded, waited until he could look Severus in the eye, and genuinely smiled.
The light in the dungeon was dim, but Harry could see Severus' eyes glint with that strange light, his shoulders twisting just that tiny bit that Harry had become so familiar with. As Severus closed his eyes and uttered those five deadly syllables, Harry finally realized where he had first seen it all -- that night during his sixth year, on the Astronomy Tower, when Severus pointed his wand at another wizard while uttering these same words, when Harry had thought Severus' expression to be hatred and revulsion...
Severus, please... Dumbledore had said.
Severus, please! Charlus -- no, Harry -- had begged.
Dumbledore had fallen backwards, slowly...
Harry felt like he was falling backwards...
Severus' eyes were glinting at him. They were cold for a moment, but then a trace of warmth appeared...
You wear your heart out on your sleeve, Potter. That is your weakness...
You're what I'll never be. I follow orders, from both Masters. I do horrible things, things you refuse to do...
Severus, casting Cruciatus on him...
Severus, entering inside Harry, making love to him...
Severus, sitting in his corner of the pub, observing Harry's every move...
Harry opened his eyes to the familiar surroundings of Diagon Alley. It was just after sunrise, and the place was just as deserted as during the first Voldemort War. But this was his Diagon Alley, the one he had come to know and love.
Yet Harry had never felt more miserable.
Dragging his body step by painful step, Harry walked toward the Apparition point (which existed, thank Merlin, located exactly where he knew he'd find it), and set to return to Grimmauld Place.
He grew his hair out back to its length during his Hogwarts days. He couldn't stand looking into the mirror to see "Charlus Potter" anymore. His body seemed to know he wanted it too, for the black matte was back overnight, and Harry was staring at the reflection of his messy-haired self again. He left his contact lenses in though; painful memory or not, he'd rather not risk losing his vision during battle should his glasses fly off.
He should be glad -- and he was glad. Relief and joy flooded his chest when he saw Ron and Hermione again. He had smiled -- beamed -- whenever people called him "Harry" during the first few days he returned.
He forced a smile, and pointedly ignored the sadness embedded in his eyes that reminded him of Charlus Potter. No, it was no use thinking back to that part of his life. He had no intention of ever sharing that with anyone, not even with his best friends.
Harry squared his shoulders. Tomorrow, he had a Horcrux to retrieve and destroy.
Harry allowed himself a little detour on the way to his destination. Spinner's End wasn't exactly on the way, but Harry didn't stop his wandering feet from somehow taking him right to the door of the familiar house. The house looked older, more worn out over the years. But it looked just the same as Harry remembered it, even down to the strong wards surrounding the property.
"-- don't you give me a chance?"
Harry paused. There were voices inside the house. Did this mean Severus -- Snape -- was inside?
The same voice spoke again, "It's been, what, twenty years? Twenty-five? You've been alone for too long!"
The voice was unmistakably Malfoy's -- Draco Malfoy's. So that was where Snape had hid himself and Malfoy over the past few years. Harry was certain the house that was standing so visibly before him would be invisible to everyone else, Muggles and magical folks alike. After all, it wasn't as if a few of the Hogwarts staff didn't know where Snape lived, and Harry was certain that Order members had tried, unsuccessfully, to break into Snape's house before.
Pain gripped Harry's heart. After all these years, Severus still hadn't removed his wards that would allow Charlus Potter unrestricted access to his house.
"And I've had twenty-five years to become sensible enough not to let it happen again," Snape's voice snapped. "Use your brain, Draco, see how similar the circumstances are. We're at war again, and the Dark Lord is moving against the Order, just like twenty years ago. It was a monumental mistake that I engaged in a relationship back then --"
Relationship. War. Twenty-five years ago. Harry's heart raced and ringing filled his ears. They were talking about Charlus Potter -- about him.
"Merlin," Harry whispered. "He hasn't had anyone else since..."
Harry hurried toward one of Snape's neighbor's houses. They had somehow detected his presence.
"What do you mean who's there?" Draco asked. "I thought we're Unplottable!"
"We should be. We're the only two left who have free access to my house."
"Left? You mean there were others? Oh my god, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to bring him up like that --"
Harry couldn't bear to hear more. He Apparated back to Grimmauld Place. The Horcrux could wait another day.
He went straight to the site of the orphanage the next day. Ron and Hermione had pestered him about where he was going, but Harry insisted on coming here alone. He knew it was unwise, but he needed to be by himself, to finish what he couldn't manage to accomplish as Charlus Potter many years ago.
Once at the site, he concentrated on imagining the place as it used to be, a grand but old building that had once been the refuge for orphan boys and girls. Harry closed his eyes. He could recall the place vividly -- this time not based on Dumbledore's Pensieve memory, but on his own physical memory of the place.
When he opened his eyes again, there was no modern Muggle building in sight. Before him was the orphanage in all its former glory, appearing only for Harry's eyes as if it had never been burnt down.
He entered the orphanage, walked down the black-and-white-tiled corridor, and turned into Tom Riddle's former room. There it was -- a box inside an open-doored wardrobe, Ravenclaw's wand unmistakably inside the box with its magic strumming with an almost visible aura.
There was also someone already there inside the room.
"Snape," Harry greeted. "Long time no see."
Snape didn't turn around.
"Are you here to help me or to stop me?" Harry asked quietly. He could feel Snape's emotional turmoil, a sixth sense of grasping each other's feelings that must've been a residual effect of the emotional ties that had formed between Severus and Charlus. The turmoil confused him. The man in front of him wasn't the heartless bastard Harry had thought him to be. Heartless bastards weren't capable of feeling distraught.
"I'm here for answers," Snape finally answered.
"So am I. Tell me, do you regret killing Dumbledore?"
Severus whirled around, wand tightly in hand, and spat. "You have no right to speak his name --"
"What about Charlus then?"
Severus stopped mid-sentence.
Harry pressed on. "What about Charlus? Did you ever regret killing him? A total innocent man, your lover, dead, only so you could save your own hide?"
All the anger suddenly left Snape's face, and his body seemed to sag on itself. Harry had never seen Snape so tired, not even during those nights of intense fighting during the first war, when Charlus Potter would flee with Severus, running from death to death. Exhaustion was etched on every line of his face, and his wand-holding hand trembled.
"He asked me to."
Harry didn't need to ask who the "he" was. It didn't matter.
Snape eyed Harry closely. Harry allowed himself to be scrutinized, meeting Snape's pained eyes with what he hoped was a friendly, reassuring gaze. "Or should I say, you asked me to --" Dark eyes flashed angrily at Harry. "Charlus Potter."
Harry felt like the floor had just gone from under him. How did Snape -- no, he was Severus now, so much like the Severus Charlus had left behind -- how had he figured it out? How could he have known? Hadn't Harry regrown his hair, allowed his scar to be visible again, and even dressed as Harry Potter would dress, oversized Dudley clothing and all?
"It was you who spied on my house yesterday, wasn't it? It was you, Charlus, the arrogant, foolish, selfish --"
"Stop!" Harry shouted. "Don't you dare get angry at me, Snape! My name is Harry, and I should be the one angry at you."
Severus' eyes narrowed into two glinting slits. "Should you now? And what of all that mucking around with time, causing harm to Frank and Alice Longbottom, to Ronald and Marcus, to Mrs. Cole, to me?"
Severus loomed over Harry. "Do you have any idea what mess you left behind for all of us to clean up? Do you give a fucking wit about the amount of groveling I had to do before the Dark Lord, begging him to overlook my 'mistake' of allowing a traitor into the Death Eater ranks? He nearly killed me that night, Potter. There nearly wouldn't have been a Harry Potter because the first war would have been won and everything I worked for would have turned to dust!"
Severus' wand was pointed directly at him, and he was stabbing at Harry's chest with it. Harry didn't move back; he didn't want to. He had nowhere to go. Not when the only other option was to move away from Severus, again.
"I really ought to kill you right now," Severus growled. "For real this time."
Harry looked directly into Severus' eyes, hoping his gaze was as calm as he felt. "You should," he said. "Go ahead. Just make sure you take care of the Horcrux afterwards."
Harry looked down when he heard sizzling noises below him, and saw that the sparks shooting out of Severus' wand were burning tiny holes in his shirt, bright green dots of light settling on the white fabric, before both green and white turned into a burnt brown color. Harry found this strangely fascinating. Liberating. Yes, he was ready to go. He closed his eyes.
For several seconds, nothing happened except for the awareness that Severus was staring intently at him. Was he still angry? Was he thinking up new ways to torture Harry?
"'s all right," Harry whispered. "Do it."
He expected pain to sear through his body, or if Severus was feeling particularly merciful, then a quick jab of pain straight into his heart. What he didn't expect was a throaty, near-feral noise from Severus' throat and arms wrapping tightly around his body before the familiar nose bumped into his and the skillful mouth started attacking Harry's lips, jaw, neck...
"Selfish, ungrateful brat!" Severus hissed between kisses. He was still angry, so passionately, furiously angry.
Invisible weights fell off Harry's shoulders as he raised his arms, daring to complete the embrace and touch Severus again. He bent his head back to give Severus more access to his neck, moaning appreciatively when Severus' tongue swept over that particular sensitive spot right there...
"Reckless, irresponsible fool... can't ever control your mouth..."
Harry buried one hand in Severus' hair even as Severus buried his face just below his collar, his mouth nibbling and teeth grazing over every inch of newly revealed skin as Harry worked to shrug off his robe, then his shirt. A hand -- he wasn't sure if it was his or Severus' -- moved to snap all the buttons open. It only took seconds before chilled air caused Harry to shiver and his nipples to harden.
Wet tongue on his left nipple, and Harry arched his back and pushed his torso forward. Each new sensation attacking that sensitive area went straight down to Harry's groin, and he felt himself hardening, painfully aware of the restrictiveness of his clothing as his erection strained hard against the fabric of his pants.
Severus' fingers were scratching tingly lines up and down his back. Harry reveled in the pain. "More..." he choked, and screamed when hands yanked his remaining clothing down forcefully, causing a button to catch in his groin for a split second before the threads snapped and it flew off, and Harry's cock was finally, gloriously uncovered.
"Impatient, hormone-driven boy..." Severus' mouth latched onto the other nipple as his hands roamed all over Harry's back, side, arse... "So beautiful, after all these years..."
Even through the haze of passion, a wave of sadness washed over Harry. For him, Charlus Potter and Severus Snape had been together merely weeks ago, always in contact even through the last days, when their relationship was falling apart. But Severus. This had been over twenty years. This was getting a lover back that he thought he'd killed. This was -- Harry felt something hot and wet prickling his eyes -- love, Severus' aggressive, lustful, furious, desperate version of love.
Harry's hand followed Severus' head down, nuzzling the strands of hair, as Severus' tongue wet a trail down Harry's torso, dipped and lingered at the navel, and continued southward. Severus was kneeling now, his mouth mere inches from Harry's cock, and Harry realized he would do anything at the moment to have that mouth on him again.
He didn't need to ask. Severus engulfed him, the gesture so sure and confident, it was as if it hadn't been over two decades since Severus had sucked Charlus off. Harry moaned loudly and his hand soothed Severus' head encouragingly, doing all he could to let Severus know he was enjoying this, had missed this, and was in love with him all over again.
After more teasing and licking, Severus pulled back a little and tightened his lips into a ring -- the familiar signal letting Harry know he could move. And he did, slowly at first, but it didn't take long before his hips began moving to their own rhythm and all Harry could register was the amazing sensation of his cock hitting the back of Severus' throat with each forward thrust. Just as he thought he couldn't possibly feel any more pleasure, Severus cupped a hand around his balls and began lightly squeezing, and that was all it took for Harry to tighten his hand on Severus' hair, barely giving him a second's warning before he screamed and came inside Severus' mouth.
When Harry regained his senses, he tugged Severus up and was about to kneel down to reciprocate, but Severus stopped him.
"Severus, let me --"
"No." Severus' voice was stern, and Harry felt the stinging pain of rejection.
"I shouldn't have done it, what I just did." Severus looked away. "You're not Charlus."
"But I am Charlus! I was him just two days ago, as far as I'm concerned!"
"And he was my lover over twenty years ago. Potter --" Severus sounded so weary, so tired. "-- my apologies for losing control just now, it was a lack of judgment brought on by your sudden appearance --"
"Re-appearance!" Harry interrupted stubbornly. How was he going to get Severus to see that Charlus and he were the same person?
"I'm but a hated Death Eater and former professor to you, not to mention I'm over twenty years your senior."
"Oh? Is that what's bothering you, that you're suddenly so much older?" Harry challenged, standing on his tiptoes in a vain attempt to appear older. "Because that's bull. I don't care. I had a lover just a few days ago and I haven't had twenty years to get over it. I want him back."
"See, everything's the same. Severus used to call Charlus that."
Severus hesitated. "Harry," he corrected, the syllables sounding so foreign coming from his mouth.
"Charlus loved you," Harry said, softening his voice. "And if you let him, Harry might come to love you too."
Severus looked away, refusing to consider the full weight of Harry's suggestion. His eyes landed on the box containing Ravenclaw's wand.
Harry walked up behind Severus. "Don't try to stop me this time, Severus." With a flick of his wand, he opened the box, revealing the same wand he had seen taken from Mrs. Cole's possession.
Harry aimed his wand in preparation to utter the soul-destruction curse Hermione had discovered after months of research; he paused when Severus placed his hand on top of his.
His heart sank. "You --" Severus was here to stop him after all.
"I cannot openly defy the Dark Lord, it's not my role to do so." At Harry's questioning glance, he smirked. "But that doesn't mean I don't long to destroy a piece of his soul."
Harry grinned. "And this is your perfect chance for revenge." He transferred his wand to Severus and wrapped his hand around Severus' hand tightly.
"Let's do this together."
And they did.
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