Title: Upon The Matter Of Britain
Genre(s): Angst & Romance
Warnings: See Snarry Games post for warnings.
Word Count: ~24,000 +/-
A/N: Many thanks to arsenicjade and supergrover24 for betaing. And to the mods for their utmost patience. :)
Disclaimer: If they belonged to me, the Potterverse would have a lot more gay sex in it.
Summary: Trapped by an ancient magic, Severus’s only hope of rescue comes from a war-weary Potter.
Upon The Matter Of Britain
Time rolls his ceaseless course.
Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake (canto III, st. 1)
La Maison de Lac was a disgusting hovel.
The blackwood floors were covered in mud and grease; the ashes in the hearth hadn't been Banished in months by all appearances—the hem of Severus's cloak dragged through them, flicking fragments of charred wood across the filthy hearthstone of the Floo.
He caught Draco as he stumbled out of the green flames with a curse and a rasping cough. Draco's cheeks were flushed red, his eyes too bright, his hair wet from rain and sweat.
"You need rest," Severus murmured, his hand careful on Draco's elbow, and the boy leaned into him, pulled his mud-stained cloak tighter around his too-thin shoulders.
Draco coughed again, his breath rattling in his throat. "I'm fine," he said tightly and Severus frowned at him.
Malfoys could be the most annoyingly stubborn creatures.
"I need rest then," Severus snapped, and he caught the attention of the tavernier in the corner, a scrawny wizard wrapped in a filthy, too-large apron pouring a bottle of wine for a one-eyed hag shrouded in a balakava. "Je voudrais une chambre pour un nuit et le dîner," Severus said in the stilted, awkward French he remembered from his childhood, and his Galleons clanked on the counter of the bar. "Et un paquet des cigarettes, s'il vous plaît."
"Oui." With a clap of his hands and a shouted Jeanette, the tavernier called a young witch out of the kitchens. She ducked her head as the wizard murmured something to her in Breton. Severus watched them, his eyes narrowed. There was no one he trusted any longer. Outside of Draco. Possibly. And there were moments, even with him….
Draco shivered against him, a chill racking his thin frame. Severus pulled him closer, his hand on Draco's shoulder.
"Voulez-vous venir avec moi?" Jeannette asked, her voice soft and almost liquid, and she gave Draco a sideways glance from under her eyelashes.
Severus scowled at her, a suddenly angry twist of eyebrows and mouth at her presumption, and she blinked, stepping back almost without thought.
The girl led them silently upstairs, through a twisting set of hallways and up another flight of rickety steps. She pushed a door open, lighting the room with a murmured Lumos that sent two ancient wall sconces sputtering to life. A tap of her wand against the fireplace brought a thin flame twisting through the smoldering embers as she knelt on the hearth.
The tattered linen curtains at the window were half-open; moonlight glittered across Lake Guerledan outside. Severus drew them closed with a snap, staving off a shiver. The entire damned place was disquieting.
Draco fell onto the bed with a sigh, curling in on himself, his muddy boots hanging off the patchwork coverlet. "Merlin," he murmured, and coughed again.
Jeannette stood up. "No Floo," she said, her blue eyes flickering from Severus to Draco. She was beautiful, Severus noted dispassionately. Delicate features, with pale skin and thick blonde hair coiled around her head in a braid. There was something almost otherworldly about her, he thought, unsettling even, and then he shook his head. Ridiculous of him. It was the weather, without doubt. Dark and damp and wet and obviously affecting his mind.
"C'est bien." Severus waited.
She stopped at the door. "I bring your supper, oui?" She glanced at Draco again. "And hot wine pour votre ami."
Severus was too tired to care about her perceptiveness. "Merci."
Her footsteps echoed down the hall; Severus glanced at Draco, half-asleep on the bed. With a sigh, he undid the brat's boots, sliding them off his feet and tossing them aside. Draco groaned and wiggled his toes.
"Much better," Draco murmured into the coverlet, and Severus snorted, pulling Draco up gently as he undressed him. He tossed Draco's dirty robe aside.
"Not tonight, darling, I believe I have a headache," Draco said against Severus's shoulder, his laugh breaking into a rough cough as he lifted his hips to let Severus slide his trousers off with practiced hands. His white linen shirt hung loose around his thin hips.
Severus swatted his thigh. "Wretch." He pulled the coverlet over Draco's shoulders. "Food for you, and wine, and then sleep." He sat on the edge of the mattress, brushed Draco's hair back off his forehead, fingers skimming Draco's hot skin. "I shouldn't have allowed you to spend all day tromping through a meadow in the rain already ill."
"But we found it." Draco curled beneath the blankets, extending one hand above them, his fingers slipping through Severus's. He coughed again.
"Perhaps." Severus took a small amber phial from his pocket and lifted it to Draco's lips. "Drink."
Draco downed the potion, his mouth twisting. "Vile."
"I should be offended." Severus capped the phial and set it aside. He slid out of boots and robe, rolling his sleeves up to his elbows and he stretched out next to Draco. He touched Draco's chest, gently, his palm splaying across the worn linen shirt. He could feel the rattle of Draco's breath against his ribcage, could feel the staccato beat of his heart. "How are you feeling?" he asked quietly.
"Alive," Draco whispered and he leaned against Severus's shoulder, his blond hair tumbling across Severus's neck. "I suppose that's a good thing."
The curse had been quick; His Lordship hadn't given Draco a moment to explain, hadn't allowed Severus to intervene. There'd been a nod as soon as Draco had knelt before Him, shaking, and Severus had turned his head in time to see Fenrir raise his wand, a vicious smile curving his thin mouth, baring his sharp teeth.
Draco had screamed when the curse hit him, blue-green light twisting across his back, crackling and sparking before it sank into the thick black wool of his school robe. Severus had never heard anything so awful, not even the scream of the bean sidhes in the heat of battle that would chill a warrior to the bone.
He had flown to Draco's side, cradled him in his arms as the blood streamed from his mouth and Fenrir laughed at His Lordship's elbow.
It had taken all of Severus's Occlumency skills to keep his hatred hidden at that moment.
The Dark Lord had been more merciful with Lucius and Narcissa. They at least had been granted a quick death, Narcissa with the Killing Curse and Lucius with a blunt shank driven into his chest by one of Dolohov's Azkaban acquaintances.
There had been revenge, however. Severus had found Fenrir two days later, while Draco still lay in his bed, delirious and out of his mind, the curse wracking his entire body with shudders of pain that sent him screaming, his cheeks wet with tears, his hair damp with sweat. Severus had taken a great delight in slitting the werewolf's throat, hot blood spilling out over his hands, red and thick and slick and coppery.
His Lordship had ordered his death for that betrayal, spurred on by the angry cries of Fenrir's pack, and Severus had fled with Draco, hiding on the Continent in cheap, shabby, filthy inns such as this one.
Draco despised this life rather vociferously at first, hiding from Aurors and werewolves and Death Eaters alike among the dreck of the wizarding world, but the curse had worn him down. Sobered him. Made him all too aware of his own mortality—something that Malfoys preferred to overlook, Severus knew full well.
The boy was dying, the curse working its way through his body, poisoning his blood, and in a year Severus hadn't found anything to reverse it, only slow its progress, and he could feel in his own blood the echoes of the steady, weary drain of Draco's magic, of his energy, of his life. The Vow bound him to Draco, made him his keeper, his guardian, twisted their lives--even their deaths--together, and Severus knew that he would do anything he could to protect his charge. He had made a promise, after all, sworn and bound despite its madness, and if it meant his own life in the process, so be it.
The Vow, however, had not made Severus Draco's lover.
He had done that entirely out of his own damned foolishness. And foolish it had been.
But it had been a dark night, and long, and lonely, and Draco had turned to him, pressed his mouth to Severus's and he had been so bloody beautiful in the firelight, and had wanted Severus—needed him, despite his anger.
That had been eight months past, and what Severus had believed to be a one-off, a night of inane madness, had turned into something…else. What he was not certain. He didn't think he ever would be. Not entirely.
Draco shifted next to him, curling closer around Severus's body, his eyes closing. "Starving," he murmured, and Severus pulled him closer, his fingers combing lightly through Draco's hair.
He could feel Draco's breath on his throat, could feel the shivers that wracked Draco's thin frame and when the door creaked open again, and Jeanette entered, a tray of bread and butter and cheese and stew floating behind her, he sat up, helping Draco lean against the headboard, two thin pillows behind his shoulders.
The girl poured a mug of hot, spiced wine and pressed it into Draco's hands. "Will warm," she said with a small smile towards Draco as Severus reached for the pack of cigarettes she handed him.
She was gone before he lit the first one, the tip of his wand sparking against the tightly rolled fag. Severus breathed out a thin stream of smoke, his hand barely shaking. "Eat," he said, with a gesture towards the tray that sent grey ash tumbling across the coverlet, "and then Dreamless Sleep if you wish to tramp through the muddy fields of Bretagne again."
Draco rolled his eyes. "Not entirely an incentive, that." He set his mug aside and took a bowl of stew, dragging his spoon through the thick gravy before taking a small bite of potato. "Do you really think this one is the right place?"
Severus didn't answer for a moment, instead tapped his fag against the rim of Draco's empty mug. "It seems likely, given the research," he said finally. "But we've thought that about other sites."
Draco poked at piece of lamb. "Yes." He looked up at Severus and his eyes were dull, empty, ringed with dark, purplish circles. "I'm so tired," he murmured, and Severus touched his cheek, a quick brush of fingertips across flushed skin.
This was a madman's chase, he damn well knew that. But they had no other choice, save watching themselves die. That, Severus thought grimly, was not an option.
He pulled Draco up against him, his fingers closing desperately around Draco's shoulder.
Time was running out.
Draco had heard the stories as a young child. Every wizard and witch grew up on them; the history of Merlin was an intrinsic part of wizarding culture. Father had made the old tales exciting, telling them to Draco before bedtime, sending him to sleep with visions of dragons and knights and magical battles in his head. Binns, on the other hand, had drained all the delight from the legends, turning them into dull, dry lists of names and dates and excruciating facts to be learned.
But when he and Severus had stumbled across the legends again two months past in a crowded, dirty pub outside Marseilles, being told by a withered, ancient wizard who claimed to know the truths of Merlin…Draco had never expected the gleam in Severus's eye, or the way he had taken the wizard aside and quizzed him extensively.
He had told them the story of Merlin and Nimue, of how the wily wizard had been imprisoned in a cave of glass in the wilds of Bretange by his young lover, some said as revenge, some said as a means to protect him until Arthur returned to free Britain. There were whispers of treasure there hidden behind wards and curses, waiting for Arthur to claim it, to free Merlin.
And there was the greatest treasure of all, for a wizard, that is. Merlin's true wand, the old man had told them, leaning forward, the cataracts on his eyes glittering white-blue in the candlelight, not the idiotic fake the British Ministry had on display, claiming that it was all that remained of the greatest wizard Britain had known. The old man had snorted at that, and cackled, murmuring son of the devil and a woman, turned to the light—imagine the power such a man's wand wields, enough to destroy darkness itself, eh, Master Snape?
Severus had paled, and Draco had stared at him, his blood chilling.
How do you know me, you blind old fool? Severus had whispered, his wand at the old man's throat, and the fool had just laughed and grabbed Severus's wrist tightly and said I know many things of this world and of the next, and he says I am to tell you to find the wand, to take it to the boy, and that there are indeed sherbert lemons and a great many boiled sweets in the afterlife, my boy, and he is quite pleased, so do stop agonising about what was required of you.
Severus had dropped his wand, hand shaking, and Draco had caught it only before it rolled off the table.
Remember Nimue, the old man had said softly, his fingers digging into Severus's wrist so tightly that Draco had seen the bruises later that evening, and Severus had just nodded before pulling away.
They had left for Brittany the next morning.
Two months of following stories and half-truths, wizarding and Muggle, of tracking down whispers of events long forgotten, of scanning fields and meadows and streets and rivers, all for a chance of finding an empty tomb. There were moments Draco thought them mad, until his weakening body reminded him once more of what his fate would soon be, and he shook his doubts off. There was something, he discovered, to be said for the tendrils of hope. And revenge.
Draco so very wanted the latter.
And now they stood before a narrow crack between two rocks at the foot of a cliff, a dark passageway stretching before them. He shivered, the wind whipping his robe around him, nearly knocking him off his feet. Severus caught his elbow, steadied him.
"Careful," Severus said, and Draco nodded. Severus stepped forward, wand drawn, and with a sharp downward flick of his wrist, he sliced through the wards blocking the entrance. They sparked and snapped and Draco winced, pressing his hand to his cheek as one of the bursts of light skimmed his cheek, leaving behind a faint burn.
The crack widened, gaped open, and Severus looked at him then, his eyes dark, bright, and a moment later he took Draco's hand, their fingers threading together.
They stepped into the passageway.
The rocks slammed shut behind them.
Draco felt himself turn upside down, darkness rushing over him and he bit back a shout, instead clutching Severus's hand tightly as his body twisted around, back and forth, up and down, circling, circling, circling wildly.
He could see nothing, feel nothing except Severus's fingers, tight around his, and it was worse than a Portkey, worse than a Floo, and his heart was in his throat, a staccato thud of fear.
Draco had never been brave, no matter how much he wanted to.
They fell, bodies hurtling through the darkness towards the ground.
Harry hated Order meetings.
No matter how he tried to stay quiet and unobtrusive in the corner, staring into the fire while the adults argued and shouted across the room, at some point his name was brought up and he was expected to enter the conversation.
Give his opinion. Make some sort of contribution other than a grunt and a shrug.
The fuck of the matter was that he actually seemed to have some sort of odd, innate ability for war maneouevres which was something he wasn't entirely comfortable with. He was eighteen years old, for Christ's sake, and he really didn't think he should be able to come up with defencive plans that made Moody nod and give him that peculiar, speculative look.
He was tired of this, tired of the war, of the search for Horcruxes that had taken him and Hermione and Ron across the world—and he couldn't think of Ron, wouldn't think of Ron.
Harry twisted the bottle of beer between his hands, watching it slosh up the sides of amber glass. He lifted it to his mouth and took a sip, the hops bitter and rich against his tongue.
Two months now and the numbness was only just beginning to wear off, he was only just beginning to wake up every morning without rolling over, expecting Ron to be there, next to him, giving him that half-smile of his.
Harry wanted all of this to be fucking over. Wanted to go away. Somewhere. Anywhere. He didn't give a fuck where anymore.
It just ached still. He thought it always would.
Hermione touched his arm, a quick press of her fingers against his elbow, and he looked up from the fireplace—and the flames that were the colour of Ron's hair and Jesus, Harry could still see his face, could still hear his scream that last moment—and he blinked. They were all looking at him, expectantly, McGonagall peering at him over the rims of her spectacles, and Harry ran a hand through his hair, trying to remember what they'd been discussing.
A raid or something, along the coast near Dover. The Death Eaters had a safe house established there, for transporting supplies and wizards over from the Continent.
He tugged on his fringe. "I'll take a scouting party," he said finally. "Remus and Hermione and Tonks. That should be enough of us, and the Aurors can come in after we know what their positions are."
"It could be a trap," Remus said from across the room. His hair had gone greyer in the intervening months, the lines on his face deeper. "You should stay here."
"That's mad—" Harry began but McGonagall cut him off.
"I concur." She leaned back in her chair, arms crossed, elbows resting on the chair arms, and she gave him a steady, thoughtful look. "But a scouting party does seem a wise idea."
Harry raised a shoulder, let it drop in a half-hearted shrug. "Fine." He looked back at the fire. It wasn't worth arguing over. Not any longer.
They only wanted him alive to kill Voldemort, he knew that. And he understood it. What they didn't know was that he didn't have any intention of surviving that fight. He'd do what was expected of him, and then—well.
He had plans. Had learned the proper spells.
And someday they'd understand. He hoped.
The fire crackled and popped, sending a spray of orange-red sparks up the chimney.
Harry pulled his knees up to his chest, letting the hum of the conversation behind him flow back into nothingness.
He took another swig of beer. It was his fourth bottle of the night.
None of them even noticed.
Severus slammed into the ground, jarring his back, pain shooting up his spine, down his legs. "Bloody fuck," he groaned, slowly pushing himself up. Draco lay sprawled across from him, blond hair tumbling over his face, and Severus could see the streak of blood on his temple.
His heart stopped.
"Draco," he said sharply, and he crawled to his side, ignoring the ache in his hips and knees. He rolled Draco onto his back, brushed his hair back from his forehead. There was a gash above his ear; blood ran down his cheek in red rivulets. Severus pressed his sleeve to the wound, soaking up the blood as he ran his wand over the cut, knitting it together. A whispered Ennervrate and Draco coughed, his eyes blinking over.
"Shit," he choked out, and his hand went to his temple. "What was that?"
"Transportation charm." Severus looked around them. It was dark still, though he could make out vague shapes that glittered in the shadows, and it was cold. Very cold.
He cast a Lumos, and the light nearly blinded him for a moment, sparkling brightly.
They were in a corridor, long and narrow, and the grey granite where they sat faded into rose quartz, and moonstone, and then clear, shimmering glass.
Draco was staring, stunned, down the corridor. "Merlin," he whispered, and he looked at Severus. "We found him."
"Perhaps." Severus tested the wards—the air was filled with them. "I need your help," he said, clambering to his feet with a wince, and he pulled Draco up. "Take the far wall."
They moved down the corridor slowly, wands pressing into the wards, tearing them, sparks flying right and left. A few times they were caught, tangled in shimmering twists of light until the other could catch up, slash through the ragged charms.
Nimue had done her work well.
It was slow work, and hard, and by the time they reached the curve in the corridor, Draco was gasping for breath and Severus was drenched in sweat.
Severus caught Draco's arm. "Are you all right?"
Draco nodded, a coughing fit wracking his shoulders. "Fine," he gasped out, and Severus frowned.
"Stay here," he said, and he threw himself into the final wards, his wand sending arcs of sparks showering through them until he stood in an arched doorway, dark, clouded glass surrounding him. He looked back at Draco, motioned for him to join him, and Draco slid through the still sparking wards, reaching for his hand.
Severus pushed through the glass doorway and it shattered with a crash, and the shards became snow, drifting around them, settling on shoulders and hair before disappearing. The room filled with light, shimmering from a thousand thousand corners, sharp and bright and Severus's eyes burned from the glare.
And then it settled, shifted, the light dimming to a soft rose-gold, shining on glass rocks and glass walls of the cave.
It was beautiful. Horrible.
Severus could feel the power pulsing around them, twisting through his body, pushing against his magic, joining with it and for the briefest moment he could do anything, he knew he could, whatever he wanted, whatever he wished—
He fell on his knees, next to Draco, shaking as the magic ebbed away, leaving him bereft. Empty.
"Look," Draco whispered, and he saw it then, in the corner. A skeleton, bones gleaming yellow-white, preserved all these many years, and over them grew a hawthorn bush, large and wide, branches purple-brown against the glass wall, leaves gleaming green-gold. The roots were twisted through the skeleton, curling around pelvic bone and femur, threading through the rib cage.
"Merlin," Severus breathed out, and he couldn't believe it. The stories were true, the tales, and he knew it at that moment, knew it as well as he knew the formula for Wolfsbane, or for Veritaserum, mad as that might be.
This was Merlin's tomb. His final resting place.
Severus moved closer, hesitantly, aware that he was standing on hallowed ground. A skeletal hand was caught in one of the lower branches, and how the bones had held together Severus had no idea, though perhaps it was the way the bush had grown.
The fingers still clutched the wand.
It was simple, a cylinder of hawthorn nearly indistinguishable from the branches, save it had been straightened and smoothed and carved at the hilt with runes.
Severus ran a fingertip across it. A spark flew out the end and he jerked his hand back, almost involuntarily.
"That's it," Draco said softly from behind him, and Severus nodded, not looking back. He breathed out, touched the wand again, his fingers curling around the shaft as he slid it free of the bones.
They crumbled into dust; the radius and ulna dropped to the floor, rattling.
The wand glowed brightly for a moment, a twist of gold curling around its shaft and Severus could barely keep it in his hand. And then it faded, just as quickly.
It was heavy against his palm, thick and solid, and nowhere near as manageable as Ollivander's creations. But the magic thrummed hard and strong through his skin and Severus tightened his fingers around the hilt.
He looked at Draco then, and Draco's eyes were bright—too bright—and Severus placed the wand in his hand, curling Draco's fingers around it. "Feel it," he whispered, and Draco closed his eyes, his lashes wet, and Severus knew the magic was coursing through him, strong and wild, and it was more than either of them had had in months. More than Draco would ever have again.
And then Draco was kissing him, his mouth hot and hard against his, fingers tangling in his hair, the wand pressed against Severus's cheek as they kissed roughly, and Draco pulled back and whispered, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," as tears poured down his cheeks.
"What are you on about?" Severus said, confused, and Draco shook his head.
"It's the only way to do this," he said, and his face was wet, his eyes anguished. "I'm so sorry, Severus, but you can't die. I won't let you and this is the only way I have to protect you—"
"Draco," Severus said, and he knew then, without being told, he knew how this had all begun a thousand years ago, what Nimue had said, how she had cried, what she had known she had to do.
"I'm so sorry," Draco choked out, and he raised the wand. "I'll come back. I promise I'll come back—"
Severus sank into the darkness.
There was a safe house in Dover, Draco knew. It would be walking into the mouth of the beast, but he didn't see any other choice, any other way of making it before the Dark Lord alive. If they caught him there, they would take him to His Lordship. And then…
His fingers curled tightly around the wand.
Revenge was a very sweet thought.
He could hear Severus in his mind, could feel him pushing against the Occlumency Draco always had in place. It was stronger than usual, louder, and there were moments Draco almost swore he saw Severus in front of him, shouting at him.
Draco ignored him.
It was the wand, he was certain. There was no other reason. Severus had always been able to find the chinks in his Occlumency, but Draco had learned quite well how to push him away.
Draco was a very good Occlumens.
He turned the corner, slipping down a back alley. It'd taken a great deal of his strength to Apparate through the cave's broken wards after he'd sealed Severus inside. He wasn't certain why he'd done it; he'd just known he should. He'd heard her voice, light and lilting in his head, and he'd known exactly what was required. An exchange for the wand, she'd said, and he'd be safe there, protected always. For eternity. And he—he could have his revenge, she'd whispered, and Draco'd thought he could feel her fingers slip through his hair, gentle and kind. It'd seemed so right. It still did. Severus would never understand, would never forgive him, he was certain, but at least he'd be alive, and that was all Draco cared about at the moment.
He was dying. He was dying and he was terrified and he would do anything to survive, he knew this about himself. He was a Slytherin after all, and self-preservation was a House rule. That Severus would understand.
But there was family honour as well. And the knowledge, deep within his very bones, that nothing he could do, nothing he could attempt, nothing he could promise, nothing he could beg for, nothing would change the certainty of his death.
And if he was to be the last Malfoy, then at least he would damned well do something to live up to the name. A simple spell, the death of tyrant, the return of a wizard--of a king, his mind whispered and he shook his head--and Britain would be set to rights.
You stupid little fool, he heard Severus say, and he was at Draco's elbow then, pulling at him, and Draco could almost feel Severus's fingers on his skin before he slammed his mind shut again.
Severus wasn't going to talk him out of this. Not this time.
He'd been asked to be a murderer two years ago. This time he intended to accomplish the task.
For his mother, for his father.
For his bloody self.
Draco almost laughed because this was such a stupidly Gryffindor thing to do, really, and he knew it, knew that it was foolish and reckless and mad. But the thing about dying was that it made you all those things. Life changed when you saw the end, he supposed. When you knew that you were too bloody young for this.
He wondered what it would have been like to grow old with Severus and he snorted. It wasn't as if Severus were likely to live out this damned war either. But he was safe now. She'd promised. Safe with Merlin, and she'd watch after them both as she had for so many centuries now—
Damn it you fool, Severus screamed at him, and Draco turned his head, saw him standing on the street corner, robe ripped at the sleeve, the air around him glittering. He flickered in and out. Watch yourself--
The curse hit him in the side, sending Draco tumbling backwards into the wall, pain exploding through his body as the magic seeped into his skin, hitting the older curse, inflaming it, and he burned, Merlin, he was burning up from the inside hot and hurting, fuck and Severus was with him, kneeling over him, shouting at him, and Draco could see the fury and the fear in his eyes and he let his Occlumency fall entirely for the first time in two years, a rush of emotion twisting through him into Severus and back, their thoughts tumbling together, over and over and over.
…I'm sorry, Stupid boy, Stupid, I'm sorry, I'm scared, Hurts, God, Severus, HurtsSoMuchOhGodSorrySorryDon'tYouDareGoDon'tLeaveMeSorryLoveSorryPlease…
Draco drew a rattling breath, and he touched Severus's face, his fingers almost brushing through his skin, and then Severus caught his hand and Draco could feel Severus's fingers tight around his even though he knew it was mad.
This is what dying is like, Draco thought, and Severus's eyes were dark. It's not so bad. Hurts like bloody hell, but it's warm. I haven't been warm in so long. He coughed, his breath catching in the back of his throat, and he could feel Severus in him, filling his mind, desperate and angry and pained. I failed. As usual. His mouth twisted to one side. What a useless shit I am. I can't even properly revenge my parents. His breath ached with each sharp intake and he could hear the shouts of the Aurors, the pounding of their boots against the pavement. Say you'll do it for me, even if it's a lie.
I'll find a way. Severus voice echoed through his mind, tight and thin. Stupid, foolish boy. Idiot. Imbecile.
"I love you too," Draco whispered and his cousin's face hovered over him, her pink hair bright against the grey sky and she was saying something to him, shouting something over her shoulder. "Move," he rasped out. "I can't see him—"
I'm here. Severus said, and Draco saw him on his other side, and he smiled up at Severus, his fingers reaching out to brush his cheek.
"Merlin's wand," he said sharply, looking up at Nymphadora. Severus's fingers were tight on his. "Potter. Give it to Potter—"
"Lie still, Draco," Nymphadora said, and she pressed him back against the pavement. "The mediwitch—"
Draco knocked her hand away. "Wand. Potter—" He nearly choked on the blood welling up in the back of his throat. "Severus. Talk to Severus—cave—Potter help--"
He gagged, breathing in hard and fast and there wasn't enough air any more, he couldn't inhale, couldn't see, it was so foggy, but Severus's fingers were still curled around his and it was going to be all right because he was there, Severus was always there, had always been there, his whole life and it was so warm and calm and quiet now and only he and Severus were here, no one else, he could hear him breathing and he squeezed Severus's hand tight because it was all right. It would be all right, he was so tired, and it hurt, and he just wanted to sleep now. Just sleep.
Draco closed his eyes as the warmth wafted him away into darkness.
This is death, he thought, and slowly, regretfully, he took a step forward, letting go of Severus's hand.
Severus's fingers ached.
He could still feel the press of Draco's hand, could still feel the warmth of his palm. He was gone, Severus knew that, and the emptiness rushed over him, a bitter, twisting ache that made him wretch, vomiting bile until nothing came from his stomach any more, and sent him to his knees on the floor of the cave, his forehead pressed against the white sand, dry heaves shaking his body.
Draco was gone, and there was nothing he could do, no way he could have protected him. He groaned, rocking forward on his knees, arms wrapped around his waist. He should have been there, needed to be there—he could have stopped him, could have pushed him aside, could have done anything to keep him from this—
Severus staggered up, grabbed a rock from the cave floor, heavy and unwieldly and he threw it at the arched doorway, slamming it into the warded glass with a shout that echoed through the cave.
The glass held.
"Bloody fucking shit," Severus screamed and he slid down the wall of the cave, shaking, and buried his face in his hands. Draco was gone. Gone. And he was trapped here.
Merlin, bloody help him.
He wrapped his robe tighter around him, leaned his head against the wall.
If he closed his eyes, he could still feel Draco's fingers, still smell his scent, still believe that he would open them again, and Draco would be smirking at him from across the cave, telling him what a fool he was.
Severus dug in his pocket for his pack of cigarettes and lit one with shaking hands. A curl of grey smoke drifted towards the ceiling; he blew a thin stream out, inhaling again quickly. The cellophane crackled beneath his fingers.
He had to do something.
He opened his mind, let it reach out. The wand. He had to find the wand.
Harry sat on the edge of his bed, holding the wand Tonks had given him. Merlin's wand, Malfoy had called it, and it was still strange to think that Malfoy was dead. Malfoy.
They'd hated each other for so long. And now…Harry sighed. He hated this fucking war. Hated what it did, what it took.
He reached for the bottle of whisky again and poured another glass, downing half of it at once before refilling it again. He'd spent the past two months in a haze, just pissed enough to numb himself without anyone noticing. They all drank, anyway; it was the only way to survive this hell.
Ron would tell him that was shit, he knew, but Ron was fucking dead, burned on a pyre with the rest of the wizards and witches lost in the battle of Crinian Moss. And it was Harry's fault. Harry's mistake.
He hadn't known there'd be so many Death Eaters. Hadn't known how powerful they'd be, and yet he'd lead them into it, told them they could win it, even after the Death Eaters poured into the field, and Ron had believed him because Ron always believed him, always stood beside him, behind him, never faltering.
And now Ron was dead, and it might as well have been by Harry's hand.
Harry drained the rest of his whisky, poured more. He'd lost track of how many glasses he'd had tonight—more than usual or so he told himself--but at least that ache was lessened. For a little while at least.
He was so damned empty without Ron. Lost.
The fire crackled in the hearth and he stretched out on the bed, charming the whisky to float next to him. He rolled the wand between his fingertips, watching as it sparked. He wondered if it really was Merlin's wand. It was old, he supposed. His thumb traced the runes carved into the hilt. Not well made, he thought. Rough, even. Nothing like the graceful shaft of oak that the Ministry had locked up. Harry'd seen it once, on a forced visit to Scrimgeour. It hadn't felt anything like this.
Harry could sense the magic thrumming through the cylinder of hawthorn. If it wasn't Merlin's –which wasn't bloody likely, now was it—then it was some other powerful wizard's.
It rose and it fell with each breath he took and it was almost alive, almost; he could feel it twist through him, over his skin in an oddly comfortable way.
"Of course they gave it to you."
Harry jerked up, nearly sending his whisky splashing across the room. Snape was there at the foot of his bed, eyes dark and shadowed, and he flickered in and out, like bad reception on BBC Three during a thunderstorm, and Harry could see right through him.
"Fuck," he breathed, pointing the wand at Snape while he dug for his own in his pocket, and he wondered if he should shout for the others, because this was Snape for Christ's sake, and then Snape snorted.
"Go ahead and try. I'll just disappear. I'm not here, you fool."
Harry ran a hand over his face. God, he had to be more pissed than he thought. "You're a ghost?" His words barely slurred together.
"No." The word was clipped, faint. Snape glared at him, his arms crossed over his chest. "Not yet, at least."
Harry chewed his bottom lip. "Then why and how are you here, and I'd suggest you tell me right now, Professor, or you'll regret it." Harry was rather pleased with how coherent the words were.
"Still an idiot, I see, Potter. And now a drunk." Snape's lip curled. He nodded towards the wand. "Better you than Lupin, I suppose. I don't particularly wish to make this request of him."
Harry's eyes narrowed. "What request?" His fingers tightened on both wands. Strange how familiar the hawthorn felt in his hand. Wands weren't usually like that. Ron's had always felt off when he'd used it. Odd.
"I won't have his death be for nothing," Snape said quietly, and Harry recognized the look on his face. He saw it every morning in the mirror. That…was unexpected. Or perhaps it wasn't. Not so much. "He wanted revenge, and I intend to give it to him. But I can't from here." His eyes drifted to the wand in Harry's hand, his fingers brushed across it, sliding through the wood. "Get me out of here, and I'll make certain you've the Dark Lord." He looked at Harry then, his eyes glittering darkly in the firelight. "I swear."
"Right." Harry hesitated for a moment--the bastard had murdered Dumbledore after all—but his curiosity won out. "Out of where?"
Snape struggled to say something, his mouth working, but the words caught, twisting into an entirely unintelligible garble. He swore. "I can't," he said tightly. "It won't let me."
Snape's jaw clenched, and when he spoke his voice was bitter, angry.. "Oh for God's sake, Potter--this is madne—" And then Snape disappeared, his outline wavering, then fading into the light from the hearth. Harry stared at the place where he'd been standing and pinched himself.
Right. Awake then. But entirely pissed. He stared down at the wand, turning it curiously between his fingers.
Yeah. This was madness.
He pushed the bottle away.
Severus slammed his hand against the glass again. He had to get out of here. Had to. He leaned his forehead against the wall. It was smooth and cool and Severus wanted nothing more than to put his fist through it with a scream.
"It's not all that bad, you know," a voice said and Severus raised his head, looking around. He wasn't that far gone, he was certain.
"You get used to it after a while," the voice continued, and Severus was on his feet, wand out. "Although I must say you're my first visitor for quite some time."
"Show yourself," Snape snapped, fingers curled tight around the hilt of his wand. "Now."
The voice laughed and it reminded him of Albus for a moment which was ridiculous and Severus couldn't handle this. Not at the moment. It was too damned much.
"I'm quite in front of you, lad," the voice said and Severus stared at the hawthorn bush. It rattled its leaves. "Not very bright, are you?"
Severus's hand shook. "This is mad. I've lost my blood mind already."
"Not likely," the bush said cheerfully. "It takes a few centuries for that to set in." Its voice lowered. "Pity about your boy, though. My condolences."
Madness. Utter madness. Severus closed his eyes. Perhaps if he were fortunate, he'd wake back up in their bed this morning, Draco curled around him.
It didn't work.
"Surely you didn't think it would." The bush sounded disappointed.
Severus slammed his Occlumency up; the bush tutted. "What are you?" Snape prodded the branches with his wand. "You're not in flame, therefore I assume you are not Jehovah."
"None of that monkish nonsense, if you please." The bush smacked his hand away, thorns stinging across his knuckles. "I was born Myrddin Emrys."
Severus's breath caught; he lowered his wand, his hand shaking. "Merlin."
"Is that what I'm called now?" The bush—Merlin—laughed. "How many years has it been?"
"Over a thousand." Severus stared at the bush. This was not happening. None of it. None. "You're dead. Those are your bones."
"Surely, Severus, is it? Yes, Severus—Roman are you?"
"Yorkshireman," Severus snapped, oddly irate.
"I'm not familiar with that—well, never mind. The point of the matter is that bones don't matter to a wizard, now do they? And I'm quite comfortable in this form."
Severus was certain the bush—Merlin--was eyeing him curiously. "Why are you only now speaking?"
"Because you only now need me to." A branch patted him on the knee. "You might as well relax, you know. We've quite a few years together here, you and I. I must say it's nice to have company other than the occasional rat. They don't often speak, you see. Very suspicious, they are."
Severus tensed. "If you imagine for one moment that I intend to remain here—"
"Oh, lad, you've not a choice." Merlin sounded sadistically satisfied in a way that reminded Severus of Albus at his most manipulative. "You might have when your boy left with my wand, but once he sealed you in here, you're caught until Artur returns. Which knowing that idiot might be millennia. He never was very prompt, I'm afraid."
"You're off your nut," Severus began, and then caught himself. He was talking to a bush after all. He ran a hand over his face wearily. "Circe's tits."
Severus wondered if he might set the bastard on fire. It was going to be a long millennia.
He had to find a way out. Which left him only one choice at the moment.
And it was not one he wished to take.
"You think I'm mad, don't you?" Harry looked at Tonks.
She shook her head, but he knew she was lying from the way she was taking in his rumpled clothes, his hair standing on end, his stubble that hadn't been shaved off. And he smelled like he'd fallen into a vat of Ogden's, which wasn't all that far off, he supposed.
His bloody head hurt.
"It's just, love," Tonks said quietly, and her eyes darted across the room to the others waiting for them, "You might have had too much to drink is all—"
"Of course I had too fucking much to drink," Harry said, a bit too loudly, and Remus looked his way, a frown on his face. He pushed past Tonks. "I'm telling you what happened. He was there."
"Who?" Remus was next to him, his hand on Harry's elbow, stopping him, and his eyes took in Harry's dishevelment, his nose wrinkled at the smell.
Harry's eyes flicked back to Tonks.
"Snape," she said slowly, "was in Harry's room last night," and they exchanged a look that made Harry want to hex them both. Fuck.
"Fine. I was pissed. Just fucking forget it," Harry mumbled and he headed for his usual ottoman next to the hearth, ignoring the whispers and curious looks of the others.
They were halfway through the meeting when Hermione came in, and she sat next to Tonks who leaned towards her, their heads together and then she looked at Harry and frowned. Harry looked away, watched the fire silently.
"They all think you're mad," Snape whispered into his ear, and Harry jerked, turning around. Snape squatted next to him, the bookcases behind him visible through his black robe, and he gave Harry a thin, tight smile.
"Fuck you," Harry spat out and then he was on his feet, wand out. "I'm not bloody pissed right now, you bastard—"
"Mr Potter," McGonagall said sharply, and Harry looked back at the table. They were all staring at him, Kingsley turned halfway around in his chair, Remus on his feet, Mr Weasley blinking at him, his mouth a small o.
"Harry," Tonks started, and Harry gestured wildly at Snape.
"Can't you see him? He's right there—"
"I believe," Snape said calmly, sitting on the edge of the ottoman, "that you are the only person capable of seeing me. Or hearing me for that matter." His eyes narrowed. "Rather annoying that."
Hermione was at his side. "Harry," she said softly, her hand on his arm. "What's wrong?"
He looked at her. "You can't see him," he said dully.
"I can't see anyone, love, no." She was looking at him evenly. "Maybe you should have a lie-down for a bit?"
Harry pulled away; Snape snorted. "I'm fine," he said, and he looked back at the table. The room was silent, all eyes were on him.
"You can't keep this up, Harry," Hermione said softly, leaning closer. "The drinking, all of it. You need help. Ron's dead—"
"Don't," Harry said, his throat closing up. "Just, don't, Hermione."
She looked away. "You weren't the only one who lost him, you know."
Guilt twisted through Harry; his shoulders slumped. "I didn't say I was." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "I can't do this." He pulled away. "I'm sorry."
Snape was waiting in the hallway, leaning against the wall, arms crossed over his chest. "Brava, Potter," he said, clapping his hands together. "Quite dramatic."
"Sod off." Harry pushed past him, his arm sliding through Snape's. He started up the stairs. Mrs Black screamed something from the hallway, and Harry shivered. He hated that painting, hated this house.
"Oh no you don't." Snape was on the landing above him. "You're going to listen to me, Potter—"
"No," Harry snapped, climbing past Snape. He looked back at him "You're going to listen to me. I don't care what you're doing or what's happened to you. I don't care if I've gone 'round the bloody fucking twist. And I certainly don't care if I am the only person who can hear you, see you, or help you. Let me say this as clearly as I can, Snape, so that you understand. I don't care. Leave me the bloody fuck alone."
Snape's eyes narrowed, his cheeks flamed, two bright spots of colour in his pale face. "Oh, you make yourself perfectly clear, Potter. It's a pity, isn't it, that I have never particularly given a damn about what you want me to do."
Harry clenched his fists, rage bubbling through him. "You don't think I want you as dead as Malfoy, Snape? Because trust me, I do. One murderous bastard sod down, one more to go, I say--"
"You buggering little shit," Snape spat out, and he lunged at Harry, his fist connecting hard with Harry's jaw, and it sent Harry stumbling back against the banister, his eyes wide, his hand flying to his bottom lip. He could taste blood, and his fingers were stained red when he pulled them away.
Hermione was in the foyer below and she was staring at Harry with wide eyes. He wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, wincing at the sting. "It's fine," he said, and her hand shook when she pushed her hair back away from her eyes.
"What—" she started and then she broke off. "You couldn't have done that to yourself."
"No." Harry looked back at Snape.
He was gone.
Severus slid down the wall limply, exhausted. It took all his strength to keep the Legilimency open, particularly with Potter. Draco had been easier—there had been kinks in his armor, small crevices in his Occlumency that Severus could manipulate, could hold wide without effort. He knew Draco—had known him, his mind supplied, and Severus's throat closed up—he had known him intimately, had seen his fears, knew his worries, understood his thoughts.
Potter was another matter entirely.
He ran his fingers through his hair, pulling it back from his temples tightly. He breathed out. He was trapped, and unless he could force Potter's assistance—Severus broke out in a sharp, bitter laugh that echoed through the glass cave.
Not bloody likely.
How very wonderful. Trapped with a mad hawthorn bush for eternity with only Harry Potter as a means of escape. Severus wanted to kill Draco with his bare hands for this—and then he remembered the heavy, limp feel of Draco's empty body pressed against his arms, and how, how, how could he have felt that? How could he have felt the sharp crack of his knuckles against Potter's jaw?
Mere Legilimency, even when done by such an adept as himself, did not lend itself to such manifestations.
"You're really rather slow, you realise," Merlin said calmly, rattling his leaves.
"Do you mind staying out of my head?" Severus snapped. He chewed his thumbnail—a habit he'd given up as a young child. It annoyed him that it had returned.
The bush shrugged and stretched, shifting the bones beneath it. "You should ask yourself what one common denominator the boys share. Or shared, I suppose." There was a soft rustle of leaves against bark. "Again my sympathies."
"Shut it, you old fool." Severus rubbed at his torn cuticle. Blood seeped under his fingernail, a sharp twinge that for a moment distracted him from the ache inside. He stared at his ragged nail. What he wouldn't give for a bloody bottle of Macallan. Eighteen-year.
Mer—he caught himself and glared at the bush. Circe.
What they shared, he thought. Youth. Magic. One light, one dark, and how very ridiculously trite was that old mythic construct? The hero and his nemesis. The lion and the serpent. Nothing alike, and yet not so very different, he supposed grudgingly and how Draco would howl at that supposition.
"Far too abstract," Merlin snapped and Severus could have sworn one of his roots tapped the ground in annoyance. Bloody hell, the man was more infuriating than Albus—Severus jerked back from that thought, from the memory of the promise Albus had forced of him when he'd first arrived at Severus's door, hand wrinkled and shrivled and burnt black as night. I'm dying, Severus he had said, and he had laid his plan out calmly, rationally, and Severus had despised it with every fibre of his being.
But he had agreed.
To keep Draco from bearing the mark of murderer.
"On Guinevere's tits, even that simpering twat Galahad was brighter than you." A lower branch smacked soundly against Severus's thigh, stinging. Severus caught it tightly, his teeth grinding together.
"I'll break you, old man. Rip you from root to tip—"
Merlin snorted. "That's better. Out of the maudlinity, and think. You're not a complete idiot." The bush paused. "Perhaps."
Severus broke off the tip of the branch, just out of spite, and he rubbed it between his fingertips, stripping the fresh green leaves from the bark. He stared at the small stick in his hands. "The wand," he said slowly, and Merlin sighed.
"Finally." Merlin settled back against his bones, winding a branch through his rib cage. "I was afraid the curse would get you first."
Severus's looked at him sharply. "Curse."
"Well, you don't think I ended like this out of my own volition?" Merlin sighed again, and a few leaves drifted from the branches, settling next to the yellow-white bones. "Nimue did have a bit of nasty side to her at times. Particularly when she was irate with me. It was one of her more charming traits, I thought." The bush drooped slightly. "Bit of a tempest, she was. Lovely. So very alive."
"And she was angry with you."
Merlin trailed a branch down his femur. "We had argued about the necessity of her protective spell. Ridiculous, really. I was quite capable of taking care of myself—and of her—but she didn't quite care for that, I'm afraid."
He fell silent a moment, and Severus felt a wave of grief wash over him, so alien from his own. It was an old grief, an ancient loneliness, and it nearly overwhelmed him. Severus drew a shaky breath.
"It will affect you as well," Merlin said quietly. "Eventually. The plant takes from your physical form, feeds off you until nothing but bones remains. It's not the most horrific way to go, I suppose. At least you've your mind left, and some of your magic." He hesitated. "Enough."
"Not enough to break free." Severus looked at the slick glass walls around him.
They were quiet, the only sound in the cave the rustle of Merlin's leaves, the soft breath from Severus's mouth.
"Find a comfortable position," Merlin said finally, and his voice was kind, almost. "You'll be there for quite some years."
Severus looked away.
He'd be damned if he would.
Hermione smoothed the salve over Harry's jaw and looked up at him. "You're certain."
"I'm not lying." Harry lay back against the pillows, pulling his knees up to his chest. His bare feet flexed against the patchwork quilt Mrs Weasley had made for him out of scraps of Ron's clothes. He hadn't asked her to; she'd just known, and she'd given it to him without a word, just handing it to him and walking away. They'd never spoken of it in the past month. They didn't need to.
Hermione stretched out next to him, curling up on one side. "But Snape. He's in your head? That's something you should tell McGonagall."
"I know." Harry stared up at the ceiling.
"But you're not going to." Hermione sighed and rolled onto her back. "Honestly, Harry--"
"Maybe if he comes back—you know Snape, he's bloody infuriating enough to try--maybe I can find something out this way. Make him trust me, and then when he finally tells me where he is--" He looked over at her. "We've already killed Malfoy. We can bring him in too, and Dumbledore'll have--"
Hermione caught his hand, held it tight. "It's less about Dumbledore for you than Ron now, Harry," she whispered, and Harry tensed, pulled away.
"Don't, all right," he said quietly, and Hermione looked away, her shoulders slumping.
"I don't know what to do anymore," she said, staring out the window, and her voice was rough, dull. She wrapped her arms around herself. "I loved him, but he loved you more, and I could live with that, Harry, I really could, because I knew the two of you were so much better together than he and I could ever be and you both loved each other so bloody much that it was--" She licked her bottom lip, laughed softly. Bitterly. "There wasn't anyone else in the room when the two of you were together and I've accepted that. But he was my friend and you're my friend, and I've lost him and I can't lose you too." She looked back at him then, eyes bright. "And I'm awfully afraid I'm about to."
"Hermione." Harry stared at her, helpless and empty, and he knew he should reassure her, should tell her that she was mistaken, that things weren't like that, not at all.
Except she was right.
Harry knew he was slipping away.
She touched his face, pressed her forehead to his. "I won't tell McGonagall. Yet." Hermione rubbed her thumb over Harry's cheek. "But you're not going to shut me out of this."
Harry nodded, and she relaxed against him for the briefest moment. "Right then." She pulled away. "So let's see this wand of yours."
"You're certain of this." The Dark Lord's robes swept across the smooth granite stones of the dungeon floor, past the small table set with a breakfast of Darjeeling and poached eggs. "You've given wrong information before, my pretty little mole."
"I wouldn't bring your Lordship's displeasure on myself again." The hooded head dipped, a knee bent beneath a robe. "I'm certain. It's quite common knowledge among the Order. Even the house elves have been whispering about Potter's erratic behaviour."
"Indeed." The Dark Lord hesitated, turned. "And you witnessed this latest yourself?"
There was a moment's pause, then a grudging, "No. Merely heard tell. But from reputable sources. Lupin and McGonagall should watch what they say in the halls." The smile widened beneath the hood. "I'm quite a skilled eavesdropper, my Lord."
"Of course." His Lordship smoothed warm, silk-smooth fingers across a soft cheek, and the girl leaned into the touch. So very easy, these children. Nearly as easy as the generation before. They want so. Need so. Just the slightest nod of recognition, of acceptance, the smallest promise of reward, and they fell into his hands, ripe and ready. "I am quite pleased," he murmured.
The girl's breath quickened; she looked up at him with shining eyes.
The Dark Lord dropped his hand. "Keep watch over him. Tell me everything he does, no matter how seemingly insignificant."
The girl nodded, her flush subsiding. She straightened her robe. "I'll report in the usual manner."
She was dismissed with a wave of his hand, fingernails glinting white-silver in the firelight.
Most interesting. A mad Potter, and claims of Severus's presence? The Dark Lord smiled, a thin, cold twist of his narrow mouth. How very delicious. Perhaps he might kill two birds with one stone. Literally.
"Goyle." He snapped his fingers, and the younger ambled across the room, hesitantly. Idiot boy. The Dark Lord eyed him with distaste. Like father, like son, he supposed, though the Goyles had been most loyal followers. "Go to St Mungo's and bring back the Malfoy brat's body. I have plans for it." He reached for his cup of tea, still steaming on the table.
Goyle the younger blinked at him. "Draco's body, sir?"
"Are you deaf or merely stupid?" The Dark Lord's jaw tightened. He could feel the twist of anger rustling across his scales. The brat flinched.
"No, sir." Goyle swallowed. "Draco's body, sir. Yes."
He nearly ran from the room, and the Dark Lord laughed.
How very enjoyable it would be to toy with poor Severus's mind.
Nearly as delightful as destroying Potter's.
He sipped his tea and smiled.
Harry was pissed. Wretchedly, blessedly, bloodily pissed.
He hated it; he loved it; he needed it.
A twist of his wrist and the cap to the whisky went flying across the room. Muggle shite, cheap at that, bought down the road at the license shop and smuggled into Grimmauld Place in his pocket. Thank Merlin for miniaturisation charms, even if they did fuck with the taste.
Harry didn't give a damn how it tasted; he just wanted to get pissed.
A charm on his door to prevent Hermione or Tonks or Ginny or Remus or the bloody twins from bursting in, and he'd gone through one bottle already.
He didn't bother with a glass, just drank straight from the bottle, tilting it to pour down his mouth, burning his throat. He wiped the back of his hand across his lips, licking the excess from his skin.
"You're a pathetic drunk," Snape said from the foot of the bed. "But at least it takes less to worm my way into your damned mind."
Harry blinked at him. "I thought I told you to sod off."
Snape sat on the edge of the mattress. "You knew I'd return."
"Maybe." Harry took another swig of whisky and stared at him over the rim of the bottle, his glasses sliding dangerously down his nose. Wouldn't do to spook Snape, he supposed, or nark him off. He needed information from the bastard. Right. "What do you want with me?"
Snape didn't say anything for a long moment, and then he leaned against the iron footboard, crossing his arms over his chest. "I told you. I want out of the place in which I'm imprisoned."
"Which is?" Harry rolled the bottle between his hands. He could feel the rush of liquor twisting through his mind. "Be a lot easier to help if I knew."
"Perhaps." Snape watched him for a long moment. "I'm quite afraid you'll be forced to find me, however. Do believe me when I say I am as unhappy in that regard as you."
"You could be lying. This could be nothing but a trap." Harry's eyes narrowed. "You could have meant for Malfoy to die—"
A sharp hiss from Snape cut him off. Harry stared at him, at Snape's fingers suddenly twisted in the coverlet, the fabric bunching up beneath them, even though Harry could almost see through Snape's hand. Snape looked away, staring stonily at the mirror across from the bed.
He wasn't reflected in it.
The room was silent. Harry nestled the bottle against his stomach, his thighs drawn up to his chest, wrists resting on sharp, denim-covered knees. "Were you sleeping with him?" he asked finally.
"I fail to see how that is any concern of yours," Snape snapped, but he didn't turn his head.
"Just curious, maybe." Harry chewed his bottom lip. "It's something about the way you talk about him. Like you cared."
Snape looked at him then, dark eyes glittering. "There was a Vow—"
"It's more than that." Harry shook his head, lifted the bottle again. He took a long drink. "You cared about him, and he died, and you blame yourself." He ran a hand through his hair, tugging at his fringe. "I get that."
Snape said nothing.
"I don't trust you," Harry said bluntly. "Or that fucking Mark on your arm. So you damned well better give me something to make me believe that you're not going to bugger me with this."
"Perhaps you're not a complete fool," Snape said tightly, and Harry shrugged.
"You learn things." That was an understatement. Harry nearly laughed except it just wasn't that amusing. He didn't think it ever would be. Fucking war.
Snape looked at him for a long moment, his mouth thinning and then he sighed. "I suppose I've no other choice."
The emotions hit Harry hard and quick, a wave of need and want and anguish and anger and grief and recrimination and guilt and revenge and lonelinessthat twisted around him, taking his breath, leaving him shaken, limp against the headboard.
He blinked slowly, breathing out. He recognised all of that, felt it every bloody day in fact, breathed it, ate it, dreamed it. Ron. His chest ached, his throat closed.
Snape wasn't looking at him, but two spots of colour burned in his cheeks, his mouth was a tight line.
Right. You couldn't fake that shit. Not that much pain. It was impossible. Harry knew that.
It only took a moment for him to make his mind up. Even if it was an utterly mad idea. Still.
"So what do I need to do?" he asked, and he set the bottle aside.
His hands felt strangely empty.
Gregory stared down at Draco's body.
It was strange to see him like this, all grey-white and pale, too sharp and too thin, stretched out naked in the drawer in St Mungo's morgue.
Wasn't like him. Not at all. Vincent would have been appalled, but then again, Vincent had been dead for six months now himself.
Gregory was the only one left. Except for Pansy. And Blaise. But they didn't count so much, he thought. It'd always been him and Draco and Vince mostly. Ever since they were little. He blinked. Wouldn't do to be nancy here, now, would it?
Draco wouldn't like it.
"Hurry up," Nott whispered, rubbing his hands over his arms and shivering.
It was cold, Gregory supposed.
He hesitated for a moment, then pulled his cloak off and draped over Draco's corpse. He owed Draco that much at least. There was just something not on about taking him away from here still naked.
Gregory cast a Mortis charm; Draco's body relaxed, the muscles going soft.
Draco barely weighed anything, his body limp in Gregory's arms.
It wasn't right, this, Gregory thought, with a frown. "Dead should be dead and should be left to be, I say."
Nott shrugged. "Just do as you're told. Better than the alternative."
Gregory couldn't argue with that.
They Apparated, carrying Draco back to his Lord.
"Tell me everything you know about Merlin."
Hermione looked up as Harry sat down across from her in the Grimmauld Place library. She closed her book on sanguination spells and regarded him thoughtfully. "Is there a reason for this?"
Harry set the hawthorn wand between them, his eyes meeting hers steadily. "He said I should ask you. You might know."
The wand rolled forward, settling against the edge of her book. Hermione touched it, shivering at the pulse of magic that rippled over her skin. She glanced over at the others, huddled over books in the corner, looking up spells and curses and counterhexes the Order could use. The Ravenclaw contingent was here nearly every day; Cho and Luna and Marietta and Michael pouring through volume after volume of texts so old the edges crumbled with each turn of a page. Hannah Abbott and Susan Bones were with them today, watched over by Remus who collected their notes and sifted through them to report to McGonagall.
It was a bizarre Hogwarts, an accelerated course in magical theory and research. Hermione loved it as much as she hated it.
"Well?" Harry asked impatiently, his voice rising, and a few glances were cast their way.
Hannah and Susan whispered something across the room; Marietta glared at Hermione and sniffed, turning back to her book.
Hermione shifted and sighed. "There are all sorts of legends, Harry. Muggle and wizard. And they're all twisted together so terribly that it's hard to know what the truth is."
Harry slouched in his chair; his glasses slid down his nose. They needed to be cleaned. Badly. "So tell me what you can."
"Well, he was Welsh, that much is certain." Hermione picked the wand up, rolling it across her palm. "And he put Arthur in power. Even caused his conception through a glamour he put on Uther Pendragon."
"I know all that," Harry said impatiently. "I didn't sleep through all of Binns' lectures."
"Only most of them." Hermione raised her eyebrow.
Harry shrugged. "I know about Arthur. And the Grail. But what about Merlin?"
"Some say he was the son of the devil and a witch." Hermione looked at Harry. "I'd say that's an exaggeration."
"According to Hogwarts: A History, Merlin's the one who taught the Hogwarts Founders as children. He imparted all his magical knowledge to them, and entrusted them with passing it down to future generations. And no one's entirely certain how he died. Or if he did. Although there's a legend about him being imprisoned in a glass cave." Hermione frowned. "I think. I'd have to look up the details--"
Harry leaned forward, his eyes gleaming. "Where could this cave be?"
Hermione shook her head. "I have no idea." At Harry's felled expression, she sighed. "But there are always ways to find out."
Harry grinned at her, a bright flash of teeth that she'd missed. So very much. It twisted her heart. "I knew you'd know."
She smiled back at him and squeezed his hand and hoped she didn't fail him. Again.
Severus lay curled on the cave floor, his breath coming in slow, careful huffs. He was weakening; he could feel the Vow pulling at him, tugging him slowly into the same darkness that had taken Draco from him.
He should have gone not long after Draco; the only thing keeping him alive, slowing the process of the Vow, broken with Draco's death, was the insulating solitude of this damned cave.
A branch smoothed across his forehead, leaves catching in his lank hair, and a slow seep of magic into his skin made it easier to breathe. "Thank you," he choked out and Merlin rustled, a small branch slapping lightly against Severus's cheek. It stung.
"None of that," Merlin said roughly. "You need your strength if you're to find your way out of here."
"I thought that was impossible." Severus pushed himself up, leaning into the sharp tangle of hawthorn branches. They scratched his skin, but the magic tingling through their touch eased the tightness in his chest.
Merlin snorted. "It is. However, I'm beginning to believe you to be bull-headed enough to actually accomplish it." He was silent for a moment. "I once knew a young boy with that same determinedness."
"Arthur." Severus coughed and pulled his robe closer. It was so bloody cold.
"Circe, no." Merlin's leaves rustled in amusement. "Bloody fool had to be pushed into everything. Quiet ambitious, but rather lazy." He stroked a branch through Severus's hair—it was oddly comforting, reminding Severus of teas and crumpets in the quiet warmth of Albus's office.
His stomach growled.
"If you're lucky a rat will wiggle its way in soon," Merlin said calmly, and Severus shuddered. "No," Merlin continued, "you're nothing like Arthur. However, you do remind me of young Godric Gryff—"
Severus stiffened. "I bloody well think not."
"He was one of my best students," Merlin snapped.
"I don't care!" Severus pulled away. "I do not in the least resemble Godric bloody Gryffindor in any form, you damned old coot."
"I despise you," Severus muttered, pulling his knees up to his chest. "Mad bastard."
Merlin only laughed harder.
"If you do not get me out of this hellhole quickly, Potter, I will be forced to commit homicide on an insane hawthorn bush."
Harry stopped in the middle of the foyer of the British Museum. "I'm bloody well working on it," he snapped and Hermione looked back him, a bundle of black silk clutched in her hands. "Jesus."
Snape tapped his foot against the shining marble floor. "At least you have the common sense to involve Granger."
Hermione put her hand on Harry's arm. "Are you all right?"
"It's just him," Harry said with a bitter glance at Snape. "Pissy old queen."
"I beg your pardon, you damned ignorant little wretch--"
Harry grinned at Hermione. "Now he's narked at me."
She sighed. "Don't, Harry." Hermione looked around hesitantly. "Sorry, Professor."
Snape snorted. "Exactly what are you idiots attempting to do?" he asked, falling into step next to Harry. His robes swung against Harry's denim-clad leg, dragging slowly through the jeans.
"Hermione's located a Merlin scholar," Harry said quietly. "Muggle, but the wizarding texts we have are all buggered up when it comes to his history, and she can’t get to the ones we need at Hogwarts without telling McGonagall why we need admittance. And Binns is no bloody use."
"He seldom is." Snape eyed Hermione, her hair swinging in front of them as she turned a corner. "And how does Granger intend to explain this?"
Harry shrugged. "If anyone can, it's her."
Snape didn't look convinced.
The office for Professor Theodore R. Neustrom was tucked away at the end of a narrow hallway, beneath a back staircase. The door was propped open with a stack of books, and music poured out into the hallway--Harry recognised the metallic clangs of Maxwell's Silver Hammer. A voice accompanied John, Paul, George and Ringo, horribly off-key.
"Oh, good God," Snape muttered in disgust, crossing his arms over his chest.
"Shut it," Harry snapped as Hermione knocked on the door. The music stopped and their was a rustle of papers, then a loud thump and a muttered fuck.
The door flew open and both Harry and Hermione blinked.
Professor Neustrom was in his early thirties, tall and lanky, with a wide, easy smile and dark brown hair that flopped into his brown eyes. He pushed up his glasses.
"You don't look like a Merlin scholar," Harry blurted out. Hermione gave him an amused look and Snape muttered oh good God again under his breath in even more disgust.
Nuestrum laughed. "So I've been told. Can I help you?"
Harry and Hermione exchanged a look.
"I hope so, sir," Hermione said, and she unwrapped the silk from around Merlin's wand, holding it out carefully. The smooth hawthorn glinted dully under the fluorescent light in the hallway; the runes shone dark and black.
Neustrom looked up at her, his eyes wide in shock. "Where'd you find that?"
"Right," Harry said and he glanced back at Snape, half-visible in the shadowed corner. "There's something we need to talk to you about. Might we come in?"
Neustrom stepped back, opening the door wide.
The Dark Lord's fingertips trailed over the smooth white curve of the Malfoy brat's jaw.
Beautiful boy. Pity he'd listened to Severus.
His fingers tightened on the boy's cold flesh, pressing the soft mouth open. "Wormtail," he snapped, and the obsequious fool scampered forward, the steaming goblet in his hands.
Without being told—he had been trained so very well, after all—Wormtail tipped the contents into the boy's open mouth as the Dark Lord leaned closer, whispering the ancient secret words of Annwn into his ear.
It took only a moment, only a few seconds, a few slow beats of a wakening heart, and the boy opened his eyes, their once bright grey faded to a dull, empty charcoal.
The Dark Lord stroked the boy's cheek. "Welcome back," he murmured, and the brat breathed out, a soft cold huff as he turned his face into the touch.
Neustrom fingered the wand, tracing the curve of runes. "It's only been legend, you see." He looked at Harry, slouched in the chair across from him, his feet propped on what looked like a box of medieval manuscripts. "Your friend found this in a cave."
Harry nodded. "And I need to know where."
"We'd ask him," Hermione said, leaning forward in her chair, her hair tumbling over her shoulder. "But he died—"
Snape shifted suddenly, and a stack of papers tumbled over. Hermione and Neustrom looked startled.
"Well there have been rumours of curses on Arthurian relics. Mad, of course," Neustrom murmured, twisting the wand between his fingers, and Snape snorted.
"I can not believe we are speaking to a Muggle about this," he breathed into Harry's ear, leaning over his shoulder and Harry jumped at the warm brush of air against his skin. It felt…odd.
Ron had done that when he'd wanted to turn Harry on.
"Shut it," he hissed and he shifted in his chair, suddenly uncomfortable. Hermione looked at him, raising her eyebrow and he jerked his head towards Snape.
"Right," Hermione said, giving Harry a small frown. "But do you know anything about the wand? Or the cave?"
“Draco Merlinus,” Neustrom said, and Harry felt Snape tense behind him. Neustrom turned the wand in his hand. “That’s what some of the manuscripts called it. Merlin’s Dragon.” He looked up, thumb tracing over the runes. “It’s also what’s written here.
“It was Merlin’s prized possession, and some say that his lover Nimue locked him in a cave of glass for eternity in an attempt to steal it from him.” Neustrom pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I’ve never quite believed that. There are older manuscripts that seem to imply that Merlin and Nimue had a rather—“ His eyes flicked towards Hermione and he flushed a bit. “—enjoyably intimate relationship. May-December romance, of course. She was quite a bit younger than him and his apprentice-- student if you will--to boot.”
Harry glanced at Snape; he glared back at Harry, mouth a thin line. “Don’t even, Potter,” he snapped under his breath and Harry bit back a grin.
“Most of what we know comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth,” Neustrom continued, “who took the stories of Myrddin Wyllt, a madman—“
“That,” Snape muttered, “I can bloodywell confirm.”
“—and combined them with legends of a warlord to form what we know as the Arthurian legend.” Neustrom set the wand on his desk. "Or the Matter of Britain as Jean Bodel called it."
“So are there any theories on where Nimue imprisoned him?” Hermione asked.
Neustrom shrugged. “Any number of places perhaps. She’s quite well associated with Avalon and there are scholars who think that might have been located in the Isle of Man, or possibly Brittany. The French influenced a great number of our Arthurian legends.”
Snape choked; Harry turned his head quickly, looking at him. His former professor was trying to say something but the words were catching in his throat.
“Brittany?” Harry asked and Snape's eyes met his, dark and intense. Yes. Harry nodded.
"Yes." Neustrom gave him a curious look. "Although the Isle of Man is the location most scholars prefer at the moment."
"Idiots," Snape muttered; Harry choked back a laugh.
Neustrom coughed and leaned forward. "Look, what exactly are you lot up to? I won't be involved in perpetuating a hoax—"
Harry pulled his wand out of his pocket and sighed. "Terribly sorry to do this, but I think we've what we need."
"Here now—" Neustrom's eyes widened and he pushed away from his desk. "What's this about—" He blinked as the Obliviation hit him, his eyelashes fluttering against his cheek. "Is there something I can help you with?" he asked pleasantly.
Merlin's wand was in Hermione's hands, and she wrapped it up again, giving him a bright smile. "No, thank you, but I rather think you'd like a pot of tea down at the shop right now, don't you?"
"Tea." Neustrom looked at her blankly and then nodded. "Yes, I think perhaps I might." He slid a worn leather jacket on. "You'll lock up then."
Hermione nodded and pushed him towards the door. "No worries. Oh, and I hear the currant scones are quite nice."
"Scones." Neustrom ambled down the hall. "I think that'd be lovely, yes."
Hermione turned back to Harry. He blinked. "Right. That should give us a few minutes before it wears off a least." She pointed towards the bookcase, crammed with thick Muggle studies on Arthur and Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table as well as copies of medieval manuscripts. "Anything that looks like it might be useful take. The older the better. It's more likely to have wizarding roots." She pulled open Neustrom's desk drawers and looked up at Harry who was still staring at her. "Come on, Harry," she snapped. "We've not much time."
"Impressive," Snape said, watching Hermione rifle through Neustrom's papers. "Almost Slytherin, and it does grieve me to admit that."
Harry shook his head and turned to the bookcases.
Life had become bizarrely surreal.
"Why are you helping me?" Snape asked and Harry put aside his quill. A topographical map of Brittany was spread across the table, possible locations for the cave's entrance marked.
Harry closed the book next to his elbow, rubbing at an ink stain on his thumb. "Why are you asking me to help you?"
Snape looked away. "I don't have much of a choice."
"Neither do I." Harry sighed and reached for the bottle of whisky in the corner of the desk.
Harry looked up at Snape, curiously. He flickered in and out, before his hand curled over Harry's, firm and strong and warm and Harry's stomach twisted. They looked at each other, dark eyes meeting green, and Snape glanced away first.
"You're better than that," Snape said roughly and then his hand was gone, but Harry's skin still burned, his cheeks were still flushed.
Harry sat back in his chair. "Sometimes it's the only thing that helps," he said softly. He ran a hand through his hair. "He died because of me, you know."
"Yes," Snape said simply, and relief rushed through Harry at the quiet agreement, rather than the usual denials, the usual sympathies. Snape knew.
"There are times," Snape continued, not looking at Harry, "that I ask myself how very different things might have been. Should I have made other choices."
Harry was silent a moment. "I saw you kill Dumbledore," he said finally.
"Yes." Snape paced in front of the hearth. The fire flickered faintly through his robe. "He was dying."
Harry nodded. "I figured that out. Eventually." He picked up his quill, twisted it between his fingers. "He asked you to kill him."
"To prevent Draco from being forced to." Snape's face softened slightly in the firelight and Harry breathed out. "I hated them both for that."
"No, you didn't."
Snape looked at him then, his arms crossed tightly over his chest, his hair falling lankly over his pale cheek. "No," he said quietly.
Harry nodded. "Sometimes I think I hate Ron for being so bloody loyal. For not telling me what a fucking stupid idea it was—"
"It was quite," Snape said. "You had the proper surveillance."
"Yeah." Harry slumped in his chair. He blinked hard against the familiar burn, rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. Fuck. He missed Ron so goddamn much.
The room was quiet, the only the sound the crackle and pop of the log in the fire.
Snape sighed finally. "There are things that are unchangeable, Potter." He looked up at him, and the emptiness in his dark eyes was so bloody familiar. "Things that were meant to happen."
"Maybe," Harry murmured.
"You can't bring him back," Snape snapped, whirling on Harry, leaning over the desk, his palms flattened against the map. It crinkled under his palms. "So crawl out of the bloody whisky bottle and do something."
A swipe of Snape's hand and the whisky bottle flew across the room, shattering against the wall. Glass scattered across the wood floor, whisky pooled in the dust.
Harry blinked, breathing hard.
"Revenge, Potter," Snape said tightly, his eyes gleaming, mouth a thin line, "is a beautiful, beautiful thing."
Harry breathed in, his eyes caught by Snape's. The wand burned in his pocket, hot and heavy against his hip, and he could feel it through the denim of his jeans. Revenge.
The word echoed in his mind. Revenge.
And then Harry knew. Everything was so clear. So very damned clear, flowing into his mind, a twist of memories and thoughts and pefect visions of stones and hills and lakes and a long narrow crack on the side of cliff.
Harry nodded slowly. "Revenge," he whispered, and Snape smiled.
Hermione handed Harry his broom. "You're certain about this?" She glanced back at the kitchen door of Grimmauld Place, half open in the darkness. The back garden was empty, the earth cold underneath her bare feet.
"Yeah." Harry fastened the clasp of his cloak.
"I don't trust him," she said, wrapping her arms around herself, pulling her bathrobe tighter. "He's Snape."
"And he'll give me Voldemort." Harry tucked the broom beneath his arm. "It'll be fine, Hermione."
"I should be going with you." She didn't like him going off on his own. It was mad, really, and she knew Harry knew it.
He stopped then and he looked at her—really looked at her for the first time in months. "I have to do this," Harry said quietly. His eyes gleamed in the moonlight, and she shivered. She knew that look.
Hermione touched Harry's cheek. "All right then," she whispered, and she hugged him tightly, fiercely, as if she could pour her entire soul into the emptiness in his. "Just promise me you'll be careful."
"Always," Harry said into her hair, and she felt his quick kiss before he stepped back and, with a faint smile, Apparated.
The garden was cold. Empty.
Hermione sighed and turned, her bare feet carrying her back into the kitchen. She closed the door behind her, warding it shut.
"Everything all right?"
Hermione whirled around. Marietta Edgecombe leaned against the counter, a teakettle rattling on the stove next to her. She regarded Hermione with cool eyes.
"Yes, thanks." Hermione tucked an errant curl behind her ear. "Everything's fine. I didn't realise you'd stayed the night."
Marietta took the kettle off the burner, tapping the heat down with her wand. She frowned as she poured the boiling water into a teapot. "Cho and I worked late tonight, and then I couldn't sleep. Thought perhaps a bit of milk and tea might help. Would you care to join me?"
Hermione felt a twist of unease curl around her spine. She wasn't certain why. Perhaps the steady way Marietta was looking at her. "Thanks but no. I should get to bed myself—"
A wand at the back her neck stopped her before she could push open the door. "I'm rather afraid not, Hermione," Marietta said calmly, and Hermione felt her muscles clench, tighten as the Petrificus Totalus curled around her limbs. Marietta caught her before she hit the floor. "You see, we've a call to pay, I think."
Blackness twisted through Hermione's vision, and she tried to cry out, her mouth barely shifting, the scream caught in her throat.
Breathing was growing harder.
Severus could barely move now; even shifting his leg a few centimetres required great effort. Roots were already curling around his ankles, small tendrils of hawthorn that threatened to creep up his legs. To imprison him, body and soul.
Hawthorn leaves scraped over his forehead, a careful, gentle touch. "Fight it," Merlin murmured. "You've a strong mind, lad. It's your—our—only hope. Use it."
Severus didn't have the energy to protest.
He closed his eyes, pushing outwards with his mind. God help him. He was relying on Harry bloody Potter.
Harry pushed open the door to the inn. It was dark and dirty and the fires that burned in the common room hearths didn't touch the corners of the room.
He wasn't entirely certain why he was here. He'd just followed his instincts, let his mind turn his broom towards this ramshackle inn on the side of Lake Guerledan. He hadn't even known it was here until he'd landed.
"I need a room," he said to the blonde girl setting a pint in front of a hunchbacked old dwarf and she looked at him curiously for a moment before nodding.
He followed her up the stairs, and when she paused in front of a battered doorframe, he had the oddest feeling of déjà vu.
The girl pushed the door open. "Not much," she said, and then she followed with a string of French that made Harry's head spin.
"I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I don't understand."
She bit her lip and nodded. "The other English," she said carefully, as if speaking to a slow child, "you know?" She made a sour face, crossing her arms in front of her chest, and Harry had to laugh at the mimicry.
"Yes," he said, and things were beginning to fall into place. He could almost feel Snape moving in the back of his mind. Almost but not quite. "How did you know?"
The girl smiled. "Not many English this often."
“Were you born here?” Harry asked curiously.
“Oui. And ma mère and sa mère and sa mère before her. For many years back we live by the lake." She bent over the fire, stoking it, and then she looked over at Harry, her hair tumbling forward, the fire warming her pale cheeks. "Le garçon était malade." At Harry's bewildered look she coughed dramatically.
"Sick," Harry said. "Yes. He was." He looked away. "He died."
"Non." The girl's brows drew together. "How?"
Harry hesitated, then he sat on the edge of the bed. "It was my fault, I think. I suggested the raid."
She just looked at him. Harry shook his head. "Survivor's guilt, perhaps," he murmured. "That's what Hermione'd say." He looked up at the girl. "He was killed by a curse. There's a war—"
"Oui," the girl said cutting him off sharply. She glanced at the doorway. "Always. Never stopping." A shadow crossed her face, and she suddenly seemed older than her years, ancient almost. Harry blinked, and then she turned her head and the moment was gone.
"Careful," she whispered, and she touched Harry's arm, her fingers curling warmly over his skin. He shivered. "Always."
She was gone then, the door closing with a quiet snick behind her, and Harry was left staring at the empty room.
Hermione was trussed up, rough ropes wrapped tightly around her wrists and ankles, holding her spread against a cold, stone wall. It was dark in the room, and there were rustles and squeaks in the shadows and the occasional gleam of bright eyes that quickly disappeared.
She breathed out slowly, testing her bonds. She could move, but barely, and each shift of her body sent pain wrenching through her limbs.
Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. She closed her eyes. This wasn't happening. It wasn't.
She calmed herself. Right. They'd realise she was gone soon enough. They'd come after her, she knew they would. Remus and Tonks and Kinsgley and the Weasleys. They'd not let anything happen to her.
Harry wouldn't let anything happen to her.
He'd promised, just after Ron had died. He been pissed and in tears, and he'd come to her and promised that she'd always be safe. He'd always protect her. Always.
Hermione blinked hard, her eyes wet and burning. Harry'd blame himself for this too. She knew he would. Which was just another reason she'd have to find some way out of here. She wouldn't do that to him.
The door slammed open, spilling warm light from the corridor across the worn cobblestones of the floor.
Voldemort swept into the room, his robe trailing behind him. Hermione stiffened in her bindings, her heart catching in her throat. Her fingers curled, nails digging into the balls of her palms. She lifted her chin. Show no fear, Granger, she told herself firmly. And block your mind, whatever you do.
He came to a stop in front of her, tilting his head to one side. His eyes gleamed red, the slits of his nostrils flared wide. "Miss Granger," he said, and she barely kept from flinching when he trailed a warm, scaly finger across her cheek.
She hated snakes.
There was a hiss at her feet, and she looked down to see Nagini slither across the room, her long sinuous body undulating across the floor.
"Miss Edgecombe tells me you've information to share." Voldemort's fingers tightened painfully on her chin, lifting it.
"No," Hermione snapped and she gritted her teeth as Voldemort's nails dug into her skin. "She's bloody mad."
"Perhaps." Voldmort dropped his hand, and he smiled at her.
"I believe," he said softly, his breath gusting across her cheek, "that you've something to tell me about young Harry's whereabouts?"
"Fuck off," Hermione spat out, and she turned her head, breathing hard.
Voldemort's hand slammed across her jaw, knocking her back into the wall, and Hermione could feel the hot spread of blood through her hair. The room spun; she bit her lip against the rush of pain.
"Nagini," Voldemort said sharply, and then he spat sibilant hisses that settled heavy and tight in Hermione's stomach. The snake slithered out of the room, curling around the doorjamb, and Voldemort turned back to Hermione.
He slid a palm down her throat, over her breast, and Hermione shuddered as his fingers stroked over the terrycloth bathrobe, then slid beneath it, under the thin cotton of her nightgown. "There are ways to break you."
She looked at him then, and curled her bottom lip. "How very cliché of you." She kept still, her eyes meeting his, her chin high. "You'd think you'd be a bit more original. Rape's so bloody overused as a torture method. I'm disappointed."
His fingernails scraped over her breast, slicing through her flesh like knives, and she nearly cried out at the pain. Voldemort pulled his hand back, his fingertips bloody, and he shook the thin curls of skin off his nails.
"Better?" He sounded amused.
Tears ran down Hermione's face. "Go to hell," she choked out as footsteps approached, heavy and loud, echoing down the hallway.
A shadow turned the corner, a flash of blond hair, and Hermione's breath caught.
"You're dead," she said before she caught herself and Voldemort laughed.
Draco Malfoy stared at her, eyes blank, dull as Voldemort slid his fingers through his hair. Draco didn't speak, didn't move, didn't bloody breathe it looked like.
"Quite lovely, isn't he?" Voldemort looked over at her, his mouth curved in a gruesome imitation of a smile. "A version of the Inferi charm. My own creation. None of the boy's spirit, I'm afraid, nor his memories, but a rather lovely reanimation, wouldn't you say? I'm quite certain Severus will appreciate it." His eyes narrowed into thin red slits. "When I find him."
Hermione couldn't take her eyes off Draco, silent and empty. Not even Malfoy deserved this. No one did. "You're a sick bastard," she said slowly, her throat tight.
"Indeed." Voldemort touched her cheek again; she felt the sticky slickness of her blood on his fingertips. "But you see, I'm not entirely predicable, Miss Granger. I've no intention of causing you harm. I far prefer watching." He snapped his fingers. "Draco."
"Don't," Hermione said, staring at what used to be Draco as he moved forward, almost jerkily. Somehow she could get through to him. She knew she could. Somehow. There had to be a way. "Draco. Don't—"
"I'm afraid he's entirely unlikely to listen to you, Miss Granger."
Draco's fist slammed against Hermione's jaw.
Voldemort's laugh echoed in the chamber, ringing in Hermione's ears as pain exploded everywhere.
Harry set his half-eaten bowl of stew next to the nearly empty bottle of firewhisky and stretched his feet out before the warm fire. His little toe peeked through a hole in one bright orange sock, and a knitted Snitch zipped over the fraying seam.
Ron had given them to him on his last birthday. It'd been a bit of a joke between them. Harry blinked hard, the familiar burn welling up in his eyes again.
Bloody fucking Cannons.
"So very strange to be here again," Snape said quietly behind him, and Harry turned his head, unsurprised. He was growing used to the bastard's sudden appearances.
Snape stood next to the bed, his fingers tracing lightly over the white matalesse coverlet. His hair fell forward, obscuring his face, but Harry didn't need to see his expression. He knew.
All too well.
"You miss him," he said.
Snape didn't look up. "Yes."
Harry sighed and curled his feet up underneath him. The chair shifted and creaked. "Me too. Er. Ron that is, not Malfoy--I mean it's not that I wouldn't if I were, you know, I reckon you, but with me it's Ron and, well..." He trailed off, face warm. "I reckon I'm just trying to say I get it."
Snape glanced at him then, and Harry could almost swear he saw the slightest hint of a faint smile curve his thin mouth before it was gone. "I'm not an idiot, Potter."
"I know." Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I'm not very good at being tactful."
"You never were." Snape moved across the room, quick and silent as a ghost and it was odd to see the flash of bed and hearth through the sweep of his black robe. Sometimes Harry almost forgot he wasn't really here.
He watched as Snape crouched next to the hearth, staring into the fire. He didn't understand his former professor. Sometimes he thought he never would. And then sometimes...Harry shook his head. There was a familiarity about Snape. Something Harry recognised in his eyes. Behind the sneer, behind the derision, behind the bitterness.
He'd felt it, pouring through them the other night, matching his own.
It made Snape human. Made him real in a way that he'd never been in school. And Harry wondered where it came from. Part of it was new, yeah. He'd felt that, understood it. But part of it was old. Really old. And Harry understood that too.
Maybe it was that he was older. Maybe it was the bloody war. Maybe it was just losing Ron--Harry's throat tightened. Maybe it was too damned much firewhisky. But, watching Snape stretch his hands out to the fire, pale skin warmed to a soft gold by the flickering flames, the last remnants of anger Harry had clung to so desperately after Dumbledore's death faded.
They weren't so very different right now, he and Snape.
Harry was silent for a moment. "It's not easy," he said finally, leaning forward, his hands clasped between his knees. "I still wake up nights from dreams where it happens again. I don't even know where the curse came from--I just saw it hit him, all that green light, and then he was gone before I could even get to him. Just staring up at me. I never got to say goodbye--and isn't that so bloody trite?" He laughed, and then his voice caught; he stared down at his hands, at the way his thumb rubbed circles over his knuckle. "The fuck of it is that it makes it harder that I didn't."
Harry looked up. Snape had wrapped his arms around himself; he scowled into the flickering flames.
"It's not easier," Snape said, jaw tight. "Letting go at that moment is the worst experience one can imagine. And I can assure you, Potter, I have been through quite a few horrors in my life."
Harry chewed on his bottom lip. "Did you love him?"
"What concern is that of yours?" Snape asked wearily, and he ran a hand over his face.
"Did you?" The words came out again before Harry could stop them.
Snape's fingers clenched in the dark wool of his sleeves. The silence stretched out; the tick of the clock on the mantel echoed in the room, and Harry expected at any moment Snape would just disappear.
"I could have allowed myself to," Snape said finally. "Perhaps, in my own way, I did."
Harry nodded. "I loved Ron. Before he died, Hermione's the only one who ever knew that." He caught his bottom lip between his teeth. "The others, they've figured it out by now, I reckon."
"Given how you appear to have crawled into a bottle," Snape said with a pointed glare at the firewhisky, "I would not be surprised."
Harry felt his cheeks flush. "How else do you deal with it?" he snapped. "I just don't want to think--"
"And how bloody dangerous is that, you imbecile?" Snape's eyes glittered in the firelight. "You are in the middle of a war, Potter; one which--God help us all--requires you to win. There is no time for self-indulgent grief at the moment--"
"Fuck you." Harry's hands tightened into fists. "You don't know--"
"I watched the Dark Lord kill my mother as punishment for my mistake," Snape spat out. "I was barely older than you."
Harry took a shaky breath. "You..." He trailed off.
Snape looked away. "I know of what I speak, Potter," he said after a moment.
The fire crackled, and the chair creaked again as Harry pulled one knee up to his chest. Shadows stretched across the hearth; Harry could feel the rough scratch of denim underneath his palms. "How do we go on?"
"Idiot." Snape turned, sat on the hearth. He leaned against the fireplace, his head falling back against the soot-stained stones. "There's no other choice," he said, a frown twisting his mouth. "You might as well ask how you continue to draw breath." His eyes met Harry's. "They are the same question, after all."
Harry rubbed his thumb over his knee, pulled at a small tear in his jeans. It widened, threads fraying. His finger smoothed across the small patch of exposed skin. "I feel responsible," he said finally. "For all of them. My parents, Ron, Draco--"
"You hold no responsibility for him," Snape said flatly. He stared up into the dark shadows of the ceiling. "That is mine alone."
Harry sucked at his bottom lip. He could taste the faint tang of blood from his cut lip. It was still faintly swollen from Snape's punch days ago. Bastard had a hell of an uppercut. "It was my idea for the raid."
Snape glared at him. "The world does not revolve around you, Potter. While I realise common intelligence is at times a stretch for your feeble mental faculties, do attempt to remember that."
"Sod off," Harry said, but he smiled faintly.
Snape snorted and stretched his hands back out to the fire. Harry watched the flames gleam through Snape's palms, turning them red-pink. If he squinted, he could see the outlines of the log in the grate.
"Can you feel it?" he asked after a moment. "The heat?"
Snape turned his palms over. "For brief moments," he said. "It flickers in and out."
Harry slid off the chair, settling onto the hearth next to Snape. He looked over at Harry, his eyes dark, shadowed. "What the hell are you doing, Potter?"
Merlin's wand was heavy in Harry's hand. He set it between them; it rolled against his thigh, a warm burn through Harry's jeans. "I want to try something."
He held out a hand.
Snape eyed him skeptically. "What?"
"God, and you talk about me being thick." Harry reached for Snape's hand; his fingers slid through his palm. A chill ran down his spine. It was like walking through Nearly Headless Nick. Almost. Not quite as cold, though. "Come on then. Give it here."
Snape scowled. "This is idiotic--"
"Just shut it and try." Harry pressed his palm against the cool mistiness of Snape's. "Close your eyes."
"I most certainly am not--"
"Close them," Harry said firmly, and Snape's mouth snapped shut. He glared at Harry.
"Bloody little prick," he muttered, but he closed his eyes. "Well?"
"Give it a moment." Harry wasn't certain what he was testing. He didn't even think it was about that. It was just--there was a certain comfort in touch, he'd learned--Ron'd taught him that much in the easy way he draped his arm around Harry's neck during the worst of it all before Harry'd even kissed him that first time.
Harry needed to be touched right now, needed desperately to feel something human, something warm, and he thought, maybe, perhaps, that Snape might too.
"Think about him," Harry said quietly and Snape tensed, pulling back. "Don't...just try, all right?" He looked into Snape's dark eyes. "We both need this, all right?"
Snape hesitated, a muscle in his cheek twitching, and then he closed his eyes again, with a murmured this is utterly insane.
Harry knew the minute it happened, saw the shift in Snape's face, the furrow of pain in his brow that quickly smoothed out. He closed his own eyes, pressed his hand against the palm firming beneath his, growing warmer, and he gathered himself, opened his mind, shoved roughly past Snape's Occlumens.
The memories flashed past him, and Harry didn't stop to look at them. That wasn't the point of it. Instead he let his own memories rush out, Ron laughing at him, teasing him, holding him tight on the nights he couldn't sleep, Ron, always Ron. Good memories, bad memories, arguments, kisses, moments stolen alone, away from everyone else. Grief, happiness, regret, love...I know all this too, his mind whispered, I know you miss him; God, how I know; I'm so sorry... and he let them twist through Snape's memories, and his fingers curled tighter around Snape's, hot and damp, and he felt Snape's fingernails bite into his skin as he clutched Harry's hand, holding on.
Harry opened his eyes; his throat ached.
Snape was staring at him, eyes wide and dark and glittering, and his hand was solid, firm, fingers twined through Harry's, knuckles white.
And then he was gone, and Harry was alone, on his knees on the hearth, his hand still sore, tiny red half-moons dug deep into his skin.
He reached for the bottle of firewhisky with shaking hands.
Severus was trembling, his body flinching as he
tried to push himself up. Roots twisting over his hips, up around his waist,
his rib cage held him captive. He could smell the sharp scent of hawthorn sap,
could feel the prickle of leaves over his skin, the raw rub of bark.
He opened his eyes. New growth had started to wrap around him, pressing him against the cold crystal of the cave. He lifted his hand to push at it; his breath caught. His skin was wrinkled, pale, almost translucent. He could see the arteries running beneath, could see the bones.
"Bloody fuck," he whispered, the words twisting in his raw throat.
The hawthorn bush next to him rustled. "You're back then. It's taken a bit of a turn for the worse."
"That would be an understatement," Severus choked out, and Merlin snorted.
"Still a bit of fight left in you, I'd say." A branch brushed over his forehead, across his hair. "Good."
Severus breathed out slowly, letting the air seep out of his lungs before inhaling again. “I’m dying,” he said, quite stupidly he thought, but it was all that echoed in his mind.
Oddly he had no desire to die
Strange that. He’d always assumed when the moment came he’d embrace it. Welcome it. Quiet at last, and solitude, and an empty dark peace for which he’d ached.
He could feel Potter, could still see the memories the brat had flooded through Severus’s consciousness.
And then there was another voice, soft and lilting and light in his mind. A woman, and Severus knew he’d heard her before but he didn’t know how or when or why, but her voice brought him up short.
The wand, she whispered, and Severus could almost feel the damp warmth of her breath against his ear, could almost smell her, earthen and watery. The wand can help you.
He turned his head. Cool fingers brushed his cheek, wet weeds trailed over his throat. He could see her, barely, white robe cinched tight around her thin waist, blonde hair braided and coiled around her head.
She smiled at him and Severus could see how Merlin, old fool that he was, had been enchanted by her.
Use it, he heard her say. Help the boy. Brothers battle one another and create a net trapping them both. But a parent breaks both.
“That’s nonsense,” Severus snapped at her, and she laughed, the rush of waves against a shoreline.
Not so much, she said, and her fingers brushed his hair back from his forehead. He loved you so very much, you realise. He only did what I required of him.
Severus stared up at her. She looked over at the hawthorn bush, and her eyes clouded, her face softened. What must be done must be done, though.
“What are you on about?” Merlin asked, his branches ruffling in annoyance. “What’s nonsense?”
Severus blinked. She was gone.
Brothers battle one another.
“I think,” he said tightly, “that you’d best tell me about your wand.”
Hermione had never felt such intense pain in her life.
She could taste blood in the back of her throat, on her lips, could feel it crusted and thick in her hair, on her eyelids, down her neck.
One eye was swollen shut, and her arms ached, stretched high above her head, wrists tied with rough rope. She dangled in the middle of the room, shoulders dislocated and throbbing, her toes barely touching the filthy stone floor.
On her last drop from the ceiling, she had begged them to stop.
Voldemort circled her, a faint smile on his pale face, Nagini draped over his shoulders; Draco stood in the corner, staring blankly at her, his eyes dark and clouded, arms crossed over his chest. Her blood was drying on his hands.
She could feel Voldemort in her mind, pushing, pushing, pushing, and she tried to shove him out, tried so bloody hard the way the Order had taught her to do, but she hurt and all she could think of was the pain.
He touched her face, and Nagini slid over his arm, onto her shoulders, and Hermione couldn't stop the whimper that escaped as the snake coiled around her throat, her warm, blunt snout pressing against Hermione's ear, tongue flicking at her skin.
And then he was there, sliding through her memories with a quiet hiss that made her shudder and tense.
Ron. And Harry. And the battle and her guilt and her anger and how she'd hated Harry at first, so much, until she'd realised how broken he was, how empty, and then he was drinking, drinking, drinking always until Snape and the wand--the wand--Merlin's wand--Brittany—Guerledan--
"Well," Voldemort said quietly, and she was collapsed on the floor, Nagini still looped around her shoulders, and she wouldn't cry, she wouldn't except the tears were already hot against her skin.
"Draco," she heard him say, "I've an errand for you in France, it seems."
The snake tightened around her throat, warm and heavy, and Hermione sank into blackness.
"Get up, Potter."
Harry rolled over, pulling the coverlet up over his head in the vain hope that Snape would take the hint and go the bloody hell away. It was the middle of the sodding night, for Christ's sake--
"I said get up."
Harry pushed the coverlet down and glared at the half-formed figure scowling at him from the foot of the bed. His head swam when he sat up; he grabbed at it. He shouldn't have had that last glass or two of whisky.
"Do you know what time it is?" he croaked, reaching for his glasses. He slid them on; the room focused. Snape looked rather narked. Harry sighed.
"I've no time for you to waste," Snape snapped. "Get up. We need to talk."
Harry swore and threw the coverlet back, sliding out of bed. He was naked; the room'd been hot and he'd been alone--
"For God's sake put on some clothes." Snape's cheeks flamed; he looked away.
"Serves you bloody right," Harry muttered, picking up his jeans from the floor. He slid them on, fastening them halfway. "Fine. I'm dressed."
Snape glowered at him.
Harry frowned back, crossing his arms over his bare chest. "Are you going to talk now, or just stare at me?"
Snape looked away again, flushing. "The wand. I've discovered--"
The door to Harry's room flew open.
Jeannette was in the doorway, wand drawn, and Harry was on his feet, his own wand pointing at her. "What the hell is going on?"
She looked between him and Snape and Harry's breath caught.
"You must go," she said softly. "Maintenant."
"You can see him." Harry stared at her. "How--"
"My family watches." Jeannette threw his t-shirt across the room at him. "Je t'en prie, viens avec moi."
"I don't think so," Harry said, his fingers tightening on his wand. "I don't know you--"
"Do what she says, Potter." Snape was looking at the girl, his eyes dark and intense.
She nodded at him. "You know."
Harry looked between them, confused. "He knows what?"
"Oui." Snape didn't take his eyes off of her. "You resemble her."
Jeanette tilted her head slightly. Her blonde hair fell forward, over her shoulder. "The lake is our home. Our responsibility."
"And Merlin?" Snape's mouth tightened.
"Our responsibility aussi," she said calmly, and Harry looked sharply at Snape. Merlin's wand burned in the pocket of his jeans, heavy and hot. Snape met his eyes, nodded.
Harry pulled his t-shirt over his head. "What the hell," he muttered.
There were footsteps on the stairs, and Jeannette glanced back at the door. "Merde." She looked back at them. "No time. Come." She caught Harry's hand and pulled him after her.
They'd barely made it to the end of the hallway when the first curse struck the paneling above their heads. A warning shot, Harry knew, and he whirled around, wand out, just as Snape breathed in sharply.
Malfoy stood at the end of the hall, moonlight from the leaded window at the top of the stairs gleaming in his blond hair.
His face was shadowed; his skin almost grey in the darkness. He stepped forward, boots clattering against the worn wooden floor.
Snape's face was pale; his hand shook. "My God," he whispered.
"You're dead," Harry said, holding his wand out, and Malfoy's eyes flicked between him and Jeanette before settling on Snape behind them.
Malfoy moved closer, silent. His robe swirled around his dirty boots, and his fingers were filthy, stained dark--
Blood, Harry realised, and his throat tightened.
"Inferi," Jeannette murmured and she cast a glance back at Snape before leaning closer to Harry. "He may try to stop--"
"No," Snape said, voice rough. Harry looked back at him. He was staring at Malfoy, mouth a thin line. "That's not my Draco. My Draco is dead," he said, raising his voice and Malfoy stopped in the middle of the hallway, his wand still pointing at them. "Dead. I set him free myself."
Snape pushed past Harry, his robe sliding through Harry's arm. Harry didn't think he'd ever quite get used to that.
"Dead," Snape said again, and he was in front of Malfoy, his fingers touching Malfoy's face. "I let you go."
Harry gripped his wand, his jaw clenching, his body tense, waiting. All it would take would be one word from Snape, Harry knew, and he'd be dead--
Malfoy looked up at Snape, and his eyes were empty, dull. Snape's fingers curled under Malfoy's jaw, tilting his head back. Blond hair spilled across his shoulders. "You're dead," Snape said, almost gently, staring into Malfoy's eyes, and Harry's heart pounded for long moment, a drawn-out thump-thump against his chest.
Until something flickered in Malfoy's eyes, and Harry didn't know what to call it, didn't know what it was, but Malfoy touched Snape's cheek and whispered please.
Snape's jaw twitched and he nodded slowly as Malfoy closed his eyes, and Harry could see his fingers grow firmer, pressing into Malfoy's skin, digging into the flesh of his throat, and he whispered something Harry couldn't quite make out.
Malfoy exploded into dust, sparkling and bright, drifting in the air until a small cloud formed, then twisted in on itself faster and faster, growing smaller and smaller.
It disappeared with a crack.
Harry's ragged breaths echoed in the sudden silence.
"Snape," he whispered, and after a moment, Snape turned, walking past him and Jeannette.
"We have work to do," he said tightly. "His Lordship will send others when Draco doesn't return."
Harry followed them both, with a backwards glance at the empty hallway.
"What do you mean he has Hermione?" Harry dropped down on a stretch of grass in Hyde Park. He'd Apparated three times after Jeannette had led them out of the inn through a back passage. Snape had insisted he walk half a mile before Apparating the first time, staggering the Apparitions across the Continent in order to make tracking far more difficult.
He was bloody exhausted.
Harry put his head between his knees, taking deep gulps of air. He could see Snape's boots between his legs, one foot tapping impatiently against the ground. Bloody fuck.
"Exactly what I said, Potter." Snape sounded irritated. Harry supposed he didn't entirely blame him. "There was enough left of Draco's mind to--" He broke off.
Harry looked up. Snape was staring across the moonlit park, his face closed off, mouth a thin line. Harry hesitated, then brushed his fingertips across the toes of Snape's boots. He could almost feel them.
"You'll have to use the wand," Snape said at last. "Not your own. Using your wand against His Lordship's will only cause a repeat of your fourth year." He shot a glare at Harry. "Need I point out how useless that would be?"
"I'd rather avoid it myself," Harry said with a shrug. "So why will Merlin's work?"
"Because of the core." Snape paced in front of Harry, his robe swinging around the tops of his boots. Harry could see a long tear in the hem. "Your wand and the Dark Lord's share feathers from the same phoenix."
"And?" Harry ran a hand through his hair. "That explains nothing--"
"If you would allow me to finish," Snape said coldly and Harry sighed. "Fawkes had a father. Who also gave a feather to be used in a wand."
Harry blinked. "Merlin's."
Snape inclined his head to one side.
Elation twisted through Harry. "So Merlin's wand could defeat either of ours because a parent--"
"Trumps a child, yes." Snape looked somewhat pleased. "You're not entirely an idiot, I suppose."
Harry pushed himself off the ground. "And you know where to find him. And Hermione."
"Yes." Snape hesitated. “A place called Mons Badonicus.”
"Then we're wasting time." Harry dusted his knees off. "I think I'm good for another go."
Sometimes Gregory knew things.
He wasn't certain how, except that Mummy said it was because her great-great-grandmother had been a Seer, so there was a bit of it in the blood perhaps.
It wasn't as if he could see the future—he'd barely made his Divinations OWL after all. But sometimes, when he wasn't thinking about much of anything at all, just letting his mind drift, he had these feelings. Pricklings under his skin, in his head. Warnings.
He'd learned to trust them. They'd kept him alive so far in the war, and he thought that was pretty good odds, all things considered.
Gregory shifted against the wall. It was creepy down here. Even Lumos charms didn't dispel all the gloom and darkness, and he hated being sent down to guard the outer wall. People occasionally disappeared on this stretch, and whether it was Aurors or Dementors having a bit of a snack, no one was certain. The Dementors certainly weren't telling. The fact of the matter was Gregory wasn't so keen on being a Death Eater really. Not that he'd ever say that to Father. He'd be cuffed so hard he hit the floor again, and Gregory preferred to avoid pain whenever possible. It's one of the reasons he'd liked Draco so much. Father never slapped him about when Draco was around.
Draco. That was part of the prickling this time, he knew. Something wasn't right there, and Gregory still thought it was pretty bloody bad form to bring someone back to life unless they wanted to be, and Draco hadn't really seemed like he wanted to be.
His eyes had made Gregory uneasy. They'd been so empty.
Draco's eyes were never like that.
But there was more to the prickling. He shifted again, chewing on his bottom lip.
There was a sharp crack—the shattering of wards—and Gregory looked up just as a wand was pressed against his throat.
The prickling exploded across his skin.
"What the hell do you want me to do with him?" a voice whispered. "Leave him here to sound an alarm?" There was a pause and then “Christ. Fine.”
Gregory was turned around roughly and shoved against the wall. Potter stood in front of him, eyes bright and angry. Gregory blinked.
"Where is she?"
Gregory just stared at him, and Potter's arm dug into his throat, painfully.
"I said where is she?"
Granger, his mind supplied for him and Gregory breathed a sigh of relief. Right. "Down the hall, three doors on the left."
Potter looked at him suspiciously. "How do I know he's telling the truth?" he asked someone who wasn't standing there, Gregory was certain. He eyed him nervously. Bad enough that His Lordship was a bit off his nut; he'd rather not Potter be as well.
"Walk," Potter snapped at him, pushing him forward. "You're going to take us to her."
Gregory stumbled, caught himself on the wall.
This, he thought, was probably not a good thing.
His skin prickled more.
Harry wasn't expecting what he saw when Goyle pushed open the cell door.
The room was dark; Hermione lay crumpled in a corner, curled on a small mattress. Her hair was matted with blood, bruises covered her face, her throat.
"Christ," Harry choked out, and her eyelids fluttered slightly.
He shoved Goyle against the wall; securing him with Incarcerous. The idiot barely protested. A flick of Harry's wand and Goyle was unconscious, a gagging charm blocking his mouth.
Snape crouched down beside Hermione. "She's hurt badly." Snape's fingertips grazed her temple. "Fractured skull, heavy bleeding—" He looked at Harry. "She's dying, Potter."
"No, she's not." Harry jerked his t-shirt off, balled it up. He slid it under Hermione's head. She opened her eyes, looking at him dully, blankly and then she lifted a shaking hand and touched his cheek.
"Sorry," she whispered, her mouth barely moving. Harry had to lean forward to hear. "I tried—"
Harry's throat tightened. "Hush," he murmured, brushing her hair back from her forehead. "We're going to get you out—"
"Him first," Hermione said. "Harry." She coughed, her face twisting in pain. "Kill him."
"She's right." Snape was looking at him, eyes dark.
Harry glared at him. "I'm not leaving her here—I won't lose her—"
"You don't have a choice," Snape snapped. "Her or the Dark Lord, Potter. You can't have them both—"
"Fuck you," Harry said tightly. "I won't—"
Hermione's fingers curled around his wrist. "Kill him." Her eyes burned up at him. "Kill him for me and for Ron and for Sirius and for your parents." Her hand fell back against the mattress. "Please."
Harry drew a ragged breath. Every part of his being was screaming at him to pick her up, to Apparate away with her, to take her to St Mungo's, to not fail her the way he'd failed Ron.
Slowly, he stood up, and his cheeks were warm and wet. "I'll come back," he whispered, and he turned away, hating himself.
"Harry," she said, stopping him at the doorway, and he looked back. She smiled at him. "I love you," she whispered.
He gave her a small, tight smile, his eyes burning as he blinked hard. "Tell me that when I come back for you."
"Potter," Snape said from the hallway, voice tight, and Harry nodded.
Hermione's eyes were closed when he looked back.
He gripped Merlin's wand tighter as he followed Snape through the corridors.
Harry stood outside the door. “You’re certain,” he murmured, gripping Merlin’s wand tightly.
“Yes.” Snape’s voice was grim, tight. “At this hour, he’ll be there alone. With the possible exception of Nagini.”
“Right.” Harry took a deep breath. This was it. Now or never.
He pushed the door open.
The chamber was dark and warm, and the embers of a fading fire gleamed orange-black in the hearth.
Harry stepped into the room; the door slammed shut behind him.
“Fuck,” Harry whispered.
“Indeed.” Voldemort stepped from the shadows, his eyes gleaming red, his robe trailing behind him. “I am not an idiot, young Harry. You truly thought you would murder me in my sleep?”
“That was the plan,” Harry muttered. His fingers were clenched around Merlin’s wand.
Snape touched his shoulder. “Don’t let him in your mind.”
“Oh, I think it’s far too late for that, Severus,” Voldemort said, looking at Harry. He smiled, a cold curve of his thin lips. “You brought him with you. How charming.” He glanced around the room. “I do hope you enjoyed my little present. He’s quite lovely, even in death, wouldn’t you say?”
“You fucking bastard—“ Snape’s fingers tightened on Harry’s arm.
“Snape,” Harry said softly, and Snape’s hand relaxed.
“Kill him, Potter,” Snape said, his voice low and dangerous. Voldemort laughed.
“Oh, do.” He raised his wand, and he hissed, a flurry of silibance that twisted into words in Harry’s mind.
Hold him still…
Nagini slithered out of the corner, smooth and sinewy as her coils spread across the floor, and Harry didn’t stop to think, just acted.
“Avada Kedavra,” he shouted, and green light exploded through the room, sending the snake hurtling across the floor, slamming into the wall.
Nagini’s broken body lay still against the wooden planks of the floor.
“Potter,” Snape snapped, and he was pointing towards the snake, at a wisp of smoke that curled up from her mouth, and Voldemort was already reaching for it, claiming the scrap of soul again.
Harry knew the incantation by heart, had used it so many times already with the Horcruxes, and he was running across the room, the burst of blue light from the wand curling around the soul, tightening, twisting, choking it until with a sharp crack that echoed off the walls, it disappeared.
There was silence for a moment; Harry could feel the tingle of magic twisting up his arm from the wand burning hot in his hand.
And then Voldemort’s fingers were around Harry’s throat, lifting him higher, his feet leaving the ground, and Snape was shouting something at him that Harry couldn’t make out and it was growing dark, and he could feel Voldemort moving in his mind, pulling out the most horrific memories he could find, his parents’ deaths, Ron’s death, oh God he couldn’t—he couldn’t—and blood was running down his throat, hot and sticky.
It was coming. It was there, on the edges, and Harry wanted to turn to it, to welcome it, and then he heard Ron.
Don’t, Harry, don’t, don’t…
The words twisted, another voice taking their place.
“You stupid idiot. Fight him. Fight him, Potter…”
Harry blinked. The darkness cleared just enough for him to see Voldemort’s face beneath him, mouth twisted to one side, and it took all he could to lift his arm, to slam Merlin’s wand into Voldemort’s wrist.
He fell to the ground.
“It’s time to end this, you wretch.”
Voldemort loomed over him and Harry raised his wand.
The light from their wands slammed into one another, and it was almost like his fourth year, the jets connecting, twisting together, fighting for control, and Voldemort was laughing at Harry, his robes whipping around his ankles, and then Harry pushed forward, Snape screaming kill him in his ear, and then everything exploded into darkness and the last thing Harry thought was, it’s done.
Severus lay gasping on the floor of the cave. It was dark, darker than it'd ever been and breathing was difficult, nearly impossible, and he knew.
This was death.
He wasn't ready. No matter what he had thought before. He wasn't. Wouldn't be.
Fight, you damned fool, he heard Merlin whisper, faint and reedy.
Hermione was small and pale in the bed at St Mungo's, bandages swathed around her hands and head. Tonks was sitting next to her, and she looked up when Harry walked into the room, slowly, the Healers having just released him after an hour's examination.
"You look like shit," Tonks said with a smile, and Harry wrinkled his nose at her.
"Better than her." He ran his knuckles across Hermione's cheek. He'd come to say goodbye, he supposed. In a different way than he'd thought he'd have to.
The Aurors had found Harry half an hour after Voldemort's death, half the manor house in rubble, and they'd thought he was dead at first, Remus had said, until he'd tried to get up, calling out Hermione's name. Harry didn't remember any of it, not even telling Shacklebolt where to find her.
He'd still been clutching Merlin's wand.
Tonks watched him for a moment. "They say she'll be all right. It'll take a while, but…" She trailed off. "It was mad of you to do that alone, you realise."
"I wasn't." Harry brushed a curl back from Hermione's shoulder. She was too pale. Too silent. But she was alive, and she was breathing, and some day she'd find him. He knew she would. That's the kind of girl she was.
"Snape," Tonks said quietly. "He really—" She sighed. "I have a hard time thinking he'd help after—" She ran a hand through her shock of pink hair. "It's odd."
"Yeah." Harry looked up at her then. "I have to go find him. I promised him—and he kept his end of the agreement."
She gave him a shrewd look. "And that's the only reason?"
Harry smiled faintly. "It's a bit too quiet without him around." He leaned over, brushed his mouth across Hermione's cheek. "Tell her, if she wakes up. She'll understand."
Tonks was silent for a moment. "You're not coming back, are you?"
"No." Harry met her steady gaze. "Not for a while at least. I've done my part, and I've given up too much." He curled his fingers around Hermione's. "I need some time. And he does too, I think."
"You're a twat, Harry James Potter," Tonks said, but her eyes were a bit damp. She reached for him, pulling him close, and he could smell the faint scent of roses and freesia. "Don't stay away too long. And bring him back with you."
"Maybe." Harry slid his hand into his pocket, his fingers slipping around Merlin's wand. "He can be a bit of a stubborn prick sometimes."
"Rather a lot like someone I know." Tonks touched his cheek. "Go then. I'll explain things here."
Harry'd nearly reached the door when she stopped him with a quiet Harry.
He looked back.
"Wherever you land, send an owl," Tonks said softly. "For Remus' sake."
"I will." Harry held the wand tight in his fist, and let it take him home.
The cave shimmered with mended wards.
Harry broke through them easily enough; with one smooth arc, the wand sent sparks flying around him.
It was only when he was in the cave proper that he realised how bloody fucking mad it was for him to be here. In Merlin's grave.
And then he turned, and caught sight of two hawthorn bushes side by side, one growing through bones, the other twining around a still, silent, black-clad body.
"Fuck." Harry dropped down next to Snape. Roots coiled around his frail limbs, heavy and thick. His hair was white, his skin nearly translucent, paper-thin. He looked ancient.
But he was breathing.
Shit. Harry looked around wildly. He didn't know what to do, didn't know how to stop it, how to free Snape—and then the other bush shook, leaves falling off of it, and he could have sworn it said wand.
And then he knew what to do, words and images tumbling into his mind in a kaleidoscope of light and color and whispers.
Harry grasped Merlin's wand tight in his fist and he looked down at Snape.
“Onspannan,” he said, the gutteral Anglo-Saxon harsh on his tongue, and he thrust the wand through the roots criss-crossing Snape's body, into his chest.
Blood splattered over his hands and for a moment he was certain that he'd fucked up, that something had gone wrong, and then the wand glowed, bright white, and he dropped his hands as it burnt his skin.
Light flashed through the room—a blue-white explosion—and when it faded finally, Snape's chest was beneath Harry's hands, his heart beating steadily against Harry's palm.
"Get off me, Potter," Snape snapped, and his hair was black, his skin sallow and pale.
Harry grinned. "Hey." He ran a hand through Snape's hair, pushing it back off his forehead.
Snape shoved him away and sat up gingerly, his hand on his back. He grimaced. "That," he said, "was not pleasant."
"It could have been worse," Harry said quietly, and Snape just looked at him, eyes shadowed.
"Yes," he said finally, "I suppose it could have."
A rattling cough caught their attention.
An old man, wizened and thin and nude, lay curled where the other hawthorn bush had been. Harry looked at Snape.
"Merlin." Snape was already next to the wrinkled wizard, lifting him carefully, tucking his long, white hair back behind one ear.
The wizard blinked up at him. "So that's who you are." He gave Snape a small smile and then glanced over at Harry. His breath caught. "Arthur," he whispered, and Harry blinked.
"Er, Harry." He crouched next to Snape. "I've been using your wand a bit. Sorry about that." He placed the wand in Merlin's hand, curled the frail fingers around the cylinder of hawthorn.
Merlin coughed again. "You're the spitting image of young Wart," he said, studying Harry's face with bright blue eyes. He leaned against Snape. "Without those glass circles, that is."
Harry laughed. "I suppose they didn’t have them when you were alive—" He broke off. "I mean, when you were younger."
Another ragged breath and Merlin closed his eyes. "I'm dying, boy," he said with a bluntness that reminded Harry of his lessons with Dumbledore and Harry's chest ached.
Snape's fingers tightened on Merlin's shoulders. "Don't be ridiculous," he began and Merlin cut him off with a sharp snort.
"Don't be ridiculous yourself, whelp." He opened one eye. "I'm too old for this, and I've been waiting to die for centuries now. Allow me that dignity, if you will."
Snape fell silent; he looked away.
"He's right," Harry said quietly, watching him.
"I know." Snape's hand smoothed over Merlin's arm, a caress that Harry was rather certain he didn't even know he made.
"The lake." Merlin took a deep breath; Harry heard it catch in the back of his throat. "I want to see the lake again."
Snape sighed. "You're a demanding old bastard, aren't you?" he snapped, but he stood up slowly, hefting the older wizard. Harry reached for Merlin and Snape stepped back. "He's not heavy," he said curtly, and Harry nodded.
Harry slid his hand through the crook of Snape’s elbow, and with a quiet are you ready, he Apparated them all, the cave fading into soft shimmering darkness behind them.
She was waiting for them on the lakeshore, the waves lapping gently at her bare feet, her hair in loose blond curls around her shoulders.
Severus stopped in front of her, meeting the girl’s even gaze. “You knew this would happen,” he said quietly.
“Was time.” Jeannette dipped her head. The breeze ruffled her curls. “Il faut oser, oui? I am sorry for your boy.”
Severus hesitated, mouth thinning. “It was time for him as well.”
“Oui,” she said gently, and that was almost Severus’s undoing. He shifted; Merlin’s eyes fluttered open.
“Nimue,” he whispered, and Jeannette touched his face lightly.
“Not yet.” She looked past Severus, at Potter standing silently behind him. “Do not stay away long,” she said, and the moonlight caught in her hair, sparkling. “Britain needs you.” Her eyes flicked towards Severus. “And you aussi.”
There was a splash then, a ripple across the gleaming surface of the lake, and a woman walked towards them, her white robe floating across the water, blending in with it, her blonde hair braided and wrapped high around her head. She stopped a few feet from them, watching them steadily.
Merlin turned his head, his breath caught. “Nimue,” he said again, and his mouth curved in a small smile.
Jeannette took him from Severus then, and his arms were suddenly, strangely empty. Bereft. He watched as she carried him into the water, handed him to the woman—and Nimue looked at him then, her eyes burning into his.
Thank you. Her voice twisted through his mind, soft and familiar.
Severus tilted his head.
And then they were gone, only a circle of ripples spreading out over the dark lake to ever indicate they had been there.
Severus breathed out.
Jeannette touched his arm as she walked past; he heard her murmur something to Potter. Severus stared out over the water, an odd emptiness seeping over him.
He didn’t realise he’d spoken aloud until Potter cleared his throat. “I was thinking Majorca,” the boy said, and Severus looked at him in surprise. Potter shrugged, almost apologetically. “I always heard people talk about going there on holiday when I was a kid.”
“Holiday.” Severus frowned at him. “You’ve lost your mind.”
Potter shook his head, and he moved closer. “That’s the thing. I think maybe I’m just starting to find it.” He was looking at Severus, intently, and there was something about him that was disconcerting Severus.
He flushed. “I’m quite certain I’ve no idea what you’re on about.”
Potter grinned, and Severus’s stomach lurched. “Me either. Not entirely. But I think maybe I’d like to, and I’d say we both need a bit of time away from Britain—“
“Some more than others,” Severus snapped. “Might I remind you I’m a wanted man?”
“Not for long.” Potter’s eyes were a startling green. “The Aurors know what happened with Voldemort—“ Severus barely stopped himself from flinching at the name “—and besides, if you’re with me, they’ll never—“ Potter broke off, flushing. “I mean…”
Severus raised an eyebrow.
“Oh, bloody fuck,” Potter said, running a hand through his hair. It stood up on end, looking utterly ridiculous as usual. His glasses were smudged and dirty. “I’ve always been shite at this sort of thing.”
And then his mouth was on Severus’s, and his hands were twisted in Severus’s robe, and Severus was entirely aware of how inappropriate this was—not to mention mad--but Potter’s mouth was soft and warm and wet and his soft sighs when Severus’s tongue slid over his, when his palm flattened against the small of Potter’s back, sent shivers down Severus’s spine.
He pulled away, and Potter looked up at him hesitantly, warily.
“I don’t care for Majorca,” Severus said finally. “And this is beyond madness, you realise. Neither of us is any state of mind to—“ He waved his hand between them, his cheeks burning.
Potter gave him a small smile. “Yeah. Look, this was a bad idea, of course—“
“However.” Severus sighed and crossed his arms over his chest. Potter fell silent, chewing on his bottom lip. “I am willing to consider Oslo.”
Potter blinked. “Os—what the fuck for? It’s bloody cold up there. What’s wrong with Majorca?”
“Besides the flood of idiot Muggles?” Severus curled his lip. “Not to mention the lack of scholarly resources—“
“You want a place with bloody libraries,” Potter said in disbelief.
Severus glared at him. Potter sighed. “Fine. Oslo.” He hesitated. “But if you want—there may be things of Malfoy’s to settle—“
“No.” Severus’s throat tightened. He swallowed, looked away for a moment, across the lake. “Everything I wanted of him, I have in my mind. I’ve no intention of fighting the Ministry for his familial relics. It would—“ He paused, took a breath. “It would cheapen things.”
Potter was quiet for a moment. “Yeah,” he said finally, his voice catching. “I know.” His fingers curled around Severus’s.
Severus didn’t pull away.
“I want his name cleared,” he said and Potter’s hand tightened on his.
“I know.” Potter looked up at him. “I’ll make certain it’s done.”
Severus nodded and stared out over the lake.
It was a start, and perhaps that’s all that he could ask for.
He twined his fingers through Potter’s.
“Oslo,” he said, and they Apparated.
Hermione had been out of St. Mungo’s for nearly two months when the owl arrived at Grimmauld Place, letter attached. Remus had read it out loud at the Order meeting, and it had been so very Harry—but restrained. Quieter.
They all were quieter now, she supposed.
Remus had stopped her after the meeting, handed her a folded parchment note silently.
She’d slid it into her pocket for later, for when she was alone, upstairs in her room.
Hermione sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the parchment out. Harry’s handwriting was atrocious—it always had been, but the sight of it made her blink hard.
Hermione, she read, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes.
I know you’re worried, but you shouldn’t be. I’m all right, truly, and it’s bloody cold up here, but it’s beautiful too, and things are…good.
Even when Severus is being an enormous prick about something—which is most everyday, although he says I’m an outrageous imbecile and he oughtn’t be reading over my shoulder as it’s bloody damn rude.
Still. I think I might be happy, or at least on my way, and sometimes I’m a bit guilty over that because it doesn’t seem right to be happy without Ron. Except I know he’d tell me what rubbish that all is.
So maybe life’s settling a bit, eh? Frightening thought that. But I might be okay with it. Maybe. It’s not easy, but some days we both remember to breathe, and then others we remember to breathe together, and that’s a good thing.
Doesn’t mean I don’t miss you, though. Or him. You know. But it’s better. Not the way I was. Thanks for sending the quilt, by the way. You were right. It helps. A lot.
Do me a favour, will you? When the Ministry auctions off Malfoy Manor, buy something of Draco’s and send it? I think it’d mean a lot to him. Even if he won’t admit it.
He’s a stubborn arse sometimes.
I rather like it. Him. You know.
P.S. We’re leaving for Majorca next week. Severus finally admitted ten weeks in Norway’s enough. Like I said, stubborn arse. Funny, but I think maybe we might be good together, he and I. Mad, I reckon, but still.
The paper crackled as Hermione folded it again; she ran a fingertip over her name, scrawled across the back.