Title: If This Be Error
Author: Nimori
Team: Wartime
Genre: Humour
Prompt: Oath of Fealty
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: See Snarry Games post for warnings.
Word Count: 13,000 +/-
Author Notes: Thank you Gina, Amy, Ella, Regan and the UK. Title is from Shakespeare's Sonnet 116.
Disclaimer: HP belongs to JKR, not me. Not for profit.

Summary: Harry has a simple spell to guarantee Snape's loyalty. Naturally, he makes a mess of it.

If This Be Error

The kitchen at number twelve had never seemed more depressing.

"Well," Harry said, looking at the newspaper lying on the table like a perfectly innocent and not catastrophe-causing Wednesday morning edition, "it could be worse."

"How, pray tell?" Snape shot him a glare that could curdle steel, snatched up the Prophet and read aloud from the front page. "'Yesterday Harry Potter, in a baffling move that once again calls to question his sanity, wed suspected Death Eater Severus Snape, who last August was tried in absentia and convicted of the murder of--' How, how, short of losing a limb, could it be worse?"

Harry felt he ought to point out that going to prison was generally considered less desirable than marriage, but he didn't really want to set off another rant on the subject of his stupidity. "Look, I know I screwed up the spell. I'm sorry. And anyway, it's worse for me, isn't it?"

Wrong answer, Potter, Harry thought as Snape turned a spectacular shade of purple.

"I only meant... not that it isn't horrible for you, too, but..." Harry waved his hand in a vain attempt at increasing his eloquence. "Aren't you pretty much screwed anyway? Figuratively, I mean." Why the hell had he said that?

"Fix this," Snape hissed, shoving the paper at him. "Undo the spell."

Harry squirmed. "Well... no."

A deadly silence, and then, "What?"

"I only messed up the one part--"

"The part about marital commitment?"

"Martial, marital, it's two letters off and I hadn't slept in three days. The point is, the rest of the oath is just what we need."

"Remove. The. Spell."

"And you'll just swear a new vow with me, will you? No. I've got your fealty oath, and even if it's got that extra bit it still trumps your bond to Voldemort." Harry glanced at the front page, which showed large pictures of him, at a Quidditch match two years ago, and Snape, scowling and jug-eared in front of a peeling wall. It was the same photograph the Department of Magical Law Enforcement printed on his wanted posters. "I'm sorry. I've finally got you in a place where I can trust you, and I'm not letting you go. I need you to win this war."

Snape collapsed into a chair and slumped over the table, face buried in his hands. Upstairs the front door slammed and Mrs Black's portrait began shrieking.

"Crap," Harry said.

Snape didn't move, and seconds later the thunder of half a dozen feet poured down the stairs and the kitchen door flew open.

"--can't believe they're printing this rubbish."

"Well, Skeeter won't--Harry!" Hermione stopped short, wand in her hand the instant she spotted Snape, Ron drawing only a second behind.

"Er, hi," Harry said, putting himself in the line of fire, just in case. "So I guess it's too late for a bachelor party?"

The stairwell exploded into chaos, and Harry took the opportunity to make a quick head count. Ron and Hermione in the room, and behind them Fred, George, Fleur and -- he had to duck his head to see up the stairs -- Charlie. No Mrs Weasley, which had been his first fear, and no aurors, which had been his second. He much preferred to have other members of the Order backing him up before he explained to Moody just why he couldn't arrest Snape.

Not that this lot would board the Maybe Snape's Not Completely Evil train without a fight.

"Quiet!" Harry shouted, and was taken aback when they obeyed. "Er. I guess you've all seen. It's true, sort of. But it was a mistake."

"No kidding," Ron said.

"Imbeciles," Snape muttered. He still hadn't moved, and appeared to be talking to himself; Harry, at least, had never heard him address anyone with that wretched tone of self-pity. "Every one of them imbeciles."

"Harry," Hermione said, "we have to call the aurors."

"Snape's safe enough," Harry said, and then reconsidered. "Well, he won't hurt any of us. On purpose, anyway. Unless we do something stupid. I think."

Snape abruptly stood up. "If this is the part where you explain your clever plan to bring me to heel, do include the story of how you cannot follow simple instructions written in language a first-year would understand!"

Harry ignored him, and waved at Ron and Hermione to put their wands away. "Snape's kind of working for me now."

Fred grinned. "Is that what you crazy kids are calling it these days?"

Harry pinched the bridge of his nose and counted to ten. "We've sworn an oath of fealty, which means he's bound to provide his services -- as a wizard," he added before George could chime in, "and in turn I'm bound to protect him."

"From what?" Ron asked, still agog.

"Well. Everything, I guess."

"That's quite a large commitment," Hermione said. She looked worried, and Harry couldn't blame her. "What exactly does this oath do?"

"It's the same spell Voldemort based the Dark Mark on," Harry admitted, and flinched as Hermione, Ron and Charlie all shouted at him. "You don't understand. The original form isn't bad -- at least not by itself... what's the word..."

"Inherently," Hermione and Snape said together.

"Right. It's not inherently bad. The oath was meant to ally a group of weaker wizards under a stronger one, to protect them from other strong wizards. It's supposed to be a mutual arrangement, but Voldemort twisted it, made it one-sided. They promised him everything and he promised nothing in return."

Snape snorted. "He promised us plenty. Somehow, Potter, the promises didn't make it into the vow."

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, then stopped at Snape's sneer. She turned back to Harry. "Tell us what happened."

They sat at the long table, Snape alone at the far end, and Harry began with the argument Hagrid had overheard between Snape and Dumbledore. Harry had been hoping for a clue about the horcruxes when he'd examined the memory, but the pensieve had instead raised questions Harry thought long answered, and sent him looking for Snape when he should have been finding a way to get to Hufflepuff's cup.

"It's not quite enough to prove it if Snape is innocent, but that conviction is looking a lot less solid now." Harry looked to Hermione for confirmation and she nodded, biting her lip.

"Snape could appeal on the grounds of new evidence," she said.

"Not right now," Harry said, and ignored the acid glare Snape shot him. "I can't have him tied up in court. I need him."

Fred and George snickered, and Harry felt his face heat.

"Look, it was an accident. I fudged the wording a little, and it seems the spell registered us with the Ministry as husband and--" Harry decided he wanted to live a little while longer. "Er, as spouses. And then Skeeter found out."

Charlie raised a brow. "And you're not undoing it because...?"

"I need him," Harry repeated. "I can't risk him doing a runner -- and you two!" He jabbed a finger at the twins. "Not one word about cold feet or jilted brides."

"I think it's a brilliant idea," Ron said, and everyone turned to look at him. He'd been chewing thoughtfully on his thumbnail, but now he was eyeing Snape with the same expression he got when he was about to put Harry in checkmate. "Binding Snape with the oath I mean, not the marriage bit. He'd be right handy with the... with the special project Dumbledore had you working on."

"Special project?" Charlie asked, voice sharp. "Does McGonagall know?"

Harry waved him off, not wanting to recount the fight they'd had when Harry refused to explain his mission to her. He'd appealed to Dumbledore's portrait for backup but the bloody thing had no interest in anything but the sweets McGonagall had thrown out. "The point is," Harry said, "you can't turn Snape in to the--"

A crash from somewhere upstairs announced that Tonks had arrived.

"Right, I think we'll be going." Harry leaned close to Ron and Hermione. "Get the rest of the Order caught up and then meet me at the usual spot." He raised his voice. "C'mon, Snape."

"Do not think this travesty gives you license to speak to me in that manner, Potter."

"Oh, feel free to stay and chat with the aurors," Harry shot back. "I'm sure they'll offer you tea and biscuits while you explain that, really, Dumbledore wanted you to kill him." They glared at each other over the table.

"Ah, young love," George sighed.

"Fine," Snape grunted, breaking their standoff just as Tonks called down the stairs. He looked as though he'd swallowed one of the twins' concoctions. "After you, milord Potter."

A second before they apparated away, Fleur recovered from her wide-eyed shock enough to call, "Congratulations, 'Arry!"

The shrieking shack was an improvement over the kitchen at number twelve, if only because they could shout without fear of waking Mrs Black. Other than that it had no tea, no heat, no clean place to sit, and far too much Snape.

Snape, who delivered rant after rant -- all variations on the theme of 'Potter Is an Idiot' -- while pacing and stomping and generally behaving worse than a teenaged mandrake.

By nightfall, Harry had grown tired of Snape's theatrics, and finally snapped, "Will you grow up already? You've done far worse in the name of this war than accidentally marry someone you don't like, and so have I, so stop whinging."

Snape shot him a narrow-eyed glare, but the outburst shut him up. For ninety-three seconds; Harry timed it. "I'm beginning to think you're enjoying this, Potter."

Heat rushed to Harry's face. "I am not! I just think we have other things to worry about right now. We can fix this mess later."

"We have no idea how your ad-libbing affected the spell. It's already produced unforeseen secondary magic, filing the marriage license on its own." Snape paused. "It may not be possible to break it at all."

Harry's heart skipped, but he forced himself to fold his arms over his chest and lean against the least cobwebby section of wall. "If we can't break it later, we can't break it now, and I'm not risking losing your fealty just to find out."


"No. We're staying married and that's final." He had not just said that.

Ron and Hermione turned up then, stopping the fight before it could get properly going, and they settled into a truce to plan how to get Hufflepuff's cup out of the vault.

Snape proved himself as invaluable as Harry had hoped when he first proposed a fealty bond so they could work together without risk of death or serious injury. By their fourth day of... well not marriage, but something, Snape had torn through their poorly constructed plans, shaken them down to the foundations, and rebuilt them as something that had an actual chance of success. He'd also treated them all like his own personal house elves and made Hermione cry twice, but Harry elected to ignore that if it brought results.

At last, after eight months of frustration and failure, they were making progress. Who knew Snape would be so skilled at planning a bank robbery?

"On the contrary, Granger. The dragons are the easiest obstacle." Snape tapped his teeth with his wand, a habit Harry found both fascinating and alarming. He kept waiting for it to explode in Snape's face, but it never did. "Weasley, will your eldest brother consent to slipping us past the curses he was hired to install?"

"He could get sacked for that."

Snape's stare remained flat, and Ron rolled his eyes.

"Yeah, I reckon he'd do it."

"That leaves the goblin magic. I suppose it's too much to hope someone recruited Binns to the Order?"

Ron snorted. "Not likely. He's not interested in battles unless they're over. I bet he doesn't even know there's a war on."

Harry didn't like the slow smile that curved Snape's thin lips. "Of course he doesn't," Snape said, sounding far too pleased.

Harry accompanied Snape to Hogwarts, partly in case of trouble, but mostly because he didn't have anything else to do and felt that if he couldn't be doing he ought to at least be supervising. A tiny part of him was hoping there would be trouble. He was good at trouble.

No such luck. Binns invited Snape in for tea as though he'd never left, leaving Harry to wait by the door. Snape had already warned him not to open his mouth. Harry hoped that restriction didn't include yawning.

"I say, young Severus," Binns said as he poured, "when will the children be returning? This summer has been interminable."

I'll say, Harry thought from the doorway. If he ever looked out the window he'd know it's bloody well March.

"The brats will be back soon enough," Severus said, eyeing the silver mist in his teacup. When he lifted the cup, the ghostly tea stayed where Binns had poured it. Snape sighed and sat back. "I imagine the wait before the second Battle of Keerling Horn felt longer."

It was unsubtle as far as openings went, but subtlety was a waste of time with Binns and goblin wars; he launched directly into a lecture straight from his classes. Snape steered the one-sided conversation with a comment here and there, and he seemed pleased, though Harry couldn't decipher just which parts of Binns' monologue Snape found useful. After only an hour and half, Snape interrupted, thanked Binns for the tea, and left with Harry in tow.

"Lodestones," Snape said as they walked back to the Shrieking Shack. "I should have thought of that."

Harry rubbed his eyes. "What are they?"

Snape cast him a disparaging smirk. "Geo-magic, Potter. Wizards don't use lodestones as they have a tendency to blow up and kill everyone in a twenty-mile radius."

"And the goblins have one in the middle of London?" That stripped away any trace of sleep.

Snape flashed a dark grin. "One we shall have to disarm in order to burgle the vault. How's that Gryffindor luck holding?"

The night before the big heist found Harry wide awake and staring at the ceiling. He knew he had to sleep soon or he would be useless the next day, but he couldn't stop thinking about the lodestone shattering in the middle of London.

Would the city explode like a bomb had gone off, or would everyone just drop dead where they stood?

By three in the morning, he had convinced himself the world was about to find out. He rolled over and punched the pillow. The wall clock, whose face helpfully lit up every time he looked at it, said 3:22. How had it got to be 3:22? He lay as still as he could for as long as could, and when he glanced at the clock again it said 3:25.

Groaning, Harry flopped onto his back. Tomorrow he was going to blow up Diagon Alley and a good chunk of muggle London with it. He could see the headlines. Boy Who Lived Kills Thousands, Self; Voldemort Credits Victory to Insomnia.

Teeth clenched, Harry gave his crotch a squeeze, gauging his cock's interest in a nice relaxing wank. It responded with a pathetic twitch. Achievable then, if not quite the fun it ought to be, and it would put him to sleep.

4:09, said the clock.

He licked his palm, slipped his hand inside his trousers, and began a no-nonsense rhythm. He'd no more than coaxed his cock to half-mast when his door burst open.

"What the hell?" Harry shouted, yanking his hand out of his pants and clutching the sheet to his chest.

"You summoned me," Snape said, looking every bit as disgruntled as Harry felt.

"I did not." Harry pulled the sheet higher.

"I know what a summons feels like, Potter. Yours may not hurt like the Dark Lord's, but I felt it."

"You felt wrong. Now get out."

Snape glared at him, nostrils flaring, then turned and collided with Ron.

"All right, Harry?" Ron asked. He looked as though he'd been sleeping.

"Yes! Fantastic! Now everyone out of my room!"

Snape shoved past Ron, and a few seconds later a door slammed. Ron blinked and then shuffled out. Harry could hear him exchange a few words with Hermione.

Harry flopped back and stared at the ceiling, then turned his head. 4:34.

Slowly, without much hope, Harry slipped his hand back inside his pants, groping for his lost erection. A light touch to coax the poor traumatized creature back to life, and --

The wall banged, and Harry nearly fell out of the bed.

"Potter!" Snape shouted, voice muffled. "Knock it off!"

Harry froze with his fingers circling his cock.


Oh no.

Hardly daring to breath, he gave an experimental tug.

Next door, something large struck the wall, and then a rain of harsh slapping footsteps pattered down the hall and Snape reappeared at his door, a murderous expression on his face.

Kill me now, Harry thought to the universe, because Snape's going to when he figures this one out.

The Hufflepuff Heist, as Ron took to calling it, went off with a flawless sort of perfection Harry had only ever experienced while under the influence of felix felicis.

Perhaps, Harry admitted to himself later, planning and foresight had a few benefits.

Ron and Hermione played their parts so well Harry almost believed they were a couple arguing over a new joint vault -- not that believing Ron and Hermione could argue took much convincing. Bill, who had only made Harry swear it was vital to the war effort four times before agreeing to let them past the curses, met Harry and Snape in the tunnels just as they planned, and the concentrated draconomulus they'd got from Charlie put the dragons right to sleep.

Snape disarmed the lodestone while Harry squirmed and imagined a great smoking crater where Westminster used to be. Just as he got to the part where the muggle military arrived to pick a fight with the Department of Magical Catastrophes, the lodestone trembled and went dark. Even in the blackness Harry could feel Snape smirking.

"We're not done yet, you know," Harry said, and felt almost Snape-like for disparaging the victory.

"Lead on, milord," Snape shot back, tone mild despite the sharp words, and Harry did so with bad grace.

A viper guarded the vault itself, but she had been alone in the dark for years and was happy to chat with Harry while Snape liberated the cup from a magic puzzle box.

"You're a soft-hearted fool," Snape said as they walked along the tracks, horcrux bundled in Harry's invisibility cloak and viper wrapped around Harry's arm. They were walking on the underside of the tracks, hanging upside-down by a stickyboots charm. Every few minutes a cart would barrel under -- over -- their feet.

"The poor thing's gone senile," Harry said. "I'm not leaving her there."

"Is it teatime?" asked the snake. "I do hope that nice young man who brought me here can join us. Such a polite fellow. Do you know him?"

"We've met," Harry muttered.

"Oh, where are my manners... would you like a cup of tea and a nice mouse?"

"No, thank you." Harry hunched his shoulders. Despite knowing Snape didn't understand Parseltongue, Harry felt sure he was laughing at him.

They rejoined Ron and Hermione in Knockturn just as the goblins noticed the outage and sealed the doors, and from there they apparated to Grimmauld Place. Within two hours, Hufflepuff's cup was dissolving in a cauldron of toxic orange goo.

Snape was unbearably smug about the whole thing. "Now that the Dark Lord's horcrux is destroyed, I believe I can lure him into a meeting by offering Potter as bait. Make yourself useful and kill him on the first curse, will you, Potter?"

"Er, Professor," said Hermione, "you do know there are six horcruxes, right?"

The expression on Snape's face wasn't quite worth six years in the man's classes, but it went a long way towards balancing the scale.

"Are you going to tell him that was number three?" Ron asked in a low voice as Snape recovered enough to pretend he'd known all along.

"Of course," Harry said. "Later."

The trip to St Mungo's to reattach Harry's ears had an unexpected silver lining. Ron, waiting in the corridor, spotted Mundungus Fletcher skulking around the potions dispensary. Rather than tackling him and likely getting himself stunned by the healers, Ron didn't let on they suspected Dung had stolen the locket, and chatted with him until Hermione and Harry emerged.

"Well done, Ron," Hermione said, and she and Harry each linked an arm through one of Dung's. They led him over to the bank of fireplaces, ignoring his increasingly desperate attempts to excuse himself. "That was very clever of you."

"I'm not stupid, you know," Ron said as they wrestled Dung through the floo.

Snape looked up from the pile of newspaper clippings he had scattered all over the table. "It's impolite to lie," he said. "Or have you ingested one of your brothers' sweets, the kind that makes you say the opposite of what you meant?"

"Oh, shut up." Ron shoved Mundungus into a chair. "You stole a locket from the things we cleaned out of the drawing room."

"Me?" Dung tried to get up; Hermione hexed the chair to hold him down. "I never stole nothing! Do you know Severus Snape is sitting right there? He's a Death Eater, he is."

"Yes," Harry said. "And if you won't tell us where the locket is, I'll let him ask you."

"Hardly," Snape said. He turned up his considerable nose and went back to sorting through his clippings. Marsh family attacked, Dark Mark spotted in Lutterworth, twenty percent off billywig stings at Herbert's Herbatorium.

Harry sighed and rubbed his ears. The seams were still tingling. "I'm sorry I let you think we had more... items to destroy than we do. Now will you please go and make some Veritaserum?"

Harry lay in bed with his hands clenched at his sides. Even so, his blankets sported a good-sized tent, and no amount of thinking about slugs and bubotuber pus made it go down.

He could hear Snape in the next room, muttering and banging about, and oddly enough even that wasn't chasing his erection away. Three weeks without wanking had left his cock ready to rise at the slightest provocation: a glimpse down Fleur's top, a flash of calf below the hem of Hermione's robes, and even, God help him, the way Ron's new jeans fit snugly across the arse.

Mind, Ron had pointed out the way his new jeans fit snugly across the arse, wanting to know if Harry thought Hermione would like it.

"It's kind of gay to be asking another man to look at your arse, mate," Harry had said. And then he'd gone away thinking gay thoughts and wondering what Ron and Hermione did in the library when they shut the door -- wondering not fantasizing -- until Snape chased him down and asked him what he wanted.

Actually, it had been more like screaming than asking. And Snape had shaken him and the vein in his forehead bulged. He'd looked every bit as sleep-deprived as Harry felt.

I'm not thinking about Snape, Harry told himself. I'm thinking about disgusting things.

A small part of him, the part that had been delighted to be invited to check out Ron's arse, wondered just when Snape had stopped qualifying as a disgusting thing. He told it to shut up and concentrated on keeping his hands off his throbbing aching forsaken cock.

A gentle knock at his door startled him out of his efforts. Harry quickly sat up. A distraction. Yes. "Come in," he said, thinking it might be Hermione. It wasn't.

"Potter." Snape sounded, for once, calm and reasonable. Friendly, almost. "You have been doing this... whatever you're doing... all week. I need sleep." Snape padded over to the bed, and then -- unbelievably -- sat down. Harry scrambled back, drawing his knees up.

Snape smiled, and it was a gentle, reassuring smile. Harry had never been more afraid of him. "Potter. Harry. Tell Uncle Severus the problem."

"Uncle... what?"

"Tell me," -- and here Snape's smile turned vicious -- "before I turn you inside out and sell your organs to the highest bidder. I will kill you for a full night of rest."

"I believe you."

"Then cease summoning me," Snape hissed.

"I can't!" Harry hugged his knees to his chest, feeling his cock throb between his legs, thick and heavy. "I've tried, but I'm a teenager. Everything sets it off, and the minute I try to do something about it you burst in here yelling at me!"

"Then it's... I see." Snape's face lost all expression. "Sex would fall under marital obligations," he murmured to himself, "and of course the original intent of the summoning was to inform the bondswizard that his lord required a service... and there's Potter's talent for creating the largest possible mess out of any given set of factors."

Harry saw the exact moment Snape reached a conclusion, the precise second he metaphorically held his nose, and that was all the warning Harry got before Snape grabbed his crotch and squeezed his cock twice.

"Nghaaa!" Harry said, and came into Snape's hand.

Snape wrinkled his nose and wiped his hand on the blanket.

"What the hell did you do that for?" Harry demanded.

"I'm going to sleep." Snape stood and smoothed his nightrobe. "Anyone who wakes me before ten will suffer levels of wrath heretofore unknown to wizardkind."

"You just had your hand down my pants!" Harry bellowed.

There was an absolute pin-dropping silence, and then from the hall, "Everything all right in there, Harry?" Ron called.

Snape, in fact, slept until noon. He slept through Ron casting Harry dodgy looks all through breakfast. He slept through Molly arriving for her bi-weekly attempt to put them back under adult supervision ("Older adults!" she snapped every time Ron pointed out that they were of age now). He slept through Hermione working out how Voldemort might have hidden Ravenclaw's wand, if not its location.

Not long after Hermione dragged Ron off to raid Hogwarts' unused library, Snape traipsed into the kitchen looking well-rested and almost happy.

Well, content.

Less surly, at any rate.

"So I said to Hazel -- she's the silly chit I was telling you about -- I said to Hazel--"

"There's a snake in your teacup, Potter."

"Is there?" Harry hunched over his newspaper. No Death Eater attacks, so he'd resorted to reading the classifieds to drown out Mabel's chatter. She'd taken over the table, winding around the empty plates and over Hermione's now jam-sticky research, and she kept sticking her head in Harry's tea. He shook the newspaper like Uncle Vernon did to ward off conversation, though so far that had met with little success. "I hadn't noticed."

"I said to Hazel, 'Those fancy white mice are posh all right, but give me a good English field mouse any day.'"

Snape sat down, ousted Mabel's tail from an empty cup, and poured himself some tea. He took an obnoxious amount of sugar, Harry noted before realizing he'd lowered his newspaper. He quickly raised it again.

"I assume you slept after I left," Snape said in an obnoxiously conversational voice.

Harry sunk a little lower behind his paper. Without much hope, he gave it another warning rustle.

"And Hazel -- you remember I told you about Hazel, the silly chit -- she had the nerve to... My word, who's this then?" Mabel finally fell silent. She'd encountered her own tail on the far side of the teapot, and slithered along it, tongue flicking.

"I myself slept very well," Snape continued. "From now on, you will satisfy your urges with your usual frequency." He smirked at Harry over the rim of his cup. "I expect your lackeys and I can manage finding the horcruxes and killing the Dark Lord without you."

"Doesn't this bother you at all?" Harry tossed down his useless newspaper shield. "Aren't you the slightest bit embarrassed?"

"Why? It's not my masturbatory habits being heralded to my lowly bondswizard."

"Really." Harry ignored the flip-flopping in his stomach. "How do you know your..." He couldn't say it. "How do you know I won't know? You've tried it then?"

Snape lost his smirk. "You'll confine your activities to daytime and evenings. If you summon me again after nine p.m., I will answer the call."

Harry swallowed hard. Really, his first thought should not have been to wonder if Snape would make it last a bit longer next time. "I thought I was supposed to be in charge. That's what the oath was for."

"If you wanted to be in charge, you should have cast the spell properly. Love, honour, and obey is so old-fashioned." Snape was back to smirking. Harry wondered if he could convince Mabel to bite him. "The spell is obviously intuiting your modern notions of marriage, or I expect I'd be so much chattel by now."

Harry thought that through. "Wait. It can figure out what I want in a wi-- a spouse, but it takes me literally when I mess up a single word?"

"Really, Potter. You sound like you expect magic to be rational."

"A little consistency would be nice."

Snape, however, wasn't listening, and was instead staring at Mabel as she chased herself around the teapot. "Potter, there's something very wrong with your snake."

"I know," Harry said and then -- for the life of him he didn't know why -- he blushed.

Ravenclaw's wand represented air. Or so Harry understood once Hermione explained it for the fourth time and he'd looked up 'transmorphricated' and 'exonullification' in the Oxford English Dictionary, Wizard Edition. Naturally the best place to imprison it would be within the opposing element, earth, which was why they were standing over the elder Tom Riddle's grave in the middle of the night with shovels in their hands.

"Do you think he's still... squishy?" Ron asked.

"It's been fifty years." Harry squirmed, trying not to look at the headstone to which Wormtail once bound him. Hermione and Snape were crouched over the grave, arguing in fierce whispers.

"He could still be squishy. And smelly. There might be maggots."

"This is so morbid." Harry kicked at a bit of grass. The ground was squelchy and wet. "Voldemort really does have an obsession with death, burying a bit of his soul with his dead father. It's not healthy. Hermione, have you figured it out yet?"

"Will-o-the-wisp curse," Hermione said, standing up. "The wand is with the body inside the casket now, but it's not quite solid. It's not responding to summoning charms, and the closer anything living gets to it, the deeper into the ground it moves."

"I don't plan on digging to China," Snape said, "so which of you idiots are we burying?"

The discussion devolved into a lot of shouting after that, with Hermione trying to shush everyone and Ron hyperventilating until he needed to sit down with his head between his knees.

Snape and Hermione were the only ones who understood the spell that kept the horcrux out of reach, so that left Harry.

"Can't I have a new box?" Harry asked as Snape vanished the muddy earth and levitated the coffin out of the grave. As Hermione predicted, the wand had retreated into the ground.

"This one's perfectly serviceable," Snape said. "Don't turn missish on us, Potter."

Hermione at least had some sympathy. After they moved the body -- dusty and crumbling, not squishy -- she cast cleaning and freshening spells on the coffin, set a charm to funnel air down, and made the sides glow.

"He can't catch the wand if he can't see," she said when Snape rolled his eyes.

"Two drops of this," Snape said, holding up a vial of Draught of Living Death. "It will last half an hour -- long enough for us to bury you and move back. The wand will return as soon as you 'die', but will retreat once you wake. You will have seconds to grab it, so be quick. I can't vanish the dirt once the wand is in there with you--"

"What?" Harry's head snapped around. "Why not?"

"Don't be stupid, Potter. A will-o-the-wisp curse casts an object into a fluctuating semi-solid state. If it solidifies within a vital organ, you'll be dead. You'll have to apparate out once you have secured the wand."

"If you're not back in forty minutes we'll dig you out." Ron sounded like he thought he was helping. He probably just wanted a chance to use his muggle shovel.

"Right," Harry said. "I've been thinking. Do we really need to kill Voldemort? Maybe we can just... blackmail him or something."

"Potter," Snape said.

"You must have some dirt on him," Harry said as Snape herded him into the coffin. "Embarrassing photos? Evidence of a thestral fetish?"

"Harry," Hermione said.

"How does he feel about complete and total surrender? I could be a Death Eater. I've already got a black robe."

"Good luck, mate," Ron said.

"Shit," Harry said. He lay down and folded his arms across his chest. It wasn't too bad, but it smelled all flowery now.

"Make sure you can reach your wand," Snape said. He crouched over Harry with the dropper.

"If we win this bloody war, I want a statue in Diagon Alley," Harry said, and then the potion sucked him away to oblivion.

It seemed only as moment before he blinked, wondering why his bed was so hard and who had draped moth-eaten grey silk six inches from his nose. Something swished past his face and he snatched at it out of pure Quidditch-bred reflex.

There was reason Quidditch wasn't played inside boxes.

"Fuck!" Pain exploded in his knuckles and his hand went numb. He cradled it to his chest, pinning Ravenclaw's wand. He could feel it wiggling, slipping quite literally through his arm like a half-solid ghost. "No you don't," Harry said. He clutched at it again, and it pushed through his fingers twice more before abruptly solidifying and falling still.

Harry lay panting. He'd spent enough time under the stairs that the tight space wasn't claustrophobic, but it was uncomfortable, and his own wand had rolled off to the side and slipped out of his reach. He wasted a few panicky moments struggling to reach it before he realized he had a wand and summoned it. He concentrated on the graveyard above and disapparated.

The world appeared around him, full of open space and fresh air. He held the wand over his head in triumph, realized he was holding up the wrong wand, and switched hands.

"I got it!" he yelled, and then took in the carnage. Ron was sprawled on the grass, panting, and Hermione was clutching her bleeding arm. Snape looked as indifferent as ever but his hair was mussed and his robe had acquired a tear. There was a heap of grey dirt on the grass near the headstone. "What happened?"

"The body came to life a few minutes ago." Hermione grimaced. "Probably when you grabbed the wand."

Ron sat up. "You-Know-Who's dad just about killed us!"

"Oh, stop exaggerating, Weasley." Snape brushed off his robe. "It could hardly even stand -- someone stole its left tibia." He glared at Harry like he'd done it.

"It was Voldemort," Harry said. "Honestly."

Ron stood up and kicked the crumbled remains. "Next time, I'm going in the coffin."

Dumbledore fetches Riddle from orphanage.

Riddle closes Chamber of Secrets when board considers closing school.

Riddle curses Defence Against Dark Arts position.

Harry scowled at the array of index cards he'd stapled to the tapestry in the drawing room, a piece of Voldemort's history written on each. "The last horcrux has got to be something of Gryffindor's... What do you want?" Harry snapped, not looking up. "I'm trying to think."

Hermione lowered her book. "I haven't said anything."

"Not you. Snape."

"Harry, Snape's not here."

He'd known that. So why had he thought Snape had called him? "Sorry, Hermione. I'm just a little--" There it was again. "Did you hear that?"

"No." She marked her place. "Are you all right? Is it Voldemort?"

It's worse, Harry wanted to say, but that was childish. The call did not come again, but he felt a pressing urge to check in on Snape, to make sure he was safe. It grew stronger, until Harry could hardly sit still for the prickling of his skin. "Where is Snape anyway?"

"Upstairs. He said he was working on something, and not to disturb him."

Oh God.

Snape was...

Except maybe he wasn't. Maybe he really was in danger, and the fealty spell was warning Harry. He'd sworn to defend Snape from harm. "Bloody hell. Stay here." He stood and ran for the stairs. Outside Snape's door, Harry paused, listening. He could hear only silence, but that meant nothing. Snape could have cast a silencing spell... or he might be unconscious, bleeding on the floor...

Harry pounded on the door. "Snape! Are you all right? Snape!"

No answer, and Harry had just drawn his wand to break the locking spell when Snape answered, looking flushed and dismayed. He looked as though he'd dressed in haste.

"Oh," Harry said. "You were... I thought you might be, but I wasn't sure."


"Er. Could you hurry it up a little? I can't concentrate when you're..." He made a gesture.

Snape swore, and then slammed the door in Harry's face. Harry waited a moment, but the prickling urge to check on Snape did not resume. Harry, absurdly, felt bad for interrupting the man's wank.

That didn't explain why he stood outside Snape's door long after he'd shut it.

"I'm sure it's at Hogwarts," Harry said. He wasn't quite able to meet Snape's eyes across the table, but he took comfort from the fact that Snape was avoiding his gaze too -- if glaring a hole in the wall above Harry's head could be called avoiding his gaze.

"Hogwarts is a very large place, Potter, with a very large number of magical objects. Even you cannot have failed to notice that."

"But it has to be something of Gryffindor's. That narrows it down."

"It doesn't have to be anything. The Dark Lord's not a fool."

"No, he's just in love with his own cleverness." Harry pulled Mabel's head out of the sugar bowl; he didn't want to hurt her if he ended up throwing it at Snape's head. "It'll be something of Gryffindor's. It'll be part of the set."

"There's the Sorting Hat," Hermione said, sounding as if she'd just ratted out her best friend. Harry knew exactly what that sounded like, as she'd ratted him and Ron out on several occasions.

"Isn't it more likely to be the sword?" Ron said. "I mean, there's been a cup, a wand, and the locket is kind of like a pentacle. Jewellery is money and all that. If Voldemort wanted a set, the other one ought to be a sword." He seemed to realize they were all staring at him. "What? I took Divination, you know."

Snape stood up and paced around the table. "It could be the hat, it could be the sword, it could be Gryffindor's golden bloody chamberpot. If milord Potter wishes to search through Gryffindor's possessions, then I suggest we begin by asking something that can distinguish them from the rest of the magical bric-a-brac the castle has accumulated over the last thousand years."

The puzzled silence had just reached embarrassing when Hermione snapped, "He means we need to ask the Sorting Hat. Honestly."

McGonagall still hadn't forgiven Harry for refusing to tell her the details of his mission, but after breaking into Gringotts the headmistress's office was easy as catching a snitch on a string. It didn't hurt that Dumbledore had given Snape a key that overrode the passwords.

"Always change the locks when you move in," Snape said as he swept into the office. "It's only common sense. Lumos."

The portraits lining the walls grumbled, and a few of them cursed. "Why, hello there, Severus," one called. "It's nice of you to visit me."

"Piss off, Albus." Snape strode over to the shelf and poked the Sorting Hat with his wand. "You. Wake up."

The hat snorted and its brim flapped. "Go away. The school's closed. No sorting song this year."

"And Harry," Dumbledore's portrait continued. "Hermione, Ron, it's wonderful to see you again. Minerva's thrown out my lemon sherbets but there's a stash of ice mice behind the bust of Archibald Wundle, and I do believe she missed the sugar quills in the bottom drawer of the desk." His smile drooped. "She found the blackberry cordial in the inkwell. She was very cross with me."

"Hey," Ron said, "maybe Dumbledore knows where the horcrux is."

Harry shook his head; he'd given up on Dumbledore's portrait after his fight with McGonagall. "He'll only talk about sweets. If you change the subject, he goes to sleep."

"Horcrux, eh?" said the Sorting Hat. "And I suppose you're here to ask me about it?"

"It will be something of Gryffindor's," Harry said. "We were hoping you'd know what's left of his around the castle."

"Old Godric left many possessions lying around the school." The hat yawned. "He was quite senile at the end. There's no telling where he left his things."

"I guess we could start in Gryffindor tower," Hermione said. "What do you think, Professor?"

Snape, however, was staring at the hat. "I always wondered how the curse on the Defence Against the Dark Arts position weaseled through every ward, survived every attempt to break it." Snape propped an elbow with one hand and his chin with the other. "Indirectly cursing an object within the school rather than the position itself... or did he ask you to renew it?"

"I beg your pardon!" said the hat.

"Miss Granger, how old did your House founder live to be?"

"Thirty-seven," Hermione said promptly. "He died saving the school from a rampaging Hungarian Horntail, though until 1973 everyone thought he lived to be quite old because his son, also named Godric, took over his-- oh!"

Snape smirked at the hat. "That's not what they taught in History of Magic when you were in school, was it, my lord?"

The hat suddenly laughed. "Well, well, Severus," it said, sounding very different, and Harry's skin broke into goosebumps. He knew that voice. He'd last heard it in the Chamber of Secrets with the spectre of Tom Riddle standing over Ginny's limp body. "You're every bit as clever as I remember. You've got me. Now what are you going to do?"

"I know," said Dumbledore's portrait. "Let's have biscuits!"

"Oh, shut up, Albus," Snape said. He paced away from the hat and back again. Despite his furrowed brow he looked pleased, and his steps were sharp and excited. Like he was getting off on the problem.

I did not just think that, Harry thought. Except he was thinking about it now; thinking about standing outside Snape's door. Focus, Harry. We have a horcrux to destroy.

"You were right, Hermione," Ron said. "It was the Sorting Hat."

"Very good, Weasley." Snape curled his lip, and Harry felt his grasp on the conversation slip a little further. "Deducing what the rest of us figured out ten minutes ago. Now, I suspect the horcrux does not have complete control over the hat." Snape was tapping his teeth with his wand again, keeping Harry's attention on his mouth. Tap. Were his lips soft? Tap. Did he bite them when he tossed off? Tap. Would he--

"... Potter."


Snape glared at him. "Not paying attention, as usual. I said, if the horcrux completely controlled the hat it would have sorted you into Slytherin, where the Dark Lord's followers could have kept an eye on you. The fact that it put you in Gryffindor means some part of the original Sorting Hat survives."

"Well... it did kinda sort me into Slytherin."

"It did," Snape said flatly.

"It did?" Hermione asked.

"I argued with it."

"You argued with it."

"Of course he argued with it," Ron said. "Who'd want to be in Slytherin?"

"Who indeed," Snape muttered, and the hat chuckled darkly.

"Oh, come now, Severus. I kept you away from Potter and Black, put you with like-minded people who would bring you to my corporeal self when you were ready to embrace our cause." There was a slight pause, and then the hat switched back to the familiar rusty voice. "I am sorry, Severus. I did try to fight it. Slytherin only reinforced your faults, but Gryffindor would have brought out your potential. You could have been great if you had learned to temper your ambition."

"Hold on a tick," Ron said. "Harry almost sorted into Slytherin and Snape almost sorted into Gryffindor? The world's gone mad."

"I must apologize to Potter as well." The hat made a wet snuffling sound. "So many children missorted over the years."

"The Dark Lord put him in Gryffindor?" Snape looked positively ill.

"Don't be stupid, Severus," the horcrux said. "I'd hardly put the boy in your care without knowing whether you had betrayed me or merely lied to save yourself. Slytherin would have made him strong, while Gryffindor's turned the brat into a reckless fool. Pity. He might have made a worthy opponent."

"I doubt that." Snape sniffed. "You'll not distract us from destroying you."

"We can't destroy the Sorting Hat," Hermione said. "It's a priceless historical artefact!"

"Perhaps." Snape turned his harsh gaze on the hat. "As the hat is an object as opposed to a living being, it may be possible to separate the unwanted parts and salvage the remainder." He smiled, and the hat recoiled. "Miss Granger, kindly fetch a pair of scissors."

"Ow," the hat moaned. "I'm dying."

"Hold still," Hermione said, "or the stitches will be crooked."

"I'd like to see you hold still while someone shoved a needle through your face."

Harry winced and turned back to Dumbledore's portrait.

"I do apologize for misleading you, Harry, Severus," Dumbledore said. "I began to suspect the Sorting Hat shortly after I woke in my frame, but as I had no idea whether or not Voldemort was in contact with it, I thought it best to dissemble so as not alert him. Now that the hat is free from the horcrux's influence, I can assist you. Fortunately dying has cleared my mind, and I now believe I know where Hufflepuff's cup--"

"Found it," Harry said.

"Oh." Dumbledore chewed his mustache. "Well, I have a theory about Ravenclaw's wand--"

"We found that, too," Snape said.

"I see. What about--"

"Albus, the only thing you could possibly do for us at this point is tell Potter to annul our marriage."

Dumbledore blinked and then -- then -- had the nerve to smile and go all teary-eyed. "I see you have worked out your differences, Severus, Harry, if in an unconventional manner. My dear boys, I'm so happy for you."

Harry choked and Snape let loose an unintelligible string of profanity that left spittle on his lips. Harry could hardly believe he'd imagined kissing-- No. He'd imagined nothing. A brief and terrifying impulse had crossed his mind, much like that strange self-destructive urge people got standing on high buildings and bridges. A passing suicidal fancy, that was all.

Snape was probably an awful kisser anyway.

"That should do," Hermione said, and Harry spun around -- too quickly; Snape shot him a strange look -- to distract himself with a look at the new Sorting Hat. Hermione held up a mirror, and the hat let out a strangled scream.

"You... You've made me into a bowler!"

"It's not that bad," Hermione said crossly. "There are worse hats to be."

"I should have sorted you into Hufflepuff, you wretched -- Oh, my poor brim. My peak. What has she done to you?"

"Well, I think you look quite handsome. Harry? Ron?"

"Oh yes," Harry said. "I've never seen a finer hat."

"You should be happy," Ron said. "She could have made you into a tam."

"Not helping, Ronald," Hermione said as the hat moaned.

Snape cleared his throat. "If we're quite finished with this pathetic exercise in domestic drudgery, we have a Dark Lord to kill."

"Good luck," Dumbledore's portrait called as they filed out of the headmistress's office. "Oh, and Harry? Severus? Congratulations."

They held one last war council around the kitchen table at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Snape had allowed Hermione to invite a select few from the Order to join them; 'select few' turned out to be the entire Weasley clan, all three aurors, Lupin, McGonagall, Jones, Doge, and Neville.

"I'm very cross with you, Harry," McGonagall said. She was wearing a very tall hat that actually frightened Harry a little. "You might have asked for help."

"I cannot believe you, Ronald," Mrs Weasley said. "Running all over the country looking for dangerous artefacts--"

"-- and not sharing them with us," Fred put in.

"You might have at least saved a little one for me," Moody grumbled.

"Wait," said Mr Weasley. "Go back to the part about the shovels. You say you didn't get to use them at all?"

"Granger might as well have taken an ad out in the Prophet," Snape said. "Shut up, all of you."

There was a brief silence, and then McGonagall and Mrs Weasley both started in on Snape about the marriage fiasco; it was nice to hear someone else get the blame for that.

By the time they got around to going over the plan one last time, Harry had stopped listening. He knew the plan; he'd contributed several nods to its formation and one suggestion, which Snape and Hermione vetoed. They might have at least pretended to consider it, Harry thought as he slipped out of the kitchen and up the stairs. He checked his bag to make sure his invisibility cloak was still in with the Spellotov cocktails. The twins swore their newest product would make the chaos they created when they left Hogwarts look like a first-year Charms project. Harry believed them. He had to, or he thought he'd lock himself in his room and never come out.

In fact, he might just do that anyway.

Harry ducked into the downstairs toilet, ran some cold water and splashed his face. Now that the end had arrived his body wanted to fly off in a million pieces. His skin felt like it had been colonized by hyperactive ants, and his eyes, when he looked in the mirror, were comically wide.

"Big day?" asked the mirror.

"You could say that."

"Getting married? Don't let the bride see you looking like that."

"He already has," Harry muttered. He slapped himself, trying to bring some colour back to his face.

He had a few minutes to himself, and then he would confront Voldemort and fulfill his destiny. Neither can live while the other survives.

"Destiny sucks," Harry told the mirror. He was about to commit suicide by Dark Lord, and he was spending his last moments locked in a creaky old loo feeling miserable. Might as well enjoy myself a little.

He slipped his hand inside his pants and took hold of himself, the same rough grip he'd been using since Snape swore fealty to him. ("Here now," said the mirror. "Save that for the honeymoon!") Fast and quiet, never dwelling long. He slowed. Bugger that. If I'm going to die today, I'm having a proper wank first. He scowled, and his mirror self scowled back, which was weird and hot. Snape was always scowling at him.

Snape would be furious at him.

There was a tap at the door, and Harry's first thought certainly wasn't What took him so long?

He reached back and opened the door without taking his other hand off his cock. Snape didn't seem surprised to find Harry with his hand down his trousers again.

"I need to relax," Harry said. "You don't want me going into battle all jittery, do you?"

"Of course not, Potter," Snape said, voice mild and polite in a way Harry had only every heard him use when addressing Mr Malfoy or the Minister for Magic. Snape stepped inside and shut the door, pressing close until the sink dug into the small of Harry's back. "I have just the thing to help you."

"Er. You do?" Harry hadn't expected it to be this easy -- not that he'd expected anything. He'd been wanking, not summoning. Definitely not summoning. Harry squirmed as Snape cupped his face and then slid his fingers through Harry's hair. Harry's lips parted. Of course Snape had what Harry needed. Snape always had what he needed. Snape was always saving Harry, always taking care of him. Snape was--

Snape was yanking Harry's head back and upending a phial over his open mouth.

"Agthblah!" said Harry. He choked, mouth flooded with something that tasted as though Snape had dug a turnip out of a compost heap and boiled it with vinegar and old socks and doxy liver for a month. "Gah, you're trying to kill me. What was that?"

"Nerve tonic."

"And you couldn't have just given it to me like a normal person?"

"You're not normal, Potter."

Harry couldn't think of an answer that wouldn't result in another insult. He wiped at his mouth, and noticed his hands had stopped shaking. His stomach settled, and the ants on his skin milled around in drugged confusion before fading away. "I think it's working. I feel better."

A little too better. Great, even. Harry stood up straighter. He felt like he could beat Voldemort with his wand hand jinxed behind his back. He felt like he could fly his Firebolt to the moon and back. He felt like he could kiss Snape and not die of mortification on the spot, because Snape had stuck his hands down Harry's pants before and they'd both survived, and maybe admitting it felt good was braver than pretending it hadn't.

God, there was something seriously wrong with him.

"What kind of nerve tonic was that?"

Snape smirked. "A strong one."

Harry kissed him. His lips were dry and he tasted like he'd had sardines for breakfast. Harry had been right; Snape was a bad kisser.

"You're taking advantage of your position, milord Potter," Snape said.

"You did it all the time when you were teaching."

"True." Snape hesitated, and then kissed Harry back, a little better this time. Maybe Snape was just out of practice. He still tasted like fish though. "You summoned me, Potter," Snape breathed into his ear. "I warned you that I would answer if you called me during the day, so I must conclude you desire further services."

"Don't feed me nerve tonic and then think you can embarrass me."

Snape pressed him against the wall; the sink stopped digging into his back and started digging into his hip.

"Not working," Harry said.

Snape shifted his own hips forward.

"Still not working. God, what the hell was in that stuff?"

"Scotch and doxy liver."

Harry laughed, and Snape looked affronted.

"It's my own recipe," Snape said, and kissed him again.

"How much of it have you had today?" Harry asked when they parted.


Harry assumed that meant the whole bottle. He couldn't think of any other reason for Snape to be rubbing up against him like a... like cat in heat, except cats didn't grind like that, and they didn't have broad shoulders that could pin a man to a wall like that. And really, any cat that could get down both zips with one hand ought to have its own television programme.

"Umph," Harry said as Snape surged against him. Snape's cock was hot and hard against his own. "Are you scared too?"

"Absolutely not," Snape huffed in his ear.

"Oh. Me neither."

Snape made a garbled sound, half laughter and half frustrated hiss, and sped his hips, rubbing and thrusting. Harry clutched at his shoulders -- they really were quite broad under all that black -- and tried to raise his leg around Snape's waist. He bashed his knee on the sink instead.


"Watch your mouth," Snape said. He'd closed his eyes and his face had gone alarmingly and very unattractively red.

Harry kissed him, and it was a lot better now, especially when Snape got his hand around both of them and pulled, rough clumsy strokes that had Harry's toes scrunching up inside his trainers. He bashed his knee again and didn't care because he was coming, coming all over Snape's hand and cock, and stars flashed around his head like he'd stumbled into some pornographic cartoon.

"Uhng," Snape said, and squeezed, fingers slipping over Harry's softening cock, slipping through Harry's come. With a hot splash against Harry belly, Snape collapsed against him, panting.

"Really, young sir," the mirror muttered. "Wedding jitters do not excuse such behaviour."

This startled a laugh from Harry. "Somehow I think my 'bride' will understand." He grinned, feeling quite smug until he glanced at Snape's face. Snape looked... Snape looked disappointed. "Oh shit," Harry said. "Was I crap? I was, wasn't I? Not that I should care since it's you, it's just that I don't want to be crap at--"

"Potter. It was..." Snape's expression turned even more pained. He pulled away and rinsed his hands at the sink. "It was... acceptable."

"Acceptable?" Harry blinked. "You've never thought anything I've ever done was acceptable. You once gave me a T on the way I hold my fork and then took ten points when Dumbledore wouldn't let you grade for table manners."

"Utensils are not quidditch bats," Snape said. Two bright spots of red surfaced on his cheeks.

"Oh my God," Harry said. "I wasn't crap. I was good. You liked it."

"I said nothing of the kind." Snape was scowling but the blush ruined the effect. "The others are waiting for us."

"Admit it, Snape," Harry said, feeling behind him for the doorknob that was jammed into his kidneys. "We had sex and you liked it." Harry flung open the door to find most of the Order assembled in the corridor, open mouthed and frozen in the midst of their preparations.

"Atta boy, Harry!" Fred shouted.

"I think I'm going to be sick," said Ron.

"You are a very bad man, Severus Snape," said McGonagall.

"Er," said Neville. "We're ready. If you're done, that is."

"Fine." Harry forced his feet to move. "Stop gawking and let's go." They obeyed -- slowly and with many dodgy looks at Harry and Snape.

"Harry," Charlie said, sidling up and lowering his voice. "If it was just that you didn't want to die a virgin you could have asked me."

Harry, in the middle of checking his wand, froze. "What? No, that wasn't it at all."

"Really?" Charlie, if anything, sounded even more interested. "So who've you been shagging then?"

"No one!" Harry spluttered.

"Good on you, mate," George said, and he and Fred each flung an arm around Harry's shoulders and led him away. "Now tell us the truth. Is Snape a screamer?"

"No! I mean, I don't know, we didn't-- No!" Harry ducked away from the curious looks and clutching hands, but Lupin caught up to him at the door.

"Harry, I'm not sure how much time you and Sirius had to talk about these things, but..."

"What, Lupin?" Harry threw the bag holding his invisibility cloak over his shoulder. "What further humiliation could you possibly have for me?"

"You did use protection, didn't you?"

"It's not my fault," Harry said. A curse exploded over his head in a shower of smoke and sparks, and he sunk lower behind the ruin of the old stone wall outside the house in Godric's Hollow. "She crawled into the bag. It's not like I purposely brought a blabbermouth snake that only me and my mortal enemy can understand into battle."

"Petrificus totalis!" Snape screamed, and there was a thunk as one of the Death Eaters pinning them fell to the ground. Snape fell back, shoulder to shoulder with Harry, distractingly warm and solid. "For the last time, Potter, intentions do not matter. Actions do. And your actions -- stupefy! -- have alerted the Dark Lord to our presence."

"My goodness," Mabel said from where she coiled at the base of the mailbox post. The letters on the mailbox said 'Potter' in cracked and peeling red paint, only the P and one of the Ts were mostly gone so it really said 'ot er'. "What a commotion. Have they run out of candied newts?"

"Oh, shut up," Harry snapped. "There's no tea, no newts, no mice, and we're all going to die because of you."

"Such cheek! There'll be no pudding for you, young man." Mabel flicked her tongue at him and slithered off into the overgrown garden.

"Potter! Might I have your attention for the duration of the fight?"

"Sorry." Harry threw a few hexes and one of the twins' magical cocktails over the wall, and someone screamed. He hoped it was Bellatrix. "Snape, we can't stay here. Voldemort's in there somewhere, and he's mortal. I'm not letting him escape." Harry scrambled into a crouch, wand clutched tightly. His fear drained away, like he'd stood up too quickly and all the blood and common sense had rushed from his brain. Actions. Right. He had a plan, and maybe it wasn't a very good plan -- it was one of his, after all -- but it was better than dying against a wall outside his childhood home. "You go left, I'll go right."

"Potter, get back here!"

Harry slipped away from Snape at an awkward half-run half-scuttle, hurrying towards the once hotly contested gate. Tonks and Charlie had held it against Macnair and one of the Lestrange brothers, but now it was deserted in the growing gloom of smoke and twilight, no sign of either side, no indication as to the victor.

Although, considering Macnair's habits, the fact that there were no body parts strewn around was probably a good sign that Tonks and Charlie had won.

Harry slipped through the gate and down the path. He could see figures at the front of the house, hazy in the smoke, so he diverted to the right. Clematis vines and hidden tree roots attacked his footing as he dashed along the side of the ruined house. Reaching the back garden, Harry dived over a low hedge, rolled, and fetched up in a pile of last fall's mouldering leaves, wand raised, ready to blast--


Harry tipped his head, listening. It didn't sound like Snape had followed the plan; cracks and sizzles and booms still resounded from the front of the house, punctuated by Bellatrix demanding Snape turn Harry over, and Snape screaming back that she was welcome to him.

An overgrown hydrangea bush rustled, and Harry spun around. "Stupe--"

"Why, hello again. How nice of you to come for tea."

"Bloody fucking hell!" Harry lowered his wand a fraction. "Mabel, get out of here."

"But I haven't tried the mouse pudding yet. I told Hazel you can't get a decent mouse pudding outside Cheshire, but she-- My goodness, where are you going in such a hurry?"

Where he was going was backwards, through the air, as an invisible force lifted him up and slammed him into a tree. Dead vines, tough and wiry, looped around him, pinning his arms and legs. His wand tumbled to the ground.

"Crap," Harry said as two glowing red eyes swam out of the haze.

"Harry Potter," Voldemort said. "Welcome home." He glided closer, and the smoke parted for him, sickeningly eager to swirl with evil drama. "You're wondering why I chose this place, the site of my temporary defeat, as the setting for our final confrontation."

"Bugger that," Harry said. "Crucio me all you want, but I am not sitting through another of your speeches about how clever you are."

"Indeed." Voldemort sounded amused. "How do you plan to avoid it?"

Harry swore. He didn't need a plan, damn it; he was Harry Potter. He cast about for something, anything, to use against Voldemort, but all he saw was smoke and weeds and a babbling senile snake.

A poisonous babbling senile snake.

"Mabel! Bite him!"

"My goodness, no," Mabel said.

Voldemort laughed. "You forget, Potter. She serves me, the true heir of Slytherin, as do all her kind. Your stolen talent at parseltongue cannot compare to the control I have over Slytherin's chosen ones."

"Like I told Hazel, people give me the indigestion." Mabel flicked her tongue. "Now, a nice English field mouse and a cup of darjeeling..."

Harry gnashed his teeth. Of all the ridiculous guardians Voldemort could have chosen to protect his horcrux... I'm an idiot. Harry would have slapped his forehead if he could move his hands. "Mabel, he's stealing Hufflepuff's cup!"

"What?" She reared up. "Not on my watch, young sir. King and country!" She darted across the garden, faster than Harry would have believed.

"You!" Voldemort hissed. "I command you to-- hurgle!"

It was amazing how quickly snake venom could make a person swell up, turn purple, and start frothing.

Harry held his breath as he watched Voldemort -- his parents' murderer and the root of so much evil -- claw at his throat, and then fumble in his robes for something before he stiffened, convulsed, and toppled over. When he landed, a bezoar rolled from his hand and came to rest at Harry's foot.

"Is..." Harry licked his lips. "Is he dead?"

"Oh my, yes," Mabel said. "I'm going to be up all night now with a tummy ache."

Harry let loose a primal scream of victory, and then another. "We did it, Mabel!" He laughed, grinning like a madman.

Finally, after all these years, his life would be his own again. No more Dark Lords, no more Death Eaters, no more evil lurking in the shadows. "I'm free." Harry turned his grin on Mabel, who was flicking her tongue at him. He flicked his tongue back, and then laughed again. Voldemort had been right; it was fitting that it end here, in the ruins of the house where it began for them. His life had been derailed for sixteen years, but now it belonged to him again. He could do anything, be anyone, go anywhere...

"So," he said. He wiggled his toes inside his shoes and flexed his elbow. The explosions had fallen silent, and the thick air muffled the world and made Harry feel as though he and the tree were floating in a void. A cold and damp void. "Er. Mabel? I don't suppose you can cut through vines? I guess not. No hands." He wiggled his nose; it was starting to itch. The vines binding his arms scratched. "Hello? Is anyone there? Ron? Hermione? Tonks?"

Silence answered, and the sound of Mabel slithering away into the ruins.

"Er," Harry said. "... Snape?"

The wizarding world threw a week-long party that put Mardi Gras to shame. Harry missed it. The stupid oath of fealty meant he was stuck sitting through every minute of Snape's new trial with the spell prickling at him, urging him to act on Snape's behalf when he'd already done everything he could to convince the Wizengamot of Snape's relative innocence.

"No wonder feudalism went out of style," Harry muttered, just loudly enough for Snape, sitting in chains just in front of Harry, to hear. "Yes, I know. Bondswizard in danger, got it. Shut up already." Harry smacked the side of his head, earning odd looks from the crowd and a four-second reprieve from the oath's prodding.

When Umbridge interrupted the defence for the twenty-third time, Harry had enough. He stood and headed for the door.

"Mr Potter," Scrimgeour called. "We may need you to testify again. Where are you going?"

Harry stuffed his hands in his pockets and regarded Britain's highest wizarding court. They were all holding their breath and looking at him like he was... like he was Mabel. "My apologies, Minister, but I can see the Wizengamot doesn't appreciate Professor Snape's efforts to end the war, so I'm going to resurrect Voldemort. You can fight him your own bloody selves this time. Cheers."

The exoneration went a lot faster after that, and by the end of the day, Harry found himself in the corridor outside the courtroom with Snape. The last few reporters clustered at the end of the hall, nursing their hexed body parts, but everyone else had gone.

"So," Harry said. Snape, amazingly, still had broad shoulders. Funny how a thing like that couldn't be de-noticed. "I guess I'll see you around then."

"So eager to end our association, Potter?" Snape all but purred the words, looming close.

"Er..." Harry licked his lips. His heart skipped from a walk to a jog and a dozen improbable paths the conversation might take jumped to mind. "I, uh, if you want to--"

"Potter." Snape grabbed Harry by the front of his robe and shook him. "Remove. The. Bloody. Spell."

"Oh! The oath of fealty. Right. Um." Flushed, Harry fumbled for his wand, dropped it, collided with Snape as he tried to retrieve it.

"Oh for God's sake. I can't believe you saved the world. Accio Potter's wand."

"Thanks," Harry said. "Er. Just how do I break the spell?" Huh he thought. I wonder when Snape developed that tic in his eye.

Snape walked him through it. Harry thought spelling out any words longer than six letters was a bit excessive, but he supposed he couldn't blame Snape after what happened last time they cast a spell together.

"So, is it broken now?" Harry asked when he'd made it through without any more catastrophic slips.

Snape observed him, eyes dark and unfathomable. "Perhaps."

"How can we test it?"

"Think of..." Snape, unaccountably, turned a little pink. "Girls. Boys. Whatever you think of when you... Just try to summon me."

Harry knew exactly what was going to pop into his mind, and it did in all its horrifying glory. Snape. Naked, sweaty, grunting Snape, which had somehow gone from gross to hot. Very hot. And Snape was standing so close like they were back in the tiny loo at Grimmauld Place... "Okay," Harry said, and winced as his voice broke. "Summoning. Do you feel anything?"

Snape let out a breath. "No. Nothing."

"Good." Harry squirmed. The situation inside his pants was becoming urgent. "Well then--"

"One moment, Potter. We're not quite through. Dissolving the oath itself does not necessarily undo your improvised secondary effects." Snape grabbed him by the scruff and marched him down the corridor.

"Let go of me!"

"Sorry, Potter, but I'm not your bondswizard anymore. I don't have to obey you."

"You never did anyway," Harry grumbled.

Snape smirked. "I complied with every order you gave me. You simply didn't give me many orders to obey. It's not my fault that you preferred to follow my politely worded suggestions rather than lead."

"Politely worded--" Harry stopped short, and Snape pulled him along. "You bossed me around for two months, and all that time you had to do what I said?"

"The last horcrux was right," Snape said. "Gryffindor did turn you into a fool." He turned off at a junction marked RECORDS, and chose a door with a dusty plate that read: Betrothals & Marriages, Enchanted.

Harry, still dazed, followed him into a small cluttered office with an absurdly high desk. A very small man was perched on a tall stool, chin to his chest, eyes shut. Snape rang the desk's bell.

"Eh?" asked the little clerk, cracking one eye open.

"I wish to enquire as to the status of a marriage. Potter, Harry James, and Snape, Severus Irwin."


"Shut up, Potter. It would have been registered by magical contract, March of this year."

"Up there." The man pointed to a piece of parchment that had been spelltacked -- poorly -- to the wall. "Folks've been in and out for weeks wanting a look at it. I been up and down and up and down fetching it from the cabinet and I'm sick of it. Do I look like I can climb off of this stool without a levitation charm?"

"No," Snape bit out. "Allow me to assist you." He vanished the stool and then, while Harry went to see if the clerk was all right, studied the license.

"What does it say?" Harry asked; the clerk had tried to hex him so Harry had left him on the floor.

"It says you're an idiot who should have his wand confiscated."

"We're still married then."

"Yes, Potter. A situation you will remedy within twenty-four hours."

Harry hesitated. He'd never thought to be married -- and divorced -- before he even turned eighteen, let alone to a man. To Snape. Who was really good in bed. Not that they'd ever done it in a bed, though Harry supposed that might have been more com--


"All right, all right. I'll file for divorce in the morning." That was not disappointment in his voice. It was relief, just... smaller and sounding not much like itself.

As of breakfast a week after the divorce the papers had yet to tire of the news; apparently the entire journalistic world now hailed the marriage as part of Harry's brilliant plan to destroy the Dark Lord and not a colossal blunder. He decided that for once he liked the Prophet's version better than reality, and added the morning paper to the stack in the middle of the kitchen table. The pile had overtaken the sugar bowl and was now annexing the salt.

He'd just taken a bite of his toast when Snape stormed in.

"Erlph," he said, and then tried to swallow. "Er, hi." Harry waited, but Snape seemed inclined to stay at the kitchen door, glaring at him. "Can I help you?"

"It's polite to offer visitors tea," Snape said. He still looked furious.

"Oh. Well, it's polite to knock before you enter someone's house. This isn't Order headquarters anymore you know. Is there a reason you're here?"

Snape only looked even more angry. He sat down across from Harry without being invited, and folded his hands on the table in front of him. "I have no particular cause to be here, Potter, and before you say anything, I am no more happy about it than you are."

"Oh," Harry said. There were only a few reasons Harry could think of for Snape to voluntarily sit at the same table, and only one of them would etch that much dismay onto Snape's features. Harry didn't know whether to be flattered or terrified. He settled for a bit of each. "Would you like to stay for tea? And then maybe we could go out somewhere?" He hadn't said that. He'd stopped at 'tea'.

Snape was looking at him funny. Harry had always failed Introduction to Understanding Grumpy Potions Masters, and this, he supposed, was his NEWT in the class.

Harry plunged on, mostly to delay the explosion. "We could... we could go to the natural history museum and you can tell me how wrong the exhibits are." Better. Passing grade -- an A at least, maybe even an E. "I'm sure you know loads more than the experts." Ha! That one was worth an O. "We could have ice cream."

Snape's expression turned thunderous.

Crap, he'd blown it. T for sure. Unless-- "Or a pint. Of beer," he added, in case that wasn't clear. He had no idea how he was doing, and Snape was a stone-faced black-robed statue.

Whose mouth was twitching.

"We could..."

"Potter. We shall begin with tea. Now."

Harry shut up and flicked his wand at the kettle. Snape had stopped by to... well, to let Harry make an ass of himself it seemed. As Harry poured the tea he decided to what he did best: make it up as he went along. If they managed to voluntarily have tea without killing each other, they might just make a go of it.

Then again, Snape being Snape, it was probably best they'd got the divorce out of the way first.




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