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The Marriage Stone

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Disclaimer: All places and characters belong to JK Rowling and the WB and various publishers. No money is being made off this piece of fiction.

 

Warnings: This story is Slash of the HP/SS variety (there will also be some SB/RL and HG/RW as a side plot). My rating of MV however is more due to violence than any explicit sexual content. I tend to focus more on 'romance' rather than anything graphically sexual. Furthermore, while Harry is 16 at the start of the story he will be at least 17 or 18 before the relationship develops into a physical level.

 

Canon: Through Book 4 only. More detailed Author's Note at the bottom of this chapter.

The Marriage Stone

 

Chapter 1 - Trouble with the Minister

 

Harry did his best to ignore the stares of the other students as he searched for an empty compartment on the Hogwarts Train. He was used to people staring and whispering behind his back, but this year it seemed worse than normal. Even his fellow Gryffindors grew silent when they saw him; they smiled at him as he passed, and then began whispering about him the moment they assumed he was out of hearing range.

 

Finding an empty compartment, he hid inside it, thinking it ironic that he could go from one extreme to the next just by getting on a train. The Dursleys pretended he didn't exist; the Wizarding World couldn't get enough of him.

 

He could only hope that this year would be uneventful. Then maybe he'd be left in peace as people forgot about the events of last year. It wasn't as if he'd wanted to become the target of Voldemort and his Death Eaters -– he didn't ask for it after all. It just seemed to work out that way. And last year -- his fifth -- had proven more eventful than the previous four years combined.

 

Oh, he'd managed the usual fifteen-year-old antics -- played Quidditch brilliantly, learned new subjects, passed and failed tests, got detention, won and lost points for Gryffindor, fought and bonded with his closest friends. But in between the chaos of his typical school days he also managed to face down Death Eaters and their Dark Lord not once but three times in the course of the year. The last confrontation, just before the school term ended for the summer, proved the proverbial bullet the entire Wizarding World dodged.

 

Voldemort, grown great and terrible in power, had managed to get his hands on a legendary artifact –- the Eye of Odin, a crystal that could destroy or subjugate any Wizard who dared stand against its wielder. Naturally he attacked Hogwarts with it, intent on destroying both Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore. He killed the first wave of Aurors that moved against him and his followers. They fell with barely a fight, no match for the restored Dark Lord and his new weapon. Truthfully no one was a match, not even Dumbledore; no one was strong enough to stand against Voldemort. The strongest in the Wizarding World gathered in defense of the ancient castle and the children trapped inside. They stood without hope, even the most optimistic of them realizing finally that putting all their faith in the abilities of one young boy was ridiculous.

 

Naturally, Harry Potter rose to the occasion and proved them all wrong. Granted he lacked the strength or the power to stand against Voldemort; but that didn't stop him from putting on his invisibility cloak, climbing on his Firebolt, and facing down the Dark Lord as if competing in a Quidditch match. No magic, no spells, no wands drawn to duel -- Harry Potter just raced into the midst of the army of Death Eaters on his broom and stole the Eye of Odin right out of Voldemort's hand.

 

The backlash of energy released from the theft killed the Death Eaters closest to Voldemort, drained the Dark Lord of all his reserved power, and landed Harry Potter in the hospital wing for three weeks. Voldemort fled, weakened but not dead. The Death Eaters scattered, went back into hiding, and Harry Potter was clapped on the back by a grateful world, and sent home to Privet Drive for the summer. He spent the summer months suffering nightmares locked up in a tiny room in his uncle's house while his face was splashed across the front page of the Daily Prophet incessantly.

 

Now he rode the train back to Hogwarts, enduring the whispers and stares as best he could. Eventually Ron and Hermione found him and kept him company. His two friends talked about their summers, entertained him with stories about the fun they'd had (they knew he had not been so lucky staying with the Dursleys), and generally did their best to keep his mind off the circus that was his life.

 

It was only as the train was nearing Hogwarts that Hermione hinted at a bizarre political situation that had risen over the summer -– that Harry, the Hero of the Wizarding World, had become one of the hottest political commodities in a fierce re-election campaign for the office of Minister of Magic. Cornelius Fudge was up for re-election and had no less than fifteen opponents running against him. Gaining the favor of Harry Potter would insure the election of whatever Wizard or Witch could win it. But as Harry didn't know any of the other candidates, and had no interest in supporting Cornelius Fudge, he dismissed Hermione's warnings as unimportant. Little did Harry know that the desire for re-election was about to turn his world upside down once again.

 

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Harry sat between Ron and Neville at the Gryffindor table while Dumbledore gave his opening-year speech, reminding the students to stay out of the Dark Forest and reminding them that residual magic from the Battle (it hadn't been given a name yet Seamus pointed out -– though he was pushing for the Battle of Hogwarts) was still lingering around the Quidditch pitch, and until it had been completely cleaned up all students were to watch their wand usage in the area. Clean up duty would fall to the seventh years as part of their practicals on the Misuse of Wild Magic.

 

"Don't envy them that," Dean told his fellow sixth years. "I imagine they'll still be finding bits and pieces of Death Eaters out there."

 

Harry felt himself pale at Dean's words, unable to join in the laugher his words engendered in the other boys. He'd only wanted to save those inside the castle -- when he'd stolen the Eye of Odin from Voldemort he hadn't intended to be responsible for so many deaths.

 

"Dean!" Hermione's voice cut through the laughter, and she glared at the others. "I thought we all agreed not to mention certain subjects."

 

Judging by the guilty looks the others were suddenly throwing at Harry, he could imagine just exactly what those subjects were. He wondered when Hermione had found time to discuss this with the others, though he was grateful for the effort. The three times he had faced down Voldemort last year his friends and classmates had all been safely locked away in Gryffindor tower. To them the stories were distant and fascinating -- to Harry they were living nightmares that he had to reliving night after night. Summer had been more hellish than usual. Unable to control his dreams he'd woken his family up most nights with his screams of terror. And while Uncle Vernon had never really beaten him beyond slaps and the occasional backhand across the back of the head, Harry had been punished -- going without meals, earning extra chores, spending all the rest of his time locked up like a prisoner to be kept away from 'normal' people.

 

"Sorry, Harry," Dean apologized.

 

"That's all right," Harry assured them all, wanting to appear as normal as possible. "Though it does make me wonder what it means for the start of the Quidditch season this year."

 

"Blast!" Seamus cursed in agreement. "That's right! Do you suppose this means we can't use brooms around the pitch either?"

 

"Dumbledore didn't say anything about brooms," Ron pointed out. "Just said to watch the use of wands."

 

"Maybe that means the Slytherins won't be able to cheat this year?" Neville suggested.

 

They all threw dark glares across the room at the Slytherin table. Malfoy like usual was holding court with his cohorts around him. Once again Lucius Malfoy had gone unpunished for his Death Eater activities. The fact that he had not been present at the final battle had apparently proven his innocence to enough of the higher-ups that they had for once ignored Harry's testimony that Malfoy was one of Voldemort's most trusted servants.

 

Both Mr. Goyle, and Mr. Crabbe had been found dead on the field. Their wives however had pleaded innocent. Consequently both their sons were still firmly ensconced in their usual places beside Draco Malfoy, going unnoticed by the Ministry who had more than enough to contend with. If their fathers' allegiance to the Dark Lord had harmed their standing in Slytherin house any, it was not apparent to Harry or the rest of Gryffindor. How Harry was going to deal with classmates who believed him responsible for the deaths of their fathers he didn't know.

 

"I suppose they'll be more insufferable than ever," Dean grumbled. "Even with half of their parents suspected of being dark wizards, they still act like they own the world."

 

"Just goes to show what money and a family name will buy you," Seamus agreed.

 

"Doesn't explain Snape," Ron grumbled, and Harry threw him a warning frown. They all knew Snape had been spying for Dumbledore, and last year he, Ron and Hermione had agreed to speak about him as little as possible for fear of saying something they weren't supposed to.

 

"Don't let his disposition fool you," Seamus told them all in a quiet whisper. "Snape's family is one of the oldest and more powerful in the Wizarding World -- and I hear they're loaded."

 

"Snape has a family?" Ron stared at him in shock.

 

"Well, I don't know much about that," Seamus admitted. "Heard he's got a sister and a couple of brothers, though I don't know much about them. But my uncle works for the Ministry's revenue board, and mentioned the funds generated by some of the older family estates -- he mentioned a Snape Manor."

 

"That doesn't mean it is Snape's," Hermione pointed out. "If he's got siblings, it's just as likely any family inheritance went to them."

 

"Still, wouldn't that just figure," Dean grumbled. "Bastard doesn't need to work, but still he's here making our lives a living hell just because he enjoys tormenting students."

 

"Least he doesn't hate you the way he does me," Neville sighed. "I'm just grateful I don't have to take any more potions classes from him." Neville as expected had done very poorly on his potions OWLs, and consequently was not enrolled in advanced potions.

 

"I can't believe Harry and I both made it into advanced potions," Ron muttered. "I can't believe we actually want to continue taking classes from Snape."

 

"You know you can't be an Auror without his class," Hermione reminded him.

 

"I'm sure if he had been the one grading our OWLs we wouldn't have gotten any," Harry sighed. "He's going to do his best to make us regret passing this year."

 

"Don't worry, Harry," Hermione assured him. "We'll all work together and we'll be fine. We'll all get through potions even if it kills us!"

 

"That's what we're afraid of," Ron, Dean, Seamus and Harry said in unison. They all burst into laughter, only to be distracted a moment later as the feast arrived on their table. Starving, Harry dug in, having one of the first decent meals he'd had all summer long.

 

They were just getting ready to head back to the tower when Professor McGonagall asked Harry, Ron and Hermione to accompany her. Bewildered, they bid good night to their year mates and followed their head of house out of the great hall, wondering what they could have possible have done in the few short hours they'd been on school grounds to have drawn the attention of the staff so soon.

 

They were led to a private room near the main staff lounge where to their surprise they found Arthur and Molly Weasley waiting for them. While Ron went to greet his parents, Harry noticed Dumbledore, Snape and Hooch joining them. To his surprise Percy Weasley was there as well. The former Head Boy of Hogwarts threw Harry a weak smile, said something to his father, and then hurried back out of the room again. Harry and Hermione exchanged bewildered looks, both shrugging at each other.

 

"Ah, Harry," Dumbledore greeted him. "Come in, my boy. Come in. We seem to have a bit of a problem I'm afraid."

 

Harry felt his heart fluttering his chest. When Dumbledore said there was a problem, it usually meant something bad. "Is it. . ." his voice broke and he was ashamed to see that Snape was glaring at him. "Is it Voldemort?"

 

His use of the Dark Lord's name had the typical response. Everyone except Dumbledore and Snape flinched at the sound.

 

Dumbledore frowned, something Harry didn't find reassuring. "Well, not directly," he informed Harry. "Though he does have some bearing on the situation. We've had word that he's been seen again gathering his forces. Seems he's recovered from his little disaster last spring."

 

Harry felt his knees growing weak and he was thankful to discover a chair directly behind him as he sat down without thinking. "You said not directly, sir?" he asked shakily. Voldemort was gathering his forces, but that wasn't the problem Dumbledore was currently frowning over. This was not going to be good. He could tell just by the worried looks on Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's faces.

 

"I'm afraid our current problem has to do with Minister Fudge," Dumbledore explained.

 

Harry glanced briefly at the others in the room. For the most part he saw looks of disgust on the faces of the adults in the room. "Something's happened to Minister Fudge?"

 

"I wish," Molly Weasley muttered under her breath. Arthur nodded in agreement.

 

"No, Harry," Dumbledore sighed, pausing to stroke his long silver beard. "I suppose you haven't been reading the papers this summer?"

 

"No, sir," Harry admitted. "My uncle gets the Times but he'd take a belt to me if I touched it."

 

Surprisingly that comment got as many winces as the mention of Voldemort's name did, followed by a baffling exchange of looks amongst the adults.

 

"I actually meant Wizarding papers, my boy," Dumbledore said gently. "But never mind that. The thing is Harry, Cornelius Fudge is up for re-election, and he has more competition than he's ever had before. All of the candidates are clamoring for favor among the Wizarding World. And it seems you're the favored ticked to the office."

 

"I don't understand, sir," Harry frowned, wishing now he had paid more attention to Herminie's explanation on the train. How could he have anything to do with an election?

 

"It's a popularity contest, Harry," Hermione explained. "Which ever candidate can get you to endorse them is bound to win as public opinion pretty much favors anything to do with you."

 

Surprised, Harry blinked in confusion. "But I don't even know any of the other candidates. I haven't favored any of them. I haven't even spoken to any of them. How could I be involved in this election?"

 

"Doesn't matter, Harry," Dumbledore explained. "It's more a matter of what news gets printed, and you know the Daily Prophet's fondness for making up stories. It's rather amazing how many of these candidates have admitted to having private conversations with you about battle tactics and defensive spells. But that's the least of our worries. Minister Fudge has decided to take this whole situation one step farther and get you on his side once and for all."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

Dumbledore frowned and glanced over at Arthur Weasley. Arthur sighed and sat down beside Harry. "Percy intercepted a memo at the Ministry. He's the one who warned me about what was going on. It seems Minister Fudge has decided to declare your uncle an unfit guardian and adopt you himself."

 

Harry leaped to his feet in shock. "Adopt me!" He'd spent his childhood unwanted, and now suddenly the bloody Minister of Magic wanted to adopt him.

 

"Yes, Harry," Arthur nodded. "And unfortunately, considering who he is, there are very few legal impediments in his way. He's apparently already had all the paperwork finished. We only just discovered this ourselves. Percy said that assuming he can prove his claims against your uncle, the adoption should be legal tonight or tomorrow morning."

 

"But this is ridiculous!" Harry protested, his words echoed closely by Ron and Hermione both.

 

"Harry," Dumbledore interrupted. "It's only ridiculous if the claims against your uncle are unfounded."

 

"What do you mean?" Harry asked warily.

 

"What he's trying to ask Harry is whether or not Minister Fudge has any legal right to claim your uncle unfit," Molly explained gently. "We all know that the Dursleys are not nice to you, but have they ever done anything that could be construed as abuse by a court of law?"

 

Harry paled. "Like what?"

 

"Well, you just said something about your uncle taking a belt to you," Molly pointed out. "Would he really take a belt to you?"

 

Harry frowned, suddenly unwilling to say anything more. He had no loyalty to his uncle, but he didn't want to say anything that might get him adopted by Minister Fudge.

 

"Oh, for the love of Merlin, Potter," Snape growled. "Just answer the question so they know what to prepare for. You'll be forced to take Veritaserum by the Ministry if this goes to court."

 

Harry stared at Snape in shock.

 

"Severus!" Molly Weasley glared at the Potion Master. "Don't upset the boy! Now, then Harry, dear, you need to tell us what you can. Has there been any abuse?"

 

Harry squirmed, hating the attention he was being given, particularly by Ron and Hermione. "I'm not certain what you might mean?" he admitted.

 

"Potter!" Snape growled again. "Don't be obtuse. Has your uncle abused you? Has he beaten you, starved you, locked you up, hurt your feelings or stolen your bloody teddy bear?!"

 

All the adults in the room were glaring at Snape now, and Harry grew pale under his dark gaze. But when no other words were forth coming, from anyone, Harry realized that despite the delivery, everyone expected him to answer Snape's questions. "Yes," he admitted quietly.

 

His words seemed to surprise Snape, who blinked in shock and actually took a step back as if not expecting that answer.

 

Dumbledore, looking suddenly every one of his years, sat down on one of the remaining armchairs. "Would you care to elaborate, Harry?" the Headmaster asked softly. Harry blinked at the man in surprise, bewildered by his obvious distress.

 

"I'm sorry, sir," he admitted. "You know all this already."

 

Dumbledore's normally twinkling eyes were sad. "What do you mean, Harry?"

 

"Well, my letter to Hogwarts for one thing, sir," he explained. "You sent it to me with my address on it: Harry Potter Cupboard Under the Stairs."

 

Harry had seen Dumbledore face down Death Eaters without flinching, but this actually made the old man pale. "Do you mean to tell me you were kept in a cupboard?"

 

Harry nodded. "For ten years," he admitted. "They moved me out after the letter came, because they realized you must have known."

 

"Harry, the Hogwarts letters are magically addressed," Professor McGonagall informed him. "None of us would have ever seen the address written on it."

 

"And the rest of it, Harry?" Molly Weasley asked softly; Harry was dismayed to see that her eyes were suspiciously bright.

 

"Well, I never actually had a teddy bear," he admitted, throwing a glare at Snape who was looking surprisingly subdued. "My uncle hit me sometimes," he admitted. "But not that often. Usually when he wanted to punish me he just locked me up and wouldn't feed me. I figured you knew though -- that's why you send me all that food for my birthday."

 

Molly's eyes just grew brighter and Harry was growing seriously concerned that she might cry. "When Ron said you were starving, I just assumed you were starving the same way all teenage boys are always starving -- no more than six or seven square meals a day."

 

Six or seven square meals a day? Harry's eyes widened. That would certainly explain why Ron and his brothers were so tall.

 

"How long would he starve you, Harry?" Professor McGonagall asked.

 

Harry shrugged. "Well, usually only two or three days, sometimes if he was really angry four or five days at a time. Not enough to make me really sick or anything." To his dismay he realized his words didn't quite have the reassuring affect he was going for. "It's not like he was trying to kill me or anything!" he assured them all quickly. Not like Voldemort, he though silently to himself. Next to the things Voldemort had put him through, his uncle was nothing.

 

"Harry, I'm sorry," Dumbledore said quietly. "We didn't know. If we'd known, if I'd known, I never would have left you there."

 

Harry frowned. "But you sent me there to protect me, sir," he reminded the Headmaster. "From Voldemort. Because he couldn't get me there." The last thing he wanted was for Dumbledore to feel bad for his uncle's failings. He understood the necessity, and was surprised that everyone else seemed to have forgotten it.

 

"Yes, Harry," Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "But there are always alternatives. I would have found another solution."

 

Uncertain how to respond to that, Harry simply fell silent, uncomfortable with the attention.

 

"Well, that's it, then," Arthur sighed. "Fudge's claim is legal."

 

"So it would seem," Dumbledore agreed.

 

"But we can't let Fudge adopt Harry," Ron protested.

 

"No, we can't," Dumbledore nodded.

 

"I'm sorry," Hermione broke in, her brow wrinkled in concentration. "I don't really see what the problem is. I mean granted it would be awful for Harry to be adopted by Fudge. But would it really make that much of a difference? Fudge is just going to say what ever he wants to the papers anyway -- Harry's willingness won't make any difference as far as any endorsement goes with or without the adoption. And it's not like Harry is going to have to live with Minister Fudge. Harry is in school for most of the year, and the Minister is much to busy during the summer months to have any time for Harry."

 

"I'm afraid that's not true, Hermione," Dumbledore explained. "That's the problem you see. Fudge has decided to remove Harry from school."

 

Hermione's eyes widened in horror. "But he can't! How would he ever explain that to the papers? Removing the Boy Who Lived from school before he even took his NEWTs."

 

"Private tutors," Arthur explained. "He intends to have Harry tutored by his private staff. That way he can get Harry out from under the influence of Headmaster Dumbledore, something he'd love to do."

 

Dumbledore's earlier statements suddenly made more sense to Harry. He paled, his shakes coming back unexpectedly. "And if he takes me out of Hogwarts that means there will be nothing to protect me from Voldemort."

 

Dumbledore simply nodded in silent agreement.

 

"But surely even Fudge wouldn't be that stupid!" Ron protested, then blushed under the stares the others in the room threw him. "Okay," he conceded. "I guess he would be."

 

Part of the reason they'd lost so many Aurors the previous year was because Fudge had failed to acknowledge Voldemort's return before it was nearly to late. When he finally had no choice, he'd already been made to look the fool by Dumbledore in the eyes of the public.

 

"He'd risk my life to further his political career?" Harry asked.

 

"I'm afraid so," Arthur agreed.

 

"And there's nothing I can do to stop it?"

 

"That's what we need to figure out," Arthur explained.

 

"But what about Sirius?" Harry protested. "My parents appointed him my legal guardian. Surely his claim must take precedence over Fudge's?"

 

Arthur shook his head. "Fudge has nullified his claim. At the moment Sirius Black is still a convicted killer and as such is unfit as your godfather."

 

"Dad!" Ron exclaimed with a wild grin. "Why don't we adopt Harry!"

 

Arthur and Molly both smiled at that. "We already thought of that, Ron," Molly admitted. She smiled sadly at Harry. "Believe me Harry we would take you gladly. But there is no way we can out-maneuver the Minister. He's already had all the paperwork done. It would take us at least three months to process such a claim. If we'd known about this earlier, we could have done something. But as it is, Fudge's claim will be legal in a few hours if it's not already."

 

"Then there's nothing we can do?" Harry asked. "We can't stop the adoption." He looked at Dumbledore, who looked lost in thought as if trying to formulate some plan. "I'll be a sitting duck if Fudge gets his hands on me. If Voldemort himself doesn't get me, Fudge's close personal friend Lucius Malfoy will. I have no choice. I'll have to run."

 

"You'll be a sitting duck if you run," Snape informed him. "You leave a magical signature behind that a child could follow. Voldemort will find you in a matter of days."

 

Harry glared at the Potions Master. "Then what am I supposed to do? I can't run, I can't fight! What am I supposed to do?"

 

"This is ridiculous!" Hermione exclaimed in frustration. "I mean Harry hardly needs another legal guardian! Doesn't seem fair. He's old enough to get married, but he's not old enough to live on his own!"

 

Several heads shot up at that, sharp gazes staring at Hermione in amazement. "What?" she said in surprise taking a step back at the scrutiny.

 

"Hermione Granger, you are brilliant!" Dumbledore exclaimed.

 

She frowned. "What did I say?"

 

"Marriage!" Dumbledore exclaimed. "You are absolutely right, Harry is old enough to get married."

 

"And if he's married, he's automatically considered a legal adult and no longer needs a guardian. Fudge's adoption will be void," Arthur nodded in agreement. "It's a brilliant solution."

 

"What is?" Harry protested. Surely they weren't suggested what he though they were suggesting.

 

"Marriage, my boy!" Dumbledore explained, the happy twinkle back in his blue eyes. "We've simply got to get you married before Fudge arrives with the adoption papers. There won't be a thing he can do about it."

 

Harry's eyes widened in shock. "Marriage! But I'm only sixteen!"

 

"Legal age for marriage in the Wizarding World is fifteen, Harry," Arthur explained. "Used to be thirteen but they changed the age requirements back in 1504."

 

1504? Stunned Harry shook his head in denial. Why didn't people teach him these things in school! "But. . . but. . . .marriage? Whom am I supposed to marry?"

 

Ron and Hermione were staring at him in alarm. Harry almost missed the look of panic Ron threw toward Hermione, the way his face flushed and then paled as if realizing the most obvious match for his friend. It was enough to momentarily distract Harry -- the realization that his friend had actually admitted, at least to himself, his feelings for the brilliant Miss Granger. He also noticed that Ron bit his lip to keep from saying anything, and he understood in a strange leap of logic that Ron would never say anything if he thought it would be what was best for Harry.

 

"Well, we had best find someone quickly," Dumbledore decided, momentarily glancing himself at Hermione. Harry glared at him, silently willing him to look somewhere else. He'd marry Mrs. Norris before he did that to his two best friends in the world.

 

"Do you have a girlfriend, dear?" Molly asked, failing to notice the panic her own son was experience. She smiled hopefully over at Hermione.

 

"No!" Harry insisted. "I don't."

 

"Well, what about. . ." Molly began, still looking at Hermione.

 

"No!" Harry cut her off before she could speak the words out loud. "No offence Hermione," he said quickly. "But that would be like marrying my sister!"

 

"No offence taken," Hermione assured him, looking quite relieved. Ron still said nothing, but Harry saw the look of relief in his eyes. It was followed swiftly by a look of shame, and Harry frowned. This sucked! He wondered if he could just curse Fudge with one of the Unforgivables instead?

 

"The Marriage Stone!" Dumbledore exclaimed suddenly. They all turned to look at him.

 

"Do you still have that old thing?" Madam Hooch asked in wonder.

 

"It's in my office," Dumbledore told her. "Would you get it for me?"

 

She nodded and excused herself from the room.

 

"Are you sure you should use that, Albus?" McGonagall asked worriedly. "It's caused no end of difficulties in the past."

 

"Only when the people in question have already been married. But Harry isn't married yet."

 

"The Marriage Stone," Hermione mused. "I've heard of that. I read about it."

 

Of course she had, Harry thought. "What is it?"

 

"It's a very old artifact, Harry," Dumbledore told him. "It shows you your perfect match for a bond mate."

 

"Perfect match?" Harry said warily. "That doesn't sound bad? What's the catch?" He'd learned the hard way that there was always a catch.

 

"Depends on who's looking into it, Harry," Hermione told him. "The most famous match the Marriage Stone apparently ever revealed was for Queen Guinevere. She looked into it to see her perfect match -- unfortunately she was married to King Arthur at the time and the stone showed her that her perfect match was in fact Sir Lancelot. And we all know how well that story ends."

 

"How's this going to help Harry?" Ron frowned. "I mean if he's got to get married between now and tomorrow morning. What if it shows Harry someone he doesn't know? I mean his perfect match could be living on the other side of the world. Or maybe his perfect match is someone who doesn't like him. Or someone who's too young for him right now. Or someone who is already married. There's a reason no one uses that stone any more."

 

"Well then we'll have to think of something else," Dumbledore explained. "We'll have to find someone else to fill in if that's the case. But we should at least try to make Harry a good match. He deserves every chance at happiness we can give him."

 

"Happiness?" Harry protested, his stomach turning at the very thought. "Come on. We're doing this to keep me alive. Nothing more. The most we can hope for is that we can find someone in this castle who'd be willing to go through with this farce to keep me alive."

 

He couldn't help thinking that somehow Cho Chang's name was going to come up in a matter of moments. He'd had a crush on her fourth year and both Ron and Hermione knew it. Trouble was Cedric Diggory's death had put a stake in the heart of that little romance. Guilt had overwhelmed him every time he looked at her after that. Much as he still liked Cho he imagined it would be easier for him to marry Pansy Parkinson than it would to marry Cho.

 

Madam Hooch returned a moment later carrying a large blue crystal ball in one hand. They all looked at her expectantly. "Well?" Dumbledore asked her.

 

"Oh, you mean you want me. . ." She shrugged and looked into the crystal. "Harry Potter!" she said clearly and distinctly to the stone. They all stared at it expectantly, but nothing happened as far as Harry could see. The blue crystal continued to just look like an ordinary blue crystal. Madam Hooch however paled suddenly, covering the crystal with her other hand with a gasp of shock. They all stared at her. "I don't think it's working," she exclaimed. "I think it's broken."

 

"Oh, good grief!" McGonagall exclaimed. "Give it here!" She held her hand out for it. Hooch handed it over to her without question.

 

"Harry Potter!" Professor McGonagall said to the stone. Again Harry saw absolutely nothing happen. Everyone else was watching with undisguised curiosity. Like Hooch, McGonagall paled and then flushed. She turned toward Dumbledore holding the crystal out to him. "Perhaps it would be best if you tried, Albus."

 

"Who did you see?" Ron and Harry asked in unison.

 

McGonagall just shook her head. "Let the Headmaster have a go at it."

 

Frowning in curiosity, Dumbledore took the crystal, held it out in one wrinkled hand and said, "Harry Potter!" clearly to it. Unlike Hooch and McGonagall, Dumbledore smiled, his eyes taking on a most wicked twinkle. Harry felt himself growing nervous. Sometimes Dumbledore's twinkles were worse than his frowns. "Oh, excellent match indeed!" the Headmaster exclaimed in delight. He turned toward Snape. "Severus. . ."

 

"Bloody hell!" Snape hissed. "You three are perfectly competent to look into a bloody crystal and tell us who you see. You don't need me looking as well!"

 

Dumbledore, still smiling, blinked at him. "Of course not, Severus. I didn't mean for you to look. You ARE the match it showed us."

 

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Author's Note:
This story started out as a simple idea -- a forced, arranged marriage between Harry and Snape. I wanted to explore the idea of a slow developing relationship that didn't end up with a 16-year-old boy simply jumping into a sexual relationship with a grown man. And I wanted to play around with the concept of Victorian ideas in the Wizarding World -- after all if socially the Wizarding World is many years (or even centuries) behind the Muggle World, then arranged marriages would probably be normal. They were once considered normal in our world as well -- and are still practiced in many parts of the world today.

 

But as often happens, the story quickly took on a life of its own and became something else -- something far more epic than I ever imagined.

 

I started this story long before Book 5 came out. It was supposed to be a short story and should have been finished before Book 5 came out -- certainly should have been finished before Book 6 came out. And now, we're facing the appearance of Book 7 and it's still not done -- I figured I better get at least part of it out to the world before Rowlings kills off all the main characters and depresses me to the point where I don't want to write any more.

 

I thought about making the story Book 5 compliant, but the truth of the matter is, I didn't like Book 5. And ultimately Sirius Black is important to this plot line so this book will only ever be canon up through Book 4. I may ultimately introduce some characters from Book 5 or Book 6 (maybe Shacklebolt or Tonks) and I mention the Order in passing, but for the most part I'm ignoring everything beyond Book 4 entirely.

The three most noticeable differences (beyond the events themselves) are that Sirius is alive, Snape's family history is dramatically different, and Voldemort works a bit harder for the title of Dark Lord. In this story you will eventually learn that Voldemort is far more dangerous than he ever seems to be in Book 5 and Book 6 (he's not going to spend a year trying to hear a stupid prophecy that made everyone else say "Duh!" when they finally learned what the 'big surprise' was at the end of the story.) I think to truly have the title of Dark Lord you need to aim a bit higher on the terror and destruction meter. My Dark Lord will be aiming about as high as it goes -- Harry will have his work cut out for him. Consequently the 'slow developing relationship' between Harry and Snape that this story was supposed to be about, will have some twists and turns I didn't foresee. I hope you enjoy it.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


WIth This Ring:

 

Harry felt the blood drain from his face even as he saw Snape's eyes widening in utter shock. "What?" the Potion Master asked, looking from Dumbledore to McGonagall to Hooch. To Harry's horror McGonagall and Hooch both gave him a sickly nodded of confirmation.

 

"Snape!" Ron exclaimed in dismay.

 

"But that's impossible!" Harry protested, looking at them as if they'd lost their minds. Molly and Arthur didn't look particularly happy, but they didn't look nearly as upset as Harry though they should have.

 

Dumbledore frowned at Harry. "Why would it be impossible? I realize you and Professor Snape don't get along very well, but that's often the case in these situations. You'll get past that eventually. It's an excellent match. You are both relatively equal in power and ability -- or will be once you've finished your schooling Harry. And until you do, Severus is certainly capable of protecting you from any threat. And you have more in common than you realize, and--"

 

"But he's a man!" Harry interrupted, wondering if the Headmaster had completely lost his mind.

 

Dumbledore looked a bit baffled by his comment. Hermione leaned toward Harry. "That's a Muggle prejudice, Harry," she whispered to him. "It doesn't really translate in the Wizarding World -- Wizarding bond marriages are legal between two consenting adults of any gender or species."

 

"Really?' Harry turned to stare at her in surprise. He'd never really thought about it on a personal level, had no deep prejudice himself against homosexuality though he couldn't recall any situation where he could have formed an opinion one way or another. But that the Wizarding World had no prejudice against. . ."Species!" he exclaimed suddenly realizing what else she had implied in that statement.

 

"Didn't you ever wonder where centaurs came from?" she asked with a shrug. "Under those circumstances, very few matches shock the Wizarding World."

 

"I am not marrying Potter!" Snape announced before Harry could reply further.

 

"Now, Severus," Dumbledore argued. "It's a good match. And it solves all sorts of problems, the first being that the odds of finding someone else suitable between now and tomorrow morning is highly unlikely."

 

"Good match!" Snape growled. "Apart from the fact that we can't stand each other, have you forgotten my OTHER job description?"

 

Harry almost jumped up and echoed Snape's words right there. That was absolutely right! Snape couldn't marry Harry and be a spy at the same time. It would be an absolute proclamation of his loyalties if he did so. He managed, however, to restrain himself, certain that Snape would not welcome his help in any way.

 

"Granted you can't possibly maintain your fiction as a loyal Death Eater," Dumbledore agreed amiably. "But I've been meaning to talk to you about that any way Severus. It's grown far too dangerous. If Voldemort hadn't sent you and Lucius away on that little wild goose chase I dreamed up last spring, you'd would have been killed along with the others in the battle."

 

Harry's eyes widened at that. He hadn't even thought of wondering how it was that Snape had managed to both remain a believable spy and keep himself out of the battle. He shivered suddenly at the realization that along with the loyal Death Eaters he might very well have been responsible for the death of Professor Snape last spring. And while he didn't like Snape, he had to admit he admired the man's courage and bravery, not to mention his unswerving loyalty to Dumbledore despite the hellish life he must live as a spy.

 

"No," Dumbledore said firmly. "It's time to pull you in from the field, Severus. We need you here, with us. And this way we'll be certain of having a loyal member of the Order at Harry's side to protect him."

 

"Albus!" Snape protested in horrified shock.

 

Dumbledore rose suddenly, taking hold of Snape's arm and leading him off to the side of the room to speak with him quietly. Ron and Hermione took the opportunity to speak with Harry in quite whispers.

 

"This is insane," Ron protested. "They can't be seriously considering marrying you to that greasy git!"

 

Somewhat panic stricken, Harry looked up at them in desperation. What in hell was he going to do? It seemed a matter of who got to kill him first -- if he didn't marry Snape Voldemort would kill him. If he did marry him, Snape would probably kill him himself. Not to mention what the other Gryffindors and Slytherin would do. He'd never really thought seriously about marriage, but he always assumed that if he survived to adulthood, he would fall in love like his parents had, get married, raise a family. Rather liked the idea actually. But to spend the rest of his life trapped in the company of Severus Snape, most hated teacher in Hogwarts. It would be like one endless potions class for the rest of his life.

 

"Harry, we can't allow this," Hermione agreed, looking somewhat resignedly over at Ron.

 

Ron, looking pale and sick, nodded in agreement. "Right you are," he said firmly. "We're your best friends, Harry. Either one of us. . ." his voice broke momentarily and he cleared it quickly. "Either one of us will marry you before we let you marry, Snape."

 

It took a moment for Harry to understand what his friend was saying, mostly because he still hadn't quite gotten over the shock of learning that the Wizarding World didn't apparently have any prejudice at all against two men marrying each other. It sunk in finally that both his friends were willing to marry him, were willing to sacrifice their own possibility for future happiness to protect him. And while he desperately wanted an out -- someway to avoid a marriage to Snape, he knew in his heart that he could never do that to his friends.

 

Truth was, no matter how he looked at it, his life and his happiness had never been his own. From the moment Voldemort had killed his family and turned him into the Boy Who Lived, his life had been completely out of his control. He'd always been denied choices -- first with the Dursleys and then with the Wizarding World and the belief that he was going to save them. Actually doing just that, saving them last spring had only reinforced that belief. And no matter what else he did in life, what else he might hope or dream, Voldemort was never going to let him live a normal existence. Like as not Voldemort wasn't going to let him live period. At least he could ensure that his friends still had a chance at a normal life.

 

"You are my best friends," he told Ron and Hermione quietly. "And if I'm to face what ever is to come with Voldemort, I need my best friends beside me -- as my best friends. I can't marry either of you. It would ruin everything between us."

 

"Harry," Hermione protested. "We would never allow it to ruin anything."

 

"She's right, mate," Ron agreed. "We'll always be your best friends. No matter what happens."

 

Seemed he needed something more persuasive. He caught both of their hands. "You two are the only things in my life that are normal and sane," he told them fiercely. "I can't lose that. And marrying one of you would change that. I can't."

 

They both seemed to understand and he saw the looks of mingled relief and guilt in their eyes. "But Snape," Ron protested one last time. "What about. . .Ginny? I'm sure she'd. . ."

 

"She won't be fifteen for another month yet," Hermione reminded him. "It will be too late by then."

 

"Besides," Harry admitted. "Marrying Ginny would be like marrying my LITTLE SISTER. I couldn't do that either." He was well aware of the fact that Ginny had a crush on him. Adding the whole crush thing into an arranged marriage would be a recipe for disaster as far as he was concern. At least one thing was certain -- there would never exist any misunderstandings like that between him and Snape. He glanced across the room at Snape who was still locked in a heated argument with the Headmaster. Snape looked angrier than he'd ever seen him and he sighed in despair.

 

Molly and Arthur, having moved aside to allow the three of them to speak quietly together, rejoined them. "Everything okay, Harry dear?" Molly asked in concern.

 

"Mom, this is just awful!" Ron protested. "We can't allow Harry to marry Snape."

 

Molly frowned thoughtfully. "I know you don't like Professor Snape," Molly agreed. "But the Headmaster is right when he says this solves a lot of problems. Severus Snape comes from a very respected, very old and wealthy Wizarding family. Truth is if we did find some nice sweet young girl for Harry to marry, odds are Minister Fudge would find a way to declare the marriage null and proceed with the adoption anyway. There are very few families with standing enough to get away with something like this. I thought maybe Bill or Charlie perhaps, but we just don't have the money or standing to face down Fudge. But he absolutely will not attempt to cross Severus. He'd know he'd lose that battle."

 

"You make it sound like you actually think that Snape will agree to this?" Ron exclaimed. "Or that if he did, he'd go out of his way to protect Harry. You don't know him like we do."

 

"I'm certain Severus will agree to it," Arthur corrected. "Albus Dumbledore is nothing if not persuasive. And yes, Severus will protect Harry. If he marries Harry he'd be honor-bound to protect him."

 

"If he doesn't kill him first," Ron protested.

 

"He's never tried to kill me," Harry admitted quietly to his friend. He couldn't believe he was actually defending Snape, but the man had risked his own life several times to save Harry. And God knew he risked his life time and time again for the Order of the Phoenix to get information to all of them about Voldemort's activities.

 

"He's actually quite a catch," Molly informed all of them. "Money alone."

 

"Then it's true, he does have money?" Hermione asked.

 

"Oh heavens, dear," Molly laughed. "Simply being a Potion Master would make him rich enough -- there isn't a more lucrative job in all the Wizarding World than that. But he also comes from old money."

 

"But he's too old for Harry," Ron argued further.

 

Both Molly and Arthur looked surprised by that comment. "He's only twenty years older than Harry," Arthur pointed out as if that seemed the most common thing in the world. Harry was beginning to suspect that once again there was something else about Wizarding society he hadn't learned. That suspicion was only confirmed when Ron sighed and nodded in agreement.

 

Once again Muggle-born Hermione came to his rescue. "Think about how long wizards live," she whispered quietly to him. "Double if not triple the life expectancy of a Muggle. An age difference would have to be closer to sixty or eighty years before anyone would notice it."

 

He nodded in sudden comprehension. "I guess none of this matters anyway," Harry sighed. "Doesn't really matter if I marry Snape, Filch or McGonagall. I either have to get married, run for my life, or change my name to Fudge. And since two of those choices end with me being dead at the hands of Voldemort, I guess the other isn't that bad." His stomach twisted and protested the very thought however. He felt sick.

 

Before anyone could offer further argument or consolation the door opened and Percy re-entered, catching all their attention. "What ever you're going to do, you had best do it soon," he informed all of them. "The final document was just filed at the Ministry. Fudge will be here within a half hour to take Harry away."

 

"Well that's it then," Dumbledore proclaimed. "No more arguments. We have no choice in this matter, and we don't have time to find a different solution." He looked rather pointedly at Snape at this. The Potion Master just glared and looked away. Harry took that to mean that Arthur was right and that Snape had indeed been persuaded. He felt momentarily faint.

 

"We had best get this over with then," Dumbledore continued. "Percy we'll need your help with the documentation."

 

"Documentation?" Percy asked in confusion.

 

"Harry and Snape are getting married," Ron informed his brother. Percy's eyes widened in shock and he looked to his parents for confirmation.

 

"Can you get the paper filed tonight?" Arthur asked his son.

 

Percy sputtered for a moment, and then seem to catch himself. "Of course," he nodded, though his eyes were still wide with disbelief. "I can sneak it in with the rest of my paperwork before records close tonight."

 

"Well, then let's get to it," Dumbledore insisted. "Harry, come here."

 

Harry rose to his feet, surprised to find that his legs actually still supported him as he walked somewhat dazed toward the Headmaster and Professor Snape. He caught the look McGonagall threw him, a mixture of pity and disbelief as if she too could not believe that the hero of her house was going to have to marry the head of Slytherin. He couldn't begin to imagine what this was going to spell for the rest of the year, how this would affect his standing at the school. But considering if he didn't do this, in a half hour he'd be dragged out of this castle for good by Cornelius Fudge, he supposed there was no choice in the matter.

 

He found himself standing in front of the Headmaster beside a glaring Severus Snape. "Clasp right hands together," Dumbledore told them both.

 

Harry held out one shaking hand, unable to make himself take the initiative and actually take Snape's hand himself. Snape did it for him. Snape's hand was not shaking, and his grip was just a trifle too tight for Harry's peace of mind. His hand felt warm and Harry found his face heating in embarrassment. He couldn't bring himself to look into Snape's face, not certain he could endure the look of disgust he was certain he would see there. He felt humiliated by the whole situation.

 

"We'll keep this simple then," Dumbledore assure them all. "Just a quick exchange of vows and that will be the extent of it. Harry, repeat after me. I, Harry James Potter, take you Severus Alexander Snape as my bond-mate, joining body, name, house and power to thine."

 

They weren't the words Harry was familiar with in Muggle marriages, but he repeated them carefully, not really believing any of this was happening. Nor could he believe the words he next heard.

 

"I, Severus Alexander Snape, take you Harry James Potter as my bond-mate, joining body, name, house and power to thine." The melodious voice of the Potions Master was filled with the same snide mocking tones he'd come to expect in the last six years. He still didn't dare look up.

 

"Excellent," Albus nodded, then held out his left hand, wand in his right. One quick tap of his wand and two golden rings appeared in the palm of his hand. He handed one to each of them. Snape took the initiative in this, twisting Harry's right hand over and sliding one of the gold rings onto his third finger. "With this ring, I thee wed," he growled. The ring fit perfectly, no doubt a testament to Dumbledore's magic. But it felt strangely cold and heavy on his hand.

 

He took the other ring and slid it into Snape's finger, his own hands still shaking noticeable. "With this ring, I thee wed," he muttered weakly the knot in his stomach growing tighter. It suddenly occurred to Harry what typically followed the exchange of rings in most marriage ceremony.

 

"Then I pronounce you bonded," Albus declared. "You may. . ."

 

Both Harry and Snape glared at him for all they were worth, silencing any suggestion that they kiss. "Ah, yes, of course," Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Right, then the documentation." He waved his wand again, producing a large scroll out of the air. "Standard bonding contract," he informed them, unrolling the scroll on a side table and producing a quill and bottle of ink. "If you would both sign it."

 

Snape stepped forward and angrily scratched his name across the document, turning then to hand the quill to Harry. Harry momentarily caught the gaze of the Potion Master, nearly flinching under the anger he saw there. He took the quill, turning his attention back to the document and signed away his life on the line next to Snape's signature.

 

"And Molly and Arthur if you would both witness the document," Albus asked the two of them.

 

The two Weasleys nodded and came forward to add their own signatures to the document. Harry risked a glance at his two friends. The looks of sympathy on both their faces nearly made Harry cry. Percy stood beside them, looking on, his own face set in a look of pure disbelief and amazement.

 

"That's it then," Dumbledore announced. He rolled up the scroll, magically made a copy of it, then handed one of them over to Percy. "Good luck, my boy," he informed the young man. Percy nodded and headed back out the door.

 

"Well, I suggest a celebration is in order," Dumbledore told the group. "While we wait for Minister Fudge to put in an appearance."

 

Though it was quite obvious that no one was in any mood to celebrate, no one protested as the Headmaster conjured up a bottle of champagne and a tray of sweets. Harry, leaving the champagne to the adults, took one of the chocolates from the tray and sat down on the far side of the room, trying to get his nerves under control. Ron and Hermione sat down beside him in silence. He was peripherally aware of Snape sitting down himself as far from the three of them as possible, while the other five adults each drained a glass of champagne as if they needed the alcohol to get through the rest of the evening.

 

They didn't have long to wait. Dobby entered a few moments later announcing that Minister Fudge had arrived and wanted to speak with the Headmaster and Harry Potter immediately.

 

"Show him in here, Dobby," Dumbledore told the elf. The little elf nodded and disappeared. A few moments later the door opened and Minister Fudge strode into the room followed by two Aurors -- Harry recognized them both. They had been assigned as Fudge's body guards when it became obvious that Voldemort had returned finally. Fudge rarely went anywhere without them now. Their presence made Harry sick with the realization that Fudge really did mean to drag him out of Hogwarts this very night.

 

"Ah, Cornelius!" Albus greeted with a bright smile. "So good to see you. We're having a bit of celebration. Would you care for a glass of champagne?"

 

Somewhat taken aback by the friendly greeting, Fudge's look of determination faltered briefly. Then he shook his head. "No, I'm not interested in champagne." He waved a document in the air for all of them to see. "I'm here to take. . ."

 

"But come, Cornelius," Dumbledore interrupted him, holding out a glass of champagne. "It's a marriage celebration."

 

"Confound it all, Albus!" Fudge exclaimed. "I'm here on official business." He shoved the document at Dumbledore, who sighed and took it from him, looking briefly at the content on the page.

 

"Yes, so I see," Dumbledore nodded in agreement, and Fudge looked momentarily triumphant. "You've adopted Harry," Dumbledore continued. "Which would be all well and fine I suppose if it were legal."

 

"I assure it is completely legal," Fudge informed him, and if he was surprised by Dumbledore's apparent lack of amazement at the revelation he didn't let on.

 

"Well, yes," Dumbledore agreed again. "If Harry were of proper legal status to require a guardian. But as he's now married, it's hardly an issue any longer."

 

Fudge's look of triumphant vanished and he glanced at the champagne Albus was still holding out toward him. "Married? What in Merlin's name are you talking about?"

 

Dumbledore smiled. "Harry is married," he announced. "We're celebrating the nuptials even now." He raised the champagne glass again. "So as good as your intentions are to rescue Harry from the dubious protections of his uncle, it's no longer necessary."

 

"Married! To whom!" Fudge demanded, turning toward Harry, his gaze instantly falling on Hermione Granger who was sitting beside Harry and holding his hand in her own. He advanced on two of them. "Ms. Granger, I might have known. This matter will be taken care of immediately. You will both. . ."

 

To Harry's utter surprise, Snape was suddenly on his feet and across the room standing between him and Fudge before the Minister could take another step toward them. "He's married to me, Fudge!" the Potion Master growled at the man. He held up his right hand, the golden ring flashing on his finger. "And he's not going anywhere with you. Ever!"

 

Fudge actually took several steps back in shock, the two Aurors with him exchanging looks of wary surprise. Fudge looked toward Dumbledore for confirmation. The headmaster happily waved his own document at the Minister. "Would you like to see the marriage certificate?" he asked brightly.

 

Fudge took the certificate Dumbledore offered him, blanching as he read the signatures on it. "You can't expect me to believe that this marriage is . . ." he paused as if searching for an appropriate word. He glared at Snape. "That this marriage is valid?"

 

The sneer that Snape threw him reminded Harry of the look the professor got just before he took away a huge numbers of points from Gryffindor. "Minister Fudge, apart from that fact that our private life is none of your business, you can't actually be suggesting that you think I wouldn't take advantage of every opportunity afforded to me?"

 

If he hadn't mentioned the bit about a private life, Harry suspected he might not have understood what Snape meant. As it was not only did he figure it out but so did Hermione and Ron and all three of them turned bright red at the implication. Surely Snape wasn't suggesting. . .actually judging by the look of equal parts embarrassment and fury on Fudge's face, that was exactly what Snape was implying. Harry looked over at Dumbledore and McGonagall, but neither of them looked particularly worried by the idea. Molly and Arthur both looked embarrassed but not worried, and Madam Hooch was actually doing her best to cover up a snicker of laughter.

 

Fudge glared at Snape in disgust. "No, I suppose that would be expecting too much of you, wouldn't it?" He turned to glare at Dumbledore. "I can't believe you would allow this, Dumbledore! To put Harry Potter into the hands of this man!"

 

Dumbledore just smiled happily at him. "Why, Cornelius I can't image what you are talking about. I'm so very happy for Harry and Severus. It's a wonderful match, don't you think?"

 

There were times when Harry believed that the Headmaster was quite unhinged. How he could say the things he did with such a believable smile on his face was beyond Harry. He'd almost swear the man actually believed everything he said.

 

Far from agreeing with Dumbledore, Fudge just snatched up his adoption papers and strode out of the room in anger, his two body guards following meekly along behind him.

 

"Well, that went well, didn't it?" Dumbledore said brightly. "Brilliantly played, Severus!"

 

For a brief moment Snape almost looked pleased by Dumbledore's comment, then he caught sight of Harry staring at him in disbelief, and the sneer of disgust returned with a vengeance.

 

"What happens next, sir?" Harry asked Dumbledore. "Do you think he'll try something else like that?"

 

Dumbledore just shook his head. "I think we're safe enough from Fudge. He won't cross Severus. And I'm more than certain Severus can deal with any other problems that might arise with the Ministry."

 

Not certain at all that he liked the idea of having his safety suddenly handed over to Severus Snape, Harry just fell silent. He was more than grateful at Molly's suggestion that they call it a night, pointing out that there was still school in the morning. Ron bid good-bye to his parents, then clapped both Harry and Hermione on the shoulder. "Let's get up to the tower before anything else happens!" he told the two of them.

 

Before they could leave the room, Professor McGonagall stopped them. "I'm sorry, Harry," she said quietly. "You'll be moving immediately into the dungeons with Severus. I'll have the elves send your belongings down."

 

Harry, struck speechless, could only stare at her. Ron, however, became quite vocal. "What! You can't expect Harry to live with the Slytherins! He belongs up in Gryffindor tower with the rest of us. Just because he had to marry that . . .that. . .Professor Snape doesn't automatically make him a Slytherin!"

 

"You misunderstand me, Mr. Weasley," McGonagall said curtly. "I'm not saying Harry will be moving into the Slytherin dormitories. He'll be moving into Severus' quarters. They're married now, and while we don't often have married students on campus, the rules are quite explicit. They reside either at a private house in Hogsmeade, or in private rooms within the castle. They do not share dormitories with the single students; that would be improper. So unless Severus is planning on moving to Hogsmeade. . ." She glanced expectantly over at Snape who was waiting surprisingly patiently by the door. The glare in his eyes was indication enough of what he thought of this whole situation.

 

"No, I'm not planning on moving," he growled.

 

"Then Harry will be living in the dungeons," McGonagall confirmed. "Now run along all of you. Despite the situation you will all be expected to behave like students come morning, and classes start early for all of us."

 

Ron and Hermione just stared at Harry in horror as he shrugged and made his way reluctantly toward Snape. He stared at the Potion Master, not entirely certain what to expect from him. Snape just snorted in disgust, turned in a flaring swirl of robes and stormed toward the stairs that led to the dungeons. Harry followed silently behind him, heart pounding in his chest.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 3 - Dungeon Dwellers

 

He couldn't believe this was happening. Bad enough he had to spend potions class in this man's company, but to be now expected to live with him! Oh, he had no doubt he'd find a way to survive it. After all it couldn't be any worse than the years he'd endured with the Dursleys. But the school terms had always been his one reprieve from that nightmare -- living in the Gryffindor Tower had been like some wonderful dream he looked forward to all summer. The idea that he'd never have that again made him sick to his stomach. To give up Gryffindor Tower in favor of the dank, dark dungeons!

 

Snape led him down through the bowels of the castle, down several dark, poorly lit corridors, their steps echoing ominously in the stone hallways. He paused finally before a portrait of Salazar Slytherin and a very large snake.

 

"The password is Eldorado," Snape said for both the painting's and Harry's benefit. The portrait slid open and Harry followed Snape into the chambers that would be his new home from now on.

 

Harry paused in the doorway. Not quiet what he expected. Despite being in the dungeons and lacking the high windows he was used to having in Gryffindor Tower, the main room actually reminded him somewhat of the Gryffindor common room. Well furnished -- though the primary color scheme was green and not red, thick rugs on the floor, a plush couch by the magically burning fireplace, comfortable-looking chairs on either side. There was even a Wizarding chess set waiting in a well-lit corner of the room. Candles and oil lamps illuminated the place more brightly than he'd expected, and despite being in the dungeons, it didn't feel at all damp. Or cold.

 

The walls were draped with tapestries much like the ones he'd seen throughout the rest of the castle, and there were several doors off this main one which Harry guessed led to other chambers. Snape he noticed had taken off his outer robe, tossing it over the back of the couch. The man walked toward a sideboard where he poured himself a tumbler full of an amber-colored liquid and downed it in one gulp. Harry took his distraction as an opportunity to glance into some of the other rooms -- a well furnished office off to one side, a potions workroom off of that, a private library, and a rather enormous bedroom with a private bath. While he was looking inside, Dobby appeared, along with his trunk, which he had not yet managed to unpack.

 

"Here is Harry Potter's belongings," Dobby announced. "Harry Potter is having to stay in the dungeons now, and Dobby is certain to visit him often!" The little elf smiled happily up at Harry as if delighted by the turn of events -- but Harry had never really figured out just what sorts of things the house elves did and did not understand. "Will Harry Potter be wanting Dobby to help him with anything?"

 

"No, thanks, Dobby," Harry assured him. "Thanks for bringing my things."

 

Dobby grinned from ear to ear. "Harry Potter is considered himself most gratefully thanked for his kindness." And with that the little elf vanished again.

 

Harry stared down at his trunk, then looked over at Professor Snape who was staring at him now as if he were some sort of insect he'd trapped under a microscope. Harry shifted uncomfortably, but when no words were forthcoming from either of them, he sighed and dragged his trunk off to one side, shoving it up against a wall in the main room and out of the way. Snape poured himself another drink and Harry worried suddenly that the man was planning on getting himself good and drunk. He wasn't certain he would know precisely how to deal with a drunk Snape. At least the man wasn't looking at him any longer.

 

"Excuse me, sir?" he asked quietly. Snape stiffened, but didn't turn. "Where am I supposed to sleep?" As far as he could see there was only the one bedroom.

 

"You can sleep in the closet for all I care, Potter!" Snape snarled as he turned and pinned Harry with a black glare.

 

Harry flinched and took a step back, his insides freezing, his heart fluttering at the words, memories of ten years of small cramped quarters suddenly returning with a vengeance in a most unexpected way. He'd run away from Hogwarts before he'd go through that again!

 

His reaction seemed to have startled Snape and to Harry's surprise the man's glare faded instantly, his face paling. Harry saw his grip tighten momentarily on the drink he was holding, then he quickly set it aside, taking a hesitant step toward Harry. "I'm sorry," his words were even more unbelievable considering Harry had never heard him express remorse for anything. "That was. . .I didn't mean to say that. I wasn't thinking. Please accept my apology." The man actually looked vaguely sick, and Harry couldn't for the life of him figure out if it was actual remorse for his words, or over the idea of apologizing for anything.

 

Harry just nodded tightly, wrapping his arms around himself against an imagined chill. He said nothing more, waiting for Snape to remember his initial question. The man seemed to gather himself again, and glanced briefly at the couch and then just sighed in resignation. "The bed is big enough for the both of us, Mr. Potter," he informed him, and Harry paled at his words. "And it would look odd if anyone found you sleeping on the couch. I wouldn't put it past Fudge to send spies to investigate."

 

"You expect me to. . ." Harry sputtered in shock.

 

"Mr. Potter," Snape's anger returned full blown. "Trust me, I'm no happier about this situation than you are. But we are both stuck, and at some point must bow to certain inevitabilities, one being that we will be unable to avoid spending a certain amount of time in each other's company. But despite what I said to Minister Fudge earlier, I assure you your virtue is quite safe from me!"

 

Harry felt his face burning red in embarrassment at his words, growing hotter as the man added in the most mocking tone he'd ever heard, "I trust you can offer me the same assurances?"

 

"You don't actually think I would--" Harry sputtered.

 

"No, I don't, Mr. Potter," Snape cut him off. "Please extend the same courtesy to me!"

 

"Fine!" Harry glared at him. "I'm going to bed!" He grabbed his pajamas out of his trunk and all but ran for the relative safety of the bedroom, disappearing into the bathroom and slamming the door behind him. He hated that man! Hated him! And it was all he could do from keeping from kicking the walls in fury.

 

He sat down on the edge of an enormous tub and attempted to get his emotions back under control. This wasn't going to work. He couldn't imagine how Dumbledore expected the two of them to live together without killing one another. The temptation to draw his wand and hex Snape into oblivion was almost overwhelming. Instead he stripped out of his clothes and climbed into the enormous tiled tub, noting with some surprise that Snape actually had a shower rigged in the plumbing -- a rarity in the castle, but a necessity he supposed for a Potions Master. One never knew when a cauldron might explode all over you.

 

He took a quick shower, changed into his pajamas, and then headed cautiously out into the bedroom. To his relief there was no sign of Snape.

 

He stared at the enormous canopied bed on the far side of the room, green curtains of course. Snape was right -- the bed was big enough for two. Big enough for four or five if they were really fond of one another. But the very idea of ever climbing willingly into Severus Snape's bed! He shivered. Bloody hell!

 

In the flickering candlelight the golden ring on his right hand winked up at him. Married! To Snape. He wondered if that made him Harry Snape now? Or worse yet Severus Potter? His parents were probably turning over in the graves. And he couldn't imagine what his godfather would say when he found out. Sirius would probably return in a rage and rip Snape's throat out.

 

For some reason that thought actually made Harry feel better and he reluctantly walked over to the bed, and set his glasses and wand down on one of the nightstands. Then climbing onto the bed, he slid under the blankets, moving to the edge of the bed as far away from the other side as he could get without falling off the side. He thought he detected the faint scent of cinnamon on the sheets. Unable to sleep he lay on his back in silence, too strung out to really piece together coherent thoughts.

 

Perhaps twenty minutes later he heard the bedroom door open and Snape entered, heading toward the bathroom. Harry listened in brooding silence while the shower ran and he pointedly didn't try to picture the Potion Master in there bathing. Really, he told himself, this was ridiculous. He was in his most hated teacher's bed, for God sake! There had to be rules against this!

 

Rules in the Muggle world perhaps. But he wasn't in the Muggle world and he was beginning to suspect there was a whole set of rules in the Wizarding World he had yet to learn about. He never imagined the day would come when he'd actually find himself missing the sane familiarity of the Muggle world. But then when he really thought about it, how much stranger was it living in a cupboard under his uncle's stairs, wondering if he'd be allowed to eat sometime that week? He sighed, resigned to the fact that Muggle or Wizard, his life would never make sense.

 

Eventually Snape emerged from the bath, moving toward the large wardrobe that stood off to one side. Despite himself, Harry's eyes were drawn to the man.

 

Snape was dressed only in a pair of pajama bottoms, and was rummaging through the wardrobe for a shirt to pull on. It occurred to Harry that it probably meant Snape typically didn't wear any top to bed -- and despite everything Harry found his gaze drawn to the man's torso. He wasn't certain what precisely he'd been expecting, robes hid a great deal -– certainly pale skin, perhaps a too thin frame, and, even though he'd already seen the dark mark once before, an unmarked body. That wasn't at all the reality. Pale skin yes, but the frame was muscled and strong -- a young man in the prime of his life, a body athletic and defined suggesting that Snape lived a far more active life than Harry had ever imagined. And he'd been prepared he supposed for the dark mark on the forearm that he could see from even across the room -- but he hadn't expected the flash of color on his right shoulder blade of a tattoo -- a red rose entwined with a green serpent. A tattoo like that went against everything he knew about the dour Potions Master.

 

He also wasn't expecting the scars he could see here and there upon the pale skin -- wounds that looked like they'd come from some sort of knife or blade. And then just as suddenly it was all gone from view as Snape pulled on a thin nightshirt, and Harry realized he'd actually been ogling the man. Horrified, he rolled over onto his side, turning his back to Snape and informing himself quite firmly that he hadn't found him in the least bit attractive.

 

Something occurred to him -- the sight of the dark mark perhaps bringing it to the foreground. Voldemort was not going to be pleased by this turn of events. He'd long ago accepted the fact that he was first on a list of people Voldemort intended to kill -- right along side Albus Dumbledore. He supposed that the moment word of this got out, Severus Snape's name would also be added to that list.

 

A moment later he felt the bed move, the mattress dipping slightly as Snape climbed into the other side of the bed, keeping well away from Harry, and the unreality of the situation struck Harry so hard he almost laughed. "I wonder why it chose you," he said out loud, before he had really made a conscious decision to speak. "I mean the Marriage Stone," he clarified without turning over. "Why did it choose you as my. . .why it would think that you and I. . ."

 

"Mr. Potter, I am not accustomed to chatting in bed," Snape's voice was sharp and cutting, and far closer than Harry was prepared for despite the fact that he knew the man was lying right next to him in this enormous bed that suddenly seemed ridiculously small.

 

"I am," he answered without thinking.

 

Snape let out a sound that sounded suspiciously like a laugh. "Have vast amounts of worldly experience, do you?" he asked, voice filled with mockery.

 

Face burning red in embarrassment Harry turned over to glare at the man. "That's not what I meant!" he shouted. He was completely unprepared for the sight of Severus Snape lying beside him in bed, amusement and disdain shining in his eyes with equal parts. Harry sighed and lay back down. "Ron's bed is next to mine," he explained simply. "We talk at night." Something, he guessed, he'd be sorely missing now for the rest of his life.

 

"Do I in any way, shape or form remind you of Mr. Weasley?" Snape demanded. "Or is this perhaps your way of expressing your remorse that you did not take your friend up on his oh, so, noble offer to sacrifice his own dubious future with Ms. Granger and marry him instead of me? Something being noble Gryffindors they both no doubt offered, and you just as nobly had no choice but to refuse."

 

Shocked, Harry could only glare at him fury. "Were you born this hateful or did you take lessons somewhere?!"

 

"Years of practice, Mr. Potter!" Snape shouted back at him.

 

"I hate you!"

 

"Good! My life is complete! I've taught yet another Gryffindor how to hate. How ever am I going to top myself this time?!"

 

Harry strangled back a shriek of rage and turned his back on the man, rolling away from him. "Shut up and leave me alone!"

 

"Gladly!" Snape growled, and judging by the movement of the bed he too had turned his back on Harry.

Harry guessed Snape had also just won whatever argument they had just had -- he'd certainly found a way of shutting Harry up. He closed his eyes, focusing his thoughts on finding ways of driving Severus Snape absolutely insane for his treatment of him. Muggle rock music maybe, he thought. He'd find himself a very loud stereo and start blasting the music every time Snape had papers to grade. Or a nice family reunion -- first chance he got he was going to invite Sirius and Remus to come for an extremely long visit. And if there really was a Snape Manor, he was going to have it painted Gryffindor red!

 

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Three hours later Severus Snape found himself lying awake in his bed unable to sleep despite the lateness of the hour. Of course it wasn't every night he was forced to share his bed with a young man nearly half his age. A rather attractive young man, he told himself bitterly. The whole situation was phenomenally unfair. And he would go to his grave blaming Dumbledore for it.

 

If he'd known that morning that he'd end the night as bond-mate to Harry Potter, he wouldn't have bothered getting out of bed in the first place. He'd never really liked Potter -- granted he also never really hated the boy, not the way Potter believed he did. Most of his behavior was an act necessary to maintain his fiction as a loyal Death Eater. But even before he'd had to take up the mantel of spy, he had felt a certain enmity toward Harry Potter because of his father and godfather. Couldn't be helped really. Amazing how long resentment lasted.

 

And despite all that, he had noticed abstractly earlier that night when he'd first seen Potter in the great hall that the boy had matured into a very attractive young man. More attractive than his father had been certainly -- took after his mother more and more each day. And much as he hated to admit it even to himself, he did admire the boy's courage. He didn't know anyone else in the world who would have attacked Voldemort with a broom of all things -- certainly he would never have dreamed of simply *stealing* the Eye of Odin from the Dark Lord as if it were nothing more than a Snitch. There was something poetically Gryffindor about that whole battle.

 

But the resentment had lingered -- mostly he supposed because he had imagined the boy basking in the adoration of his fans like some mindless celebrity -- something he had no patience for at all. Even during his first year the idea of a boy-celebrity had turned his stomach. He'd imagined the boy brought up in the lap of luxury, pampered and spoiled his entire life for being nothing more than James Potter's son. One of the reasons he disliked Draco Malfoy as well -- though he was much better at hiding his dislike of that particular student.

 

Of course Potter had to go and crush all those delusions as well. Locked in a cupboard, beaten and starved. Certainly sounded like the lap of luxury to him. Potter might not have realized it, but he had succeeded in kicking all of them in the teeth with that little revelation. The look on Dumbledore's face alone was one he'd never seen before. Not often the greatest wizard of the century miscalculated so grossly as that.

 

And the worse part was the way Potter had explained the situation -- that his uncle had *only* starved him for five or six days at most, no big deal, no great hardship. Not like he was trying to kill him or anything. He wondered what else the boy had been forced to endure over these last fifteen years, and how he had restrained himself from screaming in mindless rage every time his Potions Master had mocked him for his celebrity status and spoiled lifestyle. Severus knew himself well enough to know that he would not have shown such restraint -- not by half. He would have hexed his antagonizers to oblivion long ago. Case in point, the treatment he'd received from James Potter and Sirius Black when he was Harry's age had made him nearly as vicious as Lucius Malfoy was.

 

And now the boy was his bond-mate. If it wasn't so pathetically ridiculous he might actually enjoy the fact -- God knows it was going to send Black through the roof, not to mention Malfoy and Voldemort. Lily and James Potter were probably spinning in their graves. And he was more than certain his own deceased parents were laughing in unrestrained glee.

 

"The boy needs you," Albus had tried that line of persuasion as a last tactic -- something that still surprised Severus. The logic of Dumbledore's arguments had not moved him in the slightest, the fact that there was no one else available, that very few people could stand up to Fudge successfully, that it would be safer for him to give up his role as spy and join the forces of light once and for all. No, the one argument he'd been unable to find a decent counter to was the one argument he didn't believe for a moment. That somehow Harry Potter -- or anyone for that matter -- might actually NEED him. And he'd weakened and given in without further protest despite the evidence staring him the face that Potter had no need at all of him and hated the very idea of spending any more time with him than necessary for classes.

 

He could still feel Harry's hand shaking in his own as he'd gripped it during their so brief ceremony. Terrified -- the boy who'd faced down Voldemort and an army of Death Eaters was terrified of the idea of spending any time in his company. Swell. Wonderful. Such little joys to brighten up his dismal life.

 

But regardless of Harry Potter's feelings, the fact remained that like it or not they were bonded now. Harry was his responsibility. And the sooner they both accepted it, the better off they would both be. Merlin knew they couldn't spend the rest of their life fighting like they had tonight -- though he had to admit Harry looked rather lovely with his eyes blazing with rage, and his body quivering with anger.

 

He sighed in exasperation. He was not about to make advances toward a sixteen-year-old boy -- even if they were married. Not to mention that he knew he would be rejected out of hand, and he'd never been fond of the idea of force despite the words he'd spoken so convincingly to Minister Fudge that night. He supposed Fudge imagined he was spending this night ravaging the hero of the Wizarding World. No doubt Black would accuse him of the same thing. He wasn't looking forward to the next few months.

 

A sound caught his attention and he rolled over to look at Harry. Still asleep, the boy was shaking his head fitfully. A moment later a whimper escaped from his lips and he began thrashing in the bed as if fighting with someone. A cry of terror replaced the whimper, bringing Severus fully awake as he sat up in shock. Uncertainly he reached out and touched Harry's shoulder, shaking him. "Potter!" he called, wanting to wake the boy up without startling him too terribly.

 

Harry cried out again, twisting away from his hand. "Potter!" he called louder, and the sharp sound of his voice brought Harry out of his sleep, though he continued to shudder and shrink away from him in the darkness.

 

"I'm sorry Uncle Vernon!" he cried out. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" He flinched away from Severus' hand, covering his head with his arms as if to ward off an expected blow.

 

Severus froze, several explanations springing to mind, none of them even remotely pleasant. He felt his heart clench in his chest, an icy chill gripping him. "Harry," he said more gently. "It's me. Severus." Then thinking that the boy might not recognize his given name, he added, "Snape. It's me, Snape. Wake up. You're having a nightmare."

 

Harry stilled at once, though his breath came in heavy deep gasps as he blinked up at him in the darkness of the curtained bed. "Professor?" he asked uncertainly.

 

Severus winced at that, not certain he was overly comfortable with someone calling him professor while lying beside him in bed. "Yes," he admitted.

 

"Sorry," Harry muttered. "Didn't mean to wake you." He looked amazingly vulnerable lying there trying not to shake or cry, and Snape had the sudden urge to comfort him.

 

"That's alright," he assured him. "I. . ." he sighed, not certain how to bring up this subject. "Is there a reason you would expect to find your uncle beside you instead of me?" Not perhaps the most tactful way of asking the question, but Severus had never really done tact.

 

Harry blinked at him in confusion. "What?"

 

"You called me Uncle Vernon when I woke you up," Severus explained. "When I mentioned the various methods of abuse earlier this evening, there was one sort I neglected to list. Did your uncle. . ."

 

"No!" Harry's voice broke in shock. "No!" he insisted again. "He'd never touch a freak like me!" To Severus' surprise the boy's voice was filled with utter contempt, and he was uncertain if it was directed at the hated uncle or at the boy himself. He guessed 'freak' was a term the uncle used to describe wizards.

 

"Then why did you think I was him?" he asked gently.

 

"I have nightmares," Harry shrugged. "All the time, every night. I woke them up screaming. Uncle Vernon would. . ." he broke off, looking away, his expression unreadable.

 

"Uncle Vernon would do what?"

 

"He'd throw things at me," Harry admitted. "From the doorway. To wake me. Shoes mostly. If I wanted to eat during the day I didn't dare fall asleep during the night and risk waking them up. I usually just use a silence charm on myself at night, but I'm not allowed to do magic over the summer."

 

Snape swallowed around a lump in his throat, tasting bile at the thought of this boy's uncle throwing shoes at him when he woke screaming in the night instead of comforting him like any sane man would. "You mean you use silence charms when you were in Gryffindor Tower so you wouldn't wake your friends?" He wondered if anyone knew what sorts of nightmares this boy had -- even his best friends? Didn't sound very Gryffindor to him -- surely his friends would have been happy to comfort him?

 

Harry just nodded miserably. "Yes, I'm sorry. I guess I just forgot tonight. It won't happen again." He reached out toward the wand he'd left on the bedside table with his glasses. Severus stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.

 

"If I can't hear you, I won't be able to wake you," he pointed out.

 

His words caught Harry off guard, and the boy blinked up at him in confusion. "Why would you want to?"

 

Severus stared at him. The boy seemed genuinely baffled that he would want to help him. "Because that's what you do when someone has nightmares," he said simply.

 

The boy's confusion didn't fade in the slightest. "Better have lots of shoes handy then. I'll keep you awake all night."

 

He restrained himself admirably from strangling the boy. "Harry Potter, I am not going to hit you with a shoe!" he snarled in outrage, instantly regretting it when the boy flinched away from him. "I'm not your uncle," he added more gently. The boy didn't move, his expression unchanged, and it occurred to Severus then that this happy, go-lucky, trusting Gryffindor was neither happy nor lucky, and if he was reading the situation right, didn't trust anyone.

 

Severus turned toward the nightstand on his side of the bed, pulling open one of the drawers there and rooting around in the contents inside. "You know there is one good thing about being bonded to a Potions Master," he told the boy mildly, keeping his voice as casual as he could. He found what he was looking for and pulled a small glass vial of blue liquid from the drawer. "An endless supply of potions!" He held the vial out to the boy.

 

Harry stared at it. "What is it?" He made no move to take it from Severus' hand.

 

Severus frowned. "You studied this last year in my class," he informed the boy, unable to hide his resentment that the boy took such little interest in his subject.

 

"Was this before, after or during my numerous stays in the hospital wing?" Harry asked irritably, though he took the potion from Severus' hand and began working the stopper loose.

 

Severus' frown deepened. Now that he thought about it Harry had missed a great deal of class due to the constant attacks he'd been under from Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Funny that he hadn't thought of it before now; but then a little Potter went a long ways. The times he was present and accounted for he more that pushed Severus beyond his tolerance quota. He supposed it was a testimony to Ms. Granger's tutoring ability that the boy had actually received tolerable marks on his OWLS.

 

He watched in silence as Harry sniffed carefully at the potion, brow furled in concentration. It struck him suddenly that the boy had remarkably beautiful eyes -- pity they were always hidden behind those horrible glasses. "Dreamless Sleep Draught," he stated, though there was a note of question in his voice.

 

"Very good, Mr. Potter," Severus nodded. "That small bit should get you through the rest of the night without any dreams."

 

The look of hope in the boy's eyes did something surprisingly strange to Severus' heart -- it almost hurt. "Do you have more of this?" he asked hesitantly.

 

Again he resisted the urge to snap at the boy. He was a Potions Master for God's sake! Though he said nothing, his expression must have been enough to make Potter realize the idiocy of his statement. The boy flushed and looked down in embarrassment -- at least Severus had assumed it was embarrassment. When the boy spoke he realized it was in fact shame.

 

"I mean. . .I know you have more. . .can make more, I just. . ." He broke off and Severus realized in shock that Harry had been asking if he had more of the potion that he would be willing to 'share' with him.

 

"Never mind," the boy muttered, risking an apologetic glance at him. "Thank you for this," he added and downed the vial quickly before handing the empty glass back to him. Considering the boy owned a nearly priceless invisibility cloak and one of the most expensive brooms on the market, Severus had always assumed that he had been given pretty much anything he wanted. Apparently not if he wasn't even able to ask for something as simple as a much needed potion.

 

"I have as much as you need," he informed him in a tight voice. "As I said, an endless supply of potions."

 

"Thank you," the boy said again, the potion already taking affect as he struggled to keep his eyes open. "I'll pay you back, I promise." He was sound asleep before Severus could inform him that there was no need to pay him back.

 

Flabbergasted, he stared down at the sleeping boy in silence. Seemed he didn't know Harry Potter even half so well as he thought. And he wasn't comfortable at all with the fact that every other thing this obnoxious individual did seemed to provoke a strong emotional reaction in him; nor was he comfortable with the stray thoughts about the boy's relative attractiveness and charms. They weren't appropriate, and struck far to close to the mark, considering that by morning the majority of the Wizarding World would probably believe that he'd spent the night forcing his attentions on their innocent young hero.

 

He brushed away a lock of hair from the boy's forehead. They'd both be far better off if they spoke as little as possible. Certainly no more of this idle chattering in bed, not if it was going to put all sorts of ideas into his mind. And while he was certainly not going to hit the boy with any shoes, he'd also have to make certain he didn't make any other type of contact with him -- Severus froze as he realized that he was currently in the process of tracing the boy's features lightly with his fingers. He snatched his hand away as if burned.

 

"Bloody hell!" he hissed under his breath and rolled away, turning his back on the boy. Sometimes he really hated his life.

 

He was up at dawn, glad to have an excuse to get out of the bed and away from Harry Potter. He showered and dressed quickly, pausing before his wardrobe to think about the trunk that Harry had left in the main room. Much as he hated the idea of having to share his quarters with anyone, he supposed there was nothing he could do about it now. It was his responsibility to provide for his bond-mate, and he supposed that also meant a suitable place to live.

 

Didn't mean he had to share his own wardrobe with him however. Grabbing his wand, he transformed a candleholder into a second wardrobe, positioning it near his own. Then he levitated the trunk into the bedroom and left it in front of the large piece of furniture for Harry to unpack.

 

Satisfied, he headed into his office to gather his material together for the first day of class. He had first years, third years and unfortunately advanced potions with sixth and seventh years that day, and he wasn't at all certain how he was going to deal with teaching a class with his bond-mate in it. He supposed there was no need to maintain his Death Eater fiction now -- more likely than not the news of his marriage would be all over the papers this morning. Marriage to Harry Potter would proclaim his loyalties more loudly than anything else he could think of. Which meant of course he no longer had to maintain the farce of favoring Malfoy above all other students.

 

But he did so love taking points away from the Gryffindors!

 

Of course, he couldn't allow himself to really treat Harry much differently either -- bond-mate or no. He was still his student, and he would have to maintain a professional relationship with him inside the class in the interest of fairness. Besides, the boy was abysmal at potions despite the fact that he'd done well in his OWLS -- he personally felt the judges had been far too lenient last year. But if Potter didn't shape up, he'd fail his NEWTS. And Severus couldn't imagine a more shameful outcome than Severus Snape's bond-mate failing his Potions Newt.

 

He worked for about a half hour on his notes for his first class, before heading back toward his bedroom to retrieve the new grading roster he'd left there a few nights earlier. As he passed through the common room he noticed Potter fiddling around with something by the fireplace. Harry didn't look up, and Severus didn't greet him.

 

The roster was in his nightstand and as he pulled it out of the bottom drawer he noticed that the bed had been made. He paused, frowning. The house elves never came this early.

 

He glanced over at the new wardrobe; the chest was gone, no doubt unpacked and put away. He also noticed that the doors to his wardrobe were firmly closed -- he'd actually left one of them slightly opened. Crossing toward it, he yanked open the door to look inside. The night clothes he'd been wearing last night -- the ones he was fairly certain he'd left draped over the back of the chair near the bathroom door, were folded neatly inside and placed in the laundry basket. Not the elves then -- they would have taken the basket with them.

 

A niggling suspicion began to grow in his mind and he headed swiftly toward the bathroom. There should have been some towels on the floor or draped over the rim of the bath. And he knew he'd left his straight razor on the edge of the sink after he'd shaved that morning. But the bathroom was spotless, no signs that he'd been there at all -- no signs that Harry had been there either.

 

Turning, he headed toward the bedroom door, pausing in the doorway to watch Harry. The boy wasn't fiddling with anything, he was making a pot of coffee, setting up the tray service Severus left near the hearth. And unless Severus was sorely unobservant Harry Potter didn't drink coffee -- he, like most of the other students, preferred tea in the mornings. Besides which there was only one cup on the tray service and he'd made no effort to add another. Severus also noticed that the robe he'd removed last night and draped over the back of the couch was gone, no doubt hung up in the wardrobe or put in the laundry basket with the other things.

 

Several things clicked in his mind. If the Dursleys starved, beat and imprisoned the boy, what would stop them from working him like a house elf as well? Now more than ever he regretted the utterly stupid comment he'd made last night about having Harry sleep in the closet. His apology had been sincere but it seemed the damage had been done -- Harry didn't really expect this new living arrangement to be much different than his previous one. No doubt he was simply behaving in the manner he assumed was expected of him.

 

The rage Severus felt startled him. It was directly in equal parts toward the Dursleys, himself and surprisingly Albus Dumbledore for putting him in this situation in the first place. "Mr. Potter!"

 

Startled, Harry jumped, and Severus had to bite back the words that immediately sprang to mind. He wasn't mad at the boy, and it wouldn't do to take his anger out on him. Harry glared at him, and he found he was actually relieved to see the defiance in the boy's gaze.

 

"Mr. Potter," he said more calmly, forcing himself to control his emotions. "You are my bond-mate and as such this is now your home. You are not my ward, nor my servant, and I neither expect nor require you to clean up after me." He looked at the tray in the boy's hands, took a few steps toward him. "Nor do I expect you to wait on me or serve me in any manner. It is a kindness and I would thank you for it, but it is not required. Do you understand?"

 

Harry said nothing, just stood staring at him, tray seeming forgotten in his hands. The defiance however never faded from his eyes and to Severus surprise, he walked forward and very pointedly set the tray with coffee, cream and sugar down on the table in front of the couch. Then he stood back and stared at him in silence, mouth set in a firm, defiant line, eyes gleaming with challenge. It took Severus a moment to realize just what exactly it was the boy was waiting for.

 

He took a hesitant step forward and picked up the cup of coffee. "Thank you," he said firmly.

 

Something flickering in Harry's eyes, surprise perhaps that he'd actually meant what he'd said. "You're welcome," he answered just as firmly. The sheer civility of the moment unnerved both of them.

 

"I'm going to breakfast," Harry announced.

 

Severus just nodded and watched as the boy left their quarters. He shook his head and took a sip of his coffee. One thing was certain, life with Harry Potter certainly was not going to be dull.

 

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Author's Note: A reviewer on another site raised a question I wanted to address briefly (I love things like this that make me analyze my own writing in more detail!). I was asked, why was Hooch or Dumbledore not mentioned as a potential marriage candidate for Harry? I might add that McGonagall was also in the room.

 

While I don't ever mention Hooch specifically in reference to this, I do later in the story infer that McGonagall and Sinistra (not present at the moment) are the only other single teachers at the school. I don't know if this is true or not as I don't think it's mentioned in canon. We can assume also that Dumbledore is not married either. However the point is stress that this marriage must be 'valid' -- Fudge implies the marriage must be consummated to make it valid. I found it unbelievable that anyone would think Dumbledore or McGonagall would be considered suitable for someone as young as Harry. Snape however seems to have a reputation that removes the question entirely. As I said, I'll imply later that Hooch is already married when the subject comes up again.

 

Sirius Black, however, will have something to say on the subject of Sinistra, and I hope you'll like my reasoning.

 

Regarding the description in this chapter of Snape's physical good health -- while I love skinny, scrawny Snape as much as strong, powerful Snape, I actually think the later is the most likely. Snape we know must be nearly the same age as Remus Lupin. We can guess he is between 20-25 years older than Harry (he's 36 in this story). A Muggle man in his 30's and 40's (provided he's lived a fairly healthy lifestyle) is in the prime of his life. If wizards live at least 2 times as long as Muggles, then the 30's and 40's would be little different than the early 20's in reality.

 

Even Rowlings in Book 3 describes Remus Lupin as a 'young man' when the children first see him on the train.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 4 - Facing the World

 

Harry fled the dungeons praying he didn't meet up with any of the Slytherins on his way to the Great Hall. He had no doubt that most of the students were up and about -- first day of school and all. Most people were generally too excited to sleep. He wasn't actually looking forward to facing his friends, not at all certain what sort of reaction he could expect. There were just too many variables. He still hadn't gotten over the fact that he was married. Add to that the fact that he was married to a man and it left his head reeling -- despite Hermione's assurances that the Wizarding World didn't share the typical Muggle prejudices concerning such things. But to add to that the fact that the man in question was everyone's most hated Potions Professor, Severus Snape -- he rather expected to find himself burned in effigy.

 

As he he'd guessed, the Great Hall was already crowded with students, and as Harry made his way the Gryffindor table, most everyone turned to stare at him and whispered words followed him. He felt his face growing hot, and the small gold ring on his right hand suddenly felt like an enormous chain.

 

Ron and Hermione were waiting for him, and both of them jumped up to greet him as he approached. Ron took hold of his arm and pulled him toward a seat, Hermione moving over to make room between the two of them. He was grateful for their consideration, the stares he was getting from Seamus, Dean and Neville almost too much to bear. Especially Neville's. The boy looked like he was about to explode.

 

"You okay there, Harry?" Ron asked quickly, shooting a glare at the others.

 

"Fine," Harry assured him. Seamus and Dean were staring at the ring on his finger. He was also aware of the fact the seventh years on one side of him and the fifths on the others were staring as well. Several copies of the Daily Prophet were being passed around the table; each time someone got a copy they'd immediately look up at Harry in disbelief. Ginny Weasley looked as if she were about to burst in to tears. Harry shifted uncomfortably on his seat.

 

"You okay?" Hermione whispered to him.

 

"Fine," he repeated.

 

Hermione and Ron exchanged an odd look. "I mean, are you. . .Snape didn't. . ."

 

Harry stared at her in horror. "No!" he squeaked. He shot Ron a look of disbelief, disturbed to see that Ron looked quite relieved by his answer. "You didn't actually think that. . ."

 

"Don't trust the greasy git, do I," Ron pointed out to him. "Wouldn't put anything past him."

 

Seamus, having caught a passing copy of the Daily Prophet, slapped the newspaper down in front of Harry. "Is it true?" he demanded.

 

Harry stared down at the front page of the paper. Splashed in bright red letters were the words. "Social Coup of the Century! Severus Snape Marries The Boy Who Lived!"

 

Harry's eyes widened. It wasn't precisely the article he'd been expecting -- figuring it would insinuate all sorts of nasty things about his private life and his sudden liaison with a current professor. But once again Wizarding society surprised him. The article was focused on the fact that Severus Snape seemed to have pulled off some sort of spectacular social triumph. It mentioned the fact that his family's name had been tarnished by rumors of past association with dark wizards on the part of both Severus Snape and his father Octavius Snape. By marrying Harry Potter, it seemed Severus Snape had done what no one expected, clearing his family name and reinstating one of the Wizarding World's oldest family back into their previously lost standing of respect, as obviously neither Harry Potter nor his Headmaster Dumbledore (suspected of having arranged the marriage) would have agreed to such a liaison if any of the rumors of Death Eater sympathies had been true.

 

The article then went on to suggest various reactions amongst the other Wizarding families of high standing, and how some of them had best find ways of proving their own loyalties lest the Ministry start looking into the rumors surrounding them. It ended with quotes from several Ministry candidates whom Harry had never met explaining their own involvement in arranging the happy nuptials.

 

There wasn't a single mention of either their genders or their age differences. Harry glanced over at Hermione in bewildered disbelief. "Told you," she shrugged.

 

"It's true then?" Seamus repeated.

 

Harry nodded and as he handed back the paper; the ring on his hand glinted in the morning sunlight. Neville gasped in shock. "Harry!" He shook his head. "Why didn't you tell us?"

 

"Tell you what?"

 

"That you were arranging a marriage with Snape!" Seamus exclaimed. "It wasn't because of what I said about all his money yesterday, was it? Please tell me that wasn't it?"

 

"Of course not!" Harry nearly choked on the thought.

 

"But Snape, Harry!" Neville cried. "Professor Snape! How can you stand it?"

 

Harry didn't really know how to answer that.

 

"God, Harry," Dean shuddered. "I can understand arranging a marriage of good quality, but you're the last person who needed to do something like this. And to pick someone like Snape!"

 

Once again, Harry was left with the idea that there was something about Wizarding society he just wasn't understanding. He turned toward Hermione for an explanation. She looked rather thoughtful. "Not unusual for the older families to arrange marriages for their children," she explained. "It's usually done to increase one's wealth or social standing. As you can see this was a brilliant move on the part of Snape, but you didn't need to increase your social standing. People don't get more famous than you."

 

"So everyone is going to assume I married him for his money?" Harry asked in disbelief.

 

She nodded her head. "I'm afraid so. You obviously didn't marry him for love. Or lust," she added as an afterthought. "Or even affection. Or vague apathy."

 

Neville gasped at the very idea. "Oh, God! Poor Harry! Married to that horrible, horrible monster!"

 

"Neville!" Harry hissed. "Knock it off!"

 

Seamus slapped Neville lightly on the back. "Yeah, Neville, that is Harry's bond-mate you're insulting now."

 

Neville's face twisted up in misery and he stared across the table at Harry in horror.

 

"I didn't mean that!" Harry said quickly. "I just meant. . .oh hell!" He looked over at Ron. "Didn't you tell them anything?"

 

Ron just shrugged sheepishly. "Wasn't exactly sure what I was supposed to say."

 

Harry sighed. He supposed it wouldn't help anyone to go into too much detail about Fudge's twisted plan, but he didn't want the rest of Gryffindor believing he had married Snape for his money. Or that Snape had some how trapped him just to get a name for himself. "It was for my safety," he told them all. "Because of Voldemort." The spoken name got winces and shudders of horror. "Because of You Know Who," he corrected. "Because Snape can help protect me."

 

Seamus leaned closer toward them. "Harry, are you sure you can trust him? I mean there must have been someone better than Snape. Chances are he is a Death Eater himself. He's good buddies with Lucius Malfoy you know and despite what the Ministry says that man is just twisted!"

 

Harry frowned. That really was too much -- he might not like the man, but he did trust him. And admire his courage. Snape had risked his life more times than anyone spying on Voldemort just to keep all of them safe, and this was the thanks he got. He could almost understand why the man took such great delight in tormenting him about his celebrity status.

 

"Yes, I'm sure," Harry insisted. "None of you may know this, but he's saved my life repeatedly over the last five years."

 

"Snape!?" Neville and Dean asked in unison. "But Harry he hates you!"

 

Harry didn't really have an answer to that. They were right. Snape did hate him. "Well, lots of people hate me," he pointed out. "That doesn't exactly automatically make them evil."

 

"Yes, it does," Seamus insisted.

 

"Well, not Snape," Harry insisted. "Dumbledore trust him."

 

They seemed to take that at face value but the looks of sympathy didn't fade any. "God, Harry," Dean shuddered. "I can't imagine how you can stand it. Living with that. . .that. . ..git!"

 

"So much for breaking curfew any more," Seamus pointed out. "He'll catch you for certain now."

 

"It will be like one permanent detention," Neville exclaimed.

 

"That's enough!" Hermione told them all. "This is still Harry's life you're talking about. How would you feel?"

 

"Horrible!" they said in unison. "That's the point!"

 

Harry just sighed. This was going to be a long year.

 

The questions didn't end after that, the other Gryffindors wanted answers of their own, and even a few Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs joined them to find out what was going on. Only the Slytherins kept their distance, though the glares they were throwing across the room were chilling. But while Harry was suffocating under the endless questions and whispers, it was nothing to the reception Snape received when he entered the hall. Dead silence followed him, every eye in the place turned toward him as if looking for something different about him, something they'd missed that might have made the Boy Who Lived willing to marry him.

 

He sat down at the head table, nodded to the other teachers, and then turned his most withering gaze on the entire student body. It had its usual affect, everyone looking swiftly away and going right back to their speculating whispers.

 

Nervously, Harry glanced toward Snape, noticing that the man was in the process of reading the article on the front page of the Daily Prophet. Judging by the look of fury blazing in his dark eyes, he was not in the least bit pleased by the speculations. Harry couldn't figure out what reason he had to be so angry -- everyone seemed to think he'd come out smelling like a rose. Harry on the other hand had been painted as a mercenary out for money alone. He was not looking forward to the rest of the day.

 

The questions never stopped, all day long Harry kept having to answer the same things over and over again. And despite sharing similar sentiments, he was getting tired of the expressions of sympathy from his fellow students. Truth of the matter was, as much as he disliked Snape, he wasn't anywhere near as bad as the Dursleys. If he was to be believed, he had no intention of hitting or starving Harry, nor making him wait on him or serve him. And he actually had thanked Harry for that cup of coffee that morning, much to Harry's surprise. Still he was worried about potions class. He had always done poorly at the subject, though he didn't really know why. He tried, hard. It didn't seem to make much of difference however. And Snape made sure his displeasure at that fact was known to all. Add to this that they had double potions with Slytherin, Harry dreaded the class. If it hadn't been for Hermione's tutoring, he would never have passed his potions Owls last year.

 

By the time potions class began, last class of the day, Harry was already exhausted and ready to blow up at the first person who said one more word to him. As luck would have it, most of the Gryffindors had apparently figured this out -- coupled with the fact that they too hated potions. This time, however, Harry had to endure the snickering and sly looks coming from the Slytherin side of the room. He wondered how Snape had managed to get through the day without killing anyone.

 

Not well, he guessed judging by the look of the man as he stormed into the room, black robe swirling around him. His face was set in a glare of granite, and everyone in the room instantly fell silent, Slytherin included.

 

"We will be studying advanced potions in this class in preparations for your NEWTS. This means most of the potions will be volatile this year," Snape announced into the dead quiet. "For those of you whose vocabularies are lacking, that means they're dangerous, unstable if not explosive." This last was directed toward the Gryffindor side of the room. "As such I expect unwavering concentration, and minute attention to detail. I'd like to keep both the death and dismemberment toll down to a minimum, so if I find any student. . .ANY student!" he shot a glare toward the Slytherin side of the room. They all shrank back in surprise. "Doing anything I might construe as horseplay, hyjinnx or simply slacking off, you will become the automatic volunteer test subject for my first years' potions!" The threat was sufficiently terrifying, as they all remembered the disasters they'd created during their own first year. Everyone in the room shifted uncomfortable. "You will find a box on your table filled with highly toxic items. Take out a scroll and identify all of them!"

 

Harry paired up with Ron, and the two of them began sorting through the items in the box. Hermione identified the most dangerous of the items before either of them could actually injure themselves. Snape hadn't been kidding when he'd said the contents were toxic; a number of the items in the box were actually poisonous to simply touch. Harry did notice that Snape spent the majority of the class period walking around with an unlabeled bottle in his hand -- some sort of cure-all he guessed.

 

He'd nearly made it through the entire class without mishap when the Slytherins finally decided to make a move. While Snape was distracted with Dean Thomas, Pansy Parkinson picked up an item with a pair of iron tongs and flung it across the room toward Harry. Guessing that what ever it was was dangerous, both Ron and Harry ducked out of the way, as the item landed with a plop on their desk. Harry's chair fell over with a loud clatter.

 

"Mr. Potter!" Snape shouted. Harry froze as Snape advanced on him. "Is there a reason you have firedrake leaf lying on your desktop despite the fact that I told all of you not to remove it from its protective container?"

 

Firedrake leaf. Harry winced -- if that had hit either him or Ron it would have blistered their skin. He debated momentarily telling Snape that Pansy had thrown it, but figured he probably wouldn't be believed. Snape never sided with Gryffindor over his Slytherins. "No, sir," he said quietly.

 

Snape's eyes flashed with anger. "Ten points from Gryffindor, Potter," he snapped. "And clean that mess up!"

 

The looks of triumph on the faces of the Slytherin was almost enough to make Harry want to fling the firedrake leaf back at them even with Snape looking on. But the last thing he wanted to do was lose more points for Gryffindor. It was the first day of classes and he'd already lost them points.

 

Ron threw the retreating Snape a look of utter disbelief and contempt as he helped Harry clean the firedrake up from the table. "So much for family loyalty," Ron muttered under his breath.

 

"Did you expect anything else?" Harry asked just as quietly.

 

"Not really," the redhead admitted. "At least he didn't give you detention. Wouldn't that just bite! Getting detention from your bond-mate. As if you don't already have to spend enough time with him as it is."

 

They cleaned up the mess, finishing just as class ended and Snape dismissed them all for the day. But Harry found the Slytherins waiting for him out in the hallway, the looks of malicious glee on their faces turning his stomach.

 

"Ten points from Gryffindor," Malfoy mocked. "You just can't win, can you, Potter? You must be really bad if you're still loosing points after putting out for the teacher."

 

The sexual innuendo was the last straw. Harry didn't even bother drawing his wand. He simply punched Draco for all he was worth, cracking him hard across the jaw and knocking the other boy down on his ass. The shouts of outrage and glee from the Slytherins and Gryffindors were followed by the drawing of wands on either side, ending in a standoff of the two groups. Draco looked stunned, staring up at Harry from the ground, his lip bleeding, looking as if he could not believe Harry had actually punched him.

 

But before a single hex could be thrown, the dark shape of Severus Snape loomed over all of them, causing everyone to freeze. "Potter!" Snape growled. "Did you just punch Mr. Malfoy?"

 

Considering Harry still had his fist clenched, he supposed it was pretty obvious what had happened. He flinched at the anger he saw in Snape's eyes. "Yes, sir," he admitted nervously.

 

"Why?"

 

Harry flushed. There was no way in hell he was going to repeat what Draco had said, and everyone there knew it, Malfoy included. The Slytherin climbed to his feet, his eyes just daring Harry to say something. Despite the blood on his lips, he smiled smugly.

 

"No reason, sir," Harry gritted his teeth as he spoke the words. Dead silence followed his words and everyone looked at Snape. The man's expression was unreadable.

 

"Report for detention tonight, Mr. Potter." His voice was deadly cold. "Now get out of here all of you." With that he turned and disappeared back into the classroom.

 

The Slytherins started snickering immediately, the Gryffindors glaring at them.

 

"Point loss and detention!" Malfoy teased. "Don't worry about it, Potter. Maybe you can work the detention off in trade! Likes you on your knees I imagine."

 

Harry nearly hit him again, would have if Snape hadn't suddenly reemerged from the classroom, grabbed Malfoy by the throat and slammed the young man up against one of the stone walls of the corridor, his eyes blazing with fury. "Mr. Malfoy! If I ever hear you insulting my bond-mate like that again, I will drag you off this campus and beat the crap out of you myself! Do you understand?!"

 

Malfoy's face was utterly white, his eyes wide in terror. He nodded fervently, trying to speak around the fist that was clamped around his throat. Satisfied with whatever answer he squeaked out, Snape shoved him aside, knocking him on the ground again. The other Slytherins stood frozen in shock, pale faces staring at Snape as if they didn't recognize him. The Gryffindors stared in equal shock, amazement on their faces. Snape gifted them all with his worst glare yet.

"Clear out, NOW!"

 

They all fled -- Slytherins in one direction, Gryffindors in the other.

 

Harry, pulled along after the other Gryffindors by Ron and Hermione, was struck speechless with shock. He couldn't believe what had just happened! Snape had attacked Malfoy to defend not his life but his honor! The man's words rang through his head. My bond-mate. Maybe Arthur Weasley had been right when he'd said that Snape would be honor-bound to protect him.

 

Harry found himself sitting in the Gryffindor common room before he knew it, not remembering until after the fact that he didn't live there any more. The rest of the Gryffindors were busy telling the other students what had just happened. Harry supposed that by dinner it would be all over the castle.

 

"I can't believe that just happened!" Seamus exclaimed. "Oh, my god! Did you see the look on Malfoy's face?"

 

"I can't believe Snape defended you!" Neville exclaimed, staring at Harry with something that looked strangely like awe. "He's never defended anyone before!"

 

Ron seemed just as speechless as Harry. Hermione on the other hand seemed neither shocked nor surprised. "Well, what else would you expect?" she demanded of all of them. "Weird as it may seem, they are in fact married. And any insult given to Harry is an insult to Snape's family. If he wants to maintain his good name, he has to defend Harry's honor. The two are tied together now."

 

"I know that," Seamus agreed. "I just didn't guess that Snape did. Or that he'd care. He's never cared about anyone before. And just the idea of the Head of Slytherin defending a Gryffindor!" He shook his head. "It's beyond belief."

 

"Merlin, who knew the bastard had it in him!" Dean said gleefully. "I thought Malfoy was going to wet himself!"

 

"Sure is weird," Ron agreed. "Did you know he was going to do something like that Harry?"

 

Harry stared at his friend in disbelief. "How would I know something like that? The man just gave me detention! Why would I expect him to defend my honor?"

 

"Yeah, how weird is that?" Seamus exclaimed. "Takes points from you, gives you detention and then threatens to beat the crap out of Malfoy for saying the same garbage he's been spouting for five years!"

 

"My life's a three ring circus," Harry agreed.

 

"What do you suppose he's going to make you do for detention?" Dean asked.

 

Harry's eyes widened in shock and he threw a furious glare at his year mate. The one thing the Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs had managed to avoid during the course of the day was the sexual innuendo Harry had been dreading; to hear it now after what Malfoy had just said was too much.

 

Dean's eyes widened in surprise and he raised his hands in defense. "I didn't mean it like that!" he squeaked. "I swear! I just meant it was weird to get detention from your own bond-mate. That's blurring the lines between public and private lives a bit much."

 

Appeased, Harry leaned back in his chair. "I image not giving me detention would be blurring the lines just as much." He glanced over at Hermione. "I don't suppose there's a rule book about this anywhere? McGonagall seemed to indicate that there were certain customs concerning married students, suggesting that this has happened before."

 

"It's not common," Hermione told him. "But it has happened -- mostly though the marriages are between two students. Not a student and a teacher. But there have been cases with arranged marriages that are similar to this situation. But I doubt there's any sort of rulebook anywhere. You're going to have figure this out between the two of you."

 

"Well, it's not like anyone is ever going to accuse Snape of favoritism," Ron told them.

 

"I'll be lucky if I pass potions at the rate I'm going," Harry agreed. He laughed suddenly. "Won't that make an interesting headline on the front page of Daily Prophet? Boy Who Lives, Bond-Mate of Hogwart's Potions Master, Fails Potions!"

 

Hermione snorted in disgust. "I doubt you'll fail Potions, Harry," she informed him. "I won't let you. And somehow I doubt Snape will either. If nothing more than to simply avoid just such a headline."

 

The door to the common room opened suddenly and McGonagall stuck her head inside. "Mr. Potter, could I speak with you for a moment."

 

"Of course, Professor," Harry said quickly, throwing a curious look at his friends. He followed McGonagall out into the hallway, down the corridor to her private office at the base of Gryffindor tower. Once inside, she motioned Harry to be seated in front of her desk.

 

"Harry," she began. "In reviewing the board I noticed that you have not only lost points for Gryffindor but received a detention as well. All on the first day of class." She motioned toward the magical placard that graced one wall where the house points for Gryffindor were automatically tallied and totaled. Harry saw his name written in bold letters in two locations.

 

"Yes, ma'am," he sighed. "I'm sorry, I. . ."

 

"Harry," she interrupted. "It's not the points or the detention I'm overly worried about. No doubt you and many others will do the same throughout the school year. What concerns me is that both demerits came from Professor Snape."

 

Harry nodded. Surely she didn't think that was unusual. No one took more points away from Gryffindor that Professor Snape.

 

McGonagall sighed. "Harry, hasn't it occurred to you what a difficult position Severus is in at the moment? You're his bond-mate. Regardless of the fact that you were both forced into this marriage, it is still legally binding. Everything you do reflects on him. And for him to have to be the one to take points from you, or give you detention must weigh heavily on him. I realize this situation is new to you, but the onus of maintaining a professional relationship with you during school hours lies entirely on his shoulders, since he is the figure in authority here. But that does not mean that you do not have an equal responsibility of helping him maintain both propriety and decorum. He can not risk being accused of bias or nepotism, something I have no doubt he will manage with his usual finesse; but it is exceedingly unfair of you to push him in the opposite extreme as well."

 

Harry felt himself flush at her words. He hadn't actually thought of how odd it must be for Snape to have to maintain his relationship as his teacher. It was probably weirder for him to be married to a sixteen-year-old student than it was for him to be married to a thirty-six-year-old teacher. "I'm sorry, Professor," he apologized. "It's just that there are some situations that are out of my control." Not much he could do if the Slytherins were bound and determined to get him in trouble. They had years of practice setting him up, and Snape knew it.

 

"I realize that certain other students make some situations awkward," McGonagall agreed tersely. "I'm just suggesting you do your utmost to give Severus no reason at all to question your behavior. For both your sakes."

 

"Yes, Ma'am," Harry nodded in agreement.

 

"And in the interest of making certain there is no hint of impropriety, any detention you receive from Professor Snape will be served with me." There was a faint twinge of pink in the older woman's cheeks, and Harry suspected she'd heard about what Draco had said. He wondered how the story had gotten around so quickly.

 

"Was that your idea?" he asked curiously.

 

But McGonagall shook her head. "No, I spoke with Severus just a few minutes ago. It was his idea. Seems he was concerned about some nasty rumor he'd overheard."

 

Harry just blushed, not certain at all what to make of the situation.

 

------------------------------------------------

 

Author's Note: Harry's only just beginning to realize that he knows nothing about Wizarding Society. I had a lot of fun playing around with a set of rules and manners for this story.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 5

 

Snape was not at dinner, and Harry couldn't help wondering if he was angry with him over the events of the day. He supposed he'd find out that night, since there was no way he could avoid seeing him any more. After dinner, he reported to McGonagall's office to serve out his detention. To his surprise, the woman simple suggested he spend the time doing any homework he had been assigned. Granted McGonagall's detentions were never as horrible as Snape's or Filch's -- but she did usually assign students some unpleasant task to perform. When half way through detention McGonagall offered Harry a tray of sweet pastries he began to grow suspicious that the woman might in fact feel sorry for him. But whether it was because of the detention he'd gotten due to Malfoy's callousness, or something deeper and related to the information she'd learned about the Dursleys, he didn't know. He wasn't certain he liked it. He'd survived sixteen years without anyone ever feeling sorry for him -- he didn't need it now.

 

She dismissed him after the hour, bidding him a kindly goodnight. And rather than make his way into the Gryffindor common room like he desperately wanted to, Harry made his way down the long staircases toward the dungeons. Following the path he'd learned the night before, he soon found himself standing in front of the portrait of Salazar Slytherin and the large green snake. Both figures smiled at him, nodding in a surprisingly polite manner. "Severus' new bond-mate," the snake said to Salazar in Parseltongue. Harry blushed at that.

 

"Pity he's a Gryffindor," Salazar replied back in Parseltongue.

 

"There's nothing wrong with being a Gryffindor," Harry informed them both, also speaking in Parseltongue. Both snake and man were startled by this, and smiled in pleasure.

 

"Most interesting!" Salazar remarked. "A better match than I had guessed. May you have a long life together!"

 

Harry just blushed again. "Eldorado," he informed them both, and the portrait swung open, letting Harry into the Potions Master's chambers.

 

Stepping inside, he saw Snape sitting by the fire, not reading or drinking, but staring moodily into the flames. Not at all certain what sort of reception to expect, Harry took a couple of hesitant steps toward him. "Professor?" he asked quietly.

 

Snape did not answer him. Despite the fact that neither the point loss nor the detention had been his fault, Harry supposed he was expected to apologize. "I'm sorry about what happened today," he offered quietly.

 

"And what, pray tell, are you apologizing for, exactly?" Snape asked in a low, quiet voice. He didn't look up from the fire, and his expression never changed, something that made Harry decidedly nervous. "The fact that the entire Wizarding World seems to think I have some how manipulated their hero into marrying me for the sake of my own good name, or that you would only agree to such a terrible fate to get your hands on my money? Or perhaps you are apologizing for the endless stream of questions and speculations we were both subjected to throughout the entire day? Or the looks of loathing and contempt coming from the Gryffindors, or the foul sexual innuendoes coming from the Slytherins? Or perhaps you wish to apologize for the Howler I received in the staff room from Sirius Black who threatened to do things to me I shan't repeat if I so much as looked at you inappropriately?"

 

Okay, Snape had definitely had a worse day than he had. "Actually, I was just going to apologize for the point loss and the detention," he admitted sheepishly.

 

Some emotion flickered across Snape's features and the man shot him an unreadable look. "Oh," he said simply, then shrugged. "As awkward as that situation was, taking points away from Gryffindor and seeing Malfoy with a split lip were the only moments of pleasure I had all day."

 

Unable to help himself, Harry smiled. "Which would probably explain my need to apologize for them."

 

For a moment, he almost thought Snape was going to laugh. "I'm sure," he agreed dryly. He winced suddenly, clutching at his left forearm and muttering some curse under his breath.

 

Harry frowned, stepping forward. "What's wrong?" he demanded.

 

"Nothing," Snape bit out between gritted teeth. But now that Harry had seen the wince, he noticed that Snape looked exhausted, his skin paler than normal.

 

"It's Voldemort, isn't it?" Harry stated. "He's summoned you!"

 

"Hardly matters now, Mr. Potter," Snape reminded him, eyes closed, lips still pinched in pain. His hand had tightened knuckle-white around his forearm as if trying to squeeze away the mark hidden beneath his robes.

 

"How long has this been going on?" Harry asked. He knew the Dark Mark grew progressively more painful the longer a summons was ignored. He hadn't bothered to wonder what might happen to Snape now that he no longer intended to answer the summons. Just how long could Voldemort torture him with it –- and how bad would the pain get?

 

"Not your concern, Potter," Snape informed him. Harry could see the struggle the man endured to control the pain he must be experiencing.

 

"Actually, it is my concern," Harry informed him, making a decision and kneeling down in front of the man. With his eyes closed, Snape didn't see what he was doing until Harry touched his arm, pushing the sleeve of his robe up to reveal the dark mark. The mark was black as night, and the skin around it was fiery red and swollen.

 

"What are you doing?" Snape demanded, eyes glaring.

 

"This is my fault," Harry told him.

 

Snape snatched his arm away from him. "It's not your fault, Potter!"

 

"If it wasn't for me this wouldn't be happening!" Harry shouted back at him.

 

"You're right!" Snape snarled. "Instead I'd probably be playing the good little Death Eater and suffering the Cruciatus because Voldemort was bored and couldn't find any Muggles to torture."

 

"If you're trying to shock me, save your breath!" Harry told him, anger boiling inside him. "I've seen what he does, remember? Now just answer the damn question! How long has this been going on?"

 

"Don't take that tone with me!" Snape roared at him.

 

Unable to control himself, Harry reared back and kicked the leg of Snape's chair. "I hate you!"

 

"Good!" Snape shouted back, and then bit back a strangled moan of pain as he clamped his hand over the dark mark once again.

 

Despite his rage, the sight of Snape in pain twisted something inside Harry, and he couldn't bear to watch. Drawing his wand in desperation, he summoned Dobby to the room.

 

"Dobby, get the Headmaster, please," he told the little elf. "Tell him he needs to come here immediately."

 

"Yes, Harry Potter, I is going immediately!" Dobby assured him, vanishing an instant later.

 

"What in hell did you do that for?" Snape asked bitterly.

 

Harry didn't answer. Instead he simply stood back and waited, watching as Snape squeezed his eyes shut in pain, his fingernails digging into the flesh of his arm as he tried to stop the agony flaring from the mark. Harry felt raw inside, the whole situation seeming unreal. A moment later he saw the flames of the fire change color as floo powder was mixed with them. Dumbledore stepped out of the fireplace.

 

"Harry, what's wrong?" the old man asked worriedly. Harry just pointed soundlessly toward Snape. Dumbledore took one look at the situation and understood immediately.

 

"Severus, how long has this been going on?" the old man asked, his voice firm and demanding.

 

"A few hours," Snape admitted without hesitation.

 

"Come with me," Dumbledore ordered, reaching out to help the man stand. "I have an idea that might help."

 

Snape went without protesting, and Harry followed them to the door. Dumbledore just smiled gently at him. "Stay here, Harry," he ordered. "We'll be back before too long. You should probably try to get some sleep."

 

Recognizing a dismissal when he heard one, Harry stood back and watched them leave the room. A moment later he was alone in Snape's chambers. They felt strangely empty without the other man's presence.

 

Not certain what to do with himself, Harry wandered around the rooms, looking at things, his mind elsewhere. Wandering into the bedroom, he noticed a letter waiting for him on his nightstand. Curious as to why it hadn't been delivered to him in the Great Hall, he went to pick it up, recognizing Sirius' handwriting on the envelope. He wondered if it had come the same time Snape's howler had.

 

Opening it eagerly, he read the note his godfather had sent him.

 

#####

Dear Harry,

 

Dumbledore has informed me of the events of last night -- rather than the fiction the papers printed this morning. I am so sorry this has happened. I can't begin to express my remorse that I can not be there for you, or that I could not prevent the things the Dursleys did to you. I knew they treated you poorly, but I had no idea it had been so bad. If I had, I would have taken you with me that first summer regardless of the legal risks. At the very least I would have sent you to live with Remus. Had I not believed you were at least safe with the Dursleys, I would never have left you there.

 

I understand the necessity of the marriage -- Dumbledore was right, you cannot risk leaving Hogwarts, and Fudge would get you killed in a matter of days. Of that I have no doubt. But I cannot believe that the most suitable candidate they could find for you was SNAPE? Why not Hermione or Ron, or one of Ron's brothers for that matter? Or what about that girl you liked? Cho something? Rest assured that if Snape does anything to upset or hurt you I will see that he's punished! Do not let that bastard push you around or upset you in any manner. You have no obligations or loyalties to him no matter what anyone tells you! I'll be coming to visit as soon as I can. Until then, take care of yourself, and if you need anything send for me or Mooney.

 

Love,

 

Padfoot

 

#####

 

The letter, despite everything, actually succeeded in making him feel somewhat better. Figuring he'd better send an answer back to Sirius as soon as possible he sat down at the desk in the library and composed a short note to Sirius, assuring him that he was fine and that he shouldn't worry too much about him. Then he set it aside to deliver in the morning.

 

After showering, Harry climbed into bed, setting his glasses and wand down on the nightstand he supposed had somehow become 'his'. He couldn't help wondering what precisely Sirius' howler to Snape must have said, and he found himself lying awake in bed dreaming up the words Sirius must have used. He imagined it had been great.

 

It was nearly an hour later before Snape returned, going straight into the bathroom to change. He emerged a while later, dressed as he had been last night in a pair of pajama bottoms, though this time he had his nightshirt already on over them. As he moved around the room extinguishing some of the candles, Harry's eyes were drawn to his forearm. Several coils of what looked to be silver wire were wound around his forearm, covering the Dark Mark.

 

"Are you all right?" Harry asked quietly as Snape approached the bed.

 

Snape nodded tightly. "Albus found a way of blocking the pain," he informed him as he climbed in beside Harry.

 

Harry nodded in acknowledgement and rolled away, turning his back to Snape. To his surprise the man spoke again. "Why did you say it was your fault?" he sounded more curious than angry.

 

For a moment Harry was tempted to tell the man he was not accustomed to chatting while in bed. Instead he simply opted for the truth. "If I had killed Voldemort, he couldn't hurt anyone else."

 

"And you think it is your responsibility to kill him?" Snape asked.

 

"One of us has to die," Harry replied, staring at the shadows lingering around the bed curtains.

 

A strong hand suddenly closed around his shoulder and pulled him around, pushing him flat onto his back, pinned to the bed. In the darkness he could see little more than a shadow looming over him, but he could feel the heat of Snape's angry glare. His pulse inexplicably raced. "What in hell is that supposed to mean?"

 

"It means either I kill him or he'll kill me!" Harry told him, a basic fact of life he'd come to accept. Snape's hand felt hot against his shoulder. "Either way one of us dies, and in the mean time everyone else suffers for it!" Not to mention the suffering that would follow if Voldemort was the one who got lucky first.

 

"People suffer because Voldemort is a sick, evil monster who has been doing terrible things long before you were ever born. And before him it was the Wizard Grindelwald, and Dumbledore was no more responsible for his crimes than you are for Voldemort's. Take responsibility for your own actions, but don't take the blame for Voldemort's!"

 

"My own actions consisted of letting Peter Pettigrew live when I should have killed him," Harry said bitterly. "Thanks to that one stupid action Sirius is still on the run, Cedric Diggory was murdered, and Voldemort was raised from the dead."

 

"You're not a killer," Snape told him. "And no one expects you to be!"

 

Harry stared at him in disbelief. "Sixty-three Aurors died defending me last year. And forty-seven Death Eaters died when I took the Eye of Odin from Voldemort. You're right, I'm not a killer; I'm a mass murderer! And if I had it to do all over again I'd kill Wormtail and spare myself the sheer numbers!"

 

"Those were causalities of war," Snape's voice was harsh with emotion, thought which ones Harry couldn't guess. "And you were in no way responsible for any of them. Murder is taking a knife in your own hand and plunging it into someone's living heart. There is a difference! A huge difference! And one I hope you will never know. And even if you had killed Pettigrew, I have no doubt Voldemort would have found someone else to bring him back."

 

"Then maybe there are just somethings that are enviable," Harry said bitterly. He shook off Snape's hand, which still rested on his shoulder, and rolled away from him again. "If that's the case I guess we all better hope that it's inevitable that I learn how to kill sooner rather than later."

 

Snape didn't reply and Harry squeezed his eyes shut, fighting back the tears he felt stinging them. He wouldn't cry. He never had before, and he wasn't going to start now.

----------------------

Snape woke several hours later, startled awake by the strangled cry of fear beside him. Turning, he saw Harry thrashing again on the bed, his sleeping face twisted in agony as he fought with an invisible attacker. Cursing under his breath, Snape reached for his end table, scrambling to find another vial of Dreamless Sleep Draught. He couldn't believe he'd forgotten it, not after promising the boy last night that he would have as much as he needed. And after the events of the evening and the conversation they had both fallen asleep to, he should have known there would be nightmares forthcoming.

 

Finding the bottle, Snape reached for Harry, shaking him awake, calling his name softly. Once again the boy flinched away from him, so violently this time that he threw himself out of bed and slid off the side, landing on the cold floor with a muffled oomph. Severus scrambled quickly out of bed himself and made his way around to the boy's side.

 

Sweating and dishelved, but thankfully awake, Harry stared at him in alarm, breath coming in desperate gasps. Not thinking, Snape just caught hold of his shoulders, pried the stopper of the vial off with his teeth, and held the glass to the boy's lips. "Drink!" he commanded.

 

Harry downed the contents without question, making no move to escape his embrace. Once the vial was empty the boy flushed and looked down in either embarrassment or shame.

 

"I'm sorry," he told the boy. "I had meant to give that to you before you fell asleep."

 

"Not your concern," Harry informed him tightly, repeating back the very words Snape had said to him that evening when the mark on his arm had been burning. Taken aback, Snape was momentarily at a loss for words, wondering if Harry had said those exact words on purpose. Guessing he was feeling vulnerable and thus defensive, he concluded that he probably had. Clever Gryffindor, he thought to himself, almost saying it out loud and awarding house points.

 

"Actually it is my concern," he said mildly, determined to turn the ruse around. The boy looked up at him in surprise, his eyes narrowing. "Can't sleep with you thrashing about like that," Snape explained, pointedly steering the conversation away from any thought of blame or responsibility.

 

Harry snorted in disgusted amusement, shaking his head. "Is this where I tell you again that I hate you?"

 

"If it makes you feel better," Snape agreed. Noticing that the boy had begun shivering, he pulled him to his feet. "Back in bed, before the potion knocks you out."

 

Harry didn't protest as Severus helped him back into the bed. As Severus climbed in beside him, he noticed the boy's eyes drifting shut, the potion taking affect. "What did you dream about, Harry?" he asked softly, knowing he was half asleep already.

 

"The dead," he answered. "It's always the dead." And then he was out like a light, safe in a dreamless slumber.

 

The light from the lone candle Snape had left burning flickered off the silver bands of the wire wrapped around his arm as Severus reached out to touch the scar on Harry's forehead. They both bore their share of scars, he realized. His own might be older and more numerous, but Harry's went far deeper. It really hadn't occurred to him how much they might actually have in common. But the conversation he'd had with Harry before falling asleep had been alarmingly similar to conversations he'd had himself with Albus Dumbledore. Maybe the old man had had a point when he'd pushed them together. Pity they disliked each other so much -- he almost wanted to hold Harry in his arms and keep them both safe from the evils of the world.

 

Sighing he settled down beside his bond-mate and watched him sleep, eventually drifting off himself without ever noticing that he still had one hand on the boy's warm shoulder.

 

---------------------------

 

Author's Note: Regarding the conversation about Harry killing Voldemort or being killed by him -- this was all written long before Book 5 came out and so I will never mention any real reference to the prophecy. To me the prophecy seemed like a no-brainer, and Harry will view the situation in much the same light. Voldemort hates him, Voldemort wants to kill him and everyone around him, so in order to stay alive and keep everyone he loves alive, Harry has no choice but to kill Voldemort. No prophecy necessary.

 

Regarding the silver bands on Snape's mark -- it seems to me that it's just as likely that a good shot of morphine in the arm would block the pain (or at least make you not care that you're feeling it). If Muggles could potentially come up with a solution, how much easier would it be for the Wizarding World -- especially someone like Albus Dumbledore? He hasn't removed the mark, merely warded it so that Snape can handle the pain better.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Author's Note: Several people asked me about Harry's visions and whether or not I was going to mention them. As far as I know in canon, Harry's visions really began in his 5th year and are a direct result of his scar (we may yet discover it is really a Horcrux). This story is only canon through Book 4 and I have no intention of mentioning the concept of a Horcrux. Harry will have visions (of a sort), but they will be a direct result of something that happened to Harry during the 5th year I invented for him.

 

Thank you to everyone who's reviewed my story! I really appreciate your comments and encouragement.

 

Chapter 6 -- Life with Snape

 

To Severus surprise Harry fixed him a cup of coffee in the morning as he had yesterday, this time making himself a cup of his own as he sat down to look over a letter he was preparing to mail off. Severus thanked him, somewhat baffled by his behavior.

 

"You're welcome," the boy said simply as he took a sip of his own coffee. He watched as the boy made a face at the taste, frowned, and then shrugged, taking another sip.

 

"I do have tea if you'd prefer," Severus pointed out to him.

 

"Tomorrow," Harry agreed. "This stuff taste like crap."

 

Severus had to bite back the impulse to deduct house points for the comment. Instead he headed toward his office, intent on getting some work done before the day started. He was stopped by the sudden flurry of wings through one of the owl entry holes. Looking up he spied several owls flying into the room, all laden down with heavy envelopes and packages. Harry stood in surprise as several more owls followed the first few, more following them.

 

"Expecting a delivery?" he asked.

 

Severus shook his head, baffled himself by the sudden influx of letters. They couldn't all be howlers from Black! He moved toward one of the owls, picking up the letter the bird dropped at his feet. To his surprise it was addressed to Severus and Harry Potter-Snape. He didn't recognize the seal on the back.

 

"Potter-Snape?" Harry demanded, and Severus looked up quickly. Harry had picked up a handful of the other letters and was looking at the envelopes. He sounded both disgusted and outraged. "What's this all about?"

 

"Wedding gifts, if I'm not mistaken," Severus informed him, tearing open one of the envelopes and reading the card inside. "Apparently a Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle wish us long life and happiness and have sent a fourteenth century silver tea service to Snape Manor to commemorate the joyous occasion."

 

"Snape Manor?" Harry asked curiously. "So there really is a Snape Manor? What color is it?"

 

Severus glared at him. Sometimes Gryffindors made no sense at all. "You realize of course we're going to have to send thank you cards to all these idiots, don't you?" he demanded. "No doubt every Wizarding family in the world will send the Boy Who Lived a wedding gift and we're going to have to reply to all of them."

 

Harry looked at the growing pile of letters and packages. "Suppose any of them are hexed?" he asked.

 

Severus' eyes widened in alarm; no doubt some of them were from the families of Death Eaters. "Oh, bloody hell! Don't touch any of them!"

 

Conjuring a box he began levitating the letters into it, summoning a couple of house elves in the process and telling them to reroute all their mail to the Ministry where it could be properly sorted and scanned. He was tossing several more letters into the box when he noticed the handwriting on one was strangely familiar. Freezing he turned it over, staring at the seal on the back -- a red rose with a serpent twined around it. Momentarily stunned, he nearly dropped it.

 

He was pleased to note that his hands were steady as he broke the seal and opened the envelope. He read the short note inside with a firm grip on his emotions, forcing equal amounts of bitterness, anger and pain from rearing their ugly heads. His eyes lingered on the invitation noted at the bottom of the letter, and the signature that followed it.

 

"What's that?" Harry's voice broke through his composure.

 

"Not your concern!" he snarled, and then instantly regretted the response. So much for controlling his emotions.

 

He realized a moment later that not only was he repeating back the very words Harry had mocked him with last night, but that this time they were also utterly untrue. He looked up to see Harry's face go white with anger. But rather than saying anything Harry just pushed past him and strode toward the door.

 

"Wait," he sighed. Harry stopped, but did not turn. "That was untrue. This does concern you." Much as he hated to admit it, there were certain personal facts that he was going to have to share with Harry Potter. No way of avoiding it forever.

 

Harry turned, his green eyes wary but no longer quite as angry. He still said nothing however.

 

"It's a letter from my brothers," Severus explained, and then because he knew this was not going to be an easy conversation, he moved toward the couch and sat down. Harry joined him a moment later, sitting across from in one of the armchairs.

 

"What do your brothers have to do with me?" Harry asked.

 

Severus smiled bitterly. "They want to meet you. Want to meet the young man who has single handily returned our family name to good standing."

 

"And something about that makes you angry with me?" Harry demanded.

 

Surprised by his statement, Severus looked into his eyes, seeing years of hurt there. No doubt his Muggle family took every little slight and family squabble out on him. "I'm not angry at you," he assured him. "I'm angry at. . ." he broke off uncertain how to answer that question. "I haven't spoke to either of my brothers in nearly eighteen years."

 

"Why not?"

 

"Because my brothers have never forgiven either me or my father for tarnishing the family name in the first place," Severus explained simply, though there was nothing at all simple about it. Nothing at all in that statement to explain years of pain and betrayal and angry unforgivable words between brothers that could never be taken back.

 

Harry looked startled by the admission. "Your father was a Death Eater?" he asked. Severus nodded. "And you joined the Death Eaters to be with him?"

 

He had no doubt that the boy had wondered about his history and how he had come to be a spy in the first place. "No, Mr. Potter," he told him. "I joined the Death Eaters so that I could get close enough to my father to kill him." Green eyes widened in shock, and Severus threw Harry a twisted smile. "Like my brothers, I couldn't forgive my father either. He was our blood, our responsibility, and every crime he committed was ours to answer for."

 

"You killed your own father?"

 

"No," Severus shook his head. "Thankfully I was spared that little indignity by Lucius Malfoy. Seems they both fancied the same mistress and dueled over her. My father lost. Since I was unable to reclaim our family honor myself, I went to Albus Dumbledore and offered to spy for him instead."

 

"But your brothers never believed you?" Harry guessed, too clever by half.

 

"We never really had a particularly long conversation on the subject," Severus informed him. "There wasn't much opportunity for me to convince them of my guilt or innocence one way or another."

 

"But they must have believed you after the trial!" Harry protested.

 

Severus looked up sharply, pinning Harry with a sharp glare. What in God's name could the boy know about that trial? He'd never said anything, and he doubled very much Albus had discussed it with the boy.

 

Harry flushed and looked down. "I looked into Dumbledore's pensieve a few years ago. I saw some of the trial. That's how I knew you were spying for him in the first place."

 

"That man leaves the damnedest things lying about!" Severus cursed, feeling strangely vulnerable at the thought that Harry might have witnessed his youthful torture in the hands of the Dementors and the shameful trial that followed.

 

"Didn't your brothers believe you then?" Harry asked, changing the subject.

 

"Didn't matter," Severus explained. "The damage was already done. And judging by the terseness of the letter, I doubt they believe me even now. But they're not willing to pass up this opportunity. The hand of friendship they are extending is to you, not me."

 

Harry frowned at that, and if he heard the bitterness in Severus tone, his expression did not betray the fact. "May I see the letter?" he asked.

 

Shrugging, Severus handed it over to the young man, wondering why he even cared. Harry read it, his face thoughtful. "Since the invitation is really meant for me instead of you, would you mind if I wrote the reply?" he asked.

 

Severus' heart lurched. Surely the boy wasn't interested in befriending his family? He fought back the flare of hurt that thought sent through him. But then why should he expect anything more from James Potter's son?

 

He stiffened, composing his features, determined not to betray even the slightest bit of emotion. "Do as you like," he informed him coldly.

 

Harry nodded in satisfaction, smiling as he rose to his feet, letter still in his hand. As he made his way toward the door, Severus found he couldn't simply let it go at that; the sting of betrayal was just too sharp not to be twisted a bit. "If I may ask," he said tersely. "What precisely are you going to say to them?"

 

Harry paused at the door. "Oh, I'm sure I'll find some appropriately flowery way of phrasing it, but the gist of it will be that they should all go screw themselves."

 

As luck would have it, the door closed behind Harry long before any other students had the opportunity to witness their dour Potions Master roaring in laughter.

 

----------------------------

 

Surprisingly the two of them managed to get through the next two weeks without killing each other. Stories of Severus' threat to Draco Malfoy had apparently made the rounds and the rest of the students were careful to keep their comments to themselves after that. Classes went on as usual, though Harry did make an effort not to give Severus reason to reprimand him in class. Didn't always work however -- but then they both supposed it would look odd if things changed too much. As it was Severus was just as likely these days to take points from Slytherin as he was from Gryffindor -- though he did enjoy the latter far more than the former.

 

Harry spent his free time with his friends, and Severus went on with life in much his usual manner, minus the duties he'd once had as a Death Eater spy. At night Harry took the potions of Dreamless Sleep Draught that Severus brewed for him in his lab, and Severus kept the silver warding bands around his own Dark Mark.

 

Harry tended to avoid Severus' company as much as possible, but some nights he sat in the living room with him and did his homework while Severus read or prepped for his own classes the next day. And while they didn't precisely get along, Severus had to admit it wasn't entirely unpleasant to have company. At least he'd gotten past his desire to strangle the boy every few minutes.

 

To his surprise he received a second letter from his brothers the following Friday. This one, addressed to both Severus and Harry, was far more politely written. They made a point of saying something that might vaguely be construed as an apology toward Severus, and included him in the invitation openly this time. This time his sister had also added a postscript to the letter, begging Severus to accept the invitation, as she desperately wanted to see him again.

 

Severus frowned, wondering what Harry had said to them in his reply. Must have been interesting, and he regretted now that he hadn't asked to see it. It felt odd to think that Harry Potter might have actually defended him to his family -- also felt oddly nice, a fact that worried Severus. But he pushed it all aside as he considered the issue.

 

It was late Saturday morning before he'd made up his mind and he went in search of Harry. It was a Hogsmeade weekend, and he had no doubt that the Gryffindors were planning their usual jaunt to Honeydukes that afternoon. He hoped he could catch Harry before he left.

 

He found him sitting with Ron, Hermione and Neville Longbottom in the Great Hall, all of them gathered around a Wizarding chess set. Ron Weasley was about two moves away from checkmating Harry. All four of them looked up in surprise when Severus approached, Neville turning a pale sickly color.

 

"Harry," he greeted, purposely using the boy's first name, something that seemed to shock all four of the students. "I have a personal errand to run in Hogsmeade this morning. I was hoping you would be willing to accompany me . . .if you are available, of course." He tried to phrase his words in such a way that the boy understood it was a request and not an order. This was the first time he'd attempted to infringe upon Harry's free time. He saw Ron's look of outrage, and hastened to add, "It won't take more than an hour or two. You will have ample time for any other outing afterwards."

 

"Alright," Harry agreed, his expression unreadable. He nodded to his friends. "I'll meet you guys at Honeydukes this afternoon."

 

They just nodded in agreement, and Harry followed Severus out of the Hall. As they walked away, Severus heard Neville moaning to Ron and Hermione, "Oh, poor Harry! It's like having detention all the time!"

 

He snarled to himself at the thought, making a note to find someway of giving that little fool detention. Glancing at Harry he thought he detected the slightest smirk and almost abandoned this idea entirely. He knew his company was not that enjoyable, but it certainly wasn't like having detention! He went out of his way to make detention as miserable as possible, but he'd been as pleasant as possible to Potter in the evenings they were forced to spend together. He could only imagine what Harry and his friends must say about him behind his back.

 

Severus got a carriage in the castle courtyard and they took it down the winding road toward Hogsmeade. Harry, sitting opposite Severus in the cab, stared curiously at him. "So what is this errand all about?"

 

Severus frowned, not at all certain how to go about explaining any of this. "I received another invitation to dinner from my family. And while I couldn't care less about my brothers, I would like to see my sister again. She has at least made an attempt over the years to speak with me -- despite the fact that her husband insisted she break off all ties with me. Now of course he's changed his mind, and she has requested that I at least attempt to reconcile with my brothers. You are of course under no obligation to accompany me, but I was hoping you would agree to it."

 

"A whole houseful of Snapes?" Harry asked.

 

Severus acknowledged the jest with a mocking smile. "Would it help if I assured you that we are nothing alike?"

 

"Yes, actually," the boy actually had the cheek to inform him. "I'll go. But that still doesn't explain what sort of errand we are running this morning."

 

Ah, now to really insult the boy. "We're going to Torsond. You need some appropriate clothing. Those rags the Dursleys supplied you with are unsuitable." He glanced pointedly at the jeans the boy was currently wearing. Most of the students chose to dress out of uniform during the weekend, and while the jumper Harry was wearing -- made he believed by Mrs. Weasley -- was somewhat tolerable the jeans were not. Aside from being torn in several places, they were also several sizes too large for Harry. He'd glanced inside Harry's wardrobe earlier that week and noticed that aside for the school uniforms, the rest of his possessions seemed to include a couple of ancient t-shirts, two pairs of torn jeans, and a plaid shirt he believed the boy had been wearing since first year.

 

Harry flushed at the criticism. "It's not as if I can't buy my own clothes!" he protested.

 

"And yet you have not," Severus pointed out.

 

Harry frowned. "It never seemed important. I wear a uniform most of the time."

 

"And what about during the summer?" Severus asked. "You certainly do not wear the Hogwarts uniform during your summers in Muggle Surrey?"

 

"Considering I spend the summer locked up in a small room, it's never really mattered what I was wearing," Harry told him pointedly.

 

Severus frowned at that. He had not taken that into consideration. Nor did he like these reminders of the boy's home life. Sickened him to think of it, and he made a point to speak to Albus about having something done about the Dursleys. Their behavior was unconscionable and should not go unpunished.

 

"So where are we going again?" Harry asked, changing the subject.

 

"Torsond," Severus repeated, giving him the name of one of the finest clothiers in all the Wizarding World. He'd have a suitable wardrobe made for Harry by the end of the week.

 

Harry seemed to think about that for a moment. "Isn't that place kind of expensive?"

 

"With good reason," Severus informed him. They might be expensive, but they were worth every penny. Only the finest materials were used. "I will of course be paying for the purchases."

 

"I have money!" Harry protested.

 

"Good for you," Severus frowned, glancing out the carriage window. "I will still be paying. I am responsible for your financial support."

 

"Why are you responsible?" Harry demanded, his voice darkening with anger.

 

Somewhat surprised at the boy's tone of voice, Severus glared at him. "What?"

 

Harry's brow furrowed in exasperation. "Why are you the one responsible for me? Why aren't I responsible for your financial support?"

 

Snape stared at him. Certainly the boy had gone daft; might explain his marks in potions. "Don't be ridiculous!"

 

Harry's eyes flashed. "What's ridiculous about it? It's a legitimate question. Is it because I'm younger? Just because I'm younger I automatically have to be the housewife?"

 

Housewife! Not daft, the boy was crazy. But what ever it was, he certainly seemed to have gotten himself quite worked up over the subject. "This is some sort of Muggle thing, isn't it?"

 

"Just answer the question!"

 

"It has nothing to do with your age!" Snape glared back at him. "It's because I'm financially set and you are not. You haven't even taken your NEWTS yet. And even if you had, even if you were fifty years my senior, if our financial situation were still the same as it is now, I would still be responsible for your support. I have more money than you. A great deal more money than you. That makes our financial support my responsibility."

 

But Harry had folded his arms and was glaring at him in stubborn outrage. It occurred to Severus that perhaps this was some sort of weird Muggle pride thing. He'd have to find a way of personalizing the argument a bit more. "Haven't you ever wondered why Percy Weasley has not yet married the lovely Penelope Clearwater?"

 

The non-sequitor seemed to catch Harry off guard. "Just figured he wasn't ready yet."

 

Snape snorted in disgust. "A Weasley, not ready for marriage? Right. He hasn't married her because while she is not rich, she does have a nice dowry. And until he can financially match that dowry with money of his own, he won't marry her."

 

Far from appeasing the boy it just seemed to bring his anger back full force. "Because he's the man and she's the woman! Which makes him the one in charge."

 

Ah, Severus thought he saw the problem now. Apparently he was associating their financial inequalities with some sort of gender identification. "Because he wants to have children, you ridiculous boy!" he corrected. "Being a Weasley, he probably wants to have lots of children! And if he's not the one financially responsible for their family, they can't have children and expect to maintain any sort of social standing in Wizarding society."

 

"What do children have to do with it?"

 

Severus sighed. "Regardless of what ever gender roles are played in Muggle society, in Wizarding society a mother's finances are never used to supplement the family's income. They are kept for her private use, but mostly they are set aside as her children's inheritance. No self-respecting wizard would ever touch his children's inheritance."

 

Perplexed Harry tugged at a lock of his hair, unknowingly covering up his scar more completely. "I still don't see why that means you. . ."

 

Severus cut him off. "Regardless of gender, the partner in a bond-marriage who is the most financially stable is responsible for the financial support of the family. If a male and female bond-couple want to have children, then the male must make certain he is the one considered the most financially stable. In our case, since children are not an issue, it is a simply a matter of mathematics. I have more money than you; therefore I'm responsible for our finances. Do you understand now or should I explain it using smaller words?"

 

Harry glared at him. "Fine, I get it. Someone could have explained this earlier, you know?"

 

"Perhaps if you applied yourself more or took a Muggle Studies class," Severus suggested mockingly.

 

"I do apply myself. And Muggle Studies is useless!" Harry shot back hotly. "Neville said that last week they learned how to use a toaster!"

 

Not at all certain what that had to do with the topic of conversation, Severus gave Harry a withering glare. "And, what pray tell, is a toaster?"

 

Harry's lips twisted in a mocking smile. "You take a piece of bread, you stick it in a slot and you push a lever, the bread comes out cooked. Any five-year-old Muggle knows how to use a toaster."

 

"Having never been a five-year-old Muggle, I wouldn't know," Severus informed him coolly. Didn't sound like Muggle studies was particularly useful, but then he supposed that was the point Harry was trying to make in his round about way.

 

"What happens when I pass my NEWTS and get a job?" Harry asked suddenly. "If I make more money than you, does that make me in charge then?"

 

Severus snorted at the thought. Apparently the boy didn't understand just how wealthy a family he'd married into. "I doubt very much you'll ever make more money than I do."

 

That challenging gleam returned to those green eyes. "How do you know? Do you have any idea how much money a Professional Quidditch player makes? I'm thinking of going pro."

 

Severus nearly groaned out loud at the thought. "I might have known you'd go into something as frivolous as that!"

 

Harry grinned cheekily at him. "Just think, you'll be the only Potions Master married to a professional Quidditch player."

 

Severus stared at him. The boy was actually teasing him. Two weeks ago he would have laid good money that Harry Potter was terrified of him -- now he was teasing him in such a manner that indicated he was actually hoping to rile him up, make him angry. "You're determined to torment me, aren't you?"

 

Harry thought about that a moment and then just grinned. "Well, I did learn from the best," he explained. "Had to get something out of all those potions classes."

 

The carriage jolted to a stop as they reached their destination and the boy leaped out. "You could try studying potions," Severus muttered to his retreating form. But of course that was probably asking too much.

 

The proprietor of Torsand came out to meet them as they entered the shop, greeting Severus by name. He bought most of his own clothes here -- all save the robes and tunics he wore during school hours. Considering how many times he found himself doused in exploding potions, he saw no point in ruining anything of quality.

 

"Marius," Severus greeted the man with a polite nod.

 

Marius grinned warmly at Harry. "And this must be Harry!" he exclaimed in delight. Severus resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. Everyone in the Wizarding World knew Harry Potter. "Ah, come for some new clothes have you young man?"

 

Harry glanced down at his jeans. "I guess," he sighed. "Preferably something that's in my actual size. I'm actually partial to the colors orange and purple."

 

Both Severus and Marius stared at him in horror. "I'm kidding!" he told them both. "Red and gold actually."

 

"Ah, a Gryffindor," Marius said relieved. "Of course!"

 

In a matter of moments Marius had Harry on a stand, measuring tape in hand as a magical scroll automatically marked down the measurements he called out. Severus sat down to one side and watched in silence. Once the measurements were taken, Marius began showing Harry bolt after bolt of material -- velvets, silks, and brocades -- draping some of the cloth across Harry shoulders to see how they matched his own coloring. Severus found himself smiling in amusement -- the boy might like the Gryffindor colors, but the Slytherin green suited him better. Brought out his eyes.

 

He said very little himself, letting Harry make the majority of the decision, though he did inform Marius that he wanted an entire wardrobe -- breeches, tunics, doublets, robes, cloaks, boots, riding breeches. Harry's eyes widened as he rattled off the list of items. The more he listed, the more he thought of -- stopping himself when he realized he was actually starting to enjoy himself a bit too much. Picturing what Harry might look like in riding breeches was going a bit too far into that realm of lustful thoughts he'd promise himself he'd avoid at all cost.

 

When they left, his purse was a great deal lighter, and Harry was a great deal more baffled by his behavior than before. "I'm going to look ridiculous," Harry complained.

 

"Probably," Severus lied with a smirk. The boy would look lovely. Far too lovely for someone like him to be keeping company with, but he'd be damned if he ever informed him of that. "But at least it will all fit properly."

 

Harry spotted his friends waiting for him down the street in front of Honeydukes. He waved to them, then paused before heading off to join them. "Just out of curiosity," he asked. "All this money your family has. . .who's the heir?"

 

"I am," Severus informed him -- something that had continued to gall his brothers for years.

 

"So Snape Manor is. . . ?"

 

"Mine," Severus agreed.

 

The smile that lit the boy's face was not one of happiness but of mischief. "What color was it again?"

 

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Why are you obsessed with its color?"

 

But Harry just grinned impishly. "No reason," he shrugged, and then raced off to join his friends. Severus rode back to the castle alone.

 

The following Monday afternoon Severus found himself wandering restlessly around his classroom after his final class -- Harry's class -- which had gone abysmally poorly. He'd taken points away from Harry, Ron and Dean after the three of them had nearly succeeded in blowing up the classroom with their fire oil potion. Days like these just reminded him of why he disliked the boy so much -- he suspected the feeling was mutual.

 

Too restless to stay still, he retired instead to one of the castle salles where he found Madam Hooch working with rapiers. She was actually one of the best swordsmen he'd met in a long time -- and she happily spent an hour dueling with him, something he hadn't indulged in a while.

 

All the children of wealthy, pureblood Wizarding families were taught various forms of fencing as children. He'd never care for it much as a child, being a skinny, gangly boy, and had only learned what he needed to learn to appease his father. But several years of torment from James Potter, Sirius Black and the other Gryffindors had eventually awakened Severus' more vicious nature. He'd joined his fellow Slytherins in their private fencing salles, eventually learning to enjoy the violence of the sport. He had his share of scars from bloody duels, and had given his own share right back -- but while his peers like Lucius Malfoy reveled in the blood, for him it was now more a discipline and a means to work out frustrations.

 

Later he ate in the Great Hall, then retired to his own chambers where he sat in front of the fire trying to read a book. Far from having cured his restlessness, the exercise had only increased it, and he found himself watching Harry doing his homework at the small table in the corner.

 

"How was your day?" He couldn't believe he'd asked the question. Nor apparently could Harry for he looked up in surprise.

 

"Fine," he replied, an odd expression on his face. His answer wasn't entirely accurate of course -- Severus knew he was angry about the more than thirty house points he'd lost. "How was yours?" That last was civilly spoken, but just barely.

 

"Fine," Severus answered, debating mentioning that he had enjoyed the opportunity afforded to him to potentially rob Gryffindor of the house cup this year. "How are your classes going?" He told himself that he really wasn't interested. Just making polite conversation.

 

"Fine," Harry said again, and then a strange light entered his eyes. "Well, not all my classes," he added.

 

"Oh?" Curious in spite himself, Severus leaned forward wondering if Harry was going to share something about his other classes, and wondering why he cared if he did.

 

"Yes," Harry continued. "I hate my potions class," he explained blithely. "I don't get along with the teacher. He can't seem to explain anything in a way that makes sense."

 

Severus' eyes narrowed as he found himself caught somewhat off guard by the tact Harry was taking. He'd of course initiated it, asking about the classes after all. But he hadn't expected such an open insult. "Maybe if you paid more attention, the things he told you would make more sense," he bit out.

 

"I do pay attention," Harry insisted. "It just doesn't seem to do any good! He doesn't give good directions. I do exactly what he tells me to do and my potions still blow up in my face."

 

"Exactly what he tells you!" Severus leaped to his feet, incensed by the blatant lie. "You chop instead of slice, dice or sliver. You don't mash, ground, or grind any of your ingredients properly and you fling them together as if you're making a stew instead of a magical potion!"

 

Harry leaped to his feet as well. "You tell me to add a cup of Ansil Weed, I add a cup. You tell me to add a salamander tongue, I add a salamander tongue. And then you tell me I did everything wrong!"

 

"I told you to add a cup of DICED Ansil Weed, and a SLIVERED salamander tongue!" Severus roared back at him.

 

Harry's eyes widened in disbelieving outrage. "They all turned to mush in the cauldron anyway. What in hell does it matter if they're diced, sliced or mashed!"

 

"You stupid boy! It matters!" Severus yelled at him in fury. "The preparation changes the properties of the ingredients. Any five-year-old wizard knows that!"

 

"I was never a five-year-old wizard!" Harry shouted back, once again turning Severus words from several days ago right back on him. Shocked Severus stepped back in amazement. The boy was too clever by half, and now that he stopped and thought about it he had a point to boot. He stood in silence, blinking at the angry young man in disbelief. Well. . . damn! Making a quick decision he turned and walked swiftly toward the door to his private lab.

 

"Come here," he told ordered, pushing open the door. He didn't bother to see if the young man was following him. Instead he began rummaging through his stores on the shelves around the room, removing a jar containing Wizarding sugar root. When he turned back around Harry was standing beside his worktable, waiting patiently, his face still fixed in a stubborn but expectant frown.

 

Severus set down several of the sugar roots, and picked up a sharp knife. He began cutting through the roots with quick deft strokes of the knife, dicing some, slicing others, chopping a third pile and final dropping some into a mortar and pestle and grinding a fourth bit. Then he handed one of the untouched roots to Harry. "Taste," he ordered.

 

Looking somewhat put out, Harry took the root from his hand and bit off a small portion. "It's sugar root," he shrugged. "Tastes sweet."

 

Severus handed one of the sliced pieces of root. "Taste," he ordered again.

 

Sighing, Harry took a bite of that. He frowned at the taste, his eyes widening slightly. "It's. . .not as sweet."

 

Satisfied, Severus handed him a piece of diced root. Harry tasted it without being asked this time. "It's salty!" he exclaimed.

 

Next he handed over the chopped root. "Tart!" Harry sounded completely baffled.

 

Severus held out the bowl with ground root inside it, watching as Harry dipped a finger in and brought it to his mouth. He found himself a bit preoccupied with the pink tongue that licked the digit clean and almost didn't hear Harry exclaimed. "It's too sweet now!"

 

"Sugar root is one of the more extreme examples of magical ingredients," Severus informed him. "The differences in preparation are extraordinarily noticeable, something every Wizarding child learns in their mother's kitchen growing up. All the magical ingredients you use in potions are affected by the way in which they are prepared. If a potion asks for diced Ansil Weed and you chop them you might as well have just added a completely unrelated ingredient for all the good it will do."

 

Harry looked completely flummoxed. "No one ever told me," he stammered. "I thought you were just being fussy."

 

"Fussy!" Severus glared at him.

 

"How was I supposed to know?" Harry insisted. "You never mentioned any of this. Not even during my first year."

 

"Don't they teach you these things in Muggle Studies?" Severus had never actually taken Muggle Studies himself, having believed it to be a waste of time. He was beginning to think his assessment has been accurate.

 

"No," Harry told him. "And I don't take Muggle Studies -- it's pointless. According to Neville they are currently discussing the relative merits of analog verses digital watches. Something no Muggle-born cares about."

 

"Then apparently we need two different versions of Muggle studies," Severus mused. Muggle Studies was supposed to teach Wizarding children about the Muggle world, and Muggle-born children about the Wizarding World. It seemed however it focused on the ridiculous minutia of the Muggle World alone.

 

"Apparently," Harry agreed, looking down at the collection of sugar root. "I'm sorry."

 

Surprised by the apology, Severus raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "For what?"

 

"For screwing up in potions," he explained.

 

Severus sighed. "I'm the teacher," he admitted grudgingly. "It was my mistake not yours. I should have figured out what the problem was." A thought occurred to him. "You don't suppose that's what Longbottom's problem was?"

 

"No," Harry shook his head. "He's wizard-born. He's just terrified of you."

 

Severus almost laughed at the explanation. "And you're not?"

 

Harry looked up at him, his gaze open and thoughtful. "No," he admitted. "I've been living here three weeks now and you haven't even come close to killing me. No matter how angry I've made you."

 

Suddenly suspicions Severus glowered at him. "Have you been trying to make me angry?"

 

"No," Harry smiled. "If I was really trying, you'd know. Sirius has been mailing me lists of suggestions that he's certain will send you into a rage."

 

"Potter!" Severus sputtered in shock, not at all certain how to take that comment. He actually wouldn't put it past Sirius Black to do just such a thing. Remus Lupin too.

 

Harry just grinned somewhat cheekily at him. "I'm going to bed," he announced and left him there still struggling to find words.

 

After a moment Severus just gave up and laughed softly. He hated to admit it, but he as actually starting to like the boy.

 

---------------------------------------------------

Author's Note: Goodness, by the time I'm done, my notes are going to be longer than the story. Luckily, you don't need to read my notes to read the story (and hopefully enjoy it).

I thought I'd mentioned where some of the ideas from this chapter came from. Harry, as you can see, has very definite ideas about what role a man and a woman are supposed to play in society. And he's worried that he's been forced into the roll of a woman, simply because he still really can't conceive of a marriage as anything else. As mentioned in chapter 2, he has no real prejudice (good thing since he'll eventually discover he's gay!) against homosexuality, but I reason out that is because it was never something he thought of before. The Dursleys literally didn't talk to him -- not even to instill their own set of beliefs on him. (To be honest with you I had never heard of homosexuality until I was nearly graduated from High School -- the topic just never came up -- so it does happen.)

As such, Harry has no clue how to integrate into the life of a married man. Furthermore he's always been self-sufficient -- he had no true guardians growing up. He doesn't know how to accept the care Severus is attempting to give him. Why would he? I think it's one of the reasons Harry always runs head-long into danger -- it doesn't occur to him to ask someone else to take care of the problem.

And finally -- I'm a huge fan of Alton Brown (Good Eats). It occurred to me that if the melting point of butter vs. margarine (or whether you warm it to room temperature first, or use it directly from the refrigerator) can change the outcome of your cooking, why couldn't the preparation of potion ingredients change the outcome of the potion?

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 7 - The Binds that Tie

 

Harry sat at the Gryffindor table the following morning with a beginning potions book propped open before him. He'd found it in the library early that morning -- something set aside for first years since it was no more than basics. Sure enough there was a whole section in there that spoke of the necessity of chopping verses dicing -- and while it did mention the change these things had in the properties of the ingredients in question, it was couched in vague references that a Muggle-born probably would not recognize.

 

"Oh, God, it's finally happened!" Seamus groaned in horror. Harry looked up in surprise as his fellow Gryffindors joined him. "Harry's reading a potions book!"

 

Harry flushed under the looks his friends were giving him, especially Ron. "Oh, knock it off," he told them. "It isn't that bad. I'm just trying to make certain I don't flunk potions." He turned the book around and shoved it across the table toward Hermione. "Did you know that there is an actual difference between dicing and chopping ingredients in the outcome of the potions."

 

Hermione nodded. "Yes, what about it?"

 

"I didn't know," Harry told her pointedly. "Don't recall it ever being mentioned in class. And while I've been assured that this is something most wizard-born children learn by the age of five, it isn't something a Muggle-born would know. How is it you know?"

 

"I read about it of course," she pointed to the book. "It says right there in plain English."

 

"It says right there in very vague English," Harry informed her. "There is nothing plain about it."

 

"Then how did you figure it out?" Hermione asked.

 

"Professor Snape told me," he explained.

 

"Oh God, Harry!" Neville moaned. "He's forcing you to study potions in your free time now?"

 

Harry frowned at Neville. "No, not really. We were just talking." Though he had to admit that sounded weird too. And judging by the looks on his friends' faces they all thought so as well.

 

"You were talking?" Ron demanded. "To Snape? Just chatting? About what? Quidditch?"

 

"Potions," Harry sighed. "It's not like I can avoid talking to the man." And if he was truthful with himself, he was beginning to admit he almost enjoyed the conversations.

 

"That must be bloody awful!" Seamus exclaimed.

 

"It's not that bad," Harry informed them all. "He's not. . .he isn't. . ." He just sighed and shrugged. "It's not that bad. Believe it or not, I actually get away with calling him names right to his face."

 

That shocked them all. Hermione looked utterly amazed. "Are you telling me that he doesn't take away house points when you call him names?"

 

Harry shook his head. "Not outside of school hours. I can tell he thinks about it, but he never actually does it. I guess he doesn't think it would be fair."

 

"Snape doing something to be fair?" Ron snorted in disbelief. "That will be the day."

 

"Do you ever call him by his name?" Dean asked curiously.

 

Harry frowned perplexed. "What do you mean?"

 

"Well, it's kind of weird you calling your bond-mate Professor Snape," he pointed out.

 

"What else am I supposed to call him? He still calls me Mr. Potter."

 

"Not all the time," Neville told him. "He called you Harry when he made you go to Hogsmeade with him. Remember?"

 

Harry did remember and he frowned. He'd vaguely remembered him calling him Harry before that too -- in bed if he remembered correctly, though he wasn't about to share that piece of information with his friends. "Would feel weird calling him anything other than Snape," he told them with a dismissive shrug.

 

They all nodded in agreement. "Still," Dean added. "It's kind of weird."

 

Harry personally thought the entire thing was kind of weird.

 

Quidditch practice started and took up much of Harry's time in the afternoons after class. He often didn't find time to do his homework until after dinner. Then he'd sit quietly at the desk Snape had set up for him while Snape graded papers by the fire. He had noticed that despite the fact that Snape had an entire office to himself, he often spent his evenings in front of the fire and Harry wondered if this was a new development for his benefit. Oddly enough he suspected Snape did it to keep him company -- though why, he couldn't imagine. It wasn't as if he really liked the man. And certainly Snape couldn't stand him.

 

And yet he didn't retreat to the private office when he so easily could have. And after a while Harry grew accustomed to his presence. From time to time the man would even speak to him, commenting on something he was reading or something that had happened in the course of the day. Harry found himself speaking occasionally too -- mostly asking questions about his homework that he would have typically asked Hermione if he'd been doing his homework in the Gryffindor common room like normal. To his surprise, Snape usually answered his questions, reserving the majority of his overly snarky comments for potions class, which were still as difficult as ever though Harry had to admit he had been getting steadily improving marks due to more careful preparation of ingredients. More than once he'd actually caught Snape looking approvingly at the contents of his cauldron, though the man had yet to actually compliment him.

 

The arrival of the clothing Snape had ordered for him from Torsand surprised Harry even though he'd known they were coming. He hadn't actually expected so much -- he'd never owned so many things in his life. And so many things that actually fit -- he'd tried on several of the items, staring at himself in the mirror in amazement. Okay, he wasn't so certain about the riding breeches -- but he had to admit the doublets looked nice. Eventually he put everything away in the wardrobe, and rejoined Snape in the common room.

 

"Well?" Snape asked, not looking up from the scroll he was reading.

 

"It's. . .nice," Harry admitted, wondering what precisely he was supposed to do now. He supposed thanks were in order, but he felt suddenly very awkward and very strange. Didn't seem right that Snape of all people should be giving him so much. It felt weird.

 

Snape looked up, expression unreadable. "Nice?" He sounded somewhat disbelieving.

 

Harry flushed. The man must have spent a small fortune on the clothes; the material alone was worth a ton of coins. "I've just never owned so much before," he admitted. "It feels. . ..strange." He sat down nervously in his chair.

 

"What's strange about it?" Snape demanded.

 

"I don't know," Harry shifted uncomfortably beneath that penetrating stare. "I just don't think. . .I mean. . I know what you said and all, but I should have bought everything myself."

 

"I thought we went over all that," Snape leaned back in his chair, dropping the scroll into his lap in irritation.

 

"I know what you said," Harry repeated. "But still. . . it's not right! I don't care what everyone else thinks or says; I didn't marry you for your money. And you didn't exactly have a choice either. You shouldn't have to pay for me!"

 

"Pay for you?"

 

Harry flushed again, realizing how that sounded. He glared angrily at Snape. "I didn't mean that! I meant you shouldn't have to take care of me! I don't need anyone to take care of me!"

 

Snape leaned forward suddenly, his face set in a dark frown. "Mr. Potter, this has nothing to do with me taking care of you, or paying for you, or what ever it is you think is right or wrong. This has to do with what I, and the rest of the Wizarding World, consider my responsibility, and the fact that I have no intention of showing up in public with my bond-mate improperly dressed!"

 

Anger and hurt flared so swiftly through Harry that he almost hit Snape's sneering face; came so close in fact that his fists had clenched, his body trembling in rage. As it was he only managed to restrain himself by jumping up and running from the room. He fled to Snape's private library, slamming the door behind him and locking it tightly. Fury rolled off him in waves, causing several books to fly off their shelves and fall to the floor with loud thumps.

 

Startled by the sounds, Harry felt the rage drain out of him and he dropped down onto his butt in the middle of the floor, too numb to even bother looking for a proper seat. With the rage gone all he was left with was the hurt.

 

So Severus Snape was ashamed of him! He should have known. Just like the Dursleys. Their solution was to lock him up in a small room and pretend he didn't exist. Snape's solution was apparently to dress him up in fancy clothing and pretend he was something other than what he was. He'd always thought Snape hated the fact that he was famous -- never thought the day would come when Snape would force him into the ridiculous celebrity status he'd spent the last several years mocking him for. But apparently it worked for him now, didn't it? Gave him back his family's good name. The very thought hurt.

 

Harry found himself fighting back tears once again. He wouldn't cry. He never cried. Not even Voldemort had ever succeeded in making him cry. Snape certainly wasn't going to succeed. But he didn't really know why he hurt so much. He didn't like Snape after all. Didn't care what the man thought of him.

 

At least he didn't think he did, did he? Surely he hadn't actually entertained the thought that Snape might have bought him all those clothes because he wanted to do something nice for him? That would be utterly ridiculous -- especially since he had explained quite clearly before hand why he was doing it. Granted he'd couched it in a bunch of nonsense about marital roles in the Wizarding society, but he'd never once indicated that he actually cared about Harry's well being.

 

Not like Harry cared either -- after all he'd just told Snape that he didn't need anyone to take care of him. And he didn't. Never had. Certainly the Dursleys had never taken care of him. And while Sirius might have been willing to take care of him, he had never been given the opportunity. Last thing he needed was to pretend that this farce of a marriage was anything more than what it was. An inconvenience for both of them. Snape wasn't *really* his family now.

 

No, it wouldn't do for him to feel hurt about anything Snape did or didn't do. He should have just ended their argument with his typical declaration of undying hate and left it at that. See if he ever tried to start a conversation with the man again!

 

Sighing, Harry climbed wearily to his feet. He was tired -- Quidditch practice that afternoon had taken a lot of out of him. And the last ten minutes had left him feeling drained and cold. But at least now he had his emotions under control, his resolve firmly back in place. After all he knew why he was here -- they both did, thanks to Snape's words.

 

He unlocked the door and returned to the common room. Snape was still sitting by the fire, though he looked up when Harry re-entered the room. His face was quite unreadable. Moving toward the desk, Harry began gathering his homework together, intent on going to bed.

 

"What was that all about?" Snape demanded.

 

Harry didn't look up but he could feel Snape's gaze on him. "Nothing," he muttered. "Doesn't matter."

 

"Harry?" The sound of his name surprised Harry and he looked up sharply. Snape was staring at him in bewilderment.

 

"Why do you call me that?" Harry demanded.

 

Snape looked somewhat taken aback. "What?"

 

"Harry. You call me that sometimes. Why? Why bother?" Harry clarified. "You've never done it before. You've always called me Potter, or Boy, or Idiot or Brat. They've always suited you before. Why change now? Am I supposed to call you Severus?"

 

Snape's eyes narrowed. "You've never been particularly reticent either about calling me whatever you damned well like."

 

"It's not the same."

 

"We're bond-mates. We're going to have to get used to certain familiarities sooner or later!" Snape insisted.

 

"Because society expects it?" Harry demanded.

 

"What in Hell is all this about?" Snape asked in exasperation. "You're obviously angry about something. What? What did I do?"

 

Realizing that he'd broken his own resolve not to indulge in these conversations again, Harry just shook his head, turning away. "Nothing, never mind. It doesn't matter." He was nearly all the way to the bedroom door before a hand grabbed his arm, stopping him, turning him around. Alarmed, Harry stared up at Snape in surprised. So far the man had refrained largely from touching him save when absolutely necessary.

 

But far from the angry expression he expected to see glaring down at him, Harry actually thought Snape looked. . .. worried? "Have I hurt you in some way?"

 

"No!" Harry denied vehemently.

 

"Then what in hell is wrong?" Snape asked. "I've obviously upset you."

 

Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. "You've spent every year I've been here going out of your way to upset me! Why should you care now?"

 

Snape's hand tightened on his harm. "Because I didn't intend it this time!"

 

"So it's different when you do intend it?" Harry scoffed.

 

"Yes," Snape growled, eyes no longer worried but angry, flashing with their usual fire.

 

"Why?" Harry demanded again. "Because now we're bond-mates? Because now we're supposed to be a family?" The very idea was ludicrous.

 

"Yes!"

 

"I hate you!" Harry informed him, quite pleased to have found an appropriate opportunity to tell him that once again. Problem was he was starting to suspect it wasn't entirely true.

 

"So you keep saying!" Snape said. "But I'd like to point out that doesn't disprove my point. You hate the Dursleys too, and my brothers hate me, and I hated my father. Hate is a common theme in families. Sometimes it's the glue that holds them together!"

 

"If that's true then we'll never be parted!" Harry shot back, his heart tightened in his chest at the thought. Families founded on hatred; it sounded like the most horrible thing he could imagine. All he could think of was the Weasleys and the time he'd spent with them the few summers he'd been able to leave Privet Drive early. Seemed he would never have that.

 

Apparently Snape had no answer to that, and Harry just glared up at him. "Stop touching me," he ordered.

 

Snape looked confused for a moment. "What?" he asked in disbelief and then noticed that his hand was still clamped tightly around Harry's arm. He released him as if he'd been burned, stepping quickly away. Harry turned immediately and entered the bedroom, closing the door behind him firmly. So far Snape had given him complete privacy when he was preparing for bed. Despite the fight, he didn't expect that to change tonight.

 

He entered the bathroom, moving on automatic as he went through his nightly ablutions, changing finally into his pajamas. Then he returned to the bedroom where he stopped next to his wardrobe to peer inside once again. The beautiful new clothing seemed almost to mock him, and he ran his hand over the soft materials, remembering the day they'd gone to Torsand. He'd actually almost enjoyed himself that day. Certainly he'd enjoyed teasing Snape about being the only Potions Master married to a professional Quidditch player. And picking out all those things had been fun.

 

But Snape had only done it because he was ashamed of Harry. How could he imagine that would not upset him?

 

But then Snape never said anything he didn't mean. He honestly hadn't intended to upset him? Harry frowned.

 

If that were true. . . I have no intention of showing up with my bond-mate improperly dressed .. . .a direct attack toward him! But if he really hadn't intended to upset him, who else could that have been aimed at? If not him? The only others mentioned in that statement were Snape himself and the public in general.

 

Snape or the public.

 

Harry paled suddenly, other conversations coming to the foreground. Snape had become a Death Eater to reclaim his family's honor by killing his own father. And in failing that duty he'd become a spy for Dumbledore, suffering God only knew what at the hands of Voldemort for the sake of a duty he believed he had failed in performing. The man had a streak of honor inside him a mile long, but being a Slytherin his motives and methods were almost never decipherable.

 

Realization struck Harry hard. It wasn't Harry he was ashamed of. He genuinely believed that nonsense about him being responsible for Harry's support -- and if Harry appeared in public inappropriately attired it would be a sure sign that Severus Snape was not performing his duties. That he was neglecting him, like he obviously believed the Dursleys had.

 

Which meant that these clothes had been gifts. Given out of a sense of duty granted, and not out of affection or kindness, but gifts nonetheless. And Harry had nearly hit him for it. He felt sick to his stomach.

 

The door opened a moment later and Snape entered, moving toward the bathroom without a word.

 

"Thank you," Harry said softly to him, stopping his progress across the room.

 

When he heard no answer he turned toward him. Snape was staring at him as if he'd completely lost his mind. "For the clothing," Harry explained. "Thank you for the clothes. I like them. No one has ever bought me so much. . .and it's. . ." He stopped that line of thought. That's what had gotten him into this situation in the first place. Okay, it was still weird, but at least now he could understand it a bit more. "It's just. . .thank you."

 

Once again Snape looked completely lost for words. Finally he just shook his head in bafflement. "You're welcome," he said simply.

 

Harry just smiled at him and then headed toward the bed to sleep, leaving a completely bewildered Severus Snape standing in the middle of their room.

 

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Author's note: I mentioned there would be some violence in this story. The action picks up in the next chapter (no, not THAT kind of action! Harry's not there emotionally yet). And yes, Sirius will be appearing soon.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Author's Note: This story was really meant to be nothing more than a forced-marriage fic. But a rather long and involved plot developed shortly after I started it. The pieces of this plot begin to show themselves in this chapter.

 

Chapter 8 -- All the Kings Men

 

Harry went with Ron and Hermione to Honeydukes the following weekend, dressed in some of the more casual clothing Snape had bought him. Nevertheless both Ron and Hermione commented on the outfit, Hermione telling him he looked quite nice. Ron just made gagging noises at the thought of Snape buying Harry anything. Harry endured it all with little comment. He and Snape had an unspoken agreement not to bring the subject up again.

 

As they walked the path toward Hogsmeade, Harry talked about his last letter from Sirius and the promise the man had made him to come visit as soon as possible. "I'm hoping he'll be here this weekend," Harry told them.

 

"Isn't it dangerous for him to come back here," Hermione protested.

 

"Not if he stays out of sight," Harry replied. "He's already doing work for Dumbledore as it is, and needs to report in occasionally. And the Ministry still doesn't know anything about Snuffles. Sometimes I think he prefers that form."

 

"Think he'll hurt Snape when he gets here?" Ron asked hopefully.

 

Harry just shook his head. "You keep forgetting the fact that none of this was Snape's fault. He only married me to protect me. And it's not like he's done anything to hurt me since then. Sirius might not be happy about things, but Snape hasn't done anything wrong either." He was amused by how disappointed Ron looked at the thought.

 

"You don't actually want Snape to do something wrong do you?" Hermione asked the redhead.

 

"No, of course not!" Ron assured them both, and they both laughed at the look of dismay on his face.

 

"Don't worry, Ron," Harry assured him. "I'm sure sooner or later Snape will say something that will set Sirius off, and you can watch the two of them fight."

 

"You think so?" Ron's eyes lit up at the thought.

 

"When did you get so blood thirsty?" Hermione sighed. "Boys!" She shook her head in disgust.

 

They spent a few hours at Honeydukes, and then later at the local pub, all of them joking around with some of their classmates and enjoying a game of Exploding Snaps. Afterwards they wandered up and down the streets of the village looking into various shop. Harry stopped to admire a gleaming sword he saw in a shop window while Hermione dragged Ron across the street to look into a bookstore. Harry smiled, listening to Ron complaining the entire way. He also noted that Ron didn't refuse to go with Hermione however. Said a lot for Ron to abandon a display of weapons to go look at books.

 

Laughing to himself, Harry decided to give the two of them a few moments alone and he turned his attention back to the sword in the shop window. It reminded him faintly of Godric Gryffindor's sword that he'd used to kill the Basilisk during his second year of school. That seemed almost a lifetime ago now.

 

Movement inside the shop caught his attention, and he looked up, peering through the window. Several men were inside, talking to the store proprietor. It took Harry a moment to realize he knew one of them. Alphedor Carlton. A Death Eater. He'd met the man during one of Voldemort's attacks last year. And here he was now, with a group of other men, buying weapons of some sort.

 

Just as he started to back away, one of the men in the shop glanced up toward the window and spotted him there. A shout when up. Harry turned and ran, eyes scanning for cover. He didn't think he could make it into the bookstore in time.

 

The door burst open and he heard the first curse shouted, shooting past his head as he ducked and dove toward a large rain barrel in front of the bookstore walkway. Even as he dove he felt something slamming into him, vaguely aware of a sharp pain. Then he was rolling to his knees, turning, wand raised in his right hand. Oddly enough his right hand wasn't moving properly, and he couldn't for a moment understand why he couldn't lift it all the way.

 

The protruding fletch of feathers from the crossbow arrow sticking out of his right shoulder probably had something to do with it he guessed, and he spared a brief moment to wonder why he couldn't feel more pain.

 

More curses were coming now, and he heard screams on the street as other people dove out of the way, getting caught in the hail of curses. Transferring his wand to his left hand, Harry shouted back his own curses at the advancing men. From behind him, he heard a couple of more curses aimed toward the Death Eaters as Ron and Hermione crouched behind the door of the bookstore and attempted to come to his aid.

 

The Death Eaters, six of them Harry could see now, dove for the cover of the large stone planters lining the walkway in front of the weapon's store. One of them lobbed off another arrow in Harry's direction. This one caught him low on the left leg tearing all the way through the muscle and protruding out the other side. Harry tried to draw himself more completely behind the barrel. It really wasn't much cover. The permanent fixtures along the street had spells worked into their foundations to protect them from attacks. But the barrel -- another shouted curse from one of the Death Eaters and it wasn't any cover at all -- exploded in a shower of splinters that left Harry open to attack.

 

He threw a shielding spell, blocking several more curses as he attempted to dive toward the door of the bookstore. His leg didn't want to work properly and he could feel his shielding spell weakening as several more curses struck it. Then Hermione was shouting again, sending out several curses while Ron reached out from the door and caught hold of Harry's shoulders dragging him inside behind the door. Before Harry could thank his friend, a spell struck Ron directly in the chest, sending him flying back several feet to lie unmoving on the ground.

 

Harry turned, wand raised again, returning fire. He could see several people lying unmoving on the street. Dead he suspected. One had a crossbow bolt through his chest. Two others looked as if they'd been hit by curses that had skinned them alive. One had the blank look of a man hit by the killing curse.

 

The six Death Eaters were safely barricaded behind the stone planter wall in front of the weapons store, and Harry couldn't get a clear shot to any of them. He could see a dozen other people cowering on the street, hiding behind carts and flower pots. Three Hogwarts students were cowering down behind a display of cauldrons not far from the weapons store. If one of the Death Eaters moved just slightly further forward, the students would be open to attack. Harry had no doubt they would be killed.

 

An idea struck him. "Hermione?" Pain flared through his entire body as he turned to catch the girl's attention. Her eyes were wide in terror. "Can you do an illusion for me?" he asked. "Someone running out of the store, down the street toward that tea shop over there?"

 

Hermione nodded. "When?"

 

"Now would be good," he told her. He braced himself against the doorframe, wand clutched tightly in his left hand. His entire right arm was going numb.

 

Hermione threw the spell, and Harry saw the figure of a dark-haired boy with glasses running out of the shop and down toward the tea store. Instantly three of the Death Eaters surged forward to curse him, opening themselves up for a clear shot.

 

Harry picked the one in the back, aimed his wand and whispered the words of his spell, feeling power rush out of him as the spell struck the man in question. It wasn't the Imperious -- he doubted he had the strength to throw something that powerful. But it was a precursor to it -- something he and Hermione had discovered last year during their History of Magic class. An old spell called King's Voice, not as strong or as potent as the Imperious, not illegal either since most people had long ago forgotten it even existed. It had too many flaws in it to be of interest to the Death Eaters who would opt to use the Imperious instead. For one thing it was temporary, and it required a continuous line of sight to maintain. But Harry hoped it would be enough.

 

"Stop them," he whispered into the midst of his spell, weaving the words together and sending them toward the Death Eater he'd struck.

 

The man immediately turned, eyes blank, and shot curses toward the unprotected backs of his comrades in front of him. Two of them went down immediately, before one of the others blasted the man who'd been caught by Harry's spell, breaking the bonds and sending all that energy flashing back into Harry's bleeding body. Harry slumped weakly down on the floor, not certain he could muster enough energy to move again.

 

Then he heard another curse hit the door only a few feet from his head. The crackling of flames caught his attention. Horror flooded him as he realized that the Death Eaters had lit the bookstore on fire.

 

"Hermione!" he yelled. "Get Ron out the back door!"

 

"I'm not leaving you here!" she protested.

 

"He'll die!" Harry insisted. "He's helpless. I'll hold them off. Go!"

 

New strength came with his determination to save his friends, and he turned to throw a few more weak curses while Hermione, realizing that Harry was indeed right, and Ron was helpless, levitated Ron with a spell and began moving him out the back door.

 

As she left, Harry was vaguely aware of several other people going with her, scrambling toward the door while he put up covering fire for them to escape. He couldn't help wondering bitterly how many full-grown adult wizards had been hiding behind him while three sixth-year students from Hogwarts had fought off the Death Eaters.

 

It was growing hot by the door and Harry tried to back away from the rising flames, only to realize that his leg refused to move any longer. The books in the front display window were catching fire swiftly, and Harry knew it was just a matter of minutes before the entire building was an inferno. He tried to throw another curse back out through the doorway, but found to his horror that his left hand this time would no longer move. Baffled he stared blankly down at his arm. A sharp splitter of wood was sticking out of his left bicep and he wondered when he'd gotten that. Couldn't remember, though he supposed it must have happened when the barrel had exploded.

 

It occurred to him briefly that it was highly likely he was going to die, going to burn to death in the bookstore, or failing that be hit with a killing curse as he could no longer run. And then across the street, he heard familiar voices shouting, heard the distinctive crack of several people apparating to the scene. A glance through the fire showed him Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape catching the remaining three Death Eaters by surprise, wrapping them up in binding spells even as Aurors swarmed toward them.

 

And as Harry slumped down onto the floor, blood seeping from the many wounds on his body, he saw his two rescuers advancing on the bookstore, wands pointed toward the flames which any minute now would be licking at his skin. Blessed coolness washed over him, and he felt his wand drop from his numb fingers. He had a moment to think musingly that his bond-mate looked quite impressive when he was angry, and then the world began to grow gray and fuzzy.

 

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Severus had been at lunch in the Great Hall brooding about Harry's strange behavior for the better part of an hour -- he'd actually been brooding about it for several days, though he was careful not to point this fact out to himself. He still wasn't certain what that conversation about the clothing had been all about. That he'd said something that had obviously hurt and angered Harry was apparent, though for the life of him he couldn't figure out what it had been. Anger Harry could apparently handle just fine -- he'd seen the boy's fist clench as if to hit him. But apparently anger coupled with hurt was unmanageable, which he suspected was why Harry had locked himself in the library.

 

But what he'd done still remained a mystery to him. Once Harry had gotten over the pride issue about paying for his own things, he had actually rather hoped he'd appreciate the clothing. Certainly Severus had wanted him to enjoy them. But apparently he'd completely missed something, and the last thing he had wanted to do was hurt Harry. Far as he could tell, Harry had been hurt by the people who were supposed to take care of him quite enough. He didn't need any more pain.

 

And then not ten minutes later in the bedroom Harry had completely confused him again when he'd given him the response he'd been hoping to get in the first place, as if nothing of the previous conversation had happened at all. If he ever figured out the convoluted mind of Harry Potter it would be a miracle. In the mean while he supposed he'd have to settle for rampant insanity.

 

Still lost in thought he was distracted when the Dark Mark on his arm began to tingle faintly. He frowned, touching the silver wire through the sleeve of his robes. Albus' spell prevented any pain from touching him, but he could still sense the activation of the mark. It wasn't precisely a summons he realized. Felt more like a small gathering of other Death Eaters. Nearby from the feel of it.

 

Alarmed, he looked up, scanning the Great Hall for a familiar face. The Gryffindor table had many empty seats. Ron, Hermione and Harry were gone, along with a number of other students to Hogsmeade.

 

"Albus!" he said sharply. Dumbledore looked up in alarm. "We've got to find Harry."

 

He saw Dumbledore and several other teachers turn toward the Gryffindor table. "He's gone to Hogsmeade," Minerva explained to all of them.

 

Severus didn't wait to hear more, heading swiftly toward the door. Behind him he heard Madame Hooch offering to summon the Aurors while Albus followed swiftly behind Severus.

 

Summoning brooms, the two of them flew off Hogwarts grounds, heading swiftly toward Hogsmeade. As they approached the small village, Severus noticed smoke rising from the center of the village. Cursing he flew lower, diving toward the source of the fire. As he neared he could see the battle waging in the street, bodies lying scattered about on the cobblestones. It took a moment for him to figure out who was where -- that was Harry trapped inside the burning bookstore!

 

He crashed through a side window of the weapons shop where the Death Eaters were barricaded, Albus right behind him, coming up behind the men. Three down already, the others turned toward the sound of breaking glass. Severus and Albus had them trusted up inside binding spells in a matter of seconds. Outside he could hear the arrival of Aurors, and then he was running toward the burning bookstore. Through the partially opened doorway he could see Harry, covered in blood, slumped on the floor, flames drawing ever closer to him. He pointed his wand at the flames and shouted an extinguishing spell. He felt Albus' power joining his, containing the fire, pulling it back in and extinguishing it entirely.

 

Severus shoved opened the scorched door and dropped to his knees beside Harry, his heart moving to his throat as he stared at the damage done. Arrows in the right shoulder and left leg, numerous cuts bleeding profusely, a large chunk of wood embedded in his left bicep. His shirt was nearly soaked in blood, and with trembling hands Severus cast a spell to stop the bleeding before he bled himself dry.

 

"Harry?" he called, pulling the boy into his arms, trying hard not to jostle the wounds too severely. He tapped lightly at Harry's face, trying to see if he was suffering from a curse or just passed out from pain or blood loss.

 

Harry moaned softly, his eyes fluttering open. "Snape?" he whispered, blood on his lips. His glasses were broken and Snape removed them, stuffing them in his robes along with Harry's wand. "Ron, Hermione?"

 

Understanding what he was asking, Snape glanced swiftly around. Just outside the door he could see Albus with Hermione. The headmaster was busy reviving Weasley from some sort of spell. Both looked unhurt.

 

"They're alright," he assured Harry. Pain flickered across Harry's face and Snape quickly performed a pain numbing charm, cursing himself for not thinking of that immediately.

 

Some of the strain eased from Harry's face and he looked weakly up at him, eyes unfocused. "Sorry," he whispered softly.

 

"For what?" Severus asked disbelieving. Surely the boy didn't think the attack was his fault.

 

"Killed them," Harry explained. "More dead." It occurred to Snape suddenly that of the six Death Eaters he'd seen, three of them had already been dead. He felt his chest tightening in sympathy for the boy. This was the last thing he needed.

 

"Rest, Harry," he urged gently. "I'll get you back to the castle."

 

Harry slumped against him, saying nothing as Severus lifted him up into his arms and carried him out of the scorched bookstore.

 

"Harry!" Ron and Hermione exclaimed when they saw them. Ron's eyes were wide in terror. "Is he . . .?"

 

"He's alive," Severus assured them both. He looked at Albus. "But we need to get him to Poppy immediately."

 

"There's a floo in the Three Broomsticks," Albus told him. "We can floo directly to the hospital wing."

 

Nodding, Severus carried Harry swiftly down the street, flanked by Albus, Hermione and Ron. The crowd of onlookers who'd come out once the Aurors had shown up moved swiftly side. Severus shot them all his most withering glare. There were a dozen fully qualified wizards and witches in the crowd of sightseers, and yet the only one he'd seen casting spells had been Harry.

 

The proprietor of Broomsticks was waiting for them, door thrown open for all of them. Inside was a crowd of other Hogwarts students who surged forward with concern at the sight of the bloodied Harry Potter in the arms of their Potions Master. Albus immediately calmed them, ordering them to head straight back to the castle, and to gather up any of their classmates along the way. Then the Headmaster activated the floo and allowed Severus to floo straight into the hospital wing. Ron and Hermione quickly followed.

 

Poppy came running when Severus yelled for her, her eyes widening when she saw the body he carried. As Severus set Harry down on one of the hospital beds, she drew a curtain around his bed and then began to work on him, her face regaining a professional calmness. Between the two of them they got the boy stripped of most of his bloody clothes, a spell removed the majority of the splintered wood embedded in his skin, including the horrid looking chunk that had pierced his bicep. But a quick exam of the two crossbow arrows revealed a minor charm on both of them. Only one way to take them out.

 

"Hold him, Severus," Poppy ordered. Severus nodded, moving to hold the boy down. "The arrow is embedded in his shoulder blade. I can't drive it all the way through. It's going to have to come out the hard way."

 

Severus felt himself blanch at the thought. "Do it," Severus ordered grimly. Poppy grabbed hold of the arrow shaft with a pair of Muggle pliers and pulled while Severus held Harry immobile. Despite the pain-blocking spells, Harry screamed as the bolt ripped free. The sound was like a knife through Severus heart. The boy went limp, passed out again from the pain.

 

The bolt in his leg was easier to manage. It had gone all the way through and Poppy was able to first snip off the barbed end of the arrow before pulling the shaft out of his flesh. When she finished, both their hands were covered in blood. Behind them, Snape heard Hermione crying softly against Ron Weasley's shoulder.

 

With Severus' help, Poppy got several potions down Harry's throat. The boy choked and sputtered on the taste of several of them, and Severus found himself gently stroking his throat trying to get him to swallow it all. "Come on, Harry," he whispered softly. "Just a few more drinks." He wasn't certain if the boy even heard him, but it seemed to help and so he kept it up, whispering encouragement to him.

 

With the potions out of the way Poppy set about closing the wounds themselves, using her considerable skill to begin mending his flesh back together. When she was through Harry was nearly whole again. The three larger wounds would take several more sessions to heal. But she bandaged them up neatly, and the two of them set about cleaning him up and getting him dressed in a pair of hospital pajamas before tucking him back in to sleep. He didn't regain consciousness again.

 

When Severus finally found himself with nothing to do but sit at Harry's bedside, he glanced around to realize that aside from Granger and Weasley, Albus, Minerva and Constable Terrence Lowry from the Ministry Auror division had joined them.

 

"How is he, Poppy?" Albus asked in concern when Poppy drew aside the curtain she'd placed around the boy's bed, something Severus was grateful for. He didn't like to think that all these people had been watching Harry suffer, despite the fact that he knew most of them loved the boy. Harry hated to show weakness to anyone.

 

"He'll live, Headmaster," Madam Pomfrey informed them all. Both Ron and Hermione nearly wilted in relief.

 

Now that the danger had passed, Severus felt anger returning. "What happened?" he demanded of Granger, Weasley and the Auror standing beside them. "I only saw six Death Eaters. There were dozens of fully trained wizards and witches all over Hogsmeade. Why wasn't anyone else helping Harry?" He also vaguely recalled seeing several seventh years hiding behind a cluster of cauldrons as well -- if they had looked up for a second they could have seen a clear shot at any of the Death Eaters.

 

"Now, now, Severus," Minerva chided. "You can't blame them. Most people are too afraid of standing up to the Death Eaters."

 

"Besides," the constable argued. "Civilians aren't trained for that sort of thing. Most people panic in an attack."

 

"Harry didn't!"

 

"Not a civilian now, is he?" the man answered with a shrug.

 

"He's sixteen!"

 

"He's Harry Potter," the man explained as if that was all that was necessary.

 

Hermione interrupted before Severus could say something more scathing. "It all happened too fast, sir," she explained. "No one knew what was going on. One minute everything was fine and the next thing we knew curses were flying through the streets. Along with arrows. People just ran in every direction."

 

"What happened then?" Albus asked gently.

 

Shivering with the memory, Hermione recounted what she could of the events that followed, Ron supplying comments of his own. Snape's estimation of both the young Gryffindors went up considerably when he realized that these two at least had not abandoned Harry. Both had risked their lives for him, had joined him in the battle. Three sixth-years against Death Eaters when there were a dozen others more capable.

 

"The three Death Eaters, how did they die?" Severus asked them, remembering what Harry had said about killing them.

 

"The killing curse," the constable explained. "All three of them were hit with it."

 

Snape felt the blood drain from his face. He knew Harry knew the curse, but he hadn't been aware that the boy had ever actually used it. Not to mention it required a great deal of power to throw -- didn't seem likely that Harry would have had the strength to throw it considering how badly he'd been wounded. Especially not three times.

 

"Not that we would hold that against the boy," the constable assured them all quickly. "It was self-defense of course. And he's Harry Potter after all." Still, they all knew this would result in an inquiry. Any use of the Unforgivables resulted in an inquiry, and Severus hated to think what hell that would drag Harry through.

 

"Harry didn't use the killing curse," Hermione told them insistently. "They used it on each other."

 

On each other? The Imperious then?

 

"He used the Imperious?" Albus asked, thinking along the same lines.

 

But Hermione shook her head. "No, Harry doesn't like the Unforgivables. He wouldn't use them. He used the King's Voice. Vocis Regalis."

 

Severus frowned, glancing at the Headmaster. He'd never heard of the King's Voice.

 

"We found it last year," she explained. "We were reading The Evolution of Charms and Curses in history class. It mentioned that most modern charms and curses came from older, less powerful ones. We got curious and did some extra research. The King's Voice was the precursor to the Imperious. But it hasn't been used in centuries-- it's not nearly as powerful as the Imperious which replaced it. It's only temporary, and it requires line of sight to maintain. But it worked." She glanced at the constable who was frowning thoughtfully. "And because it's so old and out of date, it's also not illegal. It's not on the books anywhere."

 

The man just smiled and shook his head. "Good," he said with satisfaction. "With the election coming up I'd hate to be the one to tell Fudge he has to put Harry Potter through an Official Inquiry." He nodded politely to Albus. "Well, since that's taken care of, I had best go make my report." He nodded to Severus as well. "My best to your bond-mate, sir. I hope he's better soon." And then the man strode out of the room.

 

Severus pulled a chair over to Harry's bed side and slumped down into. "If Harry doesn't get himself killed, idiots like that are going to," Severus complained to Albus.

 

Albus just smiled sadly. "We'll just have to make certain that doesn't happen, my boy." He turned toward Ron and Hermione. "Now you two should go get cleaned up and assure your housemates that Harry is fine. No doubt all sorts of rumors have already made their way around the castle a dozen times."

 

"Can we come back and sit with Harry?" Ron asked, looking hopefully over at Madam Pomfrey.

 

"I'll stay with him," Severus informed them.

 

"You can come see him briefly after dinner," Madam Pomfrey told Ron and Hermione. "But I want the boy to sleep. He's exhausted, and he lost a lot of blood. He needs rest."

 

Subdued the two of them nodded and left the hospital wing with Minerva following.

 

"Will you be alright, Severus?" Albus asked quietly after Poppy had returned to her own office.

 

"They left the battle to three underage wizards, Albus," he stated flatly. "And they have the gall to wonder how people like Voldemort rise to power. He doesn't have to do anything but show up and they cower in terror. What kind of world do we live in?"

 

"We live in the kind of world where three underage wizards are willing to die to save the lives of those around them," Albus said gently. "That's rather a wonderful world if you ask me, filled with truly amazing people."

 

Despite everything Severus felt his lip twitch in amusement. "That's such a Gryffindor thing to say," he sighed.

 

"How Slytherin of you to notice, Severus," Albus agreed, then patting him gently on the shoulder he left the room, leaving Severus alone with Harry.

 

Severus leaned over the bed, reaching out to brush some tangled locks of hair of away from Harry's face. The scar on his forehead looked red and angry and he gently traced it with his fingers. He ached inside, something deep and painful and inexplicable. And he couldn't for the life of him understand it. It wasn't the panic he supposed the mindless masses might feel if they thought their hero was gone. And it wasn't the realization that he might have lost the one person who could keep his family name in good standing.

 

This was something else, something harder and darker, and it made him sick to his stomach to imagine what Harry must have suffered that day. He didn't have the false expectations of the boy that everyone else did -- though he would admit openly that the boy continued to surprise him. But he also didn't like seeing him lying here so helpless and vulnerable. It wasn't right that he should suffer so much. This need to protect him left him lost and flailing about for words to make sense of his feelings. But all he found was turmoil.

 

"Harry Potter," he said softly, tracing the boy's features slowly with his fingers. "I'm not going to let you sacrifice yourself for this cause." It was a vow. One he intended to keep. He'd made other vows to the young man after all -- to join body, name, house and power to his. What was one more?

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Author's Note: I do love Sirius and Remus. And I had a lot fun playing around with their relationship.

 

Chapter 9 - Dog Star

 

Severus was startled out of a light doze some hours later by a harsh voice. "What are you doing here?" Severus opened his eyes to find Sirius Black staring at him from the other side of Harry's bed.

 

"Keep your voice down," Severus ordered, glancing at Harry to assure himself that he was still safely asleep. Harry looked as if he hadn't moved at all, his face still too pale for Severus' liking.

 

"Answer my question," Black insisted.

 

"I should think it is self-explanatory," Severus told him. Sometimes Black's stupidity astounded him. He leaned forward to lightly touch Harry's forehead again, checking his skin temperature, while he caught hold of his wrist with his other hand to check his pulse.

 

"What are you doing?" Black demanded.

 

"That should also be self-explanatory," Severus growled in irritation. Harry felt slightly warm to the touch, but his pulse was fine. The potions they'd given him early should take care of any infection, but he suspected he'd need a few more before this was over.

 

"Is he . . .?" Black began, but trailed off uncertainly.

 

"Fine," Severus told him. "A minor infection I suspect, but we gave him something to counter that earlier."

 

"Why are you sitting with him instead of Poppy?" Black asked.

 

Finally a vaguely intelligent question from the man. "She has other patients, and I volunteered to sit with him."

 

But his answer obviously didn't satisfy Black. The man's eyes narrowed. "Why you?" he pressed again.

 

Severus glared up at him in irritation. "He's my bond-mate. I have every right to be here."

 

"This marriage is a joke and you know it," Black growled.

 

"And yet still quite legal," Severus pointed out. "Which is more than I can say for your guardianship since you're still a wanted criminal."

 

Black's eyes flashed with hatred. "Believe me, Snape, no one regrets that more than I do. Harry should be with someone who loves him. Instead he's been stuck with those monstrous Muggles, and now you."

 

"Love or not, you can't protect him," Severus reminded him.

 

"And I'm supposed to believe that you can?" Black asked incredulous. "That you would lift a finger to help James Potter's son?"

 

"Believe whatever the hell you like, Black," Severus sneered. "There's nothing you can do about it now."

 

Black's eyes went flat with fury. "Really?" the man growled, but a soft sound from Harry caught both their attention.

 

Harry's eyes flickered lightly and he turned toward his godfather, his eyes opening slowly. Without his glasses he had to squint to see who was looking at him, but when he realized whom it was a warm smile brightened his features. "Sirius," he whispered, his eyes shining with pleasure.

 

Severus felt something remarkably like jealousy flash through him, and it took him a moment to realize why. He wanted Harry to look at him like that. Complete pleasure at the sight of him. He sat there somewhat stunned by the revelation while Sirius Black leaned over the bed and gently hugged the young man lying there. How could he possibly want something so badly that a few weeks ago would have seemed completely ludicrous?

 

"Harry, how are you?" Sirius asked, gently stroking Harry's head, brushing his hair from his face. Harry seemed to lean into the comfort of his touch. The jealousy flared again, and Severus fought to squash it back down.

 

"Glad to see you," Harry admitted. "I missed you."

 

"I missed you too," Sirius told him. "I'm so sorry I haven't been here for you."

 

"Got your letters," Harry told him. "They helped. Can you stay?"

 

"I'll stay," Sirius promised. "For as long as I can. As long as I stay out of sight it should be all right. Remus is coming too."

 

"Good," Harry smiled again, for the absent werewolf this time, and Severus felt the pang again tugging at his heart.

 

"Albus told me what happened," Sirius told Harry gently. "Are you feeling any better?"

 

"I'm fine, Sirius," Harry assured him, though Severus was fairly certain the boy was still in a great deal of pain. The wounds he'd received were not yet all the way closed. No doubt his muscles ached too from the strain of battle, and the forced healing they'd been through. "Dumbledore and Severus saved me."

 

Severus's eyes widened at Harry's words, not certain what he was more shocked by -- the acknowledgement of what he'd done, or the use of his first name. Sirius was obviously just as shocked by his words.

 

"Severus?" he asked in disbelief.

 

Harry's eyes fluttered again and it was obvious he was fighting to stay awake. "Don't fight, okay?" he whispered. "Don't want you to fight." Severus understood then, both the words and the use of his name. He was protecting him! The little brat was actually trying to protect him while lying here half dead himself. He was protecting him from his godfather's temper, or perhaps simply protecting his godfather from finally committing the crime for which he was being hunted. Either way he was putting himself between them -- forcing Sirius to acknowledge both the life debt between them, and the marriage that bred such familiarly.

 

"Harry?" Sirius asked in confusion. But the young man was down for the count, out like a light again. Sighing in frustration Sirius leaned forward and kissed Harry lightly on the forehead. Then pulling up a chair he sat down next to the bed opposite Severus.

 

"You do realize that if you ever hurt him, I'll rip your throat out," Black said stiffly.

 

"Figured as much," Severus agreed mildly.

 

"Good." Sirius folded his arms and glared across the bed at him.

 

Severus sighed. It was going to be a long wait.

 

Several hours later sometime after the evening meal Severus Snape was witness to an odd sight. He'd of course been expecting the arrival of Remus Lupin -- Black had said as much to Harry. And truth be told Lupin looked much as he had last time Severus had seen him. What he hadn't expected to see was the way Black immediately jumped up at the sight of him, crossed the room and threw his arms around him in a fierce hug. Nor could Severus quite explain the somewhat pained look on Lupin's face as he returned the hug awkwardly. By the time Black drew back, face lit up with a brilliant smile, all sign of discomfort was gone from Lupin's face, replaced instead by concern for Harry.

 

"How is he?" he asked Black quietly.

 

Black led him over to the bed, one arm draped almost possessively over Lupin's shoulder. Seeing Severus' look of surprise, Lupin actually flushed under his gaze. Black didn't seem to notice.

 

"Severus," Lupin greeted with a brief nodded as he took the seat Black had just abandoned. Severus suspected he'd sat down simply to get out from under the arm Black had put around his shoulder.

 

"Remus," Severus greeted back, keeping his tone as cordial as he could. He was a bit baffled by the behavior he had just witnessed, quickly coming to the conclusion that something important had changed in the dynamics of the two Marauders.

 

He'd first seen Remus Lupin in the Great Hall during their sorting ceremony in first year. He only noticed the small, honey-haired boy because of his so obvious attempt to remain unnoticed. The boy stood apart from the rest of the first years, kept his head shyly down, darted nervous looks at those around him, not daring to even join in the excited whispers of those around him. And then the sorting had begun and Severus had seen something he remembered to this very day.

 

Sirius Black's name was called, and as the swaggering, cocky youth had stepped up to the platform to receive the sorting hat, Remus Lupin had looked up and fallen instantly in love. It was as if upon seeing Sirius Black he'd seen the sun, moon and stars for the first time in his life. Even at the tender age of eleven Severus had understood what had happened, had understood also somewhere in the far reaches of his soul that no one would ever look at him like that.

 

Sirius Black had not noticed of course. He was too busy being sorted into Gryffindor to the thunderous cheers of his new housemates. Nor did he notice the look of longing in the eyes of the boy who followed his progress to his seat. The sorting hat was shortly afterward placed on Remus Lupin's head, a long pause as the hat debated where to put him. Severus had watched for it, somehow knowing what he was going to see, and he found himself staring with something akin to awe at the incandescent joy on the boy's face when the hat had sorted him into Gryffindor as well.

 

He'd lost track of him after that, his own sorting sending him to Slytherin where he'd been greeted by his peers. But despite his colored history with the Marauders he'd never really forgotten that first moment -- often found himself looking for that glimpse of heaven he'd seen in Remus' eyes when he stared at Sirius Black. Emotions like that were all but unknown in his world, and seeing them in Remus' eyes was like catching a glimpse into a different life.

 

To his knowledge in the seven years they'd been at Hogwarts Remus' devotion to Black had never wavered. To his knowledge Black had also never once figured it out, never once returned the devotion or affection so obviously waiting for him, choosing instead to spread his favors amongst vast and numerous fans.

 

And Severus still remembered the look of utter devastation on Remus Lupin's face when Sirius Black had been lead away to Azkaban -- as if his world had completely fallen apart, and Severus supposed that for the werewolf it truly had. His friends were dead, and the love of his life was convicted of their murder. That he survived the ensuing years was miraculous.

 

But now something had changed, and Severus couldn't quite put his finger on what it might be. To see Remus Lupin shying away from Black's touch instead of basking in the attention? Or perhaps the man simply couldn't endure the teasing any longer. And Black. . .Severus' eyes narrowed as he watched the two men talking quietly to one another. There was something almost desperate in the way Black leaned in toward Remus, in the searching, probing gaze he kept subjecting the werewolf to -- the gaze the werewolf wouldn't or couldn't meet for long.

 

Very interesting, Severus thought, and he found himself wondering what had happened to change things so drastically. He shouldn't care really, he told himself. It was nothing more than idle curiosity about something he'd watched for so many years, like starting a book and wanting to read the end simply because you'd already devoted so much time reading it that you felt you deserved to know what happened on the last page. Not because you really cared of course.

 

Ron and Hermione entered the room a moment later, the two students greeting the Marauders enthusiastically. Severus sneered at them all. A gathering of Gryffindors. Disgusting really. He supposed now would be as good a time as any to give them some time to themselves. He needed to retrieve some of Harry's belongings from their rooms as it was -- Harry would want fresh clothing to wear when he was released. And he might appreciate a book to read if he was stuck here overly long.

 

Rising, he headed toward the door. "Keep your voices down," he growled to the lot of them as he left. He got the expected glares and for a moment debated deducting points from Gryffindor just because he could. But he didn't though -- reminding himself at the last minute that like it or not he owed Ron and Hermione. They had stood by Harry when no one else had. That at least should be worthy of some courtesy from him, at least until the next potions class.

 

He returned after a quick shower and a change of clothing, catching a bite to eat himself before gathering up Harry's belongings. He repaired Harry's glasses, thinking briefly about a possible more permanent solution to bad eyesight, then headed back toward the hospital wing. As he entered the room Poppy was in the process of kicking the four Gryffindors out for the night, much to the protest of Black. Severus, ignoring them all, moved into the room to take up his seat at Harry's side once again. This set Black off again. "Why does he get to stay then?" he protested, practically moaning to Poppy.

 

"You can't stay because the whole lot of you woke the boy up when he needs to sleep, then got him all worked up despite everything," Poppy informed them. "Severus can stay because I know he won't do any of those things. Now be off with you! You can see him in the morning."

 

She all but shoved them out the door and slammed it in their faces. Severus looked up at her as she sighed tiredly. "Worked up?" he demanded, not certain he liked the sound of that. Harry was asleep again, but his face looked a bit flushed.

 

Poppy just shook her head. "What is it about Gryffindors?" she asked. "Wanted to hear all the gory details of the battle. Didn't occur to any of them that Harry might not want to talk about it just yet. The boy has never been overly willing to speak about such things; you'd think they figured it out by now."

 

Severus frowned. Poppy was right about Harry's reticence in speaking about anything violent. It was one of the reasons they had never known he was being abused by his family. Severus suspected that Harry would much prefer to forget it all, pretend it simply hadn't happened. He certainly took no pleasure in glorifying in it the way a typical Gryffindor might. Harry saw failure where the others saw heroics. Harry saw death and damnation where the others saw victory and glory.

 

"I'll be in the next room if you need anything, Severus," Poppy informed him them. "I gave Harry another infection blocker, and worked a bit more on his wounds before he fell back to sleep. He should sleep through the night. But if there's any change, come get me immediately. You can sleep there on that bed if you're feeling tired." She pointed to the bed just beside Harry's.

 

"Thank you, Poppy," Severus informed her. "I'll be fine."

 

She nodded and bid him good night. Severus settled back to wait.

 

It was three hours before he noticed the first signs that Harry's sleep was no longer quite so peacefully. He leaned forward, watching the boy's face, seeing the signs of strain that flickered over his features, the tightening of his lips, the frown that marred his brow. He'd half been expecting it, realizing only belatedly that with all the potions they'd poured down his throat, they hadn't given him a single Dreamless Sleep Draught, something he'd been taking consistently night after night since that first nightmare Severus had disrupted.

 

Uncertain what precisely to do -- he didn't really want to wake Harry when he so desperately needed sleep -- Severus reached out and gently touched the boy's face. He didn't want to leave him lost to the nightmares either -- especially now that he understood what precisely it was he saw in them. The dead, he'd said. And now he had more dead to haunt him.

 

"Harry, it's alright. You're safe," he whispered softly, hand resting lightly against the boy's face. To his surprise, Harry turned in toward his touch and some of the tension eased from his face. Somewhat baffled, Severus stared down into the sleeping face. Maybe he thought he was his godfather? Maybe he imagined it was his godfather sitting here beside him and instinctively accepted comfort from his hand.

 

Or maybe the boy simply craved kindness so desperately that any gentle touch would sooth him.

 

Somehow that thought did little to assure Severus. He found his stomach twisting at the thought, and he drew back, removing his hand from Harry's skin. He shouldn't be touching him anyway. Hadn't he promised himself he wouldn't do that -- wouldn't allow himself to become attached in anyway? Maybe he should have let Black remain in his place? But then Black and the rest of the Gryffindors had managed to upset Harry in spite of all the warnings.

 

It was only a matter of moments before Harry was moving restlessly again, the tension returning to his features and Severus debated waking him after all. Instead he just touched him again, stroked his hair back from his forehead, took hold of one his hands in his own. Again the boy stilled and calmed. Strange, he thought. No doubt the boy would be horrified if he were to wake and find his hated Potions Master touching him in any way. And no doubt Black would go through the roof if he were to enter and see Severus Snape holding the hand of his godson.

 

He also had no doubt that all of Gryffindor would laugh themselves sick if they realized that for just one brief, ridiculous moment Severus Snape wished that a certain green-eyed hero would look at him the way Remus Lupin had once looked at Sirius Black.

 

---------------------

 

Severus woke a few hours later, to discover that he and Harry were no longer alone. Albus Dumbledore stood at the foot of Harry's bed staring thoughtfully at the two of them. Albus smiled when he realized Severus had awakened, his eyes gazing momentarily on the hand Severus still had resting on top of Harry's own. Embarrassed Severus immediately withdrew his touch. "He was having nightmares," he explained in a quiet whisper, not wanting the old man to think anything more of it.

 

Albus just nodded, his gaze turning thoughtful again as he looked down at Harry. The boy seemed to be sleeping fairly peacefully now, his breathing slow and even. "Do you care for him, Severus?" Albus asked, unexpectedly.

 

Surprised, Severus stared at him. "What?"

 

The old man just smiled again, almost indulgently. "Do you care for him? I know you'll protect him, but he needs more than just that. He needs emotional strength and stability."

 

Severus stared at the man in disbelief, wondering if he was really asking what he thought he was asking. "Albus, if that's what you're looking for, you picked the wrong person for the job. I am not a nice man. A Weasley would have been a better choice for coddling."

 

Albus smiled at that. "You're nicer than you let on, Severus." He sighed and shook his head. "But no, that's not what I meant. He doesn't need coddling."

 

"Albus, what's wrong?" Severus had known the man long enough to know he was worried about something.

 

The headmaster stroked his beard thoughtfully. "Nothing's wrong," he assured him. "Not precisely. I'm just concerned about Harry. He has a lot on his shoulders. We all do I suppose, but he. . ." He shook his head again. "You've spoken with him?" he asked Severus. "About his family?"

 

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Some," he acknowledged. "Which brings up a point I've been meaning to talk to you about. They need to be punished for what they did to him."

 

Albus waved his concern away with a negligent shrug. "Already taken care of, my boy," he explained. "They were suitably cursed."

 

"How suitably?" Severus demanded. He had several ideas in mind, and was somewhat disappointed he had not been allowed to carry them out.

 

Something twinkled briefly in Albus eyes, something down right vindictive and oddly enough Severus found himself strangely comforted by the idea that Albus Dumbledore could be moved by something as petty as revenge. "Well for starters they all three have come down with the most extraordinary case of claustrophobia. Incurable really. I'd venture guess that for the rest of their lives there won't be a house or building in the world big enough for them to truly feel comfortable in."

 

Severus thought about that, thought about what it must have been like for a small boy to spend so many years locked up in a small cupboard. Locked in the dark.

 

"Afraid of the dark too," Albus added as an afterthought. "Can't stand it really. Scream in holy terror when the lights go out. The mind does conjure all sorts of odd nightmares hiding in the darkness."

 

A lifetime of feeling trapped and terrified of things that go bump in the night. He nodded in satisfaction. "And the starvation?" he demanded. He wouldn't let that one go. Harry would probably always be small because of the malnourishment he'd suffered as a child. That should carry a life sentence as well.

 

"Ah," Albus nodded. "Seems they've lost all sense of taste. They can't taste a thing, will never again be able to enjoy any type of food. And from what I understand the three of them were quite fond of food -- the two males particularly. I believe it was one of the few pleasures they had in life. Oh, they can still smell it, and crave it desperately, but it is a craving that will never again be satisfied."

 

Severus smiled at that -- probably fitting it be something like that. He would have gone for something more sever he supposed -- blindness or the less subtle curses like eternal boils or lice. But then Albus was probably right that the punishment should better fit the crime.

 

"Harry hasn't said much, but I suspect they beat him more than he claimed," Severus told the Headmaster. "I know his uncle was partial to throwing objects at him." That at least deserved an actual physical thrashing --he'd take great delight in letting Vernon Dursley know precisely what it felt like to be beaten by someone stronger than himself.

 

"I wouldn't mind seeing them locked in Azkaban for the rest of their lives, Severus," Albus said quietly. "For what they did to a boy I left in their care, I think I could probably kill them myself."

 

Shocked, Severus looked up at the headmaster, stunned he would admit such a thing. There was a sad, gentle gleam in the old man's eyes. "But I also know Harry better than that," the old man explained. "And as much as you or I or Sirius Black might want to hurt them, Harry would never forgive us or himself if something truly awful happened to them."

 

And of course Albus was right, but Severus didn't have to like it. "Bloody Gryffindors," he cursed softly.

 

"Noble Gryffindors," Albus correctly. "And Harry for all his other qualities has nobility to spare."

 

"Other qualities?" Severus frowned at that, suspecting that the headmaster was hinting at something there.

 

Albus's eyes flashed almost cheekily. "He's probably never mentioned it to anyone, but the sorting hat wanted to put him in Slytherin. Harry talked it out of it."

 

Shocked beyond belief Severus just stared at the man. Slytherin? Harry Potter in Slytherin? Impossible! The boy didn't have an ounce of guile. . .but then he had managed to fool the Head of Slytherin about his life and his upbringing all these years, never even a hint that he wasn't exactly what he appeared to be. He kept his nightmares a secret too from all his beloved Gryffindor followers. And over these last weeks he'd proven time and time again that he was too clever by far -- turning Severus own words back on him.

 

Damn! Harry Potter in Slytherin. Wouldn't that have been something? No wonder Voldemort feared the boy. Wait a minute. . ."Talked it out of it? How in Merlin's name do you talk the sorting hat out of something? It's a magical artifact. It's not supposed to be ambiguous or indecisive."

 

Albus smiled. "Curious isn't it? And yet it still happened."

 

Severus let that sink in for a moment, staring down at the boy again. There was something decidedly odd about the whole thing.

 

"I've been doing some reading," Albus said suddenly, changing the subject. "I was curious about that spell he used. The King's Voice."

 

"Never heard of it," Severus admitted. "But the Granger girl is nothing if not resourceful."

 

"Yes," Albus agreed. "I wonder what else the two of them have researched?"

 

"What did you find out about the spell?"

 

"Apart from the fact that he shouldn't have been able to use it?" Albus asked in some amusement. Severus just rolled his eyes. Figured. Like that would ever stop Harry Potter. Albus sighed and shook his head, that thoughtful look returning to his face again, and Severus realized that something really was worrying the old man.

 

"What is it, Albus?"

 

Albus just shook his head. "They were wrong about why it fell out of use," he simply explained. "I still need to do some more research however. Some of the old texts are even hard for me to read."

 

"Then how did Granger learn the spell?" Severus asked. "You're not suggesting her translating skills are superior to yours?"

 

"Actually, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest," Albus said in delighted amusement. "But that's not what I meant. The book they read the spell from has the spell written out quite plainly in Latin. The incantation is in numerous books. No reason for it not to be. The spell is utterly useless."

 

"Useless?" Severus frowned, not wanting right then to deal with Albus' assessment of Hermione's intelligence. "Those Death Eaters were controlled by something."

 

"Yes," Albus nodded. "Curious, isn't it?" He smiled tightly to him nodding his head. "Keep an eye on him, Severus," he told him. "We need Mr. Potter, now more than ever."

 

And with that he turned and left, leaving Severus alone with his sleeping bond mate. First chance Severus got, he was going to do a little bit of research of his own. But then he suspected that was precisely why Albus had mentioned this subject in the first place.

 

-----------------
Author's Note: As you may have noticed, there's been a dynamic shift in Severus' view of Harry -- a rather important change in their relationship. However Severus doesn't really understand what it means, even though he is aware of the shift. He still sees his own actions as nothing more than duty. There's been a shift as well for Harry, but he's not even aware of it on a subconscious level yet. Those of you who are waiting for the hot steamy sex scenes have a long wait ahead of you. This is a romance -- which are slow and subtle, and in the end perhaps more long lasting.

 

On the Dursleys: Lots of people have been emailing me about the Dursleys and wanting to know what will happen to them. In most stories it is very rarely Albus who gets to exact revenge -- I thought it would be fitting here. And while I too think they deserve prison, the Harry in this story would suffer greatly if he knew any revenge had been taken.

 

However, that being said -- this is not the last of the Dursleys. They will actually be making another appearance much later in the story when odd circumstances force them to come to Hogwarts. They will not be well received.

 

On Wedding Rings: I've gotten several emails from people asking why Harry is wearing his wedding ring on his right hand and I thought I'd go over my reasoning for this. First, it was done intentionally. There is a lot of symbology in this story (particularly in later chapters). Much of the symbology doesn't matter all that much -- meaning if you don't get it, no big deal. Occasionally it marks a major plot point.

 

The wedding ring is one of those small unimportant things that I threw in just because it made me smile. In America and parts of the UK the wedding ring is always worn on the left hand. (The majority of men didn't really start wearing wedding rings regularly until WWII so this was largely a custom of women.). In very large portions of the rest of the world the wedding ring is worn on the right hand. It depends on what country you are from and what religion you belong to -- even different versions of Christianity have different customs concerning which hand to use.

 

Parts of the UK however have always worn it on the right hand and still do to this day. I suspect this comes from the belief that the left hand is 'evil' -- school students were even forbidden from using the left hand to write with as recently as 50 years ago. Since the Wizarding World is culturally behind the Muggle World -- and far more superstitious (with good reason) -- I thought I'd stick with some of the old world traditions and keep their wedding rings on the right hand.

 

Interestingly enough -- 'left' in Latin is 'sinistra' which means 'sinister'. Professor Sinistra will make an appearance soon and actually cause an interesting revelation in Harry's marriage.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Author's Note: This is sort of an odd chapter as Remus, Sirius and Severus attempt to teach Harry something about the Wizarding World. What they tell him greatly changes Harry's view of the Wizarding World and its role in Muggle Society. This changing perspective will continue as a theme in this story until Harry begins to understand just what place he holds in society.

 

Chapter 10 -- Swords and Arrows

 

An old familiar, flaring pain in his forehead woke Harry from a sleep haunted by images of death and fire. The dreams too were familiar, the faces of the dead reminding him constantly of the mistakes he had made, and the lives he had taken. He almost welcomed the pain in his forehead now, for it distracted him from the pain in the rest of his body.

 

Opening his eyes, he noticed a dark shape sitting beside his bedside. Without his glasses, he couldn't see the features clearly, but there was no mistaking that profile framed against the bright light shining in from the window behind him. Severus Snape had a rather distinctive nose, and Harry spared a passing moment to wonder if it had been broken a time or two. He couldn't help wondering who had broken it.

 

"Professor?" he asked, surprised at how hoarse his voice sounded. Had he been screaming?

 

Snape, caught in the act of staring thoughtfully out the window, turned immediately toward him at the sound. Harry wondered how long he had been there. When he'd fallen asleep, Madame Pomfrey had been attempting to kick out his godfather and the others. Had Snape sat with him all night? He thought he remembered someone stroking his hair, but surely that had been Sirius not Snape.

 

"Ah, Mr. Potter, awake I see," Snape greeted him, his tone resonating with his typical arrogance, and yet somehow lacking the derision Harry was used to. Harry wished he could see his features better, wondering if the man was angry with him. "How are you feeling?"

 

"Fine, sir," Harry responded automatically. He didn't really feel fine. He had a headache, and his body hurt abominably -- particularly his shoulder. But he'd live; he supposed that was good enough.

 

He thought he heard a snort of amusement from Snape, and he squinted up at him again, wondering if that was a twitch of smile he had seen. Surely not.

 

Then Snape reached for something inside his robes. "I found your glasses," he informed Harry, holding the object up. Then to Harry's surprise, rather than simply hand them to him, he placed them on Harry's face himself, slipping them carefully into position. The room came immediately into focus.

 

"Thank you," Harry stammered, immediately raising one hand to push the glasses more firmly onto his nose. He discovered instantly why Snape had done it for him -- moving his arm hurt! He hissed at the discovery. Snape caught his wrist and pushed it back down onto the bed.

 

"Let me have a look at your wound, Mr. Potter," he said tightly, and then to Harry's consternation unbuttoned his pajama top and pulled it opened, revealing a heavy white bandage on his right shoulder. Deft fingers removed the bandage swiftly and painlessly, and Harry caught a glimpse of skin blackened with bruising and a barely closed wound just below his collarbone. Snape moved away for a moment, and then was back again, a small blue bottle in one hand, an oily substance on the fingers of his other. He gently began smearing the oil over the bruised skin, those long fingers moving slowly and carefully over every inch of his wound.

 

Harry sucked in his breath, momentarily baffled by the events. He knew he was wounded of course -- could remember the events of yesterday quite clearly. But the reality of the wound caught him off guard. And the memory of an arrow protruding from his shoulder was tenuous and strange. Despite that, it was Snape's behavior that threw him into a riot of confusion. He couldn't recall a single time in all the years he'd know Snape that the man had ever touched him with such gentleness.

 

Actually he could only recall a handful of times the man had touched him period -- and never once to stroke his skin as he was now doing. It was strangely intimate, though he doubted he'd have the same thought if it had been Madame Pomfrey doing it.

 

But that was just it, wasn't it. This was Madame Pomfrey's job. So why was Snape doing it instead?

 

But the pain was fading in a most welcomed fashion, and those fingers did feel oddly soothing.

 

And then Snape was replacing the old bandage with a new one, pulling his pajamas closed and buttoning them back up before Harry could muster up the nerve to say anything in protest. A moment later Snape was sitting down beside him once again, cleaning his hands off on a small cloth, and the whole thing was over.

 

"How do the other wounds feel?" he asked clinically.

 

Harry flexed his other arm carefully, remembering having been pierced by a piece of wood. There was a twinge of pain, but nothing severe. And his leg -- he flexed his calf. More than a twinge there, but nothing like the pain that had stabbed through his shoulder. "Not as bad," he told Snape.

 

"Poppy was able to heal those two more completely," Snape explained. "Your bicep was easily mended, and the arrow in your leg missed the bone and went through cleanly. You're very lucky you weren't hurt worse."

 

Harry frowned, wondering if this was where he'd get the lecture on how he was to blame for what had happened. But nothing more was forthcoming and he glanced up uncertainly at Snape. The man seemed almost pensive. "Were many other people injured?" Ron and Hermione had both looked fine yesterday when they had visited him. But he remembered seeing other people lying in the street. He didn't want to think about the three Death Eaters just yet.

 

Snape eyes darkened thoughtfully. "There were four people killed -- Hogsmeade residents. And there were about a dozen wounded -- but no one else as severely as you."

 

Four people killed. Harry paled. They must have gone down in the initial volley while he was diving for cover. He should have yelled something when he'd seen the Death Eaters coming toward him -- should have warned the people in the street to dive for cover instead of just saving himself.

 

"It's not your fault," Snape's voice was firm and somewhat angry. The sound startled him and he looked up in surprise.

 

"I saw them in the weapons shop," he explained. "I should have--"

 

"No," Snape cut him off. "It's not your fault. They saw you, they attacked. The blame lies entirely with them. As for the people in the street -- there were dozens of fully trained wizards and witches out there, and not one of them returned fire. Let them take the blame for their own cowardice."

 

Harry felt a flare of anger at his words. "They're shopkeepers and merchants. You can't expect them to-- "

 

"No," Snape cut him off again. "I suppose it would be utterly foolish of me to expect shopkeepers and merchants to act like heroes. About as foolish as it would be for a sixteen-year-old boy to take the blame for the actions of a group of evil psychopaths he has no hope of controlling."

 

Harry blinked at him in surprise. He wasn't certain, but he thought Snape had just perhaps complimented him, implied that he had acted like a hero while trying to ease his guilt at the same time. He wasn't certain how to take that -- not used to receiving compliments from Snape.

 

A sound at the door spared him from responding, and a moment later Sirius and Remus entered the room, smiling brightly when they saw that Harry was awake. He grinned at them both, noting the glare his godfather threw Snape. He vaguely remembered asking his godfather not to fight with Snape, worried about what might happen. Sirius was somewhat hotheaded, and he didn't want him getting in trouble. Not to mention the fact that Snape didn't deserve Sirius's anger -- the man had saved his life yesterday, and not for the first time. He could still remember the relief that had washed over him when he'd seen Snape and Dumbledore arriving in the midst of the fire.

 

"How are you feeling, Harry?" Sirius asked, followed by a dozen more questions about his wounds, his aches, his pains, his fever, his sleep, his treatment. Harry was a bit overwhelmed by the man's attention, though it was nice to have someone worry over him -- he'd never experienced that as a child. The few times he'd been sick as a child, his aunt had simply locked him in the cupboard and peeked in once every day or so to see if he were dead yet. He could vaguely recall her being disappointed every time he recovered.

 

Remus merely smiled at Harry and watched Sirius with a look of amused indulgence in his warm eyes. Snape just watched in stony silence, and Harry found himself actually surprised that the Potions Master hadn't left at the first opportunity. Madame Pomfrey entered, shooing them away from his bedside. She checked him over swiftly, pronounced his wounds as healing nicely, and then went off to find him some breakfast while the three men returned to his side, settling back down in chairs around his bed. Again Harry was surprised that Snape chose to remain in the company of the two Marauders.

 

"I spoke with the Auror in charge of the investigation in Hogsmeade," Remus informed Harry after they had settled back down. "Apparently those Death Eaters were attempting to purchase a rather large quantity of weapons from a store owner. There have been other such purchases in other cities all over England."

 

Harry frowned at that, understanding the implications. Voldemort was amassing his army -- and arming them for battle apparently. But the Muggle side of Harry was baffled by the details. "Why crossbows and swords?" he asked in confusion. "Wouldn't machine guns be a lot more practical? Seems to me a M16 could do a hell of lot more damage than a crossbow."

 

"Muggle weapons?" Remus shook his head. "They're really not that useful against wizards, Harry."

 

Sirius nodded in agreement. "I'm not certain what an M16 is, but I'm assuming it's a gun of some sort. And they all require some form of gunpowder to work -- there are a dozen different spells that can render gunpowder useless."

 

He hadn't thought of that -- but he supposed without the gunpowder the guns wouldn't be able to fire. "But then why not just put spells on the guns to protect them from those spells?"

 

"It wouldn't make much of a difference, Mr. Potter," Snape told him. "Even if the guns did fire, it's quite easy to shield against the bullets. Even the Muggles can build body armor that deflects bullets. It's easy enough for a wizard to do the same thing."

 

"Then put spells on the bullets to penetrate the shields," Harry insisted.

 

"Putting a protective spell on an object and putting a spell on an object to make it do something specific are two very different things," Remus replied. "The first is common magic, easily done. The second however is not common -- you are in essence creating a magical artifact. And while not impossible to do, it is difficult, and it requires a stable structure."

 

"Stable structure?" Harry frowned, glancing back and forth curiously between the three men. Wasn't every day he got a lesson in weapons design, particularly not from this unlikely trio.

 

"A sword does not change its shape or structure when it is used," Snape explained. "Neither does an arrow. A bullet on the other hand changes drastically. It is superheated by the initial explosion of gunpowder, and it becomes flattened or misshapen on impact. It doesn't retain any sort of stable structure, so it can't hold a spell. The same goes for Muggle explosive devices."

 

"Then Voldemort will use swords and arrows?" Harry asked. He had always assumed that the Wizarding World kept themselves hidden from the Muggle World out of fear -- that if it came right down to a fight, Muggle technology would overwhelm the Wizarding World. But if what he was understanding was right, that was not the case at all. Perhaps it was the Muggle World they protected by staying hidden?

 

"But who even knows how to use a sword nowadays?" Harry asked. In culture and fashion the Wizarding World reminded him of something out of the middle ages, but he had yet to see any sort of sword fighting. So far the Death Eaters had relied entirely on magic and their wands to fight their battles. The two arrows he'd been shot with had been his first exposure to such an attack.

 

"If I remember correctly, Severus is an excellent swordsman," Remus remarked mildly. "And Sirius wasn't so bad a long time ago."

 

Harry's eyes widened in surprise, and he glanced between Snape and Sirius in confusion, wondering if Remus was joking. Snape's features were unreadable as usual, but Sirius had an odd twisted smile on his lips.

 

"It's common practice amongst all the older pureblood families to teach their children swordplay and archery, Harry," his godfather explained. "I learned what I had to, so did your father. He was actually quite a decent archer, though he never cared for the sword. But it was the Slytherins who took the training seriously."

 

"I don't understand," Harry protested. "If it's so common why don't we learn it in school?" He hadn't known the first thing about using a sword when he'd killed the Basilisk in second year with Godric Gryffindor's sword -- the idea that he 'should' have known something was alarming.

 

"That's because polite society frowns on the practice, Harry," Remus explained. "Can you honestly imagine someone like Arthur Weasley condoning something so violent?"

 

"Violent?"

 

"Blood sports, Harry," Sirius explained, throwing a dark glare at Snape. "Sword duels with live weapons. They're officially frowned upon, but the Ministry never actually banned them -- something 'certain' families took full advantage of." There was no doubt by the tone of his voice which families he was implying.

 

Harry suddenly remembered his first night in Snape's chambers -- seeing the faint scars upon pale skin. He recalled his surprise at how toned and fit Snape was, wondering what it was he did to keep himself in such good shape. And he remembered thinking that the scars looked as if they had come from knife wounds. He looked up at Snape in shock. "The scars," he whispered softly, his words barely audible. Not knives, but swords.

 

Snape's eyes narrowed at Harry's words, and Harry flushed remembering that he really shouldn't have been staring so intently at the man that night. And he was certain the last thing he wanted to do was explain to Sirius that he'd seen scars upon Snape's body while he was sleeping in the man's bed. His godfather would go through the roof.

 

"Snape here was quite fond of sword play, weren't you, Snape," Sirius continued, having missed Harry's words. "Had a sword laced with silver if I remember correctly." His words were hard and filled with anger, and had a profound affect on both Remus and Snape. Remus stiffened, his features growing shuttered and distant. Snape rose swiftly to his feet, Sirius immediately mirroring his action on the opposite side of Harry's bed. Harry knew there was a lot of bad blood between the lot of them, and he understood what the significance a silver-laced sword would hold for a werewolf. But watching Snape and Sirius tear each other apart over something that happened over twenty years ago wasn't going to help anyone, and Harry could see that the two were about to leap at each other's throats.

 

Harry reacted without thinking, scrambling up onto his knees on the bed, his hands shooting out to either side, palms connecting with the chest of both men before they could move toward one another, Harry's own body between them. A second after he moved he regretted it -- of course then it was too late -- pain flared through him, and he felt the wound in his shoulder ripping open. His hands closed convulsively in pain, fingers tangling in the shirts of both men as a moment later that was all that was keeping him upright.

 

"Harry!" Sirius and Snape caught him at the same time, before he could pitch face forward on the bed. He hissed in agony, body going limp as the two of them lowered him back down onto the mattress. His head swam with blackness mixed with flashes of painful light.

 

"Get his shirt open," someone ordered -- Snape he thought; and then he felt trembling hands at his buttons -- Sirius this time.

 

"Merlin! He's bleeding again!" definitely Sirius that time, voice filled with panic -- someone else called for Madame Pomfrey. He felt the soothing fingers returning, stroking his burning flesh -- Snape taking away the pain once more as he tried to fight his way back to full consciousness. Not easy to do when his head was spinning.

 

And then distantly he heard Madame Pomfrey's voice, murmuring softly, soothing him, murmuring again, and then finally yelling in anger. "Out! Out! Both of you! The polite, quiet werewolf can stay but you two idiots can get out of my hospital right now!"

 

More protesting -- Sirius and Snape both this time. And then finally blessed silence. Harry let himself drift for a while, slipping in and out of sleep before he finally roused himself with the thought that he should make certain Sirius and Snape hadn't killed one another yet.

 

Opening his eyes, he found Remus seated alone beside him, a worried look on his face. "They kill each other?" Harry asked weakly.

 

Remus just shook his head. "No, ripping open your own wound right in front of them was an effective deterrent. How are you feeling?"

 

"Immensely stupid," Harry replied. "Forgot I was wounded."

 

"Those two have a talent for driving people to distraction," Remus smiled. "Sirius isn't handling this whole marriage thing that well."

 

"Guess Snape's the last person he would have picked," Harry laughed weakly.

 

"Pretty much," Remus agreed. "Of course it's not just Snape; I don't think Sirius is all that crazy about marriage in general. He was never big on monogamy."

 

Harry's eyes widened in surprise. Wasn't often he got to hear pieces of information like that about his godfather -- certain subjects had sort of been off limits. Dating hadn't been something either of them had ever been comfortable talking about. But before Harry could ask questions, Remus moved on. "I meant to ask, how did Severus get chosen? I heard about Fudge's adoption scheme and why you had to get married. But wouldn't Hermione have been a better choice for you? Or one of the Weasleys? I would have guessed Ginny would have been happy to marry you."

 

"Ginny was too young," Harry admitted. "She was not yet fifteen. And Hermione. . ." Harry broke off and shook his head. "She's like a sister to me, and besides Ron likes her."

 

Remus nodded in understanding. "What about Bill or Charlie then? Or surely there must be a dozen young women in this school who would have been happy to step in?"

 

"Well, part of the problem was everyone said Fudge would probably contest the marriage," Harry explained. "Which meant they needed to find someone who had both the money and the power to stand up to the Ministry, which didn't leave a whole lot of options. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley didn't think their family had enough influence. And then there was this whole thing with something called the Marriage Stone."

 

Remus' eyes widened in shock. "The Marriage Stone? Dumbledore used the Marriage Stone? That thing has been responsible for some of the most disastrous marriages in Wizarding history. No one uses it anymore."

 

"I heard about the Guinnevere-Lancelot thing."

 

"Not to mention the Trojan War -- Helen looked into it and instead of seeing her husband King Menalaus, she saw the Trojan Prince Paris and promptly ran off with him," Remus told him.

 

"Dumbledore said it was safe enough as long as you weren't already married when you looked into it," Harry said sheepishly.

 

"But what if the person it showed you had been married already?" Remus asked. "What if you'd looked into it and it had shown you that your perfect match was this beautiful amazing woman who was already married to someone else. The idea of a perfect match, a soul mate so to speak, is a very powerful concept. No matter how honorable your intentions, somewhere in the back of your mind you'd always wonder about what might have been -- that's often all it takes to ensure that someone's never truly happy."

 

"Well, that didn't happen," Harry said hesitantly, thinking once again that Dumbledore was perhaps slightly more off his rocker than he thought. Seemed a ridiculous risk to take.

 

Remus just shook his head ruefully. "No, it didn't. Instead it showed you Severus Snape. You must have been thrilled."

 

It was said with such a deadpan tone of voice, Harry had no choice but to laugh. "You can't begin to imagine," he agreed. "Madam Hooch was convinced that it was broken. I'm inclined to agree with her."

 

"You two aren't getting along?" Remus guessed.

 

"No," Harry shook his head vehemently, and then paused realizing that wasn't entirely true. "Well . . ." he sighed. "Maybe a little bit. Better than I thought anyway. But mostly we just hate each other."

 

Remus stared thoughtfully down at him for a long minute. "He sat with you all night you know," he said softly.

 

Which answered the question Harry had asked himself earlier. "I didn't say he wasn't a good person. . ." he broke off, not certain what exactly he was saying. "Remus, did he really have a silver-laced sword?"

 

Remus sighed, a look of profound sadness flooding his eyes. "Harry, that was a long time ago, and we all made so many mistakes back then. We've all changed. There was a time when I would have told you quite adamantly that I hated him. That he was a Death Eater, and a murderer. But I was wrong. I've moved passed all that. Don't let Sirius's anger make you think I share his feelings. I don't."

 

"Why can't Sirius get past it?"

 

"Sirius is still trying to piece his memory back together from Azkaban. And unfortunately for him, some of those memories seem like they happened yesterday. He lost twelve years of his life, and he's still trying to catch up. For me the changes in all our situations happened gradually. For Sirius, they happened over night. He's having a hard time accepting a lot of things. He hasn't even really had a chance to deal with your parents' death. He was never given a chance to grieve, let alone accept the fact that Severus was one of the good guys instead of one of their killers. He never saw any of the trials, never heard about anything Severus did for Dumbledore. To him it's like he fell asleep believing one thing, and woke up to discover everyone around him suddenly believes something completely different. You mix yourself into the equation and it just becomes all the more volatile. You're all he's got left."

 

"He's got you," Harry reminded him. Sirius had both of them.

 

An odd look crossed over Remus' features and he gave Harry a somewhat twisted smile. "Yeah, he's got me," he agreed softly. "He's just not certain what to do with me."

 

"What?" Harry stared at him in confusion, wondering what that was supposed to mean.

 

Remus just shook his head and smiled at him. "Nothing," he assured him. "Sirius is just a bit impulsive some times, and gets some crazy ideas into his head. Don't go letting him stir things up between you and Severus. And what ever you do, don't get between them again. I thought the poor man was going to have a heart attack when you collapsed."

 

"I didn't want them fighting," Harry admitted sheepishly.

 

"Guilt works pretty well," Remus told him. "And when all else fails, a rolled up newspaper across the nose usually does the trick."

 

That almost sounded like something Snape would have said, and the very idea made Harry laugh. "I'm glad you're here, Remus," he said quietly, grateful that his godfather had such a friend at his side, watching his back. It hurt to think of Sirius out there alone on the run from the Ministry and Dementors.

 

Remus just smiled gently at him, reaching out to pat his hand. "Wouldn't be anywhere else, Harry."

 

------------------------

 

Author's Note: On metallurgy -- not that I know much about the subject, but it seems to me that lacing silver into the metal of sword would substantially weaken the blade. Despite this - I liked the idea. And I'm certain the Wizarding World has a magical mean of tempering steel beyond anything a Muggle could manage.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 11 -- Confronting Gryffindors

 

Severus Snape stormed angrily through the halls of Hogwarts, students leaping out of his way as he passed them. His only consolation was that Sirius Black was stuck back in his dog form and banished from the hospital wing like he was. The rabid mongrel never could hold his tongue! And if Black knew Harry even half as well as Severus did, he would have known the crazy Gryffindor would throw himself on a sword to protect his godfather; he should have known he'd try to keep them from fighting. Ripping open his own wound like that. . . .

 

Severus shook the memory away, not wanting to think on it any more. That foolish boy was his own worst enemy sometimes! And now thanks to Black he couldn't watch over him.

 

Poppy would calm down eventually, he told himself. And Lupin was still there. Lycanthropy aside, Lupin was decent enough.

 

"Professor?"

 

Snape turned in surprise, shocked that one of the little brats in the hallway actually had the gall to speak to him -- despite the scowl on his face warning them all off. Hermione and Ron stood behind him, and he stifled the angry words that sprang to his lips.

 

"Yes?" he bit out instead.

 

"We were just on our way to see Harry," Hermione explained. "Is he doing any better?"

 

"If you can manage to keep that rabid dog away from him, I'm sure he'll make a full recovery," Snape informed them, noting the flush that crossed both their features. He signed inwardly -- they were all Gryffindors of course -- loyal to the bone, and sadly that included Black.

 

"He loves Harry!" Ron protested, leaping at once to Black's defense. "And he can take care of him better than--" Hermione elbowed Ron hard in the side, shutting him up before he could finish his statement which Snape would no doubt have to take him to task over. He wondered if it was worth bothering to remind the idiot that Black had broken Ron's leg in third year.

 

"Ms. Granger, I want to talk to you about something," Snape dismissed Ron from his notice, turning his attention entirely on Hermione as something the Headmaster had said last night came back to him.

 

She started to protest, but he held a hand up to stop her. "Potter will still be there when we're through. Mr. Weasley, you can run along and visit him if Madame Pomfrey allows it. Ms. Granger can join you later."

 

They both looked as if they were going to argue, but said nothing, Hermione just motioning Ron to go along without her. Ron threw a resentful look back at Snape as he headed off toward the hospital wing.

 

Severus led Hermione back to his office, motioning her inside before closing the door and sitting down behind his desk. She sat in the chair opposite him, staring at him curiously. She had never had quite the same fear of him as the other students, though he'd certainly been cruel enough toward her. Hard to maintain the fiction of loyal Death Eater who favored his Slytherin allies when faced with such a brilliant Gryffindor. Giving Draco Malfoy marks equal to Granger's had galled him to no end -- he'd met very few people who could match the girl's intellect.

 

"You and Potter researched spells last year?" he asked, reminding her of the conversation they had with the Auror yesterday.

 

Hermione frowned pensively, but nodded her head.

 

"For extra credit?" he asked, already suspecting the answer she would give.

 

She stared at him thoughtfully, as if trying to come to some sort of a decision. Finally she shook her head. "No, sir, it wasn't school work exactly. We just thought that Harry should have some extra help with some things."

 

"Go on," he prompted.

 

Hermione sighed. "Defense Against the Dark Arts classes haven't exactly been overly helpful," she pointed out, sounded somewhat irritated. "Professor Quirrell and Lockhart were useless. Professor Moody turned out to be a Death Eater in disguise and he spent all his time teaching us the Unforgivables, which Harry doesn't want to use. And all Professor Mackrel taught us last year was how to recognize poisoned food. Professor Lupin's been the only decent teacher we've ever had." She didn't bother hiding her resentment of the fact that he was responsible for Lupin's dismissal. At the time, he hadn't had much of a choice. Lucius Malfoy had insisted he find a way of getting rid of him, and exposing him as a werewolf had been the only thing he could think of. And truth of matter was, Lupin had screwed up -- his failure to take his potion had nearly cost them several lives.

 

"In any event, sir, we just figured that if Harry was going to survive Voldemort's attacks, then it was up to us to prepare him," Hermione continued, and Snape had to admire her for her initiative. "So we began studying on our own."

 

"That was good thinking, Ms. Granger," Snape said grudgingly, noting the look of surprise in her face when she realized he had complimented her. "What can you tell me about this King's Voice spell?" What ever it was Albus had discovered about the spell had startled him -- and very few things startled Albus Dumbledore after over a century and a half.

 

"Well, it's like I said yesterday, sir," Hermione explained. "It was a precursor to the Imperious. But it doesn't seem to be as powerful as the Imperious, but it's just as effective if it works."

 

"If it works?"

 

She nodded thoughtfully. "That's just it, sir. It doesn't seem to work very well -- I never got it to work. Neither did Ron when he tried it."

 

"But it worked for Mr. Potter?"

 

"Yes, sir," she agreed. "We figured it required someone really powerful to use it, which is probably another reason it fell out of favor."

 

"Did you find other spells that had fallen out of favor?"

 

"There were a number of them," she admitted. "Though most of them weren't any use to us. It's not like you can practice demon banishing spells on your friends. You sort of have to summon a demon first."

 

Severus paled at that. "Ms. Granger, I hope to God you haven't been messing around with demon summoning?" That particular area of knowledge was considered perhaps the darkest of all the Dark Arts, and there was no way to play at it without tainting your own soul irrevocably.

 

"Of course not, sir!" Hermione exclaimed in shock, and the look of outrage on her face relieved him far more than he cared to admit. The thought that Harry Potter of all people might have dabbled in such darkness alarmed him in ways he didn't want to think about. "Contrary to your preconceived notions, we aren't stupid! And if Harry won't use the Unforgivables even in his own defense, why would you think he would mess around with something like that?"

 

"Ms. Granger, you are laboring under a number of misconceptions. It is not your intelligence I question, but the Gryffindor nature to rush in blindly."

 

He saw by the flicker of amusement in her eyes that she recognized his backhanded compliment. Smart little witch; he could almost grow to like her. "You know, sir, Slytherins do not have the market cornered on guile."

 

"So the Headmaster likes to inform me," Severus agreed mildly. "Thank you, Ms. Granger. That will be all."

 

She stood to leave, but paused at the door, glancing back at him. "Professor, why doesn't the Headmaster do something about our Defense Against the Dark Arts classes? Professor Dubloise this year is just as bad as Professor Mackrel was. Surely he could find a better teacher?"

 

Severus frowned at her. "You mean why aren't I teaching the class?"

 

She nodded.

 

"Because it wouldn't make any difference, Ms. Granger," he informed her. "It is a little known fact, but the majority of all wizards and witches have absolutely no talent whatsoever for the Dark Arts or the Defense Against them. It requires a very specific temperament. It's one of the reasons the requirements are so strict for becoming an Auror. Very few people are suited to it. And pointing out their lack of defensive ability to the majority of the public generally causes panic. Those with the proper temperament -- such as yourself and Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley -- will learn what they need to in spite of anything else."

 

"But everyone learned the basics when Professor Lupin taught the class," Hermione protested.

 

"I didn't say they couldn't learn the spells, Ms. Granger," Severus reminded her. "I said they lacked the temperament. Despite Professor Lupin's brilliant teaching, do you have any idea how many students still suffer from nightmares about boggarts and kappas from those classes? Being the one who brews Dreamless Sleep Draught for Madame Pomfrey, I do."

 

He could see his words shocked her. "But we defeated the boggarts, and we learned how to escape from kappas! Why would they still be afraid of them?"

 

"Why indeed?" Severus agreed, finding the idea as ridiculous as she did, despite the fact that it was nevertheless true. "Yesterday you were surrounded by adult wizards and witches who are perfectly capable of throwing shielding spells and hexes, not to mention a number of seventh-years who studied under Lupin. And certainly any proprietor of a bookstore should have known a spell to at least freeze the fire that threatened to burn down his business. And yet not one of them raised a wand to help you. I can assure you that the best teachers in the world in Defense Against the Dark Arts would not change that pathetic little fact. It will always be a select few who are called upon to defend the masses. Why else would the entire Wizarding World put their hopes in the hands of a boy who has not even finished school yet?"

 

"I always thought that was a little ridiculous myself," Hermione admitted.

 

"Indeed," Severus agreed.

 

She smiled suddenly. "Then I guess we're all just lucky that Harry has been up to the task." Intellect or no, she was still a Gryffindor and her loyalty to Potter wouldn't waver.

 

Severus had to admire her for it. "Perhaps Mr. Potter is simply lucky in the friends he has chosen."

 

She looked startled again -- this compliment less subtle, and about as close as he was going to come to thanking her for what she had done yesterday. She smiled at him, seemed about to say something, then changed her mind. "Good day, Professor," she said instead, pulling open the door.

 

"Good day, Ms. Granger."

 

Left alone, Severus turned his attention to the puzzle Albus had left for him. The King's Voice. He found it highly unlikely that Harry Potter could do a spell that Hermione Granger was unable to manage -- which meant there was something more going on here. Albus had said that Harry shouldn't have been able to use the spell either. It looked like he had some research to do.

 

He returned to his own chambers, deciding to try his own private library first for references to the spell. But as he approached his chamber door, he realized immediately that his research would have to be delayed a while yet. Standing in front of the portrait to his room was a Grim.

 

Severus stopped and stared at the large black dog that was gazing balefully back at him in the darkened corridor. Sirius Black in his animal form was intimidating, though Severus would never admit that out loud. He was the size of an Irish Wolfhound and possessed a menacing air, eyes gleaming with the cold killing gaze of a wolf. All things considered, he and Lupin were well matched.

 

Severus fought the impulse to go for his wand, standing instead stock still in the hallway, meeting the dark gaze with one equally dark. He had a decision to make he realized, and like it or not the next move was his. Sirius had made his move in coming here in the first place.

 

He wanted to hex him, or at the very least drive him away. But he couldn't help think of the smile that had lit up Harry's face when he'd seen his godfather beside him. Harry loved Sirius Black, completely, utterly, unconditionally. And the facts were simple -- if Severus drove Black away, harmed him, hurt him, or attempted to keep him from Harry's life, then Harry would hate him forever.

 

He thought sometimes that Harry's feelings for him had softened just a little -- that while there was no affection or fondness, the boy did not dislike him so completely as he once had, despite his numerous declarations of hatred. And though Severus was loathed to admit it, sometime in the last few weeks, Harry's opinion had come to matter to him. Somehow, despite everything that stood between them and against them, despite every reason he had to despise that boy and all the annoyances he brought to his life, Harry had succeeded in capturing Severus's admiration as completely as he had the rest of the Wizarding World. He was not willing to dwell on the fact that perhaps admiration wasn't all he had captured.

 

Thus the decision.

 

Sirius Black. His rival. His enemy. His tormentor. The man his bond-mate loved.

 

Severus Snape walked forward, spoke his password, and for the first time in his life let Sirius Black into his home.

 

 

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Author's Note: At long last the confrontation between Sirius and Snape begins. Once again the demands of Wizarding propriety will change the outcome.

 

I also wanted to thank everyone who has been reading and reviewing my story! I'm trying to respond to the messages, but at the moment I'm about 150 messages behind, and the number is vastly increasing. Hopefully I can answer some of your questions (I get a lot of repeat questions) in my author's notes.

 

On Remus: Yes, his behavior will be explained -- you'll get to see the development of the relationship between our two favorite mutts.

 

Sword fighting: The idea of swords vs guns is one I played around with a lot. It's important to this story that there is a definitive line between Wizards and Muggles -- this will be examined repeatedly later on and becomes a major plot point eventually. Will Severus teach Harry to sword fight? I don't know...I'm currently about 140,000 words into the story and there literally hasn't been a chance for the two of them to do so. That doesn't mean there won't be a chance eventually. Regardless the concept continues to become more important as the story progresses. Incidentally -- sword fighting isn't a skill you can just 'pick up'. It takes long years of practice to learn the art, and many hours of training to condition your muscles. Harry wouldn't learn overnight.

 

Occlumency: This was introduced in Book 5 and I'm not really including stuff from Book 5. However I have noticed in later chapters I mention both it and Legilimency in passing -- so will it be included, yes. Will it be important, no. Harry's visions come from a different source (you won't find out what source until much later). Consequently Occlumency lessons wouldn't do him any good.

 

On Male-Pregnancy: To be honest with you, I'm not a huge fan of the idea (though I've read several stories that have handled it well). In nature there really aren't any male creatures who are capable of getting pregnant -- well, except for seahorses of course. In HP fandom we have Magic to explain the concept -- but I think a far more logical solution to this would be to simply have your male character (or female in a f/f partnership) take a potion to temporarily change their gender.

 

This concept appears in magical tradition in numerous places. Asian myths have stories about magical pools of water that can change both your gender and your shape simply by touching them. The prophet Tyreseus supposedly spent half his life as a man and the other half as a woman. Many gods of many different mythologies regularly changed gender. Supposedly the God Hermes was a Hermaphrodite who could appear as either a man or woman.

 

Seems to me with Magic it would be a lot simpler for the characters to change their gender rather than become pregnant in a body not designed for pregnancy.

 

Regardless, the issue of an heir will actually come up in the story much later on -- but no, I don't plan on having any male-pregnancy. I don't really see Severus as a maternal type, and considering how my Harry reacted to the mere idea of being the 'housewife' I don’t think he'd be two keen on being pregnant.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 12 -- Placing Blame

 

He thought that Black would transform the moment his door was shut. He was mistaken, and he watched in annoyance as the dog began moving quickly through his chambers, nose sniffing everything he moved passed. Severus wanted to protest, wanted to catch the loathsome creature in a body bind and stop this rude invasion. But he had made his decision, and there was no point in denying these actions. They were inevitable, and he had to accept what was to come -- if only to get it over with.

 

Still, some insult would be appropriate. "You piss on anything Black and I'll skin you for a hearth rug," he sneered. The dog growled low in his throat, but did not stop his incessant sniffing. Severus sat down in front of his fireplace, and watched in silence.

 

Harry's desk was given a close inspection, and the dog had the audacity to wag his tail as he sniffed the cloak the boy had left draped over the back of his chair.

 

Everything else in the room was inspected, and Severus had to admit that Black's nose must be extraordinary as he managed to pick out everything that the boy had touched. He moved on then to the other rooms, sniffing the door around the potions lab before his hackles raised and he moved on, as if knowing that at least one room in this place was Severus' domain completely. Save for their one impromptu lesson, Harry had avoided his lab.

 

His office received only a cursory sniff as well; Harry rarely went there either, save to borrow some parchment or quills. The library however was given a thorough going over. Harry often read in there. He'd asked at first, if he could read the books, borrow one from time to time. Severus had given him permission, and had out of curiosity kept track of what the boy found interesting. Spell books, charms, defense against the dark arts -- he'd had the gall to ask one night why Severus didn't own any books on Quidditch. Surprisingly, the boy had always left the library in the same condition he found it, never a book out of place, all save that one time when he'd fought with Severus about his clothes. Severus had heard the books flying off the shelves when the angry young man had locked himself in there -- unrestrained, wandless magic sending them flying. He'd put them to rights himself, never mentioning it to Harry again.

 

And then to Severus' utter annoyance, Black moved from the library to the bedroom, pushing open the door with his snout without even a backward glance for permission. He listened in silence, guessing at least part of the conversation that was going to take place in a few moments -- assuming Black didn't simply go for his throat instead. The growls coming from the bedroom suggested that violence might indeed be the outcome, and Severus quietly moved his fingers toward his wand, ready to pull it out if it became necessary.

 

But Black didn't come out immediately, choosing instead to search the room entirely before returning to the main room. When he stepped back through the bedroom door he was once again in his human form, his face as dark as a thundercloud. Anger and menace were radiating off the man as he stood in the doorway glaring at him.

 

"You force him to sleep in your bed." The words from Black's mouth were hard, cold, and filled with accusation and hatred.

 

Severus held his temper, only because he knew this had been coming. "I don't force him to do anything, Black," he stated, his voice just as hard, just as cold. "He is my bond-mate, not my prisoner. And if you thought about it even for a moment, you'd realize that not even Voldemort has had success with forcing that boy to do anything he didn't want to do."

 

Something flickered through Black's eyes. Surprise, Severus thought, though it was quickly masked. "You're suggesting he wants to sleep in your bed?" It was obvious from his tone that Black was implying the exact opposite.

 

"No, Black," Severus snarled. "I can assure you that he quite detested the idea. As did I."

 

Black's eyes narrowed at that, obviously disbelieving the later statement. But then Severus had to concede it had been a poor lie -- he had wanted to detest it, but Potter was too blasted attractive for it to be true.

 

"But neither of us had much choice in the matter," Severus continued quickly. "Minister Fudge forced both of us into this situation by his actions."

 

"You're telling me that the great Severus Snape can't remember how to transfigure up a second bed?" Black mocked, jaw clenched.

 

Severus glared back, wondering if twelve years in Azkaban had really addled the man's brain so completely. "Two weeks ago I discovered a Wandering Eye Charm on Potter's broom, no doubt put there by one of my Slytherin students at the request of their parents. By the time I found it, the Eye had already made a complete search of these quarters. All Fudge needs is a single excuse that this marriage is invalid. A second bed would certainly have been excuse enough."

 

Something flared in Black's eyes, and Severus could see the man biting back some retort. His jaw never relaxed. "Is that why you were chosen? Because no one would imagine that the marriage was not *valid*?" He spoke the word *valid* with contempt. "Because no one would imagine that you would not take full advantage of Harry the moment you had him alone?"

 

Severus fought down his own rage. He was used to such accusations, had in fact cultivated the reputation. "That was one of the reasons," he admitted. "The fact that we had approximately fifteen minutes to find someone suitable didn't help matters either."

 

"Really?" Black's eyes flashed with anger. "You're telling me there was no one else in this castle who was suitable? I suppose Sonara Sinistra was out of town at the time?"

 

Severus stiffened as he stared at Black in utter shock. Sinistra! He couldn't believe the man was suggesting such a thing. "You know, Black, despite all the things I have thought of you over the years, I have never believed you had anything but Potter's best interest at heart. Until now."

 

Black's eyes widened and he took several steps toward him before catching himself. "His best interest! You must think very highly of yourself if you think -- "

 

"Do you have any idea how starved for affection that boy is?" Severus silenced Black's tirade quite effectively with those words. The man's face paled as if Severus had struck him.

 

"I'll grant you," Severus continued, "that Sonara Sinistra would most likely have jumped at the chance to marry the Boy Who Lived. It's something no social climber would ever refuse. And I'll grant you that no one would deny the validity of such a marriage, something that would be true in fact as well as appearance most likely that very night. Sinistra's appetites are very well known."

 

Sonara Sinistra went through young men the way other women went through clothes. Students were off limits to her, but everyone on the Hogwarts' staff knew what she meant by the 'Seventh Year Hunt'. The moment the semester let out for the summer session, Sinistra went after the best and brightest of the graduated class.

 

"No doubt Sinistra would have rocked Mr. Potter's world," Severus went on. "Would have had him believing that the sun rose and set with her. For about a week. Then she would have lost all interest in him, and moved on to someone else. She would have left your godson heartbroken and betrayed. For all his courage and maturity, he is still a sixteen-year-old boy who desperately wants to be loved. Sinistra would have chewed him up and spit him out."

 

Black stood there in silence, face still pale. Sinistra had obviously been his capital argument and he seemed uncertain where to go now that Severus had so clearly pointed out the ridiculousness of the situation. Truth was, Sinistra hadn't even occurred to any of them that night -- would have been dismissed by all of them if she had been. Even he, who had been ready to fight tooth and nail against marrying Potter himself, would not have accepted Sinistra as a possible substitute. Sinistra would have destroyed Potter more effectively than anything Voldemort had come up with.

 

He made a note to himself to keep an eye on Sinistra -- Potter was no longer precisely off limits to her. As a married man, he did not have the same protections as the rest of the students. And he knew for a fact that marriage would be no deterrent to her -- indeed many older wizards and witches preferred to have affairs with younger married men and women who would understand that the union was casual and that nothing would ever come of it.

 

"There was no one else?" Black asked then, his tone indicating that he had obviously accepted the fact that Sinistra had not been a possibility.

 

"We had fifteen minutes, Black. Who would you have suggested? McGonagall, perhaps? No one would have bought that." With the exception of Trelawney and Sinistra, all the other female staff members were married. Even Black wouldn't suggest that Trelawney had the strength to go up against Fudge. "We needed someone who was believable. Someone who had enough standing to face down the Ministry. And someone strong enough to protect Potter from Voldemort. Who would you have suggested?"

 

Black didn't answer. Rather he turned away from Severus and began pacing restlessly around the room in silence. Severus waited, watching him, not really knowing how to read the play of emotion on the man's face. He really expected more argument from the man. It had never occurred to him that Black might actually consider his words -- might actually look at the situation logically. He didn't think the Gryffindor had even known how to reason.

 

Finally Black's pacing took him near Severus, and he dropped down into the chair across from him. There was a look of defeat in the man's face, and Severus stifled back his taunt of glee that he'd actually won the argument.

 

"Well, I suppose we don't have to worry that Harry might accidentally fall in love with you," Black said flatly, obviously still thinking about what Severus had said about Sinistra. The comment stung no doubt a great deal more than Black had intended.

 

"No, I doubt you'll ever have to worry about that," Severus bit out, fighting to keep the anger out of his voice.

 

Black looked up at him, his gaze hardening again. "If I ever find out that you tried to force yourself--"

 

"Don't finish that statement!" Severus cut him off swiftly. "I would have no choice but to take offence. And if we are to educate Mr. Potter in proper Wizarding customs, he too would have no choice but to take offense." He could no more let that insult go than he could have let Draco Malfoy's insults to Harry pass unremarked.

 

Again, to his surprise, Black conceded, making no attempt to finish what he'd been about say. His gaze however did not waver. "Just so we're clear on the subject," he stated coldly.

 

"Perfectly," Severus growled.

 

They sat in silence again, and Severus waited for Black to deliver what ever parting shot he'd prepared before leaving. Far as he was concerned, they were done discussing what they inevitably had to clash over. Black, however, surprised him yet again.

 

"Half the clothes in Harry's wardrobe don't have his scent on them, why not?"

 

Severus frowned. He had not been expecting such an out of the blue comment. "I suppose because he has not yet worn all of them. I only just bought them for him."

 

"You intend to fulfill your duties to him then?"

 

Severus leaped to his feet in shock, rage burning through him. That insult, while of a completely different nature, was just as great as the one he'd just stopped Black from uttering seconds before. The only difference here was that this insult was delivered to Severus alone. Black, mongrel dog or not, still belonged to one of the oldest pureblood families in the Wizarding World, a family that Severus knew had been in Slytherin for hundreds of years until Sirius Black had come along. He could forgive Harry his misunderstandings concerning money, housing, clothing and care because the boy had grown up a Muggle. But Black knew full well what he'd just said, what insult he'd just given to the Snape family honor.

 

But before Severus could formulate a proper response, Black too had leaped to his feet, fury on his face. "I am his godfather!" he shouted, hands clenched into fists. "It was my right to ask that question before this marriage ever took place! You will not deny me now!"

 

Black's words shut him up more effectively than a blow would have. The insult that Severus had been about to deliver slipped from his mind, replaced by disbelief. He found himself dropping numbly back down into his chair as the unreality of the situation suddenly struck him. He couldn't believe what he'd just heard, couldn't conceive of it; it was beyond laughable.

 

But there was no denying the look in Black's eyes. He was dead serious about this. And Severus had no choice but to accept the fact that somehow, impossibly, he'd just become involved in betrothal negotiations with Sirius Black for the hand of Harry Potter. He stared in silence, watched in numb shock as Black sat back down, body stiff with anger, gaze never wavering.

 

He didn't know what to say. This was beyond anything he'd ever imagined. If he was honest with himself, then Black was right. He did have the right to the answer -- should have been given the chance to ask before the marriage had taken place and thus made an acceptable question a grave insult.

 

He swallowed past a suddenly dry throat, trying to find words they could both live with. Despite everything, all their past hatred, he had to admit he admired Black's determination.

 

"There is no point to this. . . .negotiation," he said slowly, making clear by his words that he understood exactly what Black had intended by that statement. "I made an oath that I will not break. He will want for nothing."

 

And that alone would have to satisfy Black. Severus intended to offer nothing else.

 

Black glared at him, and Severus could see a glimpse of the torment so many years in Azkaban had wrought; for the first time he could almost pity Black for it, for missing a lifetime with his godson. For the first time he could also almost see what it was that Potter and Lupin saw in the man. Despite the torment he'd endured, he'd come out of Azkaban still possessing the capacity to love. And love he did -- fiercely. Severus couldn't blame him for wanting what was best for Harry.

 

So caught in this startling realization, Severus almost didn't catch Black's first words. "Dumbledore says you were a spy for him all along. That you were never a Death Eater. That you had tried to save Lily and Ja. .James." His voice broke as he said his friend's name. Severus stayed silent, suspecting that this was going somewhere. Suspecting also that this conversation was probably long over due.

 

"Dumbledore says you first joined to stop your father. That you didn't believe their ideology, that you turned your back on their preaching," Black continued, and Severus knew that the proverbial 'their' he was referring to were the other Death Eaters and the Dark Wizards that were so prevalent amongst the Slytherin families. He couldn't help wondering where this was going.

 

"Dumbledore said your father was an evil man, a cruel man. That your mother was not much better." Black wasn't looking at him now, staring instead at a point beyond his shoulder. Severus bristled at the implication that Albus had been talking about his family to Black, but he managed to hold his tongue.
Barely.

 

"My family. . ." Black began again, only to break off, something flickering darkly in his eyes. Severus knew all about Black's family -- Dark Wizards the lot of them. Generations of them. Respected by the Wizarding community, respected and feared. It was one of the reasons no one had questioned Sirius Black's guilt, why no one had even raised an outcry when he'd gone to Azkaban without a trial. No one except one lone werewolf whose voice had been lost amid the screams of outrage.

 

"My family," Black repeated, "were evil, cruel, and angry that I turned my back on their preaching."

 

It struck him then, where this might be going. Disbelief swelled inside of him. Severus fought the urge to squirm in his seat, his stomach twisting suddenly with nausea. God, surely Black wasn't doing this? Wasn't going to point out the similarities between them -- he didn't want to look at those similarities, didn't want to acknowledge any kinship with the man. That was not how their relationship worked. It was too little, too late. They weren't going to bond. Weren't going to be friends. So why in Merlin's name was he putting them both through the torment of voicing things that should never be uttered?

 

"Things come back to you at odd times," Black said in a strange tone, his voice somehow hollow, almost lost. "Memories come back to you and send your mind in directions it shouldn't go. Sometimes those memories set you off, sometimes you say and do things because of them, and you don't even know why."

 

What in God's name was the man trying to do to them? Severus was seconds away from screaming at him. Seconds away from grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and throwing him from his rooms. He wasn't Black's confessor, wasn't his confidant. Didn't want to hear his angst-ridden story. . .why would he. . .

 

"The Dursleys hurt Harry," Black's words cut off Severus thoughts abruptly, understanding flooding through him at last. This wasn't about him or Black. This was about Harry. This was all about Harry.

 

"The Dursleys hurt Harry," Black repeated. "And you didn't see it. You saw him nearly every day for five years, and you didn't see it, even though you should have recognized all the signs. I didn't see it even though I should have recognized all the signs. I doubt they are unfamiliar to either of us."

 

The nausea twisted into pain as Severus let the man's words sink in.

 

"I saw him briefly just before term started last year," Black told him. "I remember thinking he was too thin. But he had a great appetite and I shrugged it off as typical teenage growing pains. They're all thin when they go through growth spurts after all. Except he hadn't gone through much of a growth spurt -- hard to do that I imagine when you're being starved. I remember seeing bruises on his arms and I asked him what had happened. He just shrugged and said they were from a Quidditch accident. Except Harry wasn't allowed to play Quidditch at the Dursleys -- a fact I conveniently forgot."

 

Black stood abruptly and began pacing again. Severus stared at the ground, refusing to watch, knowing he had to hear the rest, knowing Black wouldn't leave until he said what he needed to.

 

"I over heard the Weasley twins telling him and Ron about playing the game Deuces," Black went on. Severus gave a twisted smile at that; no one got through seventh year without learning about Deuces -- a ridiculous card game which generally ended with the two losers being locked in a closet together for five minutes. A quick groping, snog-session was the ultimate goal of the game.

 

"Harry had been horrified by the description of the game," Black explained. "I remembered the teasing he endured that night at dinner. Even Remus and I teased him about it. It seemed to take forever for him to finally catch on to what we were all talking about and blush appropriately. I realize now that the whole kissing aspect of the game had been lost on him. All he had been thinking about was being locked up in a small space."

 

And that brought back the memory of Severus' careless words to Harry his first night here. He could still remember the look on his face when he'd suggested he sleep in the closet.

 

"We should have known," Black stated. "We should have seen it. We both should have seen it."

 

And Severus couldn't agree more, the knot in his stomach evidence enough. "Yes, we should have," he said quietly.

 

Black turned swiftly toward him, seeming startled by his words. Severus met his gaze. And all the years of bitterness and resentment seemed to stand between them like unbreachable walls.

 

"Then you admit it," Black demanded, and his voice was unforgiving, and sharp as steel. "You admit that we failed him."

 

"Yes, Black, I admit it." In this -- this shame -- they were united.

 

And it seemed that was all Black wanted. No warmth entered his eyes, but he nodded in acknowledgement and returned to his canine form, shifting from one to another too quickly to follow.

 

The black Grim sat silently beside the door, waiting, and with a sigh Severus got up and let him out.

 

----------------------------------------

 

Author's Note: I thought a long time about how I wanted this confrontation to go -- after all a confrontation between Severus and Sirius has become a staple of HP fan fiction. I hope I was able to put a bit of different spin on it while still keeping both men in character.

I've had lots of emails over the last few days about the Dursleys and the amount of abuse Harry received from them, so I thought I'd write down a couple of quick comments here.

Child Abuse -- Canon vs. Fandom: I got a lot of questions about how much of Harry's child abuse was canon vs the stuff I made up. Fandom tends to exaggerate what really happened -- but personally I think what really happened was bad enough. The 'cupboard-under-the-stairs' is a bit of a misnomer for Americans. Many British homes have one -- it's more of a large closet like a pantry rather than a true cupboard. The cupboard in the movies is an accurate depiction. Regardless of how big they are, I can't imagine being locked inside one (or locked in a bedroom) for long periods of time. I think the false imprisonment rather than the size of the room is the truly damaging thing here.

 

We also know that the Dursleys starved Harry -- though I think the worst of that happened during Book 2. By the time Harry was rescued by Ron and his brothers, he'd been locked in that bedroom for 2 weeks. He'd been fed once a day -- a single bowl of watery soup. He drank the broth himself, and then gave the solid matter to his Owl. Two weeks of that would have left a 12-year-old weak and sick.

 

And no, we don't have much evidence that Vernon beat Harry beyond tossing him into the cupboard -- but Dudley certainly did. And since Dudley went on to become a boxer on his school team I don't imagine it was pleasant. Beyond that I think Canon-base abuse is really more the neglect than anything else.

 

Obviously my Dursleys are a bit more severe than the Canon Dursleys (they need to be for this plot to work properly). Individual events will be mentioned here and there as the story progresses.

 

Dumbledore's Curse: Did Dudley deserve the same fate as his family? Maybe, maybe not. Personally I think Dudley is nearly as badly abused as Harry -- just in a completely different way. His parents are spoiling him -- literally to death. Chances are a child like that will find himself in a early grave due to heart failure, diabetes, or a run-in with the law. Unless something drastic happens to Dudley I don't know if he's redeemable. In some respects Dumbledore's curse may be the best thing that ever happened to him -- it will make him reexamine his life, and certainly will change his eating habits. Whether or not he reforms himself remains to be seen.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 13 - Understanding Werewolves

 

Remus left Harry's bedside shortly after Ron arrived, giving the two friends some time alone. Harry listened in silence while Ron told him all about the restless night he and Hermione had spent in Gryffindor Tower. The story of the attack had spread through the school like wild fire. A dozen students had seen Severus Snape carrying Harry's bloodied body into The Three Broomsticks. The descriptions of the arrows that had been protruding from Harry's body had been detailed and lurid. Half of Gryffindor had been panicked with the belief that Harry was dead, and Ron and Hermione had spent the better part of an hour assuring them it was untrue.

 

"They wanted to hear the whole story over and over again," Ron confessed to Harry. "I had no idea how exhausting it was." The redhead looked flushed, and vaguely sick. "They wanted to know how much blood there was, if you screamed, if. . ." He broke off and shook his head.

 

"It's alright, Ron," Harry said quietly.

 

Ron looked up at him in worry. "Harry, did I ever do that? Did I ever bug you like that?"

 

Harry floundered for a moment too long, looking for an appropriate lie. Ron knew him too well, and sighed. "Merlin! I'm sorry, Harry! I had no idea."

 

"Don't worry about," Harry assured him. "Believe it or not, you get used to it."

 

Ron just shook his head. "Maybe," he replied. "In any event, we talked late into the night. Lots of people are scared that this means You-Know-Who is going to attack again. And you should hear what they are saying about Snape."

 

Harry looked up at that in surprise. "What about Snape?" His voice sounded defensive even to himself.

 

Ron apparently thought so too, but the redhead just gave him an amused look and rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Nothing bad," he assured him. "It's just that for the first time ever Snape is being hailed as a hero by Gryffindors. He and Dumbledore were like the bloody cavalry, weren't they?"

 

"They saved our lives," Harry agreed. He'd be the first to admit that. "I'll have to tell Snape. He'll laugh himself sick."

 

"Snape laughs?" Ron asked incredulously.

 

"Sometimes," Harry admitted. "Usually when I've done something stupid."

 

"Figures," Ron rolled his eyes again. "Don't tell him, anyway. He's insufferable enough as it is. He'd hold this over our heads for the rest of our lives -- and probably find someway of taking points from Gryffindor for it too."

 

"Probably," Harry agreed. Snape did love taking points from Gryffindor.

 

"Anyway lots of people wanted to know if. . ." he broke off hesitantly, looking at Harry uncertainly. Harry just nodded to him, encouraging him to say what ever it was. "If you had killed anyone," Ron finished. "And what curses you had used. But Hermione and I figured it wasn't anyone's business, and we told them so."

 

"Thanks, Ron," Harry said gratefully. He knew the questions were inevitable, given their age group. But it was nice to know that Ron and Hermione at least understood.

 

"You okay, Harry?" Ron asked softly, and Harry knew what he was really asking.

 

"No," Harry admitted. "But I'll manage. It's nice to know I can count on you two."

 

Ron nodded fiercely, fighting back some emotion. He reached out to pat Harry on the shoulder and then thought better of it, perhaps remembering the arrow that had been there yesterday. He squeezed Harry's hand instead, the gesture as unfamiliar as it was welcomed. Harry was not demonstrative with anyone. He could count on one hand the number of times he'd been hugged -- something only Hermione, Molly Weasley and Sirius had ever dared do.

 

And Snape.

 

Harry frowned. Snape had picked him up and carried him in his arms yesterday. That counted he guessed. It was close enough. It surprised him that for some reason he wanted it to count.

 

Hermione interrupted the two of them a moment later, entering the room carrying a tray of food for Harry. "Madam Pomfrey sent this for you Harry," she explained as she approached the bed. Ron helped Harry sit up, propping pillows behind his back to settle him. Hermione set the tray on Harry's lap.

 

"What did Snape want?" Ron asked Hermione as she sat down in the chair opposite him.

 

Harry shot him a questioning look as he took a bite of the eggs on the plate.

 

"Snape stopped us in the hallway on the way here," Ron explained. "Said he wanted to talk to 'Mione."

 

They both looked questioningly at Hermione. She frowned. "He wanted to know about the spell King's Voice," she explained. "Wanted to know about our extra study sessions."

 

Harry stiffened at her words, old mistrust flaring in him. "Is he going to stop us?" He had counted on those study sessions continuing. God knew they weren't going to learn anything useful from Professor Dubloise this year. If it hadn't been for Hermione and her study sessions Harry doubted he'd be alive now.

 

"No," Hermione said quickly before Ron could launch into a tirade condemning Snape before hearing the outcome of their conversation. "No, he's not. In fact he implied that he approved. Actually, he sort of . . .complimented us."

 

"What?" Ron and Harry stared at her in shock.

 

Hermione just shrugged. "It was kind of odd really," she admitted. "He actually seemed impressed. By all three of us."

 

Harry had become gradually used to the lessening of hostilities between himself and the Potions Master and was only mildly shocked by her words. But Ron, he just stared at her like a gaping fish, mouth opening and closing as he floundered for words.

 

"I'm serious," she insisted.

 

"Snape?" Ron asked for clarification, disbelief coloring his words.

 

Hermione nodded.

 

"Did he. . ." Ron shook his head. "Give points to Gryffindor?"

 

"Well, no," Hermione admitted. "But then this wasn't really about being Gryffindors, was it? It was about being friends, the three of us."

 

Friends. Harry, Ron and Hermione. And for some reason Snape understood that it mattered. It mattered a lot. The thought flooded Harry with a strange sense of warmth.

 

"Well, damn," Ron laughed. "When did Hell freeze over, and why didn't I get a memo?"

 

That set the three of them off, and for a moment they forgot about Death Eaters and wars and dying, and lost themselves in just being teenagers.

 

Eventually, at Madam Pomfrey's insistence, Ron and Hermione left, giving Harry a chance to sleep once again. He slept through the rest of the day, his body exhausted from the ordeal he'd been through.

 

He woke that evening to a feeling of warmth pressed up against his side, and for one disoriented moment he thought it was Snape. But Snape had never touched him, not in all the weeks they had slept beside each other. Prying open his eyes, he realized it was Padfoot, snoring softly beside him, the shaggy dog stretched comfortably on top of the bed's duvet. Sitting again in the chair at his bedside, an amused smile on his face as he stared at the two of them, was Remus Lupin.

 

"How long has he been there?" Harry asked softly, motioning to the sleeping dog.

 

"Hours I imagine," Remus mused. "He missed lunch."

 

Harry smiled and reached out to scratch Padfoot's shaggy head. The dog twitched but didn't wake. "I always wanted a dog," he admitted almost wistfully.

 

Remus laughed softly at that. "Well, they're usually more trouble than they're worth. Particularly this one."

 

Harry grinned. "Still, would have been nice to have someone who could bite Dudley."

 

Remus' eyes softened, and though Harry didn't notice, Padfoot grew unnaturally still beneath his fingers. "Dudley is your cousin, isn't he?" Remus asked. "Not very nice, I take it?"

 

"A complete prat," Harry admitted.

 

"You want to talk about it?" Remus asked gently. Harry looked up at the man in surprise, understanding belatedly the direction this conversation had taken. He hadn't intended it; hadn't thought about it really. But of course Dumbledore had told Sirius about what they had learned about the Dursleys. And of course Remus would know as well.

 

He flashed the werewolf a quick grin. "I'm alright, Remus," he assured the man. He felt the fur shifting under his hand and yelped in surprise when he realized that Padfoot had become Sirius again. His godfather sat up quickly, flashing him a bright grin even as he reached out to ruffle Harry's hair, returning his unintentional caress. And then just to be annoying, as Sirius moved to the chair beside Remus, he reached out and ruffled Remus' hair as well.

 

Remus smiled indulgently but shoved Sirius' hand away from him. Sirius grinned, but for the first time Harry noticed something deeper in his godfather's eyes, something warmer and brighter burning there when he looked at Remus. He found himself stifling back a giggle, a blush spreading over his face as he realized what that look was. Ron looked at Hermione that way when he thought no one else was watching. The thought that Sirius might be less alone than he seemed warmed Harry clear through his bones.

 

Sirius turned his attention back toward him, and the look in his eyes was replaced by a different gleam, one of concern, and affection, and worry. "You sure you don't want to talk about it, Harry?" Sirius asked him, repeating Remus' question.

 

Realizing now that Sirius had heard his comment about Dudley, Harry sighed. "Don't know what I'm suppose to say," he admitted. He had never been good at talking about things, especially not feelings. He rarely opened up to anyone. Oddly enough, Snape had gotten more out of him than anyone else.

 

"Maybe you could tell me why you never said anything," Sirius suggested. There was nothing accusing in his tone, and his eyes held simple understanding and the faintest look of hope that Harry might relent. Harry wasn't entirely certain how to refuse that look. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Sirius, but he didn't want the man feeling guilty either for something he had no control over.

 

"I guess. . ." Harry sighed, searching for some explanation. "I guess before I came to Hogwarts I didn't know there was anything wrong with the way they treated me. It's just the way things were, and always had been. I had nothing to compare it to."

 

He saw the flicker of shock in both their eyes at that; he recognized the protest that sprang to both their lips only to be just as quickly stifled as they fought whatever first impulse they both had felt. Harry could imagine what it was; he supposed from their perspective things had been different. They could both remember the year he'd lived with his parents before he'd entered the Dursleys' lives. The only thing he could remember from that time was their deaths, courtesy of the Dementors.

 

"I don't remember them," he said softly, regretfully, and both men just nodded in understanding, knowing exactly who he meant and why his words made sense from his point of view. He supposed that admission probably hurt the two of them more than it did him.

 

"And after you came to Hogwarts, Harry?" Sirius prompted, urging Harry to continue.

 

"Things were too new the first year," he admitted. "It wasn't until I went to the Burrow and saw what Ron's family was like that I figured out something was wrong. Then I didn't know what to do, or who to tell. I thought about it briefly, but it seemed that anyone who could do anything about it knew already. I figured Dumbledore and McGonagall had to know. Next thing I know I'm being accused of being the Heir of Slytherin and it seemed kind of a stupid thing to be worrying about. With all the people trying to kill me, it just continued to seem stupid. Dumbledore said I had to stay with the Dursleys because it was the only place I was safe. And I just figured it beat being dead, no point in making a fuss over it. Wasn't going to last forever."

 

He'd looked away at some point during his little speech, and at the silence that greeted it, he glanced hesitantly back toward the two men. Both were looking at him thoughtfully, as if trying to take in his words, or trying to reconcile them with what they knew about him. Apprehension washed through him, too many years of having his feelings count for nothing making him dread what they might say to him. "It doesn't matter. . ." he started to say, ready to dismiss it all. Ready to protect himself against whatever hurt might be sent toward him.

 

Both men startled him by reaching out simultaneously and grabbing his hand, holding it in a tight three way grasp. "Harry, it does matter," Sirius told him. "And it isn't stupid. And we want you to make a fuss over it."

 

"Harry," Remus added. "We can't change what happened. We can't go back and make it right. We would if we could. But if you need to talk about it, or if you just. . .need us, we're here for you."

 

His words were soft and soothing, and the look in Sirius' eyes brought a lump to Harry's throat that made him feel good even while it hurt. "Thank you," he whispered softly to them, suddenly shy under the attention, and not really able to find any more words than that.

 

Both men seemed to understand and they smiled at him, squeezing his hand again before releasing him.

 

"And Harry," Sirius added. "If anyone tries to hurt you again, you tell me. I promise I'll bite whoever it is."

 

Harry twisted his mouth into a rueful smile, guessing what Sirius meant this time, though the man was obviously attempting at least to be polite. "I know you don't like him, but Snape's been pretty decent to me."

 

Remus accepted his statement at face value, having the benefit of their earlier conversation to go on. Sirius, however, just bit his lip in a stubborn pout. "Well, he better stay that way," he groused. "Or else." He let the threat hang.

 

Feeling suddenly mischievous and wanting to lighten the mood, Harry grinned impishly at his godfather. "You know, Padfoot, Moony tells me you're not all that crazy about marriage."

 

Remus rolled his eyes upward in what Harry assumed was amused embarrassment.

 

Sirius on the other hand looked genuinely startled. "Did he?" he glanced at Remus in surprise. "I suppose I never thought about it much when I was younger, but I don't have anything against it. Settling down sounds rather nice."

 

It was Remus' turn to look startled. He stared at his friend in disbelief. "You? Settle down?" It was obvious from the tone of his voice that he found the idea ridiculous. "Your idea of settling down was dating the same person for longer than a week." Remus turned conspiratorially toward Harry. "Your father used to say that Sirius thought dating was like Quidditch. Once you caught the snitch the game was over and it was time to start a new match."

 

Harry let out a shocked laugh, not believing he'd just heard Remus Lupin make a sexual double entendre in front of him.

 

"Moony!" Sirius exclaimed in disbelief. "Don't go telling Harry things like that! He's too young for. . ."

 

Harry interrupted him with a snicker of hilarity. "I'm not too young, Padfoot," he grinned. "And trust me, I've heard just about every snitch catching and broom polishing joke there is."

 

"Broom polishing!" Sirius sputtered, his face growing red. "Besides, it's not true anyway. I wasn't that bad. And, just because I dated a lot back then doesn't mean anything now. I was young. People change." He glanced somewhat curiously over at Remus, and Harry sensed a sudden tension between the two men. "I'm not like that now," Sirius added, watching Remus' expression.

 

But the werewolf just snorted in disbelief. "I'll believe that when I see it," he said with a dismissive laugh, but Harry had the impression that the man wasn't nearly as disinterested as he appeared to be.

 

"Moony," Sirius began only to be interrupted as Remus stood abruptly.

 

"Why don't I go get you some dinner, Harry," Remus suggested. "You missed lunch. You're bound to be hungry."

 

He didn't wait for a response, but rather headed out the door in search of the promised meal. Sirius watched him go with an odd look on his face.

 

"What do you suppose that was all about?" his godfather finally asked him, looking genuinely perplexed.

 

Harry took a shot at answering. "It's probably just because the concept of dating a lot of people is most likely foreign to him."

 

Sirius thought about that a moment, nodding in grudging agreement. "I guess he is a bit shy. Come to think of it, I don't remember him ever dating when we were in school."

 

Harry's eyes widened, wondering why that would surprise Sirius. "Of course not," he laughed. "Remus is a werewolf."

 

"There's nothing wrong with being a werewolf," Sirius said defensively. "Lots of people would have been happy to date Remus."

 

"Of course there's nothing wrong with being a werewolf!" Harry agreed, wondering if Sirius was missing the bigger picture here. "But that's not the point now is it? Werewolves only get the one shot at it."

 

Sirius frowned in confusion. "One shot at what?"

 

"At dating. At love."

 

"What are you talking about?"

 

Harry stared at his godfather incredulously. The man honestly didn't know? He couldn't believe it. "Werewolves mate for life. Hermione can probably explain it better to you; I never understood the theory behind it. Had something to do with scent markers, and animal instincts, and magical resonances. But they get one shot at it, and then that's it for them. They're bonded, or mated, or whatever it is you want to call it."

 

Sirius looked completely stunned, struck speechless by Harry's revelation. He slumped back in his chair with a look of profound amazement on his face.

 

"How could you have spent all that time with a werewolf and not known?" Harry asked him curiously.

 

Sirius just shook his head. "We never talked about it. I never thought about it," he admitted sheepishly. "It just never occurred to me. How do you know so much about werewolves?"

 

"Snape made us write an essay on them in third year. Hermione's was very detailed." He studied Sirius's face, noting the thoughtfully gleam in the man's eye. "You probably ought to read it if you're planning on falling in love with a werewolf."

 

That brought Sirius' attention right back to him, and he blinked at Harry in shock. "Fall in love. . ." he sputtered, but the protest died on his lips as Harry just laughed at him. "How did you know?" he asked.

 

Harry shrugged. "It's sort of written all over your face every time you look at him."

 

"Does that bother you?"

 

Harry just shook his head. "No," he assured him. "I kind of like the idea that the two of you have each other."

 

"Well, I don't exactly have Remus," Sirius admitted somewhat dejectedly. "I've tried to bring the subject up, hinted at it, but he just sort of shoots me down before I can get started. He doesn't seem to be interested."

 

Harry thought about that, remembering something Remus had said earlier about Padfoot having him but not knowing what to do with him. "No, I don't suppose he would be interested," Harry agreed. "Not if he didn't think you were serious about him."

 

And despite the topic, Sirius could resist the joke. "I'm always SERIOUS."

 

Harry rolled his eyes at the man.

 

"Do you think that's it?" Sirius asked then, looking suddenly hopeful, his eyes lighting up with the thought. "Do you think I might have a chance with him?"

 

"He's not going to leave you," Harry told him, believing that with all his heart. "No matter what happens, I don't think he'd leave you. And if anyone in the whole world had a chance, it would be you."

 

"So all I've got to do is convince him that I'm worth taking a risk on," Sirius decided, a wicked grin twisting his mouth. "I can do that."

 

"Not that I know anything about love," Harry told him. "But that might not be as easy as it sounds. Good luck." He'd been watching Ron and Hermione dancing around one another long enough to know that nothing about love was as easy as it seemed. He didn't figure it was a problem he'd ever have to worry about -- not much chance of him ever falling in love after all. Assuming he lived long enough to care about such things.

 

"A challenge!" Sirius laughed. "I'm good at challenges!"

 

Harry smiled up at his godfather. He wasn't going to say anything, but he had a feeling that treating this like a game was precisely the reason he didn't have Remus in the first place. But he supposed the man would figure that out himself. Eventually.

 

-------------------

 

Author's Note: Yes, I know, it's another cliche! Werewolves mate for life. But I do so love cliches -- and this one is practically mandatory in SB/RL stories. Besides, it will give Sirius no end of troubles.

 

And, yes, Harry really is that clueless about his relationship with Snape. Snape at least has figured out that he's interested in Harry though he's hip deep in the River Denial. Harry hasn't even noticed the river yet.

 

I'm glad you are all enjoying this. I am loving your emails and reviews! Thanks again!

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chap 14 Returning to Normal

 

Remus returned with their evening meal and the two men ate dinner with Harry, chatting quietly about school and Quidditch. Harry watched in amusement as his godfather flirted more openly with Remus, apparently more at ease now that he knew Harry didn't mind. Remus endured it all with good humor, seeming at once both annoyed and amused but generally unoffended. He did not however flirt back.

 

Eventually Madam Pomfrey kicked them out, insisting that Harry get more rest. The Mediwitch checked his wounds one last time, assuring him that they were healing up quite nicely, and that he could go back to his own room in the morning. Then she too bid him good night.

 

A moment later Snape slipped into the room, moving silently across the ward, black robes billowing about him. "Is she gone?" he asked, his resonate voice making Harry shiver for some reason.

 

Harry glanced toward the door Madam Pomfrey had just disappeared through. "Went to bed, I think," he informed the Potions Master.

 

"Good," Snape sat down in the chair beside Harry. "Last thing I need is another scolding from her. Kicking Black out is one thing, but calling me an idiot. . .the nerve of her!"

 

It almost sounded like Snape was making a joke, and Harry gave him a hesitant smile, unsure of how he should respond. "I'm sure, sir," he agreed neutrally.

 

Snape raised one dark eyebrow, a mocking gleam in his eyes, but he let the comment pass. "I trust you're feeling better?"

 

"Yes, sir," Harry told him. "Madam Pomfrey said I can leave tomorrow morning."

 

"Excellent," Snape said dryly, though Harry guessed he probably would have preferred to have his place to himself for a few more days. Couldn't imagine that the man would be happy to have him back. "Wouldn't want you missing classes, now would we?"

 

"No, sir," Harry agreed, then remembered something. "Though. . .I didn't exactly get my potions homework finished. I was going to work on it after I got back from Hogsmeade." He supposed that was going to cost Gryffindor a few dozen points. Snape had never been forgiving of late homework, no matter what the excuse.

 

"Perhaps you should have finished your homework before you went to Hogsmeade," Snape suggested, and Harry recognized that gleam in his eyes. He was already calculating how many points he could take away, triple if Ron and Hermione had failed to finish as well.

 

"Yes, sir," Harry glared at him, trying to focus all his attention on those soon to be lost points, but feeling something in his mind slipping instead. Because Snape's words had sparked another thought in his mind, an unintended thought, one he was desperately trying not to think about.

 

He tried with all his might to hold onto those missing points, tried to picture the tally in McGonagall office, but it was all slipping away -- because it was dark in here, and the candlelight was casting shadows on the old stone walls, and some how Snape's words always struck deeper and truer than anyone else's. And the other thought, the terrible thought, was roaring to life inside him, consuming him. A direct question from Ron had not done this to him, nor the worried gaze of Sirius. But one mocking insult from Snape broke down a wall he hadn't even been aware he'd erected.

 

He squeezed his eyes shut, unwilling to see Snape's amusement, then turned away from him, rolling onto his side, unwilling to let Snape see his pain. His breath caught in his throat, a single sob escaping him before he strangled it back, hands fisted in his bed sheets.

 

Because of course Snape was right, damn him. He should have done something as simple as finish his homework -- then it wouldn't have happened. The Death Eaters would have been gone from the weapons shop by the time Harry had gotten there; they wouldn't have seen him, wouldn't have attacked. Just a short delay was all it would have taken. Then those villagers wouldn't have died, and Harry wouldn't have killed those three men whose faces he could now see joining the ranks of the other dead in his mind. And the thought was a cold, hard emptiness inside him, hurting and aching and bitter.

 

And he wouldn't cry. Wouldn't cry! Instead he sucked in great gulps of air to hold back those tears, pulling it all back inside him, pushing it all back down into the empty place. And his body was cold and shaking, and he felt on the verge of hyperventilating.

 

Then amazingly there were warm hands on his shoulders, strong fingers wrapping around him, and he was pulled back and up until he was braced with his back against Snape's chest, and the man was talking to him in a low, soothing tone, words Harry couldn't really understand from so far down in his blackness.

 

He felt something cool at his lips, glass he realized, as Snape placed a potion vial at his mouth. And then Snape's fingers were tangled in his hair as the man gently tilted his head back, pressing the vial more insistently, forcing him to swallow the contents. He didn't care, didn't mind. Had oddly grown use to this over the last few weeks -- trusted that the contents would not harm him.

 

He recognized the taste even -- Dreamless Sleep Draught. The potion seeped deep into his veins, and he felt the familiar lethargy catching hold of him, and he sank back into it, not caring that it was really Snape's arms he was sinking into, that he was lying there in Snape's embrace. And he listened to Snape's soothing voice, still unable to recognize the words or process what they might mean. He even turned so that he could hear a calming heart beating beneath his ear, and that was so much better than the screams that were pressing at him. So much better than the darkness.

 

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It was funny how quickly Sirius Black's words came back to haunt him. 'Sometimes those memories set you off and you don't even know why.' Severus could only guess that this was the case now, this was why he found himself with his arms around Harry Potter holding him while he hyperventilated, waiting for his potion to take affect.

 

He hadn't meant to upset the boy. He'd come down to bring him the Dreamless Sleep Draught, worried he might have nightmares again. But one careless comment about homework, meant in jest, had set the boy off. He'd seen it the moment it happened, seen the shuttered look of pain that had crossed his face. One part of him had been expecting it. The boy hadn't reacted yet -- to the fact that he'd nearly been killed again, that people had died, that he'd been forced once more to defend his own life. He should have broken down in the arms of his godfather, or baring that his friends.

 

He couldn't help remembering the Triwizard Tournament. He hadn't truly broken down then either, fighting the tears with all his might. No tears. Not even in the arms of Molly Weasley. Never any tears.

 

But then this was the boy who put up silencing charms rather than wake his dorm mates with his nightmares.

 

What surprised Severus was that the boy had broken down in front of him. Oh he'd tried to hide it immediately, had turned away, had swallowed back his tears -- Severus wondered if he'd ever let them fall. But he hadn't fought him when he'd pulled him into his arms, hadn't resisted drinking the potion he set to his lips.

 

His own actions had actually startled him. He wasn't a kind man, wasn't prone to giving comfort. But he hadn't been able to do anything else, unable to bear watching Harry's pain without at least trying. He'd really expected to be rebuffed, rejected. But he hadn't been.

 

And his words -- utter nonsense about how it was going to be okay, and that Harry was safe, that it was all right to let go. Complete claptrap of course. But he suspected the boy was too far gone to really care or understand anyway; he could probably promise him the moon and never have to worry about being held to it.

 

He felt the boy calming at last, expecting him to pull away in discomfort. Potion or no, he was still the much hated Potions Master. But Harry surprised him by turning slightly in his arms, head resting on his chest, breathing slowing. A moment later he realized that the young man had fallen asleep -- in his arms.

 

Harry Potter had fallen asleep in his arms.

 

Well, hell, he thought. Now what was he supposed to do?

 

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He vaguely recalled someone moving and shifting him in the night. He murmured in protest, but quickly settled back down in sleep, dismissing it.

 

Madam Pomfrey woke him about an hour before breakfast, and he sat up sleepily, feeling well-rested. She checked his shoulder one last time, pronouncing him satisfactorily healed, and then handed him a pile of clothes and pointed him toward the showers. He recognized the clothing as some of the new ones Snape had bought for him. The man must have retrieved them for him sometime yesterday.

 

His face flushed as he remembered last night's events. Snape's late night visit, Harry's subsequent break down. And then the taste of Dreamless Sleep Draught. He wouldn't think about the rest of it, he decided. He doubted Snape would ever mention it. The man had probably been mortified by Harry's behavior.

 

But he had been decent to him. Harry wouldn't forget that. Though he suspected he'd pay for it eventually -- probably during potions class that day in fact.

 

Breakfast was more of an ordeal than he'd expected. Every eye in the Great Hall was turned toward him when he entered and made his way toward his seat at the Gryffindor table. It reminded him of the day after his marriage to Snape. Only this time they were discussing blood and death and battles. It occurred to him suddenly that this was the first time that some of them had seen a battle up close. Even during the great battle last year they had all been locked away in their common rooms. By the time they had been allowed out, the Ministry had already removed the bodies from the field.

 

Ron and Hermione were waiting for him, holding his seat. And Neville, Dean and Seamus were quick to welcome him back with heartfelt questions about his health. He was also ready for the barrage of questions from the rest of the Gryffindors, and fielded them with his usually vagueness.

 

Eventually Hermione and Ron managed to exchange a few private words with him, telling him that Sirius and Remus had asked them to tell Harry that they would be back this evening and were planning on sticking around for a while yet. Harry was warmed by that thought. He really hadn't been given much of an opportunity to spend long periods of time with his godfather. Besides he wanted to know what was happening between him and Remus. There was a full moon in a couple of nights, so he knew Remus would be more on edge than he usually was, but it had been interesting to watch the flirting last night. It was the first time he'd ever seen two men interacting like that. Didn't seem much different from what Ron and Hermione did.

 

"You should have seen Dumbledore earlier, Harry," Ron said then, and Hermione echoed his sentiments.

 

"What happened?" Harry paused in eating, glancing worriedly at the high table. But Dumbledore seemed his usually happy self; he winked brightly at Harry before turning his attention back to his blueberry muffin. Harry risked a glance at Snape, but the Potions Master was glowering into his coffee cup and did not look up. Harry inexplicably found himself blushing.

 

"A group of reporters tried to get into Hogwarts this morning," Hermione explained. "And at least three of the Ministry candidates were with them, demanding to see you." She reached over toward Dean's plate, liberating the copy of the Daily Prophet he had been reading. Hermione showed Harry the front page.

 

'Attack in Hogsmeade! Boy Who Lived Battles Death Eaters'. The words were written in bright red lettering just above a picture of the damaged street of Hogsmeade.

 

"What did Dumbledore do?" Harry asked, as he skimmed the article quickly.

 

"Threw them all out," Ron told him with a gleeful grin. "It was brilliant. Threw more insults than Snape on a bad day. I don't think I've ever seen Rita Skeeter run so fast."

 

Harry's head shot up in alarm. "Rita Skeeter?"

 

Hermione, quickly surmising the problem, shook her head. "Don't worry, Harry. Dumbledore has put an alarm on Hogwarts. The moment Rita enters the premises, all the paintings start screaming -- no matter what form she's in. And we've already warned Padfoot that she's lurking about."

 

Harry relaxed marginally, but he didn't like the idea of that woman any where nearby when his godfather was visiting. He turned his attention back to the article, noting again that there were quotes from several people he'd never heard of who had apparently had long, involved conversations with him. He did note somewhat pleased that Severus Snape had received some rather high praise from the paper, considering that only a few months ago he was always listed as a 'suspected Death Eater' every time his name was so much as mentioned. Now he was lauded as a hero. He rather suspected that explained the glare Snape was still giving his coffee cup.

 

Something occurred to Harry then and he glanced up, noting his fellow classmates. "Hey Ron, Neville, how much do you guys know about sword fighting?"

 

"Sword fighting?" Ron snorted at that. "That's a Slytherin thing Harry. My dad doesn't hold with any of that. Bill wanted to take lessons when he was in school, and he and dad got into a bit of row over it. Nothing ever came of it."

 

"But your dad's not opposed to fighting," Harry questioned. "He got into a fist fight with Lucius Malfoy in the middle of Flourish and Blotts."

 

Ron just shrugged that. "Oh, he'd say there's nothing wrong with the occasional scuffle -- though my mom laid into him over that fight. But sword dueling, that's something different all together. That's blood sports, and they're often linked with Blood Magic, Dark Magic."

 

"What about you?" Harry glanced at Neville.

 

"My grandma made me take lessons," Neville admitted. "I'm not any good at it. Even worse at archery. But she still thought I ought to at least learn the basics. Lots of kids take lessons, but its only Dark Wizards who are into blood sports."

 

Dark Wizards, and apparently Severus Snape. He wasn't certain what to think about that. He glanced over his shoulder at the Slytherin table. "Do you suppose any of that lot knows how?" he asked.

 

"Count on it," Ron told him.

 

"Draco and Blaise definitely," Neville agreed. "Lucius Malfoy is a well known swordsman. One of the best. So is. . ." he broke off suddenly, his face reddening.

 

Harry took a guess at what he was about to say. "So is Severus Snape."

 

Neville nodded apologetically. "One of the reasons I've always been so afraid of him, Harry," the boy confessed. "I know he's your bond-mate now and all. And I guess that means he's not a Death Eater. But the stories I heard said he used to duel a lot when he was younger."

 

Harry felt suddenly defensive, almost protective toward Snape, especially since he saw the old mistrust flaring in Ron's eyes. "Good thing he's on our side then, isn't it?" he said quickly. "The three of us would be dead if it hadn't been for him and Dumbledore."

 

And that was enough. Ron just sighed, and nodded in agreement, and they moved on to a different subject.

 

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To Harry's surprise, Snape did not take away points for his missing homework. As the other students handed in their homework, Snape simply went from desk to desk collecting the scrolls while he lectured them on their new assignment. He picked up Hermione's and Ron's, which was only partially completed, glanced briefly at Harry with an unreadable expression on his face, and then moved on to the next table, never once breaking his narrative. It was done so smoothly that the Slytherin students didn't even notice.

 

Hermione and Ron did however and they both looked at Harry in surprise. Harry just shrugged at them, grateful for the reprieve. He sat down with Hermione during lunch and finished it then, guessing he owed it to Snape to turn it in as soon as possible.

 

The three of them snuck up to one of the unused towers near the Headmaster's office to visit Sirius and Remus that evening after dinner. Harry was still worried about Rita Skeeter, and asked about the wards Dumbledore had set up to insure that she couldn't get into Hogwarts.

 

"Even if she can't get in," Harry said after they had convinced them it was safe enough. "You still have to stay out of sight, Sirius. The chances are good that a number of Slytherin students know you're an Animagus. I doubt Pettigrew has kept that secret. I'm sure Malfoy probably knows."

 

"Got that all worked out," Sirius said with a grin. "Remus has a spell." He transformed into Padfoot for them so that Remus could demonstrate. A quick wave of the werewolf's wand and the huge dog looked like a small, furry crup. Padfoot the crup seemed quite pleased by his forked tail, which he wagged prodigiously, earning a round of laughter from the rest of them.

 

"It's just an illusion of course," Remus told them all. "But it's a hard one to see through."

 

"Even still," Harry cautioned. "A dog in the company of Remus Lupin is going to be suspect."

 

Sirius transformed back into himself. "Don't worry about me, Harry," he smiled. "I'm good at escaping. And we've got a backup form as well -- Remus can make me look just like Crookshanks. "

 

Harry just sighed. "Just bugs me that a killer like Lucius Malfoy walks around free and you have half the Ministry after you." But he allowed his godfather to lure him from his pensive mood with stories that soon had them all laughing.

 

It was nearly a half hour after curfew before Harry made it back down to the dungeons. They had lost track of time, and Remus had finally remembered that Harry didn't have the luxury of sneaking into Gryffindor Tower. Remus had offered to walk Harry back down in effort to stave off punishment, but Harry had decided against it. It was still early in the year, but sooner or later he was going to be out after curfew -- something always came up -- and he supposed now was as good a time as any to find out what Snape was going to do about it.

 

Snape was sitting in the main parlor when he entered, reading by the fire. He didn't glance up as Harry walked into the room.

 

Uncertain if he should acknowledge the lateness, Harry hesitated a moment by the door. Finally he crossed the room to his desk and retrieved the finished homework scroll he had done at lunchtime. He approached Snape somewhat cautiously, sitting down across from him on the couch.

 

"I finished my homework," he said tentatively.

 

Snape glanced up at that, his expression unreadable. He stared at the scroll a moment, before finally reaching over and taking it from Harry, setting it down on the coffee table. "Thank you," he said simply. He went back to reading his book.

 

Harry stared at him for a long moment, wondering if he was drawing this out on purpose. Probably. He sighed. "I'm sorry I'm late," he said quietly.

 

"You're lucky Filch didn't catch you," Snape remarked, not looking up from his book. "He's been patrolling these halls a lot lately, trying to catch a couple of Slytherin students."

 

Harry waited. But nothing more was forth coming. Harry frowned. Was the man going to make him guess? He waited several more minutes, before finally giving up. He shook his head and headed toward the bedroom.

 

"Are you still willing to go to my family's dinner with me?" Snape asked before he could leave.

 

Harry paused in the doorway. Was that why he didn't take the points away? He wanted a favor? "I promised I would," Harry reminded him. He wasn't going to break his promise, even if Snape acted like a jerk. Besides, he was curious about the man's family.

 

"It's this Saturday," Snape told him. "I trust that's convenient."

 

"I have Quidditch practice in the morning, but that's all."

 

"We'll be taking a port key," Snape explained. "I've already made all the arrangements for one."

 

"Will you tell me what to wear?" Harry asked, feeling suddenly nervous as he thought about the fancier clothes Snape had bought him. He'd been sticking with the more casual wear so far, but he supposed for the dinner he'd have to dress up a bit more.

 

Snape nodded, a faint mocking smile touching his lips. "I'll pick out something suitable for you." He glanced at the bedroom door, nodding toward the room. "I left some more Dreamless Sleep Draught for you on your nightstand."

 

"Thank you." Harry felt suddenly self-conscious, the mention of the potion reminding him of last night's events. "Good night," he added softly before hurrying into the room.

 

He showered and changed into his nightclothes, grabbing the promised potion from the nightstand as he climbed into bed. Setting his wand and his glasses on the table, he pried off the lid and drank the Draught. Then he climbed under the covers and settled down for the night, feeling at once relaxed, safe, and more comfortable in his own bed than he had been in the hospital wing.

 

His own bed. The thought nagged at him for a long time. It wasn't his own bed. It was Snape's bed. He was just sleeping in it. But it still felt more comfortable than the hospital bed.

 

He was already drifting away on the calming waves of the Dreamless Sleep Draught when Snape joined him. But even still he was vaguely aware of the man climbing into bed beside him, vaguely aware of the hand that reached out and lightly brushed his hair back from his forehead. Then he was lost in a peaceful contentment that carried him all the way to morning.

 

---------------------------------------------

 

Author's Note: Before anyone asks, no, Harry is not going to become a Dreamless Sleep Draught Drug Addict. I don't know if it's canon or fanon that the potion is addictive (I think it's fanon), but it in this story it is harmless -- especially when Snape begins brewing a special version just for Harry.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 15 - Manners

 

After the excitement of the weekend, Harry was grateful for an uneventful week. There was a full moon on Friday night, and both Remus and Sirius stayed away from the castle that day, telling Harry that they probably wouldn't be back until Sunday. Snape had brewed the Wolvesbane potion for Remus, but even still he was usually pretty exhausted after his transformation and intended to sleep most of Saturday. Sirius intended to stay with him, though he'd confessed to Harry that he hadn't gotten very far in his attempt to court his friend. Remus still treated his flirtation like a joke.

 

Dinner in the Great Hall Friday night was particularly lively as several seventh year Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs had managed to purchase some of the Weasley Twins latest pranks and were in the process of tormenting the Slytherins and the Ravenclaws. A number of students were sporting pink hair and rabbit ears much to the amusement of their peers. Harry knew enough to steer clear of the pranksters.

 

"So do you know what you're going to wear?" Hermione asked him as they all sat around the table enjoying their meal. Neville and Dean looked up at that, staring at Harry curiously.

 

"Wear when?" Dean asked.

 

"Poor Harry has to go have dinner with Snape's family tomorrow night," Ron informed them with a look of disgust on his face. "Can you imagine a whole house full of Snapes?"

 

"Oh, Harry!" Neville's eyes widened in shock. "A formal Wizarding dinner, with the Snapes of all people!"

 

Harry rolled his eyes. "It shouldn't be that bad," he insisted. "Snape says the rest of the family is nothing like him."

 

"Still," Neville shuddered. "I never did like formal dinners. My grandma likes to throw them, but I always felt too nervous to eat."

 

"Too nervous?" Harry frowned, wondering if maybe there was something about this that Snape hadn't told him. Formal Wizarding dinner. He hadn't really thought about that. Hadn't thought about it being formal.

 

He glanced down at his plate, remembering suddenly a time when he'd made the mistake of disturbing his Aunt's table prior to one of her formal dinners. He'd been perhaps six or seven years old, and quite curious about the fact that his Aunt had made such a fuss over her table setting. When he'd snuck out of his cupboard to look, he'd noticed the 'good' china -- something Petunia had kept locked away in a hutch. He vaguely remembered that there had been more than one crystal glass at each of the settings, and more than one fork. The silverware had looked unusually beautiful and he'd reached for one of the spoons just to see what the pattern was on the shining handle.

 

Petunia had spotted him then and had shrieked in outrage, grabbing him by the wrist and dragging him away from the table. He remembered her calling him all sorts of names as she'd pulled him into the kitchen, intent on punishing him for daring to touch her things. Even now he could clearly remember her pulling him over to the sink and dousing his hand with scalding water from the teakettle. He'd been sobbing in pain by the time she'd dragged him back to his cupboard and thrown him inside, informing him that if he made one sound, one peep that night during their dinner, it would be a week before he saw another scrap of food.

 

He'd spent the night holding his red hand against his chest, biting his lip to keep himself silent, as he'd listened to the tinkling of fine china and the laughter of the Dursleys' guests. That had been his one and only exposure to any sort of formal dinner.

 

"What are they like?" Harry asked, apprehension filling him suddenly as he realized that he didn't have the first idea how to behave at a formal dinner. He knew he had decent manners; Mrs. Weasley told him so often enough. But he somehow doubted that any of the dinners he'd had at the Burrow were what someone would call formal. The twins regularly lobbed food items across the room at such gatherings.

 

"What are what like?" Hermione asked.

 

"Formal dinners," Harry explained. "I mean I saw my Aunt set her table once for a formal dinner, and there was more than one fork I remember. What do you need two forks for?"

 

"Good question, mate," Ron snickered. "Maybe it's so you can eat twice as much food."

 

"Haven't you ever had a meal at a nice restaurant, Harry?" Hermione asked curiously.

 

Harry thought about that. The Dursleys had never even taken him for fast food, let alone a nice restaurant. Truthfully until he'd come to Hogwarts he rarely even got to sit at a table to eat. "I've eaten at the Leaky Cauldron. And we had ice cream in Diagon Alley."

 

"Oh," she said vaguely, looking over at Neville who gave her an uncertain shrug. "That's not really what I meant."

 

"The different forks are for different courses of the meal, Harry," Neville told him. "But this is a Wizarding dinner, which might mean you'll be using something called a 'scramasax' in the old language. That means a dagger."

 

"Daggers?" Harry asked in disbelief.

 

"Depends on how considerate the Snapes are," Dean told him with a nod. "Since everyone knows you were raised by Muggles, courtesy demands that they make a concession to that and have proper Muggle implements like forks. But some of the old Pureblood families wouldn't be caught dead using a fork at a formal dinner."

 

"No forks?" Harry asked in bewilderment.

 

Ron nudged him, drawing his attention toward the Slytherin table. "Ever notice how Malfoy eats. He holds his knife in his dominant hand and spears his meat."

 

Harry glanced at Malfoy. He was deep in conversation with Blaise Zabini, but Ron was right. He held a rather pointy dinner knife in his dominant hand and a spoon in the other, only using the spoon when absolutely necessary. Most of the other Slytherins did the same -- and as Harry glanced around the hall he noticed they weren't the only ones. There were a number of Ravenclaws and even a few Gryffindors with similar manners.

 

A quick glance at the head table showed Snape doing the same thing. To his surprise so too was Dumbledore, McGonagall, Flitwick and Sinistra. Hagrid was like usual tearing at his food with his fingers.

 

Harry looked back at his friends in bewilderment. "What about daggers?"

 

"At a formal Wizarding dinner, there are typically only daggers and spoons at a setting. Forks are considered too Muggle, and even unlucky to have at a table," Neville explained.

 

Harry looked at Hermione for confirmation. She just shrugged. "I've never actually seen a formal Wizarding dinner myself," she informed him. "But I've read about them. They have all sorts of customs Muggles don't have."

 

"But I don't even know the Muggle customs," Harry protested. "How am I supposed to figure out the Wizarding ones?"

 

"We can give you a crash course, Harry," Neville offered. "I'm completely hopeless at formal occasions, but at least I know what the customs are. My grandma made certain of that."

 

"You can teach me everything I need to know by tomorrow?" Harry asked hopefully.

 

"Well. . .." Neville looked skeptical. "We can try."

 

"Don't forget Quidditch practice," Ron reminded him. "That's more important than Snape's dinner."

 

"Not if Snape strangles him," Neville pointed out. And on that point Ron had to agree, though only grudgingly. Few things in his opinion were more important than Quidditch.

 

--------------------------------------------

 

Severus spent most of the day in the Potions Classroom, marking papers and preparing for next week's classes. He returned to his own rooms to dress early in the afternoon, since his family was expecting them around four o'clock. Harry was nowhere in evidence.

 

While Harry had been at Quidditch practice, Severus had chosen some appropriate clothing for the boy and had left it on the bed along with a note informing him of the time they had to be leaving. Now as he entered the bedroom he noticed that the clothing was gone, and his note was lying on the bedspread. A quick glance at it showed that Harry had scribbled a response to him at the bottom -- saying that he had something to do and would get dressed in Gryffindor Tower, but promised to be on time.

 

Just as well, Severus thought. It would save them from getting in each other's way.

 

He collected his own clothing from his wardrobe then retreated to the bathroom to shower. He found to his consternation that his mind was increasingly focused on Harry, and after realizing that he'd just spent the last ten minutes trying to picture what he would look like in the formal attire he'd chosen for him, he shook his head in disgust, thoroughly annoyed with himself.

 

Wrapping a towel around his waist as he left the shower, he dried his freshly washed hair with a quick spell before turning toward the mirror. He paused to look critically at himself, wondering what his siblings were going to think when they saw him standing beside Harry Potter. Most likely that he'd performed some sort of Dark Magic to coerce the boy into marrying him.

 

He was never going to win any beauty contests; that was for certain. He glared at his nose -- it had never been an attractive nose, and breaking it when he was younger had not improved it any. He was strong and fit enough he supposed, but didn't guess he had much else to commend him in the looks department. And even his body was marred by the ever-present Dark Mark upon his arm -- made even more noticeable by the strands of silver wrapped around it in warding.

 

Then there were the scars. He'd been in enough sword duels to have his fair share of them -- could have healed the injuries before they had scarred of course, but that wasn't the Slytherin way. The scars were a mark of honor in the Sword Circles. And from a young age he'd been taught to do things the proper Slytherin way. At least that was one old habit he'd abandoned -- he healed any new wounds he received quickly now, not giving it a chance to scar.

 

Harry had noticed the scars. That had surprised him. It meant that at some point since they'd been married, the boy had actually looked at him while at least partially undressed. So far Harry had been careful not to offer him the same opportunity, and he'd given the boy as much privacy as possible. Regardless, he was familiar enough with at least parts of Harry's body; in the last few years he'd helped Madam Pomfrey patch him back together a number of times.

 

He couldn't help wonder what the boy had thought of him though. He hadn't been able to tell from his single betraying statement when Lupin and Black had been telling him about Blood Sports. He supposed there was no point in laboring under the illusion that the boy might find him even remotely attractive. Golden Gryffindor boys didn't find slimy Slytherins attractive. It was a simple, well-known fact.

 

Of course, he'd never really done anything to try and improve his looks either. It had never been important to him.

 

He frowned at himself in the mirror, then picked up his wand to perform a quick shaving spell. Normally he preferred to use a straight razor, but the spell gave a cleaner look. A simple spell cleaned his teeth as well, and then on a whim he added another spell to whiten them. Marginally better he thought, and then dismissed it as hopeless, because after all who could ever really get past the nose to care about the other features.

 

With a sigh, he set down his wand and reached instead for his hair gel. He paused before opening the bottle, staring down at it thoughtfully. This was another habit taught to him by his Slytherin peers. All the fashionably dressed Death Eaters wore their hair slicked back in neat unmoving waves. Ironically it made the Death Eater masks easier to wear. It was a common practice among his generation of Slytherin, and as Draco Malfoy set the fashions for his age group, it was common enough amongst the students as well.

 

Slimy Slytherins, slick and greasy like snakes. Unlike the Golden Gryffindors who more closely resembled their shaggy Gryffindor lion. They typically wore their hair free and wild, with little thought to neatness or style. Like Lupin and Black. Like Harry, whose hair was perpetually messy, practically begging someone to comb their fingers through it to tame the locks.

 

Severus lowered the bottle of gel without opening it, glancing at himself again the mirror. Without the gel his hair looked silky and wild, and a great deal like Sirius Black's actually. But then maybe that was just the way that Gryffindors liked it? With a frown, he put the bottle of gel back in the cabinet unopened, silently mocking himself for hoping that it would make any difference at all to Harry one way or another. Another glare into the mirror, and he sighed in annoyance -- he absolutely could not abide the messiness -- no excuse for it really. But he could at least compromise -- he combed his hair as neatly as he could and tied it back with a black ribbon.

 

Enough vanity for one life time, he decided, and then turned his attention to his clothes. Dressing himself quickly in the breeches, doublet and boots he'd chosen for himself, he returned to the bedroom. A quick glance at the clock reminded him that it was nearly time to leave. He wondered if Harry was ready.

 

He returned to the main room, spotting Harry sitting somewhat pensively on the couch and staring into the fire. He didn't notice Severus immediately, giving him a moment to take in the boy's -- young man's he corrected himself, for there was nothing particularly boyish about him at the moment --appearance.

 

Harry was wearing the green doublet Severus had chosen for him, along with the dark, finely stitched, dragon hide pants and boots. The whole outfit was accented with silver -- glittering silver thread stitched into the doublet, decorative studs on the breeches. And having been tailor-made to Harry's measurements, they fitted Harry perfectly, the breeches sinfully form-fitting, the doublet highlighting Harry's slender, seeker build. His hair was still perpetually messy, his glasses somewhat awkward looking, but he looked as much like a young prince as any Slytherin pureblood Severus had ever seen.

 

He noticed Severus finally and stood quickly. Severus had to force himself to keep his eyes on the young man's face instead of moving down the line of his body as he wanted to do. Those breeches were really the height of decadence. He wondered if Harry had any idea how appealing he looked.

 

He was grateful a moment later that he had controlled his baser instincts for it afforded him a clear view of the expression on Harry's face as he took in his appearance. The boy's eyes widened behind those glasses, his mouth dropping open in surprise.

 

"You look. . ." the boy began; Severus stiffened, bristling as he waited for the insult. "Nice."

 

Severus frowned. Nice. That was certainly more than he had expected. An actual complement, though he might consider himself damned with such faint praise.

 

And then would wonders never cease? "I like your hair," the boy added. Severus couldn't stop his own eyes from widening at that, though he resolved right then and there to toss out any remaining bottles of hair gel.

 

Harry flushed suddenly as if only just now realizing that he'd not only just complimented him, but done so twice. The boy crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture that could only be called defensive, his face growing strangely blank all of a sudden, no doubt in reaction to the seizures Severus assumed he was suffering for daring to compliment him.

 

Severus decided to take mercy on him. "You look very nice too, Mr. Potter." He allowed just enough amusement and mockery to flavor his words that the boy rolled his eyes in exasperation. "Are we through with the niceties?" Severus asked dryly.

 

"Please," Harry agreed just as dryly. He frowned suddenly. "Look about this dinner. . ."

 

Severus stilled, guessing this was where Harry backed out of going. He couldn't really blame him after all, the night would probably be miserable.

 

"I think I should warn you, I'm probably going to embarrass you," Harry finished, not at all what Severus had been expecting him to say.

 

"Excuse me?"

 

He noticed that Harry was rubbing nervously at one of his hands, an odd, unconscious gesture he had never seen before. He also looked unaccountably wary about something.

 

"Embarrass you," Harry explained. "In front of your family. Neville and Hermione tried to teach me some of the customs, but I've never been to anything formal before. I mean the closest I ever came was a brief glimpse at my Aunt's table setting, and I got punished for that. . .. " He broke off, a dark look in his eyes which he quickly shook away. "In any event Nev and 'Mione spent all afternoon telling me about daggers and salt and table linens, but most of it just went over my head. I just thought you ought to know."

 

Severus stared at him for a moment in silence, processing all he'd just heard. That the boy had made such an effort to learn Wizarding dinner etiquette in an effort not to embarrass him was extraordinary -- he couldn't help wondering what he had done to earn that consideration. But there was something else here, something that was making him far more nervous than it should. Harry had not yet stopped rubbing his left hand, as if it hurt.

 

"How did your Aunt punish you?" he asked quietly. As he suspected, his question drew the boy's attention directly to his hands, catching himself in the act of rubbing his left palm. Immediately he stopped, and he dropped his arms to his sides, his face shuttering the emotion that had flashed briefly across it. But it told Severus everything he needed to know -- the Aunt had hurt him, physically this time as the body was remembering even if the mind did not want to acknowledge it.

 

"That's not important," he said quickly. "The point is I am probably going to screw up royally by passing the salt with the wrong hand or buttering my bread on the wrong side. I just thought you should know."

 

Severus' eyes narrowed. "Are you concerned that this might anger me?" He suspected he understood the nervousness now as well -- while Harry might understand on a rational level that no one would punish him for a social transgression, the nervousness was coming from a completely unconscious part of his mind, one that remembered a lifetime of abuse.

 

"Well, yeah," Harry admitted, looking somewhat surprised that he'd been asked such a question. "I'm good at making you angry. I've had lots of practice. I just thought you should prepare yourself. You think potions class is bad, with me not knowing whether to slice or dice, well. . .. this will probably be a whole lot worse."

 

Severus felt his lips twitch in amusement, and he fought the smirk. Gryffindors were really too bloody honorable for their own good -- any Slytherin would see this as a perfect opportunity for revenge against him. If he cared about his family's opinion. Which he didn't.

 

"You seem to think that I care what my family thinks of me," Severus informed him. "Or you for that matter. I don't. In fact I think I would find it quite entertaining to watch my brothers and their wives squirming under social conventions while they try to make nice with the Boy Who Lived."

 

"Huh?" Harry looked confused.

 

Severus allowed a faint smile this time. "You seem to forget that without you their social standing in society is questionable at best. You could start a food fight at the table, and they would all smile and politely pretend that nothing was wrong."

 

"Really?" Harry grinned. "Well, okay then. I won't worry about it."

 

"Good," Severus agreed. He went over to the mantel to retrieve the port key he'd set there earlier -- a small silver coin that he could easily place in his pocket.

 

"So what can you tell me about your family?" Harry asked. "How many people are going to be there?"

 

"Don't know about the number of people," Severus admitted. "I have three brothers and my sister, Diana. The two older brothers, Claudius and Marcellus, are both very similar. Rather gruff, but sociable enough, though they had a tendency towards crassness I never cared for. Their wives sadly were chosen for their looks and not their brains -- a fact that quickly becomes apparent the moment they open their mouths. Diana is quiet, and sweet, a truly gentle soul -- her husband is the exact opposite." Severus shook his head at the thought. He'd always thought Diana had made a poor choice in husbands, and yet the two had always seemed fond of each other.

 

"And the other brother?" Harry asked curiously.

 

"Julius," Severus told him. "He's the youngest in the family. I don't really know him very well. He was still quite young when I had my falling out with the lot. But from what I remember I always thought that of all of us he was the most like our father. . .in mannerisms anyway. He's not a whole lot older than you actually."

 

"What about children?"

 

Severus shrugged. "My sister has two children, age three and four. Claudius has one, age six. I've never met them."

 

He saw Harry frown at that, and he pushed his own sense of regret away. It wasn't a very strong regret -- all things considered he didn't really enjoy children. But he supposed one of these days he ought to make an effort to get to know them. Considering the marriage he'd made for himself, he'd likely have no children of his own, and would have to pick one of his nieces or nephews as his heir eventually.

 

"Are you ready to go?" Severus asked him, holding up the port key. Harry nodded and moved toward him, reaching out to touch the coin with him. Severus tapped the coin with his wand, and a moment later they were both being pulled across the land.

 

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Author's Note: I had some fun playing around with the table etiquette -- though I admit I cut a great deal out of this chapter just because it got to be too much. The daggers are not my invention, but a reality of medieval England. Forks weren't introduced to England until the 1600, and were then ridiculed by society. They didn't really catch on in either England or America until the 1800s.

 

Since Wizarding England is trapped in the cultural past, I thought I'd exaggerate some of the odd etiquette rules that have existed over the years just to have a bit of fun. Harry, if the Dursleys truly had kept him from polite society, would likely be missing a lot of information most teenagers take for granted. He's polite enough -- most likely because such manners were beaten into him -- but he certainly wouldn't know the rules of etiquette of the upper-class. Nor I think would it be likely that he would notice such little details like the other students' table manners. Most teenaged boys don't notice things like that.

 

The 'scramasax' was a small weapon carried by many Englishmen in the middle ages. Along with being a weapon for defense, it was also considered a general-purpose tool, and was the primary instrument for eating. If I were being more traditional here, Harry would be required to bring his own dagger to the dinner instead of being supplied cutlery by his host.

As for Snape's appearance -- yes, it's yet another cliche. Don't all fanfiction authors have to deal with the issue of his greasy hair at some point? I hope you found my solution amusing.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 16 -- Meeting the In-Laws

 

Harry hadn't really known what to expect when he'd returned to the dungeons after his etiquette lessons with Neville and Hermione. He'd come to the conclusion, somewhere between discovering there was a right and wrong way to unfold your napkin and that salt could only be passed from the left to the right that he was probably going to make a complete fool of himself at dinner.

 

He'd later changed into the clothes Snape had chosen for him, amid hilarious comments from his former dorm mates. He'd stared horrified at himself in the bathroom mirror. "Don't you think these pants are a bit tight!" Harry had protested when he'd shown the results to Ron and the others. He felt horribly exposed in them. Looked more like something Gilderoy Lockhart would wear.

 

"Supposed to be that way, mate," Ron assured him.

 

"You look great Harry," Seamus agreed. "And if you don't believe us, let's go ask Colin."

 

That set Ron and Dean into a fit of giggles, and Harry had groaned in exasperation. The lot of them had come to the conclusion sometime in fifth year that poor Colin Creevy was hopelessly in love with Harry. Harry had of course not wanted to believe it, but had eventually given in when he'd discovered a life-sized picture of himself in Colin's dorm room next to the boy's bed.

 

"I have to go," he told his friends in disgust and tromped down the stairs to the common room. To his annoyance, the four of them followed swiftly behind.

 

The common room was unusually crowded for a Saturday afternoon, and as Harry entered he was greeted by a wave of good-natured whistles and catcalls, which had him bright red with embarrassment in a matter of moments. Hermione had eventually stepped in to shut them all up, but one glance at the look of hopeless adoration on Colin's face had set Ron and Dean into fits again and Harry had eventually had to flee to escape them all.

 

He'd waited nervously for Snape by the fire, worried about all the things Neville and Hermione had tried to teach him. There was no way he was going to get through a formal dinner without messing up royally, and he wasn't looking forward to enduring the wrath of Severus Snape. The man could flay a person alive with his voice alone. Harry had been on the receiving end of his sarcasm more times than he cared to remember, and he guessed before the night was though he was going to be utterly humiliated.

 

He looked up in shock as Snape had entered the room, almost not recognizing the man at first. No black robes for one -- he was dressed much the same as Harry was, only in dark blue instead of green. And damn! The man looked, well . . . attractive, maybe even handsome. Not in the Gilderoy Lockhart way of course -- Snape didn't really have the features for it. But he looked very distinguished certainly, and those clothes certainly emphasized the fact that the Potions Master had a good body. And there was something different about his hair; it looked. . . . really nice.

 

He vaguely remembered blurting out a couple of compliments, mortified by the fact that Snape had found them amusing. But at least the man hadn't really teased him over it.

 

And he'd been utterly amazed when Snape had put his fears to rest concerning the etiquette issue. Truth be told, it almost sounded as if Snape was hoping Harry did something shocking. He vaguely wondered if he could work out a way to earn points for Gryffindor by misbehaving.

 

He wasn't too keen on using portkeys, not since the Triwizard Tournament. But he took hold of the coin firmly and let himself be transported to wherever it was they were having dinner.

 

He staggered a bit as they landed, might have fallen if Snape hadn't grabbed hold of his elbow to steady him. "Sorry, don't like portkeys much," he muttered. Snape said nothing.

 

Looking up he noticed they were standing on a gravel roadway directly in front of large iron gates that were decorated with a rose pattern that reminded Harry of the tattoo he'd briefly seen on Snape's back. Beyond the gates Harry could see an enormous house with elaborate gardens surrounding it. "Is that Snape Manor?" Harry asked.

 

"No, that's Briarwood Hall," Snape informed him. The man turned him slightly toward a hill beyond the house. "That's Snape Manor."

 

Harry's eyes widened. Briarwood Hall seemed to be one part of a much larger estate, for beyond the gardens on a hill he could see a sprawling castle complete with tall towers, courtyards and at least three separate wings. "Wow," he exclaimed, unable to find a better word to describe the enormity of it. That would take a lot of paint!

 

"You really must do something to improve your vocabulary, Mr. Potter," Snape said dryly.

 

"Where exactly are we?" Harry wanted to know. "Is this far from Hogwarts?"

 

"Far is sort of a relative term," Snape replied. "We're in the County of High Hill."

 

Harry frowned. Geography had never been his strong suit, but he'd seen enough maps of Britain to at least know the basics. "There's no High Hill County in Britain."

 

"There's no High Hill County in Muggle Britain," Snape corrected. "You are standing in one of six unplottable counties in Britain, the western most to be exact."

 

Unplottable counties? Harry had heard of course of unplottable houses, but an entire county? He'd had no idea such a thing was even possible. And to think there were six of them in Britain. He wondered how many there were worldwide. "Do a lot of wizards live here?" he asked.

 

Snape shrugged. "A few I suppose." He pointed off down the road away from Briarwood Hall. "Minister Fudge lives a few miles down that way. And the Malfoy's live a bit farther north from here. A lot of the old families have estates in High Hill."

 

"What about the Burrow?" Harry asked curiously. He knew the Burrow was accessible by car, but at the same time he'd always felt it was somehow isolated or protected from the rest of the Muggle world.

 

Snape gave him a faint twisted smile. "The Burrow is east side," he told him and left it at that. Harry took a guess that the unplottable counties had some sort of economic status assigned to each of them.

 

Snape tapped his wand against the gate, and they waited while it swung open. Harry followed him through.

 

"We're not eating at Snape Manor?" Harry asked curious, as Snape was making toward Briarwood Hall instead.

 

"Snape Manor is my home," Snape informed him. "Though I haven't had it open in years. Briarwood Hall belongs to my brother Claudius." He frowned suddenly, glancing at Harry with an odd gleam in his eyes. "I should probably mention that at some point this evening a number of people will attempt to ask you permission to reopen the Manor. Under no circumstances give it."

 

"Why would they ask me?" Harry asked bewilderedly.

 

Snape shrugged. "It's as much your home now as it is mine," the man reminded him. "Regardless, it hasn't been open since my father died, and I don't think it's safe."

 

"Structurally unsound or because your father was a Death Eater?" Harry asked bluntly.

 

Snape gave him a mocking sneer. "There are spells to ensure a building remains structurally sound."

 

Which of course answered the question. Snape suspected there was Dark Magic lying in wait in the Manor house. "Fun," he muttered. Snape did not reply.

 

Two enormous wooden doors carved to look as if they were covered in rose vines were thrown open as Harry and Snape approached Briarwood Hall. From out of the house streamed a gaggle of people, so many that Harry found himself instinctively stepping toward Snape in alarm, wondering if perhaps they might have both just walked into a trap of some sort. He glanced quickly at Snape, noting that the man did not look alarmed, but he did look angry, a thunderous scowl upon his face, and a black glare he recognized far too well.

 

Greetings were shouted out, welcomes were called, and Harry found himself shaking hands with total strangers, trying to catch the names that were offered him. Eventually Harry felt a strong hand close around his shoulder and Snape pulled Harry out of the center of the crowd and propelled him toward a smaller group, his glare effectively deterring anyone from protesting.

 

"Harry, these are my brothers Claudius and Marcellus and their wives Julliana and Delphina," Snape introduced, his voice just barely above a menacing growl.

 

Claudius and Marcellus were definitely related to Snape. Both men had the Snape nose and coloring. But beyond that the resemblance was slight. Neither man was as tall as their elder brother, and both were a great deal bulkier. Marcellus sported a full beard, though neatly trimmed. They each shook Harry's hand, welcoming him to the family politely enough, but they eyed Harry up and down assessingly as if measuring him against something.

 

Julliana and Delphina were both extraordinarily beautiful women, one golden-haired, the other a redhead. And they both giggled in excitement when Harry shook their hands, Delphina going so far as to actually drop a curtsey to him.

 

"And those," Snape growled, pointing to the large mob of people who had surrounded Harry initially. "Are apparently in-laws." The man glared at Julliana and Delphina, who both just smiled pleasantly back at him. Apparently the two women had invited their entire families to this little gathering.

 

"This is my sister Diana, and her husband Alrik Brand," Snape continued with the introductions, motioning to the next two people waiting to meet him.

 

Diana Snape Brand was quite attractive. Her dark hair and dark eyes complimented her pale complexion, and her features were delicate and well formed. But more than that she had a quiet grace to her that reminded Harry surprisingly of a young McGonagall. She gifted Harry with a warm smile as she shook his hand, seeming genuinely pleased to meet him. Her eyes practically glowed when she looked up at her oldest brother.

 

Alrik Brand on the other hand was her exact opposite. He was enormously tall, heavily muscled and sported the hair and beard of a Viking. Indeed the man towered over all of them, and scowled down at Harry as if looking at the runt of a litter. He squeezed a bit harder than necessary when he shook Harry's hand.

 

"And this is my youngest brother Julius," Snape said then, motioning to the last member of the group.

 

Harry barely managed to stifle his gasp when he noticed Julius for the first time. He'd rather expected the fourth brother to look like the others, but Julius Snape was as different from Claudius, Marcellus and Severus as night was to day. Granted he had the same coloring, the dark hair, dark eyes, and the pale skin. But while Diana, who'd been spared the Snape family nose, was pleasantly pretty, Julius was heart-stoppingly beautiful. He was nearly as tall as Severus, slender and strong looking. But there the resemblance ended. His features were flawless, perfectly formed, high cheekbones, chiseled jaw, sinfully full red lips. Even the pale skin all the Snapes possessed seemed more like the finest alabaster on him. And he was dressed to catch the eye, a black velvet doublet lined with deep burgundy silk, his hands adorned with several glittering rings.

 

He gave Harry a slow sensual smile as he shook his hand, and like his brothers he looked Harry over quite thoroughly, but his eyes glittered with something more akin to hunger. It made Harry shiver in a most uncomfortable manner, and he shot a nervous glance toward Snape wondering if he had noticed. Snape was watching him intently, his scowl replaced now by a look of dark contemplation.

 

And then Diana was urging them all back inside the house, and the uncomfortable moment was gone.

 

Harry barely had time to admire the beautiful architecture of Briarwood Hall before he was surrounded by the mob of in-laws again. He managed, just barely to follow Snape into the main parlor with the rest of the family before he was cut off by a gaggle of women and men who seemed amazed to find the Boy Who Lived in their presence.

 

"Are you really an advisor to Minister Fudge?" one woman asked breathlessly.

 

"Are you really a secret player for England's Quidditch team?" a young man asked before Harry could answer the first woman's question.

 

"I heard you knew how to Apparate by the time you were seven years old!" another man exclaimed while Harry was still contemplating how someone could play secretly for a Quidditch team. "How did you manage that?"

 

"According to Witch Weekly you used to date a foreign Veela Princess," a matronly looking woman announced. "How ever did you end up with Severus?"

 

"Can you really tame dragons just by singing to them?"

 

"Is your broom really made out of Merlin's staff?"

 

"Do evil creatures really burst into flame when they touch you?"

 

Harry, who'd made it a point not to read the tabloids, stared at all of them in growing alarm. Surely people didn't believe this stuff -- okay Quirrell had burst into flames upon touching him, but that was different.

 

"Can I see your scar?"

 

Harry would have treated this question with the same disbelief as the rest of them if it hadn't come from a small boy of perhaps six years. He sighed and crouched down in front of the child, tuning out the rest of the adults as he pushed his bangs out of the way.

 

The little boy smiled happily at him, his eyes widening in delight as he stared at the lightning bolt scar upon Harry's forehead. That reaction would have been fine, if all the adults surrounding him didn't take it as a cue to surge forward and touch him, trying to reach the infamous scar with their fingers. Several of the women looked as if they were attempting to kiss the scar. Harry backed away in shock, nearly stumbling over his own feet in an effort to get away from them.

 

"That's enough!"

 

Harry was never so happy to see his Potions Master striding angrily toward him, blackest scowl fixed on his face. Instinctively he reached out to him, relieved when his hand was caught and he was pulled out of the middle of the crowd. He unashamedly hid behind Snape's body. "Back off!" Snape snarled at the crowd when they attempted to follow. They all stopped, looking appropriately terrified by the raging wizard.

 

"Now, Severus," Delphina pleaded. "They just wanted to see him. It's not every day they get to meet such a celebrity."

 

Harry cringed at the description, knowing exactly what Snape thought of celebrities. The Potions Master turned his black glare on his sister-in-law. "Well, they've seen him. Now make them go away. I didn't bring him here to be mobbed by this ridiculous rabble. Either they go, or we go!"

 

Delphina, who had been looking quite affronted at her family being called rabble, paled upon hearing Snape's threat to leave. "Oh!" she exclaimed. "Right, of course. We'll, they weren't going to be staying for dinner anyway." She began shooing the lot of them out the door, Julliana moving quickly to help her. The crowd began dispersing with much protest.

 

"My apologies, Harry," Snape said, much to Harry's surprise. He'd actually been expecting to feel the wrath of Snape's tongue next himself. "Had I known you'd been set upon by a pack of wild dogs, I never would have brought you here."

 

Harry had also caught Snape's usage of his first name. They hadn't discussed it themselves, but Hermione had made it a point to tell him that he should probably use Snape's first name in public. It would look odd if he didn't. "That's okay, Severus," he replied, the name odd on his tongue. He saw something flickering in Snape's eyes, took a moment to realize that it was approval, before the man nodded in acceptance.

 

"I see you're still as charming as ever, Severus," Claudius remarked. "Wild dogs? Bit harsh don't you think?"

 

Severus turned to glare at his brother. "Hardly. I assume you thought we'd find this amusing?"

 

Claudius shrugged. "They wanted to meet him. You can hardly blame them? I'm sure Harry -- can I call you Harry -- gets this all the time."

 

"Yes, Sev, calm down," Marcellus agreed. "I mean the crowd must have been five times this size last week when Harry addressed the Witches Herbology Society's Luncheon."

 

"He's in school, you imbecile!" Snape roared. "He's not going around giving speeches at Luncheons! And since when did you start believing the tabloids!"

 

"Now see here, Severus!" Marcellus blustered, and Harry could see that far from being a reconciliation between brothers, this was going to erupt into a new family feud. Harry recognized the signs from living with Vernon Dursley for so long.

 

"Excuse me!" he cut in quickly, stepping between Severus and his brothers. The three of them looked at him in surprise. "No one came here to fight. Let's try changing the subject, shall we?"

 

Claudius and Marcellus looked baffled, as if the idea had not occurred to them -- or maybe they just weren't used to someone running interference. Severus looked -- actually Harry wasn't entirely certain how to interpret the look on the man's face. He suspected he'd probably just lost his house a few dozen points for daring to interrupt him while he was working himself up into a full fledged fit.

 

"Yes, please!" Diana chimed in immediately, stepping forward and smiling graciously at Harry. "Harry is right. We're all here to get to know each other again. Let's not start out with a senseless fight."

 

Severus' expression softened fractionally, and Harry sent Diana a grateful look.

 

"Now who wants something to drink!" Delphina exclaimed with a bright smile as she and Julliana returned to the room, having gotten rid of the in-laws. They breezed into the midst of the group, not noticing the tensions at all and began handing out various drinks to those present.

 

As Alrik took a whiskey glass from Julliana, he gave a nod to Harry. "Should have let them fight," he murmured just loud enough that only Harry could hear him. "Most fun we would have had all night. I was rather looking forward to it."

 

Harry said nothing as he took a glass of pumpkin juice from Delphina. Nervously he took a quick sip, then nearly choked as it burned his throat all the way down, leaving his eyes watering. Alrik slapped him hard on the back, grinning at him. "That brandy is from my private stock. Don't waste it," the man told him.

 

His reaction set Claudius and Marcellus laughing and they grinned good-naturedly at him. "Sev hasn't let you get into his private stores yet, I take it?" Claudius asked. "Shame on you, Severus. You're supposed to share everything."

 

Harry shot a nervous look at Severus, not certain what sort of reaction to expect from this. Severus just glared at his brother. "He never asked," he said simply.

 

"I'm not much of a drinker," Harry volunteered, hoping that brandy-laced pumpkin juice wasn't the only thing he was going to be offered all night.

 

"Would you prefer a butterbeer, Harry?" Julius suggested, holding up a familiar looking bottle.

 

"Thank you," Harry nodded gratefully. Julius be-spelled off the cap and handed the bottle and a glass to Harry. Oddly, he made a point of touching Harry's hands unnecessarily as he handed them over, and Harry glanced up into his face in surprise. The man just smiled at him, then moved away as Diana began telling Severus about her children and what they had all been doing these last few years.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 17 - Thorns

 

They sat for a while in the parlor, Diana making an attempt to keep the conversations amongst the brothers civil. But Harry could see that the animosity amongst the three oldest at least was not going to be overcome in one night. Julius, for his part, seemed not to care about the family squabble, and participated very little in the discussion. Instead, to Harry's consternation, he spent the majority of his time staring at Harry. Whenever Harry looked over at him it was to see those dark eyes gazing speculatively at him, almost hungrily. It made him very uncomfortable.

 

True to Severus' word, Claudius, Marcellus, Delphina and Julliana each found a moment to speak privately with Harry, asking him about his plans for Snape Manor. The two women offered graciously to have it redecorated for him, while the two men pointed out the importance of having a suitable home for someone of his status to entertain important dignitaries in. Harry just smiled at them all and told them to talk to Severus about the subject since he was far to busy with his schoolwork to think about such matters. They each looked disappointed but not deterred.

 

Eventually Delphina and Julliana ushered them all into the dining room for dinner. Harry was seated beside Julius, directly across the table from Severus. One glance at the table showed the expected daggers Neville had talked about. To his relief there were also forks at each of the settings, but they were set off at an odd angle -- indication Neville had explained that they were there simply as a courtesy to a Muggle-born guest, and not really intended for use.

 

Before the first course was served, a toast was made, Claudius giving a somewhat longwinded speech welcoming Harry to the family -- something that would have been fine in and of itself, if he hadn't also managed to lace it generously with hints about their family name being formerly tarnished so egregiously. Severus, surprisingly, endured the comments in silence, most likely for Diana's sake, but they made Harry angry. It wasn't a whole lot different than that first letter they had sent to Severus. Harry had never gotten along with Severus, but he knew exactly what it felt like to be treated like scum by one's family. And considering that Severus was in fact the hero of this little family drama and not the villain, as his brothers would have everyone believe, it was doubly unfair.

 

Fine, he thought in irritation. If they were going to be rude, then he wasn't going to worry about offending them. When the first course was served, he unfolded his silk napkin in a decidedly Muggle fashion, and reached immediately for the fork, bypassing the dagger entirely. When he glanced over at Severus, he thought he detected the faintest of smirks on the man's face; there was certainly a definite gleam of amusement in his eyes. Harry just grinned at him, and wondered what other mistakes he could make.

 

Sure enough his manners went completely uncommented -- not unnoticed. Harry was quietly amused to see that they were not unnoticed -- Julliana actually made a warding sign against evil when he passed the salt the wrong direction. But no one said anything about it.

 

Julius distracted him for a good portion of the dinner, asking him about his position on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, a subject he loved to talk about. While talking he forgot about the man's intense looks that made him so uncomfortable, and actually managed to enjoy himself. "What about you?" he eventually asked Julius. "Did you play in school?"

 

Julius shrugged. "I tried out for a team, but I really was never much of a flyer. I didn't mind though -- it was just as much fun to watch the game I thought."

 

Harry disagreed with him there, but didn't say so. "What house were you in?"

 

"House?" Julius asked looking briefly confused. "Oh, yes of course. The Houses. I didn't go Hogwarts. I went to Beauxbatons. We all did, except for Severus."

 

"Really?" Harry knew his surprise showed on his face.

 

Marcellus, who'd overheard their conversation, leaned forward. "Yes, Harry," he said, loudly enough for the rest of the family to hear. "Severus was the only one at Hogwarts. I'm afraid Father was overly concerned with appearances. Didn't think the rest of us would get sorted into the right House."

 

"The right house?" Harry frowned, recognizing the insult for what it was, but not knowing what to do about it.

 

"He means Slytherin of course," Severus informed him, voice silky smooth and laced with animosity.

 

"That was your house, wasn't it, Severus?" Marcellus remarked, though it was obvious he knew the answer already. "Merlin forbid that the son of a Death Eater be sorted into any house other than Slytherin. I'm afraid Father didn't really trust the rest of us."

 

Harry felt his anger resurfacing, not because he felt any fondness for Slytherin, but because these attacks against Severus were all horribly unfair. He could see a cold gleam in Severus's eyes, and Diana or no Diana, Harry didn't think he was going to put up with such behavior much longer.

 

"You know, I think you have a skewed notion of the different houses and the Death Eaters," Harry informed them.

 

"Hardly," Marcellus scoffed. "Everyone knows Slytherin produces nothing but Death Eaters."

 

That was a direct attack this time, and Severus' hand tightened on the handle of his dagger. Harry glared down the table at Marcellus. "Actually, sir, you're wrong. The Death Eaters have a mixture of all the houses amongst them, not to mention a fair few numbers from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. In fact Peter Pettigrew, the man who raised Voldemort from the dead two years ago, was a Gryffindor."

 

With the exception of Severus, the lot of them flinched at the sound of Voldemort's name. It was Alrik who got over the shock the quickest and spoke. "You seem to have your facts confused. Peter Pettigrew was murdered years ago by Sirius Black."

 

Harry shook his head. "Sirius Black was innocent. Peter Pettigrew framed him for those murders. Two Gryffindors -- one good, one evil. All the houses are like that. Severus is a prime example. He's saved my life more times than I care to count. And he's risked his life for years to protect the Wizarding World from the Death Eaters. I'd say all of you have your facts confused if you think otherwise."

 

His words were greeted by silence, his challenge implicit in his tone. Harry risked a glance at Severus. The man was staring at him, a look of surprise on his face that bordered on shock. Harry couldn't help wonder if anyone had ever stood up for the man before? It was the least he could do, he thought. He still owed him for defending him against Draco that first day they were married.

 

"Well, that's the whole point of this dinner, isn't it?" Diana said quickly, ending the silence and looking around the table with a hopeful smile on her face. "To get our facts straight finally, and put the past behind us?"

 

Marcellus and Claudius looked at one another and then nodded grudgingly. "Yes, of course," Claudius agreed. "I suppose the Boy Who Lived should know if anyone does."

 

And to Harry's consternation he recognized that even that was a stab at Severus -- they would take Harry's word for it. Severus's word wasn't good enough. But he saw Severus shake his head almost imperceptibly, telling him to let it ago. Harry sighed, wondering how the man could stand it.

 

"The Boy Who Lived," Julliana mused somewhat dreamily, breaking the tension. "Has such a wonderful sound to it. Tell me, Harry, what's it like being the Boy Who Lived?" She spoke his so-called title with something close to reverence.

 

"Excuse me?" Harry stared at her, uncertain what she meant.

 

"I imagine it must be utterly exhausting," she continued, smiling at him.

 

Delphina nodded in agreement. "Utterly exhausting," she repeated. "It would seem to me that the hardest part would be all the autograph signing."

 

"Oh, no, dear," Julliana disagreed. "I'd say answering all his fan mail would be far worse. He'd actually have to write more than just his name there."

 

"Well, what do you say, Harry?" Delphina asked. "What would you say is the worst part about being the Boy Who Lived?"

 

Harry just stared at them in disbelief. "I guess," he said hesitantly, "it would be all the people trying to kill me."

 

His words were greeted by looks of utter shock, and one barely stifled bark of laughter which Harry realized to his amazement had come from Severus. Severus actually had one hand over his mouth, and was visibly struggling to keep from laughing again. That was definitely approval he saw glittering in those dark eyes this time.

 

"Oh," Delphina said vaguely. "I suppose that would be difficult."

 

"Still," Julliana added, apparently having not understood what Harry had said. "I think my hand would start hurting if I had to sign so many autographs."

 

"Severus," Diana cut in quickly, changing the subject. "Why don't you tell us about your work? I understand your potion skills have far exceeded anything even Mother ever mastered."

 

Severus, having gotten control of his laugher, shrugged dismissively. "Well, considering the woman poisoned herself, that wasn't difficult to do."

 

Harry looked over at him in surprise. "Your mother poisoned herself?"

 

Severus smirked. "Yes, it's one of those obnoxious little family secrets that I'm sure you'll find fascinating."

 

Harry glanced at the others, wondering if anyone would fill him in. Diana smiled at him. "It's a peculiar story, Harry," she told him. "Not many people know it. Our mother had a rather odd, singular obsession. Have you ever heard the story of Snow White?"

 

Harry frowned. "Seven dwarves, poison apple, enchanted sleep, true love's kiss. That story?"

 

"Well, it was actually seven house elves," Diana told him. "But no doubt you heard the Muggle version of the story. The Wizarding version is quite a bit different. Our mother however was interested in the potion brewing aspects of the story."

 

"She wanted to make a poison apple?" Harry asked, wondering if that was how the woman had poisoned herself.

 

"Actually, Harry, the poisoned apple is remarkably easy to make," Severus informed him. "Even the enchanted sleep and true love's kiss part is easy enough to brew. A thousand wizards have come up with some variant on that old spell. Mother had no interest in that part of the story."

 

Confused, Harry glanced back at Diana. He couldn't remember any other potion that was brewed in the story.

 

"It was the beginning of the story that held our Mother's interest," Diana explained. "The part about the queen who wanted the perfect child. The fairest child in the land, with hair as black as night, lips as red as blood, and skin as white as snow."

 

White as snow. . . .Harry frowned, only to be struck a moment later by realization, a chill running down his spine as he spared a shocked glance around the room at all the Snapes sitting before him. All with the blackest hair and the whitest skin -- he turned toward the impossibly beautiful Julius. Harry's eyes widening in shock, for the description fit him perfectly. The man smiled at him in amusement, inclining his head in acknowledgement of the thought Harry had not spoken but was obviously written plainly on his face.

 

"She tried with all of us, of course," Diana continued. "And continuously fell short. Until Julius."

 

"You said she poisoned herself," Harry said, forcing his gaze away from Julius Snape.

 

Severus smirked bitterly. "Yes, Mother failed to remember one little detail of that pathetic story. The queen dies in childbirth, and never gets to lay eyes on her perfect child. With every experimental potion she took, she risked her own life and the health of her children for something as silly as vanity."

 

"Did you ever ask her why it was so important to her?" Harry asked, finding himself fascinated by the story. He wondered if all Wizarding families had similar strangeness in their past.

 

"Mother didn't talk about her work," Marcellus told Harry. "Truth was we knew she was working on something, but we didn't know what. Severus was the one who went through her notebooks after she died and figured out what she was doing."

 

"Is that what got you interested in potions?" Harry asked.

 

Severus shrugged. "I had an interest prior to that," he admitted. "But it certainly didn't hurt. Nothing like a family secret to spark your interest."

 

They spoke some more about their mother, Harry listening attentively, curious about Severus Snape's past. It seemed that so long as they kept their conversation focused on their early childhood years, without mention of their father, the three older brothers kept fairly civil tongues. Julius only participated in the conversation occasionally, Diana making it a point to keep all of them on safe topics.

 

That dinner ended without any major bloodshed, Harry counted it a success. When they all retired again to the parlor, Harry excused himself to go to the bathroom, dawdling somewhat longer in the halls than necessary. It occurred to him that Severus might like some time alone with his siblings, or at least with Diana and he wasn't certain how to arrange it.

 

As it turned out, he didn't have to bother. Julius intercepted him in the hallway before he could reenter the parlor. "I thought perhaps you might like to look at the gardens, Harry," he offered. "It will give Severus a chance to speak with the others alone. I suspect they wish to discuss the future of Snape Manor. It's always been a rather sore point amongst them, and I doubt you want to get pulled into the center of that fight."

 

Remembering Severus' warnings about the Manor, Harry just nodded in agreement. "Sure," he agreed, falling into step beside the youngest Snape. "Bit dark though to be looking at the gardens, isn't it?" He'd thought a tour of the house would be more appropriate.

 

Julius flashed him a brilliant smile, his dark eyes glittering. "Oh, you needn't worry about that. They're well lit with Wizard Lights. Briarwood Hall is famous for its rose hedges. You have to see them before you leave."

 

He opened a side door that led out onto an exterior courtyard and a garden path. As Harry stepped through, he would have sworn he felt a hand lightly caress his back, and he glanced curiously at Julius as he walked beside him. The man just smiled again, making a broad sweeping gesture with one hand to indicate the garden beyond the courtyard.

 

It had grown dark, the waning moon still nearly full overhead. Beneath the light of the moon Harry could see the distant shape of Snape Manor on the far hilltop, but his eyes were drawn toward the garden Julius intended to show him. He'd seen pictures of garden mazes -- enormous hedgerows groomed into a maze pattern -- but he'd never seen one up close. And this garden maze was extraordinary, for it was made of enormous, tangled cluster of rose vines, twisting and locking in on each other to form the hedges. They towered well over his head, and all of them were in full bloom, enormous blood red roses filling the heavy night air with their scent. True to Julius' word, the maze was lit with glowing balls of light burning at the base of various hedges, giving the entire garden an eerie bluish glow beneath the cold moonlight.

 

As they stepped into the maze, Julius leading the way, the scent of the roses struck Harry, their perfume rather heady. Harry noticed that the thorns on the rose vines were deadly looking, long and horribly sharp. He didn't envy the gardener who had to tend to them.

 

They walked for a while, Harry asking a few simple questions about the estate they were on and about the estates that were nearby. He found it odd to think that Malfoy Manor was only a few miles away. And beyond that, it seemed the LeStranges had a home, along with the Goyles and the Parkinsons. Harry had the uncomfortable feeling that the majority of the people living in High Hill were either trying to kill him, or had been killed fighting him.

 

"Do you like it?" Julius asked as they walked. "The garden, I mean?"

 

"It's beautiful," Harry admitted. He'd done enough gardening at the Dursleys to appreciate the work that must have gone into the maze, though he supposed wizards probably had all sorts of gardening spells to make things easier. It occurred to him that Madam Sprout would love this place.

 

"It's been in my family for centuries," Julius told him, as he led him further into the maze, moving down twisted paths and corridors. "My mother loved this garden."

 

Harry frowned at that. From what he gathered from the story he'd heard earlier, Julius' mother had died when he was born. How would he know that his mother had loved this garden?

 

"Would you rather go back and visit with the others?" Harry asked him, thinking it was probably unfair of him to keep Julius from his brother's company. He probably didn't know Severus all that well and would want to speak with him privately as well. Harry was perfectly capable of looking the gardens over alone. Besides, the scent of the roses was growing overpowering, and he was getting anxious to move away from their perfume.

 

But Julius just laughed. "I was a child when Severus left," he told Harry. "I barely know the man. Besides, I'd much rather get to know you. I find you far more intriguing." To Harry's surprise, the man raised a hand as he spoke, and actually brushed a lock of Harry's hair back behind his ear, a remarkably intimate gesture that made Harry extremely uncomfortable. Even Ron wouldn't have done something like that, and he knew Ron far better than this man. He felt suddenly dizzy, and suspected the rose scent was starting to get to him.

 

But again Julius just smiled and continued on as if nothing had happened. "I imagine it must have been a great disappointment to you," Julius said as he led Harry around another corner and into a small courtyard with a gazebo in the center of it. "To find yourself married to Severus."

 

Harry stopped in his tracks. "What do you mean?"

 

Julius turned and smiled at him again, a knowing look in his eyes. "I mean he can hardly be the sort of lover a young man like you dreamed of having." He laughed at the thought. "You must have been horrified, to find yourself at the mercy of someone so hard and cold. And Severus is certainly nothing to look at. Do you cringe every time he touches you, or have you gotten used to being forced to submit to him?"

 

"What?" Harry stared at the man in shock, not having any clue how to respond to his words. At least when his Slytherin classmates had made their rude innuendoes they had all been in the form of crude insults. This was different; this was somehow far more personal, and he did not like the way this conversation was going at all. And he'd swear the scent of roses was getting stronger, the perfume oddly intoxicating.

 

"You're quite beautiful, you know," Julius told him, and Harry found himself blushing in spite of himself. "I imagine Severus didn't wait long to get his hands on you. How you must have hated having that beast touch you." He reached out to touch Harry's hair again, but Harry slapped his hand away and stepped back.

 

"That's your brother you're talking about!" he exclaimed in disbelief. Beast? Alright, the Gryffindors had certainly called him worse things than that over the years, but this was the man's own flesh and blood for God's sake! And besides, Severus had been more than decent to him. Not to mention the fact that Julius obviously didn't have a clue about who his brother was or why they had gotten married in the first place. He'd assumed it was just Claudius and Marcellus who believed Severus was still a Death Eater. Now he could see that Julius' opinion of the man was no better.

 

"Yes, he is my brother," Julius agreed, still smiling. "Which puts me in a remarkable position to ease your suffering. No one would ever think twice about why you were spending so much time in the company of your brother-in-law. Such family ties are encouraged." As he spoke he took several steps closer to Harry; Harry backed up just as quickly, starting to realize where this conversation was going.

 

"You don't actually think I'd be interested in you, do you?" Harry exclaimed in amazement. He couldn't believe he was in this situation -- being propositioned by Severus Snape's brother. It was ludicrous.

 

Julius laughed softly. "Of course you're interested," he replied. "I've seen the way you look at me. I know you want me. Who wouldn't chose me over Severus?"

 

Harry found himself growing red with embarrassment -- okay, maybe he had thought the man was beautiful, but anyone would think the same thing. But it seemed he'd inherited more than his magical beauty from his mother -- Julius also apparently possessed her vanity. "You don't know me," he told the man. "And you don't know your brother. I'm not interested. Goodbye!" He turned to leave, willingly admitting that for once he was way out of his depth here. He had no idea how to react to the amorous advances of a man who seemed to think he was irresistible.

 

The corridor, through which they had entered the courtyard, was gone.

 

Harry stared in alarm at the impenetrable wall of rose vines in front of him. He turned, looking swiftly around him, thinking that perhaps he'd gotten turned around. But there didn't seem to be any opening in the hedge wall.

 

"There is an exit," Julius assured him with a soft laugh. "But only if you know where to look. This is a maze after all. But the thorns on the vines are strong enough to rip the flesh from your bones if you make the slightest mistake. And I'm the only one who knows the secret of the maze, the only one who can lead you back out again."

 

Harry felt his heart beginning to pound, his stomach knotting as he realized that he'd been lured out here, and he'd foolishly gone willingly. Led astray by a pretty face. He moved away from Julius again, stepping up into the gazebo, hoping that he might be able to see the exit from there. He supposed if worse came to worse he could burn the hedge down -- provided it wasn't protected against such spells.

 

Julius followed him to the gazebo. "Do you like the scent of the roses?" he asked curiously. "They're yet another legacy of my Mother's. She used these very flowers in her potions. They're in my blood. Their scent has been known to drive men and woman mad with desire for me."

 

Harry paled, understanding what he was saying. He hadn't been that far off the mark when he'd thought the scent intoxicating. Apparently it acted like some sort of compulsion or charm, perhaps an aphrodisiac or love spell. But he'd thrown off the Imperious time and time again -- he wasn't going to be swayed by this!

 

"I told you, Julius, I'm not interested!" Harry growled. He couldn't believe that the man really expected him to just fall into his arms. He was completely mental!

 

Julius' eyes darkened, his smile growing colder suddenly. "You seem to think I care?" Julius laughed, and then suddenly between one heart beat and the next, he was on Harry, pushing him roughly back against one of the pillars of the gazebo, pinning him with his own body, head lowering, lips descending.

 

The attack was so sudden, and so unexpected Harry barely had time to react. As it was he only managed to turn his head aside to avoid the brutal kiss aimed at his mouth. Julius didn't seem deterred however, attacking instead the tender skin of his neck, his hands moving over Harry's body as he struggled.

 

Harry hadn't been expecting a physical attack -- nothing Julius had done so far had suggested he would try to over power Harry. And he was stronger than Harry -- a great deal stronger, age, height, and muscle all working in his favor. Harry knew he had to get his wand drawn -- if this was allowed to continued on a physical level he'd be in serious trouble. His alarm transmuted into blinding rage when he felt one of Julius' hands groping between his legs, touching him through the leather of his pants.

 

Without thinking he slammed his head forward, smashing it against Julius' head hard enough to knock the man briefly back. It was all the opening Harry needed. He shoved Julius roughly away from him, drawing his wand as he stepped back out of the gazebo, the tip of his wand already glowing, a curse barely held in check as Harry fought to gain control of his anger. He could hurt the man, he realized, kill him perhaps, he was so angry. His body shook with fury.

 

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Author's Note: No, I'm not going to give away what happens next. I just wanted to make a brief comment on the whole Snow White thing before anyone thinks I'm going in a completely different direction with this story. It was an amusing story that came to me while I was writing the dinner scene -- and nothing more. I couldn't resist keeping it and it seemed to fit in perfectly with the rose hedge and Julius' behavior. More on the subject in the next author's note.

And kudos to all my clever readers -- you spotted Julius' intentions immediately!

BTW -- when I said 'Severus' was Latin, I meant Latin as in the language the Romans spoke, not Latino. It sparked some rather funny emails.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 18 Heart of the Maze

 

For Severus, the night had been one surprise after another -- not all of them pleasant. Harry's reaction to the Manor had amused him, but that humor was quickly dampened by the mob of people that fell upon the Boy Who Lived as if he were Merlin reincarnated.

 

He had, unfairly he supposed, always assumed that Harry reveled in his celebrity status. But the look of horror on the boy's face quickly set that belief to rest, as did the way he practically hid behind him when he'd rescued him from their midst.

 

He should have expected something like that, he supposed. Not exactly his brothers' doing, he knew, but they could have at least tried to rein in their wives. Julliana and Delphina had sadly grown no more intelligent since he'd last seen them.

 

Diana was much like he remembered her, and he was pleased at how happy she seemed to be to see him. The mistrust he could see in Alrik, Claudius and Marcellus had not faded in the slightest, but Diana at least did not believe their lies.

 

Julius he couldn't read. The young man had greeted him politely enough, but for all intents they were total strangers to each other. Julius had been a child when Severus had last seen him, though he had forgotten how beautiful he was. Harry's reaction to him hadn't gone unnoticed, and Severus admitted that the pang of emotion he'd felt at that had most definitely been jealousy.

 

But it had answered a question he'd been wondering about. Just because the Marriage Stone had chosen Severus for Harry didn't mean that Harry had any interest in men. Far from it. The magic of the Marriage Stone was such that it chose the best possible match for a person -- there was no guarantee that it would in any way shape or form resemble a love match. In Harry Potter's case, it was just as likely that the best possible match was someone who could protect him, teach him, fight beside him, and ensure that he had a chance to grow up and live his life. It didn't promise love. The most famous matches the Stone was responsible for had all been love matches, but they were by no means the only matches. It was possible that Harry Potter, while destined for greatness, was not destined for love. Or maybe it had simply realized that Severus Snape would not hinder any such ambition for love, because ultimately Severus knew he had no real claim over the boy and would look the other way when Harry did finally decide to love someone. Provided the boy was discreet, he certainly wasn't going to stand in the way of his happiness.

 

But up until that moment with Julius, Severus had never seen Harry look at a man with any sexual interest at all. Truth was the only person he'd ever seen Harry look at had been Cho Chang, and even that had seemed only half hearted at best. He suspected the boy was too distracted with all the people trying to kill him to really care one way or the other about the things most students his age were obsessing over.

 

But the flush that had stained Harry's face when he'd looked at Julius had been very telling. He was definitely capable of seeing beauty in the male form. Pity it had to take someone no one else could possibly compete with to catch his eye. He supposed that left him far out of the running.

 

All things considered, the evening with his family actually went by quickly. Harry, far from being nervous and awkward like he'd expected, had continuously surprised and amused Severus. He decided he liked hearing his given name on Harry's lips -- and after the fourth or fifth time, it even started to sound natural.

 

And he watched with amusement as Harry tossed aside Wizarding protocol almost blithely, completely ignoring the dagger in favor of the fork despite the fact that he'd apparently practiced with it with Longbottom and Granger. If he didn't know better, he would have sworn that the Gryffindor brat was attempting to make him laugh.

 

A little while later Harry had succeeded in stunning him most profoundly when he'd all but tossed the proverbial gauntlet down before his brothers, calling them on their less than subtle insults, and defended his name and his honor with an eloquence he hadn't known the boy possessed. It had silenced them all, and for the first time Severus had understood why this young man inspired such loyalty.

 

It was later, when they returned to the parlor, that his brothers eventually broached the topic he'd been expecting all evening -- the fate of Snape Manor. He wondered if they had already spoken with Harry about it, and reminded himself to ask the boy when they returned to Hogwarts.

 

"I told you Claudius," he informed his brother after his impassioned speech about the importance of the Manor. "I have no intention of reopening the manor until I get a chance to see what sort of surprises Father might have left behind. My schedule has not yet permitted me the opportunity."

 

"It's not fair to relegate us to a lesser house while that one sits empty!" Claudius exclaimed in anger. "You keep us from it to punish us. You keep us. . ."

 

Severus tuned the man out, having heard this speech before. He'd even read a written version of it in letters over the years while they were not speaking to each other. He wondered what was taking Harry so long to return to the parlor, and he glanced at the door in concern. He noticed then that Julius was also gone, and an uncomfortable suspicion pricked his mind.

 

"Where's Julius?" he demanded, interrupting Claudius' speech.

 

Claudius fell silent, snorting in disgust as he looked away. Severus glanced instead toward the others. Julliana and Delphina looked titillated by the question, their amusement confirming some of the suspicion in Snape's heart. Marcellus and Alrik looked amused as well. But it was Diana's reaction that worried him the most. She was looking at her husband and her other brothers suspiciously, her eyes somewhat confused by their amusement.

 

"Where is he?" Severus demanded, rising swiftly to his feet.

 

"Now, Severus," Marcellus laughed softly. "Let Julius have his fun. It's what he does. And I doubt Harry will mind."

 

Jealousy and rage flared through Severus, startling him with the intensity of it. Diana's too jumped to her feet, her confusion clearing immediately, anger replacing it. "The rose maze, Severus!" she shouted at him, her eyes a bit wild. "Don't blame Harry."

 

If she hadn't added that last warning, Severus would have been driven solely by anger to storm from the room. As it was, a spark of fear erupted inside of him. Don't blame Harry? For what? Her words implied that perhaps Harry would not be responsible for what ever was going on.

 

In no time at all he found himself outside, racing toward the entrance to the rose maze. As a child he'd learned the secrets of the maze, knew how to navigate its ever-changing paths and doorways; he even knew a shortcut to the center of the maze. But as he passed through the main entrance he realized that something had changed subtly. He felt the wards the moment he passed over them and pulled his wand immediately. A quick identification spell revealed the presence of compulsion charms woven directly into the scent of the flowers. Mingled amongst the compulsion charms were various love spells and aphrodisiacs -- not strong by his standards, but certainly enough to befuddle the average wizard or witch who might enter the maze.

 

Neither he nor Harry were average by any stretch of the imagination, but he found himself racing toward the center of the maze anyway, bypassing the majority of the corridors in favor of the short cut. His mind supplied him with a number of scenarios -- certainly his brothers and Diana expected him to find Harry in a compromising position with Julius. It hadn't escaped him that Julius found Harry attractive -- the man had barely taken his eyes off Harry all evening. But he suspected there was more than just brotherly collusion on the part of Claudius and Marcellus. Perhaps they believed that if they allowed Julius his seduction, Harry would be more amenable to their influence.

 

Rage flared through Severus again. If he found out they had done this for the sake of that stupid Manor, he'd burn the place to the ground and leave them all living on the street.

 

He turned the last corridor, and found himself up against an invisible barrier, one of the maze's many illusionary walls. Through it he could see the center courtyard, Harry already trapped inside with Julius.

 

Neither Harry nor Julius noticed him, but he knew from their side of the illusionary wall all they would see would be the impenetrable wall of roses. He glanced around the courtyard -- all the entrances were sealed as far as he could see. Julius, having entered the courtyard ahead of Severus, could take them all swiftly down by pressing a stone on the central gazebo. But Severus had no choice but to take them down the hard way. He raised his wand and began the counter spell to siphon off their power.

 

He could hear Julius speaking to Harry, and he found his brother's words only fueled his anger. He could also see Harry shaking his head slightly, a frown marring his forehead -- no doubt he was feeling the effects of the spells.

 

"I imagine Severus didn't wait long to get his hands on you," Julius was saying to Harry. "How you must have hated having that beast touch you." Severus found himself gritting his teeth in fury as Julius reached out to caress Harry. He smiled a moment later as Harry slapped his hand away, stepping back. He wondered if Julius could feel the spells on the maze flicker and waver as Harry shook off whatever influence they might have begun to gain on him.

 

"That's your brother you're talking about!" Harry's voice was filled with disbelief and indignation. It seemed the noble Gryffindor was going to stand up for his honor once again.

 

"Yes, he is my brother," Julius smiled. "Which puts me in a remarkable position to ease your suffering. No one would think twice about why you were spending so much time in the company of your brother-in-law. Such family ties are encouraged."

 

"You don't actually think I'd be interested in you, do you?" Harry demanded, backing away again as Julius advanced on him.

 

"Of course you're interested," Julius told him, and Severus felt his insides twisting again. "I've seen the way you look at me. I know you want me. Who wouldn't chose me over Severus?"

 

Severus didn't miss the color that washed over Harry's face, and he redoubled his efforts to pull down the barrier. He'd look the other way, he promised himself, when Harry fell in love with someone else -- but not this! Not his brother! That would be too cruel! He wished he could see Harry's eyes, but his head was turned away from him. Harry's eyes revealed far too many emotions, and Severus desperately wanted to know what the young man really felt for his beautiful brother.

 

"You don't know me," Harry said suddenly. "And you don't know your brother. I'm not interested. Goodbye!" And with that Harry turned toward Severus, taking a step toward the exit only to stop in shock when he realized it was gone. He could not, obviously, see Severus standing in the doorway attempting to pull down the magical barrier, but Severus could see him clearly enough -- could see the look of disgust in Harry's eyes, a look that went far to ease Severus' mind. That look was quickly replaced by alarm when Harry realized all his exits were gone.

 

"There is an exit," Julius told him, seeming to be highly amused by the situation. "But only if you know where to look. This is a maze after all. But the thorns on the vines are strong enough to rip the flesh from your bones if you make the slightest mistake. And I'm the only one who knows the secret of the maze, the only one who can lead you back out."

 

Idiot, Severus thought. Did he really think that no one else had solved this maze? Severus had figured out its secrets long before Julius had ever been born. He couldn't help wondering how many other young men and woman his brother might have led here, other wizards and witches who lacked the power to fight off the spells.

 

Harry had moved into the gazebo and Severus wondered if perhaps the boy might find the stone that released the wards on his own.

 

"Do you like the scent of the roses?" Julius asked then. "They're yet another legacy of my mother's. She used these very flowers in her potions. They're in my blood. Their scent has been known to drive men and woman mad with desire for me."

 

His words confirmed Severus suspicions that Julius had done this before. It also occurred to him that his brother believed Harry was more strongly affected by the spell than he appeared to be. But the flicker of irritation that flashed across Harry's face assured Severus that Julius was wrong.

 

"I told you, Julius, I'm not interested!" Harry growled.

 

"You seem to think I care," Julius laughed, his words alarming Severus. He watched in shock as his brother suddenly lunged at Harry, pinning him against one of the gazebo's pillars, obviously intending to take with force what Harry had denied him.

 

The barrier was nearly down, and Severus threw all his strength into the counter spell, desperate to get the barrier down and go to Harry's aid. He could feel it crumbling, could see Julius groping Harry, touching him, kissing him -- and then saw him stumble back in shock as Harry butted him hard in the head and pushed him away, a look of blackest rage on his face as he drew his wand, aimed it. That he did not hex Julius immediately surprised Severus -- but one look at Harry and he understood. Even from this distance, he could see that Harry was shaking, nearly blinded by anger. Any curse he might utter could very well kill Julius.

 

It was Julius who was in danger now, and Harry's sanity instead of his virtue at stake. The barrier fell at last and Severus stepped forward, knowing caution was required. Harry might very well let loose the curse if he startled him.

 

Julius, idiot that he was, apparently didn't realize his danger, and actually stepped toward Harry, a superior smile on his face. "Harry, you don't really think you can—"

 

"You know, Julius," Severus said quietly, keeping his voice low and controlled, a tone he generally reserved for controlling his Slytherins. Harry didn't move, his concentration never wavered. "You're staring down the end of a wand that has defeated Voldemort several times. Do you really think you should be doing anything other than begging for your life right now?"

 

His words had the intended effect. Julius froze, his smile fading as he seemed to realize for the first time just who exactly he had been attempting to hurt. There might be a thousand ridiculous rumors about the Boy Who Lived in the tabloids, but they didn't change the fact that this wizard regularly faced down armies of Death Eaters and won. Severus was relieved to see his brother take his warning seriously and back away, his skin losing what little color it had.

 

What alarmed Severus most, however, was the fact that Harry still had not moved, still had not lowered his wand or looked away from Julius' frightened face, almost as if he were unable to pull himself from his rage.

 

Severus approached him cautiously. "Harry," he said softly, moving to his side. Tentatively he reached toward him, gently closing his hand around Harry's wrist, slipping his other arm carefully around Harry's shoulders. He could feel the power vibrating through his body, making his muscles shake and tremble. "Harry," he said again. "It's okay, it's over. Let it go. You don't want to do this."

 

He pressed softly against his arm, then more firmly, lowering it slowly, until Harry's wand was pointed at the ground.

 

He felt Harry shudder, letting his trapped breath out in a soft moan even as Severus felt the power draining away as well. He closed his eyes, lashes dark against pale skin, as he leaned briefly against Severus' body. "You all right?" Severus asked quietly.

 

Harry nodded, opening his eyes at last and taking a step away. His features were composed again, but he looked far from all right, his eyes haunted.

 

"Give me a second, and I'll show you the way out," Severus told him, then turned swiftly toward his brother. Julius had not moved and was watching the two of them intently. Severus thought of a dozen good hexes, but in the end opted for a far more satisfying revenge. He drew his fist sharply back and punched his brother in the face as hard as he could. The blow sent Julius staggering back, and then to the ground. Severus was fairly certain he'd broken his jaw.

 

He caught a fist full of his brother's doublet, pulling him partially upright. "You ever come near him again," he whispered directly into Julius' ear, "and I'll kill you myself." He saw Julius' eyes widen in terror as Severus drew his wand. One quick flick of the wand and Severus hissed, "Castitas Obligatus Ultio." Then he dropped him unceremoniously onto the ground before returning to Harry's side. Harry had watched the whole exchange somewhat dispassionately. He said nothing as Severus turned him toward the exit and led him by the most direct route out of the maze.

 

The others were waiting on the patio for them. Diana raced toward them in concern when she saw them emerging from the maze. "Is he alright?" she asked, seeing the almost blank look on Harry's face.

 

"Fine," Severus growled, forcing his temper back for his sister's sake. She at least had no part of this, and looked horrified by the whole thing. "Julius seemed to forget who it was he was attacking." He turned to glare at Alrik, Claudius and Marcellus. "It was a mistake that could have very well cost him his life." The three men looked startled by this, looking at once from Harry to the maze.

 

Severus pulled the portkey coin from his pocket. He sent his most withering gaze toward his brothers. "I'll be back tomorrow," he told them, the threat of that implicit in his tone. "And if all the spells are not removed from that maze by then, I will burn it and Briarwood Hall to the ground!" The look of shock and horror on their faces was remarkably satisfying. Pity he was too angry to enjoy it.

 

He turned his attention to Diana once again. "Thank you," he whispered softly. She just nodded her head and gave him a sad smile.

 

With that Severus palmed the coin and grasped Harry's left hand, sandwiching the coin between them. The two of them were swiftly pulled back across the land toward the safety of Hogwarts.

 

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Author's Note: No, we haven't seen the last of Snape's family; one of them at least still has a major part to play in the future plot (not Julius oddly enough).

 

I thought I'd play around with the idea of beauty -- often in fan fiction Severus is suddenly and miraculously beautified which is what ultimately makes Harry fall in love with him. But the reality is that while Alan Rickman is lovely, Severus Snape is not. At the most he is dark and enigmatic -- distinguished even. But pretty, he will never be.

 

Thus enters Julius -- the perfect Snape Adonis. But when comparing his inner character to the real Severus Snape, there is no comparison. And it was important that Harry see that. He's become aware for the first time that men can be beautiful -- Harry's a bit behind his classmates on this subject. Severus was right about that -- sex hasn't even been a blip on his radar up to this point because of all the other things distracting him. Now at least he's become aware of an attraction to men on a purely physical level. And having seen it, he can now look at Snape in a new light. Sorry, the sex is still a long way off.

 

As for Snape -- the River Denial is rising if he really thinks he can stand aside and do nothing while Harry falls in love with someone else. It sound all virtuous and noble (and I think he really WANTS to mean it), but please! We all know Snape better than that, don't we?

 

Alas for Julius -- why does everyone forget that Harry is more than capable of defending himself?

 

But, my goodness! I do have some blood-thirsty readers! I enjoyed all your suggestions about what should happen to Julius -- I think the reviewer that suggested he prick his butt on a rose thorn and fall asleep for a hundred years was the most hilarious! Maybe I'll write a side story ... perhaps young Malfoy can wake him (wouldn't they be pretty together!).

 

As it is I had to curtail my own blood-thirsty nature (for those of you who still want some violence, there will plenty in future chapters to satisfy you). Rest assured Julius has been suitably dealt with -- I don't speak Latin (so forgive the grammar), but the best translation I can give you for the spell Severus cast on Julius was a 'chastity belt'. Needless to say Julius won't get the opportunity to do this again to anyone.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 19 Bonds

 

Harry felt the familiar sensation of pulling and falling as the port key transported him back to Severus' rooms in the dungeon. He was only vaguely aware of being moved to the couch and pushed down onto the cushions. Bemused, he watched as the flames in the fireplace leaped into life, holding his attention completely. A few moments later he felt something cold being pushed into his hands.

 

"Drink that," Severus ordered. Harry raised his hands without thinking and drank down the contents in the glass Severus had give him. It reminded him faintly of the brandy he'd tasted earlier, but this had an almost soothing quality to it. He felt his body calming immediately, felt his mind coming back from the almost numb place he had sent it.

 

He shuddered, closing his eyes, feeling himself finally let go of what ever demon had gripped him earlier. "You're okay," Severus told him gently. "You're just in shock."

 

"I've been attacked before," he reminded the man. He knew shock -- he'd been in shock just last weekend when his body had been turned into a pin-cushion by Death Eaters. The difference this time was that he wasn't hurt. He couldn't quite figure out why he was reacting this way.

 

"Not sexually," Severus said simply.

 

Harry's eyes flew open as he sought out Severus' face. That was it of course. That was the difference. Julius' attack had not been like any of the others, and yet his callous disregard for Harry's feelings or freewill had been no different than the Death Eaters'. Feeling Julius' hands on his body had certainly not hurt the way the Cruciatus did, but the feeling of helpless rage had been the same. What was perhaps even more horrible was the power of his own anger -- he had wanted to kill him. Could so easily have killed him if Severus hadn't stopped him. He'd felt unable at the time to stop himself.

 

"Thank you," he whispered. "For stopping me."

 

Severus just nodded in understanding, some unreadable emotion flickering through his dark eyes. He was crouched in front of Harry where he sat on the couch, one hand resting lightly on Harry's knee as if to comfort him. He frowned suddenly, his gaze on Harry's forehead.

 

"Here, let me see if I can fix that," he said softly, lifting his hand to gently push Harry's bangs back from his face. Surprisingly, Harry felt no desire to flinch from his touch. He was aware of the fact that his head was pounding fiercely, and the Potions Master's fingers felt cool and soothing on his skin as they gently brushed against the bruise he'd given himself when he'd slammed his head into Julius'. He closed his eyes again, savoring the unexpected comfort.

 

Severus drew his wand, quietly uttering a simple healing charm. Harry felt the pain diminish as the bruise faded. The cool fingers lingered briefly, and then were gone. Harry opened his eyes, watching as Severus moved to a nearby chair.

 

"I'm sorry about tonight," the man told him regretfully, and looked genuinely distressed.

 

"It wasn't your fault," Harry assured him.

 

"He's my brother," Severus said with an angry shake of his head.

 

"Am I to blame for the Dursleys' behavior?"

 

Severus looked quickly up. "Of course not!"

 

"Then how can you be blamed for Julius' behavior?" Harry asked him. "You don't even really know him."

 

"I should never have brought you there," Severus replied. "You should never have been put in a situation like that."

 

"You wanted to see your sister," Harry reminded him. "I don't blame you. She's worth knowing. I liked her."

 

Severus smiled bitterly. "It's a pity about the rest of them." He looked up, catching Harry's gaze with his own. Harry had seen a lot of different emotions on Severus' face over the years, mostly negative ones like anger and irritation. He never thought he would one day see gratitude; it was strangely humbling.

 

"Thank you for what you said tonight," the man said quietly, and Harry knew he was referring to his defense of him at dinner.

 

Harry blushed uncomfortably, emotions gripping him that he couldn't quite define. "Look, I know you and I have never gotten along very well," Harry began. "Or at all," he corrected himself. "Mostly because. . .well, you've never been very nice . . ." Severus snorted in amusement at that and Harry found himself smiling. "But, regardless, I am aware of everything you've done for me. I know you've saved my life repeatedly. And I know the risks you've taken spying on Voldemort. And I've always respected you for that. . .even if I never said it."

 

Harry flushed again, feeling strangely vulnerable under Severus' intense stare. "And I know you could have said no when this whole marriage thing happened," he continued. "And despite everything, you've been real decent to me, and I didn't expect that."

 

"Because of who I am?" Severus asked, sounding more curious than anything else.

 

"Yes," Harry admitted, and endured Severus smirk of acknowledgement at the half-hearted slight. "But also because, I guess a part of me doesn't really expect anyone to be decent to me." He knew he was admitting far more than he intended to with that statement, and he found it odd that out of all the people in his life, Severus Snape seemed to be the one he opened up to the most.

 

"I know the feeling," Severus said, almost so softly Harry barely heard him. And that was the last thing he'd expect, that Severus would so willingly admit such a thing to him, willingly show him a vulnerability.

 

The tension was nearly too much for him; for both of them he suspected. He stood quickly, moving toward the fire. "Oh, God, don't tell me were having a bonding moment here," Harry joked weakly. "Call the newspaper. Harry Potter and Severus Snape have something in common."

 

"Merlin forbid!" Severus agreed with a nervous laugh. They fell silent for a long moment, Harry staring into the dancing fire. He could feel Severus' potion inside him, calming his nerves, which he suspected would be completely fried otherwise.

 

"Are you sure you're all right?" Severus asked after a while, and Harry knew what he was referring to.

 

"Yes," he assured him. "I'm fine." He smiled wryly at the man. "Though I must admit, I suddenly understand why the witch gave Snow White that poisoned apple."

 

Severus laughed openly at that, leaning back in his chair. "Gods, isn't that the most ridiculous story you've ever heard?"

 

"Pretty ridiculous," Harry agreed with a nod. He studied Severus' face. He would never be a match for Julius' beauty, but there was nothing wrong with his features. And Harry really did like what ever it was he'd done to his hair. It had long ago come free of the ribbon he'd tied it back with and hung freely about his face, soft and wild looking. And when the man laughed, he seemed almost like a different person. "Would you really burn down the maze?" he asked.

 

Severus' eyes hardened. "Yes," he stated emphatically. "I can't help wondering who else Julius has done that to. He seems to think his looks excuse his behavior. And my other brothers are just as culpable. They knew what Julius was doing. I won't let that go unpunished either."

 

Harry couldn't help thinking about the things Julius had accused Severus of doing. Minister Fudge had believed the same thing of the Potion Master. Even Sirius had expressed concern that Severus might try to force Harry into something he didn't want. He wondered if anyone truly knew the man at all. Albus Dumbledore maybe -- he had trusted Severus implicitly right from the start.

 

"Well, as long as I don't have to see him again," Harry said with a shudder.

 

Severus looked up quickly. "You won't. I promise."

 

Harry nodded in acceptance, feeling the events catching up to him. He fought back a yawn, and was thankful he didn't have anywhere important to be the following morning. "On that note, I think I'll go to bed. Good night, Severus." He caught himself as he headed toward the bedroom, realizing what he'd just said, how naturally the name had come to him when earlier it had sounded so foreign on his tongue. He glanced back at Severus, noticing he was watching him intently. "Do you mind?" he asked softly. "Me calling you that, I mean?"

 

"I don't mind," he assured him, a faint smile on his lips. "Good night, Harry."

 

Harry smiled and shut the bedroom door behind him.

 

-------------------------

 

The absence of soft breathing beside him woke Severus from a sound slumber that night. Turning quickly in bed he confirmed that Harry's side was empty. A quick glance at the Wizarding clock on his night stand showed that the hand pointed to 'middle of the night' still several hours from 'time to get up'.

 

Alarmed, Severus climbed out of bed, swiftly glancing around the room for the missing boy. "Harry?" he called softly, looking through the open bathroom door. The room was also empty.

 

Moving swiftly through the bedroom door, Severus looked first in the common room, then moved on to the office. Next he pushed open the door to the library and found Harry kneeling on the floor in the middle of the room.

 

"Harry?" he asked, approaching him cautiously. Harry, still dressed in his pajamas, had his arms wrapped tightly around himself. He was rocking back and forth, tears streaming down his face, a look of horror in his eyes. Most alarming, the lightning shaped scar on his forehead was inflamed and red, standing out against his pale skin.

 

"Harry?" Severus asked softly, reaching out to touch one of his hands. The boy's skin was ice cold. "Harry, what's wrong? What happened?" He suspected that in all the excitement of the evening, he had forgotten to take his dreamless sleep potion. But that did not explain the swollen scar.

 

When Harry did not respond immediately, Severus touched his face, turning him toward him so that he could see the boy's eyes. "Harry, answer me," he all but pleaded, trying not to sound too harsh but growing more alarmed by the moment. "What's wrong?"

 

"Something's changed," Harry whispered his voice strangely hoarse. "Something's different."

 

Not a nightmare then, Severus guessed. Albus had told him that from time to time Harry had visions rather than simple dreams. Something about his scar connected him to the Dark Lord, enabling him to see glimpses into that evil mind. "What's different?" he asked. He himself could feel nothing coming from the mark on his arm. Albus' wards protected him from the Dark Lord's anger, but he still should have felt something. A twinge or a flash of pain -- something.

 

"Severus," Harry whispered, and there was something terrible in his voice, as if he had discovered some dreadful secret he was afraid to utter. "He's happy, Severus. He's pleased."

 

Severus frowned. There was no doubt in his mind which 'he' Harry was referring to -- but Albus had insisted that it was only the Dark Lord's anger and rage that effected Harry. Why would he be so upset by the fact that the Dark Lord was pleased -- though that in itself seemed very unlikely. Lord Voldemort had suffered a terrible set back when this boy had stolen the Eye of Odin from him months earlier -- since then they'd heard little from him. And certainly he would not be pleased by the fact that just over a week ago he'd lost several of his Death Eaters when they'd tried once again to kill Harry Potter. How could he possible be happy about anything?

 

But what ever it was the boy imagined he'd seen, or dreamed, his fear was real. Severus could see him trembling, his whole body shaking as he held himself together through sheer will alone. He found himself desperately wanting to pull the boy into his arms, comfort him with his nearness. But somehow he doubted his touch would have the effect he was hoping for, especially not in light of his brother's behavior earlier that night.

 

But he couldn't just sit here and do nothing either, couldn't just sit here and watch as the boy fell apart in front of his eyes. Harry had his eyes squeezed shut again and was rocking once more, as if trying to comfort himself. He wondered if anyone had ever taken him into their arms after one of his nightmares -- certainly he'd never received the comfort a child needed from the Dursley. He had a sudden vision of the boy as a small child, locked in a dark cupboard while crying for someone, anyone, to comfort him.

 

But if he could not offer the comfort the boy needed, he knew someone who could.

 

He rose swiftly and moved back toward his common room. Throwing floo powder into his fire, he stated, "Remus Lupin's room," and then stuck his head through the flames. Instantly he found himself looking into a well-appointed Hogwarts guest room from the point of view of the fireplace. There was a couch only a few feet from him and lying on the couch sound asleep was a large black dog.

 

"Black!" Severus hissed. "Wake up!" The sound woke the dog instantly, as well as causing a gasp of alarm from one of the side rooms. Remus Lupin emerged almost immediately through one of the doors, suggesting to Severus that he had not been asleep despite the pajamas he was clad in. The dog, seeing Severus' head in the fire, instantly transformed into the familiar form of Sirius Black.

 

"What is it? What's wrong, Severus?" Remus asked in alarm.

 

"Come through to my room, " Severus ordered. "The boy needs you."

 

He pulled back immediately and stood out of the way of the fire. A moment later the flames flashed bright green and Sirius Black stepped through them, followed immediately by Remus Lupin. Severus pointed toward the library door. "In there," he ordered.

 

Hostilities aside, Sirius rushed immediately toward the library, followed more sedately by Severus and Remus. When Severus reached the library door he saw Black already sitting on the floor beside Harry, holding the shaking boy in his arms. Harry was clinging to him, face buried against his neck as Black gently rubbed his back and stroked his hair, whispering softly to him. A strange mixture of both relief and jealousy flared through Severus's heart. He knew of course that Black could offer Harry the comfort he needed, but he wished it could be him. No doubt the boy had turned to him the moment Black had said his name, no doubt he'd thrown himself into Sirius' arms. That would never happen to him.

 

"What happened?" Remus asked quietly, drawing Severus aside with a gentle touch to his arm. Severus allowed himself to be pulled away, unaware of the look of longing in his eyes as he glanced back over his shoulder at the two men in his library. "Severus?" Lupin's voice was gentle, the look in his eyes strangely sympathetic and Severus found himself flushing uncomfortably.

 

"Dream," he explained. "Or a vision. Something about the Dark Lord. I found him like that a few moments ago."

 

"Let Sirius talk to him for a bit," Remus said. "He'll calm him down -- he's good at that."

 

Severus frowned, realizing then that there had been a full moon the night before. No doubt Sirius had done his best to comfort Lupin after his transformation -- though he had noticed the mutt was still sleeping on the couch. A quick glace at Lupin showed dark shadows beneath his eyes, exhaustion in his face. With a sigh, Severus sank down on his couch, suspecting that this was going to be a long night.

 

It was nearly a quarter of an hour later before Black emerged from the library, Harry stumbling along beside him nearly asleep on his feet. Black still had his arms around the boy, seeming to be holding him up as he walked across the room toward the bedroom. Severus and Lupin both jumped to their feet and followed Sirius as he led Harry back to bed. While Black helped the boy back to bed, Severus moved toward his nightstand and found the bottle of dreamless sleep draught he'd made for Harry. Black said nothing as Severus urged Harry to drink a small dose. A few moments later Harry was fast asleep and the three men moved back out into the living room so that they would not disturb him further.

 

"Is he alright?" Remus asked Sirius anxiously.

 

Black ran his hands through his hair, looking somewhat ragged and on edge. "I don't know -- I've never seen him like that. He's had nightmares before, but this was different. What the hell happened?" He glared at Snape as if it were all his fault.

 

Snape just shook his head. "I'm aware of his nightmares -- but this wasn't like that. He didn't make a sound -- I woke up and he was gone. I found him in the library just like you saw him. He said something had happened -- something had changed. That the Dark Lord was happy or pleased about something."

 

Sirius nodded his head. "He said something like that to me too -- but why would that frighten him so much?"

 

"Why wouldn't it?" Remus replied and both Severus and Sirius stared at him in surprise. "Think about it," Remus urged. "What would possible make the Dark Lord happy? He becomes enraged and angry when things don't go his way or when his plans are thwarted. For him to be happy something terrible must have happened -- something good for him and bad for us."

 

It made sense, much to Severus dismay. "I didn't think Harry's visions worked that way," he said, and if the other two men found his use of Harry's first name odd they said nothing. "I though he only had visions when the Dark Lord was so enraged he let something slip. Why would positive emotions leak across the bond between them?"

 

"Maybe he wants Harry to know this time," Remus guessed. "Maybe what ever happened is something he wants us to find out about. Or something he expects us to find out about -- or worry about."

 

"Then you're suggesting he's taunting Harry," Sirius asked, his voice dropping into a low growl at the thought.

 

"It wouldn't be the first time he's taunted us," Remus replied. "Albus should be informed in any event."

 

"I'll take Harry up to see him in the morning," Severus agreed. "After he's gotten some sleep -- he's had a long night."

 

Black frowned at that. "Did something happen at your dinner?"

 

Severus shifted uncomfortably. He had intended to let Harry tell Black about the incident with his brother, but it occurred to him then that Harry probably wouldn't say anything. Harry was remarkably good at keeping such things to himself even though he ought to talk about them with someone he trusts.

 

"My youngest brother, Julius, attempted to assault Harry earlier," Severus confessed.

 

"What?" Black hissed, eyes widening in anger. "Assault?"

 

"Sexually," Severus confirmed. "Harry pulled his wand before it could go very far, but it shook him up."

 

He could see rage burning in both Lupin's and Black's eyes. "God damn it, Snape!" Sirius growled, his fists clenching. "I'll kill the bastard!"

 

"I took care of it, Black!" Severus informed him. "Harry's fine -- and Julius has been dealt with. I intended to return tomorrow and see that he's not given another opportunity. Julius will spend the rest of his life on a very tight leash."

 

"There shouldn't have been a first opportunity," Black insisted. "How could you let this happen? You swore to protect him!"

 

"I did protect him," Severus insisted, though he found it hard to defend himself when he already felt guilty for what happened. "It won't happen again."

 

"You're damn right it won't," Sirius glared. "He's not leaving this castle again unless someone besides you is with him."

 

Black word filled Severus with rage and he found himself standing face to face with his nemesis, glaring daggers at the man. "Are you suggesting I can't protect my own bond-mate!"

 

"He's not yours!" Sirius hissed.

 

"He is mine!" Severus snarled back just as furiously, a wave of possessive jealousy flaring through him. A second later both men were pushed away from one another by an angry werewolf. The hard shove that came from Remus Lupin's hands sent both Sirius and Severus sprawling to the floor as they were reminded first hand just how strong a werewolf even in human form could be.

 

"That's enough," Remus glared at them, his amber eyes burning almost ferally in the firelight. "You'll wake Harry if you don't shut up." Both men calmed almost immediately at that threat.

 

"Moony," Sirius all but whined. "He's. . ."

 

"Stop it right now, Padfoot," Remus snapped. "He said Harry was fine and I believe him. Insults are not going to help anyone right now. I for one am grateful that he had the compassion to call you to be here for Harry tonight despite your lack of manners. Perhaps next time he will not be so quick to summon you."

 

His words had the desired affect as Sirius immediately stopped what ever it was he was going to say. Both men cautiously got to their feet, Severus giving the werewolf a wary glance. Remus Lupin always seemed so mild mannered; he'd forgotten that even in human form the man possessed a monster's strength.

 

"Thank you for calling us," Remus said to Severus. "We'll return in the morning to speak with Harry if that's all right with you?"

 

Severus nodded his head, choosing to remain silent in face of this oddly intimidating werewolf. Remus nodded in satisfaction, then caught Sirius's arm and moved him toward the fireplace and the floo powder. When Sirius looked like he was about to protest, Remus just glared, silencing him again. A few moments later they were both gone and the fire died down once more.

 

Worn out, Severus returned to his bedroom. He climbed carefully into bed beside the sleeping young man, moving slowly so as not to disturb him. Assured that Harry was sound asleep, he reached out and gently stroked his hair back from his face, running his fingers lightly over the still inflamed scar. The boy sighed softly, but did not wake. "I'm sorry, Harry," he whispered softly, regretfully. Then against his better judgment he bent down and pressed a kiss onto his pale forehead. He found the warm rich scent rising off the boy's skin both soothing and intoxicating all at once.

 

God, he thought to himself, how easy it would be to forget himself around this beautiful young man. How easy it would be to be the monster everyone, including his own brother, had accused him of being and claim what was his by right of marriage. He suspected that under the right circumstances, he might even be able to make the boy accept it -- accept his touch. God knows he knew how to manipulate people, and the boy, hungry as he was for affection, would be little match for him. Legilimency alone would give him just enough of a glimpse in the young man's mind that he could figure out exactly which buttons to push without too much difficulty.

 

But it wouldn't be right. He's sworn to protect him -- even from himself if it came to that. And for some reason, he'd come to the conclusion that though the boy did not like him all that much, he did appear at least to trust him. And nothing in the world would make Severus violate that trust. Not even his own desires.

 

-----------------------

Author's Notes: As some of you know from reading my notes and bio I have a large portion of this story written, and what you have been getting these last few weeks are the edited and cleaned up chapters. I'm also continuing writing the new stuff while editing this old stuff -- though I should warn you there will come a time when I catch up with myself and then my posts won't be as frequent. But I thought I'd share some of the odd transformations this story has under gone with those of you who are interested.

 

When I first started this story after reading book 4 it was literally nothing more than my attempt at the cliche -- Harry is forced to marry Snape. Chapter 1 required a backstory of what might have happened in Harry's 5th year, and the Eye of Odin was introduced -- but I didn't think much on that. Obviously the Marriage Stone immediately made an appearance and at that point I was thinking, huh, that could be cool to play around with. But still we were dealing with nothing more than a bonding story -- all I really knew at that point was that I didn't want the two of them to just jump into bed with each other. I wanted to deal with the long process of them getting to know each other.

 

The scene of their very first night when Harry saw Snape's scars and tattoo gave birth to the Wizarding Culture as it exists in this story -- and instantly the story changed. Now it was a bonding story with a developed world.

 

Then Harry was attacked in Hogsmeade and I introduced the King's Voice -- at that point the story took a dramatic turn in a totally different direction. I suddenly saw a plot that I hadn't expected and I really started to get into the story (that plot really hasn't played out yet, but we'll get there eventually).

 

Snape's family was pretty much a side story that I thought would be amusing -- up until the point I wrote this chapter here. Oddly enough, that scene with Harry kneeling in the library, terrified about a vision where Voldemort is happy, marks the point where the entire story suddenly laid itself out for me with startling clarity. It seems like such a little thing -- and really this chapter was supposed to be about the conversation between Harry and Snape and their bonding moment. But when I wrote the library scene, that's when I saw where this story was going -- and it ceased being a cliche. The best part about it -- when I looked back at everything I had written prior to this point -- all the pieces were already laying there in the previous chapters just waiting for me to pick them up.

 

I doubt you'll notice just yet where this is all going, but it certainly has been a blast to write. And your reviews, comments and emails have only encouraged me all the more to continue on with the story regardless of how crazy it might become.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 20 - Sinistra

 

Harry found himself sitting with Sirius and Remus late the following morning. After he had awakened, Severus had taken him up to see the Headmaster where he'd relayed as much of his dream to both men as he could remember. Truthfully he wasn't sure what exactly his dream had been about -- only that he knew that something had changed. The Dark Lord had discovered something -- a spell, a weapon or a ritual -- something which had filled him with such horrible delight that the sheer power of the emotion had woken Harry from sleep. What ever it was, he knew it was something terrible -- knew it was something utterly unexpected.

 

To him it felt as if Voldemort had been handed the world and knew suddenly, utterly, completely, that nothing was going to be able to stop him. Harry had never felt so alone in his life -- as if he were completely isolated or cut off from everyone -- as if he were suddenly the last man left on earth and had no one to turn to. But when he'd tried to convey the dream to the Headmaster and Professor Snape, it had sounded oddly hollow and somewhat silly in the light of morning.

 

Later, Severus had walked him down to Remus Lupin's room and bid him good-bye -- explaining that he intended to return to Briarwood Hall to make certain the spells had been removed from the Rose Maze.

 

After he relayed his dream a second time to his worried godfather, Remus and Sirius had both questioned him intently about his evening with the Snapes. Judging by their questions, he suspected that they both knew about his run-in with Julius. He told them what happened as calmly as possible and then described in great detail the single punch from Severus that had broken Julius' jaw and sent him sprawling to the ground. Though he hadn't recognized the spell Severus had cast on his brother, he remembered the words and repeated them back to the two men. For some reason this sent Sirius into gales of laughter.

 

Bewildered, Harry turned to Remus for an answer. The werewolf just smirked at him. "It's the equivalent of a magical chastity belt, Harry," he explained. "The spell not only prevents any sort of physical arousal in the victim but also causes intense pain and cramps if he so much as thinks about anything of a carnal nature."

 

The spell, surprisingly, seemed to put both of the men somewhat at ease, and Harry suspected that he was right to guess that Sirius wanted to know that Snape had in fact defended his honor. Feeling the need to defend Snape further, he recounted the conflict between Snape and Draco Malfoy that happened the day after they were married -- that story was still a favorite in Gryffindor Tower.

 

He ended up spending the day with the two men, returning finally to join his friends in the Great Hall for dinner. There he was forced once again to recount his evening with the Snapes to his fellow Gryffindors. He spent most of the discussion describing Snape's sister, glossing over the other brothers and saying nothing about what had happened with Julius. All of the Gryffindors seemed delighted with the story about Harry's poor table manners, unable to get over the fact that Snape had in fact encouraged such behavior. Time and time again they found themselves throwing somewhat disbelieving looks toward the head table and the glaring Potions Master sitting there.

 

"Is it just me, or does Snape look different?" Dean Thomas finally asked after about the seventh time he'd turned to look over his shoulder at the professor. The others all turned to look again as well.

 

"Now that you mention it, he does look different," Seamus agreed.

 

Ron was frowning thoughtfully. "Is his nose smaller or something?"

 

His words brought snickers of laughter from everyone but Harry who found himself wanting to defend the man again. A quick glance at the professor assured him that he had not noticed the exchange -- he also noticed that just like last night Severus's hair was soft and flowing, no longer weighted down with the hair tonic he normally slicked it back with. He felt something warm glowing inside him at the thought that Snape might have altered his hairstyle simply because Harry had said he liked it.

 

"I think he looks rather nice," Hermione admitted suddenly. The boys at the table turned to look at her in shock, Ron particularly.

 

"I do too," Ginny agreed, earning equal looks of surprise. "There's something different about him. He looks good."

 

Despite everything, Harry found himself grinning at her words. Ron glared at him. "What are you smiling about Harry?"

 

"Nothing, Ron," Harry just laughed, wondering what they would do if he described Julius Snape to them in detail. "Nothing at all."

 

Quidditch began the following Monday after Harry's dinner with the Snapes. Three nights a week he was busy with his team, though he was not able to fully shake off the lingering effects of the dream. Worried about what might be coming, he talked Ron and Hermione into beginning their private study sessions again in Defense Against the Dark Arts. Most evenings they hung out in a corner of the library since both Remus and Sirius had been sent out on missions for Dumbledore. When they needed to practice the new spells they were learning, they snuck into the Room of Requirement.

 

Typically when Harry returned to his room, Severus was still awake, working on his lesson plans or grading papers in the common room. He never said anything, no matter how late Harry returned, though it was obviously he was biting his tongue not to take points for the lateness. When he did ask questions it was usually just to confirm if he had been with Hermione and Ron. He'd been somewhat hesitant to answer at first, thinking that while Severus was not going to take points from his bond-mate, he would make up for it by punishing Ron and Hermione. But he took a chance and told him the truth anyway, surprised to see a look of relief on the man's face that he couldn't quite explain. No further action was taken.

 

Oddly enough, Severus wasn't the only teacher acting somewhat out of character. Harry noticed that Professor Sonara Sinistra had taken a sudden interest in him, despite the fact that he did not take any classes from her. Hermione had her for Astronomy, but Harry really only knew her by name. Oddly enough she began stopping him in the halls to greet him, asking him how his classes were going, telling him that she was looking forward to seeing his first Quidditch match. Despite the fact that she was a Slytherin, she claimed to be a fan of his flying. All in all Harry found the behavior somewhat bewildering -- particularly when she stopped him one day in October and asked him if he'd be willing to help her unpack some new supplies over the weekend. Uncertain if he was being given a detention, or simply being asked for a favor, Harry hesitated to answer.

 

She smiled at him, and Harry was stuck by the sheer beauty of the woman. It wasn't often he'd been subjected to such an intense gaze from a woman so beautiful. "It will only take about an hour," she assured him. "Perhaps you can come by Saturday evening after your Quidditch practice."

 

"I guess, ma'am," he agreed awkwardly, a bit surprised when her eyes lit up.

 

"Great! I'll see you then," she replied, then hurried off down the hall, leaving Harry watching her somewhat bemusedly. He told Ron and Hermione about the odd encounter later that evening during their latest study session.

 

Hermione was instantly suspicious since she knew Harry did not have any classes with the woman. Ron on the other hand began snickering quietly in amusement, much to the bewilderment of his two friends.

 

"I'm just saying it's a bit weird that she would ask you for help," Hermione was saying. "Why not ask one of her own students, or someone from Slytherin house for help if she needs it?" She glared at Ron who was still snickering.

 

"That's what I thought," Harry agreed. "She's been talking to me a lot lately -- stopping me in the halls to say hello. I've never had a class with her." If anything his words just made Ron laugh all the louder, earning more glares from his two friends.

 

"You don't suppose this has anything to do with You-Know-Who?" Hermione asked.

 

Harry shook his head. "She's been teaching here for several years and no one has ever even hinted that she or her family supports Voldemort."

 

Despite the use of the Dark Lord's name, Ron just began laughing harder until finally both Harry and Hermione couldn't take it any more and they both hit him, all be not hard.

 

"What is wrong with you?" Hermione demanded. "If you know what is going on with Professor Sinistra, then just tell us. Quite laughing like a fool."

 

"It's just too funny!" Ron grinned. "Me knowing something that the two of you can't figure out for once."

 

"No big deal there as far as I'm concerned," Harry grumbled.

 

"You don't have any classes with her either," Hermione reminded him. "How could you know what she's up to when I don't?"

 

"Because Professor Sinistra is one of Hogwart's best kept secrets -- or not so secret if you're a guy with five older brothers."

 

"What are you talking about?" Harry asked in confusion wondering if this had something to do with Ron's family.

 

Ron just grinned. "She likes younger men, Harry. The younger the better."

 

"Likes?" Harry asked.

 

"Yeah," Ron grinned, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively. "Likes . . . a lot. . . If you know what I mean."

 

Harry felt his face turning bright red as he caught on quickly to Ron's meaning.

 

Hermione on the other hand looked outraged. "That's just ridiculous, Ron. Harry's a student. Surely you're not saying she's suggesting something . . . illicit?"

 

"Illicit," Ron smirked. "I like that word. Yeah, that's exactly what I'm suggesting. It's a well know fact that she waits until graduation and then hooks up with one of the young men from the graduating class -- according to the twins, she does it every year." He leaned over to Harry and nudged him with his elbow. "According to what I hear if she shows an interest in you, it's like a sure thing, mate."

 

Both Harry and Hermione figured out immediately what Ron meant by 'it'. Hermione glared while Harry just blushed harder. "Ron!" Hermione exclaimed.

 

"I'm just telling you what I heard," Ron defended himself when he realized that Hermione was more than just shocked -- she looked down right mad.

 

"You heard this from one of the twins?" Harry asked.

 

Ron smirked again. "Not that they know first hand mind you," he explained. "She choose someone from Ravenclaw last year apparently. But we've all suspected that Bill knows more than he's letting on."

 

"You are making her sound like some sort of slut," Hermione grumbled.

 

Oddly enough Ron pinked up at that -- staring at Hermione in surprise. "Hermione!" he sputtered in shock. "I can't believe you used that word!"

 

Both Harry and Hermione glanced at each other in confusion, wondering which word Ron was objecting to. "Huh?"

 

""Slut?" Hermione asked, blinking her eyes in confusion.

 

Again, Ron flushed. "Hermione! Call her a 'scarlet woman', but don't use such a crude term."

 

Hermione frowned. "You're joking about a woman seducing younger men into her bed the moment they graduate from school, and you're offended by the word I used to describe her? That makes no sense."

 

"Well I didn't say I condoned the behavior!" Ron exclaimed, though he nudged Harry again with his elbow. "Though you're going to be the talk of Gryffindor tower when I tell the guys, Harry."

 

"Ron!" Harry and Hermione exclaimed in horror. "Besides, I'm only a sixth year -- I'm not graduating yet. Not to mention the little fact that you've forgotten -- I'm married. Even if she is the way you say, it doesn't explain her sudden interest in me."

 

"Oh, yeah," Ron frowned. "I'd forgotten about that."

 

"Exactly," Hermione huffed. "Obviously something else is going on besides your puerile fantasy about Professor Sinistra. I find it hard to believe that a woman as intelligent as Professor Sinistra would engage in such unseemly behavior. It has to be something else."

 

"Maybe," Ron shrugged. "But even still -- I still think she's interested in Harry."

 

"Well, regardless, I think you should tell Professor Snape," Hermione decided. "Maybe it is something completely harmless, but it sounds odd either way. If it's harmless then telling Snape won't affect anything. If it's what Ron thinks it is, then you have a duty to tell Snape. And if it's something related to You-Know-Who, then Snape needs to know to protect you."

 

"It's probably nothing," Harry replied, suddenly wishing he had never brought the subject up in the first place.

 

"Tell him anyway," Hermione insisted.

 

Harry frowned, but agreed at last that Hermione was probably right.

 

Later that evening when he returned to his room, he watched Severus somewhat awkwardly for a few moments before he finally broached the subject. Severus was grading papers once again in front of the fire, though he looked up when Harry called his name.

 

"Um, Professor Sinistra asked me to help her with something on Saturday," he muttered, find his face flushing despite everything.

 

Snape grew suddenly tense, an odd expression crossing his face that Harry couldn't quite interpret. "Did she now?" he asked, his voice mild enough but somehow strained.

 

"Yes, sir," he nodded. "She's been . . . talking to me a lot lately and this afternoon she asked me to help her unpack something for her."

 

"Unpack," Severus repeated. He stared intently at Harry for a long moment as if trying to read his mind. Knowing that the man was a skilled Legilimancer, Harry looked away, shifting uncomfortably in his seat. "You do understand what it is she's asking, don't you?" Severus finally stated, his voice oddly flat.

 

Harry's looked up in shock, hearing more in that statement than he expecting to hear. "You mean Ron was right about her?" he exclaimed, his voice breaking with an embarrassing squeak.

 

Severus frowned. "You didn't know?" he confirmed.

 

Harry flushed again. "Ron said something about her, but I didn't think. . ."

 

There was a cold, tight look to Severus' face that had not been there in a long time. "She's asking you down to her room on Saturday to have sex with her."

 

There was something oddly final about the way he said that, as if his words made it an irrefutable fact. Behind the wave of embarrassment that washed over Harry, he also felt sick to his stomach.

 

"But I'm a student," he protested. "And I'm . . ." He felt himself unable to finish the statement, not with Snape staring at him like that, those dark eyes of his glittering dangerously.

 

"You're what?" Severus demanded.

 

"Married," Harry finished weakly.

 

Severus said nothing for a long moment, staring at him intently. Finally he shifted in his seat and sighed, breaking the intense stare he'd subjected Harry to. "Harry," he began, and finally some of the coldness was gone from his tone. "It is precisely because you are married that she has approached you. I take it from some of the things you said when we were first married that a marriage such as ours would not have been acceptable in the Muggle world?"

 

Harry shook his head. "No, sir," he agreed quickly. "Its very unusual for Muggles to get married before the age of eighteen to begin with -- and usually much later than that. And a teacher would be arrested if it were discovered he or she was involved with a student." He didn't bother explaining that same sex marriages were also not allowed -- since the Wizarding World had trouble enough with so many different species, he supposed gender was an odd thing to quibble over.

 

"I see," Snape sighed. "A teacher is not allow to get involved with a student in our world either, Harry. "

 

"What?" Harry demanded. "But nobody said anything when we . . ."

 

"That's because we were not 'involved'," Snape clarified. "We were betrothed by the Marriage Stone and married by a highly respected elder. There was nothing scandalous about our union."

 

If Harry lived to be as old as Dumbledore he doubted he'd understand the different customs that ruled the Wizarding World. They never ceased to surprise him.

 

"Then why is Professor Sinistra suggesting that I . . . you know . . .I'm still a student."

 

"You're a married student, Harry," Severus explained. "Consequently you are considered a full adult in our world. You no longer have the same restrictions on you that other students do."

 

"But I'm married!" Harry protested, wondering why Severus was failing to see what he was trying to point out -- if anything that made him even more off limits.

 

"Yes," Severus agreed. "You're married -- in an arranged bond marriage. One, she's guessed you have no emotional commitment to. It is not unusual for two people in an arranged marriage to keep lovers on the side provided they are discreet about it in public. In Sinistra's case, you are an ideal match for her since she knows you won't allow yourself to become too emotionally attached knowing that nothing can ever come of your union."

 

Harry's eyes widened in shock. "But that's . . . . that's. . .that's. . " he found himself sputtering in disbelief.

 

Severus' eyes narrowed. "That's what, Harry?"

 

"Disgusting!" Harry shrieked leaping to his feet, his entire body vibrating with an unnamed energy.

 

Something hard glittered in Snape's eyes. "Disgusting," he repeated.

 

Harry was suddenly furious. "It's not right!" he clarified, wanting to throttle the man. "It's wrong! It's . . . this whole thing is just wrong!"

 

"Am I to take it by this display that you're not interested in Professor Sinistra's proposal?"

 

"Of course I'm not interested!" Harry cried, growing angrier by the second, though if someone had asked him at that moment precisely what he was angry about he would not have been able to tell them. As it was he was only vaguely aware of the fact that his anger was beginning to cause the furniture in the room to shake with an unseen force.

 

"Calm down, Harry!" Severus ordered.

 

"No!" Harry yelled at him feeling a great deal of the rage directing itself at this man he'd been forced to marry. "I won't calm down! I won't!" And with that he ran across the room and toward the library, slamming the door behind him in a desperate attempt to be alone. As had happened before, his rage knocked book after book off the shelves. They thumped to the ground with a loud and somewhat satisfying bang. Wisely, Severus did not try to follow him.

 

It took a lot longer for him to calm down this time and when he did he found himself sitting in the middle of the library floor once again feeling drained as he tried to figure out what that sudden burst of violent emotion was all about. He knew in part he was angry at Sinistra -- much the same way he he'd been angry at Julius Snape. While she had made no move to force him into anything, she had assumed a familiarity and an intimacy with him that was unwarranted and unwelcome. In her case she'd apparently gone after him first because he was married, and second because he was young. That was just as bad as chasing him because he was the stupid Boy Who Lived. Actually in some ways it was worse since it implied a certain degree of perversion that the Muggle side of him didn't care to think about.

 

He also found himself surprisingly angry with Severus. He had never wanted to marry the man in the first place -- he'd been forced into this situation. And though his Aunt and Uncle had never attempted to instill any sort of religious beliefs in him, he still had certain core beliefs that had warred violently with the conversation they had just had. The fact that their marriage was allowed to happen in the first place was a bit of a shocker -- but okay, he could get his mind around the fact that the Wizarding World allowed unions he'd never imagined one way or another. And he could even get his mind around the fact that for some reason the Wizarding World had no problem with a sixteen-year-old boy marrying a thirty-six-year-old man. If he removed certain factors from the equation it was bizarrely old-fashioned -- like something out of a Regency novel that dealt with manners and betrothals and inheritance contracts.

 

But when Harry thought of marriage, he thought of his parents, James and Lily Potter, who had loved him enough to die for him. He though of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley who were just about the warmest, kindest couple he'd ever met in his life, so devoted to each other and their family. When he thought of marriage he thought, oddly enough, of Ron and Hermione and how he knew, just KNEW, that one day they would be married, and Harry would stand up beside his best friend while they watched Hermione walk down the aisle. And now that he'd seen the bond between them, marriage was about Sirius Black convincing Remus Lupin that his eye was not going to stray, that his devotion was true, and that his heart belonged forever in one man's keeping.

 

Marriage was not about being discrete in public as you kept a lover on the side.

 

But apparently it was for him and Snape. And truthfully, he ought to be grateful -- grateful that despite being forced into a marriage at sixteen years of age no one expected him to remain completely alone his entire life. That apparently someone had written in a loop hole for him that allowed him to still fall in love with someone -- just so long as he came home to his bond-mate at the end of the day. The thought twisted his gut as he tried to shove all that anger back down deep inside where he wouldn't have to look too closely at it.

 

Sighing bitterly, he got to his feet and began picking up the books he'd knocked over. He supposed he ought to be thankful that he'd run into the library instead of Snape's potions lab. His bouts of accidental magic were a bit destructive. Not to mention a bit odd -- very few of the other students had such outbursts no matter how angry they became. All of them did accidental magic as small children, but they apparently all out grew it by the time they got their first wands. Harry supposed he was just a slow learner.

 

Or maybe it had something to do with the bizarre link he had to Voldemort. Maybe he was prone to such outbursts because of the scar on his forehead.

 

He paused in the middle of picking up one of the books, a memory suddenly returning with startling clarity. Books! In his dream that night he'd forgotten to take his potion -- in that dream Voldemort had been looking through some old books. He could see them now, dark, cracked leather, covered in strange twisting writing. Voldemort had discovered something in an old book -- something that had made him happy.

 

And then just as clearly, Harry knew where those books had come from. He dropped the book in his hand and raced toward the door. "Severus!" he cried, but the common room beyond was empty. A quick search of the other rooms revealed that Snape was gone.

 

No matter, Harry thought to himself. He knew where those books came from -- knew where to look. And if truth be told, there was no one else in the castle better suited to see if there had been anything else left behind. No one else could even get into the room they had been kept. He grabbed his firebolt and his invisibility cloak, and headed for the Chamber of Secrets.

----------------------------

 

Author's Note: I was going to write a scene where Snape goes back to Rosewood Hall and confronts his brothers, but the truth was, it didn't do anything to advance the plot of the story. We already know he 'dealt' with them -- and I will mention in passing in a later chapter that when Snape did return he put them under a monitoring spell. So, I'm sorry to those of you who wanted to see the big confrontation -- it wasn't really important to the continuation of the story. Maybe I'll write the side scene at a later date.

 

And to those of you who asked why Snape didn't disown Julius -- it wouldn't fit with Snape's idea of duty. If Snape was willing to kill his father for disgracing the family honor, he could hardly just disown Julius and let him go. Snape would feel responsible for keeping Julius in check from here on in -- truthfully Snape probably feels guilty for not keeping a closer eye on the family all these years. Besides as the Head of House, Snape has more control over Julius this way. Based on the way the other two brothers and his sisters-in-law acted with regards to the Manor house, controlling the purse strings of the family seems one of the best ways to keep them all in check.

 

As for Harry -- yes, he threw a temper-tantrum. He's 16, and he's confused. I think he's finally just realized that he really is married. And I thought it would be interesting to make Harry the one with the strong, ingrained ideas of what marriage should be about. Eventually Harry will realize that if he believes in monogamy that means that at some point he'll have to sleep with Severus -- either that or spend the rest of his life celibate. Actually -- someone will have to point this little fact out to him -- he's still a bit behind on things. But he's trying to catch up at least.

 

Snape on the other hand has figured out exactly what this means -- it will be his first cause to hope for their future.

 

Regarding Astronomy -- I don't recall Harry ever taking Astronomy during the first 4 books. Maybe he did and I just don't remember. Regardless, for this story he's never had Sinistra as a teacher. I just assumed it would have been one of the many classes Hermione would have taken particularly during 3rd year.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 21 - Serpents

 

Harry had not returned to the Chamber of Secrets since the night he'd rescued Ginny Weasley from the memory of Tom Riddle. It took some doing maneuvering through the crumbling old passageways. And when at last he found himself in the center chamber all he could do was stare at the decaying carcass of the basilisk that had nearly claimed his life four years ago -- would have if it hadn't been for Fawkes.

 

The chamber was utterly silent, save for the sound of water dripping far in the distance. And he could see by the dust on the ground that nothing had been disturbed. No one had entered these room since he had last been there -- a thought that comforted him immensely. He knew of course that the Chamber, though deep under the foundations of Hogwarts, was still inside the protective wards of the castle. Still it was nice to know that the Dark Lord had not been here since he'd been resurrected -- in fact had probably not been here since he himself was a student at Hogwarts nearly fifty years ago. And now that the basilisk was dead, these Chambers lay completely empty.

 

Still it was with some nervousness that he made his way toward the giant statue of Salazar Slytherin that loomed above the skeleton of the beast that once lived inside it. He remembered all to clearly the sight of the giant snake emerging from the opened mouth. It took a great deal of courage to mount his broom and fly straight into that mouth himself, not knowing what it was he would find on the other side.

 

Not another basilisk -- he was ninety percent certain that there were no others in the chamber. As far as he knew even basilisks needed another of its kind to mate. And despite Salazar Slytherin's infamous pet, basilisks were not native to England.

 

It was dark inside and Harry pulled out his wand and muttered the lumos spell to light his way. Inside the rounded chamber beyond the tunnel through the mouth, he found a single doorway, intricately carved with snakes. He knew if he pushed on the door he would find it locked with unbreakable charms. There was only one-way through the door -- and at the moment there were only two people on the face of the earth who possessed the ability to enter.

 

Harry stared at the snakes, concentrating on speaking to them. Then he simply said "open". The word came out in the soft hiss of Parseltongue. A moment later the snakes on the door came to life, twisting and turning as they shifted the locking mechanism. The door swung silently open.

 

Heart pounding, Harry stepped through the doorway into the room beyond. He knew he was the second person in a thousand years who had entered the private library of Salazar Slytherin -- the true Chamber of Secrets.

 

It wasn't a large room -- but it was impressive enough. A thousand years ago books were far more precious than they were today. The four walls in the room beyond were covered floor to ceiling with bookshelves. And Harry could feel the protection and preservation spells that kept the books intact over the ages.

 

The books that remained -- he could see clearly that many were missing. Here and there were volumes gone, empty places where they must have once resided. Fifty years ago a young Tom Riddle had made his way into this room and had drunk his fill of the knowledge he found here. Fifty years ago Tom Riddle had found all the dark secrets he would need to become the greatest Dark Lord in the world. He had often wondered where that knowledge had come from -- certainly he'd sneaked his own share of peaks at books in Hogwarts restricted section. But Tom Riddle promised his Death Eaters powers that they could not find anywhere else. There had to have been a source -- a place that had first started him down that dark path. And here in this Chamber Harry knew he had found his answer.

 

Fifty years ago Tom Riddle had taken the darkest, most horrible secrets that Salazar Slytherin had possessed. He had taken those books and he had hidden them away somewhere he would have access to them after he had graduated from Hogwarts himself. That knowledge had allowed him to remake himself into the creature they now knew as Lord Voldemort. And he was learning still. Harry could see the books now in his mind -- books from the dream that had so disturbed him. Black books with strange writing -- numerous volumes of a specific type. Diaries he believed -- Salazar Slytherin's Dark Arts notes, written in his own hand. There were ten of them, slim volumes, but filled with such terrible powers. And having lost the Eye of Odin he had so craved, Tom Riddle had turned his attention once again to the books he had hidden way during his last reign of terror and had begun learning again.

 

But Harry couldn't bring himself to believe that darkness was all this chamber had to offer. There were still hundreds of books here -- Riddle had only taken a small fraction of them. Which meant the books left behind were either common or worthless. Slytherin may have turned dark -- but, once, he had been the closest of friends with Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. He couldn't have left only darkness behind as his legacy.

 

Harry found himself drawn to the far side of the room where he saw a shelf at about chest high with a large empty section. He touched the shelf, running his fingers through the thick dust he found there. The books had rested here. Ten volumes -- the Books of Dark. Salazar Slytherin's private notes. There were numerous other books missing from the shelves above and below this empty spot. This wall had been well picked over.

 

He turned to stare at the wall opposite it. It alone of all the shelves had the fewest missing books from it -- which meant that Riddle had not valued the information it contained. And there -- directly across from the empty shelf he could see ten slim volumes covered in a thousand years of dust.

 

Heart pounding, he made his way across the room and touched the first volume, drawing it off the shelf with reverence. Like the dark book from his dream this too was covered in strange twisting shapes, though the cover was brown instead of black. The writing made his head spin but began resolving itself into familiar patterns. Parseltongue -- the book was written in Parseltongue.

 

He looked inside -- Volume 1 of the notes of Salazar Slytherin. A dissertation on the Light Arts. There were ten in all -- ten volumes that Riddle had dismissed as unimportant. The ten Books of Light that might hold the counters to the darkness Riddle had chosen.

 

It took him only a moment to pull out all ten of the books and wrap them up in his invisibility cloak. Then with one finally look around, he left the chamber and locked it again with a hissed command. He had what he came for -- he could only pray that it would be enough to save those he loved from the darkness he knew was coming.

 

----------

 

When Severus Snape returned to his chambers he was alarmed to realize that Harry was no longer there. A quick look through the rooms showed that the library was still in a state of disarray -- though Harry had apparently begun picking up the books he knocked over in his anger. But where had he gone then?

 

He knew the boy was angry -- though he wasn't certain why. Truthfully, he couldn't figure out the boy's motivation for half the things he did. When he had begun telling him about Sonara Sinistra earlier, Severus had at first assumed the boy was either telling him that he was planning on taking up with her -- or even stranger asking him for permission to do so. His reaction of disgust and outrage had been both surprising and welcomed, since he wasn't entirely certain he was going to be able to stand by and do nothing while his bond-mate cheated on him. He wasn't certain why Harry had been so angry, but one thing was obvious -- Sinistra's affections were unwanted. And while he didn't know what to do to calm down his bond-mate, he knew exactly what to do about Sinistra.

 

He'd stormed to her room, pounding on her door until she'd let him into her chambers. She'd looked surprise to see him, since he tended to avoid her company despite their shared history in Slytherin.

 

"Severus?" she'd asked nervously, pulling her dressing gown modestly around her slender body -- he'd wondered why she even bothered with such a pretense. But then, he was hardly young enough to tempt someone like her.

 

"Stay away from Harry," he'd ordered, cutting straight to the heart of the matter.

 

Her eyes had narrowed at that. "I hardly think my interactions with. . ."

 

"Listen to me, Sinistra," Severus had growled. "Your attentions toward him are unwanted. Once he figured out what it was you wanted, he grew very upset. I'm only going to warn you once, if you go near him again he will be the last young man you ever approach. All the rest will run screaming in horror at the mere thought of touching you after you consume the potion that will accidentally find its way into your food. I guarantee there will be no cure or glamour that will undo the damage this potion will do to your looks. Do I make myself clear?"

 

She was pale now, staring at him in undisguised fear. It was no small threat coming from a Potions Master and she knew it. "Perfectly," she'd assured him, her voice tight.

 

He'd nodded in satisfaction and made his way to the door.

 

But of course she was still a Slytherin and couldn't help attempting to salvage something of the situation despite the threat. "I did not think he meant so much to you," she'd stated.

 

Severus had known there was a question in there -- and with that question was of course a threat that perhaps she had found some vulnerability that had been previously unknown. "Sinistra," he'd growled in warning. "Do not think about him at all." He'd slammed the door as he left.

 

But where was Harry now? It was well past curfew, and he knew Harry had already bid goodnight to Ron and Hermione. Why had he gone out again, leaving the library in such a state? He began picking up the books himself, hoping to find a clue to why he was missing. Perhaps Lupin and Black had returned from their latest errand of the Headmasters? He supposed it was possible they had contacted him through the floo.

 

It was also just as likely that he had gone up to Gryffindor tower. He had no idea why Harry had been so angry with him, but maybe he had left simply to get away from him for a night. He couldn't help wondering what it was he had said that had so set the boy off.

 

He realized that Muggles had many different beliefs than Wizards, but considering the circumstances of their marriage, why would the idea of infidelity have been so abhorrent to the boy? Not that he was going to complain. Aside from the shame and the scandal such a thing could cause if dealt with carelessly in public -- and Merlin knew Gryffindors were always careless -- Severus did not like the idea of sharing Harry with anyone.

 

It was nearly two hours later before he heard the door to their rooms opening and Harry entered the common room with his broom in hand. For some strange reason the boy was dirty -- as if he'd been out climbing rocks. Granted there was a lot of mud near the Quidditch pitch, but surely he hadn't been out in it this time of night?

 

"Where have you been?" he demanded when Harry came in.

 

The boy looked a lot calmer than he had last time Severus had seen him, but he still jumped when Severus yelled.

 

"Out," he replied, not insolently, but with a certain degree of reserve that Severus didn't like. It was on the tip of his tongue to take points from Gryffindor, but he'd promised himself he would not do that here in their chambers.

 

"I see," he stated, gritting his teeth. He glared at the boy, willing him to tell Severus where he had gone. Harry just stared back in silence.

 

After a moment, the boy shifted uncomfortably and glanced away. "I'm going to bed," he grumbled and headed toward the bedroom door.

 

Severus wanted to grab him and shake an answer from him, but he knew that would get him nowhere.

 

"Professor Sinistra won't bother you again," he said instead.

 

That stopped Harry and he turned around, a look of uncertainty crossing his features.

 

Severus frowned. "That is what you wanted right?"

 

Harry nodded. "I don't have to go see her on Saturday?" He sounded disgustingly young and Severus hated himself for the feelings of possessiveness that gripped him.

 

"You never did," he replied.

 

"Good," he answered. "Thank you."

 

Severus just nodded. "You're welcome." And he watched in frustrated silence as Harry disappeared through the bedroom door.

 

------------------------

 

Author's Note: Don't worry, Harry won't keep the books a secret too long. But the reality is, he's the only one who can read them anyway. And yes, books written in Parseltongue are yet another cliche in fandom. But it's a good cliche!

 

Why would Voldemort ignore these books? Simply put -- there is nothing in them that interest him. Voldemort has a single goal in mind (though you won't learn it for a while), and nothing beyond that goal interests him at all.

 

Thank you for everyone who checked the facts on the Astronomy class. Now that you mention it I do recall Harry buying a telescope in book 1 and having a midnight class -- though I don't know if Sinistra was ever actually named as his teacher (maybe there is more than one Astronomy teacher?). She is listed as the Astronomy teacher on most web sites (Vector apparently teaches Arithmancy). Maybe she only teaches advanced Astronomy? Either way, it's a fairly minor detail so I'm not going to worry about it too much. I hope it doesn't bother anyone greatly. Now that Snape has dealt with her, she won't bother Harry again.

 

Up next -- I have a bit of a jump in time in the next section. It is actually one of my favorite parts of this story. It deals with Christmas. There is a return of Remus and Sirius (which is always good in my opinion), but largely it deals with Harry making a conscious effort to include Severus in his life. He's finally figured out he's married -- that the man is now his family -- and okay, maybe he doesn't know what to do with him yet, but at least he makes an effort.

 

BTW -- to those of you who asked, yes, my name is a nod to Jane Austen. She's one of my favorite writers.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 22 - Family

 

To Severus Snape's surprise, life with Harry Potter was actually quite pleasant. As luck would have it Harry's annoying dog-father and the Wolf were away on missions for Dumbledore more often than not, so he rarely had to deal with his childhood nemesis.

 

As for Potter -- they butted heads on occasion, and Severus found himself reacting with difficulty to the increasing attraction he felt for the young man who shared his bed, but he also came to enjoy his company in the quite hours when both of them were working on their daily tasks of life. More and more, the boy became comfortable enough to begin talking a bit more with him, and though he tried not to let on too much, Severus found his conversations welcomed. He'd lived a remarkably solitary life, and with the sudden company thrust upon him, he began to realize just how lonely he had been throughout most of it. Even the addition of Harry's owl Hedwig, who had taken to watching him in the mornings from a perch by the fire, was a welcomed change.

 

For the most part things were quiet on the war front -- though Severus had to sit through numerous Quidditch matches along side Slytherin parents who had reason to hate the Gryffindor Seeker. The day Harry had taken the Eye of Odin from Voldemort's hand several parents of his Slytherin students had lost their lives -- to sit beside their spouses at a school game when his loyalties were now publicly known while they watched the boy who had brought so much defeat to their lives trounce their home team proved to be a nail-biting experience. Albus, however, always made certain to come to the games himself, and with him came all the other teachers of Hogwarts and numerous Order members so nothing ever happened beyond the life threatening reality of rogue bludgers.

 

However life with Harry Potter, also meant life with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. It wasn't until late October that Harry first invited his friends into their quarters for a late night study session. Since Severus knew they were working on Defense Against the Dark Arts (this year's teacher was as bad as last year's), he really didn't have cause to stop them. He had commended Hermione Granger on the outside research she had done to help Harry -- knew that these study sessions from last year were what had saved Harry's life time and time again. He could hardly complain when they asked to use his private library -- something that technically Harry had full right to explore. His quarters were now Harry's quarters though he might resent it.

 

Again, surprisingly, he found he didn't mind the company of the other two Gryffindors either. Granger was extraordinarily intelligent, and the few times she'd braved his presence to ask him a question about something she didn't understand, he had been impressed by her grasp of magical theory. And though he found Ron Weasley annoying, he had to admit that the boy had an amusing sense of humor and a startling grasp of strategy. Severus had watched him playing wizards chess against Harry a couple of times and had been impressed by how quickly he had defeated the Gryffindor golden boy.

 

When Harry approached him early one evening at the beginning of December with a somewhat pensive look on his face, Severus had been worried that perhaps something had happened to disturb the status quo they had managed to maintain the last few months. He'd been sitting by the fire reading a new potion's manual when Harry had entered their quarters alone and sat down across from him in the chair that had become 'his' over the weeks.

 

"Something wrong?" Severus asked when he realized that Harry was staring at him.

 

"No," Harry said quickly, then shifted uncomfortably. "I wanted to ask you about Christmas."

 

Christmas -- a holiday that Severus had little use for. His family had of course celebrated the various solstice rites, but since that holiday was a time for family Severus had fallen out of the practice. It hadn't been an overly happy time when he was a child, though he did remember some pleasant evenings with his sister. Since his falling out with his family he had never done much for the holiday -- though he supposed now he might try to at least pay his sister a visit. Julius, now under the influence of Severus' curse, was not speaking to him. Claudius and Marcellus were also under a powerful monitoring spell, but were actually more angry at his failure to reopen Snape Manor. He supposed eventually he would have do so, but it could wait for a time when he was not so busy.

 

"What about it?" Severus asked. No doubt Harry had some ridiculous Gryffindor ideas about trees and presents and various different Yuletide games. He knew that the Weasleys wanted him to spend the holiday at the Burrow this year -- Albus had already talked to him about it and he supposed Harry had just heard.

 

"The Weasleys invited me to the Burrow this holiday," Harry explained. He stared at Snape expectantly.

 

Severus frowned -- this was the problem with being forced into a marriage with someone so young. "Are you asking for my permission to go?"

 

Harry gave him a hesitant smile. "I guess," he admitted uncertainly, looking uncomfortable. Severus suspected that asking for things wasn't a common occurrence for Harry -- he could just imagine what happened with the Dursleys when he made a request of them. He looked now as if he were expecting Severus to refuse him and was marshalling whatever arguments he might have to sway his mind.

 

"Harry," Severus sighed. "I told you long ago, I am not your father or your guardian. I am your bond-mate. You do not need my permission to spend the holidays as you see fit. However, considering who you are, it would be wise to investigate certain security measures for such an arrangement."

 

The boy looked startled by his response. "Oh," he blinked uncertainly at Severus. "I. . . does this mean you don't mind?"

 

"Mind?" Severus frowned. "It hardly matters if I mind or not. Albus has already spoken with me -- he's added extra wards to the Burrow, and all the elder Weasley children will be present for the holiday, along with your godfather and Lupin. Provided you do not do anything crazy like wander off by yourself, you should be safe enough. I trust you won't do anything to endanger yourself?"

 

"I won't," the boy assured him, looking almost giddy with excitement -- no doubt he had expected this conversation to go much differently. There was a sparkle in his eyes that Severus had rarely seen, as if he had already been given what ever ridiculous Christmas presents he was likely to be offered come Yule. "Thank you!"

 

"It had nothing to do with me," Severus shrugged. "Thank the Weasleys and the Headmaster." He turned his attention back to the manual he was reading, wondering suddenly how he was going to endure the silence during the two weeks of vacation while Harry was gone. It surprised him that he was not looking forward to it.

 

The boy had jumped up from his seat and raced to the door, no doubt to inform the Weasley boy that he could join them for the holiday after all. He paused at the door however and looked back at Severus.

 

"Severus?" he asked hesitantly.

 

Severus looked up, a strange shiver going through his body at the sound of his name. Even after these last several months it still startled him when Harry used his name. There were only a handful of people in the world who used his given name -- but there was something doubly intimate about Harry doing so, as if it were something almost illicit between them. Those bright green eyes were gazing at him oddly from behind his glasses.

 

"The Weasleys invited both of us, you know," Harry informed him.

 

Severus blinked, momentarily taken aback by the very idea. "Both of us?"

 

Harry nodded. "Mrs. Weasley specifically extended the invitation to you."

 

"What would I possibly do at the Burrow for two weeks?" Severus asked incredulously. Surely the boy wasn't suggesting he join him? Did he imagine Severus sitting around playing Exploding Snaps with Ron and the twins for two weeks -- or perhaps they could all play Quidditch in the snow in the backyard.

 

The boy flushed in embarrassment. "I just meant for Christmas," he amended. "I know you're probably very busy with school work over the holidays. I meant for Christmas. You could come for Christmas Eve and stay the night -- eat dinner with us on Christmas Day."

 

"Surely you're joking?" Severus just stared at the boy, taking in his flushed features and bright eyes. Harry was biting his lower lip in a way that indicated he was anxious about something -- was he afraid perhaps that Severus was going to say yes and possibly ruin the holiday for him?

 

"Please," the boy said, surprising the hell out of Severus. Please? The boy wanted him to say yes? He stared at him in disbelief. "It's Christmas," the boy continued, his voice taking on a cajoling tone. Merlin, the boy did want him to say yes! "Please say you'll come."

 

"Why on earth. . ." Severus began.

 

"We're family now," Harry cut him off, and this time Severus heard something almost pleading in his tone. There was hope burning in his eyes -- hope and a touch of wariness as if he feared being struck down for making such a request or making such a claim. Severus tried to imagine what holidays might have been like for the boy before coming to Hogwarts. If the Dursleys were abusive to him the rest of the year, how much worse might they have been on the holidays when families were supposed to pull together? Was the boy so desperate to be part of a family that he was willing to put up with someone he so blatantly didn't like? Severus wasn't certain how to respond.

 

Harry took a step toward him, looking both shy and anxious, which was odd to see in so brave and brash a young man. "Look," Harry sighed. "I know you don't like . . ." He frowned at that, his gaze turning inward as he thought about how to continue. "Well, you don't like . . . me, or the Weasleys, or Sirius, or Remus, or Christmas or. . . " He sighed again, looking rather defeated all of a sudden. "I guess. . ." he shrugged helplessly as if realizing what a ridiculous request he had made. He looked up and Severus saw that same pleading look in his eyes. For whatever reason, Harry genuinely wanted him to join them for Christmas. He found himself unable to refuse the boy's request -- of course if he was honest with himself, he really didn't hate the idea. It might be nice to share Christmas with Harry -- even if it meant he had to put up with all the rest of it.

 

"I am beginning to find you somewhat tolerable," he conceded, amending Harry's long list of the things he didn't like.

 

Harry's eyes lit up like the sun, taking Severus' breath away. "Then you'll come?" he exclaimed hopefully.

 

Severus was quite beyond any hope of refusal now. "I imagine I can put up with the annoyances for a day or two," he offered.

 

The smile on Harry's face seemed to brighten the entire room. "Thanks!" he grinned, and then turned and rushed from the room, leaving a very bemused Potion Master staring after him.

 

---------------------

 

Harry sat on Neville's bed and watched as Ron packed up his trunk for their trip back home to the Burrow. Harry's things were already waiting down in the common room where Professor McGonagall had promised to meet them with a port key that would take them straight to the Weasley's living room. Normally he never got a chance to go anywhere for the holidays and Harry was excited about the two weeks ahead of him. He was looking forward to Christmas for the first time in years.

 

"I can't believe you invited him, Harry!" Ron was exclaiming as he haphazardly tossed his things into his trunk.

 

"I told you, your mother invited him," Harry explained. Ron was horrified of the idea of having Professor Snape in their house for Christmas. He couldn't seem to get his mind around it. Harry on the other hand was quite glad the man had agreed to join them. He'd grown rather fond of the man over the last few months, now that they'd gotten past the endlessly grumpiness and sniping. Harry had begun to enjoy his sense of humor and quick wit, though he wasn't ready to tell Ron that yet. He also hadn't liked the thought of the man spending the holidays all alone. He knew that despite the family reunion back in September, relations were still strained with Severus and the rest of the Snapes. He doubted the man would be joining them for the holidays. His sister was the only one he kept in regular touch with, but Harry had sensed that there was some tension there as well mostly due to Diana's husband.

 

"Fine, then I can't believe my mother invited him!" Ron grumbled. "And you didn't have to tell him, you know."

 

"Oh, Ron, get used to it," Harry sighed. "He's not so bad once you get to know him. Or are you forgetting things could be a lot worse."

 

"Worse?" Ron demanded. "How could they possibly be worse?"

 

"Well, for one thing, instead of being married to Professor Snape, I could be married to Hermione or you," Harry reminded him mildly.

 

Ron blanched at that, shuddering with the thought. "Good point."

 

"Thanks," Harry said with mock insult.

 

Ron just rolled his eyes. "I didn't mean anything by it Harry," he groused. "I just. . . well, you know. . . "

 

"I know," Harry laughed. "It's just for two days, Ron. No one should spend Christmas alone. Besides we'll have the rest of the holiday all to ourselves. It will be just like old times. And Remus and Sirius are coming. It will be brilliant!"

 

"That's true," Ron closed up his trunk. "All right, I'll behave. But he's not sleeping in my room!"

 

Harry just laughed and helped his friend carry his trunk down to the common room where Ginny and Hermione were already waiting for them. The rest of the tower was already empty -- all the other students had headed home for the holiday that morning on the train. They were the last of them to leave due to the need for extra security surrounding Harry. They would be traveling by port key instead of the Hogwarts Express since even the Ministry agreed that it was no longer a safe means of transport for Harry Potter.

 

"Is everyone ready?" Professor McGonagall asked as she entered the common room through the portrait door. She had an old mitten in her hand. She glanced around the room at the four students and the four trunks. "The port key leaves in five minutes so I hope you have all remembered to pack everything. It should deposit you directly in the living room of the Burrow."

 

"All ready, Professor," the four students informed her.

 

"Have you informed your parents, Hermione?" McGonagall asked unnecessary. Hermione had made arrangements to go to the Burrow for the holidays almost a month ago -- Harry had no doubt that she'd informed her parents immediately.

 

"Yes, Professor," Hermione replied courteously. "They're going to join us later."

 

"Excellent," the woman nodded just as the portrait door opened a second time and Professor Snape came striding into the room. Harry stood up quickly, wondering why Severus was here. The others all turned as well, surprised looks on all their faces. None of them had ever seen Professor Snape in the Gryffindor common room before.

 

"Is something wrong?" Harry asked warily, thinking that perhaps he was going to be informed after all that he could not go with the others.

 

Confronted with five Gryffindors and a room decorated predominately in red and gold, a very familiar sneer crossed Snape's features. But rather than fire off with his usual insults he just thrust out his hand toward Harry, holding out a heavy fur-lined cloak to him. "You forgot your cloak," he informed him. "It's cold out."

 

For a moment Harry was stunned speechless. It was such an oddly caring thing to do -- like something an overly worried mother might do for a small child. He reached out hesitantly and took the cloak from Severus' hands. "Thank you," he smiled bemusedly.

 

"You're welcome," Snape sneered, his words belying the expression. He glanced around at the other stunned faces in the room, then nodded stiffly to Harry. "Have fun," he said curtly then turned and strode just as swiftly from the room as he'd entered.

 

Harry glanced at the others -- even McGonagall was staring at him with an expression of surprise. He shrugged at them somewhat bewilderedly.

 

"Huh. . ." Ron mused. "Must be the holiday spirit."

 

"Or Old Ogden's," Professor McGonagall muttered under her breath. "Never mind now, all of you take hold of your trunks and touch the port key." She handed the mitten over to Harry while they all grasped their trunks. The others all reached out and touched a finger to the mitten and a moment later they were whisked off across Scotland and deposited safely in the heart of the Burrow.

 

-----------------------------

 

Author's Note: So Harry is off to the Burrow for the holidays. Yes, you'll get to find out what he did with the books, and yes you'll find if Sirius has made any progress with Remus. And Severus will get to attempt to fit in with the Weasleys. And Harry will finally learn a lot more about the Wizarding World, including some important facts of life.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 23 Wolves

 

Molly Weasley was waiting for them as they landed. And no sooner had they appeared than they were all enveloped in a warm hug as she rushed around the room greeting each of them -- just as enthusiastic to see Harry and Hermione as she was her own children. The twins joined them a moment later, and between the lot of them managed to drag all the trunks upstairs to the appropriate bedrooms. Harry would be staying with Ron while Hermione would be bunking with Ginny. Molly was already frantically trying to figure out where to put everyone else once the rest of the company arrived.

 

"Now, I'm going to move Percy into the twin's room so that Professor Snape can have his room," Molly informed Harry. "And I'll have Charlie bunk in with Bill so that Remus and Sirius can have his room -- you don't think they'll mind bunking together do you?" She looked worried at the thought.

 

Harry stifled a laugh at that. "I'm sure it will be fine," he informed her. Both men had written to him regularly and as far as he could tell there had been no further advancement in their relationship, though Sirius was eternally hopefully. He was certain that Sirius at least would not complain about the sleeping arrangements. If Remus did, then Sirius could always sleep on the couch in dog form, something he'd done often enough in the past. As it was he had a surprise for the two men that he was hoping would make both their lives easier eventually. He couldn't wait to see them.

 

"I can't believe you married Professor Snape, Harry," Fred exclaimed as he and George set their trunks down in Ron's bedroom.

 

"How's it been, mate?" George asked with mock horror. "He poison you nightly with foul smelling potions?"

 

"Don't worry, Harry," Fred continued. "We've got all sorts of nifty new products to try out on him when he arrives."

 

"Don't you dare!" Harry protested, surprising both boys.

 

"Yeah, guys," Ron agreed. "Imagine the revenge he'll take on Harry if you do anything too evil."

 

The twins shuddered in horror.

 

"That's not what I meant," Harry said in exasperation, shoving his glasses more firmly onto his nose. "It was hard enough getting him to agree to join us for Christmas as it was -- if you annoy him, he'll never join us again."

 

All three of the Weasley boys stopped what they were doing and stared at Harry in confusion. "Ah, Harry," Ron asked. "Wouldn't that be . . . like. . . a good thing?"

 

Harry rolled his eyes in annoyance. "No, look, just trust me on this . . .he's been nice. I'd rather get along with him than go back to the way things were before all this happened. He's . . .you know. . ."

 

"Nice?" the three of them asked in unison.

 

"Yes," Harry agreed. "Just trust me for once, will you?"

 

The three brothers looked at each other in confusion, but shrugged their shoulders. "If you say so Harry," they agreed.

 

"Harry!" two more tall red-heads pushed their way into Ron's small room, and a moment later Harry found himself being hugged enthusiastically by both Bill and Charlie. They greeted Ron as well but both seemed far more interested in the golden wedding band Harry was wearing on his hand.

 

"From what I hear you were nearly married off to one of us," Charlie teased.

 

Harry found himself blushing at the though. He wondered how much different married life might have been if he had married either Bill or Charlie. "Well . . ."

 

"Hell, he was nearly married off to me," Ron informed them. "We were desperate to find someone."

 

"But Snape?" Charlie exclaimed. "I would have been a much better choice than Snape!"

 

"What are you talking about," Bill cut in. "I would have been the best choice of all. You would have forgotten all about your new bond-mate the moment you saw your next dragon. At least I would give him the attention he deserved."

 

"Well, what about one of us?" one of the twins protested. "We're of age, and much closer to Harry."

 

"Not to mention," the other twin added. "He'd get two for the price of one."

 

"Yeah, if one of us wasn't around, the other could fill in for him and Harry here would never notice."

 

"Maybe Harry could throw over Snape and pick one of us instead," Charlie agreed. All four men turned toward him earnestly. "What do you say, Harry?" they asked in unison.

 

Harry just stared at them open-mouthed, feeling both flustered and awkward, not certain how to respond. "Um. . .I . . ." he stammered, only to find himself blushing furiously as a moment later all four of them burst into laugher.

 

They hugged him again, ruffling his hair. "We're just teasing with you, Harry," the twins assured him.

 

"As long as Snape hasn't poisoned you yet, I reckon things are all right," Charlie agreed.

 

Harry just laughed, throwing Ron a glare for not warning him. "Welcome to my world, " Ron grumbled, and Harry understood that this was what it was like to have brothers.

 

They spent the day goofing around in the backyard, despite the cold. They bundled up in warm jackets and gloves and fought a war with snowballs for most of the day -- the twins spicing things up by adding in a few of their products, particularly a powder that when sprinkled on a firmly packed snow ball reshaped it into the form of a flying dragon. Getting clobbered by a flying snow dragon was a lot more fun than simply getting hit by a snowball.

 

When night began falling -- something that happened very early in the afternoon in December -- the boys trekked back into the house to warm up. At Arthur's bidding, they returned to their rooms to don warmer winter gear so that they could decorate the outside of the house with fairy lights. As the temperature was dropping fast, Harry pulled on the heavy winter cloak Severus had brought to him before he'd left that afternoon. As he fastened the silver clasps that held it together, he noticed something heavy inside one of the inner pockets. Reaching in, he pulled out a small leather case. Inside he found numerous single-dose vials filled with a dark blue liquid. At the sight of them he knew immediately what they were, the realization sending a warm pleasure through his body.

 

"What's that?" Ron asked curiously, noticing Harry staring at the case of potions.

 

"Dreamless Sleep," Harry said with a silly grin on his face. "I forgot to ask for some to bring with me. I guess Severus remembered for me."

 

Ron said nothing for a moment, an odd look crossing his face. Harry glanced at him curiously. He knew both Ron and Hermione had heard him refer to Severus by his first name before, so he doubted that had startled him. No doubt he was surprised by the act of kindness from their normally gruff Potions Master. But Ron surprised him.

 

"Are you still having nightmares, Harry?" he asked softly.

 

Harry sighed. "There not bad, Ron."

 

"Harry, you used to throw a silencing charm on your bed at night," Ron reminded him. "We all used to joke around about why Seamus or Dean might use silencing charms on their beds at night. But I always knew that you did it to stifle your screams at night. We all knew it, Harry. We just didn't know what to do to help you."

 

Harry stared at his friend in surprise. He hadn't known he'd been so obvious -- or perhaps he had simply not expected his friends in Gryffindor to be so observant. He was guilty sometimes of under-estimating all of them. "I never liked talking about them," he admitted carefully.

 

"You can, you know," Ron told him. "I know I'm not the most sensitive bloke around, and I know I don't understand things the way Hermione does. But I'll always listen Harry if you need to talk or anything."

 

His words washed over Harry like a pleasant balm to the sharp tug he felt on his heart. "Thanks, Ron," he smiled.

 

Ron just grinned in embarrassment as he realized he'd been caught in a mushy moment. He motioned to the leather case. "Does it help -- the potion?"

 

"Yeah," Harry admitted. "He makes a special batch for me now -- they only allow peaceful dreams to come through. I take it nearly every night."

 

"I guess that's the good thing about having a Potions Master in the family," Ron grinned.

 

"That's what he said," Harry admitted.

 

They heard a shout from the twins downstairs, urging them to hurry up. Harry carefully put the leather case away in his trunk where he could find it when he needed it. Then the two of them hurried downstairs to help Mr. Weasley put charmed Fairy Lights on the outside of their house.

 

Harry had never stayed long at the Burrow before, but the ensuing days were just as crazy as he imagined with that many people in the family. Though Harry was a bit overwhelmed by so many Weasleys, he found he loved every minute of it. He and Ron spent that first night whispering to each other late into the night as they used to do in Gryffindor tower -- something Harry had missed down the dungeons. But oddly enough he found himself actually missing Snape's presence in the bed along side him. He'd grown used to sharing that enormous bed down in the dungeons, and felt somewhat uncomfortable alone again. If nothing else having someone strong and powerful beside him had given him a sense of comfort that he'd never had before. He knew that if anything happened during the night, Snape would be able to deal with it. He couldn't help wondering though if Snape was grateful to have his bed all to himself again.

 

Remus and Sirius arrived a few days later and Harry greeted them both joyfully, flinging his arms around the two men as they came in from the cold. Both men looked tired and somewhat ragged from whatever mission Dumbledore had sent them on, though a few good meals from Molly Weasley soon had both men set to rights. But they were both happy to see Harry and pleased to be able to spend some time just relaxing with everyone, all of them forgetting about the cares of the world for a few short days.

 

Harry could tell from the way they reacted to each other that Sirius had made little headway in his mission to woo and win Remus Lupin. But then he suspected that had more to do with how busy they had been than in any true reticence on the part of the reluctant werewolf. If anything Remus seemed flattered by Sirius's attentions, if somewhat cautious.

 

Sadly however he suffered a sever set back when Fleur Delacore, who was currently dating Bill, stopped by to wish everyone a Merry Christmas. Though Sirius, out of a need for secrecy, had resumed his Animagus form, he like most of the other men in the room was still affected by the beautiful Veela girl. Arthur and Remus alone seemed to have some sort of immunity to her.

 

Harry found himself watching the Weasley boys fawn over the beautiful Veela girl with some amusement. He definitely found Fleur beautiful -- but she didn't have quite the affect on him that she did on the others. Even during fourth year he had noticed his reaction had not been like those of his classmates. Still he found it amusing to watch the others gaze at her with such sappy expressions on their faces. She wasn't a full Veela, so she didn't inspire the madness a true Veela did. But it was obvious that the men in the room found her very interesting.

 

He watched as Ginny and Molly just rolled their eyes at the men in disgust. Hermione, after giving Ron some absolutely furious glares, abandoned the men to join Molly in the kitchen. Remus, after greeting Fleur politely, stood off to the side for a moment and watched in annoyance as a certain scruffy looking dog wagged his tail enthusiastically and gazed adoringly up at the Veela girl while she cooed over the 'sweet puppy' and scratched his ears. So enamored of the attention he was getting, Sirius never even noticed when Remus left the house to take in the fresh air outside.

 

Shaking his head ruefully, Harry followed Remus outside. The man was standing on the far end of the porch, staring thoughtfully out at the gray sky. There was another snowstorm blowing in.

 

"You okay, Remus?" Harry asked carefully.

 

Remus turned to glance at him and for a moment he thought that the man's gentle amber eyes flashed yellow in the cold light. Harry's own eyes widened behind his thick glasses. The werewolf turned away quickly.

 

"I'm fine, Harry," he said tightly.

 

"She's a Veela," he explained, just in case the werewolf didn't know. He was fairly certain that Remus had never met Fleur before, though he was bound to have heard about her from the Triwizard Tournament. "They can't help themselves."

 

"She's a half Veela," Remus amended. "Werewolves have a very keen sense of smell. And as far as not being able to help it, they can all help it if they so chose. She's not affecting you or Arthur."

 

Harry just shrugged. "I don't know why. She's never really affected me. And I guess Arthur is just . . . " He almost said 'too much in love with his wife to notice' when he realized that would probably be a rather condemning thing to say with regards to Sirius' behavior.

 

"Yes, Arthur is," Remus agreed despite the fact that Harry had not finished his statement.

 

"I just meant. . ." Harry broke off and Remus sighed.

 

"Sirius is not affected by the Veela charm either," the werewolf told him. "He's too strong a wizard for it to bother him, and in his Animagus form it has no affect anyway. He's just acting like that because it amuses him. He likes being the center of attention, and he's getting a kick out of the fact that he's getting petted by a beautiful woman while the other men in the room are being ignored."

 

"But it still makes you jealous," Harry said quietly.

 

Remus looked up startled, then surprisingly flushed with embarrassment. "How did you . . ."

 

"I see the way you two look at each other," Harry told him. "And I've seen the way he's been flirting with you. It's kind of hard to miss -- the way he touches you all the time. The suggestive statements."

 

"You don't mind?" Remus asked hesitantly.

 

"Of course not," Harry assured him. "I think it's great. You two belong together."

 

Remus shrugged ruefully at that. "I don't know about that," he muttered.

 

"You like him, don't you?" Harry pressed.

 

"It's more complicated than that," Remus told him with a sad look in his eyes.

 

"Because you're a werewolf," Harry nodded. "I know. And so does Sirius."

 

Remus threw a glare back toward the house. "If he really understood he wouldn't be in there making a fool of himself. He has no idea how hard it is controlling the territorial instincts of the wolf. She's a sweet, innocent young girl who's very much enamored with Bill Weasley and all I can think about is going in there and ripping her hands off for touching Sirius."

 

His words confirmed what Harry suspected, explaining the flash of yellow he had seen in the man's eyes earlier. Remus was one of the calmest, most gentle men he'd ever met, but it didn't change the fact that he had a beast hidden deep inside him. "Did it ever occur to you that that's why Sirius is acting this way?" Harry mused.

 

Remus looked at him in shock. "What do you mean?"

 

"Remus, he trusts you implicitly. He knows you won't hurt someone -- knows you won't let the wolf out. Hell, even that first night I met him when you turned into a wolf in front of all of us, he first tried talking you down in human form. Despite the fact that he knew you hadn't taken your potion, he said he trusted the heart of the man inside you. But you're right, Sirius does like being the center of attention -- did it ever occur to you that what he's trying to do is make you jealous so that you'll give him the sort of attention Fleur is giving him."

 

Remus looked startled at the thought. "Harry, it just isn't safe to make a werewolf jealous. We don't do jealous. We have calm and we have enraged. There's no in between."

 

"I never said it was a smart plan," Harry conceded. "But this is Sirius we are talking about. He acts impulsively. Give him a chance, he'll grow up eventually."

 

Remus smiled fondly at him. "You know it's funny -- you sounded an awful lot like James just then in one of his more adult moments. He was good at giving advice."

 

Harry smiled, pleased. "Let me guess, he was really bad at taking advice however."

 

"Pretty much," Remus laughed. "Which is probably why it took nearly seven years for him to get your mother to even talk to him."

 

They heard the front door to the house open and a moment later a large black dog came trotting out, looking hopefully around. He started wagging his tail happily when he spotted Remus and Harry, though Harry thought there was something somewhat apologetic in the tilt to his ears as he hurried over to the two of them. "Speak of the devil," Remus grumbled, his voice almost low enough to be called a growl.

 

Padfoot sat down on his haunches, gazing hopefully up at the two of them. His tail thumped eagerly against the wooden porch.

 

"Did you enjoy meeting Fleur?" Remus asked with a deceptively mild tone.

 

The dog's tail slowed its wagging though his ears perked up curiously. "Yes, I'm sure," Remus sighed. He patted Harry on the shoulder. "I'm going for a walk. I'll be back in a bit." And with that he headed down the front steps of the porch and headed out across the field. Padfoot stared after him mournfully.

 

"Go after him," Harry hissed at the dog. Padfoot's ears perked up immediately and he looked at Harry. Harry rolled his eyes. "Good grief, you're hopeless. Go after him. You're supposed to be man's best friend -- well go prove it."

 

Padfoot didn't need any more prompting. With an eager bark he was racing off across the field to catch up with the retreating form of Remus. He brushed up against the man's legs as he caught him and then danced around him in the snow, barking joyfully as if playing a wonderful game.

 

Remus glared at him for a moment, and then Harry saw him shake his head and smile at the dog's antics. To Harry's surprise, Remus bent down and picked up a stick from the snow and tossed it ahead of him. Padfoot took off after it, barking with glee.

 

Harry found himself laughing. Weird -- very weird. But then he supposed the relationship worked for them. With a smile, he headed back into the warm house and let the wolf and dog work things out for themselves.

 

-----------------------------------------

 

Author's notes: Sorry there was so little Severus here. He'll turn up eventually. Poor Sirius -- I don't know if he'll ever learn. But he is trying in his own odd way. And as Harry said, he does have an interesting surprise for them come Christmas Day. And while Harry doesn't really understand his relationship with Severus, he's starting to realize that he does have one, and that for the most part it has been rather positive.

 

Thank you all for all the wonderful reviews -- they really make me happy to read.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Author's Note: There's a whole lot of exposition in this chapter -- which is why you'll get multiple chapters today. But this chapter will finally give you some more insight into the Wizarding World and how it works.

 

Chapter 24 History Lessons

 

Anna Granger stood nervously beside her husband Michael. Each of them had a small overnight bag slung over their shoulder, and both were staring with some trepidation at the old shoe on the center of their table. It was a 'port key' Hermione had explained in her letter. The shoe had been delivered just that morning by a large brown owl who had been happy to accept a slice of their morning bacon as payment for the delivery.

 

"So we just touch it?" Michael asked warily.

 

"That's what Hermione said in her letter," Anna nodded. They had been invited to some place called the Burrow for Christmas. Now it was December 23rd and they were schedule to make the trip at precisely one minute after 12 noon. It was just noon now. They were both eager to see their daughter, and glad that finally they would be given time enough to truly get to know the family they suspected their daughter would one day belong to if her rather long-winded descriptions of Ronald Weasley were anything to go by. Her letters were always informative, detailed with her academic standings and whatever pieces of Wizarding news she felt were important that they know. And she spoke of Harry quite frequently and her constant worry and concern for the poor boy. But her descriptions of Harry had always been of a sisterly sort -- Ron on the other hand was always referred to in clever asides. And a mother could read between the lines -- she knew her daughter's heart and had long suspected that the red-headed boy had stolen it.

 

"Well, let's give it a try, I suppose," Michael sighed. With trepidation, they both reached out and touched the shoe. A second later, Anna felt a wrenching sensation in her stomach and before she could shout in surprise she found herself being pulled away from their home in London. The world seemed to blur around them and a moment later refocused. They were no longer where they had been.

 

Anna had only a moment of disorientation to notice that they now stood in a somewhat old-fashioned looking living room with the most enormous fireplace she had ever seen before she heard a shout of "Mom!" and found her daughter flinging her arms around her in greeting.

 

The next ten minutes were a blur to Anna as she was introduced to a very large number of redheads, along with Ron and Harry. She had of course met Arthur and Molly several times before when she'd gone shopping with Hermione in Diagon Alley, but it was different being a guest in a person's home.

 

As for the house itself -- logic dictated that it should not be standing. The architecture did not look at all sound -- particularly the stairs that didn't seem to follow any rhyme or reason beyond the simple fact that they went 'up'. The room they were staying in, covered surprisingly in posters with moving pictures in them, seemed to be larger on the inside that it was on the outside. And the window, which faced the front of the house and should have looked out upon the road, appeared to have a very fine view of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.

 

Once they'd settled in the room and unpacked for the two nights they were staying, Anna was led by her daughter and young Ginny Weasley down into the kitchen where Molly fixed her a nice cup of tea while she finished getting lunch made for the mob of people in her house. Anna watched in silent amazement as the woman conducted the various food items and kitchen utensils with a wave of her wand.

 

The kitchen was far from familiar to Anna -- she only recognized a few of the items in it. Her own kitchen back home was equipped with every modern convenience known to man -- even a few she had yet to find a true use for. But Molly Weasley's kitchen appeared to be at least two hundred years out of date -- that was definitely a butter churn she saw sitting in the corner of the room. Of course when the butter churn pumped itself with little prompting from Molly, Anna supposed the results were better than the processed cubes she bought in the store. There also didn't seem to be anything that resembled a refrigerator in the room -- rather Molly simply opened up a random cupboard and pulled various food items from them. One minute a cupboard was filled with chilled milk, the next Molly was pulling a steaming hot pie out of it. All in all it was very disturbing -- like something out of dream.

 

She found herself watching her daughter as she helped Molly with various chores in the kitchen. Far from being alarmed by all the oddities that she knew her daughter had not grown up with, Hermione looked very much at home in this environment. Indeed her daughter appeared to be thriving in it as she had ever since that fateful day when her Hogwarts letter had arrived via owl. Anna was pleased that her daughter seemed so happy in this world she had chosen for herself.

 

But despite all the joy in the strange little house, Anna knew there was a dark side to all of this, made apparent when they all sat down to lunch a short while later and she realized that her husband was seated next to a man she'd seen on the evening telly time and time again as an escaped serial killer. Sirius Black, she recalled the name.

 

She knew of course that the man was innocent -- Hermione had told her the whole story. Knew also that the other man sitting beside him must be the beloved teacher, Professor Lupin, that Hermione had spoken so highly of. A werewolf, if the stories were to be believed, and she had no reason to think her daughter might lie.

 

And not far from them was young Harry, with the infamous scar on his forehead that stood as stark reminder to all of them that a threat loomed over both of their worlds. She supposed she'd only heard a fraction of the true adventures her daughter had been involved in, and she knew that Hermione's close friendship with that boy had endangered her life time and time again.

 

She was also vaguely beginning to understand through her daughter's letters that precisely because of that boy this group of people were somehow at the heart of the Wizarding World -- they were important in the grand scheme of things. And her daughter, by mere association, had become something of a legend in her own right. Simply seeing her daughter's name in that enormously thick book Hermione had shown her last summer -- "Hogwarts, a History" -- had convinced her that things were going on she might never truly understand. The book, self-updating Hermione had said, accounted some of the adventures her daughter, Ron and Harry had been involved in. It was strange to think that in a world she knew next to nothing about, her daughter had become famous.

 

Later that evening she joined the others in the living room. They sat around the enormous fire (looked like several people could stand up right in the fireplace) and discussed some of the events that were taking place in the world that neither she nor Michael truly understood.

 

"So how much does the Muggle Ministry know about this fellow Voldemort?" Michael was asking. Anna saw several people flinch at the mention of the Dark Lord's name and Michael quickly apologized. "Sorry -- I meant You Know Who." Neither of them could really get their minds around the superstition that made people so leery of saying the name.

 

"Several key figures in the Muggle Ministry are briefed regularly on the events in the Wizarding World," Arthur explained. "But they are very much aware of the fact that there isn't a lot they can do to affect things here. Seems like every year they are trying to impose some sort of new regulations on the Wizarding World, but when it comes right down to it, much of the Wizarding World doesn't even notice."

 

"How can they not notice?" Michael asked. "I mean doesn't the average Wizard and Witch have to follow the laws just the same as every Muggle?"

 

"Wizard laws, Michael," Remus explained. "It's actually a small percentage of the Wizarding population who ever interact with Muggles at all. I mean it would be pretty silly to expect Wizards to pay attention to traffic laws when they don't drive cars. And you could hardly expect Muggles to pay attention to apparating laws when they don't even know such things are possible."

 

"Well what happens when the laws do come into conflict?" Anna asked. She'd been very curious about the letter Hermione had sent to her at the beginning of the semester about Harry. The discovery that Harry had been abused by his family had been heart-breaking -- and just as shocking had been the response of the Wizarding World. She could see the wedding band on young Harry's finger and couldn't really understand how they could have married off such a young boy. And if Hermione was to be believed he was married to a man of all things -- one of their professors. She didn't think she liked that idea in the slightest. She rather hoped she had misunderstood the story.

 

"That depends on what law you are talking about," Arthur told her. "If it concerns a wizard, then Wizarding law takes precedence. You can't expect Muggle authorities to apprehend a Wizarding criminal. It wouldn't be possible in most cases. And Muggle prisons certainly couldn't hold a wizard or witch for long."

 

"But who is in charge?" Michael asked in confusion. Her husband had always preferred things to be straightforward and well-organized, something her daughter had inherited. "I mean, I know you have a Minister of Magic, but doesn't he answer ultimately to the Prime Minister and Parliament?"

 

"Ah, I see where you might be confused," Arthur nodded, though he glanced over to Remus as if deferring to the former professor. "While I work for the Ministry, I'm afraid I don't truly know a lot about the Muggle government."

 

"You are laboring under the misunderstanding that Wizarding Great Britain is the same nation as Muggle Great Britain," Remus explained. "It's not."

 

Anna noted that Harry looked surprised at that statement as well. "It's not?" he asked in confusion.

 

Hermione just shook her head. "Honestly, Harry, don't you ever pay attention in Professor Binn's class?"

 

"Nobody pays attention in Professor Binn's class," Harry protested. "The only time something interesting happens there is when he forgets where he is and starts drifting through the floor."

 

Anna found herself shuddering at that. Professor Binn was the ghost professor Hermione had told her about -- magic was one thing, but the very idea of ghosts gave her the shivers. She couldn't imagine her daughter being taught by a man long dead.

 

"Do you mean to say that Wizarding Great Britain is not part of our nation?" Michael pressed.

 

Remus leaned forward, appearing to move into a lecture mode. Anna noticed Sirius' eyes lighting up with sudden interest, and she couldn't help wonder at the relationship between the two men. They were sitting awfully close together on the couch, though there was room enough to spread out.

 

"Despite the fact that Great Britain as you understand it has been around a very long time, the government that rules over it is really quite young," Remus informed him. Michael frowned in confusion. "I mean to say that it wasn't that long ago that you were ruled by your monarchy."

 

Michael nodded, as if conceding the point, though Anna wasn't certain what Remus might have meant by 'not that long ago'. Seemed a goodly time to her.

 

"But our society with its current form of government here in Great Britain has been around for a long time. We consider our 'modern' form of government to have been ratified by Merlin over 1500 years ago. But prior to that our society had thrived virtually unchanged here on the British Isles for several thousand years."

 

"The same government?" Michael asked in shock as if the very idea was inconceivable.

 

Remus nodded. "It goes back farther than that. You have to understand that you as Muggles are ultimately ruled by a set of laws you have written down on paper. While those laws have some basic universal truths backing them, they are still just words on paper. They are subject to interpretation and can be changed or broken depending on who is in power. The Wizarding World however is governed by a set of laws that are backed by magic. They cannot be changed, they cannot be interpreted, and they cannot be ignored. These laws have been ruling our society since long before the Great Pyramids in Egypt were ever constructed."

 

Michael frowned at that. "I don't understand. Which laws are you talking about here? Certainly not apparation laws or age limits for magic use."

 

"No, of course not," Remus laughed. "These laws are deeper and more esoteric. For example, the Universe has a dual nature that cannot be ignored. For every good there is an evil, for every life there is a death."

 

"For every action there is a reaction," Michael nodded in understanding. "But that's just basic physics. It's not a form of government."

 

"It is to us," Remus explained. "That duality affects our lives in a very fundamental way that can not be denied. For example, we know that for every soul that exist in the world there is a soul mate for it. If these two souls somehow miraculous manage to find each other in life, we know that we cannot pull them apart. To do so causes chaos. It can bring about great pain and mischief which ultimately diminishes our society. Consequently our marriage laws are much different than those of the Muggle world."

 

"Is that why you were able to marry Harry to another man?" Anna asked in surprise.

 

As Remus nodded, Harry blanched in shock and looked sharply at the werewolf. "The Marriage Stone! Does it find soul mates?"

 

Again Remus nodded, "That is its purpose."

 

"Snape!" Harry exclaimed in stunned amazement looking shocked beyond words -- Anna remembered that Snape was the name of the man he had married.

 

Sirius reached over quickly and patted Harry on the shoulder. "Harry, relax. Soul mates have nothing to do with all that romantic twaddle you might read about in Muggle Romance novels. It has to do with magical resonances and how your magic reacts to one another. Not to mention the archetypal natures of your individual psyches and how they mesh together. Siblings can be soul mates without there ever being any form of romance between them."

 

Harry seemed to calm down at that but still looked somewhat disturbed by the notion.

 

"Alright," Michael proceeded. "You have these ancient laws that govern your society -- who interprets them ultimately. It sounds like all the Wizarding World would be subjected to them regardless of what country they belonged to."

 

"Right," Remus agreed. "But the laws are not interpreted, merely enforced, and that is done by a group that has been called many things over the years -- the High Council, the Circle of Elders, the Illuminati, the Magi. The various ministries currently call them the International Confederation of Sorcerers."

 

"That's on Professor Dumbledore's letter head!" Ron exclaimed, looking happy to be able to point something out.

 

Again Remus nodded. "Yes, Albus is a member," he agreed. "The confederation is made up of the most powerful and eldest families in the Wizarding World. They are ultimately the final authority in our society."

 

"If that's the case then why does the Headmaster have to do what the Minister of Magic and the board of Governors tells him to do?" Ron protested.

 

"Because Albus would never dream of interfering with the day-to-day governing of a single nation," Remus explained. "The Confederation has very little to do with the daily running of the world. In fact decades might pass with out a single meeting of the members. Instead, each nation is governed on a daily bases by their version of the Ministry of Magic, and those Wizarding forms of government are sovereign unto themselves and have nothing to do with the Muggle world."

 

"Do they at least recognize the same national boundaries of the Muggle World," Michael wanted to know, looking quite shocked by the idea. Anna had noticed that while Harry looked completely flummoxed by the idea, Hermione appeared to understand all this already.

 

"Oh, Merlin, no," Remus laughed. "I mean for one thing did you know that in the Wizarding World England has six whole counties that Muggles have never even seen before?"

 

"What!" both Anna and Michael exclaimed.

 

"Wizarding France is still ruled by a monarchy -- they missed the whole Revolution. By the time they got around to noticing that Muggles were running around lopping off each other's heads, they had already washed their hands of the Muggle world and retreated into unplottable provinces. Wizarding Russia and China not only missed the advent of communism, they never even defied their national borders along the same lines. That entire section of the world is broken up into hundreds of small kingdoms that are ruled over by various warlords and conquerors. The descendants of Attila the Hun still control large sections of the land."

 

"Wizarding Egypt still has a pharaoh," Bill added helpfully.

 

"And Wizarding India is ruled by a family of Rakshashas-- a creature that is part human part tiger," Charlie added. "And various leaders in parts of Asia claim to have dragon blood in them."

 

"And then there's the Americas," Remus continued. "Our history here in Britain is filled with stories going back thousands of years about magical people sailing away into the west in search of a mythical haven. By the time the Muggle Columbus had reached the American shores, wizards had been living in America for thousands of years. The current Muggle government there is aware of the Wizarding World, but they have very little interaction with them. One of their founders, Benjamin Franklin arranged a treaty with them, but it largely consisted of 'don't bother us and we won't bother you'."

 

"Man, I've really got to start paying more attention in History class," Harry muttered.

 

"Finally!" Hermione exclaimed, and her exasperation caused everyone to laugh.

 

They talked a great deal longer about the intricacies of the Wizarding World. Eventually Anna asked the question that had been weighing most heavily on her mind. "And how does the Dark Lord and his followers ultimately fit into the various Wizarding governments? What is his ultimate goal?"

 

All of them looked uncomfortable at that, seeming uncertain how to answer. Surprisingly it was Harry who spoke up. "Voldemort wants to rule the world -- all the world regardless of whether or not it is Wizarding or Muggle."

 

Both his use of the forbidden name and the description of what he wanted to do made the Weasleys all shudder.

 

"And the Muggle world can do nothing at all to stop him?" Michael asked, wanting to confirm what they both feared. They had been reading about various unexplained deaths in newspapers for over a year now -- they had long suspected they were the work of Death Eaters despite the papers saying they were unknown terrorists.

 

"Voldemort doesn't believe that even the Wizarding World can do anything to stop him," Harry added.

 

"Can the Wizarding World stop them?" Michael asked fearfully. At that Harry smiled sadly and turned away. Sirius reached out again and took the boy's hand.

 

"We'll all certainly try our best," Sirius informed them, sounding very resolved in his response. At that Remus and several others all reached over and patted Harry on the shoulder as if offering him silent support. Hermione, Anna noticed, was one of the first to do so and she felt her heart break at the gesture. She understood what they all meant -- for whatever reason the Wizarding World expected this boy to stop Voldemort, and his friends and family all knew it. Anna could not imagine such pressure; she could only pray that the boy was up to the task. That somehow he might manage to save at least one of their worlds.

 

----------------------

 

Author's Note: As far as I know Mr. and Mrs. Granger were never given first names, so I've names them Anna and Michael. Since I knew this chapter would be almost nothing but exposition I thought it would be fun to see the whole thing through the eyes of two outsiders.

 

Now, how many of you think that the soul-mate relationship between Harry and Severus will be of the sibling variety? Sirius is of course hopeful, but I think Harry is starting to realize things are different than he suspected.

 

Severus shows up in the next chapter -- and I wanted to mention something about the sleeping arrangements since so many people asked me about it. Molly put Harry in with Ron since Harry was there long before Severus shows up. Let's face it, Harry is really there to spend time with his friends so why wouldn't he stay with Ron.

 

But she intends to put Severus into Percy's room -- alone. Everyone else is sharing a room -- but not Snape. Molly is actually being rather sly here -- she knows exactly why Harry and Severus got married to begin with. And she's not about to ask how their relationship has evolved. By putting Snape in a room alone, she's leaving the decision entirely up to Snape and Harry. Harry can move rooms for that one night if he wishes -- or he can stay with Ron without anyone making a fuss one way or another.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 25 Christmas Eve

 

Harry spent most of Christmas Eve with Ron and Hermione playing various games both Muggle and Wizarding. The promised snowstorm had blown in with a bang and it was far too cold to go outside. Nevertheless the day seemed to be flying by.

 

He'd enjoyed getting to know the Granger at last. Having been raised as a Muggle he understood the cultural shock they were going through, and both he and Hermione had a wonderful time introducing them to some of amenities of the Wizarding World. Even something as simple as lighting their bedroom when they had gone up to bed had proven daunting to them since they had no idea what to do without the presence of a light switch.

 

Hermione had given them several small floating Wizarding lights so that they wouldn't have to worry about the candles. She then used a charm to rig them to turn on and off automatically whenever one of the Granger's clapped their hands. That idea sent both the Grangers and Harry into fits of giggles while the rest of the household looked on in confusion.

 

"It's a Muggle thing," Harry had simply told them, not certain he wanted to go into an explanation of how the Muggle "Clapper" worked. Arthur would be far too keen on acquiring one for himself.

 

He'd also enjoyed the History lesson the night before, though it had been somewhat disturbing to discover that Snape was in fact his 'soul mate'. They hardly got along the way soul mates did in all those silly romance novels his aunt used to rave about. He was fairly certain that he did not truly understand the concept. Still he had learned more from Remus the previous evening than he had in the all the years in Professor Binn's class. He wondered if Remus would ever be allowed to return to teaching at Hogwarts. He was a natural at it, and seemed to love doing it.

 

By late afternoon he found himself staring somewhat anxiously out the front window at the road beyond.

 

"Something wrong, Harry?" Ron asked from the couch where he was currently trouncing Sirius in a game of Wizarding Chess.

 

"Severus promised he'd come today," Harry explained. "I thought he'd be here by now." It was already growing dark and he was concerned that the man might have forgotten his promise. He was surprisingly eager to see the man -- found that despite all the fun he'd had, he missed his sarcastic humor.

 

"Snape's coming?" Sirius exclaimed, looking horrified at the though. Harry turned around and glared at his godfather.

 

"I told you he was," he reminded him.

 

"I thought you were joking," Sirius grumbled. "Just what we all need -- Ebenezer Scrooge to brighten up our lives."

 

"Padfoot, you promised you'd behave," Remus, who was just entered the room from the kitchen, reminded him.

 

"Did I?' Sirius asked doubtfully. "That doesn't sound like something I'd do. Are you sure?"

 

"Yes," Remus stated emphatically. "If I remember correctly you said something along the lines of 'I promise I'll be nice to Snape if you let me sleep on the bed'."

 

His words were rather unexpected, and both Ron and Harry nearly choked on the startled laughter. Sirius on the other hand looked quite put out by the statement, much to Harry's surprise. "Yeah, but I didn't mean for you to sleep on the couch instead," he grumbled, which just made Harry snicker all the louder.

 

Remus just shrugged as he sat down in one of the armchairs near the fireplace. "You didn't clarify. And a promise is a promise."

 

"Fine," Sirius huffed as he moved his queen across the chessboard, only to have Ron's bishop smash her to pieces on the next move. "Oh, see now I've lost the game because of Snape!" he exclaimed.

 

"You were losing the game before Snape was ever mentioned," Ron pointed out. "You're a terrible player."

 

"I'm a very good player," Sirius argued. "I just don't play well like this."

 

"Like what?" Ron asked bewilderedly.

 

"Thinking about all the moves," Sirius explained. "I prefer the one second rule."

 

"One second rule?" Ron frowned over at Harry who just shrugged. Remus chuckled and shook his head.

 

"One second between moves," Sirius told him. "If you don't move your piece inside that one second you forfeit your move and your opponent gets to go again."

 

"But that's . . . that's. . . ." Ron stared down at the chessboard in something akin to horror. "How can you plan anything like that?"

 

"You can't," Sirius grinned. "You just have to go with your gut instinct. It makes the games a lot more interesting."

 

"I've never heard of anything so silly," Ron huffed.

 

Remus chuckled. "Albus attempted to get the different houses to play chess together in the evenings when we were in school. Unfortunately forcing a Gryffindor and Slytherin to sit in silence for a long period of time while playing a game proved to be damn near impossible. About five minutes into the games Sirius or James or Severus or Lucius Malfoy would inevitably blow a fuse and the evening would end in bloodshed. That's when Sirius came up with the one second rule -- the games were over before that five minute window passed and we all stopped the endless streams of detentions Professor McGonagall was giving us."

 

"Who usually won?" Harry asked curiously. Somehow he was having a hard time picturing Sirius playing chess against Lucius Malfoy.

 

"Actually they were all pretty well matched," Remus said thoughtfully. "But inevitably Peter ended up winning more matches than anyone else. He was remarkably quick when it came to thinking on his feet."

 

"That little rat," Sirius growled, his features darkening with the reminder of their one time friend. "I should have realized there was something wrong with him back then."

 

To that, Remus had no response.

 

The crackle of magic sounded sharply outside as someone Apparated just outside the wards to the Burrow. Harry immediately turned to look out the window and saw a tall dark figure just outside the gate that led up the road to the house. He knew immediately by the stance and the long striding walk the figure took up the walkway that it was Snape.

 

Grinning, Harry leaped up from his seat and ran to the front door, throwing it open. As the warm light from the house spilled out into the icy winter darkness, Severus looked up in surprise, as if startled to be greeted so openly by anyone.

 

Harry just smiled at him, taking in his appearance with more appreciation than he had expected. For once the man was not wearing his traditional black robes. He was dressed more like he had been the night they had gone to Briarwood Hall for dinner -- leather pants and boots, a white shirt with a dark, wine-colored doublet, and a matching cloak that was lined with silver fur. Harry took a point of noticing that his hair was clean and wild-looking -- one compliment and he had never gone back to his former style much to Harry's delight. The last time someone had sullenly referred to him as the 'greasy git' Harry had taken pains to point out that he was far from greasy looking these days. Indeed, while he was not what one would traditionally call handsome, Harry thought he was at least dashing looking. Though the idea that he was even remotely interested in his bond-mate's appearance disturbed him on levels he didn't want to explore.

 

"Happy Christmas!" he greeted as Severus made his way onto the porch.

 

He saw Snape's gaze rake over him, moving swiftly from head to toe. "Happy Christmas," he greeted mildly, though there was warmth in his eyes that hadn't been there last time Harry had spoken to him. "I see you are still in one piece."

 

"Yep," Harry agreed impishly. "I've limited myself to five death defying acts a day just to make you happy."

 

"Only five?" Severus mused. "I'm touched. I can't even begin to imagine the boredom you must be suffering."

 

Harry nodded in agreement. "It's been difficult. But Mrs. Weasley assures me that it builds character."

 

He could see the humor gleaming in Severus' eyes. "Character? Is that what it's called these days? When I was your age I believed it was referred to as idiocy."

 

Harry just shrugged happily. "Oh, you know young people these days. No respect for the English language."

 

At that moment Molly Weasley appeared beside Harry, smiling warmly at the man on her doorstep. "Severus! Welcome. Come in out of the cold."

 

"Thank you, Molly," Severus nodded as he entered the Burrow for the first time. Harry noticed a small trunk floating calmly behind him. Molly immediately flicked her wand and sent it dancing up the stairs to Percy's room. There was a yelp of surprise as someone barely managed to dodge out of its way.

 

The others came in then to greet Snape. Arthur and Remus were openly genuine in their welcome, and both Bill and Charlie came forward to shake his hand politely. Percy positively gushed as he welcomed him to the Burrow, remarking that Severus had always been one of his most favorite teachers. Ron, the twins and Ginny just looked at their elder brother with baffled looks of horror on their faces.

 

Sirius and Severus nodded to each other in acknowledgement, but didn't exchange a greeting beyond that. Still it was better that open bloodshed, Harry mused. The Grangers were both polite but somewhat awkward in their greeting, and Harry knew they were still trying to deal with the fact that one of their daughter's friends had been forcibly married off to this man only a few months earlier. It was obvious that they didn't know what to expect from him -- certainly Hermione's descriptions of him from prior years did little to put their minds at ease over what sort of person he might be.

 

Throughout it all Severus was surprisingly polite -- for him anyway. He refrained from openly insulting anyone, and was remarkably gracious to both Molly and Arthur. Indeed he had brought a host gift for the two of them -- a bottle of wine which Arthur particularly had exclaimed over. From Arthur's reaction and Sirius raised eyebrow (a sign that he was impressed but not going to admit it) Harry gathered that the wine was some rare vintage that the Weasley family were not likely to see often.

 

Christmas Eve dinner was a lively affair with sixteen people crowded around the dinner table. It was exactly what Harry had always imagined a large family Christmas would be like, and he knew he spent most of the evening grinning somewhat foolishly at all the people around him. The twins, having discovered that Sirius and Remus were in fact the infamous Marauders spent most of the evening exchanging pranks with them, though thankfully they were under strict orders from Molly to confine their jokes to the four of them. The rest of the guest were spared, and were able to enjoy the results all the more. Seeing both Sirius and Remus with pink hair while the twins sported feathers on their heads and long, odd looking donkey ears made Harry laugh until his sides hurt. Luckily all four of them were rather good-natured about the whole thing, though the Grangers didn't appear to know what to think.

 

Conversations after dinner were just as interesting as well. From what Harry had figured out from Wizarding society, Severus did not move in the same social circles as the Weasleys. Neither did Sirius for that matter, but his status as a wanted criminal currently altered his situation. As such Arthur seemed quite eager to talk to Severus about various political topics currently considered hot by the Ministry. It seemed that the Snape family had a say in who became the next Minister of Magic.

 

Harry interrupted at that, confused by the inference, as were the Grangers. "I thought the Minister of Magic was voted into office," he stated. "Isn't that what all this nonsense about trying to adopt me was all about? Fudge was trying to curry votes."

 

"He is voted into office," Remus agreed. "Or rather someone will be when the next election rolls around." He'd already been told that the next election was nearly a year away -- Halloween of the following year. Harry thought it was awfully early in the season for any of the candidates to be campaigning so hard. He'd been under the impression that the election was imminent. But as was so often the case, things were done differently in the Wizarding World.

 

"It's one of the reasons people are campaigning so early, Harry," Remus continued. "If it were simply a matter of one person, one vote, things would be a bit simpler. But we aren't a democracy as the Muggles understand it."

 

"You mean not all your citizens get to vote?" Michael looked shocked at the idea.

 

"Not all of our citizens should vote," Severus informed him. "Take Giants for example -- most of them are not even capable of writing their own names. Should they be required to understand the intricacies of an election? Or what about the entire Veela nation -- by law our elections must occur on the night of Samhain, but all full-blooded Veela go into heat on that night. They would not be capable of casting a vote."

 

Harry found himself blushing at the idea of anyone going into heat and glanced over at Bill. Seeing his gaze Bill just shook his head. "She's only half Veela," he assured him. "Consequently the Delecour family gets to cast a vote for a very large group of people."

 

"Votes are cast by heads of family," Remus told them. "A single family gets a certain number of votes depending on their land holdings, their magical powers, and the number of their vassals under them. So one of the things the various candidates for Minister are doing is attempting to influence the alliances between the lesser families. If they can move the vassals from one family holding to another they can influence the number of votes being cast in their favor. As near as I know the Snapes have a total of forty-three votes they get to cast in this election."

 

"Forty-seven," Severus corrected. "We acquired the Mirwanden vote when my brother's son was born -- he's the only male heir to his mother's family line." He glanced at Harry. "Julliana," he explained, reminding Harry of Claudius Snape's ditsy wife.

 

"What about the rest of you?" Michael asked curiously. "Do you all have votes?"

 

Arthur laughed at that. "While my family is an old name, we don't have much land to our name. For the last fifty years we've been allied with the Dumbledore family -- our vote goes as Albus sees fit to cast it. "

 

"I'm the last of my line and my family were neither pure blooded nor landed," Remus explained. "I have no vote at all. Nor any value as a vassal." Harry frowned uncomfortably at that, not certain he liked hearing Remus refer to himself in such a manner.

 

"What about you?" Michael asked Sirius -- his curiosity about the rather infamous criminal had been apparent the last few days.

 

Sirius frowned. "The Black family has forty-one votes, but unfortunately while I've been locked up in Azkaban my cousin Narcissa Malfoy has been casting my votes along with a few others that should not by rights be hers. It's given the Malfoys an unfair advantage over all the other families. Lucius has forty-nine votes to his name. Add all the others that Narcissa has been claiming, and they have become one of the most powerful families around. That is why the Ministry is so quick to look the other way when Lucius does something wrong."

 

"But isn't he a Death Eater?" Anna exclaimed in horror. "Are you saying that the Death Eaters get a say in who is elected Minister?"

 

Severus nodded. "The Zabinis, the Averys, the Notts, the Crabbes, the Goyles and the Lestranges are all supporters of the Dark Lord, and each of them have numerous votes to cast."

 

"Even still?" Harry asked curiously. Mr. Crabbe and Goyle were both dead, and Mr. Zabini was locked up in Azkaban.

 

"Crabbe's and Goyle's wives will cast their votes, and Blaise Zabini will cast his father's vote," Severus nodded.

 

"What about Muggleborn?" Hermione broke in. "If Muggleborns are new to the Wizarding World, how do they get a vote?"

 

"They don't," Severus said simply, raising one dark eyebrow. "Perhaps you can see why there is such conflict over the issue between Muggleborns and purebloods. It's very easy for purebloods to pass legislation against them -- those that disagree with such prejudices generally have a war on their hands to prevent such laws. It's one of the reasons why we are at war now."

 

"So there's absolutely no way for a Muggleborn to gain a vote?" Hermione huffed.

 

"Of course there's a way," Severus informed her. "It just doesn't happen very often. I told you, votes come from land holdings, magical powers, or vassals. If a Muggleborn can acquire either land holdings or vassals they automatically get a vote. Baring that, if a Muggleborn reaches a certain level of magical power they are automatically granted by a vote by Magical Acknowledgement of the Wisengamut. But that does not happen very often. When you come of age you can petition for a vote -- and I would guess you'll probably get it. But one vote alone has very little sway in the political arena -- you would be better suited to choose a family to align yourself with and add your vote to theirs."

 

Despite his words, Harry could see something rather calculating in Hermione's eyes and he couldn't help wondering if they were going to see the emergence of a new organization like S.P.E.W. in the near future.

 

Something suddenly occurred to him. "Wait a minute," Harry cut in. "What about me? Does my family have any sort of a vote?"

 

"The Potters had thirty-three votes," Sirius informed him. "Unfortunately while you were underage, those votes should have been mine as your god father -- but once again went to Narcissa Malfoy."

 

"The Malfoys have been casting my votes?" Harry was incensed at the idea. "They help Voldemort murder my parents and then get to claim my father's votes after he's dead?"

 

Sirius nodded, a pained look on his face.

 

"Do they still get them?" Harry demanded turning toward Snape.

 

"No," he quickly assured him. "You're considered an adult now. The votes are yours."

 

"Mine or yours?" he asked for clarification wondering if Snape was considered the head of his household.

 

"If you are asking if I get to cast your votes for you, the answer is no," he replied. "The Potter line is a sovereign one and is considered equal to the Snapes. We have what is viewed as an alliance and everyone will expect us to vote the same way. But you could technically vote against me if you wished. However, if we are to have a single heir between us, then he or she would gain both sets of votes when we die."

 

"A single heir?" Harry blanched for a moment and looked at Hermione with a sudden horrifying thought. Hermione, well used to his questions, just looked at him disbelief.

 

"Don't be an idiot, Harry," she exclaimed and reached over and whapped him upside the head. A wave of relief washed over him, and the twins began roaring with laughter, the only two people besides Hermione who had figured out what direction his thoughts had gone. All the other stared in confusion. Finally Fred took pity on them.

 

"Harry was afraid you were about to inform him that wizards can get pregnant."

 

That set the others off immediately, Ron and Sirius in particular falling out of their seats they were laughing so hard. Severus just rolled his eyes and sent a disbelieving stare at Harry. "Designating an heir is not something you should be worrying about right now," he informed Harry quietly below the laughter. Harry just nodded in relief.

 

"What about Sirius' vote then," Harry asked once the laughter had died down. "Since he's my godfather can I claim his vote until he's been cleared by the Ministry? I don't like the idea of the Malfoys having anything to do with us."

 

"That's not a bad idea," Sirius agreed thoughtfully. He glanced at Snape. "It's a legitimate claim, especially since he's a legal adult now. He's already my designated heir. All you'd have to do is get my will from Gringotts to prove it. He'd need to file the appropriate documents with the Ministry, but I'm sure you can help him with that. It would substantially weaken the Malfoys."

 

Severus nodded. "I'll speak with Albus about it when I return to Hogwarts."

 

They spoke a while longer about the political climate in Wizarding Britain, but eventually Molly ushered them all off to bed for the night. Harry felt a moment of uncertainty as he followed Ron into his bedroom -- he couldn't help wonder if he was expected by anyone to sleep in Percy's room with Severus now that he was in the house. But no one said anything to him as he bid them all good night. He had to put up with a bit of ribbing from Ron over the idea that wizards could get pregnant as they settled down for the night. Ron fell silent for a while but Harry could tell he was not asleep.

 

"Harry?" he asked hesitantly. Harry rolled over in the dark so that he could stare across the room at Ron. Without his glasses on Ron was little more than a dark blob to him. "You do know about that sort of thing, right?" Ron asked.

 

"What sort of thing?" Harry frowned.

 

"You know . . ." Ron shifted in his bed as if he were uncomfortable. "Sex," he finally whispered. That he had said the word at all was surprising -- Harry had come to the conclusion that the Wizarding World was a great deal more prudish than the Muggle world when in came to such discussions.

 

"Oh," Harry replied uncomfortably. Truthfully, he didn't know much about it. He'd figured out the basics from the few glimpses he'd been allowed to see of Muggle Television. And there was a lot one could pick up from inferences just by listening to the other boys talk. But if Ron was asking if he'd ever actually been sat down and told about such things -- then the answer was no. The closest he'd ever come to such a conversation was the day his Aunt Petunia had found Dudley touching himself in the bathroom. For whatever reason, instead of punishing Dudley, she'd beaten Harry with a wooden cooking spoon until his back was black and blue with marks. Though he had only been ten at the time, he'd been given to understand that such behavior in Dudley had been caused because Harry was a freak. He'd since figured out the truth, but not because anyone had ever explained it to him.

 

"Mom and Dad did the whole 'talk' thing with me," Ron explained. "Which was bloody awful let me tell you. But afterwards Bill and Charlie cleared every thing up. Brothers are good for some things."

 

He'd heard about the 'talk'. Apparently it was something that all children experienced with their parents at some point in time. He had never been subjected to it of course.

 

"Did anyone ever give you the talk?" Ron asked hesitantly.

 

"No," Harry admitted. "But I figured it out for myself -- the basics anyway."

 

Even in the dark he could tell Ron was frowning. "Then how come you thought it might be possible for wizards to get pregnant?"

 

Harry felt himself flushing at that. It occurred to him suddenly that if Ron, who wasn't always the quickest person around, had wondered that, no doubt every single person in the room tonight were wondering the same thing by now.

 

"Okay, so maybe I don't know everything," Harry mumbled. "I'm going to be tormented the next few days aren't I? Everyone is going to want to have this talk with me."

 

Ron was silent for a few moments as if trying to decide how to answer. "Probably," he agreed.

 

"Great," Harry sighed.

 

"Who'd you prefer?" Ron asked. "I can ask Bill or Charlie if you'd like. Or if you want I can tell you -- though to be honest with you I don't know about . . . well, you know. . ."

 

But Harry didn't know. "What?"

 

"You know," Ron said, obviously embarrassed. "Two guys."

 

Two guys? It took Harry a moment to figure out that he was in fact talking about him and Snape. "Oh," he said with some surprise. "Do you think that I'm . . ." he had no idea what the Wizarding word for gay was, but obvious Ron caught the inference.

 

"Well, whether you are not, Harry, the fact is you're married to a man."

 

"Yeah, but we're not. . .I mean we don't. . ." Harry broke off, not certain how to finish that sentence.

 

"Yeah, but sooner or later, don't you think that. . ." Ron broke off, and Harry wasn't certain how he had intended to finish that conversation. Did he mean to say that sooner or later he expected Harry would want something intimate from Snape, or that sooner or later Snape would expect Harry to act more like a spouse was supposed to? He got the impression from the nasty comments from the Slytherin students, not to mention Minister Fudge's and Julius' accusation that Snape actually had the right to demand such things from him. Harry had just assumed that he never would.

 

Then there was also the issue of Sonara Sinistra. Harry had finally come to the conclusion that he didn't like the idea of infidelity in a marriage -- even one as bizarre as his. But if that was the case didn't that mean that sooner or later, deep down, he expected things to change between him and Snape? Surely he didn't expect to live his entire life in celibacy -- and he could hardly expect Snape to.

 

"Huh," Harry stated, feeling somewhat stumped at the thought. "I never thought about that."

 

"That's kind of what I figured," Ron sighed. "Do you want to talk about it?"

 

"Not right now," Harry told him. "Let me think about it for a while, okay."

 

"No problem," Ron assured him, and he sounded vaguely relieved. "But just so you know, Charlie is a good one to talk to. He won't tease you or anything -- Bill on the other hand is liable to show you visual aids in the form of shadow puppets -- and that's just not right."

 

It took Harry a long time to stop snickering before he fell to sleep.

 

--------------------

 

Author's Note: I'd thought about the whole 'talk' thing with regards to this story's version of Harry. If you were raised in social isolation like Harry, never allowed to have friends, never allowed to watch TV or listen to the radio, never allowed to buy your own books or magazines or even read the family newspaper -- how would you learn the facts of life? Certainly the Dursleys weren't going to explain them to Harry -- and after the incident with Dudley Harry would likely be wary of the topic anyway -- certainly too wary to ever ask questions.

 

That would leave the school system to give him the facts -- and Harry left the Muggle school system at age 11. In my school we didn't watch our 'facts of life' videos until we were 12 years old. Harry would have missed them in primary school -- and since this Wizarding World of mine is a bit more old-fashioned, I doubt very much they had such a class for Harry to attend. That would mean everything he's figured out more likely than not came from listening to Seamus, Dean, Neville and Ron joking around in the dorm room -- and just how accurate do you suppose their information might be? Ron got all flustered when Hermione referred to Sinistra as a 'slut'.

 

But for those of you who want my romance to speed up -- at least Harry has now thought of Sex and Severus in the same breath.

Next up -- Christmas Day. What sorts of presents will everyone receive?

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 26 Christmas Presents

 

Christmas morning in the Weasley home was a study in chaos. Though the Weasleys were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, there were plenty of presents to go around -- including a Weasley jumper for everyone there. Seeing Severus and Sirius in matching blue jumpers, each with a red 'S' on their chest was just about the funniest thing Harry had ever imagined. Ron and Remus also matched with their bright Maroon 'R's.

 

Sirius had also taken great pains to find gifts for all of the Weasley children -- and though Harry suspected Bill and Charlie, who weren't that much younger than Sirius, were embarrassed to be lumped into the 'child' description, they were delighted with the long slender swords they had been given. Remembering the conversation about pureblood families and swords, Harry glanced at Arthur Weasley. The man looked somewhat sad to see the swords in his sons' hands, but he nodded his thanks to Sirius. They were at war and though Arthur didn't want to admit it, as members of the Order of the Phoenix, his sons would be on the front lines. Sirius clapped Arthur on the shoulder in sympathy, but nothing more was said.

 

To Harry's surprise Severus had brought gifts for everyone as well. They came mostly in the forms of expensive books that he knew the Weasley family could not possibly afford, though for Fred and George he had purchased potion ingredients that they had gone apes over. While they had been lousy potions students due to their pranks, they were actually excellent potion makers. Their prank products required a degree of skill that Severus obvious recognized.

 

He had also purchased a book on the History of the Wizarding World for the Grangers -- something they were obviously delighted over after the nature of the conversations they had been having the last couple of nights. To Harry's amazement, Severus also had a gift for both Remus and Sirius. It was an old book bound up in leather. Harry was rather stunned that he was giving his godfather anything, but as Severus handed it across to Sirius, he saw his godfather handing a similar book over to Severus.

 

Seeing the look of disbelief on Harry's face, Sirius just smiled at him and ruffled his hair. "They're family lineage books," he explained. "They are something we should have exchanged before the two of you were ever bonded. It's a very old tradition. I'll show it to you later if you'd like."

 

Harry just nodded, guessing that this was yet another custom he knew nothing about.

 

Harry was delighted with the new broom he'd gotten from Sirius and Remus, both with the broom itself as well as the fact that both men's names were on the card, as if they were already together. His firebolt had been damaged the day he'd taken the Eye of Odin from Voldemort's hand, and though it was still useable, it wasn't as maneuverable as it once was.

 

He was sitting on the floor along with Ron, Hermione and Ginny admiring the broom when Severus tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. He was a bit surprised when Severus handed him a very small, neatly wrapped box a few moments later. He had expected a book like Ron and Hermione had gotten from the Potions Master. He opened the box curiously. Inside was a potion vial. Taking it out, he read the label out loud. "Oculus Reparium Infinitas."

 

There were several startled gasps at the name, and Harry frowned as he glanced around. Even Sirius looked both surprised and impressed. "Isn't that the spell you use to repair my glasses, Hermione?" Harry asked.

 

But Hermione shook her head. "No, that's Oculus Reparo. What you've got in your hand is like a thousand times better than Lazic Surgery or the Eye Sight Repairing charm."

 

That caught the attention of the two Grangers, but the others didn't catch the reference. "What's Lazic Surgery?" Ron wanted to know.

 

"It's a Muggle procedure that corrects bad eye sight," Hermione explained. "They use lasers to reshape your eye, but it doesn't always work and it has about a two week recovery period. Furthermore, your eyes sight will proceeded to deteriorate again over the years." She glanced at her parents. "And the charm only fixes your eyes for the day -- kind of like the equivalent of contact lenses."

 

"What does this do?" Harry wanted to know.

 

"That fixes your eyes, permanently, dear, for the rest of your life," Molly informed him. She glanced at Severus. "I'd venture to guess there aren't more than ten Masters in the whole world who can make that potion."

 

Harry glanced up at Severus in amazement. He just smirked at him, and motioned to the bottle in his hand. "Well, go on, drink it."

 

Harry didn't have to be told twice. He carefully worked the stopper free and then raised the bottle to his lips, drinking the contents down quickly. It tasted remarkably like very strong vinegar and he made a grimace of disgust as it slid down his throat, his eyes stinging from the strong fumes. Blinking quickly to clear his eyes from the tears the fumes caused he was immediately aware of the fact that the entire room had gone blurry. Very blurry.

 

He frowned in confusion, thinking perhaps something had gone wrong. "But everything's blurry!" he protested.

 

"Gryffindors," Severus just sighed and leaned forward, gently plucking the glasses off Harry's face. Instantly the room sprang into focus with a clarity Harry had never experienced before. He'd had the same glasses since he was ten years old, and they had never corrected his eyesight the way they should have. To see everything now with perfect visions was like gaining an entirely new sense. His amazement must have been visible to everyone in the room.

 

"You okay, Harry?" Sirius asked in concern.

 

"Is this how all of you see all the time?" he asked in disbelief. He could see flecks of silver in Ron's blue eyes, and strands of soft red in Hermione's brown hair. And Sirius had several pale freckles on his nose, and Remus a faint scar just below his bottom lip. And Severus -- his eyes really were the most extraordinary shade of black. "Thank you," he told the man, moved beyond words by the gift he'd been given. Until this moment he hadn't realized just how bad his eyesight had truly been.

 

Severus just nodded to him, his eyes gleaming brightly. "You're welcome," he said softly.

 

There were other gifts passed around -- including several dresses from the Grangers to Hermione and Ginny, which Ginny had squealed over. While the girls were trying on their clothes, Harry got up and retrieved two packages that he'd hidden under the large tree when he'd first arrived. He handed one of them to Sirius and watched in silence at the man opened it.

 

The look of shock on Sirius's face when he pulled out the snow globe said more than all the words in the world. For a moment Sirius looked as if he were about to cry, one hand moving to cover his mouth as if holding back a sob. When he finally was capable again of reacting he reached out and pulled Harry into his arms, the snow globe clutched tightly in one hand.

 

"Where did you find this?" he asked, and the tears were very obvious in his voice.

 

"In my vault," Harry told him. "When I saw what was written on the bottom, I thought you might like to have it back."

 

"Are you sure you want to give this to me, Harry?" he asked hesitantly.

 

"What is it?" Remus asked curiously. They had caught the attention of most of the people in the room, though the others were trying politely not to eaves-drop on the obviously emotional experience for the man.

 

Sirius handed the snow globe to Remus, who took it carefully in his hands. It wasn't a particularly fancy snow globe -- rather oddly made for a Wizarding item. It showed a house which looked like it was made out of candy. And standing in front of the house were the shapes of two boys though they were little more than stick figures. The entire thing was encased in a crystal ball of glass that was mounted on a uneven wooden stand. But unlike Muggle snow globes, this one was not filled with water -- rather there was a charm on it which set the shredded bits of paper snow swirling continuously around the scene whether you were shaking the ball or not. Despite the magic spell on it, the entire thing looked as if it had been made by amateur hands. As Remus turned the globe over and saw what was written on the bottom, he caught his breath in surprise. "Siri and Jamie, age 7," he read. He looked at Sirius questioningly. "You made this?"

 

Sirius nodded. "James and I met for the first time at a summer camp when we were seven years old. That was our art project. I had no idea he'd kept it all these years." He turned to Harry. "Are you sure you want to give this to me? You don't own many things belonging to your father."

 

But Harry just smiled at him and shook his head. "I have his two best friends. What more could I want?" Both men hugged him again, obviously moved. When they released him at last, Harry glanced down at the last package in his hand. It was small, and book shaped. "I have a gift for you too Remus, but. . ." He glanced over at Severus who had been watching their exchange in silence. While Severus might not have liked James Potter, he knew any reminder of that fact would not have been welcome or appropriate at the moment. "It's sort of part of Severus' gift."

 

All three men looked perplexed by that statement, none of them understanding what Harry could possibly imagine a gift to be that Severus and Remus might share. He just shrugged. "You'll see," he said as he handed the wrapped package across to Severus.

 

Frowning in confusion, Severus took the gift from him and carefully unwrapped it, everyone else in the room now watching the proceedings in curious silence. As predicted, Severus unwrapped a small thin book. There was no writing on the outside of it, so he opened it up to the first page, his eyes narrowing as he recognized the handwriting inside. "This is your handwriting," he stated. "You wrote a book?"

 

"No," Harry said quietly and waited.

 

Severus gasped suddenly, his entire body stiffening as he read the first few lines written there. His hands were shaking as he looked up and pinned Harry with his stare. "Harry, what is this?" he whispered in the silence that had fallen over the room.

 

Harry settled back onto the floor of the Weasley's living room. "It's the first volume of the Book of Light by Salazar Slytherin."

 

There were several shocked gasps of disbelief followed by some quiet murmurs to the two Grangers who didn't understand the significance of the name. Every eye in the room turned to Harry for an explanation. "I found them in the Chamber of Secrets a few months ago," he explained.

 

"You went back down into the Chamber?" Ginny asked, her voice trembling.

 

Harry frowned. He'd forgotten that Ginny had also been in the chamber, though he knew she didn't remember much of it. Her face was pale and her father gently put his arms around her, holding her tightly against him.

 

"I had a dream," Harry explained. "About a series of books, the Books of Dark, that Slytherin had written. Tom Riddle removed them from the Chamber long ago, but he left the Books of Light behind. He had no use for them. He believed that Light meant weak. But just because he had no use for them didn't mean that we didn't. I went back down to the Chamber to see if they were still there, intending to give them to the Headmaster if they were. But when I found them, I realized they were written in Parseltongue. Voldemort and I were the only ones who could read them. So I started translating them. This is the only one I've managed to finish. But as soon as I figured out what was in this volume I knew it would do more good in your hands, Severus, than anyone else's."

 

"What's in it?" Severus asked, his hands clenched tightly around the priceless volume.

 

"Slytherin's experiments and notes, mostly on potions."

 

"Harry," Severus said, his voice filled with more emotion than he'd ever heard before. "Do you have any idea how valuable this is?"

 

"Yeah, actually I do," Harry agreed, and he glanced over at Remus, wondering how the man was going to take the rest of his news. "That's why I said this was sort of a gift for you as well Remus."

 

"I don't understand," the werewolf said uncertainly. What possible use could a book of potions written by Slytherin have to do with him?

 

Harry took a deep breath. "Salazar Slytherin believed that lycanthropy was not a disease."

 

"What?" both Sirius and Remus asked in unison, the tension clear on their faces.

 

"According to Slytherin lycanthropy was the result of a failed Animagus transformation," Harry explained. "An Animagus has the power to transform into an animal -- a non-magical animal, like a cat or dog or deer. According to Slytherin's notes there was a wizard a long time ago who made an attempt to transform himself into a magical creature -- a Hell Hound to be exact."

 

"You can't transform into a magical creature," Hermione protested. "It won't work. Wizards and magical creatures have a different type of connection between their minds and their magical cores. Such a transformation would disconnect your mind from your magical core and you would no longer be able to control the magic -- which would automatically stop the transformation."

 

Harry nodded. "According to Slytherin, when an Animagus transforms into a non-magical animal the connection between his mind and his magical core remains intact. But when a human tries to transform into a magical-creature the connection breaks. The man who attempted the magical transformation reasoned that all he would need to do would be to come up with a potion that would bridge the gap between his mind and the Hell Hound's magical core so that not only could he control his magic but he would also retain his human mind. But something went wrong -- he got the potion wrong and it only partially worked. He retained his magic so that the transformation worked, but he lost the connection to his mind and mutated into a mindless, wolf-like beast. He never transformed back, and before he was killed he managed to bite several different people. His saliva was infected with the potion he had taken.

 

"Now obviously his transformation was triggered by the Animagus metamorphosis spell. But the potion was unstable and it automatically triggered a weakened version of the metamorphosis spell the first night the moon was full. The victims of the wizard's bite transformed into mindless beasts until the sun rose the following day. The first werewolves were born. But the thing is, Slytherin didn't think that there was anything wrong with the wizard's logic -- he just reasoned that the man had screwed up the potion. That is what he wrote in that notebook -- his own experiments with the potion. There were two things wrong with it -- first he'd used several lunar-based plants which caused the potion to react to the full moon in a way that it shouldn't have, and second, the wizard himself did not possess a strong enough magical core to complete the transformation properly. According to his notes, Slytherin fixed the potion and gave it to a number of different werewolves. If they were strong enough, it cured them." With that Harry turned to Remus, his eyes shining.

 

"I know you're strong enough Remus. The test to determine their magical strength was the Patronus Charm. Only the werewolves who were strong enough to cast the Patronus Charm were cured. You taught the charm to me. I know Severus can make the potion, and I know you'll be strong enough to be cured."

 

Remus was openly trembling now, a look of disbelief on his face. By this point, Sirius had wrapped his arms around the man's shoulders and was holding him tightly.

 

"Cured," Remus whispered. "No more transformations? No more full moons?"

 

Harry shook his head. "No more full moons," he agreed. "But you don't understand, Remus. You won't be a werewolf, you'll be a magical Animagus. The cure gives you the ability to transform into the wolf whenever you wish, full moon or not, night or day. And you are never in danger of loosing your human mind. You'll have to learn the Animagus spells, but I know Sirius can teach them to you. And Severus will have to learn how to make the potion, but I can't imagine anyone more capable. I know it will work. It has to."

 

Both men were now looking at Severus almost desperately, hope burning in both their eyes as Severus began skimming through the book. While Harry knew there was no love lost between the Marauders and Severus, he had no doubt that the man would do everything in his power to make the cure Slytherin wrote about. "I can see similarities to the wolvesbane potion," he stated. "The same basic principles, and there's a charm component." He glanced up at the two men. "I'm going to have to do some experiments to make certain it is safe. And the potion itself takes several months to brew. But I'll do everything I can."

 

At his words, Remus let out a barely stifled sob. Rising swiftly to his feet he rushed from the room, Sirius close on his tail. Alarmed Harry turned to the others for an explanation.

 

"Leave them alone for few moments, Harry," Bill urged. "For most of his life Remus has been controlled by a very painful and terrifying curse. I can't imagine what he must be feeling right now to know there may be an end in sight at last."

 

Harry nodded in understanding, hoping the man was all right.

 

"Harry, you said there were other volumes," Severus said. "How many, and have you read them all?"

 

"Ten in all," Harry explained. "I've looked through them -- they're filled with all sorts of things. Spells, potions, charms, medicine, sometimes just ideas and philosophy. But unfortunately Parseltongue is not easy to translate. It looks like English to me. I can't tell you how many times while I was working on that volume when I found myself simply writing it back down in Parseltongue when I thought I was writing English." He laughed somewhat self-deprecatingly. "It's a pity really that such an ability was wasted on me instead of on you or Hermione. I only understand a fraction of the things in the book."

 

"Don't be so hard on yourself, Harry," Hermione told him quickly. "I think you understand more than you realize. You obviously understood what Slytherin was saying about the lycanthropy potion."

 

"And I know from personal experience that translating an ancient manuscript is no easy task," Severus added, freely giving a compliment to the surprise of his other students. "It's a priceless gift, Harry. Thank you."

 

Harry just grinned at him, his face flushed with pleasure. "You're welcome."

 

"Well, this calls for a celebration," Molly decided, rising to her feet. "What say we get breakfast on the table so we can all eat. We have a lot of work ahead of us to get Christmas dinner on the table tonight, and Albus, Minerva and Hagrid will be here in a couple of hours."

 

While the rest of them scrambled to help Molly, Harry went in search of Remus and Sirius. He found them outside on the front porch wrapped in each other's arms. Remus had his face buried against Sirius' neck, and Sirius was gently stroking his back. Neither man was saying anything. Reluctant to disturb so intimate a moment, Harry turned to go back into the house, but Remus must have heard him.

 

"Harry," he called.

 

Harry turned back, staring at the two of them hesitantly. Both men were looking at him now with so much emotion in their eyes he wanted to cry. Instead he moved toward them and they both infolded him in their arms.

 

"Thank you, Harry," Remus said simply, and the tone of his voice said everything that ever needed to be said on the subject.

 

-----------------------------------

 

Author's Notes: This chapter deals with one of my pet peeves in the HP world. The Wizarding World can regrow bones, conjure items out of thin air, transfigure animals into objects and objects into animals -- but they can't fix poor eyesight? Muggles have been able to fix eyesight for years now -- so why on earth can't the wizards? And if they can't why hasn't Madam Pomfrey fixed Harry's vision during one of his numerous stays in the hospital wing?

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 27 Before the Storm

 

Christmas Dinner was a joyous affair. Albus, Minerva and Hagrid joined them and Harry realized that he had everyone in the world that he loved sitting there at the table. He couldn't think of a better gift to himself than to simply be here, part of this odd family. He knew the war still hung over his head, and when they returned to Hogwarts they would return to the worry that haunted him constantly. But for this one day he was happy, and he determined to forget about everything else for a while.

 

Albus of course wanted to hear all about Slytherin's books, and he promised to take the Headmaster back down to the Chamber to see if any of the remaining books were of any value. Truthfully, he found it very odd to think that he had access to a place in Hogwarts that the Headmaster did not.

 

They all talked late into the night, but eventually Hagrid, Albus, Minerva and Severus bid them goodbye to head back to Hogwarts, while the Grangers prepared to use a port key Albus had brought them to go home. Before he left, Severus drew Harry outside to talk to him in private.

 

"I wanted to thank you for inviting me, Harry," he told him. "I didn't expect to enjoy myself, but I did."

 

Harry grinned at him, his new and improved eyesight letting him see more clearly the subtle play of emotion in Severus' eyes. If you knew what to look for, the man was actually quite expressive, despite the fact that he so rarely smiled. "I'm glad you came."

 

"Was it what you were hoping for?" Severus asked curiously, motioning back toward the house. Harry knew immediately what he was talking about, the memory of the invitation he'd issued to Severus springing clearly to mind.

 

"Yes," he nodded. "Just like I'd imagined a family would be."

 

Severus nodded and turn to leave, though he paused a moment, a thoughtful look on his face. "You know. . .for all their lack of political power and prestige or social standing, the Weasleys are rare breed."

 

It was an extraordinary statement considering Severus' opinion of Gryffindors, but Harry knew exactly what he was saying. Severus' own family was nothing like this. Not too long ago he had told Harry that hate was a common theme in families, that often it was the glue that held them together. He was acknowledging openly that this was not true for the Weasleys.

 

"I know," Harry agreed. "But then from where I come from, all of you are a rare breed."

 

Severus frowned thoughtfully, but said nothing. Instead he gave Harry a very rare half smile, before nodding to him and apparating home. Harry, still grinning, went inside to join Sirius and Remus in the living room.

 

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Albus arranged for Harry, Hermione, Ron and Ginny to return to the castle two days before the other students returned on the Hogwart's Express. Severus found himself anxiously awaiting Harry's return. He'd missed the boy more than he expected; his quarters seemed empty without him. And though he had never touched the boy in the bed they shared, the nights felt colder without him beside him.

 

He'd spent much of the rest of the holiday pouring over the book Harry had given him. He doubted the Gryffindor truly understood what the personal notebook of Salazar Slytherin meant to someone like him -- the knowledge contained in the manuscript was some of the most sought after secrets in the entire world. Albus had been chomping at the bit to read the book himself, something Severus had promised he could do after he had copied it down in his own hand. And while the Lycanthropy cure was horribly complicated, Severus was certain it would work. It would require a great effort on both his and Lupin's part, but he was willing to put in the work, and knew Lupin would be as well. He anticipated publishing the results with great glee.

 

As for Harry, he found himself looking forward to the young man's company once more. The potion he had given the Gryffindor had done more than just improve his eyesight. It had also fixed the faint myopic caste to his green eyes. Without those clunky glasses, the boy had gone from being attractive to down right handsome. He had no doubt that the girls of Hogwarts would be swooning over him upon their return, and no few number of the boys as well.

 

Surprisingly both Black and Lupin had thanked Severus individually for the potion he had given Harry. It seemed they had determined between them that Harry had never actually received any proper eye care growing up. Apparently the glasses he had been wearing all these years weren't even made to his prescription -- they had been given to him by a neighbor who was throwing them out. They were several degrees weaker than they should have been and it was a wonder Harry had done as well in school as he had.

 

It occurred to Severus that if Harry had been unbeatable at Quidditch with such poor eyesight, his own house team did not stand a chance now. It would seem that until Harry graduated, he had no hope of winning his standing bet with Minerva. It was also entirely possible that Harry's prediction about him becoming a professional Quidditch player just might indeed come true.

 

Harry returned to their quarters later that morning, looking happy to be back and surprisingly cheerful to be in his company once again. He took only a few moments to unpack all his things before he raced off again -- to take Albus down to Chamber of Secrets he explained. Anxious to see it himself, Severus invited himself along, and the three of them along with Ron, Hermione, Remus and Sirius spent the day exploring Slytherin's domain. Ginny Weasley choose not to join them, having seen enough of the Chamber the first time.

 

Listening to Harry Potter speak Parseltongue was a strange experience for Severus. Save for that one time during the duel in Harry's second year, none of them had heard him use it again. Prior to that the only person Severus had ever heard speak Parseltongue was Lord Voldemort himself. Coming from Voldemort the language was the epitome of evil -- something dark and terrifying. To hear it from Harry's lips was alarming, startling all of them. Remus, Sirius and Albus had never heard him before and they all stared at the boy in silence as they listened to him hiss a command to open the various doors of the Chamber.

 

To Severus the sound was magical; coming from Harry's mouth it was strangely sensual. There wasn't a Slytherin alive who did not envy such a gift. To Severus' embarrassment he found himself becoming aroused by the sound and was grateful for the long robes he currently wore. He received only an odd glance from Remus, however, and so suspected that the others did not notice his reaction.

 

It was odd to explore the Chamber of Secrets with so many Gryffindors. It struck Severus almost as sacrilegious -- but then he saw the carcass of the enormous basilisk on the floor before the statue of Slytherin, and understood that once again he had severely underestimated the young man he had married. That a twelve-year-old had slain such a creature was unimaginable. That he had also somehow survived the bite of the creature, even with the aid of the Phoenix tears defied all logic.

 

The Gryffindors all gathered around the dead beast, poking and prodding it like some side show attraction, while Albus simply stood before it with an odd gleam in his blue eyes. Severus saw the old man turn to stare at Harry who was ignoring his godfather's and best friends' comments in favor of looking at the giant statue of Slytherin. Severus could see both sorrow and admiration in the old man's eyes and moved to his side in concern.

 

"Albus?" he said quietly.

 

"I hadn't realized it was such a creature, Severus," Albus murmured softly.

 

"It doesn't seem possible that he could have survived this," Severus agreed.

 

"No," Albus agreed. "It does not. But then Harry regularly does the impossible, doesn't he?"

 

Severus frowned at that, wondering what else Albus might be referring to. He had of course researched the King's Voice command that Harry had used that day in Hogsmeade. But beyond the translation of the spell, and the caveat that it was not useful because it did not seem to work any longer, he had learned nothing of significance. He, like Granger and Weasley, had tried the spell himself, but had failed to get it to work. How Harry had been able to force a Death Eater to turn on his companions with it, he did not know. He suspected Albus knew, or guessed, more than he was letting on. But then Albus Dumbledore had always had his secrets.

 

Severus asked Harry for permission to harvest the body of the basilisk for potion ingredients -- something which seemed to startled the young man. "Why are you asking me?" he wondered out loud.

 

"By all law, it belongs to you," Severus explained simply. "And it's worth a fortune if you must know."

 

Harry looked surprised at that, but he waved it aside. "Well you know I don't have any use for it. Have at it."

 

When he was certain that the Gryffindors were done oohing and ahing over the beast he summoned two of his personal house elves and had them begin the arduous task of harvesting the remains.

 

"The library chamber is through there," Harry explained, pointing to the mouth of the statue of Slytherin. They'd all brought their brooms with them and followed Harry inside. There they spent much of the day pouring over the books that had been left behind -- Remus, Albus, Hermione and Severus all in heaven over the discovery. Sirius, Ron and Harry however passed much of the day playing Exploding Snaps in a corner.

 

Severus and Albus spent the following day locked in Albus' office going through the books they had removed from Slytherin's chamber while Remus and Sirius headed into the Dark Forest to find a long list of ingredients Severus had determined he would need to begin his experiments on the Lycanthrope potion. They left the four younger Gryffindors to pass the day away out on the Quidditch pitch, having a snowball war -- boys against the girls.

 

Albus and Severus eventually came down to dinner just as Remus and Sirius were returning from their trip to the forest. Before sitting down to eat, Severus went through the list of ingredients, checking to see that they had found everything necessary. While Sirius had never been much of a potions student, Remus at least knew what he was doing and stored everything adequately.

 

"Where are the children?" Minerva asked as she entered the great hall to join them for dinner.

 

Severus glanced up at that, noticing for the first time that none of the younger Gryffindors had come in from the cold. Night had already fallen, and it was unusual that they had not returned. He was just about to go look for them, when the Hall doors burst open and to Severus' shock his sister Diana came running in, followed closely by Hagrid.

 

"Severus!" she cried, her dark eyes wild and desperate looking. "I couldn't stop him!"

 

A cold chill of dread washed over Severus' body. "Diana?" He caught hold of his sister's arms, shaking her fiercely. "What are you talking about? Stop who?" If this had something to do with Julius. . .

 

"I tried to stop him," she insisted, her face pale and terrified looking. "But I couldn't! They took Harry!"

 

Severus didn't wait to hear any more. He was off like a shot, running out of the great hall followed closely by Sirius Black and Remus Lupin. Minerva and Albus were just behind them as all of them raced for the Quidditch pitch where the young Gryffindors had been playing. It was pitch black outside by now, the moon little more than a crescent in the sky. Albus sent several Wizarding lights aloft to follow them and light their way as they raced across the snowy grounds toward the pitch. As they neared, Severus' breath caught in his throat. Amid the churned snow of the pitch he could see bodies lying unmoving on the ground, reminding him terribly of the time he'd returned to Hogwarts to find the very same pitch covered with the dead bodies of Death Eaters and Aurors. But there were no scorch marks this time, no blood. Just three unmoving forms lying in the snow.

 

Severus could see immediately that Harry was not among them, and when he reached the first body he fell to his knees to turn it over. Hermione Granger's pale, unmoving face was cold to the touch, but as he pressed his fingers to her throat, he could feel the slow but steady beat of her heart. "She's alive," he told the others in relief as Remus and Sirius checked the two Weasley children.

 

"So are they," Sirius announced, frantically looking around for some sign of Harry. He transformed immediately into a dog and began sniffing the ground, moving in swift circles in his search.

 

Severus immediately rose to his feet and grabbed hold of Diana again. "Who did this?" he demanded. "Who took him? Was it Julius?" The monitoring spell he had put on Julius had not been triggered, but he supposed his brother might have found a way around it.

 

Diana looked briefly confused, but then shook her head swiftly. "No, Severus, it was Alrik. Alrik took him."

 

For a moment her words didn't make any sense. Why in Merlin's name would Alrik have taken Harry? There was no love lost between the two of them, but Severus would have sworn on his life that Alrik had no loyalty to the Dark Lord and never would. It was Severus' dubious past that had created the rift between him and his sister's husband. "Why?" he hissed. "Why would he do this? What has Harry done to him?"

 

"Nothing," Diana told him. "It has little to do with Harry. They took him so that Britannia's Ministry would be forced to acknowledge the blood debt they own the Winter Lands. They took him as hostage."

 

The Winter Land blood debt? Severus only vaguely remembered something about it -- vague references Alrik had made back when he first had married Diana. But Severus had not been on speaking terms with any of his family back then and had never learned the whole story. That Harry had been pulled into this madness was unacceptable. "Where did they take him, Diana?"

 

"Bifrost Hall," Diana stated.

 

Severus heart lurched. "That's at the heart of the Winter Lands," he exclaimed. They could neither fly nor apparate into the Winter Lands. The only way there was by taking a boat into the cold North Sea, a dangerous prospect in the heart of winter. He turned desperately toward Albus.

 

"I'll find out what I can from the Ministry," Albus promised him, and he knew Dumbledore would tend to whatever this blood debt was all about. "You three go after him, bring him home."

 

A quick glance behind him confirmed that the 'three' Albus was referring to were him, Black and Lupin. The look of dark rage in the two Marauder's eyes was strangely comforting to Severus. For the first time in his life he was grateful to have the two men on his side. He knew for this mission he could not be in better company.

 

------------------------

 

Author's Notes: A lot of people have been asking me 'when are you going to get to....", and I could list out a bunch of things here: sex, a kiss, romance, a baby/heir, the King's Voice, Slytherin's other books, Voldemort, divorce (or the possibility of it), etc. I'm not ignoring you -- I promise I'll get to it all. While I only have a handful of chapters written from here on in (I still have a few more to get to you, and I wrote 5000 more words yesterday), I do have the entire story planned out. Eventually I'll cover all the missing pieces. Stick with me and hopefully I'll satisfy you all. Thanks again! (No one actually wants them to get divorced, I hope!)

 

BTW -- I loved everyone's suggestions on who should give Harry the 'talk'. I'm finding the thought of the werewolf, who's never actually been on a date himself, attempting to give Harry the talk. I rather suspect Remus may need the talk himself before too long.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Sorry it's been so long since I updated -- I'll get back to it now.

Chapter 28 Viking

 

The pounding of his head woke Harry. Groggily, he tried to raise his hand to touch his temple, only to find something weighing down his wrists. Blinking in confusion, he became aware of the extreme cold seeping into him and a violent rocking motion to the ground he was sitting on. As his eyesight cleared behind the pounding headache he found himself staring at the heavy iron manacles that were weighing down his wrists, a short length of chain stretched between them. The world around him lurched, and he slid sideways against a heavy wooden object, cold, wet spray striking his face. Looking up in shock he tried to make sense of what he was seeing.

 

He was in a large boat, seated near the stern but slumped against a large wooden barrel. From his position in the bottom of the boat he could see the prow rising up before him, the end of it curving in the shadowed shape of a dragon. The prow was rising and falling as pounding waves of water rocked the boat. Only a few steps away from him, seated on wooden benches were two extremely large men draped in heavy cloaks of fur. Both men had a fierce set to their bearded faces as if hardened by a life Harry did not want to imagine.

 

A glance behind him down the length of the long boat showed that there were a dozen more men of a similar caste seated throughout the boat. Large wooden oars were propelling them through choppy waters, the oars moving by themselves.

 

For a moment Harry felt a wash of panic roaring through him as he thought perhaps he was on the boat that took men to Azkaban. Sirius had told him that Azkaban was on an island, and prisoners were taken there chained in a boat. But though his heart was pounding fiercely in his chest, Harry forced himself not to cry out. There was no reason for anyone to take him to Azkaban. And besides, why would the boat to Azkaban look like some sort of Viking long boat? It didn't make sense.

 

He tried to figure out how he could have gotten there. He'd been playing in the snow with Ron, Hermione and Ginny. He vaguely remembered seeing something small and silver flying toward him, the flash of it glinting in the fading sunlight catching his attention. He had thought for a moment that someone had released a snitch in the middle of their snow ball fight, but then the thing had struck the ground and Harry could remember nothing more until he'd woken up here.

 

A stun grenade, he wondered. He'd heard of such things in the Muggle world. Perhaps there was a magical equivalent? But if he and the others had been stunned, where were the two Weasleys and Hermione? He could see no one else chained on the boat.

 

A cold gust of wind blew against him, nearly blinding him with its icy chill and he found himself shivering violently. Were they Death Eaters, he wondered. Were they taking him now to Voldemort? But why kidnap him? Why not just kill him out right?

 

"Are you cold, lad?" One of the grim-faced men had noticed his movement and had turned piercing blue eyes on him. Someone further back in the boat tossed a heavy fur cloak forward and the man immediately draped it over Harry. It looked like it was made out of the skin of a bear -- though Harry couldn't remember hearing much about bears wandering around England these days. Nevertheless, he grabbed the cloak and pulled it over him, grateful for its warmth. As he settled it around his shoulders, he took quick stock of his condition.

 

Besides the headache, he did not appear to be wounded, and the headache was already fading. He was now more grateful than ever for the eyesight correcting potion Severus had made for him, since he doubted his glasses would have survived the kidnapping. A quick search of the inside of the jacket he was wearing confirmed that his wand was gone. He was completely defenseless.

 

He was leery of drawing attention to himself, but he had to find out where he was and what they intended to do with him. Obviously they didn't mean for him to freeze to death. They had no need to give him the cloak, so he took comfort in the fact that they wanted him alive. Though considering what he knew Death Eaters did to their prisoners, maybe being alive wasn't that great a thing after all.

 

"Where am I?" he asked the man who had tossed him the cloak.

 

The man frowned behind his beard and shouted something to someone else further down the boat. Harry vaguely recognized some of the words he spoke -- or at least felt like he should, but he could make little sense of what it was the man had said. It almost sounded like Old English.

 

There was movement in the back of the boat and Harry turned to get a better view of the others. His earlier opinion of the boat was only more firmly enforced when he got a better look at the men -- for all appearances they were Vikings. Huge men with long, braided blond and red hair and heavy beards. He saw now that all of them were armed with enormous swords and axes. But as far as he knew, there were no more Vikings in the world -- at least not like this. But once more the Wizarding World appeared to be throwing him for a loop. He really should have paid more attention in Professor Binn's class.

 

A tall blond man moved forward from the back of the boat, taking a seat not far from where Harry was sitting. Though he was dressed much differently than he had been the first time he met him, Harry recognized him immediately. A coat of chain mail and heavy fur had replaced the fine doublet and velvet cloak, but the hair and beard were the same. He stared in shock at Alrik Brand, Diana Snape's husband.

 

"Alrik!" he exclaimed in shock, feeling the bitter taste of betrayal washing through him. He would not have been surprised to learn that Julius Snape was a supporter of the Dark Lord, but he would never have imagined it of Alrik. Though the man had been gruff and rather brash, Harry had liked the man and his gentle wife. "Why?" he demanded, anger flashing through him.

 

Alrik frowned. "Rest ease, lad," he commanded. "You're in no danger."

 

"No danger!" Harry snarled. "You're taking me to Voldemort!"

 

His words had an alarming reaction, causing all the men on the boat to gasp and grumble, all making a very superstitious sign to ward off evil. It had been a hand gesture that Professor Trelawney had shown them so Harry didn't have much faith in its power.

 

Alrik leaned forward and clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder, shaking him harshly. "Do not speak that name! Do you want to put all of us into the sea?" He released Harry and leaned back. "This has nothing to do with He Who Must Not Be Named. Truth be told, it has nothing to do with you. We need something from the Ministry of Magic and taking you was the only way we could get it. I promise, you will not be harmed, and we will release you as soon as our own matter is dealt with."

 

Harry stared at him incredulously. Something insane in his life that actually had nothing to do with Voldemort -- didn't sound possible. "You're holding me hostage?" he asked in disbelief.

 

Alrik nodded. "We're taking you to my home in the Winter Lands. You'll be returned safely to Severus when all is said and done. I swear an oath as your brother-in-law that we are not aligned with your enemy."

 

"If you mean me no harm, then give me my wand," Harry insisted.

 

But Alrik just shook his head. "I can't take the chance that you'll try to escape. I'll return your wand, when I return you."

 

Frustration and rage flooded through Harry, but he knew there was nothing he could do. "Is Diana a part of this?" he asked, needing to know if Snape's sister had betrayed him as well. Surprisingly, this question also brought murmurs of disapproval from some of the men and several again made a sign against evil, though not quite as desperately as the last time.

 

Alrik glanced at his men, then back at Harry. "It is bad luck to speak a woman's name over water," he informed Harry. "But no, my wife had nothing to do with this. She and my daughters are back in High Hill."

 

"Lord Alrik," one of the men called. He stood atop the highest point at the back of the boat, looking out across the water. "I see the signal light."

 

Alrik nodded grimly and turned to the men. "We need to move quickly. Speed is our best defense. The boy must reach Bifrost Hall no matter what the price."

 

Harry found his rage fading beneath the growing alarm he felt in his heart. The men around him had begun drawing their weapons, pulling swords from their sheaths and grabbing iron shields from the floor of the boat. He could see now that all of them were dressed in various forms of armor -- from leather to chain mail. Several men settled pounded-metal helmets upon their heads. Harry had the sinking feeling that this was more than just a simple trip to some land holding ahead of them. These men looked braced for a war.

 

Alrik clapped him on the shoulder again, gaining his attention. "When we land we will move quickly into the woods. Do not speak or make any unnecessary noise. If you try to run or get away from us, you will die."

 

"You said you wouldn't hurt me," Harry protested, his heart in his throat.

 

"And we won't," Alrik assured him. "We're here to protect you. Ours is not a tame world like the one you come from." He pointed to three of the closest men near him. Along with swords, he could see that these three had also drawn wands -- no one else seemed similarly armed. "These are Gudrik, Olaf and Bjorn. They are our most powerful wizards. You'll stay with them no matter what. Do you understand?"

 

Harry nodded, suddenly terrified of what they might be taking him into. The night was pitch black, a heavy mist obscuring the air around them, but he could feel the boat start to rock more violently as they approached some unknown shore. "What's out there?" he asked, wondering what all these men were so afraid of.

 

"Death," Alrik informed him grimly. He motioned to the men. They braced themselves as if preparing to leap from the boat. The man Alrik had called Gudrik reached over and caught Harry's arm. "Stay with me boy, no matter what," he whispered quietly, his care-lined face grim and frightening.

 

Harry heard the bottom of the boat scrap against rocks and sand on a dark beach, and a moment later he was being pulled from his seat and bodily hauled over the side of the boat. Someone large and burly caught him and he had only a moment to gasp in shock as cold water lapped around his feet before he was being propelled by an iron grip onto firm ground.

 

There were more men waiting for them on the shore, all heavily armed and bearing torches that sputtered and flared in the damp air. Somewhere along the way the heavy fur cloak had fallen from Harry's shoulders but he barely noticed so frightened was he now. He was shoved into the center of these men and then all but dragged away from the water and into a black forest beyond.

 

He could hear the clank of chain mail and the crunch of gravel beneath the feet of all the men. The torches flickered and hissed in the mist, casting horrific shadows all around them. Harry, with his hands still bound by the heavy iron chains struggled to keep up in the dark, barely able to see where he was going despite his perfect eyesight now. Why someone did not cast a lumos spell he did not know, for certainly a spell would be better than the endlessly moving light of the torches.

 

No one spoke as they marched, but at least they all seemed to know where they were going. When no attack appeared to be imminent, despite Alrik's terrifying words of warning, Harry began trying to figure out where he could be. He'd never heard of the Winter Lands or Bifrost Hall, but then again he had never heard of the County of High Hill either. He supposed it was possible that he was once again in some unplottable county. Our world is not tame, Alrik had said -- though what that might mean Harry could only imagine.

 

He wondered how long he had been unconscious in that boat before he'd woken up. It could have been minutes or hours. It was still dark, but he could not tell the time without something more to go by. In late December the sun did not rise until late in the morning. He might have been out for hours before he'd awakened.

 

They walked on, never slowing, and to Harry, never seeming to tire either. He estimated they'd been walking at least two hours before he began to notice even the faintest lighting of the sky. Seeing that the earliest light of morning was coming, Harry despaired to realize he must indeed have been unconscious for hours. In that amount of time these people could have taken him anywhere in the world.

 

A sound nearby in the woods caused all the men to stop in their tracks, their hands tightening on their weapons. The three wizards moved immediately to surround Harry, the other's forming a circle around them. Seeing fear on their faces, Harry knew better than to speak but he glanced to Alrik for some sign of what was going on.

 

The sound came again -- a high-pitched cry that sent shivers of terror down Harry's spine.

 

"It's the Grendlings," Alrik hissed. "They've got our scent."

 

"Are they alone?" one of the other men whispered and they all looked to the three wizards who guarded Harry.

 

Olaf frowned but shook his head. "I don't feel anything else," he told them, though what he meant Harry had no idea. Regardless, his words seemed to put the men somewhat at ease. But the cry came again closer now, and they braced themselves.

 

Beneath the sputtering of the torches and the rushing of wind in the trees Harry could hear the sound of something moving through the woods. His heart was pounding, and despite the cold he could feel sweat snaking down his back as he breathed in the icy air. He frantically searched the woods trying to catch some glimpse of what might be out there, his hands clenching and unclenching around the cold length of chain binding his wrists. He wished to god he had his wand, hating the feeling of helplessness. But there had to be twenty men around him, twenty armed wizards who looked like they knew how to use those swords they were carrying. But he couldn't for the life of him figure out why only three of them had drawn their wands.

 

And then he saw the flash of red eyes deep in the blackness of the forest and from one moment to the next they were surrounded, dark shadowy shapes leaping from the trees and attacking with tooth and claw. Instantly the silence was shattered with deafening battle cries and he could hear men screaming and swords striking flesh and bone as the cold steel blades flashed in the torchlight.

 

The crowd of men around him surged and moved and he was pushed from all sides as they tried to keep him in their center. He could see the creatures now -- vaguely humanoid shapes that seemed as comfortable on four legs as two with enormous mouths filled with razor teeth and claws three inches long. Bears he though or enormous wild cats -- the Grendlings were covered in heavy fur and their eyes burned red in the darkness. They leaped and screamed, lashing out with deadly claws which screeched against chain mail, powerful bodies breaking like stone against hastily raised shields.

 

Harry, trapped in the center of the battling men, stared in horror as one man was swarmed by four of the Grendlings and pulled to the ground. His head was ripped from his shoulders before his companions could strike down with swords and drive the beasts back. Blood sprayed through the air, screams echoing in the night. Harry stumbled and tripped, realizing in mindless horror that he was walking upon bodies -- men and Grendlings who had fallen in the very first minutes of battle.

 

There was a breath, a pause, a momentarily lull in the battle as the Grendlings pulled back and then circled in for another attack and the men tightening their circle around Harry.

 

And then a chill, as if Winter had only just now arrived, washed over them all, and despite the faint light of morning, the shadows grew, a cold iciness filling all of them beyond the heat of the battle.

 

"The Dementors are coming!" Olaf cried out, warning the others and Harry's heart nearly stopped in his chest.

 

He could feel them now -- that horrible, familiar dread as their darkness swarmed over him, swallowing all his thoughts, all his hopes and dreams. The Grendlings, sensing their approach pushed the attack, and the battle began again. But now Harry could see the cloaked figures of Dementors swarming out of the forest. Several lit like flies on one of the wounded men who lay broken outside the circle of warriors. Harry saw them swoop in for the Kiss.

 

"Expecto Patronum!" Olaf shouted, brandishing his wand along with Bjorn and Gudrik. A thin silvery stream of light leaked from the end of his wand, striking one of the Dementors and driving it momentarily back from the dying man. Five more moved to take its place.

 

Harry stared in horror -- the other two men had little better luck. The silvery light that leaked from their wands was barely noticed by the Dementors, and they kept coming forward. Two more men dropped, felled not by the Grendlings who were now content to tear apart the men who had already died, but by the despair that washed over them. Harry could see more creatures moving in for the Kiss.

 

"My wand!" he shouted in terror. "Give me my wand!" He had no idea were Alrik was any more, couldn't even tell if the man was still alive. But he knew in a flash of insight that these men had no defense against the creatures that were swarming them. If these three wizards who stood before him were the best they had then they were all doomed.

 

Even as he shouted and looked desperately around for something he could defend himself with, he saw Olaf's spell wink out as one of the Grendlings got past his swinging sword and pulled him to the ground. The Dementors and the Grendlings moved in for the kill, and in the flashing light of the dropped torches Harry spied Olaf's wand lying at his feet.

 

He didn't think, just bent down and grabbed the wand, feeling the power surging to life inside him. He grabbed hold of his most powerful memory and raised the wand, his magic singing inside him, burning like an inferno.

 

"Expecto Patronum!"

 

His voice echoed off the trees and from the end of the wand a blinding light exploded, the ghostly shape of Prongs roaring to life. It drove back the Dementors in front of it, striking their shadowed bodies with its enormous antlers and sending them fleeing into the night. Then Prongs turned and circled back, charging the others, antlers flashing, hooves crushing darkness beneath them.

 

Prongs left a trail of silvery fire wherever he went and the Grendlings backed away in terror. Freed of the horror of the Dementors the warriors leaped at the Grendlings slicing and hacking at them, and within moments all that was left were the sounds of moans from wounded men. The Grendlings were dead or gone and the Dementors had all vanished into the night.

 

Prongs circled back around again, surrounding them all in a circle of fire as Harry used the wand to trace a warding ring around them. The men had fallen silent, eyes upon the glowing creature as it turned then and bowed low to Harry before leaping at him and vanishing once again into the wand. Shaking in terror, and covered in blood that was not his own, Harry slowly lowered the wand to his side.

 

For a long moment no one moved and Harry's eyes took in the nightmare around him. Of the twenty men who had guarded him only twelve yet lived, all of them wounded. Five steps from his feet was a body so badly torn apart he doubted they'd be able to identify the remains. The corpses of the monstrous Grendlings surrounded them, the ground black with their blood. He knew that at least half of those men who lay dead at his feet had lost more than just their lives, but their souls as well, devoured by the Dementors that these people seemed incapable of driving back.

 

Three men with wands -- wizards who had used swords instead of magic to fight off an enemy he had never imagined before. Men who had willingly walked into a forest haunted by Dementors. No harm, Alrik had said. No harm would come to him.

 

Harry raised the wand again. "Accio Harry Potter's wand." He did not see from which direction it came but an instant later his own familiar wand struck his free hand. He immediately dropped Olaf's wand into the dirt and turned his own on the chains around his wrists. "Alohomora," he commanded, and the chains dropped obediently to the ground. The weight of the chains had been all that kept his hands from shaking.

 

One of the men moved then, detaching himself from the shadows and coming toward him. Though covered head to foot in blood, Harry recognized him now as Alrik. The look on his face was not one he recognized. Harry's hand came up immediately and he pointed his wand dead center at the man's chest. Harry could feel a trickle of warm blood running down his face where he'd been splattered; his heart was thudding so loudly he could hear the pounding in his veins. He did not recognize himself in that instant, could no longer tell what he was feeling -- fear, rage, hatred, or nothing at all. All he knew was in that moment he held a wand on another human being and believed he could kill with nothing more than a thought.

 

Alrik dropped to his knees in front of Harry, his arms held out to his sides as if in surrender. "I beg you," he pleaded and the sound of his voice brought some semblance of life back to Harry's blank mind. "Do not leave us."

 

In shock Harry watched as the other men all dropped to their knees as well. "I beg you," Alrik repeated. "Do not leave us to die."

 

His words struck him like cold water and Harry staggered back a step, the scent of death rising up from the steaming ground.

 

"Why did you bring me here?" Harry barely recognized his own voice -- it sounded harsh and broken from screaming. "Why are we in this place?" They brought him here. Alrik had led his men here to this death trap. And while they might have been well matched against the Grendlings with their swords and axes, they obviously had no defense against the Dementors. Coming here had been madness of the worst sort.

 

"This is our home," Alrik told him, blood from a small head wound dripping down into his beard as his spoke. "This is where we live. But we have been over run with these Dementors, and we have no defense against them. We have begged the Ministry to help us but they have turned their backs on us. We brought you here so that they would have to listen, so that all the eyes of Britannia would turn toward us and see our plight. These Dementors devour our brothers, our wives and our children, and if you leave us, we will all die."

 

Harry stared at him in disbelieving horror. "You have children here?" he whispered.

 

"Yes," Alrik nodded. "The Dementors do not care who they take. They have no mercy in them, and we have no way to fight them. I beg you to come to Bifrost Hall and speak with my father. Do not turn your back on us the way the Ministry has. Please."

 

They were all kneeling before him in surrender and supplication -- several of the men who looked too weak to do so. Harry found himself lowering his wand without thought. Still Alrik did not rise, the question shining in his eyes. Slowly Harry inclined his head.

 

Alrik rose stiffly to his feet. "Gather the wounded and dead!" he barked out the order to the other men, and instantly they all leaped into action. Harry stood off to one side, too numb to know what to think, tremors running through his body and shaking his frame.

 

He watched as the men swiftly separated human from Grendling on the battlefield. Gudrik and Bjorn were doing what little they could with spells to mend wounds that might prove life threatening. Olaf, Harry could see, was missing one of his legs and half of his stomach. His unmoving eyes were frozen in a look of horror. Had Harry anything in his stomach he would have emptied it at that moment.

 

It became quickly apparent that the men had no way of transporting the bodies. Of the twelve still living, three of them were barely able to walk and needed the aid of one of their companions to travel. That left six men to carry the bodies of eight, though one of the bodies was little more than a torso.

 

"We leave them then," Alrik said grimly. "We can not delay."

 

"We can't leave them for the wolves," one of the men hissed in despair.

 

"And we can't wait for the Grendlings to come back," Alrik told him.

 

Harry didn't understand what was happening. In the six years he'd been at Hogwarts he thought he had come to understand the basics of how the Wizarding World worked -- but this was beyond his comprehension. What was wrong with these people? Grown men were not supposed to act this way.

 

He raised his wand and pointed it at the first body. "Moblicorpus," he commanded. The body, held together now by magic, rose horizontally up off the ground and moved toward the edge of the clearing. Seven more times Harry cast the spell and the remaining bodies fell into line. The men stared at him in surprise, the looks on their face again something Harry did not recognize or understand. His stomach churned uneasily.

 

"Lead the way," he growled to one of the men who was just staring at the floating corpses with disbelieving eyes.

 

Harry could not tell if the emotion churning inside him was anger or grief. At this point, he wasn't certain if he cared. All he knew was that he desperately wanted to go home. But he could not bear the thought of Dementors devouring the souls of children. And so he fell into step behind an animated line of dripping corpses and followed the Viking warriors into the woods.

 

-------------------------------------------

 

Author's Notes: I'd place the Winter Lands north of Scotland, but just south of the Faroe Islands. As such, since it's the middle of winter, the days are very short. On average the sun would rise around 9:20 in the morning and set by 3:20 in the afternoon.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 29 Understanding Duty

 

It took another half hour to reach their destination, and by then the sky had brightened considerably. The adrenalin from the battle had at last worn off and Harry was left with nothing but the empty horror of what he had seen. As they moved higher up, they found themselves trudging through snow, and Harry shivered violently in the chill wind. A heating charm cast upon his clothes helped but he wished he had not dropped that fur cloak earlier.

 

They crested a hill and Harry saw at last the tall stone battlements of an enormous Keep rising out of the rocks ahead of them. In the dim light of morning, torches still burned from the walls, and Harry could see warriors walking the battlements, all armed with heavy crossbows. The castle was enormous, though of a much different design than Hogwarts. This one was starker in ornament, a fortress of war rather than the ornate palace Hogwarts was. It was made up of great walls and large blocky halls, and as Harry moved further up the hill he could see that the walls extended a great distance off to either side. A thousand people could live inside such a structure, and from the looks of the men upon the wall this was a working Keep rather than the school Hogwarts had been turned into.

 

A horn blared into the pale morning light as they approached, and Harry saw the great iron portcullis that guarded the entrance to the fortress being drawn upward. As he followed his guides inside, the trail of corpses moving ahead of him, he felt the tingle of wards washing over him. That at least was familiar -- that at least was something he understood. Like Hogwarts this place was warded with magic. But why he had seen so little other evidence of its use among the men who had taken him, he still did not understand.

 

Cries of horror and grief greeted him as he directed the bodies into the center courtyard and set them down on the ground. Women swarmed over the bodies of the dead, wailing their grief over the loss of their loved ones and Harry stood there in numbed silence uncertain what to do. He could see small children clutching the bloodied hands of their fathers, and watched in silent horror as a girl only a few years younger than he was stroked the hair of one man's head only to realize that the head was no longer attached to the body.

 

"Come away, Harry," Alrik urged, and Harry allowed the man to lead him away from the grizzly scene and into the heart of the castle.

 

Moments later he found himself in an enormous Hall that reminded him vaguely of the Great Hall. There were no floating candles, and no animated sky. But there were long wooden tables and the walls were draped with heavy tapestries. One wall had three huge fireplaces, each lit with a roaring fire. Alrik led him over to one of them, and he sat down on one of the table benches only distantly aware of the activities around him.

 

Food and drink were brought to the table, men and women milling about. He could see several old women he thought might be healers tending to the wounded men they had brought in, using potions and unguents to seal up their wounds. Two women stopped before him, asked him if he were hurt and then cast several cleaning charms over him when he assured them he was not. Someone else thrust a goblet into his hand and he drank the contents down without checking it first -- choking on the taste when he realized it was some sort of sweet ale. A moment later someone else replaced the ale with a goblet of clean water and he drank that gratefully, his stomach at last beginning to settle, his thoughts beginning to clear.

 

Alrik approached him then, a tall golden-haired man beside him. The stranger was dressed in dragonskin leathers. A cloak of dark blue velvet draped his shoulders. He wore his hair in two braids and had beads woven into his long beard. Though he was young looking yet, Harry guessed by the family resemblance that this man was Alrik's father.

 

"Harry, this is Lord Asgeir Brand, the Lord of Bifrost Hall," Alrik introduced.

 

Harry rose to his feet understanding enough to know that 'lord' was not in this case a self-appointed title. He took the hand Asgeir offered him, shaking it firmly. "Lord Brand," he greeted, feeling very much out of his element.

 

"Welcome to Bifrost Hall, Harry Potter," Asgeir greeted. "Alrik tells me that we are in your debt. That you drove off the Dementors with your Patronus."

 

Not knowing how else to respond, Harry just nodded his head.

 

"He also tells me that you have come here freely."

 

At that Harry shot a glare at Alrik but Asgeir dropped a heavy hand on his shoulder. "I know you were taken against your will, Harry," he amended quickly. "But you chose to come here and hear us out when you recovered your wand. You must have known then that Alrik could not have stopped you from leaving."

 

"He said the Dementors were threatening children," Harry told him angrily.

 

"And so you came here to offer us your aid."

 

"I came here to find out what is happening? I came here for an explanation," Harry growled. "He kidnapped me to hold me hostage for the Ministry. Why? What does the Ministry have to do with this?"

 

Asgeir nodded in understanding. "It's a long story, but I will tell you everything. I suspect you have more questions than that however."

 

Harry found himself looking over at Bjorn and Gudrik -- they were busy eating large slabs of venison that some of the women had brought in. Harry's stomach churned at the thought of eating anything just then.

 

"You are all wizards, are you not?" he asked tightly. Judging by the number of men he had seen on the walls, and the comings and goings he saw now in this hall, he guessed that this was an entire community. A city within the Keep walls with hundreds if not thousands of men, women and children.

 

"Yes," Asgeir confirmed.

 

"Only three men drew their wands out there," Harry said, trying to get his mind around the concept, trying to understand what it was he was seeing here.

 

"They were our three bests," Alrik informed him. "They were the only ones who could caste the Patronus charm."

 

Harry glanced around the hall. On the far side of the room he could see a man lighting several candles with a quick flick of his wand. And several women were floating in kegs of ale before the glowing tips of their wands. Near the door he could see several small children playing some version of Exploding Snaps. This was no a Muggle community. "You're not squibs. I can see that," he said simply, still not able to understand what had happened.

 

Alrik and Asgeir exchanged a silent look, then Asgeir clapped him on the shoulder. "Come with me, Harry. I'll take you some place were we can talk more freely."

 

He fell into step beside the two men, following them out of the hall and into a small room off to one side. There was a fire lit in the hearth and several heavy cushioned chairs set before it. A large wooden table shoved off to one side was covered with old books and maps, and a single window looked out into the large courtyard below.

 

As Asgeir called for one of the serving women to bring food and drink to the room, Harry moved to the window and stared out the cold glass to the people down below. He could see a group of men unloading a large wagon filled with barrels and crates near the gates to the courtyard, and not far from them were a dozen men armed with bows and arrows shooting at targets set along the far wall.

 

On the far side of the courtyard he could see a large stone monolith surrounded by a circle of small white stones. A giant sundial, he realized and watched as a group of children played amongst the shadow that the enormous monolith was casting upon the ground.

 

"Will you join us, Harry?" Asgeir asked. Harry turned. Asgeir and Alrik motioned to a chair in front of the fire. Someone had set more food and drink on the low table between the chairs. Harry sat down, reaching again for the goblet of water.

 

"Tell me about the Dementors," he asked.

 

Asgeir frowned, but nodded in agreement and in the light of the fire Harry could see a couple of thin streaks of silver in the man's hair. "What do you know of Azkaban prison?"

 

Harry shuddered. "I know it's guarded by Dementors," he said, guessing that this was the information pertinent to the conversation.

 

"It was not always guarded by Dementors," Asgeir told him. "Before the Dementors it was guarded by trolls. But trolls are remarkable stupid creatures and the prison was never very secure. About a hundred and fifty years ago someone came up with the idea of finding a darker creature to guard the prison. There were stories back then about a place called the Well of Despair and a terrible creature that lived at the bottom. Men from the Ministry of Magic came here to the Winter Lands looking for this Well of Despair. They found it deep in the heart of our woods. It was sealed with an enormous capstone. They used their magic to remove the capstone and waited for this creature to emerge. At midnight, on New Years Eve, two Dementors emerged from the Well. The Ministry wizards took those Dementors and set them to guard Azkaban.

 

"One year later on New Years Eve, two more Dementors emerged from the well and the Ministry took them as well. For fifty years they came here once a year and took the Dementors that came up from the Well of Despair. By the end of those fifty years they had one hundred ruthless guards for Azkaban Prison and they did not return again."

 

Harry pulled his jacket more firmly around his shoulders, thinking of the Dementors that still guarded Azkaban to this day, the creatures that were still hunting for his godfather. "What does that have to do with the Dementors that are here?"

 

"When the Ministry left the Winter Lands, they failed to replace the capstone over the Well of Despair. By then that area of our woods had been deemed cursed by our people and claimed by the Grendlings, and no one ever went there any more. We did not know that the Well was still open. On New Years Eve two more Dementors emerged from the Well, but this time there was no one there to take them away. Years went by and every year two more Dementors appeared. Eventually my people took notice and realized what had happened. But by then there were dozens of Dementors roaming free in our land. We petition the Ministry to return and seal the Well and take the Dementors away. But they did not answer our summons. It seemed that the Wizard who had orchestrated the deal with the Dementors, and the wizard who had unsealed the capstone in the first place had died. Our request went unnoticed.

 

"At that time the Wizard Grindelwald was threatening the world and the Ministry was at war trying to stop him. Our requests took a back seat to that battle. The years went by, Grindelwald was defeated, but still our pleas went unheard. Eventually He Who Must Not Be Named rose to power and the Winter Lands were all but forgotten. A hundred years have gone by and the Ministry still ignores us. My people have lived in these lands for three thousand years. We know how to fight the Grendlings and the Giants and the Black Wyrms that dwell in the mountains. But we have no defense against the Dementors. No way to stop them when they swallow up our villages and devour the souls of our children. And still the Ministry ignores us." There was anger in his voice, and a terrible rage in his eyes.

 

Harry sat in silence for a moment, trying to absorb what he had heard. One hundred years -- that meant that there were at least two hundred Dementors roaming free in this land. A veritable army of darkness.

 

"I still don't understand," Harry informed him. "You must have a thousand wizards in this fortress alone. Dementors can be driven away with a Patronus."

 

"You have to be able to cast a Patronus, Harry," Alrik told him.

 

"All it takes is a powerful memory," Harry insisted. "I can teach you. I learned to cast one when I was thirteen."

 

The two men exchanged a silent look. "Harry, do you have any idea how many wizard and witches there are in the world?" Alrik asked, startling Harry with the non sequitur.

 

Harry frowned, wondering what on earth that could have to do with the Patronus charm. "No," he admitted. "Tens of thousands I would assume."

 

Both men smiled grimly, and Harry suspected he had gotten the number wrong. "Harry, five percent of the world's population is magical."

 

Harry's eyes widened at that and he tried to do the math in his head. He knew the population of the world was currently approaching six billion. "That would mean that there were nearly . . .three hundred million of us!" He had no idea the number was so great.

 

Alrik nodded. "The current population of Great Britain is nearly 60 million people. That means that in Great Britain alone there are nearly three million wizards and witches. Now of those three million approximate 20 percent of them are between the ages of 11 and 18. How many students currently go to Hogwarts?"

 

Harry frowned. "Nearly four hundred."

 

"Four hundred out of approximately 600,000 children," Alrik told him. "Where do you imagine those other children are schooled?"

 

Harry just stared at him in disbelief. He knew there were other schools -- Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, but those schools were in France and Germany who would have their own large population to deal with. "Aren't there other schools?"

 

But Alrik shook his head. "Not for magic. All the others are schooled at home by their parents. They learn whatever spells they are capable of casting, and make due. Only the elite go to Hogwarts, the best of the best. The four hundred students that are currently at your school are not even one percent of those 600,000 children. Do you understand how much stronger you are than the rest of us? Even the worst student at your school has more power at his command than the average wizard or witch. The elite of our society barely even notices that the rest of us exist."

 

Asgeir motioned with his hand to the fortress around him. "This is one of twelve strong holds on the Winter Lands, each with a population of thousands. My son here is one of five wizards out of our all our people who was educated in one of the Wizarding Schools."

 

"I went to Beauxbatons," Alrik explained. "I'm fairly good at transfiguration." He drew his wand and waved it over one of the goblets, transforming it into a spoon. "But I can't cast a Patronus. I never could. Most wizards can't. Did you not wonder why the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters are so feared? They can kill a dozen men with a single curse. They use the Unforgivables the way the rest of us use cleaning charms. Only a tiny fraction of wizards are ever able to cast the Unforgivables. The rest of us can't even conceive of it."

 

Harry rose to his feet and began pacing the small room, trying to get his mind around what he was being told. Four hundred students out of a potential 600,000. It didn't seem possible. The very idea that someone as poorly skilled as Neville Longbottom far out shone nearly all the wizard and witches in the world -- it couldn't be true.

 

"Have you never wondered why wizards have brooms when they are capable of apparating?" Alrik asked. "Or why we have clothiers when we could just transfigure a leaf or a twig into any item of clothing we want? Why are not all wizards rich if they could conjure gold out of thin air?"

 

Truthfully, Harry had never thought of those things. He could see now that perhaps he should have. The answer was simply that most wizards and witches could not do these things.

 

He found himself staring out the window again at the small group of children playing around the giant sundial. Asgeir rose and stood beside him and for a long moment they watched the children as they played with a tiny ball that darted around the air like a snitch. "They're not squibs," Asgeir told him. "All of them are capable of some sort of magic. But there will be no letters from Hogwarts when they turn eleven. Half of them will never even bother to purchase a wand."

 

"I thought the Ministry regulated wands. I thought you had to pass your Newts before you were allowed to use a wand as an adult," Harry told him. "If none of you go to school, how do you pass the Newts or the OWLs?"

 

"That rule is for the elite alone," Asgeir explained, "because of the potential damage you are capable of doing with your wands. You are educated in the practice of magic because you have to be. You are too powerful to be left unschooled. Even your accidental magic can wreak havoc on both our world and the Muggle world. But the same is not true for the rest of the Wizarding World."

 

"Then your people really do have no defense against the Dementors," Harry whispered, a sense of despair washing over him at the thoughts that were filling his head. "And no defense against Voldemort and his Death Eaters."

 

Both men flinched at his words, each making the ward against evil. And for the first time in his life Harry understood why they were so afraid of even the Dark Lord's name. Voldemort's powers far exceeded any Dark Lord before him. He was quite literally a god among men.

 

"Do you see now why the world is so in awe of you?" Asgeir asked. "Do you see now why we thought that by taking you we could turned the eyes of the world to our plight?"

 

Harry feared finally that he did understand. Voldemort was a god amongst men and yet somehow Harry had stood against him time and time again. If he was to believe what he was hearing, he and his classmates were the elite of their world, and while Harry knew he was not by far the best student, he knew his powers out stripped his other year mates.

 

It was one thing to imagine the few thousands of wizards and witches he had assumed populated Great Britain forming some sort of coalition to rise up against the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters and defeat them. To know now that he was instead dealing with a population of millions, and that for the most part those millions were utterly helpless. If he understood the power discrepancy here, then Voldemort could quite literally take over the world and enslave all of mankind. And there were only a few men in this world, like Dumbledore, and most horrifyingly himself, who could even dream of trying to stop him.

 

He might have been brought here against his will, but he could see now that these people were just trying to survive against a darkness they were no match for. If he truly was one of the elite of their world, then he had a duty to at least try to help them.

 

"The Ministry is at war over me," he told Asgeir. "Some of the most powerful wizards and witches of our world are fighting for the position of Minister of Magic. I am a prize chess piece in their political game. Did it not occur to you that by kidnapping me all you may have succeeded in doing is bringing an army of powerful wizards down upon you? They may simply choose to take me back by force, instead of giving you the aid you asked for."

 

Both men paled at that. "We know that's a possibility," Asgeir admitted. "But we had to do something."

 

Harry could imagine that already there were at least three very powerful and very angry wizards who would be hunting them. He knew the damage Severus, Sirius and Remus could do if pushed. He looked at Alrik. "You married Diana Snape. Why not ask Severus for help?"

 

"Ask a Death Eater to aid us?" Alrik asked.

 

Harry bristled at the comment. "He's not. . ."

 

"I know," Alrik cut in. "But I only came to believe that recently."

 

"Then why not go to Dumbledore?" Harry asked, trying to understand why they didn't try some other option.

 

"How?" Alrik asked. "We told you that the Ministry has ignored our petitions for a hundred years. How are we supposed to get access to someone like the great Albus Dumbledore? Kings and Pharaohs the world over have trouble getting an audience with him. He is the most sought after wizard in world."

 

Harry sat down hard in his chair. He regularly wandered up to the Headmaster's office and chatted with him. He ate with him every night in the Great Hall. He'd played Exploding Snaps with him just two days ago at Christmas time. Could they all truly be that isolated from the rest of their people? Were they all so blind that they could not see what was going on around them? But he knew the answer to that even as he thought it. He hadn't even known a place like the Winter Lands even existed.

 

"What is it that needs to be done?" he asked, rubbing his temple as he tried to clear his head.

 

"What do you mean?" Asgeir asked.

 

"You need the Well of Despair sealed up, correct?" Harry pressed. "What does the Ministry have to do to seal it up?"

 

"The capstone must be replaced," Alrik told him. "It needs to be moved back over the hole and sealed down."

 

A stone needed to be moved. Harry shook his head. "You said there were thousands of you here in the Winter Lands. What if you all joined your magic and moved the stone together?"

 

"Have you ever done magic in tandem with another person?" Asgeir asked him curiously.

 

Harry shook his head. It was not something he could ever remember being taught.

 

"Combining the magic of two wizards is one of the hardest spells there is," Asgeir explained. "That is why the Dark Mark is so feared. It joins the magic of the Death Eaters to the Dark Lord. None of us here has the skill or strength to combine such magic together."

 

"Then what about a Muggle solution?" Harry asked. "Surely the stone can be moved with some sort of Muggle machinery? The have cranes that can lift thousands of pounds. How big is this stone?"

 

Asgeir pointed to the giant monolith outside. "It is at least twice the size of that, like the stones of Stonehenge. At least ten thousand pounds. And the crane would do us no good. It's a magical artifact -- it has to be moved by magic and only magic can seal it in place."

 

Ten thousand pounds. He stared at the monolith outside. "And none of you can move something that size?" he asked.

 

"I once lifted two cases of ale," Alrik told him. "They probably weighed about eighty pounds total. Why do you think we were so startled when you transported those eight bodies here? We've never seen anything like that before."

 

And Alrik was the one who had been to Beauxbatons. He tried to remember the heaviest thing he'd ever seen a wizard levitate. Professor Flitwick regularly levitated the Great Hall's Christmas trees through the front door, but he had no idea how much a Christmas tree weighed. But it was just a stone, he reasoned. Why not cast a feather light charm on it first and then lift it? He'd lifted his trunk regularly with Wingardium Leviosa and couldn't ever remember feeling any sort of strain. He'd never even thought about how heavy it might be -- it was just something you did. It was magic.

 

He got to his feet, and with a determined look on his face headed toward the door. "Harry?" Asgeir asked in concern. Both men rushed after him, but made no effort to stop him as he strode swiftly to through the Hall beyond. Men and women looked up as he passed, but no one tried to stop him.

 

The door to the courtyard stood open in the morning sunlight and he strode out into the yard, moving across the courtyard toward the sundial. The archers practicing on the range stopped their shooting to watch him and their liege lord as they passed. Several of the warriors who had accompanied Alrik earlier also followed curiously behind.

 

Harry stopped when he reached the sundial, and stood for a long moment just staring at it as the morning mist swirled about him. Twice this size, he thought. The stone in front of him probably weight between two and three tons. But those warriors today had to have weight nearly two hundred pounds each, never mind the fact that they were missing limbs and blood. He'd lifted eight of them.

 

Slowly he drew his wand from his jacket pocket and pointed it at the stone. The children playing near it hurried away, moving out of its shadow. Silence fell over the courtyard as everyone turned to watch.

 

"Wingardium Leviosa!" Harry shouted, letting his magic reach out and surround the great stone.

 

For a single moment nothing happened, and then as they all watched, the stone uprooted itself from the earth and rose silently in the air. Harry stared at it, his wand holding it aloft. He could feel the weight of it now that he concentrated, could feel the power that was rushing through his veins and out through his wand. But it wasn't unbearable. Not at all.

 

Carefully he set it back down in its bed of earth, letting the ground reabsorbed its weight before he let the spell go. Slowly he lowered his wand arm and turned to face Lord Asgeir. The men and women of Bifrost Hall were staring at him in silent wonder, disbelief in all their eyes.

 

"I will move the capstone for you," he told Asgeir. "If you can take me to it."

 

Asgeir nodded his head in wonder. "It lies at the heart of Grendling territory and the Dementors will try to keep you from it."

 

At his words, Alrik drew his sword and held it before him, hilt pointing upward to the sky. "I pledge my sword and my life to keep the Grendlings from you." His words prompted all the other men in the courtyard to draw their own swords, or to hold aloft their bows, shouting out their support to stand in battle along side him. Men on the walls raised their own weapons to cheer, and though Harry knew all these men had just pledged themselves to die he suspected the glow of hope shining in their eyes was enough to drive all two hundred of the Dementors back.

 

Asgeir clapped Harry on the shoulder. "Come back inside, my friend. We have a battle to plan." He turned to the men and women around him and raised his voice. "Tonight we celebrate! And tomorrow. . ."

 

"Tomorrow will take care of itself!" they shouted back in turn.

 

Asgeir nodded. "Tomorrow will take care of itself."

 

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Author's Note: At last Harry has finally learned the truth about the Wizarding world and where he stand in the hierarchy of power. Don't worry, Severus, Sirius and Remus will make an appearance soon.

 

And for those of you who were asking about the inspiration for the Winter Lands -- you're all thinking of source material that is much too recent. You have to go back over a thousand years. This is all right out of Beowulf.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 30 Pursuit

 

Sirius raced back to Remus' quarters in the castle, the werewolf only steps behind him. Without speaking the two of them began gathering their traveling gear, both changing into heavier dragon-skin leathers and heat-spelled cloaks and gloves. Having only recently returned from a reconnaissance mission for Dumbledore, all their equipment was on ready hand and it took them only moments to prepare.

 

They then headed down to the dungeons of the castle, neither of them needing to speak to know they were of one mind. They would collect Severus Snape and then head after the men who had taken Harry from Hogwarts.

 

It should be James traveling with them, Sirius thought. James should be leading them, Remus and Sirius following on either side. Instead Severus Snape now held the prominent place in Harry's life and Sirius couldn't help but think that he had failed his childhood friend in so many ways.

 

"We could not ask for a better companion in this than Severus," Remus said suddenly, startling Sirius. He glanced at his friend, seeing the knowing look in his amber eyes. It was eerie when Remus did that, almost as if he could read his mind. "Severus will stop at nothing until he is safe."

 

"And you think James wouldn't have done the same?" Sirius demanded. It was still hard for him to understand why Remus was so accepting of Snape. He had missed the years when Snape's loyalties became known and it was hard for him to see beyond what he remembered of the Slytherin.

 

"Sometimes ruthlessness is called for," Remus told him. "And James was always too kind."

 

Sirius shivered. It disturbed him to hear Remus say things like that. He was the kindest, most gentle man he'd ever known. It always startled him when Remus said something that reminded him that he understood the darkness all too well.

 

They found Diana Snape waiting in a hallway next to a portrait of Salazar Slytherin and a large snake. Considering the potential good that could come of the notebook Harry had translated for Christmas, Sirius could not bring himself to look quite so critically on the Lord of Slytherin any more.

 

Ignoring the woman, Sirius pounded on the portrait. A moment later it opened and Severus Snape ushered them all inside his chamber. A quick glance at the man assured Sirius that Snape was ready to travel. He too wore black leathers that were hardened with dragon scales. Over that he wore a coat made of black wyvern skins which Sirius knew would turn aside most blades -- it was a style many Slytherin had favored when he was in school.

 

To his surprise, Snape glared at his sister. "Do you know the Winter Lands?" he demanded of her.

 

But she shook her head. "No, I've never been there. Alrik has always told me it was too dangerous. I've lived in England all this time."

 

That seemed to startle Snape. "Alrik does not live with you?"

 

The woman shrugged, her dark eyes glittering. "One week out of each month only," she admitted. It seemed an odd thing for Snape not to know about his sister, but then Sirius had heard that the man was on poor terms with his family.

 

"What kind of a marriage is that?"

 

She glanced briefly at Sirius and Remus, but just shrugged. "I love him, Severus," she said simply. "I take what I can get." She sighed and brushed her black hair back from her pale face. "And truthfully, I like my life in High Hill. I am free to study my books."

 

"And how long have you known about this plot against Harry?" Severus demanded.

 

She just gave him a sad smile. "I only just learned of it, right before they left. They told me that so that someone would know to check on the other children and they would not be left alone in the cold."

 

To Sirius' surprise, Severus sneered at his sister then turned his glare on the two of them. "Come with me," he snapped. He moved into the library and waved his wand at one of the large bookcases on the far wall.

 

Immediately the bookcase slid aside revealing a wall covered in weapons -- swords, bows, crossbows, axes. It was an impressive collection from all periods of history. The Black family had a similar collection in his ancestral home.

 

Severus immediately removed a long thin blade that was etched with druidic runes. As he tested the edge he motioned to Sirius and Remus. "Take what you want," he informed them.

 

Sirius did not hesitate, quickly removing an English long sword from the wall and spinning it in his hand to test its weight and his grip. It was the sword both he and his brother Regulus had been most frequently trained with. It was the weapon he was most comfortable wielding.

 

"Take one, Lupin," Severus insisted and Sirius turned, seeing Remus still standing by the library door. He knew his friend had never studied the sword, his family too poor to afford such things. And his temperament had never made him suited to duels.

 

"I never learned to use a blade, Severus," Remus told him with a shake of his head.

 

Severus cursed under his breath and moved back to the wall, grabbing a large iron mace from its case. Judging by the way Severus hefted it with both hands, grimacing slightly as he lifted, Sirius imaged it was extraordinarily heavy -- a great handle with a large spiked iron ball at the end of it. He held it out to Remus.

 

"This does not require much skill. Just swing it and bash anything that moves."

 

Sirius could see the flash of distress in Remus' eyes, but he lifted it lightly out of Severus hands, seeming not to notice the weight at all. It was so easy at times for Sirius to forget the strength the werewolf possessed; he went out of his way to hide it.

 

"This would split open the head of any man I hit with it," Remus told him.

 

"And you will use it on any man who tries to stop us," Severus informed him, and Sirius could see now what Remus meant by ruthlessness. "But it is not humans I'm worried about. The Winter Lands are populated with all sorts of monsters. The Dark Forest is tame in comparison."

 

Remus just nodded, glancing across the room at Sirius. Sirius tried to give him an encouraging smile, but he suspected it failed, as the man did not look heartened. Truth was, Sirius could not bear to think of what danger Harry might be in right now.

 

Minerva entered a moment later, calling out to the men as she stood in the main chamber. Weapons in hand, they went to join her. She looked them over critically, before handing a traveling satchel to Severus. "There's food in there and the most recent map to the Winter Lands I could find," she explained. "The children have awakened. Hermione said they were hit with some sort of concussion grenade. None of them were damaged but they all have headaches. They did not see the men who took Harry."

 

"Is Albus back?" Severus asked.

 

But Minerva shook her head. "You know how the Ministry is."

 

"We can't wait," Severus decided, though he glanced at his sister. "Are you going to stay here?"

 

She nodded. "It's the least I can do. I'll watch your classes for you if you are not back before then."

 

His eyes narrowed, but he nodded in agreement. "Are you going to plead for me to spare his life?"

 

Sirius turned away at that. That was the sort of question his own father might have asked. He would never understand the Slytherins.

 

"Would it do any good?" Diana asked, her voice filled with bitterness. "He kidnapped your bond-mate. I have always believed you to be a good man, but you have never been a merciful one."

 

To Sirius' surprise, Minerva did not berate Severus for his cruel words. "Be careful you three," she said simply as if not concerned that this man had just threatened to kill his sister's husband. Granted if any harm had come to Harry, Sirius would do it himself ... but still.

 

Severus shrank the pack Minerva had given him, and grabbed his own cloak from the couch. Remus and Sirius followed him out of the dungeons.

 

Hagrid was waiting for them at the doors to Hogwarts, holding a Wizarding-lantern against the darkness creeping into the corners. "Lock the gates when we leave," Remus told him. "If word gets out that Harry is missing, this place will be overrun with Aurors and reporters."

 

Hagrid nodded. "Bring him home," he urged and watched as the three of them disappeared into the night.

 

They walked swiftly out past the apparition wards on the castle. "Do you know the apparition point for Hallow Hill in Icefell?" Severus asked them, naming a small seacoast point in the northern most unplottable county of Britain. Both of them nodded. "I'll see you there. There will be a warden on duty at the dock so I suggest you transform first and have Lupin take you." With that, Severus disapparated.

 

Sirius glanced at Remus who just gave him a grim smile. He pulled in his magic and let himself transform, feeling his body shifting and molding into the familiar form of Padfoot. The transformation was a bit slower than usual due to the sword he was now carrying -- he was unused to transmuting iron with the spell, but he was not willing to leave the weapon behind.

 

When it was done, Remus crouched down beside him and draped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into his body. For a moment he reveled in the warmth of his companion, and then he was being pulled away, across the land, by Remus' magic.

 

They reappeared on a wooden dock in the small town of Hallow Hill. Immediately Sirius was buffeted by the ice-cold wind blowing in across the small bay. It was too dark to see beyond the hills of the inlet to the vast open ocean beyond. There were small fishing boats moored along the docks, ranging in size from small two man crafts to much larger vessels. None of them were of Muggle design, none of them powered by engines.

 

Severus was already speaking with the dock master and Remus and Padfoot made their way over to them.

 

"I saw them," the old man was saying to Severus as they approached. "Large group of Brand's man from the Winter Lands. They had their own long boat with them, great hulking beast with thirty oars."

 

"How long ago did they leave?" Severus asked.

 

The old man scratched his head beneath the thick wool cap he wore. "Must have been nearly two hours ago. Came in on a port key, large group of them."

 

"Was there a boy with them?" Remus demanded.

 

But the man shrugged. "I didn't notice. Crazy though to come across the sea this time of year."

 

"We'll need a boat," Severus informed him, glancing up and down at the lot moored to the dock. "That one there." He pointed to a long boat with ten oars in total, five on either side. It sat low in the water, but with high sides and a tall prow and stern for cutting through the high waves of the sea. Sirius knew it would be a rocky journey, but the boat would be far safer than brooms. The wind currents above the ocean this time of year would make flying impossible, and the unplottable wards around the Winter Lands made it impossible to apparate to.

 

The old man just shook his head, but made a motion to the boat. "It's your funeral," he told them. "I wouldn't want to go out this time of night myself, but have at it. But I'll be holding the price of the boat till your return. Sixty galleons and not a knut less."

 

Severus handed over a pouch of gold without thinking then motioned to Remus and Padfoot to follow him.

 

Sirius awkwardly hopped into the boat, scratching his claws on the wooden planks as he tried to find his footing. Remus joined him, sitting down on one of the wooden benches and grabbing hold of Padfoot's fur to steady him. He leaned heavily against his friend's leg, grateful for the company.

 

Severus seated himself and pulled his wand from his sleeve. A quick spell and the boat untied itself, the oars springing to life. They moved out across the water, using the light from the docks to guide them as they steered away from the shore.

 

When they were well clear of the docks and out of sight of any curious eyes, their boat swallowed up by the darkness of the bay, Padfoot transformed back into Sirius. Severus was already removing the map from the pack Minerva had given him, using a small lumos spell to brighten their work area as he spread the map out on one of the wooden benches.

 

"You remember the navigation spell?" Remus asked.

 

Sirius nodded. "I'll guide the boat, you lock the map."

 

Severus' eyes narrowed, but he said nothing as Sirius drew his wand and pointed it at the prow of the boat. Remus pointed his own wand at the map and muttered a long incantation. On the map, near the drawing of the shoreline, a small plaque appeared in the shape of a small boat, it glowed faintly and began moving slowly across the map page. Had Severus been familiar with the Marauder's Map he would have recognized the design.

 

Once Remus was done with his spell, Sirius finished his own spell, connecting the guidance spell directly to the shape on the map.

 

"Where do we want to land, Severus?" Remus asked, motioning to the shape of the Winter Land upon the map.

 

Severus seemed to understand what it was the two of them were doing and did not ask for clarification. He pointed to a spot on the map. "Bifrost Hall is here. They would have taken the shortest route, so they would have landed here." He pointed to a spot on the shoreline of the Winter Land. Sirius locked his navigation spell on the spot he indicated. Immediately a silvery line appeared on the map connecting the moving placard of the boat to the landing site. The boat automatically turned to that course guiding itself now through the water. Now all they had to do was wait and pray that they reached Harry before anything bad could happen to him.

 

Severus rolled up the map and the three of them sat in silence. As they moved out of the relative calmness of the bay, they were struck by a bitterly cold wind and the boat began to rock violently in the waves. Several buffering charms eased the motion some, but they could all see it was not going to be a pleasant journey. Sirius couldn't imagine what it must have been like for Harry who was bound to have a headache from the concussion grenade he'd been hit with. He was just grateful that Harry was not prone to motion sickness.

 

He and Remus shared one of the benches in the center of the boat, the ride somewhat smoother there, and Sirius found himself moving closer to his friend for warmth. When Remus made no effort to move away, he cast a warming charm over the cloak he had brought with him and slipped it over both their shoulders, using the cover to slide his arm around Remus' waist. Remus smiled faintly at him and to his surprised moved closer to him, settling into his side. He'd rebuffed most of Sirius' prior flirtations, so this was a welcome change.

 

But then perhaps he did not see this as a flirtation -- it was more an act of comfort on both their part. Sirius did not want to admit it, but he was frightened. While Diana had insisted this kidnapping had nothing to do with Voldemort, they could not be certain. And even if she were right, there were other dangers in the world. The Winter Lands was no place for an unprotected child. He doubted Harry even knew that such a place existed. He'd been startled to learn that England possessed unplottable counties. He probably could not imagine that there were entire countries that the Muggles knew nothing about out there in the world.

 

He found himself staring at Severus as they sailed silently through the waters. The man was sitting near the front of the boat, several feet away from both of them. He was ignoring them, his dark eyes scanning the waters around them though Sirius knew he could not see anything. The sky was overcast and they could see neither moon nor stars over head. The glow from the lumos spell that he'd cast on the bench between them was all the light they had to see by.

 

Severus seemed as grim-faced and bitter as Sirius had ever seen him. The wind whipped his black hair around his head and the night cast heavy shadows along the harsh planes of his face. There was no beauty in him, no gentleness at all, Sirius thought. He did not deserve someone like Harry and Sirius could not understand why someone like his own gentle Remus could bring himself to trust him.

 

He's on our side, Remus and Dumbledore had both told him, time and time again. And according to both men he had tried to save James and Lily, warning Dumbledore when he had learned that Pettigrew had betrayed them. But even still -- from what Sirius could see there was no light within him. He did not smile, did not joke, did not laugh. He seemed to take no joy in anything beyond berating and tormenting his students.

 

He was brilliant at potions -- Sirius would grant him that. And the idea that there might soon be a cure for his poor Remus . . .he tightened his hold around the werewolf. As long as he lived he would not forget the look of desperate hope he had seen in Remus' eyes on Christmas Day when Harry had explained what his gift was.

 

Strange, Sirius thought. He had not doubted for one minute that Snape would make the potion for them. It hadn't even occurred to him that the man might refuse, and he wondered what that said about his feelings.

 

But of course he would not refuse, Sirius reasoned. Pride alone would make him do it -- something no other Potion Master save Salazar Slytherin had ever done. And in a way he was duty bound as well -- Harry was his bond-mate, and Remus was, in Harry's mind, family. Sirius would have to concede from what he'd seen, Snape had been taking his duties as Harry's bond-mate quite seriously.

 

He frowned at the man, trying to figure out what made him tick. As he stared, he noticed that Snape had a cloak draped across his knees, one hand clutched almost compulsively in is folds. That was odd; the man was already wearing a cloak. Why would he need two? Though there was something familiar about the one in his hands.

 

"What's the second cloak for, Snape?" he asked, his curiosity getting the better of him.

 

Snape's hand tightened on the cloak as if he thought Sirius might take it from him, but his face remained hard and unreadable. "It's Harry's," he said simply. "He forgot to put it on."

 

Sirius stared hard at the man, but he did not react, did not turn. His face gave nothing away. But still his hand held tightly to that cloak, almost the way Sirius himself was holding on to Remus. Possessiveness, he thought. But was that why he was holding Remus? He didn't think so -- it was comfort he was seeking and trying to give. But why would Snape seek comfort from a cloak?

 

He wouldn't, his mind reasoned. But it did imply something -- implied that Snape believed Harry was going to need that cloak and that Snape was going to be able to give it to him. It also implied that he was worried that Harry might be cold.

 

It struck Sirius suddenly that for whatever reason, as impossible as it seemed knowing what he did about the Slytherin, that Severus Snape cared about his godson. In a weird way, seeing his hand clutching tightly to a cloak Harry had forgotten said more than any words Severus might offer.

 

He glanced at Remus only to find that the man was also looking at Severus, staring at the cloak draped over his knees. There was a sad look in the werewolf's eyes and a faint curve to his lips that Sirius knew was a smile of sympathy. But then Remus always had been quicker with things that he was.

 

My God, he thought, the realization hitting him like a punch to his gut. Snape actually cared about Harry. Snape might even love Harry. He found himself resting his head against Remus' shoulder, his heart aching for things he could not explain. What on earth was this world coming to?

 

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Author's Note: Several people have asked about Alrik's motivation in failing to ask Severus for help and also his involvement in the whole Julius affair -- so I thought I'd mention something in a note. First, Alrik has no reason to trust Severus, and never has. He has believed for 20 years that the man was a Death Eater, and as we have seen the rest of the world has cause not just to hate the Death Eaters but to be truly afraid of them. Beyond that, he knows Severus was a Slytherin and participated freely in 'blood sports', to the point where he has a very vicious reputation among the Slytherin elite. Even if he was proven not to be a Death Eater, this part of his reputation is at least true. As far as Alrik is concerned, asking Severus for aid would be pointless, and possibly dangerous to not only his life but to the lives of his people.

 

As for his involvement in the Julius affair -- first as Diana mentioned Alrik actually spends the majority of his time in the Winter Lands and commutes to visit his wife and his daughters (none of whom he will bring to the Winter Lands for fear of the danger they would be in). It is not likely that he knows Julius all that well -- and certainly he would not have been part of the 'plotting' that might have gone on between Marcellus and Claudius prior to the dinner -- if indeed any plotting went on at all. (It's more likely they simply left Julius to his own devices -- that seems more in character, apathy rather than out-right vindictiveness.)

 

But after noticing Julius' absence, and guessing where Harry might be, Alrik would have likely found the situation amusing and simply decided to sit back and watch to see how the boy handled it. He comes from a warrior society -- someone in Harry's position would be expected to be able to take care of himself. It would have also given him the perfect opportunity to see how Severus reacted --- remember he was counting on Harry's value to the upper echelons of society to determine if he was worth kidnapping. Watching Severus panic and race desperately after him would have only cemented his belief that if he took Harry, the elite of the Wizarding World would do what they asked to get him back.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 31 Drawing Closer

 

It took hours for them to reach their destination. Buffering spells kept the boat sailing smoothly, and shielding spells kept the worst of the wind and the water spray off them. Still, it wasn't a pleasant journey, the waiting getting to all three of them more than anything.

 

They check the map frequently, watching the tiny image of their boat getting closer and closer to the shoreline. When they finally approached, the night had largely passed, and the eastern sky was already beginning to brighten with dawn. Harry had been gone for hours; there was no telling what might have happened to him in that time.

 

Upon reaching the shore, they dragged the boat up onto the rocky bank, noticing immediately several Viking long boats already tied nearby. Remus headed straight for one of them, grabbing the prow and pulling himself up to peer inside. He jumped down a moment later, his eyes gleaming in the predawn light.

 

"Harry was in this one," he announced. "The scent is still strong." Sirius grinned -- those werewolf senses would take them straight to Harry now that he'd gotten the scent.

 

They grabbed up their gear, Sirius and Severus both strapping their swords to their backs while Remus hefted the iron mace over one shoulder. They could see the treeline ahead, the dark expanse of forest looming before them.

 

"Move as silently as you can," Snape told the two of them. "I remember reading about a cat-like creature called Grendlings that hunt in packs in these woods. I'd just as soon not lead them right towards us."

 

With that the three of them headed off, Remus taking up the lead as they followed Harry's trail into the forest.

 

By Sirius' estimate they had gone perhaps five miles when Remus stopped suddenly, holding up his hand for silence. Knowing the werewolf could hear and smell things they could not, both Sirius and Severus froze, waiting for him to give them some sign of what had caught his attention. He sniffed the air, his face looking pale in the growing morning light. Then he moved quickly back toward them and spoke softly in muffled tones.

 

"I can smell blood up ahead," he informed them. "And there's something moving in the woods off to the south. It's still far away but stay quiet so that we don't attract its attention."

 

Both men nodded and they followed Remus forward, moving more cautiously through the trees. They had walked for several more minutes in absolute silence when they came across the source of the blood Remus had mentioned. Ahead of them in a small clearing were the bodies of animals. They were huge, black-furred creatures with muscled bodies and long claws. There was indeed something cat like about them, but their hind quarters were oddly shaped as if perhaps they could walk upright as easily as they walked on all fours. The ground around them was black with blood and they could see that these animals bore the marks of sword wounds.

 

All three of them moved carefully forward, scanning the ground and avoiding the pools of blood. Remus hissed suddenly in shock, and crouched down to pick something up from the ground. Sirius stared in sickened horror when he realized that the item he was holding was a human hand.

 

It made them all search the bodies more closely, each dreading the discovery that one of the dark bloody lumps upon the ground might be a human body. Remus however stopped his search suddenly, and moved swiftly toward them, grabbing Sirius by the arm and pulling him toward Severus, motioning to Severus to move away from the blood. Neither men questioned him, trusting his judgment, but they both looked to him for an explanation. Remus' face was deathly pale.

 

"We have to keep moving. There's a faded warding ring around the clearing," he whispered as they walked. "I crossed over one of the stronger residues. I recognized the feeling -- it was made by Harry's Patronus. He leaves a very distinctive vibration behind."

 

Sirius felt his heart begin thumping hard in his chest, a cold panic washing over him. It meant of course that Harry had been alive and in possession of his wand when this had happened; it also meant that Harry had been in the center of the conflict that quite obviously had taken human lives. But ultimately it meant that there had been Dementors here. There was no other reason for Harry to have cast a Patronus.

 

They moved swiftly and silently through the slowly brightening woods, Remus leading the way. But after about a mile further, Remus motioned for them to stop and he stood with his head cocked to one side, listening intently for some sound. Sirius had to restrain himself from transforming into Padfoot so that the dog's more sensitive nose and ears could pick up whatever sounds and smells were disturbing the werewolf. But he knew that while Padfoot was certainly able to run faster than he could as a man, he would be far more useful in a fight as a human.

 

Remus moved toward them again, his face grave. "They know we're here," he told them. "We're being cut off. They've been traveling parallel to us south of here but they're ahead of us now, and moving to block our path forward."

 

His words caused Sirius heart to begin pounding again. All those years that they roamed the Dark Forest with Moony, he'd come to understand the nature of the hunt. And after years of being hunted by the Dementors, he knew what it meant to be prey.

 

"Are you sure it is us they are hunting?" Snape asked.

 

Remus nodded grimly. "I know when we're being hunted."

 

"How many?" Sirius asked. "And can you tell what they are?"

 

"Ten at least," Remus replied. "And I would guess that they're these Grendlings you mentioned. They smell vaguely cat-like. There is the scent of blood with them so it's probably the remains of the pack that attacked Harry's group."

 

"And the Dementors?" Sirius asked, knowing just how deadly they could be in a fight. Their power was in the distraction they provided -- the ability to completely overwhelm an opponent so that something else could slip past your guard.

 

But Remus shook his head. "Harry's Patronus would have driven them far away. It will be a day at least before they try to return to the area. I think it's just the Grendlings we have to contend with."

 

He turned then, stiffening. "They're coming."

 

The three of them moved so that they stood with their backs to each other; Sirius held his wand in his dominant hand and his sword in the other. In a duel the wand was his greatest weapon so he had been trained to use the sword in his left. Beside him he saw Severus and Remus do the same, the werewolf hefting the huge iron mace as if it weighed nothing.

 

They did not have long to wait. Amid the sound of crashing branches, large furry bodies flung themselves at them, red eyes burning in the shadows. And then the beasts were on them, tooth and claws flashing deadly in the morning light.

 

The three men all knew to use the most deadly of spells in a fight like this -- and Sirius let loose with a stunning blast of fire that caught the first creature in the chest, lifting it off the ground. He flung it with bone breaking force against a tree. He swung his sword at the next, blocking the strike aimed as his stomach before hitting it with another blast of his wand. Behind him he could hear Remus and Snape shouting their own spells and the woods were lit red with blasts of fire and lightning. The screams of the Grendling and the sickening bone-crunching blows of Remus' mace were deafening. Sirius was vaguely aware of the spray of blood striking his face his sword struck the throat of one of the creatures. He basted one more moving body and then grew still as he realized that nothing else was moving. Turning swiftly he raked his gaze over Remus to assure himself that the man was unhurt. He too was splattered with blood but none of it appeared to be his.

 

"Is that all of them?" Severus demanded, his own sword dripping with blood.

 

"Yes," Remus assured them "Are either of you hurt?"

 

Sirius took a moment to evaluate himself. Something had managed to strike his left leg, but it hadn't cut through the tough dragonskin he was wearing. "Bit bruised but in one piece."

 

"I'm fine," Severus confirmed as they took in the dead creatures around them. There were nine in total, and Sirius could not help thinking that had there been a few more, they wouldn't have escaped unscathed. None of them were used to this sort of fighting. Sirius did not want to think about what it might have been like for them to have had Dementors attack in the middle of such an battle. Harry had already seen such horror in his young life, to be dragged into this was heartbreaking.

 

"Let's keep moving," Snape urged. Remus, who was making some attempt to shake off the grizzly remains embedded in the spikes of his mace, nodded in agreement and took up the lead once more. Sirius had to admire the man's fortitude. Nothing kept Remus down for long. His ability to endure everything life threw at him was one of the reasons Sirius loved him so much.

 

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Alrik and Asgeir gathered a large group of warriors in the main hall of the Keep. The eldest was gray-haired and scarred, the youngest no more than three or four years older than Harry. There was a ranking order among the men that Harry could see based on who stepped forward to study the great map that Asgeir laid on the table. The youngest warriors were forced to stand in the back, deferring to the older more experienced men. Harry felt awkward and uncomfortable as he realized that despite being the youngest, all of the men deferred to him. He was given a spot between Asgeir and Alrik and all of the men were watching him. More than once he heard someone whispering the moniker 'the boy who lived'. The younger warriors were peering over shoulders to catch a glimpse of his infamous scar.

 

They pointed out the location of the Well and the stone to Harry on the large map explaining in detail the lay of the land and what they might encounter. The Grendlings would attack in mass, he was told, and they would take a large number of both swordsmen and archers to deal with them. There was also the potential that the Black Wyrms might come down out of the mountains and attack. It took Harry a few minutes to realize that the Wyrms they were talking about were in fact some breed of dragon.

 

Despite what he'd been told about Muggle weaponry, he couldn't help but think that a few machine guns and grenade launchers might come in handy. Certainly they would do more damage than a sword. But he held his opinion to himself for once, feeling far too out of his depth to speak up. As far as he could see, there was no sign of Muggle technology in this society. Instead they spoke of something called Wizarding Steel, and he found himself wondering if perhaps there wasn't some sort of spell on their swords to make them more accurate.

 

They showed him the most defensible position around the Well as he would apparently be required to not only lift the capstone, but also transport it thirty feet to the Well itself.

 

"The moment we approach the Well, the Dementors are sure to come," Alrik told him. "How many can your Patronus hold off?"

 

Harry frowned. There had been at least fifty of them that night during third year when he and Sirius had been attacked. He suspected his Patronus could hold off as many as necessary, but he saw another problem.

 

"I'm certain I can hold them all off," he told Alrik. "Or at least drive them back, but that is not the problem. The Patronus is a free-formed but directed spell and the Levitation spell is continuous. "

 

"That means that once you begin moving the stone, you will no longer be able to direct your Patronus beyond a single final command?" Asgeir guessed.

 

Harry nodded. "I can tell it to attack the Dementors, but I have no guarantee that it will go after all of them or simply single one out and chase it down. Is there anyone here who can cast the charm?"

 

"Beyond what you saw earlier, no," Alrik informed him. Harry glanced at Bjorn and Gudrik. To his surprise neither man looked insulted. Though it seemed inconceivable to Harry he suspected that the Patronus was so far out of their reach that he might as well be asking them to fly to the moon.

 

"We know the risks," one of the men told Harry, a grim, determined look on his face. "All of us have lost someone to those creatures. If you can seal that infernal hole, we're willing to take the chance."

 

"Sealing that hole is not going to get rid of the 200 that are already here," Harry told them, his stomach knotting with the thought of what these men were going to be facing. And all for so little reward. He was going to lead these men into battle, and he would have to watch them die, watch them lose their souls to the Dementors. And for all his magic, there was nothing he could do to prevent it.

 

"We'll deal with that problem afterward," Asgeir informed him. "Worry about the problem we can actually do something about."

 

He understood the practicality of his words, but it went against his nature to have to face such a failure and call it a victory. It reminded him too much of the Eye of Odin. The Wizarding World counted that a victory, but Harry could not help but think of all the good men and woman who lay dead on the field afterwards.

 

They spent a while longer going over the battle strategies, Harry remaining silent through much of it. Strategy had always been Ron's strong suit, not his, and he figured these men who had been warriors all their lives knew far better than he did what to do. But still they looked to him for approval, deferring to him as if he were some leader like Asgeir. The weight of their hope was heavy on his shoulders, and he could not remember a time he had ever felt so alone.

 

When all was said and done, the men headed off to prepare armor and weapons and no doubt to spend a last night with their families. They would head out at first light tomorrow, and Harry knew many would not be coming back. He found himself silently cursing the Ministry for allowing such a thing to happen.

 

With his own family safely in High Hill, Alrik had no such distraction and offered instead to show Harry around Bifrost Hall. Grateful for the distraction, Harry went with him, determined to educate himself more completely on how the rest of the Wizarding World lived.

 

He saw no sign of the Muggle influence in the Bifrost community to the point that even the pair of blue jeans he was wearing was out of place. These people lived life much the way their ancestors must have, and had probably done so for centuries.

 

And yet at the same time, he saw no signs of stagnation. Despite their lack of magical prowess, magic infused every aspect of their lives and improved them much the way technology improved the lives of Muggles. It seemed that magic amongst this community was far more specialize than it was at Hogwarts. People had one magical strength, and they stuck to it, relying on those around them for other things. And there was no lack of magical items either -- everything from magical farming tools to brooms, though he did notice that broom travel seemed somewhat restricted. He supposed with the constant threat of Dementors, it just wasn't safe to travel beyond the walls of the fortress.

 

During the brief tour of Bifrost Hall, Harry got some idea of how large the castle was -- all the families and local farmers lived with the fortress walls, well protected from the Dementors and Grendlings. The walls kept the Grendlings from entering, and the wards kept the Dementors out. But men stood in risk everyday when they stepped outside the castle walls to attend their farms. They felt confident that they could deal with the threat of Grendlings, but they had no defense against the Dementors who were growing more bold as their numbers increased.

 

Eventually Harry made his way back inside the Hall where he soon found himself surrounded by locals who were anxious to speak with him. All of them had grown up listening to stories about the Boy Who Lived, and they had hundreds of question for him that he answered with as much patience as he could. Despite being a part of their rich history, Harry found himself feeling more isolated as it brought home for him just how little he knew about his world.

 

He was listening to a group of warriors discussing the best way to fight off a pack of Grendlings when the alarm sounded -- a horn blaring from the walls of the Keep.

 

"Harry," Alrik called as he rushed into the hall. Harry immediately jumped to his feet thinking that perhaps the Dementors were attacking. "Come quickly," Alrik urged. "They'll destroy us if you don't stop them. "

 

Harry followed him out the door.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 32 Growing Pains

 

Bifrost Hall appeared through the trees, an enormous castle-keep upon a rocky hill which looked out over the farming plains of the Winter Land beyond the forest. The Brand flag flew from the top most tower, indicating that the lord of the castle was in residence, and though still daylight out, the gates were barred, armed men patrolling the walls of the Keep.

 

Severus, crouched near a fallen tree, felt Sirius and Remus move up on either side of him. The three men took note of the armed contingent guarding the walls.

 

"There will be powerful wards on the gate," Severus informed the two men as Remus pointed out several archers that Severus had not noticed hiding in the shadows of the guard towers. "But beyond that there will be very little offensive magic. It will be a physical attack if we're forced to fight, and they'll have some of the best weapons around. Even dragonskin won't turn back their blades."

 

"Do we mean to attack openly then?" Sirius asked. Severus could tell by the tone of his voice, that he was not necessarily against such a thing, merely more curious than anything else. Remus on the other hand hissed in displeasure.

 

"Surely we can try negotiation first," he reasoned. "There are women and children inside those walls. I'd rather not risk harming innocents if we can avoid it."

 

"They started this," Severus reminded the werewolf. "The trick will be to get the wards down as quickly as possible. Once inside the walls, we should be able to subdue the warriors with spells readily enough. Alrik will be the only really magical threat, and he'll be easily dealt with. He has little skill as a duelist."

 

"Remus and I can get the wards down," Sirius told him. "You just keep those arrows off of us."

 

Though Severus didn't particularly like the two men, he was aware of the fact that they were both capable of casting magic in tandem, a rare skill. Years of familiarity not to mention the bond between them that they were only just beginning to acknowledge made them a very formidable team. Given enough time, he was certain they could pull all the wards from those ancient walls.

 

"We only need the wards on one of the gates down," Severus reminded them, knowing that as Gryffindors they would likely overlook this fact and go for total overkill -- such a thing would cost them time he did not want to waste.

 

"What if they hurt Harry?" Remus asked, voicing a fear they all had.

 

"We don't give them the chance," Severus insisted. "We move quickly, stop anyone who gets in our way. No wasted time." If he had to, he knew he would take those very women and children Remus had mentioned hostage against Harry's safe return. He would use their own weaknesses against them -- what ever it took to retrieve Harry alive. He did not want to think about the possibility that Harry may have already been injured -- he was alive when he cast that Patronus. He had no reason to doubt that he remained alive still.

 

Sword in one hand, wand in the other, Severus nodded to the two men. "Let's move." As one they left their hiding place, moving at a swift run across the open ground beyond the forest edge toward the gate of the castle. No sooner had they emerged from the shadows of the forest and began making their way across the snow dusted ground, did they hear the horns on the walls of the castle sounding the alarm. More armed men moved toward the walls, archers raising their bows.

 

It took them a while to traverse the distance between the edge of the forest and the castle walls. As they ran, Severus felt the two men beside him calling up their powers even as they raised their wands to begin attacking the wards they could feel pulsing through the earth, protecting the ancient gate. Severus threw a shield up as they ran to ward off any arrows that might fly in their direction. But before the two men could throw their first blasting attack at the wall, a man hailed them from the castle.

 

"Hail, strangers!" he called down to them. "May we render some assistance?"

 

It was neither a threat nor a warning, a distinction all three of them could understand. And though every instinct in Severus was crying out to simply blast first and ask questions later, he knew he could not, knew also that the two Gryffindors beside him would not attack first when so obviously unprovoked. He was pleased however to note, that while he felt both men reining in the blasting power they had been summoning, neither man lowered their wands. He was reminded constantly that Gryffindor did not necessarily mean stupid.

 

He had no choice but to answer the hail from the wall.

 

"Return Harry Potter to us or we will pull down your walls!" Severus shouted up to the man on the battlements, his own wand raised in warning. The shielding spells he had cast pulsed around them, glinting in the pale sunlight.

 

But before the man could respond, they heard another voice calling from beyond the wall. "Open the gates!" Startled, Severus glanced at his two companions.

 

"Harry?" Remus murmured in surprise, his heightened senses no doubt making that voice even clearer to him than it had been to Severus.

 

"Let them through!" the voice shouted again, and this time Severus was positive that had been Harry shouting. Surprisingly, men on the wall moved immediately to do as commanded, and he heard the heavy chains of the great wheels and gears that held the door shut beginning to turn. Severus found himself somewhat at a loss -- how could Harry be issuing orders when it was he who had been kidnapped? What was going on?

 

But only moments later they saw the great gates to the castle swinging open, and though the men watching from the walls did not relax their stances, the bows and arrows were lowered. A moment later, to Severus shock and utter relief, he saw a slender, familiar figure running through the gate toward them, a dark-haired young man with flashing green eyes who was grinning from ear to ear as if he'd been given the greatest gift imaginable.

 

Sirius broke first, stepping swiftly forward to meet the form, bracing himself as the young man launched himself at him. Sirius caught him in a bone-crushing hug, crying out his name as a seemingly unharmed Harry Potter hugged him back. A moment later, the boy had moved on and thrown his arms just as enthusiastically around a grinning werewolf, hugging Remus Lupin as he had his godfather.

 

And then to Severus' surprise, no sooner had he finished hugging Remus, Harry threw his arms around Severus, and for one brief blissful moment Severus found himself with an armful of Harry Potter, his lithe young body pressed intimately against Severus' own, the heat of his body burning past all his defenses and touching something utterly unknown inside him. Severus found himself flushed and befuddled, clinging to the young man with a desperation he didn't want to name. All he knew was that Harry was alive and whole and for whatever insane reason was momentarily in his arms. Though the hug lasted only a moment, he knew he would never forget that moment as long as he lived.

 

It wasn't until Harry had drawn back and turned toward the grinning Sirius and Remus that Severus became aware of the group of men moving more sedately through the gate toward them, not to mention the crowd of people gathered around the gate watching in curiosity.

 

Severus immediately recognized Alrik in the crowd and his anger and protective instincts returned full force. That something unexpected was going on here, he had no doubt. Harry did not appear to be a prisoner. But that did not change the fact that this man, his brother-in-law, had betrayed his trust and kidnapped his bond-mate.

 

No sooner did he identify Alrik than he raised his wand again, his face hardening with his displeasure. Harry, still laughing with his two fellow Gryffindors, notice the change in his demeanor and swiftly stepped between Severus and his prey. Finding his bond-mate at the other end of his wand startled Severus greatly. "Harry!" he hissed, drawing his wand back in alarm -- had the boy no sense at all, stepping in front of him like that!

 

The action though had stopped the advance of the men approaching, and though not one of them raised a weapon against them, he could see the wariness in all their eyes. Indeed Harry raised his face toward the wall where the watching archers were still poised -- one hand upraised toward them as if to warn them against firing off any shot.

 

"Severus, stop!" Harry insisted. "Things are not as they seem. Please!"

 

Severus stared at the boy in confusion -- indeed Remus and Sirius were watching the proceedings uncertainly now, glaring at the warriors mistrustfully. Harry frowned and inclined his head toward one of the men who proceeded forward, Alrik only steps behind him standing off to one side. There was enough family resemblance that Severus guessed the older man to be Lord Asgeir Brand, lord of these lands.

 

"Lord Brand," Harry greeted and for a moment Severus was taken aback by the confidence in the boy's voice. "This is my bond-mate, Severus Snape."

 

Lord Brand inclined his head deferentially to Severus, who though still angry had no choice but to return the gesture, custom demanding it. "Lord Snape, welcome to Bifrost Hall. Please accept our hospitality."

 

Severus wanted to lash out at him about the courtesy afforded a man who kidnapped another, but Harry had already moved ahead, indicating his godfather.

 

"And this is--" Harry began only to be cut off by Asgeir's startled voice.

 

"Sirius Black!" he exclaimed in surprise and a murmur of alarm arose amongst the warriors and the crowd of people beyond the gate. Though isolated from England, the Winter Lands still would have heard all the stories of the infamous murderer Sirius Black, and the three of them had in their haste made no effort to disguise the fugitive. But before any alarm could be raised, or that murmuring of shock could rise in fear, Harry's shout cut them all off.

 

"My godfather! And an innocent man!" he shouted to the crowd, his eyes flashing with a fierceness Severus had never seen before. "And I will challenge anyone who says differently!"

 

His words had a remarkable affect on the crowd, dead silence falling over them all. Sirius, Remus and Severus merely stared in startled shock. It was Asgeir who broke the sudden silence, inclining his head graciously to Harry.

 

"There are none here who would speak against you, Harry Potter, and as the Ministry has abandoned us, your word shall be as law here. Be welcome in my home Lord Black." His words startled Severus even more than Harry's had -- though they would have no bearing on Black's guilt or innocence with the Ministry of Magic, Lord Brand had just offered Sirius Black sanctuary in his land, solely on the word of one boy whom he'd met only hours earlier. That something extraordinary had happened here was certain.

 

Sirius, rendered speechless by the proceedings, inclined his head to the man as Harry moved on to Remus. "And this is Remus Lupin," he informed Asgeir. "It was he who taught me how to cast the Patronus charm."

 

Though Lupin's surname would have been unknown, Asgeir bowed to him too as if greeting an equal. "You are also welcome in my home, sir," he greeted. "And indeed we are in your debt for teaching Harry -- that Patronus saved lives this day."

 

Remus, obviously uncertain about what was going on, merely repeated Sirius' gesture and remained silent. But Harry was grinning now and he stepped back toward the three of them turning to smile at Asgeir. "And now that they're here we can do a hell of a lot more that merely seal up a hole in the ground. The Dementors are no match for them!" Though Severus had no idea what on earth Harry was talking about, the crowd of people around them obviously did for there were suddenly cheers of approval and questioning murmurs as Harry's words were repeated through the crowd.

 

"Harry, what on earth. . ." Sirius began, Remus and Severus moving in closer to hear what explanation they could over the rising voices of the people around them.

 

But Asgeir motioned them all back toward the gate. "Come inside," he welcomed. "We'll explain everything." He called out to the men at the gate to usher all the crowd back inside and before Severus knew it he felt Harry tugging on his arm, pulling him toward the castle gates. Harry took hold of his arm and Sirius's, Remus falling into step beside them, and led them all inside Bifrost Hall as if they had not been moments before ready to tear the castle to the ground.

 

They were all led into Bifrost Hall and ushered into a meeting hall where Alrik and Asgeir explained to the three of them what troubles they had been dealing with and the failure of their Ministry to aid them. Sirius Black, having more reason to fear the Dementors than anyone, shuddered at the description of those creatures roaming the land freely, their dark powers unchecked by any spells.

 

"So you thought kidnapping Harry was a solution?" Severus demanded of his brother-in-law, not so willing to forget the blind terror he had felt on learning that Harry had been taken.

 

"We were desperate, Severus," Alrik told him, shame in his eyes but no sign of regret. "We had tried everything else -- but when I saw the way people reacted to him that evening in Briarwood I knew no one would ignore us then."

 

"Ignore you!" Severus had to be physically restrained from rising to throttle the man -- Remus' hand on his shoulder was restraint enough for he was no match against the werewolf's strength. "Did it not occur to you to come to me?"

 

"I've seen what you are capable of doing, Severus," Alrik said simply. "I did not trust you."

 

His words were like a slap in the face. Of course he did not trust him -- who did? He was a Death Eater -- at least in the eyes of the Wizarding World. Never mind what he had done to aid the Light -- he was still tainted as far as everyone was concerned, for no other reason that being a Slytherin. Nothing was likely to change that.

 

"Did it not occur to you that instead of aiding you, you might simply have drawn the wrath of the Ministry and the Wizarding World down upon you?" Severus bit out -- certainly he had been prepared to come here and destroy anyone who stood in his way.

 

"Harry has said the same words to me," Alrik admitted much to Severus' surprise. He glanced at Harry who was sitting silently beside Sirius Black, both men listening to the proceedings. "It was a risk I was willing to take."

 

"Really?" Severus smiled coldly at the man. "And what of the other risk, Alrik? Was that one you were willing to take?"

 

"I knew you would be angry," Alrik began but Severus cut him off.

 

"I'm not talking about me. What would you have done if the Dark Lord had learned that Harry was here in the Winter Lands and unprotected? What would you have done if Voldemort had come for him instead of me?" All those nearby flinched in horror at the Dark Lord's name, making an old warding sign against evil. Both Alrik and Asgeir had paled considerably, and seemed utterly at a loss for words.

 

"Severus is right," Sirius told them, his eyes glittering angrily. "All you see are the happy little legends the newspapers print about him, but you forget whose enemy he is. The risk you took in bringing him here was far greater than you know."

 

"Do you mean to take him from us then?" Asgeir asked in alarm, but Harry answered before anyone else could.

 

"No," he said quickly and Severus looked at the boy in confusion. He didn't mean to leave after all this?

 

"Harry?" Sirius questioned looking just as confused.

 

But Harry only threw the three of them an unreadable glance before turning back toward Asgeir. "I promised you my help, and you will have it. But I think I had best explain things to my family on my own."

 

Asgeir stood immediately. "Of course," he agreed nodding politely to the three of them. He motioned to his men to back away. "We'll leave you to it. If you need anything please ask."

 

Severus and the other two turned toward Harry for an explanation. He frowned at them and glanced toward the door at the end of the great hall. "Let's take a walk in the court yard," he suggested. "I could use some fresh air."

 

They followed him out of the hall without speaking and it did not escape Severus notice how so many eyes in the room followed the young man. What on earth had happened here he wondered? What had Harry meant by 'promise his help'? What had he promised these people who had kidnapped him, and what about that promise made these people so eager to treat the boy with such deference? They had little enough respect for him when they'd struck him with a concussion grenade and tossed him into a boat.

 

In the pale winter daylight, they walked through the courtyard undisturbed by the inhabitants. Harry paused before an enormous monolithic sundial, and stood staring at the great stone. A glance at the marks on the ground showed it was just past noon.

 

"Remus," Harry asked suddenly, startling all three of them. "Is it true that five percent of the world's population are wizards?"

 

The three men glanced at each other in confusion. "Yes, Harry," Remus nodded. "Give or take a few million here or there."

 

Harry just nodded, thoughtfully. "And is it also true that Hogwarts is the only magic school in Britain?"

 

"Yes," Remus agreed again.

 

Harry frowned. "I didn't know that there were so many of us. I suppose Ron and Neville probably knew -- they grew up in this world after all. And Hermione probably knew; it's probably in a book somewhere. But I didn't know. There are over half a million Wizarding children in Britain old enough to go to Hogwarts -- but only four hundred attend. Hagrid said my name was down for Hogwarts since before I was born. I never really knew what that meant until now."

 

Severus frowned. Could Harry truly not have understood the privileged position he held in their society? He knew Muggles did not hold to the old ways much any more -- they saw their monarchy now as little more than something to read about in the newspapers. But it didn't change the fact that even Muggle children understood status and social structure. And though Muggles liked to believe themselves part of some great equality, they still understood classes and rank.

 

"You said you had no vote at Christmas, Remus," Harry continued and Severus found himself somewhat bothered by the fact that it was Remus alone Harry was seeking answers from. He had been Harry's teacher a lot longer than Remus had, and yet it was always the werewolf he turned to for information. "You said you had no value as a vassal. But that's not really true, is it?"

 

Remus frowned at that. "Harry, my nature limits my choices. Magical ability won't change my status in the world."

 

"Maybe not for the Ministry," Harry agreed. "But it changes everything for these people." He motioned to the men and women working in the castle around them, a bright gleam in his eyes that Severus didn't really understand. Whatever Harry was dealing with, it both upset and moved him, bringing out some emotional response that Severus suspected was quite different from whatever Ron or Hermione or Neville might feel.

 

"You know when I translated Slytherin's book," Harry said quietly and this time Severus could definitely see something sad in his face. "I thought I found a cure for Lycanthropy. I thought it could cure all werewolves. But it won't, will it -- because most werewolves are just like these people here. They can't cast a Patronus, can they?"

 

"No, Harry," Remus agreed softly. "Most wizards can't."

 

Harry sighed and ran a hand through his hair, looking strangely lost and vulnerable. Severus had to fight the impulse to reach out to him. "These people are helpless against the Dementors. I told them I would help them."

 

And with those words Severus thought at last he understood what was going through Harry's head. He wasn't seeing his position in society as a privilege but as a duty -- a duty to protect and serve those weaker than him.

 

"Harry, you don't owe them anything," Severus told him firmly. "This is the Gryffindor in you talking. This is the Ministry's job, not yours. You're a sixteen-year-old boy who has not even finished your schooling yet. You're not an Auror, you're not a warrior. This isn't your responsibility."

 

"Yes, it is," Harry told him.

 

"Harry," Sirius said gently, touching his godson's shoulder as Severus had wanted to do himself. "Severus is right. This isn't your job. You're still a child. No one expects.. . "

 

"They took my wand, Sirius," Harry interrupted. Sirius frowned but let Harry continued. "Last night they took my wand, and I felt helpless. I stood there and watched, unable to do anything, while a man's head was ripped from his body." His words made Severus blanch, his heart clenching at the thought of what Harry had gone through -- why, when so many people wanted to protect him, was this boy so tormented?

 

"I stood there and watched as men were torn apart and then got their souls sucked out by Dementors and I imagine that for those few moments I felt exactly like these people feel all the time -- helpless, powerless."

 

They could all see the gleam of horror in the boy's green eyes as he spoke, remembering what had occurred the night before.

 

"And then I got my hands on a wand and drove the Dementors back with a spell I learned when I was thirteen." He looked up at the three of them and there was something hard and painful glittering in his eyes. "I have to help these people because they're brave and strong and good, but they're not capable of doing what has to do be done. I have to help them because I can. I have to help them because they asked. I won't leave until I've done what I've promised, and I'm asking you to help me."

 

Severus stared at the young man before him, finding himself completely at a loss for words. By all rights he should take Harry back to Hogwarts immediately -- he should take him back there and forbid him to even think about these people or their trouble. But something had change -- something subtle but undeniable, and he could see it shining in those haunted green eyes. They had twice now referred to him a child, but he wasn't a child any more, and perhaps had not been one for a long time. And for the first time Harry seemed to understand that himself -- they could order him back to Hogwarts, but he would not go. They could try to force him, but they would fail. He had seen something, discovered something about both himself and the world that they could not change.

 

Sirius and Remus both looked at him, and he could tell by the light in their eyes that they too had seen the same thing in Harry. They might all three considering themselves Harry's guardians, but they also understood that they would not sway Harry from his course. At this point Severus doubted even Albus could do that.

 

"What is it you want us to do?" Severus asked softly, speaking for the other two men as well. He knew neither Sirius nor Remus would abandon him even if Harry asked them to walk through the Gates of Hell.

 

"Tomorrow we're going into the heart of Grendling country and I'm going to seal up the Well of Despair that the Dementors are coming from. But I can't move the capstone and control the Patronus at the same time. Alrik's warriors can fight off the Grendlings, but I need you three to keep the Dementors away from them. With three Patronus' you might even be able to herd the Dementors back down into the Well and we can trap them back inside -- or at least some of them."

 

Through the Gates of Hell indeed, Severus thought. The boy was speaking of going to war -- it was as simple as that.

 

"Harry, do you have any idea how dangerous that will be?" Remus asked him incredulously.

 

Harry nodded. "I saw the Grendlings fight last night. I've been in enough battles to know what it will be like." And sadly, though only sixteen, none of them could deny his claim.

 

"Harry," Sirius sighed. "I can't say as I'm thrilled with the idea of going up against so many Dementors." He visible shuddered as he spoke and Severus saw the look of concern that immediately flooded Harry's features. It hadn't occurred to Severus that the former resident of Azkaban might not be able to handle so many Dementors. "But I'll manage if that's what you need. But are you really aware of what it is they're asking you to do? Did they explain to you what a capstone is? How big it is?"

 

Harry frowned at this in confusion, but nodded his head. "Yes, of course," he told them. He pointed toward the large monolith in the center of the sundial. "They said it was about twice the size of that stone and I moved that one this morning without much difficulty. Even if it's three times the size I should be okay moving it."

 

All three men turned to stare at the monolith and for a moment Severus found his mind going blank as he tried to process the words Harry had just spoken. When the words had at last repeated themselves two or three times in his brain he found himself flooded with questions he wasn't certain it would be wise to ask. The three men exchanged silent looks and it seemed as if Remus and Sirius were wondering the exact same thing as he was.

 

Harry, apparently unaware of their turmoil, asked, "Will you help?"

 

It was Sirius who snapped out of his shock first -- the Gryffindor in him used to agreeing blindly to whatever insanity was asked of him. "Of course we'll help you, Harry," he informed the young man. "Frankly, I'm not letting you out of my sight again, and if you're committed to this crazy plan, then so am I."

 

If Harry noticed how pale Black was when he said these words, he did not indicate. Instead he just smiled gratefully at the three of them and then urged them back inside where the castle inhabitants had hot food waiting.

 

---------------------------

 

Author's Note:

 

Several people have asked how long is this story is going to be. The answer is -- LONG, though I'm still in the process of writing. I mentioned very early on in my notes that Voldemort would earn his title of Dark Lord -- and so far you have not yet seen him make an appearance. Harry, Severus and their odd family have a long road ahead of them yet -- which is probably a good thing since falling in love seems to be a rather slow process for them.

 

I would like to thank everyone for all the wonderful reviews. If you haven't noticed by now, I've become very remiss in responding individually to them, but I do appreciate everyone. Please be patient with me. Thank you!

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 33 Tall Tales

Several hours later Severus found himself sitting next to Remus Lupin at a long wooden table in the main hall. The hall was crowded with people -- warriors who had flooed in from the other fortresses in the Winter Land at a summons from Asgeir --- and they were all feasting heartily before the great battle that was to commence the following day.

 

Though Harry looked exhausted, he was seated next to his godfather, listening in fascination to a story Sirius was telling a group of warriors about some exploit of his and James Potter's when they had both been Aurors so many years ago. Sirius was very much in his element -- surrounded by lackeys who hung on his every word. Severus could still see the bright young man he had been back in Hogwarts -- it seemed as if even all those years in Azkaban could not entirely diminish that light that had so enamored Remus Lupin.

 

Indeed the werewolf was watching the proceedings with gleaming eyes, his gaze never leaving Sirius' face though he was careful to school his expression into something less obvious than hero worship. Frankly Severus found the whole thing annoying -- even Harry looked captivated by the Marauder and it made something that felt remarkably like jealousy burn inside Severus.

 

He turned his thoughts to the conversation they'd had with Harry earlier instead, his mind still focused on that stone. By his estimate it had to weigh between four and five thousand pounds -- perhaps even more than that. And Harry assured them he'd lifted it with little difficulty. He had no doubt in his mind that Albus could do such a thing, or Flitwick. But both those men were masters of Charms. Harry was no master. He of course knew the boy was strong -- they all knew that. But this was more than he had expected.

 

"Lupin," he interrupted the werewolf's romantic musings. "Could you lift that stone?" Lupin was better than him at charms -- always had been. He'd been top of their class at Hogwarts in the subject.

 

Remus laughed softly under his breath. "Not even on a good day," he admitted, glancing over at him with an amused look in his eyes. "I've been thinking the same thing all evening. I once levitated a small Muggle automobile but it couldn't have been even half the weight of that stone and it took everything I had."

 

Severus found himself nodding in understanding -- he'd lifted a number of heavy objects in his life, though not an automobile.

 

"I thought about saying something to Harry," Remus continued. "But if he said he did it, then I know he did, and I was afraid anything I might say would make him doubt himself tomorrow."

 

"I thought the same," Severus agreed, and suspected Sirius had stayed silent for the same reason. "How's your Patronus?"

 

"Adequate," Remus shrugged. "Not like Harry's, of course, but it will get the job done."

 

"And what about Black?" Severus questioned. "I've never seen him throw one before."

 

"Neither have I," Remus admitted. "But I trust him. If he says he can handle it, then I know he can."

 

Such faith. It was such a pathetically Gryffindor thing to say that Severus wanted to mock the man for it. But he thought of something a bit more cutting to say instead. "Well, judging by the way those women are eyeing him, I've no doubt Black will have all the happy memories he needs from tonight."

 

Remus whirled his head back toward his companion as if he'd been slapped, his amber gaze immediately seeking out the women in question. Indeed there were a group of young, rather well-endowed women watching the notorious outlaw, their eyes gleaming with a certain lustful hunger. But contrary to Severus' words, Black had not yet appeared to have noticed them. Remus, however, while giving Severus the predictable reaction he had been expecting, was not as ignorant as the Slytherin remembered.

 

"I'd say Sirius isn't the only one who's caught the eye of the local wildlife," he remarked somewhat cattily as he nodded his head toward a group of younger girls closer to Harry's age.

 

Severus eyes narrowed -- the group of girls ranged from perhaps fourteen years of age to at least twenty and all of them were eyeing the young man rather hungrily. And while the girls of Hogwarts were rather reserved in their interactions with the boys their own age, Severus was very much aware of the fact that these girls, even the younger ones, had no such restraint. This society tended to live fast and hard and if Harry offered any sort of encouragement they would jump at the chance to share his bed this night. He also had no doubt that many of their mothers had given the girls fertility potions and urged them to lure one of the visiting men into their beds. Having a child with the Boy Who Lived or one of his companions would be considered a great blessing among such a group.

 

Severus threw a dark frown at the werewolf, who just glared right back. So the two of them were not so different; didn't mean they had to bond over the subject. And he certainly was not going to discuss his jealousy with a Gryffindor. His emotions were going to stay firmly where they had always been -- buried.

 

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While Sirius regaled the crowd of warriors with stories, Remus found himself spending most of the evening enduring the good-natured teasing of the warriors around him. Unlike his companions, Remus was an unknown quantity in this crowd. They all knew Harry Potter, and everyone had heard of Sirius Black and Severus Snape. They acknowledged those three men as superiors, and treated them with the respect due their stations, but they had no idea what to think of Remus Lupin. In the end they seemed to decide that he was little different from the rest of them, though worthy of respect by the company he kept. It opened Remus to a great deal more teasing than the others had to endure.

 

The gist of their joking seemed to be his choice of weapon. More than one man had comment on the size of the mace leaning up against the table by his chair. One brave soul had finally decided to test its weight himself -- something Remus doubted they would have dared do with Severus or Sirius. The man, a blond, muscle-bound giant though perhaps no more than twenty-five years of age, lifted the heavy mace with both hands, grinning at his companions when he confirmed it weighed as much as they had guessed it did -- far too much for someone like Remus to wield successfully.

 

"We'll get you another weapon, lad," the warrior grinned at Remus, despite the fact that Remus was at least a decade older than him. "My sister has a blade that would be about the right size for you." His words were met with laughter from the others.

 

Remus just smiled at the man and reached across to take the mace from him. He lifted the heavy weapon out of the warrior's grip with only one hand, tossing it briefly in the air as if it weighted no more than a dagger. "No thanks," he replied as he laid the mace once again beside him. "The mace suits me just fine."

 

The man's eyes had widened in amazement, and indeed several other warriors had leaned forward for a better look at him as if not believing he had done such a thing. Far from being angry or embarrassed the young warrior just grinned and sat down across from him, propping his arm up on the table. "You're stronger than you look. We must arm wrestle!"

 

While Remus just stared at the man in disbelief a dozen other men gathered around them, all seeming to think this was a grand idea. Of course he suspected in a society like this, arm wrestling likely passed for a form of entertainment. "You'd lose," he warned the man.

 

But the warrior just grinned harder. "Prove it."

 

And so while Sirius entertained one half of the crowd with wild stories, Remus found himself arm wrestling warrior after warrior, all wanting to test their strength against him. Surprisingly, despite losing one after another with seemingly no effort on Remus' part, none of them were deterred. Indeed several men came back more than once to try again. Remus found the whole thing perplexing.

 

Eventually they gave up and brought him food and drink for his effort, one man after another clapping him on the back as if they were now old friends. Bemused, he turned his attention to his companions instead, seeing that Sirius, Harry and Severus were now listening to Alrik retell the story of Harry's fight against the Dementors the night before. The warriors who had not heard the story were hanging on Alrik's every word, more than one man turning to stare at the now blushing Boy Who Lived when Alrik described Harry's Patronus as the 'Royal White Stag'.

 

These men, Remus had noticed, were given to metaphorical embellishment, but he found that description ringing oddly in his ears. It was aptly described -- he had seen Prongs himself and knew how impressive he could be. But 'Royal White Stag' was a phrase Remus was certain he had read in a book somewhere. The memory however proved difficult to grasp.

 

Severus, he noticed, was listening to the story with a strange gleam in his eyes as well -- as if he too had recognized something in the description. But perhaps he was just disturbed by the numerous young ladies who were determined to bring more food or drink for Harry the moment he so much touched something on his plate.

 

It was not the first time Remus had smelled jealousy or lust coming from Severus when he was focused on Harry. It might have worried him if he had not seen the way Severus had hugged Harry that afternoon in front of the castle, as if he'd been given his very life back in that moment. Severus might be more prone to the darker emotions in life, but it was obvious Harry brought out the lighter ones in him as well.

 

Against his bidding he found his gaze drifting back to Sirius. Time and time again he found himself unable to look away from the Marauder, the wolf in him so possessive of the man despite the fact that he had not taken him as a mate. The wolf did not seem to care. Truthfully, the man in him did not seem to care either. Despite the fact that he had exchanged no promises with Sirius, and had not encouraged his flirtations, he knew himself well enough to know that there was no one in this world for him but Sirius. The blue-eyed man had stolen his heart years ago when he he'd first seen him on their sorting day in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. Sirius had stolen his heart that day -- and five years later when he and the others revealed they had become Animagus so that they could keep the werewolf company, he had quite effectively stolen Remus' soul.

 

But the Sirius of his youth had been flighty and fickle when it came to love, and Remus could not bear to risk their friendship simply because the wolf wanted his mate. He had spent his entire life denying the wolf; he would continue to do so.

 

Oh, but Severus words earlier that night had stung, and Remus had returned the barb just as sharply. Trouble was, Severus could be fairly certain that he could chase off all of Harry's young suitors this night. For all Harry's maturity, he did not think long or hard on romance the way other young men might. Certainly Ron Weasley spared more than a passing thought to the girls he knew -- but Harry had seemed too haunted or perhaps too hunted to dwell overly long on such things.

 

But Remus had no such assurances. Indeed Sirius reveled in the attention he had attracted, playing up to the crowd that gathered around him. Even now he could hear him telling the women sitting beside him about one of his daring escapes from the Dementors out to hunt down the notorious outlaw. Harry's proclamation of Sirius' innocence had relegated Sirius Black to the status of Robin Hood. Even now Remus' overly sensitive hearing could hear several women bickering over who would bed Sirius this night. A young blond who reminded Remus uncomfortably of one of Sirius' old girlfriends appeared to be the forerunner in the fight. She was currently sitting beside the dark-haired man, gazing adoringly at his face. It was all Remus could do not to go over there and shove her away.

 

When he saw the girl slide her hand onto Sirius' thigh, he felt his proverbial hackles rise and found himself gripping his goblet hard enough to dent the metal.

 

The girl made no secret of her intentions, and though she whispered her words to Sirius, Remus could hear her clearly. "Do you want some company tonight?"

 

All Sirius had to do was smile and the bargain would be set. Remus could do nothing at all to stop it. And perhaps it was shameful of him to even begrudge Sirius this thing -- though Severus' words had been meant to sting, there had been some truth in them. Remus of all people knew what torment it would be for Sirius to face those Dementors tomorrow. How could he begrudge Sirius the memories he might need to get through the battle?

 

He found himself unable to look up, but equally unable to shut his ears as he waited for Sirius' answer.

 

"I'm sorry, my lady," he heard Sirius' gentle voice. "My heart belongs to an other."

 

Remus looked up in shock, his gaze taking in the sight before him. Sirius had not, it seemed, noticed his scrutiny. Nor had the women, though several of them sighed at the romantic nature of Sirius' declaration. The blond however was not deterred and Remus' eyes narrowed as he saw her slender hand sliding higher up Sirius' thigh as if seeking out proof he was not uninterested. "It is not your heart I'm after," the girl told him.

 

Sirius grabbed the girl's wandering hand, putting it aside before it could reach its intended destination. He flashed the girl and those around her a winning smile. "With my heart went my ability to separate such things. Thank you, but I must decline."

 

If anything, his words made the girls sigh again, more enamored than before. Indeed, Remus found his own heart pounding in his chest. Did Sirius know he was watching, or were his word genuine? And perhaps it was the height of arrogance to assume Sirius might be referring to him. Perhaps he merely did not care for any of those on offer and was looking for an easy way to let them down.

 

But a quick glance at the girls left him doubting that last idea -- the women were beautiful, and there were certainly plenty to choose from. For that matter if Sirius preferred other company this night there were men enough to chose from as well -- more than one was eyeing the man hungrily enough. Or perhaps that it was just that Sirius did not feel comfortable leaving Harry unguarded this night -- though surely he knew Severus would not let Harry out of his sight? Unless it was Severus he did not trust?

 

Remus' heart was still pounding, and now so was his head. He had never dated, never played the games other men played with casual lovers and flirtations. He did not know how to deal with the emotions he was feeling, and the one person he would normally go to talk to about such turmoil was the very person causing all of it.

 

And then there was the wolf inside him, growling in anger and telling him he was being foolish. Telling him simply that Sirius was his and he should take him and be done with it. The wolf had no conflict and sometimes Remus envied its simplicity.

 

"Remus?" he looked up from his musing to see that Sirius, Harry and Severus were all waiting for him, obviously ready to retire for the night.

 

Quickly he bid his own companions goodnight, grabbed up his mace and went to join them. An older woman was waiting to lead them to chambers for the night and as they left the Hall more than one disappointed gaze stared after them. Severus, Remus noticed, put a proprietary hand on Harry's shoulder and steered him from the room, pausing only briefly to glare back at some of the younger women who had been watching his bond-mate.

 

Remus found himself falling into step beside Sirius. "Arm wrestling?" Sirius murmured under his breath, and Remus threw him a glare, noting the smirk of amusement on the man's face.

 

"Wasn't my idea," he insisted. "They wouldn't leave me alone. Several of them came back more than once."

 

"Gave them an excuse to touch you, didn't it," Sirius told him, and Remus heard something odd in his voice which caused him to look more closely at his companion. Though Sirius' mouth was still smiling, there was a gleam in his eyes that wasn't precisely amusement.

 

"What?" he asked in confusion.

 

Sirius just shrugged carelessly, though the tension in his body spoke of something less casual. "Surely you noticed the attention you were attracting? I thought that blond was going to carry you off."

 

For one confusing moment Remus tried to picture the blond woman who had been touching Sirius' leg trying to carry him off. And then it hit him that Sirius was in fact referring to the young blond warrior who had been playing with his mace. And the odd look in Sirius' eyes suddenly made sense. Sirius Black was jealous! Amazement flooded through Remus' body. It was inconceivable.

 

But judging by the look in Sirius' gaze -- a wary and somewhat worried look that Remus had a hard time comprehending -- the man was expecting some sort of response from him. Or perhaps hoping for some sort of response that Remus was uncertain how to deliver.

 

"I. . ." he wanted to say something romantic and beautiful like the thing Sirius had said to that girl, something that might make Sirius' heart pound for an entirely different reason. But for once words utterly failed him and he was left with only the simple truth. "I hadn't noticed," he admitted, disappointed in himself that he could not find something more assuring to say.

 

And miraculous, the truth seemed to be exactly what Sirius wanted, for he flashed Remus a blinding smile. "Yeah," he grinned. "I kind of figured." And when he slipped his arm around Remus' waist and pulled him into his side, Remus did nothing to stop him.

 

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Author's Note: Would you look at that....Severus and Remus are both standing in the middle of the River Denial, and not only are they both aware of it but are rather gleefully getting wet.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 34 To Sleep

 

The woman led them upstairs to a long hallway only sparsely lit with torches. "We're crowded tonight, my lords," she informed them as she paused at a heavy wooden door and pushed it opened. They all took that to mean they'd be sharing a room that night -- not that Remus minded. None of them wanted Harry out of their sight.

 

Remus thanked the woman and then followed the others into the room. Severus immediately closed and locked the door, sealing it up tight with several warding spells. There was little chance of anyone getting past the Slytherin's wards.

 

One glance around the room confirmed that they had been given one of the old family quarters common several centuries back. With so many creatures threatening life and soul in this land, space behind the secured walls of the Keep was at a premium. It would not be uncommon for entire families to share a small living space like this -- though these quarters were generous enough.

 

Someone had taken care to lay a heavy rug on the stone slabs of the floor -- something Remus suspected had been done just for them. And though there were only two beds in the room, the bed-curtains and linens looked fresh and clean. A fire had been lit in the large fireplace off to one side and Sirius was currently inspected the flames, no doubt confirming that it was secure from floo. While Severus moved to check the beds themselves and the walls behind them, Remus investigated the small bathroom off to one side, making certain there were no hidden surprises.

 

The three of them, Sirius, Severus and Remus, worked surprisingly well together -- each of them just paranoid enough to trust the other to secure the room. Harry merely stood in the center of the room watching them in bemusement, before he finally just sighed and moved toward the fire. When Remus emerged from the bathroom he saw the young man sink down onto the carpet in front of the flames and stare into it lost in thought.

 

They took turns in the bathroom, preparing for the night, Sirius finally urging Harry to change into the pajamas he'd transfigured for him and take his turn washing up. Once he had disappeared into the bathroom the three men found themselves staring at each other uncertainly.

 

"He's been very quite this evening," Remus remarked when it became clear to him that the other two men were not going to speak what was on their minds. No doubt they were both worried about Harry's state of mind -- they were also likely brooding over the fact that there were only two beds.

 

"He's been through a lot," Sirius conceded. They'd heard the full story now of the fight the night before.

 

"Eight more deaths," Severus murmured.

 

Neither Remus nor Sirius commented on that, both knowing that Harry already blamed himself for too much as it was.

 

"I don't like this plan," Sirius sighed then. "Taking Harry out into . . that. . ." He waved his hand vaguely and they both understood he meant the coming battle.

 

"He's not going to be dissuaded," Remus replied, remembering the look in Harry's eyes that afternoon when he'd asked for their help. The nod from both Sirius and Severus confirmed that they too had recognized the same thing. Something had fundamental changed in Harry's perception of the world, though Remus was not yet certain what that might mean for all their futures.

 

They heard the bathroom door open and looked up to see Harry re-enter the room, dressed now in the pajamas Sirius had made for him. Barefoot and slender, he looked remarkably young, though his eyes, no longer hidden behind glasses thanks to Severus' potion, were not a child's eyes.

 

Sirius wasted no time in grinning brightly at him. "You okay there, Harry?" he asked.

 

The young man nodded, his face thoughtful. He took a cautious step forward as if deliberating something. The three of them waited in silence, seeing that he obviously had something on his mind.

 

"I wanted to thank you," he said then, sounding terribly young as if all his newfound confidence had left him.

 

"For what, Harry?" Sirius asked bemused, moving swiftly to Harry's side and taking hold of one of his hands. Harry smiled gratefully at him and Remus could see his hand tightening in Sirius' grip. He was reminded suddenly of how little affection this young man had received growing up -- such gestures probably meant more to him than they truly understood and Remus was grateful that Sirius was capable of such things. Both he and Severus were far too reserved, but Sirius more than made up for it.

 

"For coming after me," Harry explained. "For saving me."

 

Sirius grinned at that. "You didn't seem to need a whole lot of saving, Harry."

 

"Not today," Harry said simply. "Tomorrow."

 

The smile faded from Sirius' face and he slipped an arm around Harry's shoulders, the confusion all three of them felt clear in his eyes.

 

"I can't control a Patronus and levitate that stone at the same time," Harry explained. "And because of that those men out there were going to call a massacre a victory. I'm not sure I could go through that again."

 

Remus found himself swallowing painfully around the lump in his throat, understanding now that Harry was talking about not just the battle tomorrow, but of the night he'd taken the Eye of Odin from Voldemort's hands. He had saved Hogwarts that day -- had likely saved the Wizarding World that day. But that single act had killed not only Death Eaters but Aurors alike. The Wizarding World had counted it a great victory -- but all Harry had been able to think about were the men and women who had died.

 

Before the three of them had arrived today Harry had already made the decision to seal up the Well of Despair. He had done it knowing that it meant men were going to fall in battle to the Dementors -- they had no defense against them and Harry would be too occupied with the stone to save them.

 

Sirius hugged Harry tightly to him. "You're not alone, Harry," he assured him. "Put those thoughts behind you. We're going to win tomorrow. It's going to be alright." Those weren't really promises anyone could make in good faith -- but Remus, and apparently Severus too for he said nothing against them, understood that Harry needed to hear them nonetheless.

 

Harry looked into his Godfather's eyes, searching his face for something more. "Will you be alright against the Dementors, Sirius?" he asked, voicing the question Remus had been pondering himself all night. No one liked Dementors, but for a former prisoner of Azkaban they held an added terror.

 

Sirius just smiled gently at the young man. "You don't honestly think I'd let you down, do you?" he teased, and Remus' heart lurched as he realized that Sirius' answer was really more of an evasion. Severus, who'd sat down on the bed on the far side of the room, shifted somewhat nervously as if he too realized that Sirius' answer wasn't what it should have been.

 

Remus was uncertain if Harry realized it as well, for he smiled at the response. But his next words suggest he understood more than he let on. "Do you know what memory I use for my Patronus?" he asked with an almost shy grin.

 

Sirius shook his head, his handsome face clearly showing his curiosity. Remus had wondered himself about that -- he'd only ever told Harry to make certain it was a strong emotion, a powerful one. He had never asked Harry to explain it in detail.

 

"That first night I met you," Harry said simply. "When you told me you were my godfather and asked me to come live with you."

 

Across the room Remus saw Severus turned his face away at that, his jaw tightening with some emotion, and Remus found himself looking down at his feet unable to stare at the emotion in both Harry's and Sirius' faces. He felt so conflicted -- happy that Harry had such a memory, that he could share such a thing with Sirius who he knew would cling to that admission with joy, and guilty that this boy had possessed so little love in his life that he could produce a Patronus unlike any he'd ever seen before simply because a man he'd known less than an hour had offered him a place to stay.

 

But it seemed to be exactly what Sirius needed to hear for Remus could hear the pleasure in his voice when he said, "That is what produces Prongs –- the Royal White Stag?" Again that turn of phrase and Remus frowned thinking that perhaps it had resonated with Sirius as well. He glanced up to see the two of them smiling at each other, laughter in their eyes.

 

"You going to tell me what your Patronus is?" Harry asked him.

 

But Sirius just smirked at him. "Think about it long enough, and I think you'll figure it out." And that -- finally -- was confirmation that Sirius could throw the spell. He might not have said it out right, but if he was capable of teasing Harry about what form it might take, it meant he himself knew he possessed a Patronus and that it took corporal form. Remus felt something easing inside himself at the admission.

 

If Harry did figure it out, he gave no indication, he just grinned and hugged Sirius impulsively. "Good night, Sirius," he smiled, then glanced toward Remus. "Good night, Remus." Then he moved swiftly across the room and climbed into the bed Severus was sitting upon, seemingly deciding right then and there for the four of them what their sleeping arrangements would consist of for the night. That he had no trouble at all climbing into the bed Severus had apparently claimed for his own was not really surprising since he shared a bed with the man back in Hogwarts.

 

Sirius, surprisingly just sighed and shrugged at Severus before turning toward the other bed. Remus took that his own cue to climb in to sleep.

 

They left the fire and the candles lit -- none of them wanting the total darkness in a strange environment. And the room was cold enough as it was. Remus drew the curtains around the bed once Sirius had joined him and threw both a warming charm and a sound muffling charm on them while Sirius began yanking off his boots. He didn't want to use a full silencing charm since it would block out sounds from the room as well and he wanted to be able to hear if someone entered.

 

He began removing his own boots, doing his best to ignore the man beside him. Neither they nor Severus had changed into sleeping clothes like Harry had, knowing that it was possible they could be awakened at a moment's notice to fight or defend themselves from an attack. But they had stripped out of their outer leathers.

 

Boots off, Remus stripped down to the linen undershirt he wore, too self-conscious of the scars on his body to remove anything more. He and Sirius had shared a bed before on missions, but he could not help but feel that things were subtly changing between them. And despite his best efforts not to look he found his eyes drawn to the bare expanse of skin as Sirius stripped off his own shirt unselfconsciously, tossing it to the foot of the bed. Sirius was all lean muscle and sinew and Remus had dreamed many times of mapping each plane with his hands. He eyed briefly the heir tattoo on Sirius' shoulder blade, the mark of the firstborn of a pureblood house. Toujours Pur, it said beneath the family crest, mocking the werewolf.

 

Despite his best effort, Sirius caught him staring and frowned in concern. "Do you want me to transform?" he asked softly, keeping his voice low so that the others wouldn't hear.

 

It took Remus a moment to understand what he was offering -- he had transformed into Padfoot in the past so that Remus might feel more comfortable sharing a bed with him. But for some reason tonight he did not want that at all. He shook his head swiftly before nervously yanking down the bed sheets and climbing between them. Sirius just grinned and slipped in beside him.

 

"You really didn't know that blond was hitting on you?" he asked then.

 

Remus rolled on to his back and stared up at him; Sirius was propped up on one elbow gazing curiously at him. "It's not a common occurrence," Remus informed him.

 

"I hit on you all the time, Moony," Sirius reminded him, and Remus had to concede that was true. Even back in school Sirius had flirted with him -- though it had largely been a joke to make them all laugh.

 

"You don't mean it," Remus pointed out.

 

For a long moment Sirius said nothing, and then to Remus' shock he felt Sirius' hand on his face, his fingers gently turning him toward him. The look in his eyes was for once neither teasing nor frivolous, his eyes gleaming with something that quite took Remus' breath away. When Sirius Black focused all his attention on you it was rather like standing in the center of the sun. "Yes, Moony, I do mean it. And you have to understand that I'm not going to give up."

 

"Sirius," Remus whispered desperately because he so dearly wished to believe his words, and he knew just as certainly that his belief didn't really matter. If Sirius truly wished to push the issue, there was nothing in the world Remus could deny him even if it were to tear him apart afterwards.

 

And then Sirius' mouth was on his own, tasting him, drinking in the soft moan that escaped his lips. And it was so good, so sweet, all the joy and pleasure he'd spent his entire life denying himself, coalesced down to a single perfect sensation. He knew then that it didn't matter what he believed, what he hoped, what he might dream or fear, he utterly and completely belonged to Sirius Black and always had.

 

Sirius ended the kiss before it could go much farther, and Remus found himself staring helplessly up at the man in the dim light of their curtained bed. His heart was pounding and he felt utterly out of control. Sirius it seemed was searching for something in his face, his intent gaze relentless as he probed his eyes. What ever he saw made him smile gently, though for the life of him Remus could not interpret the look. "You'll see, Moony," he whispered softly as he settled down beside him. "You'll see."

 

Remus was shaking now, trembling with raw emotion he didn't know how to handle. It wasn't the wolf this time, but the man who was completely out of his depth. It shamed him, feeling like this, so desperate and frightened and needy, like a teenage girl receiving her first kiss. But it was his first kiss -- still it seemed like a grown man should be able to handle such things with more finesse, more control.

 

And then Sirius pulled him into his arms, spooning up against him so that he felt the long, reassuring line of his body pressed firmly against his own -- and gods was it supposed to feel that good, that arousing? He was going to fly apart if his heart did not stop pounding.

 

Sirius splayed a hand against his chest, holding him still, holding him safe, and the warm tickle of his breath touched Remus' ear as he whispered softly to him, making him shiver. "It's alright, Moony," he soothed. "I promise. Everything is all right. Just sleep, stop thinking and sleep."

 

Remus didn't truly understand what it was he was saying, but it didn't ultimately matter. Stop thinking -- he could do that if Sirius wanted him to. For once, he could let go and just trust that Sirius would catch him. He was in Sirius Black's arms, lying against his bare chest, and had there ever been a time in his life when he had not dreamed of such a thing? He did as Sirius asked and stopped thinking, settling down to listen to the man's heart beating against his own, strong and reassuring. And as sleep overcame him he realized that for once even the wolf was utterly content.

 

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Severus climbed into bed beside Harry, pausing briefly to strip off his boots and his outerwear. Not wanting to make Harry uncomfortable he left on his pants and the thick undershirt before sliding under the covers. As he settled his sword against the headboard in easy reach of his hand, and his wand beneath his pillow he was startled to notice that the boy was watching him closely. This bed was a lot smaller than the one they shared at Hogwarts, and there wasn't any of the comfortable distance between them. Already he could feel Harry's body heat seeping into him.

 

"Are you angry?" Harry asked softly then, surprising him.

 

"Of course I'm angry," Severus replied immediately, though he paused first to cast a sound muffling charm on the curtains. "I'm so furious I could kill him!"

 

His words seemed to startle the young man and he shifted uncomfortably. "I meant with me, not Alrik," Harry corrected.

 

"You?" Severus stared down at him in surprise, noticing that there was genuine concern in those bright green eyes. "You think I would be angry with you for getting kidnapped? How could that possibly be your fault?"

 

But again he had misread the question for Harry shook his head. "I meant because I said I'd help them tomorrow. With the stone and the Dementors."

 

Severus sighed. He was angry, though not specifically at Harry. He was also terrified. And proud. "You're a Gryffindor, Harry. I can hardly fault you for acting true to your nature."

 

At the confused look the young man gave him, he just shook his head. "No, Harry, I'm not mad at you. I've quite resigned myself to the fact that I'm married to a Gryffindor."

 

Harry smiled wryly at that. "Sorry," he said, soundly only vaguely apologetic. "I'm glad you're here," he added.

 

Severus smiled faintly at that. "Where else would I be? You know the Winter Lands is the birthplace of Godric Gryffindor. You and your two Dog-fathers are surrounded by fellow Gryffindors -- you need at least one Slytherin to keep you from doing anything crazy."

 

For once Harry didn't protest the intended insult to Black or Lupin, or the disparagement against all Gryffindors. Rather he just smiled and settled down into his pillow, looking as if Severus' insult had set all things right with his world. "I'm glad you're here," he said again, and perhaps he truly was. He certainly didn't protest or scoot away when Severus settled down beside him, body nearly touching his beneath the heavy blankets. Rather he just settled into the warmth and closed his eyes, his breath evening out into sleep.

 

Severus lay awake a long while, listening to Harry breathe beside him, grateful that he was all right, worried about what tomorrow might bring. He didn't think too long or too hard on the thoughts of jealousy that had plagued him earlier or on the fact that the heat from the young man's body was sorely tempting him to rollover and touch. Instead he focused on the idea that no matter what, come what may tomorrow, he would make certain that Harry survived the conflict. As soon as humanly possible Harry would be back safe behind the walls of Hogwarts, and he would not let him out of his sight again.

 

He slept eventually, only to be awakened a few hours later by the sounds of distress coming from Harry. As he shook off the fog of sleep, he realized instantly that Harry had not taken any potion against his nightmares, and for the first time in a few months had new images to lend them power. Understand how those images might affect the boy, Severus didn't even hesitate to rollover and pull Harry into his arms. Sometime during the night the boy had rolled over on his side, his back to Severus; Severus spooned up behind him, shaking him lightly to wake him from the dreams.

 

"It's alright, Harry," he whispered directly into the boy's ear. He slid his palm against Harry's chest, feeling his pounding heart beating against his breastbone. "You're safe, it's all right." The boy was shaking, trembling in reaction. Severus shook him again, trying to jostle him awake.

 

Suddenly a hand closed over his wrist and Harry's entire body went utterly stiff in his arms, letting Severus know that he was indeed awake. Severus held his breath, not certain now what to do -- would the boy wrench himself away, ripping his hands from his body, yell at him for daring to touch him?

 

"Severus?" he heard a soft whisper, and he frowned hearing so much fear and trepidation in that voice. Harry's hand tightened around his wrist.

 

"It's just a nightmare, Harry," Severus said softly, his own heart pounding as he waited for the inevitable reaction.

 

And then to his amazement, Harry sighed, his entire body going limp as if in relief, his grip relaxing around Severus wrist. Far from releasing him though, Harry merely scooted back, settling more completely into Severus' embrace, and then seem to fall back to sleep. The transition was so quick that Severus was no longer even certain if the boy had woken completely or not.

 

Regardless, Severus now had a bit of a dilemma. The boy was clutching his hand now, practically curled up around it, making it quite impossible for Severus to move away. He had in his haste to wake the boy pressed himself against the length of his backside and the firm heat was doing things to his body that became harder and harder to ignore. He had never been a particularly promiscuous man, but he'd been sharing a bed with a tempting young man for months now without once touching him or anyone else and the effort to keep his distance, to keep his hands to himself, was quickly becoming bothersome.

 

Resigning himself to a rather uncomfortable night, Severus just sighed and consoled himself with the fact that Sirius Black was probably suffering equally.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 35 Into the Breach

 

Severus made a point of being up and dressed before the others rose, not wanting to answer any awkward questions such as why he was wrapped bodily around Harry. Once dressed he settled a kettle of water to boil over the fire, the sound waking the others as they all got up to prepare for the day. It was still early, no light shining through the thin slit of a window as the winter sky would not lighten for several hours yet. But Severus had no doubt that the other occupants of the castle were already up and about, preparing for battle.

 

He fixed tea for all of them as the others dressed, and when Harry came to claim his cup, he noticed the distant look in the boy's eyes.

 

"You alright, Harry?" he asked, wondering what the boy was thinking. His question caught both Lupin's and Black's attention though they didn't say anything.

 

Harry frowned but nodded. "I'm fine," he assured them all. "I just had a strange dream."

 

Remembering the nightmare, Severus couldn't help the fear that settled in his heart. Harry was known for his 'dreams' about Voldemort. If the dark lord had caught wind of what was going on here today, then there was no way Severus was going to allow Harry to go out into that battle. It would be far too dangerous.

 

"About the battle today?" he demanded of the young man. "About Voldemort?"

 

"No," Harry shook his head quickly, sounding certain about that. "It wasn't a vision, just a dream. And it had nothing to do with today -- there were no Dementors or Grendlings. It was just strange. You know how images sometimes get into your head and you can't shake them?" He shrugged as if dismissing it, but Severus wasn't so keen to let the subject drop.

 

"What was it about?"

 

Harry's eyes took on that distant look again as he once more got pulled into his images. "I was in a necropolis," he explained.

 

Alarmed, Severus remembered clearly the story of Voldemort's resurrection during the final trial of the Tri Wizard Tournament. "A graveyard?"

 

But again Harry shook his head. "No, a necropolis -- a city filled with the dead, and there was this giant glowing spider web on the ground. But that wasn't really the strange part -- it was the birds."

 

"Birds?" Severus glanced over at Lupin who looked equally perplexed by Harry's bizarre recollection. It wasn't like the past visions he had recounted to them. Those at least had recognizable forms and features to them, and made some sort of coherent sense. This sounded more like random images.

 

Harry nodded. "Two of them," he explained. "Ravens, I think. One perched on either of my shoulders. They were whispering to me, though I can't remember what they said."

 

Severus felt the blood draining from his face at the boy's words, and he didn't trust himself to speak. He could tell by the look Lupin threw him that he too understood the strange imagery.

 

"Are you certain they were ravens, Harry?" Lupin asked, and if Harry noticed the strain in the werewolf's voice, he didn't comment.

 

"Pretty certain," Harry nodded. "Could have been crows I suppose -- rather hard to tell the difference." He laughed suddenly and looked over at Sirius who had been watching the proceedings silently. Black obviously did not catch the raven reference, but understood that something was going on between Remus and Severus. "Imagine me dreaming about Ravenclaw's symbols," Harry grinned at his godfather. "I mean lions and snakes I could understand."

 

"Next you'll be dreaming about badgers," Sirius agreed with a smile. "And then I'm afraid we'll have to revoke your Gryffindor badge for that. " The two of them laughed, then Sirius glanced rather pointedly at all of them. "We should go. They'll be waiting for us downstairs."

 

Nodding, they gathered their gear and headed down, Sirius and Harry going ahead which gave Remus and Severus a moment to talk. "Two ravens," Remus hissed to Severus, looking quite as upset as Severus himself felt. "Those are Odin's familiars, two ravens, Thought and Memory. Albus said the Eye of Odin had been destroyed."

 

"It was," Severus insisted, knowing full well what the two ravens represented. The god Odin was said to have two ravens named Thought and Memory who sat on either of his shoulders and whispered the secrets of the world into his ears. "The battle field was searched; there was no sign of it. And Harry was in the hospital for three weeks afterwards -- someone would have noticed if he still had it."

 

"Still he touched it," Remus told him. "And we have no idea what powers it had, or what it might have done to him."

 

"The boy has spent the last two days surrounded by Viking images," Severus shook his head. "It's far more likely his subconscious is just dredging up images from old stories he's heard."

 

"This is Harry we're talking about," Remus reminded him. "The likely answer is never the right one."

 

++++++++++++++++++

 

Harry sat on one the long benches in the Hall next to Sirius while around him chaos reigned. Warriors from all over the Winter Lands were gearing up for battle, arming themselves with swords and axes, strapping on armor and shields. All of them were also carrying brooms -- strange brooms unlike the ones he was familiar with. These were large, heavy poles with long bundles of reeds and straw at the end. He imagined they would be somewhat slow and unmaneuverable.

 

Severus had disappeared a few moments ago, heading off to talk to Alrik after giving Sirius and Remus orders to stay next to Harry. Both men had just glared at the Potions Master for ordering them to do what they already intended.

 

Remus, who stood next to the bench, noticed Harry eyeing the brooms curiously. "They're troop brooms, not Quidditch brooms," the werewolf explained. "They're not meant for speed. They're meant for transportation, nothing more." He pointed across the hall to a group of young men all wearing bows slung across their backs. Unlike the other men in the group these were smaller in size, less muscled -- in fact Harry saw several women in their ranks. Each of them was also carrying a broom with a far more sleek design like the Quidditch brooms he was used to.

 

"Those are the ones who will be used for aerial attacks. Their brooms are a lot more maneuverable," Remus continued.

 

"Why didn't Alrik use brooms when he brought me here?" Harry asked, wondering what was the point in risking lives on the ground when everyone obviously had brooms.

 

"You can't fly across the North Sea," Remus informed him. "The winds are too strong. And Alrik informed me that this is the first time in decades that anyone felt comfortable using a broom outside the shadow of their Keeps. The Dementors can fly. They're counting on us to keep the Dementors away from them."

 

Harry shuddered at the memory his words engendered -- if it hadn't been for Dumbledore's magic he would have died in third year when he fell from his broom during the Dementor attack at the Quidditch match. He supposed under those circumstances he could understand why they might fear using brooms.

 

The sound of barking dogs caught all their attention and they turned toward the open doors of the great hall. Several armed warriors entered surrounded by large dogs -- they could hear more outside in the courtyard, barking in excitement. The dogs, enormous beasts bred to fight the Grendlings, were heavily muscled and covered with thick dark coats of fur that reminded Harry a bit of Padfoot.

 

"The dogs of war," Sirius exclaimed, sounding impressed. "I'd heard about them, but this is the first time I've seen them."

 

"Dogs of war?" Harry really wished he knew more about his world.

 

"They're bred to fight," Sirius explained. "In fact Padfoot is a similar breed. Some say they are the source of the legend of the Grim. Supposedly a pack of them can take down certain dragons." He pointed toward one of the warriors who was fitting thick harnesses around the dogs' heavy bodies. "They're trained to the harness so that they can be air-lifted by broom and dropped into the middle of a battle."

 

One or two dogs wandered too close to their table, teeth bared at anyone they neared. But Remus merely glared at them and they backed away as if sensing the wolf within the man. Sirius, Harry could see, was trying hard not to laugh.

 

Harry found his mind wandering, first to the strange dream he'd had, then to the things that had happened yesterday, then to fears about what was to come. His thoughts jumped chaotically about in his head, until surprisingly he found himself focusing on something that made him flush with confusing warmth. He'd awakened last night several times -- once to find himself wrapped tightly in Severus' arms. Beyond a few hugs, he'd never been that physically close to another human being in his life -- certainly not in contact that lasted more than a second or two. But Severus had been holding him quite tightly, and Harry had felt the heat of the man's body plastered along his entire backside. And the man's face had been buried against his neck, his warm breath sending shivers over his skin. And when the man had shifted in his sleep Harry had felt his lips touching the skin just below his ear. He'd been aware too of an unmistakable hardness pressing against him, the sensation making him at once nervous and oddly excited all at the same time.

 

In his sleep, Severus' hand had slipped down over his stomach and then lightly caressed Harry's hip, the touch hot and firm, and Harry had waited in breathless silence for the panic to set in. But it hadn't been anything like the time Julius had tried to touch him -- for one thing Severus' hand had settled on his hip rather than straying to other places. And for another. . . . Harry found himself flushing with the memory. It had felt. . . .good. Not that he'd ever admit that out loud of course! But beyond feeling safe in Severus' arms, Harry had also felt the stirrings of something inside him that reminded him of his brief crush on Cho Chang, and he wasn't certain what to do with such emotions.

 

Severus returned a moment later, carrying with him a small bundle, which he set down on the table. "Gifts from Winter Land Lords," he informed them as he opened the leather bundle and pulled out a shining metal bracer. He took hold of Harry's right arm and began strapping the bracer around his forearm. Sirius took up the other bracer and started strapping it to Harry's left forearm.

 

Startled, one arm held by either man, Harry could only watch as they bound the armor to him. "Some of the best armor in the world comes from the Winter Lands," Severus informed him. "This metal is feather light, and will turn most blades or arrows. It will also deflect many minor hexes." He shot a glance at Sirius, and then motioned Harry to stand up.

 

Harry had swapped the jacket he'd been wearing with the heavy cloak Severus had brought for him, but now Severus urged him to remove the cloak entirely. Beneath he had only a long-sleeved cotton shirt and he shivered in the chill morning air. While Severus helped him pull on a padded undertunic, Sirius dropped to one knee in front of Harry and began strapping metal shin guards to his legs, tightening the straps around his boots.

 

Motioning Harry to lift his arms, Severus dropped a coat of scale mail over his head, letting it fall over his shoulders with a musical sound as the tiny links of metal whispered against each other. Though braced for the heavy weight, Harry was surprised when he felt almost nothing, the armor indeed feather-light. This too was strapped to his body and belted around his waist with a leather belt designed to carry a sword sheath though there were none in evidence.

 

Bemused, Harry couldn't help but think that these two men, Severus and Sirius, worked rather well together -- cladding him in a full suit of armor in record time. Lastly Severus placed his cloak around his shoulders once more, fastening it in place before stepping back to look critically at him. Harry found himself flushing under the stares of all three men.

 

"You look like a young princeling," Sirius grinned at him, clapping him tightly on the shoulder. Harry felt his face heating up even more, and against his bidding he sought out Severus' gaze for confirmation of such a bold statement.

 

One dark eyebrow lifted in amusement. "Indeed, most attractive," Severus dead-panned, voice dripping with sarcasm. But nonetheless Harry saw approval in his eyes, and he couldn't help but remember the heat that had pressed against him last night.

 

"The point of the armor is to keep your skin intact, not indulge your vanity" Severus informed him. "When we get out there, you are to stay beside the three of us at all times. We will have to land in order for you to move the stone -- you cannot lift something that heavy without being firmly planted on the ground. When we land we'll be vulnerable to the Grendlings. Our job is to deal with the Dementors first and the Grendlings second. There will be a group of warriors surrounding us who will keep the Grendlings off of us. Your job Harry is to move that stone as quickly as possible back over the Well. If we can, we'll force the Dementors back down the Well, but the most important thing is to get that Well closed. Let us handle everything else. Understand?"

 

Harry nodded, hearing what Severus was not saying -- that under no circumstances was he to stray from their side and risk his life.

 

They spoke briefly then about various battle tactics and ways to use their Patronuses together to herd the Dementors. But all too soon a horn was sounded and the gathering warriors began moving out of the hall. Alrik approached the four of them, carrying with him brooms for each of them, which he distributed quickly. He nodded approvingly at the armor Harry was wearing and then explained where they would be in the troop formation.

 

It was a cold, windy morning, the sky just beginning to brighten as they moved outside, women and children crowding into the courtyard beside the warriors to wish them luck. Before too long Harry found himself mounted on the cumbersome broom, rising into the air alongside the others. Sirius moved to his left side, Severus to his right. Remus took up position before them. Alrik, Asgeir and a large troop of warriors spread out behind them. In the air they were all safe from Grendling attack -- the Dementors the only threat. When they landed beside the Well, those warriors would move to surround the four of them, taking on the Grendlings while they directed their Patronuses. Harry knew that despite everything men would die -- he could only pray he'd be able to do the task assigned to him.

 

The mounted troop moved out, fly across the Winter Lands and moving deeper over the snow-filled woods where Alrik claimed the Grendlings lived. There were mountains looming over them, caped with blinding white snow, though a mist was begin to gather at the peaks, threatening to blow down into the valley. But at the moment the air was crisp and clear, the weak winter sun shining brightly overhead.

 

They had about an hour's flight ahead of them, and Harry cast several warming charms on himself to keep his hands from freezing as they gripped his broom handle. This broom was hardly as comfortable as a Quidditch broom which had top-notch cushioning charms on them, but Harry supposed a sore back end was the least of his problems at the moment.

 

For the most part they flew unchallenged, though far below in the trees of the forest they could see dark shapes loping after their moving shadows. The Grendlings were aware of their flight and were tracking them through the woods, no doubt noticing that the men were heading in the direction of their mating grounds.

 

All too soon the cold icy touch of despair washed over them, chilling them all despite the warming charms as dark shadows began following them through the air. The Dementors were moving to surround them, many looming above for an aerial attack. Remus and Sirius both fanned out to the sides, moving toward the edge of the formation while Severus and Harry took up positions near the front. They would not cast the Patronus charm until they absolutely had to -- the hope was they could gather as many of the Dementors as possible in one place and then force them back down into the Well. They could not risk driving them off too quickly.

 

Still it was a horrifying experience to fly with them so near, knowing that at any moment one of them might swoop in and overwhelm the troop with their dark sensations. As it was they kept their distance, as if uncertain what to make of so large a gathering of men. Dementors had only an average intelligence and were unlikely to reason out too soon what they were planning.

 

As they approached the foothills of the mountains, the ground giving way to rocky outcrops and sparse trees, a shout went up from the troop leaders, indicating that the Well had been sighted. A great waterfall fell from high in the mountains down into a large lake that was surrounded by tall pines. Enormous rocks had slid down from the mountains and dotted the shore of the lake, grown over with moss and lichens. And amid the crevasse and caves formed by the rocks came the dark furry shapes of Grendlings, hundreds of them swarming out to meet their pack members returning from the woods and to face the humans approaching from the air.

 

And deep in the center of this great valley, beyond the shore of the lake, was an enormous patch of ground that looked utterly dead and black, all the living plants that thrived at the lakeside dead and gone in this area. At the heart of it was an enormous hole perhaps fifteen feet in diameter that lead down into pitch-blackness. Even the Grendlings steered clear of the black and dead ground and the horrible hole that lead down into the center of the earth.

 

The men overhead circled the great hole, keeping out of its circumference naturally for there was a coldness emanating from it that had nothing to do with Winter. Harry could feel it deep down in his soul where the screams of the dead and dying awaited him.

 

"The Dementors are coming!" someone shouted -- Harry's cue to veer away from Severus who still flew at his side. Remus and Sirius who held flanking positions now shot away from the group in either directions while both Harry and Severus veered upward into the path of the Dementors who were approaching from above.

 

Harry waited until he could see the black shapes of the Dementors bearing down on him, their horrible darkness threatening to swallow him, before raising his wand in his right hand and shouting, "Expecto Patronum!"

 

Prongs sprang forth from the tip of his wand, blinding and brilliant, shooting straight ahead along Harry's flight path and cutting directly through the wall of darkness bearing down on him. Harry shot up, through the cloud of Dementors, moving out on top of them as they veered to the sides and downward to get away from the white light of the Patronus Stag.

 

Not far away Severus' Patronus, a brilliant, fiery phoenix, was doing the same -- driving the Dementors to either side and downward. And on the edge of the company of men two more Patronus shapes appeared -- a great dog like a Silvery Grim that sprang from Remus Lupin's wand, and to Harry's delight an enormous Silvery Werewolf that came from the wand of Sirius Black. Those two Patronus met the Dementors that Severus and Harry had driven downward and cut them off driving them toward the center of the circling mass of men. The men fanned out -- moving away from the swirling darkness as the four Patronus raced around in a great circle, gathering up the shadowy Dementors and driving them downward toward the opening of the Well.

 

As Harry directed Prongs in his dance, herding the Dementors down toward the Well, he found himself scanning the ground for the capstone. On his fifth pass he finally saw it -- an enormous round stone twenty feet in diameter, carved with great swirling knots and runes. Snarling Grendlings, who were gazing hungrily overhead at the circling humans, red eyes flashing in the pale morning light, surrounded the stone.

 

Harry found himself seeking out Severus as he hovered high over the capstone -- he hadn't expected to have to fight his way through the Grendlings to get to the stone. But the Grendlings were now climbing on top of the capstone as if knowing it was somehow luring the humans closer.

 

Severus, seeing Harry's dilemma, raced to his side on the heavy broom, all the while keeping his Phoenix Patronus circling overhead to drive the Dementors downward.

 

"Alrik!" Severus shouted. "Take your men and attack now!"

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 36 Carrying the Stone

 

It was all the cue the Winter Land warriors needed. Freed of the worry of the Dementors, the archers were already shooting arrow after arrow down into the Grendling pack. The dog masters now drove their brooms toward the ground, and released the harnesses, letting the dogs drop the short distance to the ground. Barking gleefully the dogs leaped into battle. A moment later, Alrik's warriors, swords and axes raised to strike, joined them, meeting the Grendlings head on with a great battle cry.

 

Fifty men landed on the Capstone, fanning out and driving the Grendlings away from it.

 

"Get ready!" Severus shouted to Harry. Harry hesitated only a moment before driving his broom downward, seeing the opening that cleared near the stone. A dozen more men followed him from the sky, shields and swords raised to keep any Grendling from attacking him as Harry at last set foot on the frozen ground. He took only a moment to release Prongs from his command, letting the Patronus loose with the last order to circle the battle before turning his attention to the great Capstone.

 

Feet firmly planted Harry aimed his wand at the enormous stone, only vaguely aware of the men fighting all around him. "Wingardium Leviosa!" he shouted, and the great stone seem to come to life -- the carved knots and runes on the stone suddenly burning with an inner fire. The stone rose obediently into the air, but this time Harry felt its enormous weight and he staggered under the sensation. Unlike the other stone he had lifted, this one seemed different -- connected somehow to the Earth -- and the Earth did not want to release her hold.

 

But Harry focused his mind, his heart pounding, and channeled everything he had into the weight of that stone, commanding it to move, begging the Earth to let it go. And impossibly the stone obeyed, floating silently through the air toward the great Well of Despair that now had a cloud of Dementors being forced down into it.

 

With every step Harry took across the now blood-stained ground, his feet sank into the frozen earth as if he himself was suddenly heavy beyond imagining. His whole body strained beneath the weight of the stone, but his hand never wavered, his magic never hesitating even when he was splattered with blood from the warriors and Grendlings fighting around him.

 

Twice dark shapes leaped at him, only to be driven back by large metal shields that were raised to protect him just in time. His legs shook, his feet leaving deep imprints as he took each painful step toward the Well. Beyond he could see the silvery Wolf and Dog racing in a fiery circle around the lip of the Well, the flames of the Phoenix driving the last of the Dementors back down into the Earth. It seemed as if the air itself was filled with the screams of the damned and every step closer brought the cold icy touch of despair to Harry's soul.

 

"The Wyrms!" someone shouted. "The Wyrms are coming!" And distantly Harry could hear some far off sound of hissing that sounded vaguely familiar.

 

"Keep going, Harry!" another voice shouted to him, Sirius he thought. "You're almost there!"

 

And Harry pushed onward, forcing the stone ahead of him, forcing his legs to keep moving despite the great weight that seemed to be crushing him now, pulling him down. Only vaguely was he aware that something had changed in the battle, something different in the sound as men were shouting and screaming as some new horror bore down upon them. Harry could not spare even a glance away from the stone to look, the last of the Dementors now disappearing beneath the earth.

 

Five more steps, he staggered, driving the stone forward until at last it hovered over the Well, its fiery sigils pulsing now with each beat of his heart. One flick of his wand and the stone dropped, slamming down over the Well and shaking the Earth all around. But connected now to the stone and the Earth, Harry could feel the great pressure of darkness beneath the stone pushing upwards at it, and the roar of hissing voices was growing louder by the second. He knew he had to seal down the stone before the darkness broke free once more and he could feel the Earth herself waiting for something, waiting for some word or command from him.

 

On his knees now, his legs no longer able to hold him, Harry raised his wand once more, his mind focused on one of the ancient sealing charms he remembered from one of the many long study sessions with Hermione.

 

"Terra Fas Sigillum Protego!" he shouted and a brilliant light shot from his wand and struck the burning sigils blinding him with their brilliance. And it seem to him as if the Earth herself reached out and grasped the Capstone wrapping around it almost lovingly and pulling it hard into the dirt. A single drumbeat sounded, shaking the land, and then growing still and silent. Deafened by the sound, Harry collapsed against the great stone, no longer able to feel any sense of darkness pressing back up through the bowels of the Earth. The stone, the Well, the screaming Dementors, were utter silent at last.

 

Only then, after a dozen gasping breaths of air, did Harry become aware of the sounds of battle still going on around him. The hissing screams had not been silenced with the Dementors he realized and he raised his head to look around, staggering to his feet. Severus, Sirius and Remus were surrounding him, weapons wielded in their left hands, wands in their right as they fought off a few straggling Grendlings who were still trying to get past the rest of the warrior.

 

But there were few Grendlings left in the battle -- rather the men, who could not leave the ground until Harry was back on his broom, were fighting off dozens of enormous black serpents that had come down from the mountains during the battle. Eyes widening in horror, Harry thought at first they were basilisks, but their gaze did not seem to paralyze as the men tried to drive them back with their sharp blades. The snakes were enormous towering over all of them like wingless dragons, and they struck with lightning speed, snapping at anything that moved, be it man or Grendling.

 

They were circling the army of men much like the Patronus had circled the Dementors, driving them inward tighter and tighter together so that they might feed at will. Archers, still circling overhead, were having little luck taking them down for the arrows were little more than an annoyance to the great creatures. Only blasts of fire and lightning from the wands of Severus, Remus and Sirius appeared to be doing any damage at all -- driving the snakes briefly back before they shook off the pain and came forward again, gripped it seemed by some madness that would not be sated.

 

"Kill! Destroy! Crush the Shadow Bringers!" they were hissing, each curse driving the others forward. Their lashing tails shook the ground, knocking down anything they touched, and even the Grendlings had abandoned the battle in terror.

 

Scrambling to his feet, no longer even know where his broom might be, Harry aimed his wand at his throat. "Sonorus!" he cried out and then turned his attention to the great Black Wyrms.

 

"Stop!" he shouted, his words coming out in a thunderous hiss of Parseltongue, amplified horribly by his spell. He climbed up onto the Capstone. "Stop! Do not attack!"

 

His words had a galvanizing effect on both men and Wyrms. The men could not understand him, but shuddered under the sound of Parseltongue, and the Serpents drew back in shock, their great black bodies slithering away and arching upward, heads turning to eye the young man who stood alone on top of the great Capstone. Dozens of enormous forked tongues flicked out, tasting the air as cold black eyes turned to gaze at Harry. All around him, men froze, holding their attacks, though he could hear their desperate gasping breaths of exhaustion.

 

"What trick is this, Shadow Bringer!" one of the great Wyrms hissed at Harry, tail lashing violently and sending enormous boulders rolling away from him.

 

"It is no trick!" Harry hissed back, praying he would not collapse before he was through. "Why do you attack us? We have not entered your mountain territory."

 

"You are the ones who bring the Shadows to devour our souls!" the great serpent hissed at him and the others hissed in defiance. "We remember the Shadow Bringers raising the stones which destroyed our nests. We will not let you bring more Shadows to our world!"

 

Harry shuddered in horror -- the Dementors devoured the souls of humans but he had not known they could devour the souls of other creatures. Indeed he had no idea that a serpent even knew what a soul might be, let alone fear to lose it. Certainly the Grendlings had not been affect by the Dementors.

 

"It was not us who brought the Shadows!" Harry told them, the word 'Dementor' translating in Parseltongue directly into 'Shadow'. "We are from a different nest. And we did not come to raise more stones but to close the one that was opened. We have driven the Shadows back into the Earth. We have placed the stone back where it belongs. Your souls are safe!"

 

The serpents hissed in agitation, drawing back and circling the group of warriors, tongues flicking out to taste the air again and again.

 

"Look around!" Harry ordered them. "Do you see the hole the Shadows came from any longer? Do you feel the Shadows in your souls? They are gone. We are not your enemy."

 

At his words the Serpents did indeed look around as if searching the ground for another gaping Well.

 

"The Shadows are gone?" one of them asked hesitantly, and if snakes could sound hopeful, there was hope in its voice.

 

"The Shadows are gone," Harry confirmed.

 

"And the nest that awakened them?" another asked.

 

Knowing that there was no translation for "ministry" and guessing the men who had opened the Well long dead anyway, Harry just nodded. "That nest is gone as well, they will not be back. I will not allow it."

 

And that it seemed was all the Black Wyrms needed. As one they turned and slithered away, heading toward the mountainside. They paused briefly, glancing back at the men, and then to the amazement of all, bowed in unison, dipping their diamond-shaped heads low toward Harry. And then in a flash they were gone, disappearing into the stones of the mountain and vanishing from sight.

 

In one breath to the next a great cheer of victory arose from the men, screams of joy and disbelief. Harry, drained beyond imagining, collapsed again to his knees only vaguely aware of hands grasping him, voices shouting at him. He tried to look up, thought for a moment he could see Severus' face hovering over his, concern in his dark eyes, thought he saw his mouth forming words though he could not hear them. And then Harry just sighed and slumped to the side, overcome at last by exhaustion.

 

+++++++++++++++++++++++++

 

Severus caught Harry as he collapsed, Remus and Sirius moving up along either side of him. "We have to get him out of here," Severus told the other two men over the roaring cheer of victory. Remus immediately used his wand to summon their brooms, shouting at the cheering men to mount up. It was Alrik who finally managed to get the men to listen -- urging them to begin gathering the dead and rising into the air before more Grendlings returned now that the Wyrms were gone.

 

Severus mounted his broom fluidly holding his arms out as Black lifted Harry to him. He pulled his cloak around them both, one arm holding Harry tightly against his chest while he gripped his broom-handle with the other hand. Then he rose swiftly into the air, Black and Lupin rising along side of him. The rest of the men mounted their brooms as well, rising up from the bloody ground. Below them they lay the carnage of the battlefield. Severus did not look back.

 

He could feel Harry shivering in his arms and he tightened his hold on him. He was magically exhausted. Severus too was wounded -- bruises and scrapes -- one deep claw mark across his left forearm that would need to be tended to soon. Remus and Sirius also had not escaped unscathed -- though the werewolf seemed to be holding up better than anyone else. Sirius he could see was holding a bunched up portion of his cloak against his side -- Severus assumed he was trying to stop some wound from bleeding.

 

As far as he could tell Harry had come through the battle unmarked -- all three of them along with Alrik's warriors had thrown themselves time and time again between Harry and the attacking Grendlings, taking the blows meant for him as he carried that enormous stone across the ground. And was it no wonder he was magically exhausted -- Severus had not believed his eyes when he'd seen that stone rising from the ground. But much of his shock was due to the fact that the boy had used "Wingardium Leviosa".

 

He'd almost shouted in denial when he'd heard Harry incant that spell, cursing himself for not going over the proper spell with the boy earlier. Lupin too had turned in horror when he'd heard the spell -- and Severus knew they were both to blame. For fear of damaging the boy's confidence they had not questioned him the night before.

 

And yet unbelievably, impossibly, the stone had risen from the earth despite the fact that Wingardium Leviosa had a weight limit on it. Harry should have used Leviosa Maximus -- a seventh year spell that Severus should have known the boy would not yet know.

 

But the true shock had come when Harry had sealed the stone in place. Locking and sealing charms were covered extensively during third year -- it had not occurred to Severus to even question which one Harry might use. As it was, he had assumed that he, Black and Lupin would add their own spells to Harry's when all was said and done -- preventing most wizards from even hoping to raise the stone again.

 

But once again Harry had surprised him, using a spell he had never heard before. And as he went over the spell in his head, translating out the words and thinking of the wave of magic that had washed over all of them when the Capstone had locked in place, Severus just shook his head. The boy had quite literally simply commanded the Earth herself to hold the Capstone in place. The boy had issued the command and the Earth had obeyed -- no one would lift that Capstone again.

 

And then moments later to see him standing there atop that stone, pale and slender, armor glittering in the Winter light as he faced down the great Black Wyrms that towered above him -- Severus had thought for a moment that his heart might stop. How he had stood there so fearlessly, speaking in that alien tongue until the serpents had not only stopped their attack but bowed to him in respect, Severus would never know. Gryffindors -- at least this one here in his arms -- were a breed apart.

 

He felt Harry stir in his arms and immediately tightened his hold on him, leaning forward to speak directly into his ear. "Stay still," he told him. "You're on a broom. If you move too much you might fall."

 

The boy stilled immediately and Severus could feel the Quidditch-trained muscles in his thighs tightening around the broom as he adjusted to his position.

 

"Are you injured?" Harry asked, his voice hoarse from shouting in Parseltongue.

 

"I'm fine," Severus assured him, seeing him turn his head to look around for Remus and Sirius. "So are they," he added. "Minor wounds only."

 

"How many men did we lose?" he asked then and Severus sighed, wishing just once that this boy -- this man -- would not take such responsibilities upon his shoulders.

 

"I don't know," he replied. "This will be accounted a great victory -- and rightly so. We lost far fewer than we would have had you not stopped the Wyrms." And then because he could not help himself, he tangled one hand in Harry's dark hair, holding his head still as he whispered directly into his ear. "You did good, Harry. Let everything else go."

 

Harry turned then, looking back at him, and those green eyes pulled at Severus, tugging at his heart as he'd never before known, seeking something inside of him, some answer to a question unasked. And then a moment later, Severus' breath caught in his throat as Harry raised one hand to touch his cheek, his trembling fingers lightly grazing his skin. Though ice-cold those fingers left a trail of fire along Severus' skin. And then Harry just sighed and settled back into his arms, content to let him hold him and finish the flight in silence.

 

The waiting families of those who had gone to fight swarmed out onto the battlements and field before Bifrost Hall as they returned. Amid the chaos of the landing army -- shouts of victories, cries of greeting, wails of despair at the deaths of those lost -- Severus landed his broom, helping Harry from it. Remus and Sirius were there at once, both men reaching out to touch the boy who hugged them before they were all ushered back inside the walls of the Keep.

 

Severus commandeered a quiet corner in all that chaos and set to checking the injuries of the other two men. The wound on Black's side was deep but not life threatening. Lupin took little time at all to strip Sirius to the waist and begin cleaning the wound before turning his wand on it to bandage it as best he could. While there were potions enough being handed out by healers in the Hall there were others wounded far worse.

 

Severus to his surprise found himself forced into a chair while Harry knelt before him wand focused on his wounded arm. Several cleaning charms and a wound-disinfecting spell later, the boy began bandaging the injury. It was not deep but would require a potion or two when he returned home.

 

Warrior after warrior passed by them, calling out greetings, clapping them on the back, greeting each by name. And to Harry they saluted, right arm crossed over their bodies, fist pounding against their chests as they thanked him for the victory. Harry, strangely quite, just smiled at them, green eyes looking like they belonged on someone far older.

 

Alrik and Asgeir, both suffering only minor wounds, found them eventually, Alrik bearing Pepper-up Potions, which he distributed to all four of them. They drank them gratefully, and Severus saw some faint color finally returning to Harry's cheeks.

 

"We can't thank you enough!" Asgeir grinned. "There will be a great celebration tonight and this story will go down in history as one of our greatest battles."

 

"We can't stay, Asgeir," Severus informed him. "By now word of Harry's disappearance will have spread through the Ministry. We must return quickly before word gets to the Dark Lord that Harry is here."

 

"I thought as much," Asgeir nodded. "Alrik will take you home. If you go now you can make it to the ship before night falls." They rose wearily to their feet as Asgeir turned toward the crowd of men and women in the Great Hall. "My people!" he shouted and the noise died down, all eyes turning toward them.

 

"Today we have won a great victory!" His words were met with cheers, men beating their fists and swords against their shields, women pounding on the long wooden tables that filled the Hall. "We owe a debt to these four men who fought along side of us!" And the roar of the crowd was deafening.

 

It felt strange to Severus to be on the receiving end of such praise and he found himself glancing at Lupin and Black. Lupin looked just as uncomfortable as he did, but Black was grinning and waving to the crowd, at ease beneath the attention. Harry on the other hand just stood in silence watching the men with a strange calmness that belied his years.

 

When at last the noise died down, Asgeir turned toward Harry and held out his hand to the boy. To Severus' surprise, when Harry took Asgeir's hand, the man clasped it tightly between both his palms and dropped to one knee before them. All the men and women in the Hall did the same, leaving Harry and the three of them standing alone there before them.

 

"When the war comes, Harry Potter," Asgeir stated clearly for all to hear. "Summon us. The Winter Lands will fight under your banner. So may it be!"

 

"So may it be!" the men and women of the Hall repeated, and the magic of their Wizards Oath was felt by all of them, washing through the crowd like a great wind. Stunned Severus could only stare at Harry, wondering if the boy understood that the Winter Lands had just sworn an oath of fealty to him.

 

But it seemed as if Harry understood some of it, for he bowed his head in acknowledgement to Asgeir. "I'm honored by your trust, " he said quietly in the silence of the Hall, and everyone heard him. "Thank you."

 

Asgeir rose then, and the crowd again cheered, men and women coming forward to shake their hands once more. Amid the crowd, Severus exchanged looks with Remus and Sirius, seeing in their eyes the same worry he felt in his own heart. It seemed, no matter what he did, that the world was conspiring to thrust Harry into the center of the storm. And nothing any of them did seemed to stop it.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chap 37 - The Other Side:

 

Lucius Malfoy had never been in a patient man, and in the last two days his patience had been tested to the limit. Yet, he steeled his features into impassivity, knowing that while he was not the center of attention here, he was being closely watched. If nothing else, his son Draco was watching him intently to take a cue from him on how to behave in this rather bizarre situation.

 

Lucius stood off to one side of the raised platform where the Hogwart's staff normally ate their dinner, and watched as Minister Fudge and several other Ministry candidates were rather expertly manipulated by Dumbledore and his followers. The Great Hall of Hogwarts was crowded, not just with the students who had returned from the Holidays yesterday, but with Aurors and the entire Press Corp of every Wizarding paper in Britain. The Boy Who Lived was presumed missing -- possibly kidnapped if the rumors were to be believed -- it was likely the story of the century. Or at the very least, the story of the week -- no doubt something more amazing would happen in a day or two that would make this seem pathetic in comparison.

 

Lucius had been in a private meeting with Minister Fudge when one of the man's spies -- aides -- had informed them that something was going on with Potter. Dumbledore was speaking with various members of the Wizengamut and the Auror Department. Chaos had followed Fudge and a dozen other candidates whose spies -- aides -- had also informed them of the situation. Lucius had followed along, hoping to glean some useful information out of the situation.

 

Truthfully he had thought about going straight to Lord Voldemort with the information that Potter was potentially missing. Problem was, he couldn't exactly confirm that. Oh, there was definitely something going on -- it seemed Lord Brand of the Winter Land had 'taken' Potter somewhere, but Lucius had no idea where that 'somewhere' might be. And while Dumbledore seemed dead set on getting Potter back, he was also making it extremely difficult for anyone, even the Aurors, to find out where it was Potter might have been taken.

 

The whole chaotic mess had quickly moved to Hogwarts -- to question witnesses Fudge had explained -- and there the story had become even more convoluted. The only three witnesses, the Weasley children and the Mudblood Granger, seemed to have been struck with a stupidity charm as they could not answer a question clearly to save their lives. As for the teachers -- according to McGonagall, Potter was in Germany, Flitwick claimed he was in France, Sprout claimed he was in Russia, and Hagrid actually had the gall to claim that Potter had been taken to Hawaii. The only place no one had suggested was the Winter Lands themselves -- which meant of course that it was likely he was there. But without proof -- exact, unquestionable, accurate proof -- Lucius didn't dare go to Voldemort with the information.

 

Lucius shuddered with the thought of going before Lord Voldemort any time soon. He was still suffering a faint tremor in his left arm from the last time he had taken the initiative and tried to curry favor with the Dark Lord. A few seconds longer under the Cruciatus Curse, and he would have suffered permanent nerve damage, possibly madness. As it was, he still didn't understand what he had done wrong.

 

When Voldemort had returned he had seemed disgusted with the body he'd been trapped inside -- the reptilian features were really repulsive. Lucius had set out to find a potion to restore his human form to its former glory, and after much expense on his part, had finally succeeded. But somehow in the time it took Lucius to find the restoration potion, Voldemort had grown fond of his new form -- indeed it seemed to Lucius as if he was transforming still, becoming more reptilian each time he saw him. When Lucius had presented the potion to the man and explained what it did, Voldemort had reacted with rage, destroying the potion and nearly killing Lucius in the process.

 

There was no way around the fact -- the Dark Lord was utterly unhinged. And he was growing more so each day. All of them had noticed -- even Bellatrix who was barely sane herself. And the more insane the Dark Lord grew, the more withdrawn he became from all of them. They all knew he was planning something -- something big -- but none of them knew what it was. And he had other servants now -- not Death Eaters, but something else, something darker. Twice now Lucius had seen him walking in the gardens of the Fortress in Spain accompanied by figures cloaked and hooded all in black. Not Dementors, but something like them, something horrible. Their very presence filled Lucius with a sense of horror, and that was saying something after all the years he'd spent practicing the Dark Arts.

 

Lucius was no stranger to blood and death, even the occasional murder -- would anyone really miss a few Muggles? But there was something else going on here, something worse than a few killings. Something he was fairly certain he wanted no part in.

 

But what was he to do about it? This wasn't really what he'd signed up for -- Voldemort had been a charismatic leader, a true king among men. Lucius, and those like him, had craved that --- someone to follow, someone strong and great and fearless to lead them. Someone who would put the Wizarding world back on track, return them to their rightful places in society instead of forcing them to cower and submit before pitiful, pathetic Muggles. Even now the Muggles were trying to tighten the screws once again; the Muggle Prime Minister had proposed the Wizarding Registration Act, which would require every Wizard and Witch in Britain to register with the Ministry as if they were little more than animals who needed licenses to exist. And for whatever ridiculous reasons, the Ministry of Magic was considering agreeing to the thing just to placate the Muggle government. Why in Merlin's name they needed to placate the Muggle government, Lucius would never understand. But the very idea made him want to murder Muggles.

 

And Lord Voldemort -- he had laughed when he'd heard the news -- laughed! As if he found the whole thing amusing, as if this somehow fit in perfectly with his plans -- or as if it no longer mattered in the grand scheme of things. Lucius didn't understand. None of them did -- this was the very thing they were supposed to be fighting against. But Lord Voldemort, caught up in his own world now, didn't seem to care.

 

Every hope and dream Lucius had had about restoring the Wizarding World to its former glory was crumbling around him. And he felt trapped with nowhere to run; all he could do was try to keep a leash on the Ministry through bribery and blackmail. And with the election looming -- and no candidate yet thrust to the front of the pack -- he was uncertain whom he should be backing.

 

For the hundredth time, he wished Severus hadn't betrayed them. Severus had always been his sounding board, always willing to argue any stance Lucius might be considering, always willing to play the Devil's Advocate. But in light of his betrayal, Lucius could see now that it wasn't the Devil's Advocate he'd been playing -- Severus had actually been attempting to manipulate Lucius into changing his viewpoint.

 

But why! That above all else, he could not figure out. He had always assumed that Severus, like all of them, had been drawn to power. Voldemort was the means to obtaining that power -- or at least he had been before this new madness had gripped him. Why would Severus abandon that for Dumbledore -- a man who would never step up and take the leadership role in their world? Dumbledore was happy here in his school, manipulating the world from the sidelines. He had no desire to step into the heart of the storm and actually change anything. And yet Severus had turned his back on everything to follow Dumbledore into obscurity and marry that silly broom-riding Gryffindor. What could Dumbledore have promised him? Besides Potter, of course -- Lucius found himself laughing silently at the thought. Surely Severus had not been swayed by a pretty face -- or pretty ass as the case may be?

 

Lucius glanced around the Great Hall -- the Minister was working himself up quite spectacularly, the press writing down everything he said. Madam Bones, perhaps his most well known Ministry rival, was attempting to instill some sense of order on the proceedings. Lady Marla Davenport and Alexander Mulburg, two other Ministry candidates were doing everything in their power to get their own words heard. Mulburg was actually suggesting that the only possible course of action was to invade Hawaii -- apparently he believed Hagrid's story. And Davenport felt that imposing import sanctions on both Germany and Russia were necessary. Apparently no one believed France had anything to do with the 'kidnapping'.

 

Vicund Blackborn, a rather obscure offshoot of the Black family, was suggesting a letter writing campaign to Lord Brand, and Dulcinda Marshawnd was trying to convince everyone that this was a prelude to a new Viking Invasion. Any time two or more of the Ministry candidates came even close to agreeing on a course of action, Dumbledore or one of his people quietly murmured something, which would send them off in a completely different direction. Lucius could only conclude that Dumbledore guessed that regardless of what was really going on, the Ministry involvement would only screw things up; the man was stalling for time.

 

Fudge, Lucius suspected, knew more than he was letting on. The man had sent for Connor Stark, the leader of a crack team of Aurors. Already Aurors were gathering, joining the children in the Great Hall. Lucius guessed that Fudge was planning on sending them directly into the Winter Lands to retrieve Potter -- he just wanted to make certain the whole thing was staged perfectly for the press. Rita Skeeter never once left the Minister's side.

 

Across the hall at Gryffindor table, Lucius could see Arthur and Molly Weasley sitting with their children. When word of Potter's kidnapping had reached them, all the Weasleys had come to Hogwarts to be with the younger children. Lucius had to admit to a pang of intense jealousy when he saw Arthur sitting there with his 7 healthy children. He'd always wanted more than one child, but Narcissa had refused. As it was Narcissa was just about the coldest woman Lucius had ever met in his life -- he counted himself lucky he had Draco. Molly Weasley might be no match for Narcissa in both looks and class, but at least she didn't turn away from her marital duties.

 

Arthur caught Lucius looking at them, and quickly Lucius sneered at the man because --- well, it was what he did. Just beyond the Gryffindor table, he saw Draco catch the exchange and immediately turn to sneer at all the Weasleys as well. Lucius suspected Draco didn't have a clue as to why he was sneering, beyond the fact that they were Weasleys of course. And then Lucius caught a look -- something unexpected -- as Draco's gaze moved over the second oldest Weasley boy, the dragon tamer if Lucius remembered correctly. His pale son flushed a most unbecoming shade of red and quickly averted his eyes as the Weasley boy looked up and winked at him.

 

Well, hell, Lucius thought. When had THAT happened?

 

It was then that the door to the Great Hall opened, and the room fell utterly silent.

 

Four men stepped through the doorway into the Hall and Lucius found himself frowning at the sight. He of course recognized his traitorous friend Severus Snape, dressed in Wyvern leathers, his sword sheathed and hanging over his shoulder. He looked rather wild and windblown -- rather like a Gryffindor with his hair tangled in those messy locks, though there was no mistaking that Patrician profile of his.

 

And the other man, also clad in dark battle-scarred leathers, was Remus Lupin. He held an enormous war mace lightly in one hand, the display of strength reminding Lucius all too clearly of his werewolf heritage --- as if the gleaming amber eyes that flashed momentarily yellow in the torchlight were not reminder enough. Sometimes he thought Dumbledore's people were mad -- letting a werewolf run freely among them. Who knew what infection he was spreading?

 

The other man was enormously tall, golden-haired and wearing the leather and fur armor of a Winter Land Viking. He had to be one of Brand's men Lucius guessed -- perhaps the missing husband of Lady Diana Snape-Brand who even now sat in Severus' seat at the head table.

 

But it was the fourth figure that drew all of Lucius' attention. Clad in a gleaming coat of scale-mail, metal bracers around his arms and legs, Harry Potter looked nothing like the boy Lucius remembered. Granted he had not really spoken to the boy since the disaster with Riddle's diary, and had only briefly seen him the night Lord Voldemort had returned to them, but the boy had changed a great deal since then.

 

The glasses were gone, the hair longer, the body a bit taller -- but really it was the look the in the boy's green eyes that caught Lucius most off guard. There was power in those eyes -- a quiet power, one buried and hidden, but Lucius could see it clearly. He'd always been drawn to power -- knew how to recognize it in its most obscure forms, and this boy had power Lucius had not guessed at. Had he simply grown into it, stumbled across it, been given it by outside forces, or had it always been there? Surely he must have possessed something of it to have defeated Voldemort as a baby, but why had Lucius never noticed it before? Perhaps it was nothing more than a trick of the light? He had to admit it was rather attractive -- deliciously so. Maybe Severus really had been swayed by the boy alone?

 

"Harry, my boy!" Dumbledore's voice startled them all out of their silence. The old man moved swiftly forward to take hold of both of Harry's hands. "Thank Merlin you've returned." The relief on the old man's face was obvious to all. Lucius sneered. Potter really was Dumbledore's favorite golden child.

 

"I'm alright sir," Potter assured him quietly.

 

"Mr. Potter!" Fudge exclaimed, stepping forward as well. Lucius imagined he was rather put out to have had his speech interrupted -- he'd been telling the Press Corp about his plans to rescue the boy hero. "We were under the impression you were being held prisoner!" Fudge didn't handle change well -- he sounded angry by Potter's return, a tactical error Lucius thought.

 

The boy glanced over at the waiting Press Corp, his eyes lingering briefly on Rita Skeeter before returning to the Minister. "And your response was to wait three days and then hold a press conference?" he asked plainly.

 

A murmur of surprise sounded through the room and Fudge stopped and sputtered indignantly. Lucius had to stifle his own impulse to smile. The boy was certainly outspoken, even insolent. Even Dumbledore's mouth twitched upward at the words.

 

"Rescue operations take planning and time, Mr. Potter!" Fudge protested.

 

Potter merely nodded. "I'm glad my family was not so impeded," he gestured to Severus and Lupin, and Lucius had to wonder what Severus though about being claimed in a 'family' that included a werewolf. But surprisingly, Severus said nothing. Perhaps he'd already been infected by the wolf's darkness.

 

But Potter's gesture had drawn Fudge's attention to the fourth man with them, and the Minister's eyes widened as he too realized that this must be one of Brand's men. He snapped his fingers at his Aurors, motioning Connor Stark forward. "Stark, arrest that man!"

 

But before the Aurors could take even one step toward him, Potter stepped forward, placing himself between the stranger and the Aurors. "You will not," he stated simply, and the Aurors all stopped dead in their tracks. It was a display of a type of power Lucius had not expected and he narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.

 

Lucius had not been present at the battle last summer that had taken so many lives, but he'd heard plenty of stories in the aftermath. After what Potter had done, there were very few Aurors who would raise a hand against the Boy Who Lived, regardless of the Minister's orders. The boy was a hero in their eyes.

 

"Mr. Potter!" Minister Fudge protested. "We were told that Brand of the Winter Lands had kidnapped you. That man is Brand's son. Are you--"

 

"You are mistaken, Minister," Potter interrupted. "It was merely a misunderstanding."

 

Fudge frowned. "Really?" he demanded. "And was the attack against the Weasley children and Ms. Granger, also a misunderstanding?"

 

All eyes turned toward the children in question. Lucius saw all three children staring intently at Potter before the boy, Ron, just nodded and grinned. "If Harry says it's a misunderstanding, then it's a misunderstanding." The two girls nodded quickly in agreement. Lucius had to shake his head at the loyalty inspired by the boy -- they obviously had no clue what was going on but were willing to take Potter's word on faith alone.

 

Fudge turned a furious gaze on Dumbledore; Fudge didn't want to leave without arresting someone. It would make him look ineffectual if he did not. "Albus, I can not allow this to be simply swept under the table. If a crime has been committed, it is my duty to--"

 

"A crime has been committed, Minister," Potter interrupted again, drawing all eyes toward him. The press were furiously snapping pictures and taking notes. "For one hundred years the Winter Lands have been asking for help from the Ministry of Magic, and the Ministry has been ignoring them. If that is not a crime, I don't know what is."

 

Lucius had no idea what precisely Potter was referring to, but he could tell by the look that flashed through Fudge's eyes, that he has some inkling. Fudge might be an ineffectual leader, but he was a consummate politician. He knew that the presence of the press was no longer in his favor.

 

"I don't know what on earth is going on here, but I insist we deal with this tonight and clear up whatever misunderstanding has occurred. Albus, if you have someplace private where we may question these people." Fudge motioned specifically to Potter and Brand's son, even while nodding to his Aurors to clear out the Press Corp.

 

Seeing their story disappearing right before their eyes, the group of reporters surged forward, cameras flashing, Quick Quills writing furiously. "Mr. Potter!" they all shouted as one and then began shouting question after question at the boy. Severus, Lupin and the Viking immediately stepped in front of the boy, and the staff of teachers at the table, surged forward to drive the reporters back.

 

Lucius, standing well out of range of both the press and their prey, found the whole scene rather amusing -- like a well choreographed dance. Dumbledore had his people well trained. While the staff and Potter's three guardians drove the press out of the hall with the Aurors lending their aid, the Weasleys swarmed forward, surrounded Potter and pulled him into the midst of a group of Gryffindors. No one had a chance of coming even remotely close to the boy.

 

With the exception of Madame Bones, who was a member of the Wizengamut, the other Ministry candidates were also driven from the room. Lucius had no doubt they would be driven from Hogwarts in a matter of moments as well -- though they would likely hold their own press conferences down in Hogsmeade shortly.

 

Lucius stayed in the background, remaining as unobtrusive as possible, and when Fudge and the others began moving from the Great Hall to whatever private room Dumbledore set aside for them, Lucius followed along silently, keeping an eye on Potter as he was ushered after them. Sadly, he was stopped at the door by McGonagall herself, who merely gave him a look that could wither stone.

 

"Mr. Malfoy," she sniffed. "Where do you think you are going?"

 

"Come now, Minerva," he smiled coldly at her. "As a member of the Board of Governors it is my right to make certain that the students of Hogwarts are well protected. I have every right to hear Mr. Potter's story."

 

But McGonagall was unmoved. "As you heard, there was no kidnapping. Therefore there is no need for the Board of Governors to become involved. I'm sure you'll hear all about it later. But for now I must ask you to leave the premises."

 

"Surely you won't deny me the right to speak with my son?" Lucius asked. "I'm sure he was most shaken up by these events."

 

She merely raised one eyebrow coldly. "As you wish," she replied, and pointed in the opposite direction. "Slytherin's dormitory is that way, if you remember. Or shall I summon a student to show you the way? "

 

"That won't be necessary," Lucius glared back, wondering if it were some gift the woman had to make him feel like a recalcitrant child. He turned on his heel and headed down the torch lit corridor.

 

Perhaps he'd head down to Severus' quarters and wait for his 'old friend'? Or perhaps he'd head down to the Slytherin common room and see if Draco could find out something more for him -- or at the very least find out what Draco's fascination with the Weasley spawn was all about -- he certainly was not going to allow ANYTHING to come of that.

 

Either way, he wasn't going to head back home, or back to Lord Voldemort without something more than a bunch of events that would merely lead to more questions. Getting asked questions by Lord Voldemort when you did not know the answers was a bad thing -- a very bad thing.

 

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Author's Note:

 

Now, no doubt you are probably wondering why I spent a whole chapter on Lucius Malfoy. Well, while I was working on the next bit, Malfoy just showed up and decided to throw a wrench into the works -- a side plot developed that rather caught me off guard and I decided to go with it. As you may have noticed if you picked up a clue or two it will have something to do with Draco.

 

On to the next chapter! I'm editing it now and will get it up ASAP.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 38 - Politics

 

Severus motioned to Minerva as he ushered Harry into the private room where Dumbledore had taken Fudge. The woman caught on immediately, taking up guard position at the door to prevent Lucius Malfoy from following them. It had not escaped Severus' notice how Lucius had stared at Harry -- he wasn't about to allow the man anywhere near Harry.

 

While Fudge and Madam Bones took the seats Dumbledore offered to them, Molly Weasley lit the fire in the enormous fireplace. Severus watched as his sister was reunited with her husband. A quick grasp of hands, an exchange of glances were all they allowed themselves, but Severus could see the emotion behind the greeting all the same. Diana had truly feared that she would not see Alrik again; her relief was plain on her face.

 

The rest of the Weasleys crowded into the room along with Hermione Granger and several members of the Hogwart's staff. Harry was subjected to an enormous hug from Hagrid, which amused everyone. Even the Auror Stark smirked in amusement as Harry patted the half-giant on the back and tried to assure him he was fine while preventing his lungs from being crushed by the man's embrace. Minerva waited until everyone was in the room before entering and pulling the door firmly closed behind her. Severus sensed several privacy wards going up -- no doubt to keep information from getting out to the members of the press that might have remained behind unobtrusively.

 

Surprisingly, it was Harry who started the conversation, turning unexpectedly on the Minister after Hagrid had released him. "One hundred and fifty years ago, the Ministry came to the Winter Lands, opened the Well of Despair and began collecting Dementors for Azkaban. Why was the Well left opened? Why was the Winter Land's request for aid ignored?"

 

A quick judge of the expressions in the room clued Severus into the fact that very few people here had any idea what Harry was talking about. Dumbledore himself looked surprised and glanced over at Percy Weasley who was frowning deeply and searching through a rather large pile of papers he'd been carrying with him.

 

Fudge on the other hand just scoffed at Harry's words. "Because we knew there was no immediate threat."

 

Alrik leaped to his feet at that, despite the restraining hand Diana placed on his arm. "No threat! We were overrun by Dementors!"

 

Fudge just sneered at the man and shook his head. "Don't be ridiculous! There was an Environmental Impact Study done. The Winter Lands were determined to be able to support a population of 500 Dementors before there would be any threat to the human inhabitants. One Dementors for every 200 square miles of land is no threat to a Wizarding population."

 

They all stared incredulously at Fudge at such a statement.

 

It was Hagrid who corrected him. "'Course that's makin' the 'sumption they stay on their bit o' land, innit?"

 

Alrik glared at Fudge. "Did it occur to anyone in the Ministry that they'd hunt together in a pack and go to where their natural food source is? They feed on souls -- they went to where the humans were. What were we supposed to do, stay locked inside our Keeps night and day?"

 

But still Fudge waved off the protest as if it were meaningless. "They didn't need to go after humans. They had an adequate food source away from the human population."

 

Severus, along with the others in the room, had no idea what he might have meant by an adequate food source. As far as he knew Dementors only fed on human souls -- but he could see by a look of shock in Harry's eyes that he understood what the man had said.

 

"You mean the Wyrms?" The boy looked sickened by the realization and Severus wished now he had taken the time to ask Harry what he had said to the Wyrms to make them back away from the fight. At the time, he hadn't cared beyond the fact that the battle was over. He couldn't help remembering now how the Wyrms had turned as one and bowed to the boy in respect. "How can you blithely sacrifice Dragons like that? I thought Dragons were a protected species?" He glanced at Charlie Weasley as if for confirmation. But the Minister cut in before Charlie could answer.

 

"They are not Dragons!" the Minister stamped his foot. "They're animals. Under the Magical Creature Classification Act they are listed as animals, nothing more."

 

But Harry shook his head. "They're intelligent creatures capable of speech. To call them a food source for Dementors you must have been aware of the fact that they had souls. What's more, they know they have souls, and fear losing them just like humans do. Furthermore they are capable of compassion -- of forgiveness. They attacked us when we fought the Dementors, but when I explained that we had imprisoned the Dementors and sealed the Well, they abandoned their attack and returned home."

 

Fudge froze at that, his eyes widening. "What do you mean you imprisoned the Dementors and sealed the Well?"

 

"They were killing people," Harry informed him. "Devouring their souls. Men, women and children! What else did you think we would do?"

 

"You stupid boy!" Fudge shouted, seeming for a moment to forget there was anyone else there. Severus stiffened, reaching for his wand as he feared Fudge might attack Harry in his rage. "Do you have any idea what you have done?"

 

But Severus was not about to allow Harry to be attacked for this -- not for something that needed to be done, something that should have been done by the Ministry. "What are you talking about?"

 

"We need those Dementors!" Fudge turned his rather wild gaze on Dumbledore as if seeking some help there. "You-Know-Who is gathering an army. You know this, Albus. We need those Dementors to fight."

 

Dumbledore just shook his head, his blue eyes hard behind his glasses. "I've warned you before, Cornelius. Dementors are Dark Creatures. They will not side with the Ministry. If Voldemort calls them, they will go where he commands." The majority of the people in the room flinched as the Dark Lord was named, and Fudge drew back in horror.

 

"They've been working for the Ministry for one hundred and fifty years," the Minister insisted. "We have no reason to believe they will turn on us. You have no proof of this Albus."

 

But Harry was neither swayed nor frightened, and his eyes were burning with anger. "And the fact that they've been killing people in the Winter Lands doesn't bother you?"

 

"We have no evidence of that," Fudge informed him, his face pale.

 

It was Alrik who laughed incredulously. "No evidence! What about all the formal requests for aid we've filed with the Ministry, year after year! Were they just ignored?"

 

Fudge gave the man a condescending sneer. "They were all received and voted on by the Wizengamut. I assure you my administration does not ignore requests. Everything was managed quite legally."

 

Both Dumbledore and Madam Bones looked alarmed at that, glancing at each other in bewilderment. "What in Merlin's name are you talking about, Minister Fudge?" Madam Bones demanded. "I remember no such request."

 

Dumbledore nodded in agreement. "I've served on the Wizengamut for seventy five years. I saw no such request for aid either."

 

Surprisingly it was Percy Weasley who spoke up then, holding up several large packs of paper and scrolls. "Actually, sir, I have the paperwork right here of the most recent petition from the Winter Lands. After it went through the Translation Department, it was voted on by the Wizengamut."

 

"Translated?" Alrik asked in bewilderment as he crossed the room swiftly to Percy's side and took hold of the paperwork. He began leafing through the pages, his eyes widening in shock. "This is written in Old English!"

 

Percy nodded in agreement. "All the requests are written in Old English -- few members of the Wizengamut understand it, so it is first translated which causes a bit of a delay."

 

But Alrik looked outraged. "None of our requests are written in Old English! I wrote many of them myself -- in modern English! This isn't even my handwriting!"

 

Dumbledore came forward and took the papers from the fuming Viking, quickly scanning through the documents. Madam Bones peered over his shoulder at the writing. "This isn't a request for aid," Dumbledore announced. "What was voted on was the continuing status of a Protected Wildlife Preserve."

 

"Wildlife Preserve?" Alrik looked horrified and Severus had to sympathize with the man, horrified himself.

 

"So what -- the Dementors are a protected species?" Severus demanded of the Minister. "And humans and Wyrms are their natural food source?"

 

"Who could do this?" Alrik demanded. "How could this happen?"

 

"Come now," Fudge cut in, looking calm once again. "I'm certain nothing sinister is at play. But mistakes happen when documents are poorly translated."

 

"There was nothing to translate!" Alrik shouted at him. "I told you, we did not write anything in Old English!"

 

"So you say," Fudge just shrugged.

 

Harry's voice caught them all off guard, for it was low and angry and filled with a quiet rage that permeated the room. "You knew this was not right. You knew exactly what was going on and you did nothing to stop it!"

 

Fudge turned on the boy. "What I know is that you are attempting to interfere in matters you know nothing about. And we at the Ministry do not take kidnapping -- false or otherwise -- lightly!"

 

"And I do not take the murder of innocent men, women and children lightly!" Harry snarled and like so often happened with Harry grew angry, his power raced through the room and all the furniture in the place began shaking violently, occupied or not. Fudge backed away from Harry in alarm, fear flashing across his face.

 

"Stark!" he shouted out as if to command the Auror to protect him. But Connor Stark was no more foolish than anyone else in the room; he backed away from Harry and raised both his hands as if to show he had no wand drawn.

 

It was Dumbledore who moved forward and confronted Harry, placing one strong hand on the boy's armored shoulder, his blue eyes intent on the boy's face. "Harry," he said softly and just like that the furniture stilled as if something had reached out and pulled Harry's power back into check.

 

Dumbledore turned a stern gaze on Fudge. "Cornelius," he stated, catching the man's full attention by the anger in his own voice -- Dumbledore was so rarely angered. "Did you know about this? Did you know what was going on?"

 

Fudge shook his head wildly. "Albus, of course not! I'm just doing my job! Doing what is expected of me."

 

"And that's all you care about, isn't it?" Harry demanded. "Your job. You care nothing about the people you are supposed to lead and protect. You care nothing about the lives that have been lost. All you care about is getting re-elected."

 

Fudge glared at Harry. "Mr. Potter, I will not have--"

 

"You will not have anything from me, Minister!" Harry interrupted him and Severus found himself tensing nervously, hearing the finality in Harry's voice, and understanding that whatever the boy declared now would hold all of them to a binding path. The Gryffindor did not realize how much power he wielded.

 

"No support, no vote!" Harry continued, and his words pretty much confirmed that Dumbledore, Severus, Sirius Black, Flitwick and McGonagall, all of whom held numerous votes would not be backing Fudge either -- Madam Bones of course had always been the man's rival and things just improved drastically for her. Severus guessed that the Winter Lands as well, who among the various Lords had numerous votes, would not lend their votes to Fudge either. But once again his brother-in-law surprised him, going one step further.

 

"You will having nothing from the Winter Lands as well," Alrik informed him. "As of this moment we transfer our Protectorate status to Mr. Potter."

 

Severus found himself sinking down into a chair, which Bill Weasley shoved toward him unobtrusively while Fudge sputtered in shock.

 

"You can't do that!" the Minister protested. "Mr. Potter is not a nation! He can not hold a Protectorate!"

 

Severus could tell by the look on Harry's face that he had no idea what had just happened, but Severus understood the nuances of Viking law well enough to guess at what Alrik was about to say. "Not three hours ago every lord in the Winter Lands swore an oath of fealty to Mr. Potter. By Winter Land law that gives him the status of king, and more than capable of holding a Protectorate. If you want anything from the Winter Lands - our crops, the armor we make for your Auror Corp, the ore we mine for Wizarding Steel, the countless Potion ingredients we supply to your Hospitals -- you will have to re-negotiate. As of this moment, all treaties between the Winter Lands and Britain are null and void."

 

Fudge looked shocked, which Severus guessed was about how everyone else in the room was feeling, himself included. "You can't do this!" the Minister protested again. He turned toward Dumbledore. "Albus?"

 

Dumbledore just shook his head. "I'm afraid he can, Cornelius."

 

"But that is the same as declaring war against Britain!" Fudge exclaimed, staring at Alrik in disbelief.

 

Alrik just shrugged and smirked at the man, seeming to be enjoying his discomfort. "Oh, I hardly think we have anything to worry about when it comes to war with Britain. As you said you have another war to worry about first. You can not afford to battle against us and the Dark Lord."

 

"And if You-Know-Who chooses to attack the Winter Lands, what will you do without the Ministry's protection?" Fudge demanded.

 

"The Ministry has already proven, quite effectively, that they have no intention of protecting us; quite the contrary, they will sacrifice us to protect themselves," Alrik replied coldly. "I do not know if the Dark Lord can be defeated. But I do know that if he can, it will not be done by the Ministry, but by Harry Potter and those who stand with him."

 

Furious, Fudge turned toward Stark, pointing a finger imperiously at Alrik. "Stark, you will arr---"

 

"I hope you're not about to order me to arrest a foreign dignitary, Minister Fudge," Stark cut in quickly. "Which if I understand the law correctly is what Lord Brand just became a few moments ago." He looked to Dumbledore for confirmation and received an amused nod. "So you see," he shrugged. "Without a formal declaration of war against the Winter Lands, that would be an illegal arrest order."

 

"Well, then I formally--" Fudge began only to be cut off by Dumbledore.

 

"You can not formally declare war without full ratification by the Wizengamut, which I assure you, you will not get."

 

"No, you will not," Madam Bones agreed. She seemed torn by both shock and amusement by the events unfolding in front of her. "My goodness, Cornelius, I do believe you are the first Minister in centuries to have lost a Protectorate of Britain. The press will have a field day with this!"

 

Fudge just stared in shock as Madam Bones turned to Dumbledore and smiled rather smugly. "You must excuse me, Albus. I feel it is my civic duty to inform the public about what has taken place tonight. I believe the Press Corp is down in Hogsmeade as we speak."

 

"I understand completely," Dumbledore assured her, his blue eyes twinkling brightly. Madam Bones headed straight toward the door, a surprising spring in her step.

 

"But, but, but!!!! Wait!" Fudge cried in panic, and when she did not stop, he raced after her, disappearing through the door.

 

"Well, on that note," Stark announced. "I think I'll gather my Aurors together and get back to my real job. " He nodded respectfully to Dumbledore. "Albus."

 

"Good evening to you, Auror Stark," Albus smiled.

 

The man paused before leaving, giving Harry a quick smile. "Mr. Potter, as always it's been a pleasure." And then he too exited the room, closing the door behind him.

 

Dead silence followed his departure until finally, in a baffled voice, Harry asked, "What just happened here?"

 

Laughter followed his words as the tension broke. "You just got promoted, mate!" one of the Weasley twins informed him. The other chimed in immediately," Good show there, Harry!"

 

Harry however looked horrified as he turned his gaze toward Alrik. "You weren't serious about the whole king thing!"

 

"Relax, Harry," Dumbledore placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. "It's not as bad as it sounds."

 

When Harry started to look a bit pale, Charlie shoved a chair forward and the boy sank down into it. "What's that supposed to mean?"

 

Alrik just laughed. "We've been a self-governing nation for centuries, Harry. This changes nothing."

 

"Then the title is completely honorary," Remus asked, attempting to confirm what they were all thinking. Severus however knew there was more to it than that.

 

Alrik sighed. "Not exactly. We are a warrior nation. If Harry summons us, we will come and fight for him. But there is no demand of rulership or government. We will continue on as we always have."

 

"And what if Voldemort attacks you?" Harry asked in shock. "Swords and armor are all well and fine against Grendlings, but they are no match for an army of Death Eaters. I can not protect you alone, and I have no resources to call upon!"

 

For a moment there was silence in the room as everyone stared at the boy sitting before them, clad like a young prince in glittering armor, head bowed as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders. And perhaps it was, Severus thought, as it was brought home to him once again that what anyone else might see as a privilege to be exploited, Harry instead saw as a duty -- perhaps even a sacred duty that he was terrified of failing.

 

Alrik sighed and smiled gently, moving to kneel on one knee at Harry side. "Harry, my father and I discussed this with the other Winter Land lords last night. We all knew the risks."

 

Harry looked up then, his green eyes wide with worry. "You planned this then?"

 

"No," Alrik shook his head. "But we discussed the possibility if our worse fears were confirmed and the Ministry had abandoned us. But they have done more than abandoned us, they have betrayed us Harry, in the worst possible way. We knew the risks in this action, but I do not think it is a great one. There are only two things in our land that could be of any interest to the Dark Lord -- Dementors and raw ore for Wizarding Steel. The Dementors are now gone thanks to you, and if he comes for our ore, we will destroy our mines and retreated into the mountains. It would be far more trouble than its worth. It would be far easier for his Death Eaters to purchase finished weapons from other sources."

 

His words seem to calm Harry somewhat, though the haunted look did not truly leave the boy's eyes. Alrik clapped him lightly on the shoulder and stood to face Dumbledore.

 

"I should return to my father and inform him what has taken place, sir," he said respectfully.

 

Dumbledore nodded and pulled a small pouch from one of the inner pockets of his dark blue robes. "This might make the trip a bit easier."

 

Alrik opened the pouch and poured out a large quantity of what looked to be Butterbeer bottle caps into his hand. He looked at Dumbledore in confusion.

 

The old wizard just stroked his long white beard and shrugged. "Portkeys," he explained. "They'll take you directly to gates of Bifrost Hall."

 

Alarmed, Alrik looked at the large number of bottle caps, calculating how many people could be transported with that many portkeys.

 

"Well," Albus shrugged innocently. "We weren't certain what had happened to Harry. We thought Severus and the others might need a bit of help. I was about to gather the Order."

 

Alrik turned to stare at Severus in shock. "You weren't kidding about the army of angry wizards?"

 

Severus just shook his head at his brother-in-law.

 

"Albus," Remus cut in. "What about Sirius? The Press will be crawling all over this place when they learn what happened tonight."

 

"You're right of course," Albus nodded and gave Alrik a piercing stare. "Perhaps you would be kind enough to take Sirius with you when you return to the Winter Lands -- if only for a few weeks at least."

 

"Of course," Alrik agreed. "My father granted him asylum already. And after the events of tonight, he is essentially a free man within our borders. He may stay as long as necessary. Truthfully, we'll welcome someone of his strength to help us get things back to normal." He glanced at Remus and nodded assuringly at him. "I'll collect him when I leave."

 

"As for the rest of you," Dumbledore announced. "We should get Harry, Ron, Ginny and Hermione in bed -- they have classes tomorrow. Severus if you would escort Harry down to your rooms, and perhaps the twins can take Ron, Ginny and Hermione up to Gryffindor Tower. I would appreciate if the rest of you help me clear out any remaining visitors from the castle."

 

As Severus stood to escort Harry back to their rooms, he caught the nod from Albus and understood that all of them would be meeting afterward to speak further on this matter. No doubt Albus was dying to know what had transpired in the Winter Lands to make its lords swear an oath of fealty to a boy they had just kidnapped.

 

Severus ushered Harry out of the room and down toward the dungeons of Hogwarts, moving into Slytherin territory. The young man was silent, and there was a gray cast to his face that Severus did not like. He guessed that at last the boy had reached the end of his strength -- or at least the limit of his ability to deal with the chaos of his life. Severus could only hope that this would be the end of surprises for a while. He wasn't certain how much more he could take. Truthfully he felt like locking Harry in their quarters and forbidding him to leave -- at least for a year or so.

 

They reached their portrait and Severus quietly murmured the password. Harry stepped into the room with a strange sigh of relief as if he too might like to remain there and not come out.

 

The boy crossed to the fireplace, sinking down onto one of the couches. The metal scales of his armor clinked together as he sat.

 

"Let me help you with your armor," Severus offered. Harry made no protest as Severus knelt in front of him and began undoing his belt. He sat passively by while Severus removed the armor he and Black had clad him in earlier that day, first the shin guards, then the arm bracers.

 

"Stand," he ordered, and the young man obediently rose to his feet, raising his arms. Severus caught the hem of the mail shirt and pulled it smoothly upward and over his head, carefully lifting it off his body. Though the armor was nearly weightless, it still pressed against the body in strange ways, and the padding beneath showed signs of wear. Severus couldn't help wondering if the body beneath would be bruised as well -- he did not know if Harry had been struck during the battle that day.

 

"Are you injured at all?" he asked, worried suddenly.

 

But Harry shook his head. "A few bruises. I'm fine. I think I'd just like to sleep."

 

"Take a hot bath before you do," Severus advised. "I'm going to go help Albus clear out the castle. I'll return later. Do not let anyone into the room. If you need something, summon that blasted house elf that is so fond of you."

 

Harry just nodded and proceeded toward the bedroom door, and Severus found himself watching him in concern. He was closed off and quiet -- a state that was unnatural to a Gryffindor. And Severus was not the sort of person who knew how to deal with emotional upheaval. Perhaps Remus would have been a better person to tend to him just now, though Severus was loathed to admit such a thing.

 

He waited until the door to the bedroom had closed before he summoned the house elf himself. The strange little creature, who seemed to be clad in a brand new Weasley sweater bearing a large blue 'D' on the front, appeared instantly in front of him. Severus tossed the shirt of armor to the creature. "Clean that and the rest of it," he ordered the elf. "And remain in this room. Harry is in taking a bath. I expect you to guard him and bring him anything he asks for. There were a lot of strangers in the castle tonight, and I do not want any of them getting in here and disturbing the boy. Do you understand?"

 

The elf's eyes grew wide, his ears perking forward. "Dobby understands, Professor Snape. Dobby will be protecting Harry Potter with his very life!"

 

"See that you do!" Snape ordered, and then strode toward the door. The sooner he finished with Dumbledore and the rest of the Order, the sooner he could return.

 

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Author's Note:

For those of you who care, based on the number of Dementors per square mile, the Winter Lands is approximately 100,000 square miles in size. That makes it about the same size as Iceland (a third again the size of Ireland). While I don't imagine that the Winter Lands has a very large population (there are no Muggles there after all), that it still a rather impressive chunk of land to be losing control over. Minister Fudge's chances for re-election are looking a bit slim.

 

A 'protectorate' is typically a sovereign nation that has entered into a treaty with a more powerful nation -- in this case Britain. They give up some of their sovereignty, and in return the stronger nation protects their borders. Sometimes this arrangement is mutual -- the weaker country approaches the stronger country. Sometimes it is forced -- the stronger country simply tells the weaker country 'you're now our protectorate' and there isn't much the weaker country can do about it.

 

Up next: a rather unexpected plot twists (I just love the Malfoys!).

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 39 - Family Honor

 

Severus left his quarters and strode swiftly down the torch lit hall, but as he passed the dark corridor that led to the Slytherin dormitory, Severus realized that his evening was yet again going to take a turn for the worse. Lucius Malfoy was waiting for him, a cold smile on his pale face, his silver-headed cane gripped tightly in one gloved hand.

 

"Lucius," Severus sighed. "What are you still doing here?"

 

"My goodness, Severus," Lucius purred. "Is that any way to greet an old friend?"

 

"I'm in no mood for pointless pleasantries tonight, Lucius," Severus snapped.

 

Lucius just laughed softly. "Really, Severus, I would have thought that marriage to the lovely Mr. Potter would have improved your mood. I see it has not. Perhaps Mr. Potter is not so extraordinary as we have all been led to believe."

 

"Spare me the innuendos!" Severus growled. "Your son has said more than enough on the subject already."

 

Lucius just shrugged and sighed rather dramatically. "Yes, Draco can be a bit crude on occasion. He gets it from Narcissa's side of the family, I'm afraid. But I hardly came here to exchange quips about your marriage, Severus. I have business to discuss with you."

 

"I'm not interest in any business you might wish to discuss," Severus replied, eyes narrowing. "I think my loyalties have been adequately declared."

 

"Your loyalties," Lucius mused. "Yes, I suppose -- but I do wonder precisely who it is you have sided with, Severus. Dumbledore or Potter?"

 

"You think there is a difference?"

 

Lucius just shrugged, tapping his cane against his thigh thoughtfully. "Dumbledore comes with an ideology and an agenda. Potter on the other hand. . ." He smiled suddenly. "That I can almost understand. I had not realized how attractive the boy had become. I can hardly blame you for jumping at such an opportunity."

 

Severus felt a cold anger seep into his veins at Lucius' words. The blond man looked amused and intrigued -- something Severus did not like at all. "I find it very hard to believe you would share such an interest?"

 

Lucius laughed at that. "Oh, believe me, Severus, I am not blind. My tastes have always run toward women -- but Mr. Potter has an aura of power about him that I have not seen since. . ."

 

"Since the Dark Lord?" Severus finished for him, glaring coldly at the man. If he thought to compare Harry to Voldemort he was blind indeed.

 

"Yes," Lucius agreed. "Since then."

 

"What's wrong, Lucius?" Severus mocked. "Has the bloom gone off the rose?"

 

Something strange passed over Lucius' features then, a shadow of unease Severus had never seen in the man. "The Dark Lord has gone mad, Severus."

 

"He was always mad."

 

"Not like this," Lucius shook his head. "This is something different, something . . .unspeakable."

 

Severus stared incredulously at the man. "Are you asking for our protection, Lucius? You wish to join Dumbledore--"

 

"No!" Lucius snarled, glaring furiously at him. "Join Dumbledore and his pathetic band of Muggle Lovers? He would have us crawling on our knees and kissing the feet of Muggles before this all over!"

 

"How is that any different from--" Severus began only to be cut off by Lucius.

 

"Do not start with me, Severus! This is not about me or the Dark Lord. This is about Draco."

 

"Draco?" Severus stared at the man in surprise. What was he up to now?

 

"I do not need anyone's protection. I will take whatever steps I must to protect myself. But I do not want my son involved in this madness either. He's already getting strange ideas in his head."

 

Severus found himself bewildered by the turn this conversation had taken. What could Draco have done to prompt this behavior in Lucius? "What sorts of strange ideas?"

 

Lucius looked vaguely ill with the thought. "Perversions," he sneered. "I think it must be the Black family blood. They have an impeccable pedigree, but their sexual tastes have always been a bit off. Bellatrix will spread her legs for anyone, while Narcissa seems to have sewn herself shut. And Andromeda," he shuddered in horror. "A Muggle of all things. She would have been better off going the way of Regulus than polluting her blood in such a manner." He smirked suddenly. "Did you ever tell your beloved Order exactly how Regulus died? Or rather what he died beneath?"

 

Severus found his stomach churning with the memory and he forced his face to remain emotionless. He counted the lie he'd told the Order about Regulus Black's death his one kindness toward Sirius Black who likely would not have been able to handle the truth about his brother.

 

Regulus, like Bellatrix, had a sexual appetite that grew obscene and out of control, to where even their rather public performances at Dark Revels could not fully sate his desire for the perverse. His life had ended at one such revel when he'd been goaded by Bellatrix to quench the sexual appetite of a mountain troll. The creature had crushed Regulus' head to a pulp as it held the man down on the ground and pounded violently into him. By the time the other Death Eaters had pulled the troll off of him, there was little left that was recognizable of his face.

 

Even to this day the very memory made Severus sick to his stomach. Lying to the Order about Regulus' change of heart and desire to escape the Death Eaters only to heroically meet his end at the wand of the Dark Lord had been far easier than having to repeat such a story to anyone.

 

"What does this have to do with Draco?" Severus asked, refusing to rise to Lucius' bait. He rather hoped Draco had not expressed similar tastes.

 

"Draco will not admit it of course, but he is beginning to desire things he should not have," Lucius explained. "Things that are beneath him. He needs to be taken in hand by someone strong enough to satisfy his desires should they awaken. I have decided to marry him off."

 

"Why are you telling me this?" Severus asked in surprise.

 

Lucius frowned at him. "Surely that is obvious. I cannot marry him off to any of my current associates and hope to keep him from the Dark Lord's madness. No, he must go to someone on your side. But the problem of course is all a matter of pedigree. Your side is made up of filthy mongrels, your blood being one of the few exceptions."

 

Severus had a sudden horrific thought -- there could be only one reason Lucius was bringing this subject up with him -- if he intended to arrange a marriage to someone in Severus' own family. "Oh, Merlin, surely you do not mean Julius?"

 

Lucius looked outraged at the thought. "The youngest son in a family of five, are you mad? No, my son will go to a blood heir and a head of house, or no one at all."

 

Relieved Severus just shook his head. "Then why are you speaking of this to me?"

 

Lucius smirked. "Because there is only one person on your side of suitable blood and position, and now, thanks to your marriage, he is a member of your extended family. I formally request that you present my proposal for the marriage between Draco Malfoy and Sirius Black."

 

Severus just stared at Lucius in shock, not believing what he had just heard. So much for keeping his emotions from his face -- he knew his stunned disbelief was obvious on his expression. "Are you mad!" he shouted. "Sirius Black?"

 

Lucius just shrugged. "There is no one else on your side that is suitable."

 

"Black intends to bond with Remus Lupin," Severus informed him.

 

"Intends to bond," Lucius replied. "They are not yet bonded. And since by law Remus Lupin is little better than an animal, my proposal takes precedence over any understanding that might exist between them."

 

"Tell that to the angry wolf that will tear your son apart!"

 

Lucius' fist closed tightly around the head of his silver cane. "If he tries he'll be put down like the creature he is. In fact if he makes one move toward my son, I will have an Euthanasia Order slapped on him so fast he will not see his next moon rise."

 

"Lucius, this is madness," Severus protested. "Black will never agree to it."

 

"Black has no choice but to agree," Lucius insisted. "My proposal is an honorable one and without any legal impediment Black has to accept or forfeit his family name."

 

"He will choose to forfeit his name."

 

"He will not," Lucius laughed. "Gryffindor or not, his name means something to him, I think. But beyond that have you forgotten whom the family name would go to? The moment she possessed the title, Bellatrix would use blood magic against him. Sirius would be dead within a week. I think under those circumstances even your pet werewolf would have to urge him to accept -- Gryffindors are like that. And speaking of Gryffindor, Sirius is Draco's cousin. Surely the noble Gryffindor will not abandon his young cousin to the madness of the Dark Lord if it were in his power to save him?"

 

Severus doubled Black would care about his cousin, but the threat of blood magic was a very real one and a sickening dread filled his heart. "Lucius, do not do this. It will come to no good."

 

But Lucius just glared at him. "My mind is made up. You will present my offer. I will hear no other arguments against it." And with that he turned and strode swiftly away, heading toward the castle proper and the main doors of Hogwarts.

 

For a long moment Severus just stood alone in the hallway staring after the man. He felt ill, dread filling his heart. This would not be good -- not at all. Oh, he didn't care so much about the sappy romance between Lupin and Black -- not really anyway -- though what a sad thing it was that Lupin would lose out in the end after so many years of devotion. Pathetic, he decided, not sad.

 

Oh, hell! Severus sighed. Sad -- it was a sad, sorry business all around. And while a stoic Slytherin might accept the situation and move on, Gryffindors had a tendency to fall apart in the face of such adversity. And Harry . . . Severus shook his head. What would Harry think? He loved his godfather -- loved the blasted werewolf as well. He would not take this well. No one would, which was probably what Lucius had intended.

 

Guessing by now that Dumbledore and the others had cleared the castle, Severus headed back to the room they had been meeting in. The others had only just arrived, and Severus paused momentarily at the door to glance around at those present. Along with Albus and numerous members of the staff who were no doubt anxious to hear the events of the last few days, Molly and Arthur had remained. Bill, Charlie and Percy had returned with them, leaving the twins behind in Gryffindor Tower. But it was really Remus Lupin Severus was looking at, dreading and perhaps even fearing the task he had ahead of him. He could only hope that the werewolf would take the news well. But he wasn't counting on it.

 

"Everything alright with Harry?" Albus asked when he noticed Severus standing in the doorway.

 

Severus nodded and moved into the room, allowing Minerva and Flitwick to secure the room with a privacy charm.

 

"Well, then," Albus said with a bright twinkle in his eyes. "I'm guessing you and Remus have quite a story to tell us. Especially if the behavior of your brother-in-law toward Harry is anything to go on."

 

Severus sighed. "You have no idea," He glanced at Remus who just gave him an encouraging smile. Severus began recounting the events of the last few days to those listening.

 

For the most part they listened in silence, only occasionally asking for clarification. Filius Flitwick asked twice what spell Harry had used to move the stone, and then just sat there with a somewhat stunned look on his face. He questioned him again on the spell the boy had used to seal the Well.

 

Severus finished up his tale, making certain to include the odd dream that Harry had had the night before the battle. Surprisingly it was the dream that got the most reaction from Albus. The old wizard sat back in his chair, stroking his long beard thoughtfully.

 

"My goodness!" Flitwick exclaimed when Severus was done with his story. "I have not heard such an extraordinary story in a long time! It would seem we may not be pushing Mr. Potter hard enough in our classes if this is any example of what he is capable of."

 

"Agreed," Minerva replied. "That’s a fine bit of spell work to be sure. I knew the boy was strong, but this is unexpected."

 

Albus laughed softly at that. "Mr. Potter has a habit of doing the unexpected." He looked thoughtfully at both Remus and Severus. "Do you think he has any idea what the symbolism in the dream may have meant?"

 

It was Remus who answered. "No, he thought it had something to do with the Ravenclaw mascot."

 

"Well, regardless, this will certainly cause Harry more stress in the days to come," Albus sighed. "By morning it will be on the front page of every Wizarding paper in the world, and we must watch that Fudge does nothing to disrupt things. He will not take these events lying down. I'm afraid he'll see his chances of re-election slipping away and grow desperate. I am glad Sirius was able to return to the Winter Lands -- it will not be safe here for him for some time I think."

 

Severs sighed, guessing he could not put the rest of this story off any longer.

 

"I do have one other bit of news, Albus, which no one is going to like," he began. All eyes turned toward him again. "Lucius Malfoy stopped to speak with me on the way here. It seems as if he has grown concerned with the Dark Lord's behavior of late, and has decided to remove Draco from the Dark Lord's grasp."

 

Albus looked surprised by this. "He wants us to give Draco asylum?"

 

"In a manner or speaking," Severus agreed. "He has formally asked me to propose a marriage between his son Draco Malfoy and Sirius Black."

 

"What!" Remus leaped to his feet, nearly knocking over the large armchair he had been sitting in. "That's ridiculous!"

 

"Perhaps so," Severus agreed. "But he wants Draco in the hands of the Light, and as far as he's concerned the only person of sufficient pedigree on our side is Black."

 

"Sirius will refuse!" Remus insisted in outrage, his voice rising in volume. A strange wave of magic moved through the room at his words -- not accidental magic like Harry so often displayed, but something else, something raw and wild as if all the occupants were gripped momentarily by the same burning emotion. Severus could see more than one person taking a step back from the angry werewolf.

 

"He can't refuse," Severus informed him. "The two of you are not mated. He has no acceptable reason to refuse a marriage of this status. If he does, he'll lose his name and his position as Head of House. The title will go to Bellatrix Lestrange and I guarantee she'll use the Sang Mort spell against him -- and likely against Andromeda too. They'll be dead in a week. He has no choice but to marry Draco."

 

"No!" Remus shouted and that strange raw energy exploded around them, touching them all. They all saw the exact moment when the rage became too much for the werewolf, and his control snapped, his eyes turning completely yellow, his mouth twisting into a vicious snarl. The impossibly strong man lifted the large chair he had been seated in and threw it across the room. It shattered against the wall, causing Hagrid and Bill to duck out of the way. Before Remus could take another step, every wand in the room was trained on him. It was Albus' spell that struck him.

 

Even the werewolf's natural immunity to magic was not enough to overcome the power of Dumbledore's magic. The man collapsed unconscious. A deafening silence settled over the room.

 

It was Molly who finally rushed to the man's side, carefully turning him over and stroking his hair back from his face. "Oh, Albus," she gasped. "He did not just turn feral! Not Remus! He'll be alright, won't he?"

 

Albus however looked deeply troubled. "I don't know, Molly. Remus is one of the strongest men I know. I do not think he will let this get the best of him." He frowned at Severus. "Though you could have picked a more opportune time to tell him such news, Severus."

 

"A more opportune time?" Severus growled, feeling out of sorts and frightened, though he would never admit it. "When would you have suggested, Albus? When I was alone with him so that he could tear me apart without witnesses? Or perhaps I should have allowed Black to tell him, and give the wolf the opportunity to take by force what was being denied him -- ruining even their friendship?"

 

"But surely Sirius won't really have to marry that spoiled boy!" Molly protested. "Neither he nor Remus deserves that. They've been through enough."

 

"I don't know," Albus admitted. "Perhaps some other solution may yet present itself. In the mean time I think I had best get Remus down to the infirmary."

 

"And what about Black?" Severus demanded. "I have no choice but to present Malfoy's proposal."

 

"It is conceivable that it could take a few days to find out where Sirius is staying," Albus replied thoughtfully. "And it is its conceivable that after learning of his location it may take a few days before you have the opportunity to speak to him in person. After all, such an important matter cannot be conveyed by letter. And certain security precautions would have to be taken considering he is wanted by the Ministry. I think it is safe to wait a while before informing him. Perhaps another solution will present itself by then."

 

"What will happen to Remus if he has gone feral?" Molly asked, her eyes frightened.

 

Albus just patted her gently on the shoulder. "Let us worry about that later, when we know more about the state of his mind. In the mean time we had all best try to get some sleep. Tomorrow will no doubt be. . ." He broke off and shook his head. "Unusual to say the least."

 

-------------------

Author's Note:

 

Thank you to everyone who has been emailing me and leaving reviews on my story. I appreciate them all -- I'm glad you are all being so understanding about real life. Now for a rather long note . . .

 

As I said, an interesting story line concerning Draco popped up and I couldn't resist seeing where it would go. It has rather an unexpected conclusion -- but I think you will all enjoy it.

 

Regarding the canon references in the chapter -- as I said, I started writing this story before book 5 came out. At the time I knew nothing about the Order of the Phoenix or the history of Sirius Black and his family. Also the events that took place in 5th years in this story are drastically different from the events that took place in the actual book. However I see no reason not to incorporate a few things from that book now -- hence the references to Sirius Black's family, including Andromeda's marriage to a Muggle that produced Tonks.

 

Obviously Regulus met quite a different end in this story than he did in canon -- poor Regulus, but there you have it.

 

Regarding the question -- is everyone gay? I have to laugh every time I read slash fiction. By the end of the story it often seems like everyone in the world has turned gay -- men and women. I'd say the worse case of this is Gundam Wing fanfic. Not only do all 5 of the pilots in that story turn out to be gay but so do ALL of the bad guys. It's rather amusing. HP fanfiction is equally susceptible to this oddity -- despite that fact that in reality typically only about 10% of a society tends to be homosexual. So now I not only have Harry, Severus, Sirius, and Remus in gay relationships, I'm going to include Draco (and someone else -- most of you have figured out who by now) as well. Julius, too, if you count him. That's a lot of gay people.

 

But I have a good explanation for this -- if you care to listen. If not, move on to the next chapter.

 

In the Wizarding Society I've set up, there seems to be little distinction between Gay, Straight, or Other. They don't care. I read a study that once said that 10% of our population is complete gay, 10% is completely straight, and the remaining 80% is bisexual with most leaning toward straight. As far as that 80% in the middle are concerned they are all capable of being attracted to their own sex, but most choose to ignore it save in extreme or unusual circumstances.

 

Now if you carried that statistic into a world where there is literally no stigma at all on your sexual orientation, and there is no penalty (such as a legal impediment to marriage or inheritance) based on sexual preferences, then I think that the 80% in the middle would be a great deal more flexible than what we're used to.

 

Incidentally I have figured out a solution to the 'heir' problem. No, I am not going to include male-pregnancy -- I went over this before (it doesn't fit into this story). But I did come up with a really interesting alternative. Without this alternative there would be no way on earth Lucius Malfoy would marry his only heir off to a man. And, yes, I will explain how a wanted criminal can still be involved in an 'honorable' marriage.

 

As for the Sang Mort -- I'll explain that a bit more as well. The Head of House of a family has certain rights and privileges, as well as certain power over their family. We've already seen this with Severus controlling his family's finances. It is also a form of this blood magic he used to put the chastity belt on Julius. Sang Mort is the dark extreme.

 

As for Lucius Malfoy -- what side is he on? Lucius Malfoy is on his own side -- always has been, always will be. At the moment he is caught between a rock and hard place -- and is only just beginning to realize it. Reality will be spelled out to him very clearly before all is said and done.

 

BTW -- there's some action coming up in the next few chapters of the 'romantic' type. Finally, huh? It just takes a rather unexpected turn. I'm still working on the next chapters so I'll get them up as soon as I can.

Chapter Text


Author's notes: To avoid the machinations of the Ministry, Harry must marry Severus Snape, who reluctantly agrees to protect the Boy Who Lived. But marriage to Snape is only the beginning of Harry's problems. Voldemort is on the move again, and before too long Harry's marriage may determine the fate of the world.


Chapter 40 -- The Madness of the Wolf

 

Albus took Remus to the infirmary, leaving the rest of them to make their ways to their prospective homes. Severus was gratefully to return to the dungeons, anxious to end the day and put it behind him. As it was he didn't look forward to telling Harry about Remus the following morning, but Merlin willing he could get a good nights sleep before then.

 

Dobby was waiting in his main sitting room, bouncing up and down on the couch and singing softly to himself. He leaped off the couch when he saw Severus entered the room.

 

"Dobby did exactly as Professor Snape asked," he informed the man happily. "Dobby put Harry Potter to bed and guarded the door. Dobby would do anything for Harry Potter!"

 

"Thank you, Dobby," Severus nodded and then dismissed the creature. He headed toward the bedroom, pausing on his way to the bathroom to glance at the bed. Sure enough he could see Harry asleep, an empty vial of his special version of Dreamless Sleep on the nightstand beside him. Satisfied, Severus stripped out of his leathers and headed to the bathroom for a quick shower.

 

Despite his exhaustion, he felt restless and uneasy, and he couldn't help the feeling of rage that burned through him when he thought about what Lucius had just done. He should have let Lucius inform the werewolf himself -- should have let him risk his own neck by enraging a Dark Creature. To come between a werewolf and his desired mate was madness. Even now he could still feel that strange emotion that had seeped through the room when Lupin had lost control of himself -- it seemed to have settled deep in Severus bones and would not leave him.

 

Despite the hot shower Severus was still worked up and edgy by the time he left the bathroom. But he knew he had to get some sleep if he was ever going to face the events of tomorrow.

 

With a tired sigh he climbed into bed beside Harry, taking a moment to gaze down at the young man sleeping peacefully beside him. The candlelight danced lightly over the fine features of his face. Severus drew his gaze down the pale column of the boy's throat -- several buttons of his top were undone, and Severus could see the hints of the smooth planes of his chest.

 

The boy shifted in his sleep and his shirt slipping open more, uncovering one rosy nipple. Severus' breath caught in his throat, that uneasy heat in his chest moving lower and awakening a sudden painful desire inside of him. Without conscious thought he reached out to touch what lay before him, letting his fingers lightly graze over the soft skin at the base of Harry's throat before moving downward and brushing gently over the raised nipple. He felt the skin harden in reaction to his touch, pebbling beneath his fingertips. Severus' body was suddenly aching with need, his cock hard and heavy.

 

He could taste, he told himself silently. The boy had taken his potion -- if he were carefully he would not wake. He could taste his skin, perhaps even taste the soft curve of his lips and the boy would be none the wiser. Or perhaps if he was very careful, used a whispered spell, he might uncover more of his skin and see what delights had been hidden from him. Perhaps he could even uncover all of his skin -- touch him, taste him.

 

And if the boy woke -- Severus could make him want it. He'd be sleepy and confused, easy to seduce, hungry for affection. Severus could make him want it, make him want him -- and why shouldn't he, after all? The boy was his, legally, morally, magically. Why shouldn't he take what belonged to him -- it was his right. To deny it was madness -- and gods was there anything more wonderful than the scent of Harry's heated skin; he brushed his lips ever so lightly against the boy's bare shoulder.

 

Just one taste, he promised himself, and let his tongue flick softly against the smooth warm skin. He sighed deeply, breathing in his scent -- so sweet, like sunshine and springtime, and his life had been so cold and bleak alone in those dungeons. And just below the surface he could feel the underlying sense of Harry's magic, thrumming with life, with power, utterly intoxicating.

 

He moved upward, letting his lips trace gently against the pale skin of Harry's neck, a tender kiss along his jaw line -- the boy was so beautiful, just once he wanted something perfect in his life, something bright and warm. And the boy was his for the taking -- if he waited too long someone else might step forward and take Harry away from him. A fiery flare of rage burned through him at that thought. Even Lucius, who had little interest in men, had wanted Harry, had seen the attraction that drew so many to Harry's side. There was something inside the boy, some primordial spark of life that radiated power; Severus could feel it calling to him the way it called to everyone he met.

 

No, no one would take him -- he wouldn't allow such a thing to happen. Harry was his -- his to take, his to claim. Softly, carefully, he captured Harry's lips with his own, stealing the kiss that had been denied to him. His body throbbed with need, and he shifted closer to the boy's warmth, desperate for some relief. The slightest pressure parted Harry's lips and he pushed his tongue into that warm mouth, tasting, touching -- and gods, he was sweet! Even asleep and insensate to the world, the boy responded to him, moving closer to his heat, welcoming him into his mouth with a soft moan as Severus stroked his tongue with his own. Severus slid one hand down the boy's body, capturing his hip and pulling him against his hardness, desperate now for release.

 

The boy was hard, and Severus' heart leaped in his chest. He slipped one leg between Harry's, moaning in pleasure when the boy moved against his leg, grinding his cock into the muscle of his thigh. He deepened the kiss, exploring his mouth with slow, sensual strokes of his tongue.

 

"Harry," he whispered, bracing himself so that he could move over Harry's body and press him down into the mattress of the bed. He lifted his head, desperate now to see those beautiful green eyes, to see them filled with passion, finally to see Harry look at him the way he wanted, needed to be looked at, like he mattered, like he was needed, like he was loved.

 

And then he froze in shock when he realized that the boy was still asleep, his eyes closed, mouth parted helplessly as he moaned in some potion-induced dream, utterly unaware of what was happening to him. Severus' mind cleared in an instant as he realized in horror what he was about to do.

 

He drew swiftly back from the sleeping boy, all but flinging himself out of bed. He took swift stock of himself -- he was as hard as a rock, painfully aroused, and moments ago he'd been ready to take what he wanted regardless of what Harry might have had to say on the matter. Shaken to the core, he retreated swiftly from the bedroom, crossing the sitting room and entering the library. Locking the door behind himself, he lit the fire before sinking down into one of the reading chairs before the large fireplace.

 

"Merlin!" he whispered to himself. What had he been thinking! To let himself lose control like that -- surely he wasn't that tired? So exhausted that he didn't even realize what he'd been doing until it was almost too late? Perhaps he'd been alone too long -- perhaps his self-imposed celibacy had not been a great idea after all? Granted Harry had some rather strong ideas about marriage and fidelity, but the boy was only sixteen years old. Even if he did one day intend to give himself to Severus -- and truthfully Severus had no real reason beyond the boy's puritanical indignation to believe this -- that didn't mean he was ready to do so now. Likely it would be several years yet before the topic even came up. If after only four months of marriage Severus was already so desperate that he would risk breaking Harry's trust, perhaps remaining celibate was not the best idea?

 

It had been a long time since Severus had felt the need for a regular bed partner -- but maybe four months of having a tempting young man in his bed was too much for even his control. He'd never been particularly promiscuous, less so as he'd gotten older. But that didn't mean he had not indulged from time to time -- with both men and women. For the most part it was awkward to even consider such things during the school year, and his solitude suited him just fine. But if he was in danger of losing control like he had just nearly done, perhaps it had been too long.

 

He shook his head violently. It was absolute madness! And complete nonsense! He was tired -- that was all. And the adrenaline of the last few days was merely affecting him awkwardly. All he needed was a good night's sleep and he'd be back to himself by morning.

 

He glanced over his shoulder at the door, thinking briefly about going back to bed.

 

With Harry.

 

It would be warmer, of course, more comfortable. He pictured Harry lying there and felt a shiver of awareness move through him. Would it be so wrong to claim him? Claim him before someone else did. . .

 

Shaking himself in anger, he shifted in his seat. Okay, going back to bed was a bad idea. He'd sleep here in the library -- wouldn't be the first time he'd fallen asleep in front of the fireplace.

 

Yes, he told himself, he'd be back to normal by morning.

 

-------------------------------

 

Harry woke with a start and glanced at the clock, noting that the hand was pointing firmly to "Time to Get Up". Seeing that Severus was already gone from the room, he shoved back the blankets only to realize that the front of his pajamas were damp and sticky. In that instant his dream came back to him with a vengeance, and despite the fact that he was alone in the room he felt his face turning red with embarrassment. Staggering swiftly out of bed, he made his way to the bathroom to shower, stripping himself out of his pajamas and shoving them into the laundry hamper for the elves to clean. He quickly jumped into the shower to wash away the evidence of his dream.

 

Good lord, he thought in embarrassment as he wondered if he might have said something in his sleep. He couldn't remember the details of his dream too well, but he remembered enough to know it had been hot and steamy and that the arms he had dreamed were wrapped around him were most definitely male. So was the body he had dreamed he had pressed up against -- a tall, strong well-built male.

 

He knew it wasn't unusual for him to shout or scream during one of his nightmares -- he'd woken enough people up with his dreams. But had he been just as vocal with this sort of dream as well? Had Severus heard him? Or, oh God, Harry thought in a panic, what if he had grabbed Severus in his sleep, pressed up against him? Was that why Severus had not been in bed still when he had awakened, despite the fact that Severus must have gone to sleep much later than he had? He felt his entire body flush in embarrassment with the thought.

 

That was one draw back of the potion Severus made for him. True Dreamless Sleep prevented any dreams at all -- which Severus claimed over a long period of time was unhealthy. The potion Severus brewed for him only prevented nightmares. It hadn't occurred to Harry that there was another type of dream he might wish to avoid while he was sleeping beside someone else. As if he didn't have enough to worry about as it was.

 

With a heavy sigh, he climbed out of the shower to prepare himself for the day. He wasn't really looking forward to the day ahead of him, guessing he'd spend the day answering the questions of the other Gryffindors about what had happened to him in the Winter Lands.

 

But at least he was home, he told himself. He was back at Hogwarts, and classes would resume, and he could go back to things that were normal and familiar.

 

Once dressed, he headed out to the sitting room, looking forward to a good, strong cup of tea to get his morning started. Severus was waiting for him in the other room, and Harry paused in the bedroom doorway to watch the man with some surprise. Severus looked agitated, pacing back and forth in front of the fire as if angry or upset by something. Actually, Harry couldn't recall ever seeing Severus pace like that -- back and forth, like a caged animal, a dark scowl on his face. The Severus Snape he knew stalked swiftly from one place to the next, but he never did something so mindless and pointless as pace. Harry felt his face heating up once again -- what if this was about his dream? Harry thought he would die of embarrassment if Severus mentioned anything about it.

 

But he couldn't just stand there and stare. Sooner or later he'd have to face the music -- everyone dreamed right? He couldn't be responsible for his dreams -- surely even Severus Snape had embarrassing dreams from time to time?

 

"Is something wrong, Severus?" he asked, startling the man -- that was a surprise as well. Severus was rarely startled by anything.

 

Immediately Severus stopped his pacing, and for a moment he just stood there and stared at Harry, before the scowl vanished from his face and he took a deep breath and seemed to calm down. "Sorry, I was just lost in thought," he informed him. "Did you sleep well?"

 

Harry flushed, his cheeks burning. Was that supposed to be a reference to the dream, or was he imagining all this? Maybe it was just a simple courtesy, nothing more? "Fine," Harry nodded, trying desperately to sound non-chalant. "Is everything. . .did something happen?"

 

Severus frowned and then nodded tightly. "Yes, actually. Perhaps you best sit down."

 

An uneasy, panicky feeling settled over Harry's heart at his words, and he guessed suddenly that this had nothing to do with an embarrassing dream. Severus looked too perturbed for that. "Is everyone alright? Did something happen to someone?"

 

Severus motioned impatiently toward the chair in front of him, obviously intent on getting Harry seated. "Everyone is fine -- no one is hurt." His words were so curt they didn't really ease Harry's mind, but he settled down into the chair anyway, staring uncertainly up at Severus. Severus started pacing again.

 

"Last night Lucius Malfoy formally asked me to present a marriage proposal between Draco and Sirius Black," Severus began.

 

"You're kidding?" Harry asked, and then laughed at the very idea. "That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard!"

 

Severus frowned. "I assure you I am not joking. And neither was he. While I have no idea where his loyalties lie, Lucius has decided that he does not want his son involved with the Death Eaters. He sees Black as the means to get him away from the life awaiting him."

 

Harry stared at him shock -- the very idea that Lucius Malfoy might actually do something to benefit anyone, even his son, was ludicrous. But that he would pick such an unlikely way was beyond belief. "He doesn't actually think Sirius will accept, does he? Hell, I doubt Draco will agree to it either. The whole idea is silly!"

 

"You don't seem to understand," Severus replied. "First, Draco has no say in the matter. If his father tells him to marry Sirius Black, then that's what he'll do. It's not his choice. As for your godfather, he doesn't have a choice either. He has no legitimate reason to refuse a marriage of such good standing -- to do so would be dishonorable."

 

"There would be no honor in accepting!" Harry insisted. "He loves Remus!"

 

"Remus is a werewolf."

 

Harry leaped to his feet. "I know that! What does that have to do with anything?"

 

Severus tugged somewhat angrily at a lock of his hair as if unnaturally agitated by something. "You don't seem to understand what I'm saying. Remus is a werewolf -- he has no legal claim to Black. They are not mated. If the damned wolf hadn't been so bloody puritanical, and made Black wait, they wouldn't have this problem. But in the real world an honorable marriage offer from the Malfoy family trumps true love."

 

Harry paled at his words and then found himself flushing in embarrassment as he realized what Severus had implied about making Sirius wait. He rather felt like he had been sucker-punched. "That's not fair," he protested.

 

"Life is not fair," Severus snapped.

 

"Sirius will never marry Malfoy!" Harry insisted. "I don't care if it's dishonorable or not!"

 

"Then he will die," Severus replied coldly. "And somehow I don't think even the wolf will want that."

 

"Die!" Harry exclaimed. "What are you talking about?"

 

Severus dragged his fingers through his hair, which was looking decidedly wild this morning as he had not tied it back as he usually did. "If he refuses the marriage, Lucius Malfoy will go straight to the Ministry and lodge a complaint with the Department of Blood Line Inheritance. Your godfather will lose his family name and his position as Head of House -- a title that will pass immediately to Bellatrix Lestrange. Once she has been named the Head of House, she will use an ancient form of blood magic called the Sang Mort to kill Sirius from a distance. While she's at it she will also likely kill any member of the House of Black that she thinks has not lived up to the name. And before you suggest that Sirius do the same thing to her before this takes place, the Sang Mort is a very dark form of magic and taints the soul irrevocably. There are only a handful of people in the world capable of that kind of magic, and Bellatrix is unfortunately one of them."

 

"I wasn't going to suggest such a thing!" Harry protested in horror.

 

"Of course not," Severus smirked coldly at him. "A Gryffindor would never do such a thing, would they?"

 

"You're in a very foul mood today!" Harry shouted at him, not understanding what was happening here. Why was Severus being so nasty to him? He hadn't behaved like this in months.

 

Severus grew still for a moment, staring at Harry in surprise. Finally he just sighed and shook his head. "You're right, I am," he agreed. "I'm sorry. I not myself today."

 

Somewhat mollified Harry turned his attention back to the matter at hand. "I don't understand how this can happen though. I mean how can this be an honorable proposal -- if nothing else has everyone forgotten that Sirius is still a wanted criminal? How can Malfoy marry a wanted criminal and have anyone think it is an honorable marriage?"

 

"Black's status as a criminal does nothing to change his position as the Head of the House of Black, any more than it prevents the Lestranges or the Averys or the MacNairs from voting in the election despite the fact that they are all known Death Eaters. Until they are dead and their titles have passed on to their heirs, they are still the Heads of very powerful Houses -- their rights and privileges are guaranteed by magic, not legal status or morality. Haven't you wondered how Sirius still has access to all his family vaults despite the fact that he is on the run from the Ministry?"

 

Truthfully, Harry had wondered that -- how had Sirius managed to buy him such expensive brooms over the years if he could not show his face in public? How was he able to get gold from his vaults in Gringotts?

 

"The Ministry has the right to arrest him, imprison him, and even execute him -- but until he does something that violates the honor of the House of Black, they can not remove his claim to his title, land or property. The laws of bloodline magic are some of the oldest that exist -- the Ministry can do nothing against them."

 

"And being on the lamb from the law does not violate the honor of the House of Black?" Harry asked doubtfully.

 

Severus laughed humorously at that. "The House of Black is a Dark House -- casting the Unforgivables does not violate the honor of the House of Black."

 

"Sirius isn't dark!"

 

"That does