Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave
Or will you rail against your dying day?
-Sleep on the Floor, The Lumineers
Hermione stumbled downstairs, her sock clad foot slipping on the thick carpet covering the stairs to the upper floor of her parent’s house. The brief feeling of falling sent an unpleasant jolt through her chest, making her heart gallop, and her need for caffeine decrease significantly.
“Hermione dear, are you finally awake?” her Mum’s smiling face poked around the corner from the kitchen, a smear of what looked like melted chocolate along her chin. Hermione’s stomach made a small pitiful noise of want at the idea of her Mum’s chocolate chip pancakes.
“Yes, Mum,” she grumbled through a deep yawn, weaving her way to the ground floor. Her Dad was settled comfortably in the front room, his eyes glued to the football game on their small telly.
“Well, I don’t know what they’ve got you doing at that school of yours dear, but these late nights aren’t good for you,” her Mum chided as she set a plate of pancakes on the table, along with a cup of tea, prepared just the way Hermione liked.
Hermione gave her Mum a small smile, “I told you, Mum, I was writing. You know I like to keep ahead while I’m not at school. It’s the only time I have time to work on what I want to learn outside of the offered classes.”
Her Mum huffed, but couldn’t keep the indulgent smile from her face. She busied herself cleaning up the splatters of batter and lines of melted chocolate that somehow migrated to new portions of the kitchen anytime her Mum cooked with it.
“So… are you going to tell me who he is?” her Mum asked, her voice painfully casual.
Hermione spluttered around the mouthful of tea she’d taken, falling into a coughing fit as she tried to speak and breath all in one go.
“Mum..” She glared through watering eyes as she finally cleared her throat, her Mum standing by the sink and smirking in an annoyingly knowing sort of way. Merlin, she hoped she didn’t look that smug when she’d figured something out.
“Is it Harry? Or Ron? Ron always seemed so awkward around you, I always thought he might fancy you a bit,” her Mum continued blithely, completely ignoring her daughter's increasing look of horror.
“No! Mum, stop,” Hermione put her tea down carefully, sobering abruptly. She’d been home for almost a week, and every day she remained there with her parents sitting under only the warding that she had managed, she got more and more agitated.
She had finally finished preparations for getting them to safety, closing her notebook on her and Draco’s plans just after dawn.
She had broken down a few weeks prior, telling Draco in a moment of stress what she hadn’t even dared to voice to Harry or Ron, that she had been studying powerful memory charms, the kind that would erase whole sections of a life. Or whole people.
She’d felt backed into a corner, the reports she had read during their prep to get Narcissa to safety, about how the Death Eaters had targeted families of muggleborns, had left her with nightmares.
She knew Harry would try to hide them if she asked. Of course he would, and so would Ron. Hell, Ron would probably just stuff them into the Burrow and hope for the best, but that would be the first place they would look. At least the Weasley’s had a chance, and so did Narcissa if anyone managed to trace Harry’s properties. Wizards could flee, could defend themselves. With how much the Weasley’s were having to move around between Grimmauld place and the ministry, Hermione was too scared to leave her parents somewhere that obvious that didn’t have both excessive wards and a magic user guaranteed to be present, just in case.
She’d told Draco late one night, weeks before he’d had to flee. He’d made her come to meet him in the back of the library and try to find a solution that didn’t result in her parents possibly never remembering that they had a daughter.
He’d offered up a somewhat ridiculous amount of money to buy them a home somewhere out of country. Still, they couldn’t figure an entirely untraceable way, and if it was discovered he had bought a house and hidden the family of one of the most well known muggleborns, he was as good as dead. They had the same problem with Harry using his money to do so, though with less terrible murder for Harry.
Draco had finally kissed her goodnight, mumbling something about writing her as soon as he had a better idea but that she wasn’t to ‘go bollockings up her parent's heads, Merlin Granger, you’re terrifying.’
They’d spoken about it sporadically, and he had never once disagreed that something needed to be done to keep them safe. He had finally unearthed paperwork for an old country house in the south of France. It was something that his Mother had inherited but hadn’t ever visited since they had a Chateau that had been in the Malfoy family for generations where they stayed when they were in country. It had the advantage of being forgotten and an old wizarding property with a fair number of wards, even if they weren’t as up to date as the cottage.
Draco had gained control of the property upon his Mother’s ‘death,’ along with a rather sickening amount of other homes.
All in all, they had decided it was their best bet. She didn’t like that there wasn’t anyone there to protect them until they could get to a portkey if someone did find them, and she’d argued that it was just as bad for him if they were discovered, but he’d insisted it was safer since he hadn’t even known he owned the place. He had halted her arguments when he pointed out that the last place anyone would look for her family was in a Malfoy owned house. He had finally threatened to tell Harry and Ron if she kept arguing, who would both undoubtedly do something at least mildly idiotic, like try and keep her parents at the Order Headquarters.
The records showed that there were no house elves in residence, and no one had lived there since the Black cousin that owned it had died several generations prior. Hermione had reluctantly agreed several days before, and they had finalized their plans the previous night. She just needed to tell her parents.
Hermione looked up in time to see lines of worry bracket her Mum’s mouth. She sighed heavily and motioned her Mum toward the front room.
“I need to talk to both you and Dad,” she said, pushing the rest of her breakfast away. She refreshed her tea and ambled over to the couch, her soft sleep pants covered in tiny roaring dragons making her smile.
“Richard, turn off the telly, Hermione needs to tell us something,” her Mum said as she followed her daughter into the room. Some note in her Mum’s voice made her Dad grab the remote and turn the game off without a second look.
“What is it, Pumpkin?” her Dad asked, worry in his dark eyes. He had nearly forbidden her from going back to Hogwarts the previous year after Dolohov’s curse. Ever since, he had been on edge, writing to her considerably more often, as if he needed weekly reassurance that she hadn’t been horribly killed.
Her Mum sat down on the arm of the chair, her face scrunched with worry.
“First off, I’m fine,” she said, watching tension seep out of both her parents.
“You both know that there’s been some, unrest, in the wizarding world,” she started, hating that she had to tell them how bad it was. They weren’t going to want to let her go, but they couldn’t stop her either.
Her parents both nodded. “That man, the one you said tried to hurt Harry, he’s stirring all that fuss up, isn’t he?” her Dad asked, trying to keep up.
“Yes, but I may have, possibly, left out a few things,” she said, staring down into the milky depths of her tea.
“Hermione,” her Mum said, warning clear.
“He didn’t just hurt Harry. He’s been trying to murder him since he was a baby. He’s also known as the most dangerous dark wizard of our time. Of any of our times really,” she said in a rush. “There was a lot that happened that I won’t go into, but he’s been gaining power for a few years now, and it’s getting bad. Really bad.” She whispered the last, her mind falling into a flash of cold flagstones and verdant green light, and Draco choking out the awful words that would save them and damn him.
“Hermione, are you in danger?” her Dad asked, his voice shaking. She looked up and met his eyes, her heart wrenching at the helpless fear she found there. She knew he would do anything to protect her. He would stand in front of any of the Death Eaters, not even able to physically defend himself because he was a dentist, a Merlin damned dentist, and he would die, with barely a flick of a wand.
“Yes,” she said, her back straightening. “But you’re in a lot more than I am,” she finished, feeling suddenly so much older. “It’s not a fuss, Dad, it’s a war,” her tone was soft but held a thread of steel, something she had earned the hard way, through pain and loss and fear.
“They’re trying to kill us, the Death Eaters that is. It’s a war about blood purity,” she held a hand up to forestall the questions she could see in her Mum’s face.
“Muggleborns and half-bloods are the primary targets, but you must understand, I am not an easy target. But I am one of the highest profile ones.” She took a deep breath, her hand absently smoothing over a tiny silver dragon, dancing over the green background of the pants that Draco had thought it hilarious to give her.
“My family is one of the most likely targets,” she finally got out. Her Mum drew in a sharp breath, her hand coming up to cover her mouth.
“But why would you be a target? You’re just a girl,” her Dad asked, bewildered.
“Because I’m one of the most well known fighters in the Order,” she said very softly. “Harry, Ron, and I have defeated Voldemort and his followers more than a few times.”
Her parents just sat and stared, both looking like she had started speaking dwarvish.
“But, sweetheart, you’re only eighteen, why would you be fighting anyone?” her Dad asked.
Suddenly, his face hardened “That scar, that curse scar; you told us that you got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.” His eyes narrowed with suspicion.
Hermione felt her face flush, and she cleared her throat uncomfortably. “I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I had been a few centimeters to the left, I’d never have been hit,” she answered firmly.
“You lied to us?” her Mum asked, the first threads of anger coming into her voice.
Hermione closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She had known that this would be hard, and a tiny guilty part of her wondered if maybe that was why she had so quickly decided to pursue memory charms. She wondered if Draco had guessed.
“Yes. I lied about a lot of things, or left them out,” she finally answered. “There is nothing you could have done to keep me safe, and it was better you not know.”
“We damn well could have kept you out of that school!” her Dad said, standing jerkily.
“No, Dad, you couldn’t have. You can’t keep me away from the world I belong in, and as much as I love you, you aren’t a part of it.” Her Dad stopped, sending her a stricken look.
“It’s not because I want to exclude you, you just simply can’t be. And I need to fight for my world; I need to do everything I can to stop these people before they come into this world and start killing people that can’t stop them.”
“And you can do that?” her Mum asked a strange note in her voice.
“Yes,” Hermione answered, her tone sounding for an instant just like Draco’s that night when he’d stood in front of Harry, shirtless and trembling, waiting for the first cut of the knife and his voice had never wavered. Thinking back, she might have fallen a little in love with him at that moment.
“You’re leaving, aren’t you?” her Mum asked. She had always known her so well. Better than anyone really, so it wasn’t a surprise she could read the intent in her daughter.
“We are. I’m taking you somewhere safe, and then I’m going back to join the Order. The people fighting for the light,” she explained.
“Now hold on a minute. We can’t just pick up and leave, Hermione. We have a practice, and a .. a mortgage, and a life,” her Dad protested.
“None of which you’ll have if Death Eaters show up and torture you to death for the mistake of being my parents!” she yelled, fear cresting and overwhelming her before she could get a better hold on it.
Her Mum suddenly stood, her eyes hard and locking on her daughters. “No matter what happens, it will never be a mistake that you are our child,” she said fiercely before she turned to her husband. “Richard, go start packing. Only things we truly need and want to see again. Don’t forget the picture albums.”
“But Mary…” he said weakly before nodding slowly at the looks both of the women in his life were giving him.
“Where are we going?” her Mum asked once her Dad had slowly climbed the stairs.
“France. There’s a house there that no one knows about. You should be safe there, and I’ll stay for a week or so to set wards and help clean the place. No one has lived there for a couple of hundred years or so, so some of the household spells might need updating. It’s a wizarding house, so it’ll be a bit of an adjustment.”
“Whose house is it?” her Mum had a knowing look in her eye.
She cleared her throat again, inexplicably shy for an instant “Draco’s,” she said quietly.
“Isn’t that the name of that awful boy that you hit?” her Mum just looked confused now.
“Yes, it is,” Hermione looked down at her pants again, tracing the flapping wings. “He’s perhaps less awful than I thought.”
“Oh, well, we all grow up at some point. I’m glad he’s turned over a new leaf,” her Mum said bracingly.
“Is he who you’ve been talking to so much?” she asked, much more quietly.
Hermione nodded, her cheeks pinking slightly. “We’re perhaps a bit more than friends,” she admitted.
“And he’s good to you? None of that name calling he used to do?” her Mum asked sternly.
“Yes, Mum, he’s good. He’s trying so hard,” to her dismay, she could feel her throat closing painfully, and she tried to swallow the lump down. She’d been pretending, ignoring to the best of her abilities that he was in so much danger. She had a horrible suspicion that he had volunteered so quickly because he was trying to protect her.
“Oh sweetheart, I’m sure he’s lovely,” her Mum said quickly, not understanding her distress. The gentle reassurance made it so much worse, and before she knew it, tears that had been trying to get out since she had watched him run up the tower were streaming down her face.
“Oh no, oh, I didn’t mean to upset you,” soft hands patted her hair back as her Mum joined her on the couch, wrapping her arms around her.
Hermione snapped open her cuff and wordlessly summoned a tissue, wiping viciously at her face. “You didn’t, Mum. He’s in a really dangerous place right now, and I’m scared that I’m not going to see him again, that I won’t be able to save him if something goes wrong.”
“Oh. Couldn’t he stay with us? It is his house after all,” she asked tentatively.
Hermione gave her a watery smile, “No, Mum, he can’t.”
Hermione wanted her parents to know the kind of man that their daughter was with, wanted them to know how brave he was, how much he was risking to keep them safe, but she couldn’t risk giving them any more information. She would do what she could to make sure that they didn’t know more than they needed or could be gleaned from the situation they were in.
“Well, I’m sure he’s a wonderful man. I’m looking forward to meeting him,” her Mum said as if it were settled, and there was simply a matter of scheduling a time to visit after the war was over.
Hermione wiped her face once more before she banished the tissue, and resolutely pulled her wand out.
“Right. We need to get going.” She pushed her hair back and quickly began waving her wand, shrinking and sending everything on the ground floor into the expandable pouch she had made last year. She’d emptied it for this exact moment, moving everything over to her bracelet.
Her Mum made a small, startled sound behind her as all the furniture shrunk down small enough to fit in her palm before swirling neatly into the small bag sitting on the floor.
“Go upstairs and pack a small overnight bag, anything you need for a day or so before I have a chance to unpack everything, alright?” Hermione asked, her Mum quickly nodding and hurrying up the stairs.
It took a few hours to finish packing and to make the calls they needed to make to shut down their practice indefinitely. They pulled their savings and paid as many bills as they could and shut off what they needed to. Hermione's Dad didn’t have time to cash out anything, so they were left with just their savings and what was in their accounts, which was less than they liked after they sent a decent severance package and a meaningful apology to their small staff.
Making a quick decision, Hermione told them not to worry about it, that she would make sure they had everything they needed and that they still had a home to come back to after all of this. She hated to ask Harry for money, but he had offered so many times, and she could pay him back. She didn’t want them to lose any more than they had to.
Finally, they were ready. They got back to the house, and Hermione summoned the portkey she had laboriously made after Draco had given her the coordinates and the keywords to get through the wards.
She pulled a small, broken, horse figurine out of her cuff, her Mum smiling at it.
“Here, put one finger on it. It’ll take us where we need to go, but it isn’t the most fun way to travel, and I’ve heard it’s worse for people without magic,” she said apologetically.
Her Dad waved her off and reached forward, her Mum just after him.
“France,” she said quietly, triggering the portkey. The yank behind her navel was as unpleasant as ever, but she tried to keep her attention around her, knowing she would need to brace both her parents when they landed.
A moment later, her trainers sank into soft, muddy loam, and she flung out her hands, her magic wrapping around her parents and stopping them from tumbling face down onto the soggy ground.
Her Dad looked at her for a few seconds, his eyes oddly distant before he spun abruptly and emptied his stomach. Her Mum swallowed a few times heavily but managed to keep everything down.
“Right then,” she said after her Dad had straightened back up and given her a weak thumbs up.
They walked toward the old house, impressed by the size. Of course, Draco’s version of a small country house was three times the size of the house she had grown up in. It was weathered grey stone and had an impressively wild front garden. She could see several wizarding plants and made a mental note to clear out the dangerous ones before she left.
A creeping fern had tangled its way onto the porch steps and waved small fronds at them as they stepped carefully over it, her parents giving it wary looks. The massive door opened smoothly at her muttered password, swinging in silently to reveal polished floors, blessedly free of dust.
At least some of the housekeeping spells seemed to still be working.
Her Mum was looking around, pleased at the large entry hall and the ornate carvings all along the walls. She jumped with a startled squeak when a carving of a vast tree swayed in the wind, it’s leaves rustling softly.
Hermione grinned at her, “Wizarding house Mum, it’ll be a bit different.”
Her Dad had wandered off to the left, exploring what looked to be a dining room.
“Hermione, I thought you said no one would be here? Did your friend decide to come?” his voice drifted from the other room, freezing the breath in her lungs.
Her wand was in her hand, and she was running before she had fully processed what he’d said. She rounded the corner, and the world seemed to slow, information coming in flashes.
A full plate of food on the table, a goblet of pumpkin juice in front of it. A man in loose robes rounding the corner. A wand in his hand, rising. Rising toward her Dad.
Hermione flung her wand out, not bothering to utter a spell, panic making her throw unformed magic between her father and the stranger.
A wave of magic burst from her wand, slamming into the curse that was already on its way to her Dad’s chest. The curse flew to the side, blackening the stone of the wall, her magic barreling on and hitting the man.
He flew back out of sight, the sound of crashing and breaking wood coming from the other room.
Hermione reached forward and yanked her Dad back, pushing him behind her as she stalked forward, wand held ready.
A small pained groan came from what looked to be the kitchen where the man had fallen against a sturdy table in the center of the room, a stool broken around him. His wand lay off to the side, and Hermione summoned it quickly before she threw an incarcerous at the man who was blinking confused, dark eyes at her.
He shifted his head, making his long hair fall back, and she gasped as recognition flashed through her.
“Karkaroff?” she asked, horribly confused. What was the former Durmstrang Headmaster doing here of all places? He was supposed to be dead. Remus had told them he was killed, almost a full year ago.
“You’re that girl, the one from Hogwarts. Potter’s friend,” he muttered in his thick accent, still a bit dazed.
“What the hell are you doing here?” she asked, completely confused. Draco would have told her if he had known there was someone here, especially a death eater, on the run or no.
“Is there anyone with you?” she asked suddenly, spinning just far enough to cast a shield over her parents, who had quietly followed her in.
“No, no one knows I am here,” he said, clarity coming back to his face. “What are you doing here, girl? You must have the passwords to get in...” he trailed off, an awful look coming across his face.
“The boy is a traitor then,” he whispered, his eyes flicking to her huddled parents, clearly wandless. A terrible glee was coming over him, pulling his lips into the rictus of a smile. He was looking at her, at her parents, like they were salvation.
Fear, horrible and crushing, crashed over her. She knew memory charms could be worked around, knew that Riddle wouldn’t care if he ripped apart someone’s mind to get what he needed. She knew that there was no way she would be able to keep him from selling his information to the highest bidder.
She couldn’t keep him; there was too high a risk of him escaping. There was only one way to make sure Draco was safe, but her stomach turned at the thought.
Karkaroff watched her face, watched her flip through her options at light speed, and watched her come to the same conclusion that was wiping the smile off of his face and replacing it with terror.
“No, you cannot. I will tell no one. No one,” he begged, suddenly desperate.
“Hermione?” her Mum’s voice broke her concentration, but she didn’t look away from the Death Eater on the floor.
“It’s alright, he’s the only one here. I need you both to go outside, alright?” she said softly, her hands already shaking.
“Sweetheart..” her Dad’s voice started before he cut off, and she heard their footsteps slowly moving away.
She didn’t count on Karkaroff, though.
“NO!” he screamed, thrashing as much as his bonds would allow. “You cannot leave me to die. You cannot let her kill me!”
“Don’t be stupid, my daughter wouldn’t kill anyone.” Her Dad’s voice came from further away but still too close.
“She will, she..” his voice cut off as she slashed her wand, gagging him.
“Mione, honey, you’re just going to...to use one of those memory charms, right?” her Dad sounded so hopeful, a small trickle of guilt in his voice for even asking.
She opened her mouth to reassure him and choked.
“Memory charms can be broken. Please leave,” she whispered.
“Hermione,” her Mum sounded outraged, horrified.
“Mum, this is war. People die. And some people are worth a hell of a lot more than him,” she got out, her voice only wavering once, trying desperately to convince herself that she could do this, she could do what had to be done.
“No. I won’t let you,” her Dad said, his voice stern like it had been when he’d caught her lying about the flooded bathroom when she was nine.
Karkaroff shifted so hard he sent the broken pieces of the stool scattering. She raised her hand, wand trembling… and a warm hand wrapped around it.
“Hermione, no,” her Dad said.
“You don’t understand,” she cried, spinning on him.
“Then explain it to me,” he responded, voice careful, so careful.
“If he lives, Draco dies. He knows that someone let us in. The only person that could have is Draco. There is no way to completely erase that from his mind, not to the extent that it would stop Riddle from tearing him apart and finding it. The only way to guarantee that Draco is safe, that he can do what he has to win the war, is if Karkaroff dies.” Hermione could hear her voice edging toward hysterics, and wished, wished so much that they would just leave, so she could do what was needed before she lost her nerve and then it wouldn’t be her fault, hers that he died, that he wasn’t there on the other side of the war.
“If it was between a mass murderer dying and Mum, who would you pick?” she asked, forcing calm, her eyes meeting their mirror in his.
Quiet descended, the labored breathing from the man on the floor the only noise, something she couldn’t understand in her father’s eyes.
“Alright. Alright, Pumpkin,” he said gently, making the Death Eater on the floor thrash. “But I’m going to need you to go outside, ok?”
She stared, dumbfounded, at her father. He stood there, so determined in his worn brown cardigan and loafers, the worst scar on him from a six year old biting his hand. He wasn’t tall and was a little soft around the middle, and he spent his weekends working in the yard and watching the telly, and he was going to try and get up the courage to murder a man, so his child didn’t have to.
“Stupify,” she muttered, knocking the death eater out.
Her Dad went pasty and swayed.
“He’s fine, he’ll be out for a bit is all,” and she watched him heave with relief.
Hermione tilted her head back, trying to breathe, trying to decide what to do next.
A frown traced over her brow as a half remembered conversation floated back to her. She’d been in the hospital wing, just after Nott had attacked her. Harry and Severus were there, murmuring, and Harry asked something, something about a memory potion?
She snapped her head back down, her eyes coming open to meeting the scared faces of her parents.
“I need Harry,” she said, mostly to herself. Her Mum nodded a bit frantically, walking over to lace her arm through her Dad’s.
“ Expecto Patronum, ” she said, flipping her wand.
A tiny, wispy shield fell out and drifted to the floor, no dementors to guard against.
It took her less than a second to realise what must have happened sometime in the last several months since she cast it last.
“REALLY?” she shouted at nothing.
She would very much rather have come to some kind of personal realization that she was in love with the pasty git instead of being bludgeoned with it by her damn Patronus.
Neither of her parents commented, both still looking more than a little alarmed.
Hermione paused again, pulling in slow, deep breaths. She reached down, forcing her mind to calm, and pulled up her memories of Draco instead of the soft love she had for her parents, the bright flashes of being held up in the zoo to watch the otters, her Dad’s arms strong and safe as he giggled with her.
She looked for him, and there, in the depths of her mind, she found him. Warmth and challenge, laughter, and weirdly fond irritation. Quiet nights sharing thoughts and watching the icy cold of his stars wheel past. His fear and his bravery. His mask and the small moments he lets her see past it.
“ Expecto Patronum,” she tried again, letting the painful, complicated happiness of him fill her.
A large shape pulled itself from her wand, long tail lashing as it surveyed the room before spinning to look at her curiously. Four feet sank glowing claws into the floor, enormous translucent wings filling the space above her head.
A huge scaled muzzle dropped to her eye level, and she couldn’t help but smile a tiny bit at the eyes that were just a shade more silver than white.
“Honey, did a dragon just come out of your wand?” her Mum asked, voice shaking.
“It’s fine Mum, it’s just a spell,” she reassured absently.
“I need you to go find Harry and Severus, given them my location and tell Harry I need him here as soon as he can make it. The password to get through the wards is ‘Toujours Pur.’ Don’t deliver the message until he and Severus are alone,” She reached out to press her hand to the head of the massive creature, earning herself a fizzling bump of horns before it spun and took off through the wall.
“Wizarding phones?” her Dad asked, a bit breathless.
“Something like that,” she said as she opened her cuff and summoned out the notebook. Regardless of what happened when Harry got there, Draco needed to know that the house was compromised and that she would need to take her parents back to their home for the time being.
She only had to wait a few minutes for his reply, finally having caught a small bit of luck.
What do you mean, Karkaroff is there? He’s dead. Are you ok? Did he hurt you? I’m coming over there
Don’t, it’s dangerous. We can manage. I called Harry and Severus, they should be here soon
Good, Sev has a potion that should take care of everything, but I’m still coming. One good thing, no one is watching me anymore. You were right, I’m above being questioned
Draco, I don’t like the idea of you risking yourself for this, it’s stupid
Bloody fucking hell Malfoy
She slammed the notebook shut just as the sharp crack of apparation echoed through the open front door.
“Mione? You ok?”
Harry’s voice trailed in, followed shortly by the man himself. He was dressed in worn jeans and an old t-shirt with the Firebolt emblem starting to wear and crack. His dark hair was lighter than usual, liberally coated in dust, and his hand clutched his wand deceptively loosely.
Hermione walked over and stopped in front of him before letting her forehead fall to his chest. Solid arms wrapped around her shoulders, and he gently patted her hair, his wand snapping back into the forearm holster once he saw she wasn’t in immediate danger.
“That bad, uh?” he asked. She could hear Severus stalking in the door behind him. No doubt he had made a round of the yard to make sure it was safe.
“This has been a truly dreadful day,” she muttered into his shirt, noticing that he smelled a bit like a musty attic.
“Like troll in the dungeon or stuck in the shrieking shack with werewolf bad?” he asked, hands still slowly stroking her hair.
“I forgot about an assignment. One of Snape’s assignments,” she added, thinking of the appropriate level of crappy things. A small snort of amusement came from off to the side, the man himself having rejoined them after looking over the stunned death eater.
“Forgot an assignment, um? Today is obviously much worse than you led me to believe,” the cool drawling voice came from behind Harry and made her jerk her head back.
Harry smiled a bit and shifted sideways to stand shoulder to shoulder with Severus, clearing the path for the tall blond behind him.
Hermione darted across the entrance hall and wrapped herself around Draco, grumbling about him being an idiot all the while.
He curled around her, his taller frame closing off the world in a way that Harry’s didn’t. She relaxed, letting her cheek rest against the cool silk of his robes.
“You alright, love?” he asked quietly, his voice tight with suppressed emotion.
She nodded, suddenly exhausted. She didn’t want to do this again, spend weeks trying to figure out what to do, where to send them. She needed to be with Harry, working on Horcrux hunting, ending this.
“I take it this is the result of attempting to hide Ms. Granger’s parents?” Severus’ voice broke in, making Hermione pull back and face the rest of the room, her small moment of comfort doing wonders for her nerves.
“We decided that they would be safest in the last place anyone would look. I’d no idea anyone knew this place existed, and no one should have had the password,” Draco said, looking more than a little troubled.
“I assume your mother gave it to him at some point in the past,” Severus continued. “We will need to do something about him and decide where your parents should go.”
“I guess, for now, we should just go back to the house,” Hermione said, not having a better idea.
Harry shook his head. “There’s been reports of werewolves attacking muggleborns and their families. I was going to tell you when you got to the Grimmauld, and since you said you were hiding your parents, I didn’t want to risk a message.”
Hermione swallowed heavily and shuddered at the memory of Greyback tearing down the halls at Hogwarts, his nails curved into wicked claws.
“Alright, so, we need a better option,” she muttered.
“Let us deal with Karkaroff first,” Severus said, already turning toward the kitchen. Her Dad made a small noise of unhappiness but moved out of the way.
“Ennervate,” Snape’s deep voice brought Karkaroff around. The Death Eater looked confused for a moment, finding himself surrounded by people. It took him a few seconds to process who he was looking at, but when he did, his face bleached of colour.
“Severus, what… What are you doing here?” he whispered.
The potions master ignored him in favor of drawing out a bottle of ice blue potion from his cuff, followed by dragon hide gloves and a thin silver knife. The Death Eater on the floor jerked at the sight of the blade.
“Do be still, Igor. I’ve no intention of stabbing you,” Severus looked down at him, one eyebrow arched condescendingly.
“How much can you erase with that?” Harry asked suddenly, looking curiously at the vial.
“Absolutely? A few days. Theoretically, several years, but that may require ingestion, and there’s been no way to test it properly,” he answered as he pulled on his gloves.
“And there’s no way to break it?” Draco asked, having come up behind Hermione and let his hand curl protectively over her shoulder.
“No. It is not a memory charm, which sections off and blocks the memories. This destroys them,” he answered, making Karkaroff’s eyes widen, and shoulders slump in relief. The Death Eater was smart enough to understand his options and not at all confident in his ability to talk his way out of a nasty end with Severus there.
“Before I do this, I suggest you tell us where you got the password and how long you’ve been hiding here,” Snape said, looking down at the bound man. “I needn’t remind you that if I believe you are lying to me, things will become… unpleasant for you.”
Karkaroff nodded slowly and struggled a bit to get himself into a somewhat more comfortable position.
“Narcissa told me about this place years ago. She and Lucius had invited me and a few others to the Chateau for New Years, and Lucius mentioned that they owned an old Black property here. I don’t remember what brought it up, but we had all had a bit to drink, and Lucius was set on looking to see if it was anything worthwhile.” Karkaroff managed to lean himself against the table and angle his neck to a better position.
“We apparated over, and I remember Narcissa saying the password. Yaxley asked how she knew since she’d never visited, and she said, ‘All Black properties have the same default password, our family motto’ ” he replied.
“Bloody hell,” Draco whispered.
“The password is the Black family motto? Always Pure?” Harry asked a look of disgust on his face. “Oh, I am changing that. Severus help me decide on something less terrible.”
Severus ignored the demand in favor of motioning Karkaroff on.
“I’ve been here for almost six months. I ran and hid in the middle east for a short while, after faking my death, but the Dark Lords reach is far, and I’ve fewer people who owe me favors outside of Europe.”
“You’ve had no contact with other Death Eaters then?” Severus asked.
Karkaroff gave him a withering look, “Of course not. I would not be alive if that were the case.”
“Very well,” Severus said, moving forward to kneel next to the other man. Harry shifted with him, reaching out to grip onto the Bulgarians face and hold him still.
“Wait, wait. What will you do after?” he asked, trying to pull away from the painfully tight grip Harry had on him.
“You’ll be left here,” Severus said, making Karkaroff slump with relief. “For Draco to choose how to deal with you,” he finished, watching the man tense again.
“Potter, can you drop an anonymous tip that there are Death Eaters hiding here? I’ll change the wards after he gets picked up,” Draco asked.
“No, no. Malfoy, they’ll kill me,” Karkaroff begged, dark eyes frantic.
“That’s not my problem,” Draco answered, his voice cold.
“And what? You think your father deserves the same treatment? He did the same as me, Malfoy,” Karkaroff yelled, making Draco stiffen.
“My father deserves every single moment he spends locked away,” Draco hissed. “You forget Karkaroff, I’ve the same mark you do. I know what you did. I know the kinds of things that the Dark Lord demanded of you. My father chose to stay to follow him. He’s as much of a monster as any of you are.”
He was shaking as he backed a step, sending a quick nod to his godfather before he turned and left on rapid feet, Hermione a few steps behind him.
The warm, early summer air brought the sounds of crickets as they stepped into the dimming light. The murmur of voices fell away as they walked further toward the low rise of bushes that lined the property, and Draco finally came to rest at a cracked, dry fountain that Hermione hadn’t seen on the way in.
She didn’t say anything, just walked to his side and laced their fingers together. There wasn’t anything she could say. She couldn’t imagine what he was going through, and all she could hope was that somewhere after all of this was done, he would be able to find himself again.
“I’m not like them,” he said suddenly, tight with anger.
“No, you’re not,” Hermione responded quietly.
“Even if I let him die,” his voice carried just the faintest hint of a question, the barest need to be reassured.
“I tried to kill him. My Dad stopped me,” she admitted flatly.
Draco turned to look down at her with wide eyes.
“I didn’t know about the potion. It was him or you,” she explained.
“Oh,” he said softly, his fingers tightening on hers.
She could feel the lump in her chest, the guilt of that moment wrapped up all around the horror of knowing she would have done it. That she would still do it.
“You really are completely terrifying Granger,” he said as he slid an arm around her shoulders. It startled a laugh out of her, and she let herself lean on him, grateful for his dismissal of her confession.
They stood still, watching the last golden rays sink, and the first hint of stars start glittering, both of them silent.
Eventually, the slow tromp of trainers over the soggy ground came, accompanied by Harry muttering something about no lights and holes as he made it to the fountain.
“Sorry to interrupt, but he’s had an idea, and I need you to tell Severus that he’s lost his bloody mind,” Harry said.
“Oh? And what exactly is it that makes you think that he will listen to anyone if he’s ignoring you?” Draco asked archly.
Even in the dim light, Hermione could see the way Harry flushed, but he didn’t deny it. “I need back up,” he said instead.
“Very well, Potter. What’s he done now?” the blond asked as he turned them back toward the house.
“He’s decided that the best place to put Hermione’s parents is with your mum,” Harry said, sounding bewildered.
Draco paused at that, his face lit by the light from the front window. “Actually, for lack of a better option, that’s not perhaps the worst idea.”
Harry eyed him like he’d perhaps slipped and injured his head during their walk. “Malfoy, I know you’re all reformed and whatnot, and don’t get me wrong, I’m glad,” he hastened to add at Hermione’s sharp look. “It’s just that your Mum isn’t so much..” he trailed off as he ducked back inside.
Everyone had moved to the front room and were settled into chairs and couches, though Karkaroff was notably absent. A low, heatless fire crackled in the grate, casting light but keeping the room from becoming unpleasantly warm. The decor was several centuries out of date, but everything looked to be in good repair, even if it was all rather overly ornate.
“Stunned and dosed with a sleeping potion,” Harry answered her unasked question, watching as she cast about for the Death Eater.
“Well, I think it sounds like a lovely idea,” her Mum was saying with a note of forced cheerfulness.
Harry slumped down onto the couch next to Severus, absently leaning heavily onto the other man and ignoring the odd looks he got from her parents.
Severus gave him a look of tolerant amusement that seemed reserved for Harry alone before he shifted to allow the younger man to settle more comfortably.
Hermione let herself sit down on the smaller couch next to Draco, curling her hand around his when he took it. In the better light, she noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the slight looseness of his robes across his chest. He looked so tired, his typically proud frame slumping almost as much as Harry.
Her first reaction to the idea of putting her parents in a small cottage for an indefinite amount of time with Narcissa Malfoy was to laugh and ask what the real plan was. But Draco seemed to think it might be reasonable, and he knew his mother better than anyone here did.
“For how short our notice is, I believe the best option is the cottage. It has already had a significant amount of work done to ensure the safety of the occupants. If somehow they are found, Narcissa is not a witch to be trifled with,” Severus explained, his tone indicating he was repeating himself.
“And what good is it hiding them from Death Eaters and then sending them to her?” Harry said sharply, sitting up with a glare. “Sorry, Malfoy, but your mum isn’t exactly known for her love of muggles, and she’s been awful enough to Hermione.”
“I’ll speak with her,” Draco said quietly. “She may not like it, but she’ll learn to deal with it.” His voice was surprisingly hard.
“I’m sorry dear, I don’t believe we’ve been introduced, I’m Hermione’s mum,” she said suddenly, standing and offering a hand to Draco.
Draco flushed a dark red and stood in a scramble. “My apologies Mrs. Granger, Mr. Granger,” he uttered quickly, obviously embarrassed at his lapse. “Draco Malfoy,” he said, dropping the slew of titles that even six months ago he would have tacked onto his name. He gave them both a rather wain smile before retaking his seat.
“And you are?” her Mum asked, her tone a bit chillier as she faced Severus. Severus didn’t scramble, instead standing gracefully and talking her hand, his tall frame and night black eyes making a hint of wariness cross both her parents' faces.
“Severus Snape,” he answered, one brow raised expectantly.
“Richard,” her Dad said, sitting back down when her former professor turned his piercing gaze on him.
“Mary,” her Mum said absently. “Hermione, don’t you have a Professor Snape?” she asked, sharp disapproval in her tone when she looked between him and Harry.
“Former Professor,” Severus said just as sharply, sitting back down next to Harry, his spine rigid.
Her Mum looked at him with narrowed eyes for a moment longer before she turned to Harry. “Harry dear, it’s lovely to see you again. Why don’t you come sit with me, and we can catch up a bit,” she said, patting the chair beside her.
If possible, Severus stiffened further, a faint flush coming to his cheeks as he shifted slightly away from Harry.
Harry sent her Mum a sweet smile and promptly closed the distance between himself and Severus, reaching out to tangle their hands together. “Thanks, Mrs. Granger, but I’m good here,” he responded, his eyes chips of emerald ice. Severus flushed a darker pink but didn’t protest, lacing his fingers through Harry’s.
Hermione smiled a bit at them, glad that her and Draco’s talked seemed to have helped.
“I believe that if we are to avoid further possible entanglements, we should leave soon,” Severus said after a moment.
Draco stood stiffly, rocking his head side to side to loosen his neck. “I’ll go ahead. Have you got a portkey?” he asked Hermione.
She nodded and tilted her head up to accept a quick kiss. “Give me twenty minutes, alright?”
She nodded again and watched him stride out of the house, his posture once again perfect, every inch the pureblood wizard.
A throat cleared off to the side “So, you’ve a boyfriend then?” her Dad asked pleasantly.
Hermione just shook her head at Harry’s muffled snort of laughter.
When they arrived, landing hard just inside the small gate, it was raining. It wasn’t a pleasantly warm summer rain, but an icy wash of water that carried more than a hint of the sea.
Harry stumbled, caught himself, and stumbled again after trying to keep Mr. Granger upright. A small put upon sigh hit his ear just as a long arm wrapped around his waist and stopped him from tumbling over. Harry grinned, leaning back into Severus after he had let go of Hermione’s dad.
They all hurried to the door and ducked through as it opened for them, an angry and somewhat ruffled Slytherin on the other side. He hit Hermione with warming and drying charms before she’d gotten two steps inside, her shivering tapering off quickly. Harry gave Severus a rather woeful look and got a huff of disbelieving laughter for his trouble.
He grumbled and pulled out his wand, drying them both, though he did send an extra fluff of warm air through Severus' hair, making the long black strands float around the thin, scowling face.
“You’re a menace,” Severus said as he stalked off.
Harry grinned at Hermione and Draco, far too amused.
“I’ll never understand why he loves you,” Draco declared, shaking his head.
“Because I’m charming, Malfoy. Something you clearly don’t grasp,” Harry taunted, refusing to admit that a small part of him missed their rivalry, though having no actual hatred under the insults did make it a bit more fun.
Draco shot Hermione a betrayed look when she held up her hands in surrender and followed Severus into the kitchen.
Harry made his way toward the front room and had just rounded the corner when a stinging hex caught him across his ankle. He yelped and hopped on one foot, his eyes watering as Draco sauntered past with a decidedly smug look on his face.
Severus walked past him with a tray of tea, smirking at his slight wince when he poked his ankle.
Harry made it over just as everyone else was seated and fell down beside Severus, raising one hand to Malfoy in a silent request for a truce. He hadn’t noticed until then that the chair near the dark window was occupied, a tall blond woman he hadn’t seen in almost half a year watching them quietly.
Harry’s narrowed his eyes at her, all humor falling from his face as he was starkly reminded that this woman could very well have killed Severus. He had tried to understand, had tried to grasp what he would do in her position, but he never could end up where she had.
Long fingers wrapped around his, bringing his attention back. Severus raised one eyebrow with a pointed look. Harry pulled a face at him but turned back and grabbed the cup of tea Severus had made for him.
“So, my son tells me you are planning on having.. others.. stay here as well?” her voice was cold, a thread of distaste evident.
Harry glanced up when he realised she was asking him and, for just an instant, let loose his overwhelming desire to be petty.
“Well, they’re Hermione’s parents, and it’s her house, so it makes sense they would stay here if they needed to,” he said, far too innocently.
Draco choked on his tea, making Hermione lean over and thump him soundly on the back.
Narcissa looked startled, her eyes darting around the room “I’m afraid I was under the impression that the home was yours, Mr. Potter.”
He nodded agreeably, “Sure, sure, it’s still in my family name since we don’t want to draw attention to a property transfer, but that’s just a formality. It’s Hermione’s house. It was a Christmas present,” he tacked on, just to watch her eyes bug out a little.
“I see,” she said faintly, her face closing down.
“Harry for Merlin’s sake, be nice,” Hermione finally muttered, setting her tea down. “I’m not going to ask you to leave Mrs. Malfoy if that’s what you’re worried about.”
A tiny bit of the tension in the slender woman dropped away, making Harry feel just a little bad for scaring her.
“The safehouse we were trying to set up for my parents fell through, and their home is no longer safe. This is the only place we have that’s already set up to hide someone, and honestly, we simply don’t have time or the opportunity to set up something similar for them right now,” she explained.
“You hardly owe me an explanation, Ms. Granger. It is, as Mr. Potter pointed out, your home.” Her mouth twisted in unhappiness, but she didn’t complain.
“On a note about the safehouse, exactly how many Black properties do the death eaters know about?” Draco broke in, still obviously upset at the Karkaroff incident.
“You should assume all of them. I’ve no idea who your father told about our holdings,” Narcissa answered.
An awkward silence descended on the room, the soft clink of mugs and the crackle of the fire keeping complete silence at bay.
Hermione’s Mum slowly set her mug down and stood. She walked carefully up to Narcissa and resolutely held out a hand.
“Mary Granger,” she announced.
Harry could see where Hermione got her courage from, and he imagined if this woman had been born a witch, she would have worn red and gold as well.
A moment of hesitation passed before Narcissa stretched out a hand in return, “Narcissa Malfoy, Lady of the Most Noble and Ancient House of Malfoy.”
“Merlin Mother,” Draco muttered, hanging his head.
Hermione’s Mum visibly started and looked like she was confused about whether she should curtsy.
“Oh. I didn’t realise you were part of the nobility,” Mrs. Granger said with a small smile as she retreated.
Narcissa’s mouth pinched. “You would have had my son shown his manners and properly introduced himself,” she said, disapproval radiating from her.
“Oh, he did,” she rushed to reassure the witch “he just left off the noble and most ancient part is all.”
“Did he?” Narcissa turned to her son, seemingly disquieted to find him staring back at her pointedly.
“Yes, Mother, I’ve found that parading about a title to those who were not raised in our world comes off a bit pompous.”
Harry couldn’t help it, he snickered. Eyes shot to him as he coloured slightly. “What? He’s not wrong. Can you imagine if I went around introducing myself by my titles? Everyone would think I was a wanker,” he said defensively.
“Yes, Potter, but that’s because you are a wanker, regardless of your lordships,” Malfoy shot back.
Harry raised his tea mug in acknowledgment of the hit, having set himself up nicely for it.
“Is anyone here not part of the magical nobility?” Mr. Granger asked softly.
Severus raised a hand in a lazy wave, not bothering to mention that he was on his mother's side.
“Right,” Mr. Granger said faintly.
Draco set his mug down and stood slowly, “I need to get back to the Manor. There’s only so long I can be missing before people start thinking they can question me.”
He walked over and accepted a hug from his mother, who whispered something to him that made him nod before he pulled back.
Severus inclined his head in lieu of goodbye. Harry sent a small wave to him from his spot on the couch.
To Draco’s clear surprise, Mrs. Granger stood and enclosed him in a quick hug. “You be careful, alright? I don’t know what all you’re doing, but Hermione says it’s dangerous.” She patted his cheek before sitting back down next to her husband, who smiled a little weakly at him.
Draco just nodded, still looking a bit shocked.
Harry felt a knot in his chest relax when Draco reached down for Hermione’s hand and pulled her to him tightly. A relieved smile took over her face when he didn’t hesitate to let his Mother see that she was important to him, that they were something more.
She followed him out of the room so they could say their goodbyes in the relative privacy of the entryway. A few moments later, the door closed, and a sharp crack of apparation came from the front yard.
Narcissa got up as Hermione came back in, her face paler than even her complexion could account for. “I believe I’ll retire for the night,” she said quietly before taking the stairs on hurried feet.
The room relaxed as she left, and Harry let himself lean back on the couch. His back hurt from spending the last few days cleaning Grimmauld place and trying to make it a place that might be safe to live in. He missed their rooms at Hogwarts, and he wanted Severus to be happy with where they were living, even if it was temporary.
“I believe it is time we were going home,” Severus said quietly, making Harry’s chest give a tiny flutter at the word ‘home’.
Harry nodded and groaned his way upright. They’d left in a hurry when the huge dragon had come bursting through the floor and spoken in Hermione’s hurried voice. Remus and Tonks were at headquarters and would want to know what had happened. Those two had apparently been busy dancing around each other, much to Harry’s surprise, but they seemed to have settled happily enough.
“Mione, you staying?” Harry asked. She thought for a few moments, then shook her head.
“Just long enough to unpack a few things and get them settled. I’ll head to Grimmauld tonight,” she answered.
Harry nodded, and they bid their goodbyes to Mr. and Mrs. Granger, and if Harry’s goodbye to Hermione’s Mum was a bit colder than it would have been, she had earned it when she’d made Severus uncomfortable.
They landed in the small courtyard of Grimmauld and traipsed through the open french doors into the kitchen. It was already warm in London, and with how much dust Harry had been stirring up, Severus had finally opened every door and window and set some kind of air circulating spell. For the first time in who knew how long the house didn’t smell like musty mildew.
A few order members were in the kitchen, and they paused long enough for everyone to join them before they relayed the events of the day, getting a promise from Tonks that she would alert the French Auror force to Karkaroff’s location.
Everyone was starting to drift off, mugs of coffee or tea held in most hands when the floo flared, and a veritable sea of redheads poured out. Harry found himself with an armful of Ron and Fred, and before he knew what was happening, he was being danced around the kitchen in a strange stumbling circle of too many limbs.
Harry pulled away, laughing and ducked behind Molly, where she had bustled out of the fire, a basket slung over her arm.
“What’s all this then?” he asked, still smiling at the antics of his pseudo brothers.
“I’m getting married!” a voice crowed from behind him. Harry turned to find Bill climbing from the fire, pausing to hold a hand out to Fleur as she stepped through after him.
“Congratulations, mate!” Harry yelled, hugging Bill and Fleur in turn. She was so happy she swooped down and kissed both his cheeks, just like that day years ago at the edge of an icy black lake.
A small impromptu party was staged, Order members being pulled from all over the house to join them. Hermione showed up a few hours in and gave her congratulations, accepting her invite happily, along with a glass of wine that Severus handed her on his way to hide behind Harry.
It was long hours until the house settled down again, and they found themselves crawling into bed with gritty eyes.
“I am too old to be socializing this much,” Severus complained as he burrowed under the heavy comforter, one of Harry’s oversized shirts dipping at the neck and showing sharply defined collarbones.
Harry just smiled and climbed in to join him, worming his way over to Severus’ side of the bed. He got a small grumble for his trouble, but Severus raised his head and slid his mouth over Harry’s in a slow goodnight kiss.
Severus shifted until he could tuck Harry against him, his chest tight to the younger man’s back, and Harry let himself fall asleep, tangled up in him.
For I'm so scared of losing you
And I don't know what I can do about it
So tell me how long, love, before you go
And leave me here on my own
I know that I don't wanna know
Who I am without you
-Bears Den, Agape
Severus woke to sharp sunlight filling their bedroom, and the heat of Harry’s arm thrown heavy over his chest. He blinked slowly, staring blankly at the ceiling as he traced an idle hand over Harry’s forearm, enjoying the quiet of the morning.
He was going to need to keep an eye on the situation at the cottage. He didn’t believe that Narcissa would be stupid enough to do anything to Granger’s parents, but he didn’t know her as well as he once had. He knew that both of them had portkeys that would take them straight to the kitchen, two floors down if something went genuinely wrong, but he very much hoped that would not come about.
He did not think Draco would forgive her that.
The glowing dragon appearing through the floor of the attic that he and Harry had spent the last few days trying to clear had been enough to shock him, though in retrospect, changing Patronus’ seemed to be in style right now. Even Tonks was sending a large, shaggy wolf with her messages these days, something that made Lupin blush furiously every time he saw it
A low, pitiful groan brought his attention to the limp body beside his, and his lips curled up at the edges before he could stop himself. Harry muttered something distinctly uncomplimentary about the thickness of their curtains before he shifted himself in an awkward scoot up and over Severus. He stopped when he was lying mostly atop him and could bury his face in Severus' neck, his sleepy mutterings taking on a much happier edge.
Severus reached up and slipped his fingers into Harry’s wild hair, letting the black locks slide through his hand as he dug the tips of his fingers into the tight muscles of Harry’s neck and scratched gently at his scalp. A frankly indecent noise was his reward, followed by mumbled promises of all of the Potter and Black wealth if he never stopped.
He laughed quietly and pressed a soft, tentative kiss to the side of Harry’s head before Severus rolled him onto the far side of the bed to get free. He was still cautious about initiating anything, not wanting to push Harry. Besides, he could barely believe that he was allowed these small touches and privately feared he would lean down to kiss Harry only to have the other man recoil, no matter how welcoming he seemed now.
“Noooo,” a quiet, sad protest came from the other man at his gentle removal, but Harry put his shield up despite his complaint so Severus could climb out of bed.
Severus gathered clothes for another day of cleaning the house, interspersed with Order meetings, and now, at last, conversations with Granger about possible Horcruxes. Minerva was due by sometime tomorrow to speak with them about what she had found and would hopefully have some idea about the Ravenclaw object.
While Severus wasn’t precisely fond of their slow attempts to get Grimmauld Place into order, it was an unfortunate necessity. Various Order members had stayed for short stints, but there had been no one truly living on site since Black, and a number of both simple repairs and more complex magical problems had been neglected. Severus had insisted that they take a few hours each day to make it safer and to clear out areas so they might be repurposed.
Severus frowned at his neatly hung dress shirts and robes, one of his now two pairs of muggle jeans already in his arms.
“Harry, may I borrow one of your shirts? That curse in the wallpaper destroyed the only one I didn’t mind losing.”
A grunt of acknowledgment came from the bed.
“Dare I ask if there are any you prefer I take?” he asked Harry’s disregard for his clothing familiar to him now.
“Don’t take my Cannons shirt, Ron got it for me and would go mental. Otherwise, go wild” came the slightly more coherent response.
After some digging, Severus unearthed a long sleeved maroon Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shirt; the three overlapping W’s a surprisingly tasteful dark gold.
When he got back from changing, he walked into the room to find Harry digging for a shirt of his own, a pair of threadbare jeans the only thing on him.
Severus felt his heart stutter as he looked at the man who, for some unfathomable reason, seemed to have chosen him, and he found himself once again wondering when Harry would come to his senses.
Harry glanced up and shot him a bright smile, pulling a plain grey shirt over his head and brushing a quick kiss over Severus’ lips as he walked by, a pair of socks and his wand holster balled up in his hand.
Severus made his way to the kitchen, losing Harry to the bathroom on the way, and started coffee for them both. A few scones sat on the back of the stove under a warming charm and looked suspiciously like one of Tonks’ attempts at cooking, their slightly undercooked and lumpy surfaces giving them away.
“You’ll want to stay away from those,” Lupin said as he ambled in.
Severus forced back the sneer that was fighting to take over his face. He had been trying to avoid actively antagonizing the wolf for Harry’s sake, with mixed success.
“Harry up yet?” Lupin asked, the same delicate tension in his voice that had been there for the last week, ever since he’d watched Harry absentmindedly kiss Severus in thanks when he’d handed over a cup of heavily doctored tea.
The following argument had ended abruptly when Lupin had accused Severus of forcing Harry, and Harry had stuck Lupin to the wall and left him there until Tonks had shown up for dinner, hours later, and politely asked that Harry take him down.
Harry had apologized when he unstuck the stiff werewolf but made it very clear that he wouldn’t tolerate that sort of accusation being leveled against Severus.
Severus had ridden the high from that incident for days.
For years Harry’s protectiveness of those he loved had been both an irritant and a source of amusement for Severus, if only because it had made him so easy to rile. Everyone at school knew that if they wanted to start something with Harry, all that was needed was to upset Granger or Weasley.
Finding himself on the other side of the younger wizards easily raised ire was a novelty. That Harry had so quickly taken his side against one of his father's closest friends had soothed some small part of him that had ached since his years at Hogwarts.
Lupin had quietly apologized two days later, earning a small amount of goodwill back from Harry, but their relationship was still strained.
“He should be down in a moment,” Severus answered, pouring out two cups of coffee and splashing milk in both, tipping a half teaspoon of sugar into Harry’s after a momentary evaluation of Harry’s coherency that morning.
Silence fell but was broken before it became awkward as two voices drifted down the stairs and proceeded two thirds of the Golden Trio through the door. Weasley shuffled in, his head still turned to talk to Granger, and narrowly missed tripping over Lupin, who had picked the chair closest to and most in the way of the door.
A head of tousled black hair popped around the corner following behind his two best friends. Harry gave Lupin a slightly strained smile as he inched past everyone to fall gratefully onto the bench beside Severus and snag his cup of coffee. He brushed his knuckles gently over Severus’ in thanks, never taking his eyes off of the Gryffindors.
His skin tingled pleasantly, and he suppressed the urge to pry one of Harry’s hands free of his mug to hold properly.
“But ‘Mione, you have to help. I don’t have any idea how to charm the garden to ‘glow with fairy lights,’ and Mum will murder me if I don’t figure it out,” Weasely said, eyes deadly serious as he looked at her over the top of an undercooked scone.
Hermione gave both man and pastry a disgusted look before she started water for tea.
“Ron, that’s hardly high on our to-do list. Your mum will understand,” she tried to explain, making Harry snort a bit of his coffee in laughter.
“When’s the wedding anyway?” Harry asked, ignoring Granger’s narrowed eyes.
“August 1st, right after your birthday, mate,” Weasley answered, not seeming to have noticed that he was eating a significant amount of raw dough. “Mum was thinking you could come over a few days before and help with the wedding stuff, and we could have your birthday party too.”
Harry made a small noise of agreement.
A pause fell over the room as everyone fetched breakfast and watched in fascination as Ron took a second scone. Harry pulled a small package of muggle biscuits from his pocket and set them in front of Severus before he wandered off to refill his coffee.
Harry had started leaving small offerings for him a few weeks after they’d spoken about his issues with food. Somewhere along the way, Harry must have noticed that Severus tended to eat pre-packed foods that held no hint of magic more often than anything else and had taken it upon himself always to have some sort of muggle snack on his person.
They never spoke of it outright, and other than some odd looks, no one asked. To Severus’ complete shock, he had managed to gain several pounds and didn’t feel quite so exhausted all of the time. No matter how many nutrient potions he made himself drink, they had never been able to make up entirely for actual food.
Harry retook his spot next to Severus, absently finishing an apple, his eyes a bit distant as he considered something.
“Severus, I think we should deal with the locket today,” Harry said suddenly, making everyone pause.
“Are you certain?” Severus asked, brows slanted.
Harry nodded, “I didn’t want to say anything until we were somewhere safe, and we could check, but it didn’t feel right when I picked it up.”
“How so?” Severus asked sharply.
“It didn’t feel like the diary. It just felt like a necklace,” he said, green eyes troubled.
Severus considered this for a moment, not likely the possible connotations, before nodding in agreement.
“There’s the small room we cleared in the basement last week. It has enough old warding that I would feel comfortable opening it there,” he said finally as he finished off the last of his biscuits and banished the wrapper with a flick of his wrist.
Severus stood but paused at the scrape of chairs as the rest of the room came to their feet.
He raised a questioning brow, “There is hardly enough room for everyone, and I think it might be wiser were we to limit the amount of potential injured.”
Weasley grumbled but sat back down quickly enough, hiding a mildly relieved look.
Granger stepped back but stayed standing, her eyes fixed on Lupin, who had stepped forward.
Severus wanted to dismiss him, but he knew that Lupin had been selected as the defense professor not just as a favor, but because he had been the best candidate. As much as he hated to admit it, Lupin was skilled.
He turned to meet the green eyes already looking at him expectantly. Harry tilted his head the tiniest bit and lifted his shoulder slightly, making it clear that he would defer to Severus’ choice in this.
“Alright, Lupin, let's get on with it,” he snapped, not happy but also not willing to risk Harry being injured just to avoid the wolf.
Granger settled back beside Weasley without comment, returning to her tea and toast. Severus caught himself wondering more and more often where the pushy know it all had gone and why he hadn’t noticed the change in her sooner.
They trekked down the dim basement stairs, taking careful steps to avoid dips in the stone that had filled with a greasy brown slime and would send the unwary tumbling into the darkness below.
A layer of colder air enveloped his legs and climbed as he descended, like walking into a water-filled cave. The basement had been mostly unused for years, the only rooms with any regular traffic were the cold storage and the wine cellar, and even those had very little use after Black had died.
He and Harry had spent a day the previous week cleaning out the cold storage and two smaller offset rooms, one of which was built specifically for dangerous spell casting and had wards that rivaled those at Hogwarts.
They arrived in short order, and Harry sent a quick spell around to light the torches and dispel the cloying darkness. The room had a thick oak door with ruins carved in nearly every spare inch of it and worryingly enough, a lock on the outside.
Lupin gave the obvious lock a dubious look, and Severus had to wonder if perhaps the Blacks had a somewhat furry secret in their past.
They traipsed in and arranged themselves at equal distance points in the small room, claustrophobic now with the door closed.
“Alright, so how do we do this?” Harry asked, eyeing Severus’ cuff where he knew the locket to be.
“You mentioned that the diary was not able to harm you until it had taken a significant amount of energy from Ms. Weasley, correct?” Severus asked, wanting clarification before they did anything incredibly stupid.
“Yeah, right. I mean, it could only talk back, it didn’t seem to be able to do anything else to me, but it did control Ginny,” Harry answered in a stumble.
Severus paused to consider their options, a frown pulling his mouth down. On the one hand, waiting until they could approach with a fully formed and tested plan would be much safer, and if the locket was a Horcrux, the time delay in destroying it wouldn’t be enough to create a problem. However, if it was just a piece of jewelry, then they were wasting valuable time that could be used to hunt the real Horcrux.
“Very well, if we are ready?” Severus asked, making his decision as he pulled the small sealed box from his cuff and eyeing both Harry and Lupin. Both had their wands up, shields already cast, and ready to expand.
Severus stepped forward and set the box into the center of the wards inlaid into the floor and unsealed the box. The locket that Severus had seen in the house elf's memory lay innocently and did not give off any evident magic. Either it was exceptionally well shielded, or Harry’s suspicions were right, and it was not a Horcrux.
Severus levitated the locket, and with a flick of his wrist, opened it.
Harry took a tense step forward, his shield passing over Severus to settle between him and the locket.
With a flash of white, a bit of paper fluttered to the floor, the locket remaining still and silent. All three men froze, wands shifted to point at the small note.
Harry joined him, and before Severus could stop him, he reached out and grabbed the locket from the air, studying it with his free hand.
“Well, it’s not one,” Harry said into the resounding silence, ignoring the outraged look Severus was throwing at him.
“If you intended to grab the potentially lethally cursed object at the first opportunity, perhaps you could have saved us the trip to the warded room,” Severus seethed.
Harry flushed but shrugged, “What? It didn’t feel like the other one,” he said, careful to avoid mentioning Horcruxes in front of Lupin.
Lupin made a small unhappy noise and pocketed his wand. “What does the paper say?” he asked quietly, obviously trying to head off the argument he could see coming.
Severus spent another moment glaring at Harry before he reluctantly turned his attention away. “I’m going to go grey early,” he muttered as he picked up the folded note.
“And it’ll look great on you,” Harry said cheerfully as he leaned around Severus to peer at the paper with interest.
Severus could feel his cheeks burning at Harry’s casual words, and pointedly ignored him. Lupin crowded in on his other side as the three of them skimmed through the note.
"To the Dark Lord
I know I will be dead long before you read this, but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real locket and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more.
“Who the bloody hell is R.A.B.?” Harry asked, his fingers fiddling with the fake locket.
Lupin had stiffened as he read through it but didn’t ask any questions. He had been told there were objects of power that needed to be destroyed, but not that they held the Dark Lord’s soul. The mention of mortality might very well be the clue he needed to understand precisely what it was they were hunting.
Something about the initials tickled Severus’ memory, but he couldn’t quite grasp it. All three men read through the note again before starting back to the kitchen.
“Well, it’s good news, though, yeah? I mean one more destroyed, right?” Harry asked, turning his head to look down the stairs at the other two and nearly putting his foot into a spot of slick brown slime.
“Well, it could be, but it does say that this person was going to try, not that they succeeded,” Lupin answered, making Harry’s face fall.
Weasley and Granger were waiting anxiously in the kitchen for them, both having finished their breakfasts long before.
“Harry? How did it go?” Granger asked, running her eyes over her best friend in a practiced search for injuries.
“It’s not the locket,” Harry answered, his face set into a frown.
“What do you mean, mate? How can it not be the locket? You said it looks just like the one in the pensieve, and you had to get through that bloody cave to get it,” Weasley asked, his tone troubled.
“It appears that someone beat us to it,” Severus answered, still preoccupied with how familiar the initials sounded.
“Yeah, they left a note and everything,” Harry added, pulling the paper from Severus' hand and giving it to the witch.
She read through it quickly, her face troubled.
“I take it we don’t know who R.A.B. is?” she asked.
“No one we can think of,” Harry answered.
Granger gazed with blank eyes at the scuffed kitchen wall, her fingers drumming lightly on her thigh.
“Well, we need to know if they did destroy it,” she began, talking through the problem. “We should start with disappearances since, according to the note, whoever took it expected to die.”
Weasley spoke up from his spot slumped against the table “Did any Death Eaters with those initials disappear?” he asked the room.
Severus frowned “Why would you think it was a Death Eater?”
Blue eyes blinked in surprise at him “Cause it’s to the Dark Lord. Nobody but Death Eaters call You-Know-Who that” he answered as if it was obvious.
Severus froze, not having noticed the form of address. Weasley was right though, no one but his followers referred to him as the Dark Lord.
A sudden memory of grey eyes under neat black hair and a young man who stood quietly to the side during Death Eater meetings so many years ago flashed through his head.
“Harry, what was Regulus’ middle name?” Severus asked, trying to tamp down his excitement. Surely it couldn’t be that easy.
Harry’s eyes widened as he made the connection.
“Kreacher!” he yelled.
A sharp crack and the old elf stood in front of him, glaring at the group in the kitchen. “Master Harry asked for Kreacher?”
“Kreacher, what was Regulus’ middle name?” Harry asked, stepping toward the elf in his excitement.
The small wrinkled elf looked confused but pleased to be asked about his previous Master. “Master Regulus’ middle name was Arcturus,” he answered, traces of sadness in his rough voice.
“Shit,” Harry muttered as he dropped onto the bench behind him.
Harry absently dropped the fake locket on the table, his eyes focused on the note he’d taken back from Granger.
A terrible wailing made everyone at the table jump and turn startled eyes on the old elf.
Kreacher stood in his worn pillowcase, twisting his long fingers and wailing as he stared at the locket Harry had dropped.
“Master Harry got it back,” he moaned, his eyes fixed on the jewelry.
“Kreacher, have you seen this before?” Harry asked with cautious excitement.
The elf gave him a tearful nod.
“Harry, I’ve seen this before,” Granger said softly, reaching out to touch the fake locket with a tentative finger. “It was in that cabinet we cleaned out last year, we threw it away.”
“Kreacher took it. Filthy mudblood, throwing away Master Regulus’ locket,” Kreacher said, his voice regaining its typical derision.
“Kreacher!” Harry barked, dark brows lowering into a scowl, “You don’t say that, not to anyone!”
The elf bowed his head resentfully, eyes still narrowed at Granger.
Severus’ mind spun, trying to take in the multitude of lockets and their possible locations.
“Kreacher, this is a fake locket, we got it from a cave,” Severus said, watching the elf closely.
His small face fell, his mouth scrunching until he looked as if he might start wailing again. “Master Regulus left it, yous should not have moved it,” he said, distress clear.
“We were going to destroy it, but we cannot as it’s a fake” Severus continued carefully, eyes narrowed at the angry elf.
Kreacher’s already large eyes widened further, hope an oddly foreign look on his face. “Master Snape can destroy it?” It was perhaps the first time that Kreacher had spoken to him with anything the resembled respect.
“Yes, Kreacher, we can, but we need the real locket for that,” Severus answered, watching the rest of the room as the other three fell silent, gazes trained on his slow maneuvering for information.
If possible, Kreacher looked even more distressed and began shifting from foot to foot. “Kreacher has lost Master Regulus’ locket! Kreacher is a bad elf!” he shrieked, his eyes darting to the cold oven with longing. Harry had long ago forbidden him from self punishment, which the elf seemed to take as an even worse reprimand.
Harry knelt in front of his house elf and held out a placating hand. “Kreacher, can you tell me exactly what happened?”
Kreacher looked torn, his gaze flicking between the locket and Harry. “Master Regulus told Kreacher that it must not be spoken off.”
Harry looked thoughtful, catching the hesitation in the elf’s voice. “And what if I were to order you to tell me everything you know about the locket?” he asked.
Something that looked like relief flitted over Kreacher’s face, “Master Harry is my Master, so Kreacher must answer.”
Harry nodded. “Kreacher, I order you to tell me everything you know about the locket,” he said, moving back to sit on the bench behind him.
Severus joined him, the attention of everyone in the room focused on the elf.
“Master Regulus asked Kreacher to help the Dark Lord many years ago. The Dark Lord took Kreacher to a cave filled with lakes and greedy dead. He made Kreacher drink nightmare water and left him to die on an island with a locket. Master Regulus was too smart for the Dark Lord though and had ordered Kreacher to return to him, and so Kreacher lived.” The wrinkled elf was clasping his hands quietly, his posture more relaxed.
“Master Regulus was very angry at the Dark Lord for almost killing Kreacher and demanded to go back to the cave. Master Regulus made Kreacher help him drink the water and ordered Kreacher to flee without him and to destroy the locket.” The last few words shook.
“Kreacher tried and tried to destroy it but could not and so kept it. When the mu.. girl threw the locket away, Kreacher took it and hid it” the elf glared at Granger again. “And when Kreacher was busy the thief, he stole the Mistresses things, and he stole Master Regulus’ locket!” The last was croaked, the small voice tight with anger.
“Wait, someone stole things from here?” Harry asked.
Kreacher nodded miserably, “Kreacher did not stop him in time. Kreacher should have been more careful of the Mistress's things.”
“Do you know who it was?” Severus asked, mentally going over the list of who had access.
Small pointed features twisted in rage. “Mundungus Fletcher stole things from my Mistress and took Master Regulus’ locket,” he spat.
Harry turned away, cursing as the other two Gryffindors looked on with surprise that was quickly morphing into anger.
“Kreacher, can you find him?” Harry asked, spinning back around to look at the elf.
A small smile crept over Kreacher’s face, “Yes, Master Harry, Kreacher can find the thief.”
“Good. Find him and bring him back here,” he said. “Alive!” Harry shouted as Kreacher raised his hand and snapped long fingers together, disappearing.
“Do you think that was wise?” Granger asked. “He obviously hates him, he might do something to him before he can tell us where the locket is.”
Harry nodded at her as he shuffled back on the bench, leaning his elbows on the table behind him and pulling the material of his thin grey t-shirt tight across his chest. “He won’t. He wants the locket back as much as we do.”
Silence fell but for the small sounds of fidgeting as everyone finished off a round of tea as if they were hoping that Kreacher would appear again so soon with the answers they needed. When it became clear that the elf might be a while, people filtered out to start the rest of their day.
Harry finally finished his second cup of coffee before he heaved himself up, slowly stretching out the muscles in his back and shoulders, no doubt sore from the savage cleaning they’d given the attic.
He rested a hand on Severus’ shoulder and squeezed carefully. “You ready to finish upstairs?”
Severus nodded and rose to follow Harry for another day of cleaning.
It took four days for Kreacher to track down Fletcher, and in the interim, they finished clearing out the attic and the basement, turning the rooms into a dueling chamber and potions lab, respectively.
They’d finished the lab the day before, and Harry had promptly lost Severus to the basement, where he was arranging his potions ingredients into his meticulous but ultimately incomprehensible ordering system. He swore it made sense, but Harry suspected he just didn’t want anyone to be able to find and steal anything quickly if they were to break in.
Harry had taken the previous day to layer protective spells over both the attic and the basement, wanting the two most volatile areas in the house to be adequately shielded. He was still tired, even after sleeping for hours longer than usual and eating twice as much as he would usually have at breakfast. It seemed that even Harry’s large well of magic was capable of being dented by creating such complex wards and shields.
Knowing the kinds of potions Severus was likely to be making during war times had made him paranoid, and he had spent an excessive amount of time keying shields to Severus’ magical signature. The first thing the shields put power into protecting was the one thing he couldn’t bear to lose. Not that Severus would appreciate whatever he managed to blow up ricocheting off the shields and obliterating his lab, but Harry decided that this was one of those times when he would ask for forgiveness rather than permission.
Harry finally sat down for lunch, having spent the morning reading through several wizarding history books in the Black library in hopes of finding mentions of the Ravenclaw diadem. McGonagall had stopped by and let them know that the only significant object she could find mention of that related to Ravenclaw was the lost diadem. Everyone thought it was a bit of a long shot as it hadn’t been seen since the time of the founders.
The sharp crack of displaced air and a crash from down the hall alerted Harry to the arrival of someone. Since the only person that could apparate directly into Grimmauld was Kreacher, Harry threw down the remains of his hastily slapped together sandwich and ran toward the sound of cursing.
He burst into the pink parlor to find Kreacher trying to restrain a panicked Mundungus Fletcher, limbs flying to and fro. Harry snapped his wand from its holster and threw a wordless incarcerous at the man, narrowly missing wrapping his house elf up as well.
Footsteps thundered down the stairs, and Hermione and Ron joined him moments later, Lupin and Tonks following on their heels. It took Harry sending his Patronus through to the basement to fetch Severus, who hadn’t heard the ruckus through the thick stone floor.
As the household gathered, Kreacher stood threateningly over the small man, huge eyes narrowed dangerously.
Severus appeared at Harry’s elbow, his robes a bit wrinkled, and some glittering substance smudged on his sleeve. He held a small vial of clear liquid in his hand, which Fletcher was eyeing with a great deal of mounting horror.
“So Fletcher, I hear you’ve been stealing from me,” Harry said, his voice colder even than he had been aiming for.
The small man with mousy brown hair and terror in his eyes tore his gaze away from Severus to look at Harry.
“It were only a few things, not a thing you’d miss!” he said after several moments of silence.
“Obviously Mr. Fletcher, you are incorrect, seeing as how we fetched you here,” Severus answered, his long fingers toying with the bottle of veritaserum he’d brought with him.
“How was I to know any of it was really valuable?” the man asked, a sudden glint in his eye. He looked more put out at the idea of having been cheated out of money than being caught stealing.
“We need to know what you did with this locket,” Harry broke in, pulling the replica from his pocket.
Fletcher looked between the locket and the younger wizard in confusion. “Why do you need to be knowing what it was I did with it if you’ve got it right there?”
“Because Mr. Fletcher, this is a fake. You will tell us where the real locket is, one way or another,” Severus said, his tone taking on a definite threat.
Fletcher pulled back as far as his bindings would allow, fear flashing across his tight features. No matter what side Severus was on, he would always inspire a certain amount of fear. The man had been Voldemort’s chosen poisoner.
“I got rid of it!” Fletcher answered quickly, obviously not fond of the idea of Severus deciding to pry the answers from him.
“Where?” “To who?” came at the same time from both Harry and Hermione.
“That witch, the one in the ministry. Got caught fencing off a few things, and she told me she’d cut me loose if I gave her the locket and never told anyone where she’d gotten it from,” he answered, his words blurring together in his haste to get them out.
“What witch?” Severus asked, dark eyes narrowed.
“The one that’s been in all the papers! She was at Hogwarts for a while. Bit creepy with all the pink,” he finished, eyes darting between the Order members.
“Umbridge,” Harry hissed, startled to hear so much loathing in his voice.
“Yeah, that’s the one. Real high and mighty that one,” Fletcher responded.
Ron and Hermione came over to Harry without prompting, tucking themselves onto either side of him. They knew what she had put him through and offered silent support. Severus looked on, confused, but moved back to give his best friends space to press tight to him.
“Severus, can you make sure he doesn’t remember anything?” Harry asked quietly, mind already far away at the ministry.
Severus gave him a look that promised the demand for a full explanation later, but for now nodded a quick agreement.
Harry turned and left the room quickly, heading back to the kitchen with everyone else in tow. They settled silently around the large scarred table, wood heavy and worn smooth by generations of arms and hands rubbing over it.
Harry found himself idly tracing a divot in the wood, wondering what small incident had carved out a chunk of the surface. The sound of heavy boots coming down the hall pulled him out of his woolgathering and brought him back just as Severus pushed through the kitchen door.
“So, we have to get it back,” Harry broke the silence with what they were all thinking.
“Her home will likely be more heavily warded than the ministry,” Severus put in, lowering himself to sit at Harry’s side.
“So we need to break into the ministry then,” Harry muttered, eyes already distant as he considered their options.
No one said anything. Faces were twisted with unhappiness, but there were no better ideas being thrown around.
“I could maybe get to her,” Tonks offered. “People expect me to be at the ministry and won’t pay much attention to me.”
Lupin stiffened at her suggestion, his arm reaching out to wrap possessively around her.
Harry opened his mouth to argue, but nothing good came to mind. Tonks was the choice that made the most sense but would likely mean her going in without back up.
“We should think on this for a while longer,” Severus said, no doubt having noticed how Lupin’s eyes had flashed the briefest reflective gold.
When no objections came, people slowly filtered out, Lupin following close behind Tonks as she left, his whispered protests floating back into the kitchen as they made for the bedroom they’d claimed.
Harry spent the remainder of his day trying to read through the rest of the book he had started that morning but found himself unable to focus. Dinner had come and gone by the time Severus came to fetch him, and he wearily trudged after the other man to their bedroom.
They didn’t speak as they got ready for bed, and Harry could feel himself waking up more and more the longer the silence lasted.
Finally, after they had settled in and Severus had put out the candles with a sweep of his hand, the question he’d been expecting came from Severus’ side of the bed.
“Would you care to tell me why you hate Umbridge so much? I know you did not get along with her when she was at Hogwarts, but neither did you like me, and I never got that tone from you,” Severus pointed out.
Harry sighed, but waved a dim Lumos into being. This wasn’t the worst he’d told Severus, not by a long shot, he was just worried. Harry knew Severus by now, knew that he would hold himself at least partially responsible, and Harry had hoped he would never notice the thin silvery words carved into his hand.
“You were unfair and vindictive and an arse, but you saved me, saved Ron and Hermione too when it came down to it. You never would have truly allowed any of us to get hurt, and even when I hated you, I think a part of me knew that” Harry started, not wanting Severus to ever compare himself to that horrible woman.
A small huff of air was his only response.
Harry sighed again and held out his right hand. He could blame the fact that all the time they’d been bound, the back of his had was usually resting against Severus’ where he couldn’t see it.
Severus sat up, the covers falling to pool in his lap, a faded Manchester United t-shirt hanging off of his slim frame. He’d taken to wearing Harry’s t-shirts to bed, and since almost all of his most worn clothes had turned into pyjamas, a fair number of Dudley’s hand me downs were among them. Harry had kept it since the color scheme was so close to Gryffindors.
Long fingers took Harry’s hand and turned the back to the light when Harry nodded his head at it. It took Severus a moment to make out the thin scars in the weak light, but when he did, he sucked a sharp breath through his teeth.
“I must not tell lies,” the deep voice whispered, the anger that Harry had expected slowly creeping into his voice.
“She did this to you?” he asked, eyes an icy onyx in the low light.
“Sort of” Harry answered “She had a quill that didn’t use ink, it used..” Harry trailed off as rage melted the ice in Severus’ eyes and turned them instead to blackly burning coals.
“A blood quill. She used a blood quill on you,” he whispered, his fingers tightening painfully.
Harry just nodded, gaze glued to the wizard beside him. Harry had seen Severus angry on his behalf before, but it seemed that the longer they knew one another and the closer they became, the more Severus took Harry’s scars personally. He hated seeing Harry hurt, just as much as Harry hated seeing Severus injured.
Harry pulled his hand gently away and held it up to forestall whatever it was he could see building in the other man. “There’s not anything you can do. When all this is over, we can bring her up on charges or turn her into a newt or something,” Harry promised.
“If she is unfortunate enough to make it through this war, she will wish very much that she had not,” Severus said quietly, allowing himself to be pulled down against Harry.
It took them a long time to fall asleep that night, and Harry finally relaxed enough to drift off when Severus’ warm breath fell in slow, even gusts over his neck.
Harry startled, looking around himself in confusion. The last thing he remembered was drifting off with Severus’ heavyweight on his chest.
Now he found himself walking along a thin mountain road, the cool blues of dawn barely lighting the sky, the first rays of the sun blocked by the towering mountains. Below lay a deep valley and a small town nestled there.
There was something there, someone there that he needed. He needed them badly, badly enough to pursue them himself. If he could just find them then…
Harry jerked awake, the warm hand on his shoulder still shaking him slightly.
“Wha?” he said stupidly.
“You were dreaming, talking in your sleep” Severus’ sleep tousled head looked down on him, curiosity and only a faint hint of alarm on his face.
“What did I say?” Harry asked, voice rough as he realised it was just past dawn, and he really should never be awake at this hour.
“Gregorovitch,” Severus answered.
“Who?” Harry asked, completely confused. He couldn’t remember dreaming about anyone, except whoever Riddle had been searching for.
“The only Gregorovitch I know of is the wandmaker,” Severus answered.
“Well, if it is him, I think Riddle’s after him,” Harry said, still confused. He felt Severus stiffen against him.
“You’re still dreaming of Riddle?” he asked cautiously.
“Not until now. I don’t think he meant for me to see where he was. I don’t think he’s in Britain right now either,” Harry answered, a troubled expression pulling at his mouth.
“Why would he be after a wandmaker?” Harry asked.
“I could not guess,” Severus answered, slowly sinking back onto the heap of pillows. “We should resume practicing your occlumency if he is getting through your dreams again.”
Harry nodded a bit absently, tucking himself close to Severus. “It wasn’t like before. He didn’t reach out to me. I think maybe I found him,” Harry admitted.
A small noise of consideration was all he got in response, and even though Harry was sure he wouldn’t be able to fall back asleep, he drifted off in the warmth of their bed.
He woke to the sound of screaming, high pitched hysterical screams that echoed through the Manor and jerked him upright in his bed, his wand clutched in his fist before he was fully aware.
Draco shoved himself out of bed, bare feet thumping on the carpet as he reached for his robes. He yanked them on and stuffed his feet into his boots as he scrambled out the door, the wards on his rooms snapping back into place after him.
Draco followed the screams down the stairs and into the large dining hall where his Mother and Father had once hosted the elite of wizarding society, now nothing more than a gathering place for Death Eaters. He slid to a stop just inside the room, nearly tripping over a man he didn’t recognize.
The first thing he noticed was the confusing mass of people. There seemed to be far too many of them, all milling around excitedly. The screaming had stopped, and Draco couldn’t see who it had come from, but no one in the room appeared to be the cause.
His first clue that something was wrong was Rowle walking past him with a glass of what appeared to be firewhiskey in his hand.
Rowle was in Azkaban, though. He’d gone in when they’d rescued his Mother. He couldn’t be here.
Draco felt his heart beating painfully against his ribs as he forced himself to look through the crowd. Sooner than he expected, his gaze caught on the shimmering silver blonde locks that only one other person in the world had.
His father sat quietly at the table, his eyes downcast and thin shoulders stooped. He looked as though he might be trying to curl into himself, his once proud frame collapsed.
Draco’s breath was coming in sharp gasps, and he was just wondering if he could slip away without being noticed when a cold voice called for him.
“Draco, I am pleased you could join us this evening. I have a gift for you,” the Dark Lord said, raising his hand to summon Draco to his side. He sat at the head of the long table, across the length of the room.
Draco pointedly refused to look toward the side of the table where his father was seated, ignoring the feel of blue eyes burning into his face.
Draco stepped forward gracefully, putting on every small mask he had ever learned as the Malfoy heir. He strode confidently to the Dark Lord’s side and paused.
Voldemort motioned for him to take the seat at his right hand. A seat that had been his the moment he had sent one of the greatest wizards in the world over the side of the astronomy tower.
Draco murmured his thanks and lowered himself into his chair, only then allowing his gaze to sweep the room. He skipped over the shocked face of his father as if he didn’t recognize him, and noted the additions to the room. Everyone that had been arrested at the ministry last year was there, as well as more than a few who had not been broken out initially.
“My Lord, I see your ranks have expanded once again,” Draco said, inclining his head respectfully to the creature beside him.
“Indeed, they have Draco. Do you like your gift?” the Dark Lord asked, motioning to his father.
“It is most generous of you, my Lord,” Draco said, finally allowing his eyes to meet the terrified and confused gaze of the man who raised him.
“I’m afraid he’s a bit worse for wear,” Voldemort said, cruel amusement glinting in his red eyes.
“Yes, but that’s to be expected. Lucius has never done well in trying environments,” Draco answered, making a peal of high pitched laughter ring out.
The Dark Lord reached out and patted his arm gently, a sign of favor that was rarely bestowed on anyone. Draco could feel the burn of jealousy from his aunt across the room.
The Dark Lord turned his attention away and motioned to someone just outside the door. Draco had to clamp down hard on the arms of his chair, his hands luckily hidden from view, as Professor Burbage was slowly levitated into the room.
She wasn’t screaming any longer, but small pained whimpers escaped her. Her robes were torn and dirty, revealing muggle jeans and a blouse underneath. Her hair was tangled and matted to the side of her head with half dried blood, and a huge bruise was blooming over the left side of her face.
The man levitating her, Lestrange his mind whispered, placed her neatly over the top of the table and set her to rotating slowly, like some sort of horrible rotisserie.
“Ah, our guest of honor arrives,” Voldemort’s voice silenced the woman, making her previously tightly shut eyes fly open and fill with terror.
Draco felt his mind flutter, the words blanking out as the Dark Lord taunted her for her lineage, for her profession, for her acceptance of muggles and muggleborns.
His eyes strayed to his fathers as a green flash lit up the room. They stayed locked on his as the table shook with the force of a body falling. They never wavered as a huge snake climbed the table to eat what was left of an innocent woman.
The weather turned hot as weeks sped by, and the Order worked tirelessly to hold together a rapidly collapsing world.
Death Eaters were on the move again, this time with random unplanned attacks everywhere. Draco hadn’t been able to warn them of more than a few raids, most of the violence seemed to be spur of the moment and unorganized.
A week before they were to leave for the Burrow news that nearly every prisoner had broken free of Azkaban reached them. Everyone stood in quiet shock after learning that the Dementors had turned against them, and the sudden spike in Order Patronus practice that followed was not unexpected.
More and more often, the Ministry was refusing to comment on the attacks, on why more Aurors were not being sent into the field, on why half of Diagon Alley had fled while the other half was still smoking from a brutal raid.
The Ministry looked as though it were closing ranks, preparing itself to weather out the storm and come out the other side unscathed.
They wouldn’t, though, not if Harry had anything to say about it.
Their plans to break into the ministry were nearly ready, and Tonks was practically bouncing in place every time Harry saw her. Remus seemed to have resigned himself to her part in the plan but began vanishing for longer and longer stretches.
They decided that Tonks would try for the locket after the wedding, wanting as much time as possible to learn Umbridge’s schedule. Tonks was spending all of her free time lingering at the ministry and watching for any distinct openings in Umbridge’s daily patterns.
Five days before the wedding, the Burrow echoed with sharp cracks of the family apparating in. Harry and Severus appeared first and were immediately swept into the front room by the twins with hurriedly whispered warnings to avoid the kitchen at all costs before they fled outside again. Severus shot him a wide eyed look before they both broke for the stairs, hoping to get settled and put their things away before Molly found them.
They made it to Charlie’s room without being seen, only to draw up short at the changes. The modest room that had previously boasted only a single bed and a small desk had been expanded, and two sets of bunk beds, three beds high, had replaced the lone bed and desk. Severus scowled at them just as Arthur came up behind them on the landing.
“I’m afraid it’s going to be a bit crowded,” he said apologetically. “Fleur’s family will be arriving in a few days, and the whole Weasley family is coming in.” He looked a bit green at the prospect.
“We’ve got you in here with Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Charlie, and Uncle Elias,” Arthur said, motioning at the bottom bunk on the set of beds by the window. It was expanded further than the others, making it barely large enough for both of them.
Arthur gave them both an unsure smile before trundling off down the stairs. Severus turned to glare at Harry, obviously blaming him for their shared quarters.
“No, we aren’t leaving. You’ll survive a few nights sharing a room,” Harry said before Severus could voice his protests.
Severus turned his glare up a notch before striding into the room, black robes billowing menacingly as he started unpacking his things with rapid swishes of his wand. Several pillows he seemed to perpetually carry in his cuff went sailing onto the bed.
Harry hid the smile that was trying to break free, knowing that Severus wouldn’t take it well. Instead, he sidled up behind the taller man and wrapped his arms around his waist, pressing his forehead onto the back of Severus’ neck.
“Thank you for coming with me,” Harry murmured into the warm valley between Severus’ shoulder blades.
“I could hardly have stayed behind,” Severus answered, his voice losing some of it’s acid.
“No, but you could have argued,” Harry responded, letting his hands spread out on the flatness of Severus’ stomach. Harry felt a smile pull at his lips when he noticed that his waist was slightly thicker than it had been a few weeks ago. His crusade with muggle snacks was working.
“Would it have done any good?” The deep voice had a distinct thread of amusement now, and Severus raised a hand to laced his fingers through Harry’s, where they rested on the buttons of his waistcoat.
“Nope,” Harry let the ‘p’ pop in a way he knew Severus found particularly irritating and huffed a surprised laugh when he was tugged abruptly around and tossed onto the bed.
Harry reached up and grabbed Severus, yanking him down before he could escape. He ended up with a lap full of indignant wizard and a mouth full of long hair for his trouble, but he couldn’t stop laughing.
“I love you,” Harry said through his smile, arms wrapped tightly around the other man as he unsuccessfully tried to free himself.
Severus froze like he’d been stunned, even his breath stuttering out.
Harry was beginning to think he might have broken the man when Severus finally moved again. Long fingers reached out and gently curled around his, belaying his tone when he finally spoke.
“Yes, well, your Patronus made that fairly obvious,” he muttered to his lap, dark eyes avoiding Harry’s.
Harry felt the first stirrings of trepidation. He had thought his feelings were clear and that Severus returned them, even if he didn’t say as much. Perhaps he’d been wrong, though.
A faint flush burned it’s way up Harry’s face as he loosened his hold on the older wizard, shifting himself back to give Severus room to flee.
Severus let out a sharp unhappy huff as he felt Harry pull away and reached back to rather pointedly wrap Harry’s arms around him again.
“Don’t be an idiot,” he said sharply before he let out a terribly put upon sigh and dragged his wand from its holster.
“ Expecto Patronum,” he said, his voice almost pained.
The doe that Harry expected didn’t come forth. Instead, a glowing silvery gryffin flew from his wand and landed in the small space left in the middle of the room.
It took Harry a full minute to comprehend what he was seeing and what it meant, but when he did, he burst out laughing. Harry tightened his arms around the scowling man in his lap and stretched up to press a small kiss on his cheek, the nearest thing he could reach.
“No wonder you’ve been asking me to send messages!” Harry got out through his laughter.
He finally got control of himself, his chuckles tapering off as he ran his hand up and down Severus' side.
Severus let the gryffin fade, a blush of embarrassment still pinking his cheeks.
“Well, at least it wasn’t a lion,” Harry joked, accepting the pillow Severus whacked him with a moment later as his due.
I wanted to take a moment to thank all of you for your wonderful comments and your response to this story. I'm really really behind on answering comments, please don't feel slighted if I haven't responded to you. I try to get to a few every day or so, and I made myself promise that I would always answer any direct questions as soon as I could, and I am doing my best. I want you all to know that you're lovely and very appreciated.
That secret that you know
But don’t know how to tell
It fucks with your honor
And it teases your head
-Blood Bank, Bon Iver
“No, no, no! Fred pay attention!” Arthur yelled across the lawn as Fred’s corner of the huge tent began to fall, the redhead turned to watch one of Fleur’s cousins across the grass, her pale blonde hair falling in a long sweep to her slim hips. She shot an unrepentant smile at Fred as he scrambled to right his corner.
Fleur’s family had arrived just after breakfast and had been moving around the Burrow in small flocks of blonde hair and titters of French. Molly looked like she was one thinly veiled insult from committing homicide.
Harry was fairly certain that Severus would be the first in line to offer his help and he wouldn't even use his wand. They’d spent the last three nights trying to sleep through Ron and Uncle Elias’ snoring, which Harry was half convinced might involve a bet on who could be the loudest.
Thankfully the rest of their roommates were quiet sleepers. Ginny had been surprisingly pleasant after the first morning and Harry could only assume she’d finally gotten over whatever crush she’d had on him. He’d woken up when she had climbed down from the bunk overhead and he’d caught her sad smile when she’d seen the way Severus was wrapped around him. Over the last few days, they’d managed to get back to nearly what they’d had once, and were working a less strained friendship.
Severus had been dealing with everything in his typically cynical way but had willingly helped where he could and even been persuaded to keep an eye on the twins as they assembled the fireworks, earning himself a lifetime of hand knitted Weasley sweaters and a firm kiss on the cheek from Molly.
Harry had been helping Ron de-gnome the garden when Fleur’s family began arriving and had the singular pleasure of watching his best friend make an immediate fool of himself in an attempt to catch the attention of any of the alarmingly attractive cousins. It took Harry several hours before he realised that he had caught the eye of one of them, too busy with the increasingly long to-do list that Molly seemed to add to every few minutes.
Harry had sat down in the shade of a tree for just a moment, Hermione dropping beside him a minute later, when a glass of what looked like iced pumpkin juice was thrust in front of his face.
Harry took it but didn’t drink, his gaze following the pale hand up to a man he didn’t recognize. He had pretty cornflower blue eyes and his hair was a darker gold than most of his family but he was dressed just an impeccably as the rest of them. Harry couldn’t tell how tall he was from his seated position but he looked to be right around Harry’s height and maybe only a couple of years older. Harry had to stop his lip twitching when he realised the man looked like a younger, more attractive version of Lockhart.
“You are Harry Potter, yes?” the man asked, his accent even thicker than Fleur’s.
Harry nodded and sent a narrow eyed look at Hermione, who looked like she was trying not to laugh. He leaned back to better see the man looming over him, the short, dry grass prickling his hands and sticking to the thin layer of sweat on his arms.
“My cousin Gabrielle speaks most fondly of you” he continued, undeterred by Harry’s silence.
When Harry just blinked up at him, the man shot him a smile full of so much confidence Harry was somewhat surprised it didn’t physically hit him.
“Perhaps if you are not too busy you would take a walk with me?” he asked with a look so blatantly suggestive that it might have been more modest if he’d just stripped down. If his expression was anything to go by it would be a very short walk to the nearest large bush.
Harry choked on air. He carefully set the glass to the side, his paranoia of taking anything from someone he didn’t know kicking in. He very briefly considered ‘accidentally’ spilling it on Hermione, who had turned a truly alarming shade of red in an effort to keep her face straight.
“Erm...sorry, but I’m a bit busy” Harry tried tactfully, pushing himself up from his elbows. He could feel the way his face was burning and wondered if anyone had ever spontaneously apparated from embarrassment.
The handsome face fell, a perturbed look coming over it and making him look so much like Lockhart had right before he’d obliviated himself that Harry was scooting backward before he could stop himself. He doubted the man had been turned down often.
“Perhaps later then, when you have time” he tried again, a thread of impatience in his voice.
“Listen, mate, I’m sure you’re great but there isn’t going to be a time that I’m not busy, yeah?” Harry said, his voice a little harder.
A slow flush started in the pale skin of the man’s neck and seeped up to his cheeks.
“I see. My apologies Mr. Potter if I overstepped. I have simply heard so much about you from my family, and I fear I am a bit enamored” he said with a forced smile.
“I suggest you go be enamored elsewhere” a deep voice snarled from behind the young man, making him jump.
Severus approached with his graceful glide, somehow giving the impression of billowing robes even in trousers and a button up. The top two buttons of his shirt were undone and Harry couldn’t stop the small flutter in his chest when he noticed that Severus had rolled his sleeves halfway up his forearm. He was so self conscious about the dark mark, even the smeared broken remains, that no one really saw it but Harry.
Harry had been trying to convince him that no one would stare, that it was proof of how far he’d come and not something to hide, but today was the first indication that Severus might be listening.
The smile that Harry turned on him was a touch brighter than the situation warranted, but Harry didn’t care. He reached a hand out and tugged Severus down next to him, only for the man to sit close enough that it couldn’t be mistaken as simple friendship.
Fleur’s cousin darted a fast look between them and quickly backed away, stuttering out an apology and excuses half in French as he fled.
Hermione snorted a sharp laugh before she fell over on the ground, giggling madly. Her hair was pinned up but long strands had fallen free and were collecting small leaves and sticks from where she was rocking her head back and forth as she laughed.
“Perhaps you’d like to go for a walk” she uttered to the patch of grass in front of her. “Harry, you should have seen your face .”
Harry just groaned and dropped his head into his hands. “Why can’t people take a hint? Am I too nice the first time?” he asked his knees.
“Yes” came the reply in stereo.
Harry made a face at both of them.
“Whatever” he muttered, turning his attention to the man beside him. “How are you wearing all black right now? It’s so hot” he asked, mildly horrified. Harry himself was in a ratty t-shirt and a pair of jeans that would have looked like they were full of stylish holes if only there were more jean and less hole.
A hot gust of wind came in as if to emphasize his point, carrying the smell of dry grass and heated pavement, the sound of Fred and George arguing drifting along with it.
He got a shrug for his trouble, Severus not bothering to justify his wardrobe.
“Your dress robes are solid black, aren’t they?” Harry asked with an air of resignation.
Severus cocked an eyebrow at him and lifted the corner of his mouth in a sardonic smile.
Harry sighed and let his head rest on the shoulder of the man who, for some reason, insisted on dressing like a cliche of the dungeon bat everyone had called him.
Harry dropped his hand to trace along Severus’ left forearm, the tips of his fingers barely brushing over the raised edges of the mark.
“I’m proud of you” he whispered, making sure that only Severus could hear him.
Severus swallowed heavy and leaned against Harry, letting their hands slip together.
“Oi! We all taking a break then?” Ron yelled from across the lawn, where he was sending long lines of white ribbons up to hang gracefully from tree branches. At least that’s what Harry thought he was trying to do. So far it just looked like he’d managed to tie a few branches together.
“Oh for Merlin’s sake,” Hermione said as she rolled to her feet to try and figure out what Ron had done before Molly could see the mess. She brushed off the bits of grass stuck to her bare legs as she wandered over, a small forest still stuck in her hair.
The small moment was broken, but as Severus stood to go rejoin the group Harry watched him push his sleeves up a little further.
The day had cooled and was slanted with amber light before they were done with the outside decorations. The yard of the Burrow had been transformed into something as welcoming as it was beautiful, delicate fairy lights blinking between branches that trailed flowing white ribbons and the sound of evening crickets had just started when the sharp crack of apparation broke the peace.
Harry was balanced on a rickety stool in the crowded Weasley kitchen, the toes of his trainers hooked around the bottom rung when he caught the sound of Arthur’s voice steadily rising. Harry shared a glance with George before following him from where they had been pressed into labor making dough for something Molly was creating. They were both covered in flour from a small disagreement about the best seeker ( it’s Krum George, it’s the only thing he has going for him, he has to be the best ).
They arrived slightly behind a small crowd and Harry pushed himself closer to the front, aiming for the head of black hair he could see looming over everyone else.
With a few wiggles and a small but useful application of his elbow, Harry made it to Severus’ side just as he heard one of the last voices he wanted to ask for him.
Harry tried to back peddle but was far too late, the ranks of guests closing in behind him. Severus stepped up to his side as Scrimgeour caught sight of him.
“Mr. Potter, I really must insist that we speak,” he said, trying to look around Arthur’s shoulder.
“Now Minister, I’m afraid that’s up to Harry. If he wants to see you he can, but otherwise, I’ll need to ask you to leave” Arthur said, his normally kind voice carrying a thread of steel. The man hadn’t survived raising seven children without learning how to stand his ground.
“Might I remind you Weasley, that last I checked you were a Ministry employee,” Scrimgeour said, disgruntled.
“And since when does being a Ministry employee mean I have to open my home to the Minister?” Arthur responded, his voice losing what little welcome it had held.
Harry stepped forward before the situation could get any more out of hand and halted Arthur. “It’s alright Mr. Weasley, I’m sure he wouldn’t be here unless he had to be,” Harry said, noticing the way Scrimgeour’s eyes narrowed.
“Alright, Harry” Arthur motioned for them to follow him after a moment of deliberation.
“I need to see Ms. Hermione Granger and Mr. Ronald Weasley as well” the Minister tacked on, making the older redhead shoot a suspicious look at him.
Ron and Hermione had been close enough to hear and pulled themselves out of the crowd to join them. Severus had already taken his usual place at Harry’s right, his formerly black shirt now dusted with flour where Harry had brushed against him.
Arthur led them to the front room and only left when he received nods from all four of them.
“Mr. Snape, I don’t believe you’re needed here,” the Minister said with a small flair of satisfaction. No doubt he was remembering Severus thwarting his attempt to speak with Harry over Christmas.
“Yeah well, we want him to stay” Ron spoke up from his spot on the couch. The declaration made Severus’ eyes widen slightly but he hid his surprise well.
“I’m afraid it’s a matter of legal confidentiality. I cannot disclose the items of a will with anyone that is not a recipient.”
Harry shifted forward, suddenly understanding what this was about. He shared a glance with Severus that had the older man giving him a short nod before striding from the room.
“You have Dumbledore’s will,” Harry said, not making it a question.
“Yes I do,” the Minister said, taking a chair adjacent to the couch the other three had settled on.
“Why are we just now hearing about this?” Hermione asked. “Dumbledore died over a month ago.” She was sitting pressed to Harry’s side, her shorts and bare legs streaked with dirt from helping to rearrange the garden into pretty meandering paths.
“There were proper legal channels that needed to be observed,” Scrimgeour said, not bothering to couch the obvious lie in anything more believable.
“What is it then?” Ron asked, blue eyes holding a small hint excitement.
Scrimgeour paused long enough to give them all a hard look before reaching into the briefcase at his side. He pulled out a long piece of paper that was filled with curling calligraphy and read from it.
“To Ronald Bilius Weasley, I leave my Deluminator, in the hope that he will remember me when he uses it"
At this, the Minister handed Ron a small metal object that looked something like an old muggle lighter. Ron flipped it open and they watched as the candles burning in the corner lost their flames to it. Ron flicked it open again and the flames sped through the air to fix themselves back in their rightful spots.
“Cool,” Ron said, earning himself an elbow to the side from Hermione.
"To Miss Hermione Jean Granger, I leave my copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, in the hope that she will find it entertaining and instructive"
The Minister read as he held out a small battered book to Hermione. She took it carefully and flipped open the front cover with a puzzled look. When nothing but a slightly battered cover page was revealed Scrimgeour sat back in frustration.
“And finally” Scrimgeour read out the last of the will as he slipped a pair of thin gloves on.
“To Harry James Potter, I leave the Snitch he caught in his first Quidditch match at Hogwarts, as a reminder of the rewards of perseverance and skill."
The Minster pulled something bright gold from the case, holding it out to Harry with a look of barely concealed triumph. And Harry understood. They’d only brought everything to them because they had exhausted all other avenues. They needed Harry to key whatever it was that Dumbledore had left him since a snitch had a singular unique trait, that it would keep an impression of the last person to touch it.
Harry held out his hand, waiting, and Scrimgeour dropped the snitch into it, watching avidly.
The seconds dragged out with no reaction, and Harry eventually withdrew his hand, cradling the snitch in it.
“I don’t understand” Scrimgeour muttered to himself.
“Unless there was something else, I’m sure you can see that we’re all very busy,” Hermione said, rising.
The Minister seemed to shake off his confusion and stood, putting a hand out to halt them. “Mr. Potter, I’d like to discuss the possibility of you coming by the Ministry. I believe it would do a great deal of good and boost public morale if you were seen showing your support” he said with forced cheer, his eyes hard.
“I’m sure it would Minister. Only problem with that is I don’t support what the Ministry is doing” Harry answered, ducking past Scrimgeour before the man could get over his shock of such a boldfaced refusal. Ron and Hermione stayed on his heels and by the time the Minister had the thought to follow them a wall of angry potions master was blocking the door.
“Mr. Snape” Scrimgeour said warily.
“Minister” Snape replied, one eyebrow raised in a thoroughly unimpressed look.
“Right then, I suppose I’ll be going,” the Minister said, retreating out the way he had come, feeling the burn of black eyes well after he was out of sight of Snape.
Severus woke to the thunder of feet on the stairs and had just enough time to prop himself up on his elbow before the door of their room was tossed open and what appeared to be the entire Weasley family stuffed themselves into the small space between the beds.
A beat of silence, then an overwhelming “HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARRY” was shouted, banishing any possibility of a lie in. Severus felt like someone had rung a particularly redhaired bell in his ear.
Ron appeared to have missed the Weasley call to arms and uttered a tiny undignified squeak before tumbling half off the middle bunk, almost kicking one of the twins. Fred. It was probably Fred.
Harry jerked upright, his hair standing in a fuzzy halo around his head and red creases on his cheek from his pillow.
“Whasit?” he muttered, eyes huge.
Molly stepped past the wall of her children, still in a pair of pyjamas with huge waving flowers all over them and an old tatty dressing gown. She leaned down and kissed Harry on the cheek, patting his shoulder gently.
“Come down to breakfast dear, we’re having pancakes,” she said with a fond smile.
This seemed to bring Harry out of his early morning confusion faster than Severus had ever seen. Harry graced her with a wide smile before clambering out of bed. He’d stolen a pair of Severus’ silk pyjama bottoms and had to lean down to roll the cuffs so he wouldn’t step on them, his bright red Gryffindor t-shirt meshing oddly into a distinctly Harry sort of outfit.
Harry was halfway out the door when he looked back and motioned for Severus to hurry, right before he was swept away in a tide of Weasley’s.
Hermione hopped down from the top bunk, still clad in her reasonable plaid pants and plain t-shirt.
“Come on then,” she said around a yawn, tugging on the sleeve of Harry’s t-shirt that he’d resized weeks ago when he’d claimed it for himself.
“I’ll be down in a moment,” he said, reaching for his pile of neatly folded clothes he had laid out the night before.
A small hand on his arm drew him to a halt “If you bother getting dressed you’ll be the odd man out,” she said, eyes fixed on his waistcoat and pressed trousers.
Severus took a hesitant step back from the clothes, but his eyes kept falling to his forearm and the smudged dark mark, the t-shirt not anywhere near long enough to cover it. Rolling his sleeves was one thing, but the idea of not having the ability to quickly flip cuffs down was making his stomach tight.
“Hey, it’s just family, alright?” she said, her hand gripping his wrist for a second in a reassuring squeeze before she released him.
“Harry’s family” he responded without thinking.
“Yours too” she shot back. He gave her an incredulous look, not fast enough to school his expression.
Something painful tightened in his chest at her easy answer. Severus didn’t have family. He didn’t have people who loved him, who cared whether he was comfortable or safe. He didn’t have anyone.
But you do, a small voice whispered. You have Harry.
Severus ruthlessly pushed the voice away, not willing to accept it. The sick churning in his stomach that had been growing since Harry had uttered those three terrible words rose, pushing at his throat like bile.
He couldn’t love Severus. He simply couldn’t, he just didn’t know any better yet.
He had just wanted Harry so badly, if only for a moment. He knew Harry would leave him when he found out that Severus was the one responsible for his parents deaths. Some small cowardly part of him had been so relieved at the thought that he would die without having to watch green eyes turn hard with hatred. It was little surprise that fate wouldn’t give him even that.
What would it be like, to see Harry’s patronus change again, to know that he had lost something he never expected to have in the first place? Maybe it would go back to a stag, or perhaps something that represented someone like that absurdly pretty boy that had been trying so hard to lure Harry away.
Severus was so lost in thought that he stumbled into to riot that was the Weasley kitchen before he realised they had arrived.
Across the room, Harry glanced up and smiled at him, the private smile that he kept just for Severus. Severus couldn’t stop the small smile he sent back, his heart beating too fast.
He had to tell him.
Soon. Not today. Let him have today.
Harry’s birthday sped by, a mix of sudden celebration and last minute scrambling for the wedding. He got his favorite breakfast from Molly, along with a new knitted scarf, made just for flying with wind resistant charms on it.
Ron got him a book on Quidditch history along with a quietly muttered “Sorry mate, I was gonna get you a book all about how to charm a witch but I don’t think the old dungeon bat would like that”.
Hermione got him a new traveling kit for stationary, a clever little shrinkable writing desk with brand new quills.
The twins got him a full set of their newest items ( not even on the shelf yet Harry, they’re dead useful ) and a book that Harry took one look at before he slammed it shut, his face flaming red as the twins howled with laughter. It only made him feel slightly better when he noticed that Severus must have guessed what the book contained and turned an even darker shade of red than Harry.
Bill and Fleur had given him a set of hand carved lion bookends that he planned to replace the weird carved skull set in the Black library with as soon as they returned and Charlie had made Harry a new set of dragonhide gloves from a female horntail that had died of old age in his care.
Severus had quietly handed over a box of potions, half of which Harry had only run across in old texts. They did everything from making someone truly invisible to allowing him to lock a charm permanently to any object. Hermione had nearly fallen out of her seat in jealousy.
The day was gone before he realised it and they were all climbing blearily to bed, last minute preparation for the wedding and party the next day finally finished.
“Hey, Severus?” Harry said softly, his voice reaching only as far as the man he was stretched out next to.
Severus hummed a sleepy questioning noise.
“You alright?” Harry asked. He had noticed that Severus had been a little off the last couple of days. Nothing alarming, but just a bit distant.
Severus tensed at the question before letting out a slow breath. “I’d prefer to answer that after we get home,” he said.
Harry sat up and looked down on the shadowed angles of Severus’ face, all that he could see of him in the dark. “I’m not going to like this, am I?” he asked, his heart beating in his throat.
Severus didn’t answer, just stayed quiet and still, waiting to see if Harry would push or grant his request. Harry sighed and lowered himself back down into the bed, resting his head on the dip of Severus’ shoulder.
“Thank you” the deep voice whispered into his hair, long fingers curling over his side.
Harry sighed again but let it go. Severus would tell him when he was ready, and it wasn’t like it would be that bad. They’d gotten through so much together in such a short amount of time, Harry couldn’t imagine anything worse than what they’d already faced.
Severus glanced up as he walked into the front room, meeting Harry’s eyes just as amusement took over his face. Despite the room being expanded, it was filled to the brim with wedding guests, all moving like shoals of lost fish, eddying around worn furniture and the occasional floating tray of food.
“I’m buying you dress robes in every color” Harry threatened as he dodged his way across the room, trying not to run into any of the slew of family finishing up last minute gifts or trying to find their partner in the mess of witches and wizards.
Severus gave Harry a small smirk, even as his eyes roved over the young man. Harry had found a set of robes in a soft charcoal grey and paired them with well cut black trousers and a matching waistcoat over a tailored dress shirt the same colour as his robes. He’d even managed to make the wildness of his hair look intentional instead of his usual just off a broom style.
Severus tore his eyes away when he realised he was staring.
A warm hand landed on his chest and fixed a small button that had missed its eyelet before smoothing down his own rather strictly cut robes.
“You look great,” Harry said with a slightly nervous look in his eyes, his gaze roving over Severus’ outfit before a sudden frown took over his face.
Harry turned, searching the crowd for someone “ ‘Mione did you make us match?” he shouted across the room at the neatly dressed witch, her dress a soft silver with tasteful touches of black embroidery. Severus narrowed his eyes at her, her dress much too close to the colours of the Malfoy crest. She smiled at Harry and waved a quick agreement before turning and fleeing out the door, revealing a long green ribbon braided into her currently smooth hair.
Severus brought his attention back from what was surely a joint outfit planning on Draco and Granger’s part and noticed that he and Harry did in fact match. Where Harry’s robes and shirt were grey, his were black, and where Harry wore black, Severus had an exact match to his charcoal grey.
“No one is going to believe we didn’t do this on purpose” Harry groaned.
“Would you like me to change the colour?” Severus asked, secretly amused when Harry seemed to forget he was a wizard.
“No, Hermione put me in this and she’d likely kill me if I changed it” he replied, neglecting the rather obvious solution of Severus changing his outfit.
Severus hid a smile, letting Harry get away with the excuse. He rather liked that it would be so obvious that they matched, a silent reminder to cousins with wandering hands that Harry already had someone. He shoved down a little harder on the guilt and fear that was building in his chest. Not today.
The crowd in the front room began to disperse at Molly’s faint yell from the yard, everyone heading out to the large space behind the Burrow for the ceremony.
Severus let his mind wander as they got to their assigned spots with the family, a very nervous looking Bill Weasley standing under an arch filled with golden balloons. Charlie stood beside him and a tiny old wizard Severus didn’t recognize took the spot as the officiant.
A large purple carpet was rolled out, slender golden chairs for the guests placed in neat rows and a veritable sea of white and gold flowers decorated everything that a wand could reach.
A hush took the crowd when the music started, coming from everywhere, and Fleur’s younger sister Gabrielle walked gracefully up the aisle, letting soft petals fall from her hands. A few steps behind her came the youngest Weasley, dressed in a shimmering gold gown and holding the thin golden rope that would symbolically bind the hands of the couple.
Fleur appeared just as Ginny took her spot by the arch, looking lovely in a simple white gown and a delicate tiara. She took on the aisle like it was holding her back from the man she loved and she gave the impression that she was gliding smoothly even as she arrived at the arch much faster than her bridesmaids.
A short but tasteful ceremony followed and Severus watched with an appalled sort of curiosity as Molly burst into tears, Granger not far behind. He should mention that to Draco. Any woman who could go through what Granger had without shedding a tear but sobbed at a wedding was one that had a skewed sense of priorities.
Severus turned to whisper his amusement to Harry, only to find emerald eyes swimming a bit.
“What?” Harry hissed as the guests began to move toward the large tent that would hold the reception. “People cry at weddings, that’s just what they do,” he said defensively, swiping at his cheeks.
Severus raised a hand in surrender, not willing to pursue that particular argument.
It took Severus less than five minutes to locate a small table in the back and settle himself in for an evening of watching the Weasley boys make fools of themselves. Not that they didn’t usually, they just had the added incentive of a hoard of part Veela.
Harry and Granger dropped down at the table with him, the former carrying a plate piled precariously high with an assortment of finger foods and a glass of wine, all of it no more than a stumble away from disaster.
“The only explanation is luck,” Granger said, her glass of wine hanging from her hand, her eyes fixed on the plate that had made it to the table without ruining a single set of dress robes.
Harry sent her a half hearted glare but was busy arranging his tiny sandwiches into his preferred eating order, from least desirable to most. Severus hated himself a little for knowing that.
A small packet of pretzels appeared in front of him, along with a bowl of fruit Harry had balanced somewhere on his plate.
Severus took them without comment; his stomach had gotten used to some small amount of food every couple of hours and had started protesting when he didn’t eat often enough.
Harry managed to get through his whole plate before he was dragged away to dance, Fred Weasley snatching him by the hand and throwing a parting wink at Severus.
Hermione joined him a little later, rescuing him from a tiny old witch who seemed to be insulting everyone they passed, including her dance partner. Harry’s face had frozen into a mask of barely concealed aversion and he’d been casting pleading looks at their table for several minutes before Granger broke, smiling wryly in response to Severus’ muttered ‘weak’ on the way by.
Hermione and Harry did several turns around the room until Ron cut in and swept Granger off in a twirl of silvery fabric and uncoordinated stomping, Granger’s laughter trailing in their wake.
Severus had managed to scare off the one person who had been either too drunk or too stupid to know better than to approach him and was settling back with a glass of firewhiskey that Arthur had dropped off when Harry threw himself down, sweaty and breathing hard.
They didn’t say anything, just sat quietly and watched the party as Harry caught his breath. Lovegood and her father were attempting to teach some sort of odd dance to any who had the misfortune of catching their eye and one of the twins had managed to convince one of Fleur’s cousins to dance, sweeping her around the tent like he was trying to see if Veela were capable of flight.
The scrape of a chair brought Severus’ attention back to his table, to find Harry being led away once again, this time by none other than Victor Krum. The Bulgarian proceeded to spin Harry around the floor with little apparent care for either the tempo of the music or whether Harry was enjoying himself.
As Severus watched Harry’s face fell into a frown, and he began answering whatever Krum was asking him in shorter and sharper sentences. Severus was getting short glimpses of their faces as they spun and Harry was looking more and more unhappy.
At one point Harry jerked his head over and looked rather searchingly at the elder Lovegood, but he didn’t seem truly alarmed, so Severus left it be.
He could feel his shoulders relaxing as the song came to a close and got up to fetch a whiskey for Harry. He didn’t drink it often but Severus suspected it wouldn’t go amiss.
It took several episodes of dodging and one stern look at the twins before he’d made it back to the table, only to pause at the lack of Harry. Severus glanced around, puzzled. He was certain Harry would have returned by now.
It took him several minutes to locate him, and when he did Severus felt a flare of irritation tighten his mouth. Harry had been trapped into another song, but this time by one of the cousins. Not, thankfully, the one from several days past, but an astoundingly pretty young woman was giggling and patting his chest as they swayed awkwardly, Harry’s hands balanced on her shoulders as if he feared to let them drop lower.
Just then Harry looked up and caught his eye, green eyes going from glazed boredom to fiery pleading as soon as he’d sighted him. Severus sighed heavily, glancing around briefly to see if Granger was available to rescue him, but no convenient witch showed herself.
Severus set their drinks on the table and wound his way through the dancers, easily stepping through the couples around him. When he got to Harry the younger man gave him such a look of naked relief that he almost laughed, and had to wonder what the poor girl had been subjecting him to.
“Pardon me, but if I may?” Severus said, making the girl jump. She turned huge blue eyes on him blankly, blinking at his pointed look. She looked him up and down, taking in his stern features and black robes with a small curl of distaste in the corner of her mouth.
“Ah, yes I suppose,” she said, her accent thick as she held out a reluctant hand to him, casting a look at Harry that promised she’d come back to him just as soon as she got away from the strange man trying to make off with her.
Harry’s hand snaked past her and slipped into Severus’, and with a small yank, he had pulled them flush.
“Sorry, haven’t gotten to dance with my partner at all tonight, have to excuse me,” Harry said in a rush to the girl, ignoring her stunned look.
Harry gave him a blinding smile for his rescue and swept them around to the other side of the floor as the song ended. They stayed still for a moment, waiting for the next piece to start as Severus turned Harry’s last words over and over in his mind. A commonplace piece came on and they stepped out, a bit overplayed at weddings and somewhat heavier in major than Severus preferred but tolerable nonetheless.
They had made it halfway through the song before Severus let go of the tightness in his shoulders and started to enjoy the simple act of moving through familiar steps with someone who moved with him so well. It struck Severus then that he and Harry hadn’t done this since their relationship had changed.
“So, partner?” Severus felt the words slip from him, his teeth snapping shut too late to keep them to himself.
Harry’s steps faltered before he smoothed them out again, dancing silently as he considered his response.
“I don’t know what to call you. It seems weird and wrong to call you my boyfriend. Significant other just makes me think we’re thinking about getting a divorce and I can’t think of anything else” Harry answered, his cheeks flush.
Severus couldn’t help the tiny snort of laughter than escaped him at Harry’s explanation, but he gathered Harry a bit closer, enjoying the feel of his arm tight around the other man even in such a public setting.
“Partner is… acceptable” Severus finally said, feeling a huge breath rush out of Harry at his acceptance. The title was thrilling and Severus had to forcibly stop himself from wondering how long he’d be allowed to hold it.
The comparison between the last time they danced in the room of requirement and their steps across the tent was stark. Harry no longer leaned away from him, no longer kept a careful barrier of air and tension. His face was more relaxed and he let himself brush against Severus and most startling, he spent the remainder of the song looking up at Severus with a small smile.
Severus was so lost in his thoughts, in the wonder of discovering exactly how much Harry had held back, that he missed when the song changed to the next, absentmindedly shifting his steps to follow Harry’s.
“One more?” Harry asked, laughter in his voice.
Severus humphed but didn’t move away, deliberately ignoring the stares he could see from the corner of his eye.
They made it through to the end of the second song, stepping off the floor just at their table. Harry stretched up and brushed a light kiss over his lips, making Severus’ cheeks burn, but he leaned down to return it regardless of how embarrassed it might make him.
Harry tasted like butterbeer and the curry from one of the tiny meat skewers and underneath it all just like himself. Severus made himself pull away, having forgotten for an instant that they weren’t alone.
Severus glanced up at the sound of a throat pointedly clearing, to meet the narrowed brown eyes of Molly Weasley.
He locked his legs to prevent himself from stepping away from the warning in the woman’s face. The realization that no one had told her hit him just as Harry slid his arm around his waist and Severus had to stop himself from jerking away. Something that felt close to terror was creeping up his spine.
“And how long has this been going on?” she asked, her voice harder than Severus had ever heard it.
“Since he resigned as a Professor from Hogwarts” Harry answered promptly, looking much less nervous that Severus thought he had any right to.
She looked Severus up and down in a way that he’d never had anyone do as if she could see all the dark bruised pieces of him and she was trying to decide if what was leftover was good enough for one of her children. Severus could answer that for her easily. It wasn’t.
Her dark eyes focused in with laser intent on Harry “And you’re happy?” she asked sharply.
“Yes Mum, I’m happy,” Harry said answering her and acknowledging her right to ask the question in the first place.
Her face cleared as if it had never seen a frown and she stepped forward to pat Severus gently on the cheek “No need to look so scared dear. Welcome to the family.” She bussed Harry on the cheek before she wandered off to terrify someone else.
Severus let out a low hissing breath “You didn’t tell her?” he whispered furiously, turning to face a confused looking Harry.
“What was I supposed to do, corner her when she was trying to get the wedding ready and update her on my relationship? Do I look like I want to die? Do I look like I want you to die?” he asked, incredulous.
Severus turned away, not having a good response. With the mood Molly had been in over the last few days she very well might have just killed Severus instead of checking to make sure her adopted son was a happy participant.
“If I die at the hand of a Weasley I’ll haunt you for the rest of your miserable life,” Severus said as he stalked back to his chair, leaving Harry to follow him with a small huff of laughter.
The party was starting to wind down, couples and families sitting in groups and chatting softly over drinks. Hermione let herself fall into the chair next to Severus, grateful beyond belief for the cushioning spell for her shoes that Draco had sent along.
Their writing had been sporadic, only a few sentences here and there when he could get away. He managed to let her know that his Father had returned to the Manor, along with most of the Azkaban escapees.
She’d opened the notebook late one night and caught him for the first time in weeks. Draco had kept his end open longer than he probably should have but neither of them suggested that he leave. They’d fallen into their normal roundabout way of writing and updating each other when she mentioned the wedding.
He had latched onto the planning with an air of desperation, and she’d played along, knowing there were things he was having to see, to do, that he needed to escape.
As it turned out there were unexpected perks to dating the rather vain Malfoy heir. The man knew considerably more than her about fashion and what materials would be most comfortable in the heat. He even knew a charm that worked on her hair.
She had jokingly suggested she wear Slytherin colours and he’d told her she’d be forcibly removed from such a Gryffindor gathering if she dared to.
The short conversation had however reminded her of something she’d heard Neville mention about older families having colours on their coats of arms. It had taken only a few minutes in the Black family library to find the Malfoy colours, which were so close to Slytherin that it was laughable, but she’d settled on owl ordering a dress in silver with small hints of black embroidery and a thick, dark green ribbon that she had Tonks twine through her hair.
She felt a bit silly about it all but when she’d said so, Tonks had responded “It’s not silly. You should never feel silly about doing something that makes you feel closer to someone you miss.”
So she’d danced with most of the Weasley’s, avoided a fairly tenacious Victor Krum and rescued Harry from over enthusiastic partners and old women alike, all while wearing the colours of a man she was supposed to hate. She felt a little closer to him, even though he couldn't be there.
Hermione wasn’t sure how Severus had done it all those years. At least she had people who knew, who could help. Draco wasn’t alone either, not like Severus had been.
She couldn’t help smiling a bit when Harry and Severus had danced past and had even gotten a picture with one of the wizarding cameras Molly had placed around for guests. She would be asking for a copy from Fleur and Bill later on. Hermione didn’t think she’d seen a picture with Severus in it and she was sure Harry would want one.
Hermione was brought out of her idle thoughts when Harry dropped a butterbeer on the table next to her before falling into the nearest chair. He’d lost his robes and had rolled up his sleeves sometime in the last little while, and the top few buttons were loose on his dress shirt, revealing the neckline of a glaringly orange Chudley Cannons shirt that Severus was eyeing with distaste.
Hermione was just turning to look for Luna among the dancers when the silvery flash of a patronus dropped through the top of the tent and into the middle of the dance floor, a pool of silence and stillness spreading out from it. Everyone froze, several people stumbling to a halt as they clung to their partners when the music screeched and stuttered. Across the room Hermione watched Ron stumble, spilling his cup of punch down the leg of his trousers.
The silver lynx opened its mouth and spoke in Kingsley Shacklebolt’s low voice.
“ The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming”
A beat of silence. Two.
Then people were running, disapparating on the spot with sharp cracks that jarred those next to them with the sudden vacuum, pulling the flowing cloth of dresses in invisible gusts, tiny cyclones of fear buffeting the dance floor.
“The wards!” Harry shouted over the sounds of panic “the wards are gone.”
Hermione had only an instant to understand what that meant before a bright red streak of a stunning spell whipped past her face, close enough that she could feel the crackle of the magic over her skin.
“Ron!” she yelled, trying to find her friend among so many who looked so much like him. The colourful whirl of guests became a frantic finger painting of chaotic smears, blocking her view across the room.
She could hear yelling, a familiar voice coming closer as it yelled the same garbled thing over and over. It was only when Lupin managed to break free of the crowd around him and stumble toward them that his words made sense.
“Severus, get Harry out. They’re after him, they’ve come for him!” the werewolf shouted, his long hair a tangled mess as he was pulled back into the mass of people, his shield bursting out to hover around everyone.
A small scuffle broke out in the group in front of her and she had an instant to see long black robes and a bone white mask break free of the disarray before Ron barreled out of the crowd and knocked her into Harry and Severus, who had both thrown shields up when the screams started and were busily stunning anything that could possibly be a Death Eater.
There was a twisting feeling of compression, and Hermione forced her magic to stop fighting as soon as she understood that one of the men around her was trying to apparate them.
A void of blackness and then they were standing on a dark road, a few run down houses around them and no one in sight. The silence made her ears ring, her whole body thrumming with the need to run, to fight, but there was nothing there but a broken down fence and still air.
“We have to go back,” Ron said, frantic as he spun toward the rest of the group, his knuckles bleached of colour on his wand. The whites of his eyes stood out like frantic beacons in the darkness, fear coming off of him in waves, his magic ruffling the edge of her dress and making the hairs on her arms stand on end.
“Everyone was getting out Mr. Weasley, we cannot go back,” Severus answered, but Hermione was barely paying attention. She summoned the notebook from her cuff and caught it as it flew out with the force of her magic. She frantically flipped through the pages to see if Draco had time to leave her anything.
Hermione, you have to run. There’s something happening tonight. He won’t tell anyone what the plan is, but it’s something big, and Dolohov thinks he might be going after Potter. Get everyone out of there.
Please see this. Please.
Hermione closed the notebook with shaky hands, the warning long past being useful, guilt clawing sharp fingers into her throat. She should have checked it sooner.
She glanced around again, taking in the few lights on the street and the long stalks of dead grass lying flat in the ditch. Weak moonlight filtered through trees that hung heavy over the road, lone branches stretching almost low enough to touch. The concrete was old and worn, the paint in the center long since washed away but for faint flecks, a suggestion of orderliness, long since lost.
Ron was pacing back and forth across the cracked pavement, his robes flapping around behind him with each sharp turn, his polished boots scuffed and dragging over a small hump in the pavement with a low scrape at each pass. His fists were clenched and he looked as if he were thinking of apparating back regardless of what Snape told him to do.
Just when Hermione was certain Ron was going to disregard Snape, a glowing silver weasel appeared, bounding out of the bushes down the lane. It paused in front of them and spoke in Mr. Weasley’s voice.
“ Everyone’s alright, don’t worry. Harry, you and Severus are being looked for, you cannot be seen. Hermione, they’re already taking muggleborns into custody, stay with Harry and Severus. Ron, stay with the others until we can be sure no one is looking for you. Your Mother and I love you, don’t worry about us.”
Ron let out a noise like a kettle coming to boil and abruptly sat down in the middle of the road, his arms flopping out as if his strings had been cut. His robes puddled around him as he dropped his forehead to a raised knee and pulled air in with sharp jerks of his chest.
“Blimey,” he wheezed finally, to no one in particular.
A tiny chime broke the silence, coming from the notebook still in her hand. She tore it open, flipping to the latest entry.
Are you alright? Did you get out? He kept me at the ministry, I just heard that a second raid happened at the Weasley house.
Hermione summoned a pen and crouched down to use her lap as a writing bench, her soft silver dress pooling around her ankles.
We’re fine, we got out.
Thank Merlin. I have to go. We’re clearing out the ministry, try to keep everyone away, he brought dementors
“What’s happening” Snape demanded, his face as harsh and cold as she remembered from their first year, but there was a tightness she was only just starting to recognize as fear around his mouth and in the way he clutched at Harry’s shoulder.
“Draco says that they’re clearing out the ministry and to keep everyone away, that there are dementors with them. That’s all he had time to tell me” she answered, carefully sending the notebook back into her cuff.
“Harry, send a message to Tonks and let her know. It’s not likely any of the Aurors would be stupid enough to try and retake the ministry but I’d prefer not to be proven wrong” Severus said, striding over to forcibly set Ron back on his feet.
Harry nodded and sent his glowing raven winging across the sky with a short message for the Order as Severus motioned for everyone to follow him.
They walked in silence for a few minutes, the clack and scuff of shoes echoing through the heat rising off the road before Severus turned off onto a cracked drive, tufts of grass and weeds pushing up between the broken and uneven concrete. From what she could see of the front lawn, it looked as though no one lived there, unmown grass and a rock garden wall half tumbled down.
Ron stumbled a little as they got to the porch, the peeling brown paint flaking off where he caught himself on the siding. Severus ignored him and placed his palm flat on the door, muttering a few near silent words. With a grinding click, the door swung open, letting out musty air that smelled of books, mildew and a faint hint of cheap liquor.
Lights flared to life as they stepped in, the inside no better than the outside. Worn brown carpeting covered the floor, almost bare in the hall and a once gold, moth eaten couch took up most of the small space in the front room.
Bookshelves lined the walls and in the far corner was a door and a thin staircase. Severus set the fireplace to light as he strode through, smoke rolling out for an instant before the charms in the chimney could kick on
Hermione shuffled a few steps inside, her low heels catching on the bent metal strip that separated the yellowed linoleum in the entryway from the dusty carpet. The ceilings hung low and water stained, making her feel like she should crouch even though they were tall enough to allow Severus to pass through without ducking.
Harry took a few steps ahead of her and froze, staring at a small door that she hadn’t noticed. It looked like it led to the coat closet and she couldn’t understand the pain and rage darkening his eyes.
“Spinner’s end,” he said, his voice strange and tight. It wasn’t a question, but Snape nodded in agreement anyway, his gaze fixed on the thin strip of off colour wall between the bookcases.
“Right. We need to get back to Grimmauld” Harry said, his mouth pinched.
“I need a few things, then we can apparate from the back yard” Severus answered, already pulling books from the shelves.
“Do you need any help?” Hermione heard herself asking, shooting looks between Harry and Severus. The tension in the room and the way Harry was looking more and more like he was going to set fire to the place was making her antsy.
Snape paused before he tilted his chin at a smaller bookcase pressed against the far wall. “All of those if you’ve got the room.”
Hermione nodded and set to work.
It took them less than twenty minutes to gather everything from the house that Severus needed, and when they stepped into the overgrown back garden, tension seemed to fall from his tall frame. Harry had slipped an arm around him as if to steady him on the rough ground, but he clung too tightly and his eyes still held deep shadows.
Harry and Severus disapparated first, just in case something had gone wrong and Grimmauld was compromised. Separate they were both intimidating duelers, but together they stood a good chance against a fair number of Death Eaters.
Waiting the agreed upon five minutes was harder than she thought it would be, and Ron’s resumed pacing wasn’t helping her nerves. Where the slow drone of crickets was once soothing, it now grated, filling the air and covering soft sounds, like the scuff of a shoe or a strained breath. She wouldn’t know if someone was in the shadow of the leaning fence or just behind the decrepit shed until it was too late to do anything about it.
Finally, just before she was going to check her spellwork, her wand chimed. She shared a glance with Ron before he twisted on the spot and disappeared. Hermione waited just long enough to be sure that Ron had cleared the garden before she yanked her magic around herself and spun away.
Alright, everyone, this chapter was already written but I split it off for editing purposes, so bonus chapter. Doubtlessly you've all noticed my clips of songs at the start of each chapter. They indicate what I listened to the most while writing it and are just a fun little bit of relevance and foreshadowing I add. However, I would recommend if there are any you listen to at least once through, let it be this because I played it on repeat for days as I wrote and I feel like it seeped its way into the scenes.
You taught me the courage of stars before you left
How light carries on endlessly, even after death
With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite
How rare and beautiful it is to even exist
-Saturn, Sleeping at Last
Fear settled in his stomach like an old friend, weighing his steps as he strode down Knockturn Alley, his rich robes tangling around his ankles with each stride. His middle finger twisted up and brushed over the bracelet he had finally taken to wearing after Rabastian had shown up wearing a simple imitation, the fashion finally moving beyond the Gryffindors. The warmth of the leather reassured him, made him press his nail into it a little harder, grounding himself.
How long had he relied on bravado? He couldn’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t afraid, wasn’t hiding some part of himself.
He was the perfect son, the perfect pureblood, the perfect student, the perfect Slytherin, the perfect Death Eater.
He was so afraid. He hadn’t understood how Severus had done it for so many years, hadn’t understood how Potter kept standing up to a madman who wanted nothing more than to kill him in the most painful way he could.
He’d hated himself for so long for being a coward, for being so afraid when someone like Granger could face down the Dark Lord.
He hadn’t understood, not until he held his wand to Dumbledore, the watchful eyes of the other Death Eaters on his back and felt nothing but screaming, overwhelming fear.
It wasn’t that they weren’t afraid. It wasn’t the vaunted Gryffindor courage or years of spying. They were all scared, all of them, just like he was. It wasn’t bravery, or at least not bravery as he had understood it. It was simply that there was no other choice.
They did what they had to because the other choice wasn’t one they were willing to make. The truth of bravery wasn’t to lack fear or to face it, but to simply endure. To do what must be done under the yolk of terror.
Draco hated it. He wanted nothing more than to apparate away and leave Britain to burn itself to the ground, no matter that he knew he couldn’t. There were people now, people he never expected to be a part of his life tying him to this place. If they sank he would drown, the thread of fate an anchor tying them down.
The low sign for the apothecary he needed swung into view, his steps slowing as he pushed the rusty door open and walked into air thick with the scent of potions. A small thrill of nostalgia shot through him, evenings spent in the potions labs at Hogwarts rushing back, the calm measured voice of his godfather directing him in whatever he was trying to concoct.
A small bell rang somewhere in the back as he made straight for the raw ingredients he would need. The Dark Lord had asked that he help brew several of the potions the Death Eaters were painfully short on since Severus had been outed and Draco had tentatively agreed, hoping that his new status would protect him when it became clear that he did not have the kind of skill that his godfather wielded.
The shop was oddly silent; the old shop keeper usually had the wireless on in the back, the faint scratchy hum irritating him just enough that he would have to put up a silencing spell if he was trying to concentrate. This silence today was nearly unnerving.
Draco stretched for a bottle of essence of murtlap, the small brown vials in neat rows on the top shelf. The scuff of a shoe was the only warning he got before pain exploded across his shoulder, burning along his arm as he jerked back, pulling his wand and spinning to face his attackers in one movement.
Two men, he didn’t recognize stood in front of him, robes recently mended and hit heavily with cleaning charms. They both had healing lines on their faces and bruises marred what he could see of their skin.
The man nearer him had short brown hair and looked to be the older of the two, possibly near Severus’ age. He was heavily muscled, shoulders straining at his robes and blocking off the aisle to the door outside. His companion was slimmer, with lighter hair and pale blue eyes the colour of deep-sea ice and just as warm.
Draco raised his wand, a shield snapping up with a crack, sending the stunner the second man sent at him bouncing off to shatter a jar of beetle eyes. They cascaded down the shelf and over the floor with a smooth hiss, tiny black specs pooling out and washing around his boots.
“I would consider very carefully what you’re doing gentlemen,” Draco said, his voice harsh as he rolled his left shoulder, trying to dispel the pain.
The older man sneered, his nondescript features taking on a sinister cast “Oh we know what we’re doing Malfoy. We’re paying You-Know-Who back for a few of ours.”
Draco had an instant to read the murderous intent in the eyes of the men before a barrage of spells slammed into his shield, making it bow inward sharply.
Draco yelled and stumbled back, his boots barely keeping him upright on the slick beetle eyes as he poured more power into his shield. It had been almost three weeks since the ministry take over and they had known there were small groups of Aurors scattered throughout Britain but they had been hiding, keeping to themselves and licking their wounds.
As another wave of spells hit his already weak shield Draco lost any doubt that these men were Aurors. The things that they were throwing at him were battle magic, nothing an ordinary wizard would know.
He winced as he stumbled further into the back of the shop and his heel caught on a limp hand, the old shopkeeper sprawled out in an untidy mess just past the staff door, his skull caved in and filmy eyes staring sightlessly.
Draco grabbed the door that was held open with a thin piece of wood and kicked it free, swinging it shut as hard as he could trying to buy himself precious seconds. He turned and fled, throwing himself around the edge of a heavy table filled with half-prepared ingredients and empty potions jars, the catch of his hipbone on the corner sending glass raining in a tinkling cascade.
Behind him came a sharp crash as the door was kicked in, slamming back into the wall and knocking a stand of potions over, the peel of breaking glass echoing the earlier damage.
Draco glanced back just as he rounded the corner, hoping desperately that there was a back entrance. The men behind him were closer than he thought and he put on a burst of speed, his wand coming up to begin throwing hexes that were more in line with what they’d tried to hit him with.
Draco looked forward just in time to see a heavy piece of wood come swinging out of nowhere, the end held by a third man, face grim and eyes narrowed as his makeshift weapon caught Draco across the face.
He heard more than felt the crack, his skull vibrating with the impact as he fell, no longer able to tell which direction was up as the room spun around him and he blinked something wet and red out of his eyes, fear turning to confusion.
He had been trying to get away, hadn't he?
The room smeared as he tried to make sense of the faces above him but couldn’t focus on anyone’s features. Ropes snugged themselves tightly around his frame, digging cruelly into his arms and making his shoulder flair with pain.
Draco gave one small whimper as darkness took him.
Draco turned the scream that was fighting its way free of his chest into a pained grunt as he woke. His head pounded as if he’d fallen from his broom and he couldn’t move his hands, ropes cutting into his arms making the blood throb in his fingers.
It took him a few seconds to make sense of what was happening, his brain sluggish as he tried to remember how he had gotten to where ever he was.
The stone he was leaning on was icy, his thin summer robes giving him little protection against it. Everything was musty and damp smelling, like the dungeon in the Manor, and it was so dark he couldn’t see how large the space around him was, though it felt cavernous. He had a brief surge of terror when he opened his eyes and was greeted with nothing but blackness, fear that the blow to his face had blinded him only receding when his eyes made out the faintest hint of light leaking under a door in the corner furthest away from him.
He tried to shift some of his weight to relieve the pressure where the rope was pushing into his ribs but only succeeded in nearly falling over. His small scuffle as he tried to keep himself upright almost covered a similar sound off to his right.
“Hello?” he asked, his voice loud in the darkness.
“Who is it?” the response came after a long pause, the voice low and rough.
“Draco Malfoy, who are you?” Draco responded, not feeling up to playing games to find who else was trapped with him.
There was a pause, the sound of the other man breathing heavily now clear, the echo of it bouncing on the cold floor and distant walls.
Laughter broke out next to him, slowly devolving into something that sounded almost like sobs “Oh thank Merlin. He’ll never leave you in here. He’ll come for us both” the man choked out.
“Who are you,” Draco said again, more sharply, his head pounding louder as his heart sped.
“Sorry Lord Malfoy, it’s just me, Jugson. I don’t know that we met, I was only in the Manor for a little while before these bastards caught me” the man, Jugson, answered.
A niggling memory of a man with shaggy brown hair and eyes the colour of whiskey flashed through his mind. “Our Lord feared you had deserted,” Draco said, trying to keep his tone even. Trapped by Aurors and his only help was to be a Death Eater who’d been out of Azkaban for less than a month before he was recaptured.
“What do they want?” Draco asked, twisting himself around to shift closer to Jugson. Perhaps they could get each other’s bindings off.
“Information. They just keep asking me what his plans are like I’d know” his voice was edging toward panic and Draco swallowed heavily, not wanting to think of the possible ways they could be asking for information. The scars on his back seemed to burn, tracing brief sparks of fire down his spine.
“I see” Draco paused, his movements halted as he closed in on the older wizard. “Can you help me get the ropes off?”
There was the sound of cloth shuffling and a scraping sound like stone dragging on stone before hands were ghosting over his arms, feeling where the ropes were.
“Yeah, just hold still. I have a rock with a bit of an edge, might take a minute” he said, his hands holding Draco’s arm steady.
Sharp jerks against the rope made Draco stifle a noise of pain, the rough edge of the rock catching in skipping shudders against the sisal as it shredded slowly.
Draco forced himself still as the man sawed doggedly at his bindings, slowly freeing each of his limbs. Draco hissed in pain as his right arm was freed, blood rushing sharply into his hand with a throbbing ache. Draco didn’t know how long it took Jugson to cut through all of his ropes but eventually, he was free and leaning against the wall, trying to rub feeling back into his hands.
His wand was gone, as he expected, but they had neglected his cuff, not having noticed the expansion charm on it or how many wards were layered into it. Draco made a face at the darkness in front of him as he realised he was going to have to thank Potter for the damn thing.
His hands brushed down his pockets once more, just to be sure they hadn’t left anything else of use, only to freeze as he toyed with the empty pocket in his robes. The notebook. He’d had it out that morning after he apparated into the alley, scribbling a quick response before he was interrupted by Ministry toadies chatting with him on the way to Knockturn Alley. He’d stuffed the notebook in his pocket, not willing to open his cuff in front of anyone.
His throat was tight at the knowledge that they had it, his one connection to everyone on his side. His one connection to Hermione. He wasn’t worried that they’d read anything, it had been a long time since he had doubted Hermione’s spellwork, and honestly, if they were able to get it open to read it they’d likely march down and release him with an apology and a request that the Golden Trio not throw them to the Death Eaters.
No, he knew that if they tried it would burn, and he could only imagine how poorly that would go with Hermione. They’d likely already tried.
Draco toyed for a moment with the idea of trying to convince his captors that he was on their side but he couldn’t see that ending well. They’d no reason to believe him and he was stuck in a dark room with a Death Eater who was sure to take exception to him being a traitor.
His musing was interrupted by the steady thud of footsteps drawing nearer before the door opened and admitted a flare of blinding light. Draco threw his hand up to cover his watering eyes, squinting at the shadow in the doorway.
“Looks like you got yourself free already snake,” the shadow said. Draco couldn’t tell which one of his captors it was, his memory of the apothecary still shaky. He tried to sneer at the man but it probably came off as more of a grimace, the swelling in his face making the movement tight and painful.
A clatter followed an instant later, the man stooping down to slide something toward them before he backed out, slamming and locking the door behind himself.
Jugson shuffled forward and picked up what sounded like a metal tray, likely with food.
“Here,” the other man said, pushing a bowl into Draco’s hands. “It’s not great but we won’t get anything else.”
Draco felt around at the contents, pulling his hand back when his fingertips touched cold, gluey porridge. He grimaced at it but didn’t bother asking for a spoon. He knew better.
He managed to get down half a bowl before the pain in his jaw made it too hard to continue opening his mouth and he pushed the leftovers into Jugson’s hands, hopefully buying himself a small amount of goodwill.
“How long have you been in here?” Draco asked, waiting until the sound of the second bowl dropping onto the tray had stopped echoing off the walls.
“Dunno. Couple weeks maybe?” Jugson answered, his voice a little further away. “They didn’t take me anywhere else, just here, so however long I’ve been missing.”
“Just over two weeks then” Draco answered, counting forward from the ministry raid.
Silence fell as the other man digested that as Draco let his head fall back, tracing his fingers over his cuff and the tiny owl inscribed on the underside of it.
Eventually, the silence deepened and Draco let himself drift. He wanted to reach into his cuff and pull out the healing potions he had stored there but he couldn’t risk the Aurors seeing that he had healed himself. He wouldn’t give them a reason to search him again.
She woke to the smell of something burning.
Hermione grabbed her wand and lit the candles in her room with a flick of her wrist, the dregs of sleep muddling her. It took her too long to understand what she was seeing, too long to realise that the scent of burning paper and her spell work was coming from the battered blue notebook that rested on her bedside table.
She let out a tiny cry as the implications crashed into her, the edges of the pages already curling in and flaking apart, the lines of ink that traced the path of her feelings, that drew the frame around her connection to Draco burned in front of her.
She reached hesitant fingers out and brushed the coiled metal of the spine, her touch jarring it and knocking ash to the floor. She yanked her hand back and stumbled out of bed, her chest constricting as she tried to drag in tight breaths.
Hermione spun and fled through her door, blinding stumbling down the hall to Harry’s room, the carpet snagging her toes with grasping threads.
She fell against the door, trying to draw in enough air to yell, to knock, something.
“Harry, I need you” she finally got out, the knob refusing to twist under her hand, her voice choked, her wand long forgotten.
A low crash came from the room, followed by the thump of bare feet on hardwood floors. She stumbled forward when the door was jerked open, her resting weight throwing it open faster than Harry anticipated.
“Mione, what’s wrong?” he asked, green eyes worried and sharply alert. His wand was clutched in his hand and the dark shadow of a tall man loomed behind him.
“The notebook, it’s burning” she got out, willing them to understand. Severus’ sharply drawn breath was the only response, but it was enough.
He was suddenly at Harry’s side, then ducking past, long legs taking the stairs three at a time, his grace for once leaving him as he lept and landed with a reverberating thud on the ground floor. Harry shared a glance with her before they took off after him, Harry moving with the tight control that he only got when he was focused.
Hermione followed Harry when he bolted through the basement door, still hanging open from where Severus had shoved his way past, and down to the potions lab. They found Severus hunched over his workbench, a large bowl filling with water from his wand. He leaned over to look and his long hair fell forward, shielding his face with soft waves.
He shoved it impatiently back as he moved to drop something from a small glass vial into the still sloshing water, his skin pebbled, his thin t-shirt and joggers not holding up to the chill of his lab. Severus flipped his cuff open impatiently and summoned something that looked like a drop of water, caught on a fine silver chain, and lowered it slowly into the basin. A child’s tear, frozen in time and suspended on a necklace, a traditional wizarding gift to a godparent and something that should allow Severus to find him almost anywhere.
The water flashed blue, the dark deep blue of twilight before swirls of dusky purple spun through it aimlessly before Severus pulled the necklace out with a frustrated noise.
“Merlin damn it” Severus muttered, running his hands through his hair, his bare feet making no noise on the stone floor as he paced.
“I can’t find him, he must be behind wards designed to block seeking spells,” Severus finally said, coming to a halt in front of the bowl, the thin chain still grasped in his hand.
Hermione closed her eyes, counting slow breaths. If he was being deliberately hidden and the notebook had burned he was likely not in any place he wanted to be.
“The Ministry fell though. He was supposed to be safer” she heard herself whisper, unable to keep the thread of pleading from her voice.
A warm arm wrapped around her and pulled her snug as the slightly spicy scent that was Harry’s magic enveloped her. She turned her head, letting her forehead rest in the crook of Harry’s neck, trying to breathe through the fear that was digging claws into her chest.
“Hey, everything alright?” Ron’s voice broke in, making them all jump. They’d been so focused that no one had heard him come down the stairs. Their headlong rush must have woken him.
“We can’t find Draco,” Harry said when no one spoke. “Someone tried to break into his notebook.”
“Oh,” Ron said softly. He hesitated a moment before he shuffled over in his tatty sleep joggers and loose Weasley Wizard Wheezes shirt and wrapped his long arms around both her and Harry, sandwiching her between her two best friends.
“He’ll be alright ‘Mione. We spent the better part of five years trying to off the git and nothing ever touched him” Ron muttered, making her laugh weakly.
They stood for a long time, surrounding her with their warmth and love, giving what they could when no one had the answer she needed.
The sharp thud of a door opening brought him out of his stupor, a jolt of pain shooting up his back as he wrenched his cold, stiff muscles into movement.
Draco watched listlessly as the shadowed man moved once again into their prison. It had been a week? Perhaps longer, he was finding it increasingly more difficult to separate the days into the neat chunks that had once dictated his life.
Jugson shifted against him, sitting up. They had quickly chosen to sleep near one another, mostly for warmth but also for the silent reassurance of a living body within reach in the cold dark.
They hadn't touched him yet, preferring to drag Jugson from the room for hours at a time, returning him broken and bloody, barely aware of where he was. They would turn up hours later and force a healing potion down his throat. Not enough to fully heal him, just enough to keep him alive.
It was a good tactic, one he'd seen the Dark Lord employ to great effect. Show the prisoner that you believed to have the information you wanted exactly what was going to happen to him, but don't touch him. The anticipation of pain was almost worse than the pain itself.
It was exhausting, the Aurors appearing at odd hours, nothing predictable that he could time or workaround. He was always tense, always ready to be pulled from the room. Jugson was becoming resentful, retreating to a corner during their waking hours, even though he knew as well as Draco did what they were doing, it wasn't easy to be tortured day after day and have your cellmate, who likely had the information they wanted, sitting cold but unharmed.
Draco was so used to their routine that he startled badly when a rough hand grabbed the front of his robes and wrenched him upright. So today was it, finally. Something akin to relief washed through him; at least the waiting was over. Draco only noticed once he was standing and paying attention that a second man had come into the room and neither of the Aurors was acting as they usually did. There was a frantic sort of abruptness to the clasp of their hands, the whites of their eyes too evident in the darkness of the room.
"Well boys looks like our time together is over," the brown-haired man said as he dragged Draco into the dim light of the corridor. Even the weak light was too much for his dark-adapted eyes and he missed part of their walk, blinking rapidly to clear his sight.
"Stop fucking around Jones, we gotta go" came from behind them, the voice hissing and furious as they sped down a dusty hall.
They paused outside two large double doors, the sort that Draco would expect to find on the entrance to a ballroom. The flashes he'd gotten on their short walk led him to believe that they were in an abandoned Manor house, not as large as his but still sizable.
The man holding him, Jones, started to say something when a scuffle broke out behind them and Draco found himself shoved face-first against the door, the larger man holding him easily.
The sound of fists striking flesh came as Draco struggled to get a glimpse of what was happening.
"Fuck! The little bastard bit me!" the second man yelled, a flash of red light and the dull sound of a body hitting the ground came a second later.
A crash sounded in the distance, making both men jerk around to stare down the hall, Draco finally able to pull back from the door enough to see.
Both Aurors were painfully still as they listened for something. Jugson lay on the floor at the feet of the blonde man, who had his left hand clamped over his forearm, blood seeping between his fingers.
Before Draco could figure out how to take advantage of their distraction they turned back to him, their faces set, a trickle of fear in their eyes. Hope surged in his chest. If they were scared it was likely that Death Eaters had found them.
The older Auror straightened, pulling Draco around so he could look him in the eye.
"It's too bad we didn't have time to get anything useful from you. Bad choice on our part, should've gone with Sig over there. He figured you'd talk soon as we pulled out the knives but I don't know." Jones cocked his head to the side, brown eyes evaluating.
A slow humorless smile spread over his face. "We can't keep you, and what with your lot taking the Ministry you won't get a trial, but we all know how it would have ended.”
A niggle of fear began in Draco’s chest, adrenaline seeping into his brain and tensing his muscles for flight.
“You know what murders get don’t you Malfoy?” Jones hissed, his face twisting in satisfaction as he waved his wand and unlocked the doors behind Draco.
“I know they went over to your side, but they haven’t eaten for weeks. Been keeping them for a special occasion. Wards in these old houses are dead useful” Jones said, a gust of frigid wind whipping out of the crack in the doors as they swung open.
Some part of him knew what he would see, but his breath still caught at the dark flutter of the dementors wispy cloaks, a confusing mix of them pressed tight to an invisible barrier, pushing the gaping holes that passed for their mouths as close to the small group of wizards as they could.
“I suppose you wouldn’t believe me if I were to tell you that I’m on your side,” Draco said conversationally, trying to hide the panic that was closing his throat.
A snort of dark laughter came from his side “No, ‘fraid not.”
“You tried to open the notebook didn’t you?” Draco asked, knowing they would likely have triggered the spells on it before he had even woken.
Jones raised an eyebrow at him “Of course we did. Neat little trick you had on it.”
Draco leaned back, trying to get more space between him and the creatures desperately reaching for his soul. “Actually Hermione Granger put the spells on that. Didn’t want anyone on Voldemort’s side reading our notes.
Actual laughter was his response, Jones clapping him on the shoulder, “I’ll give you this Malfoy, you’ve got guts. Too bad it won’t help you. Too many people testified that you killed Dumbledore, we know you’re not innocent.”
Draco opened his mouth to respond, the strange detachment that had briefly fallen over him disappearing when he saw Jugson levitated off of the floor, his arms hanging limply.
“I’ll give Ms. Granger your apologies when I see her next,” Jones said, pushing Draco after the floating body of his fellow prisoner. Draco shoved back, fighting to keep himself away from the doors, even as he heard voices drifting down the hall.
He tripped, falling forward, away from the ballroom and onto Jones, even as Sig sent Jugson sailing through the barrier.
There was a sharp jerk on his arm and suddenly he wasn’t scrambling away, he was being lifted, hands like iron bands around his upper arms. He caught a glimpse of Jones, his face screwed up in anger before he was suddenly airborne. Draco flailed his arms out, trying to grab anything, to stop himself from following the other Death Eater into the room.
The tips of his fingers grazed the door frame, and then he was falling, falling and sliding on slick wood floors, his breath fogging in the dark, icy air.
Jugson twitched, sprawled out on the floor to the side of Draco, dementors huddling around him like they were concerned he had fallen. Draco swallowed and slowly eased himself away, barely noting the slam of the heavy doors, sealing him in. A bare instant and Draco was walking away, soft-footed.
He couldn’t save the other man, not now, not if he wanted any chance to get out.
While the dementors were occupied he snuck toward the far wall where a door leading out was half-hidden behind sweeping curtains and a pile of tables and chairs. He clamped down hard on his emotions, trying to bury them under the natural shields of his magic. The eyeless predators wouldn’t be able to sense him if he could keep himself under control.
He made it to the door, eyes darting behind him every few steps and eased his way through the maze of tables, letting his hand fall silently to the brass knob, jiggling it a little when it didn’t move under his bloodless grip.
He glanced back, nervous energy making his hands shake and sweat. He tried to pull just a sliver, a tiny trickle of magic to him. He pushed it down his hand, pressing it to the knob and whispered “ alohomora”.
Nothing happened. He huffed once, softly, as he mentally flipped through the potions in his cuff. Nothing he could use.
He glanced back to make sure the unfortunate Death Eater was still occupying them. A circle of misty cloaks still surrounded the man on the floor, but it didn’t look right. It looked thinner.
Draco jerked around, his neck wrenching as the awful realisation crashed down.
A wisp of black cloak flicked out of his vision, drawing his attention upward.
With everything in him screaming to run, he tilted his head back just in time to meet the empty gaze of the dementor descending on him.
“We’re under watch, but they don’t have the kind of power they would need to start making purebloods disappear,” Mr. Weasley said from his spot slumped by the fire, his face haggard as he huddled in his worn sweater.
“We should do something, make them believe that Ron is still there. They won’t be as likely to go after you guys if you look like you’re distancing the family from me” Harry said, his elbows propped on the smooth wood of the huge table.
“Oi mate, we don’t need to distance ourselves from you. They know what side our family is on” Ron broke in, his heels tapping the cabinet with each backswing of his legs, his perch on the counter making him a few inches taller than usual.
“Think Mr. Weasley,” Severus said, his voice coming out of the darkness of the corner, tucked as far from Harry as he could get while still being part of the conversation. Harry blinked at him, the bitter anger that had been surging through him for the last few weeks boiling up again as he tore his eyes away, refusing to look at the older man.
Severus’ voice stuttered for an instant before it hardened “Your family will be safer for it.” He hesitated before he continued, a layer of uncertainty in his tone “I know it is not something that you want to hear, but it would be worth considering Mr. Weasley returning home in actuality.”
Protests rose from Ron, Hermione, and Harry, their voices blending and overlapping until Harry’s broke through.
“And what, send him to sit at home, knock one of the few people who know what we’re looking for out of the war?” Harry said, his voice sharp and vicious.
“Do not think that I will tolerate you taking that tone with me Potter” Snape snarled, lashing out at Harry, the hurt in his eyes there and gone in an instant.
“And what are you gonna do Snape, take points?” Harry asked, emphasizing his name. If he was going to use surnames so could everyone else.
Severus stared at him for a long moment, his dark eyes drowning in fire and pain, before he looked away, his gaze falling to the table. He clenched his fists and spoke through his teeth “Consider that if Mr. Weasley remains at home he will be in a position to return to Hogwarts, the only one of you that can, and could bring us information, and more importantly he could help protect the children. I do not know who they will elect for Headmaster but it is unlikely it will be someone acceptable.”
Harry gave him a grudging look before slumping back into his spot, the anger draining out of him and leaving nothing but unhappiness.
“Yeah alright, not a bad point,” Ron said diplomatically, blue eyes darting from his best friend to his former professor. Everyone had been on edge around them, ever since they returned from the Burrow and Harry finally pried out what Severus had been hiding for so long. His stomach turned when he thought of that night, the pain of it followed by the crushing anger, so much anger.
“I’ll talk to your mother, alright? And the rest of the Order” Arthur said, standing with a slight grimace as his leg took the weight. The wound from the wedding was nearly healed but Harry knew that it still pained him.
He said his goodbyes, his bright eyes lingering on Harry, full of questions. Harry shook his head and accepted the hug Arthur gave him.
Arthur stepped into the fire and vanished with a hard whoosh of air just as Harry was turning away to head back to the library, his place of refuge from Severus and the rest of the house when Hermione stepped between him and the door.
“Hermione, I told you, I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, exhaustion creeping in despite his best efforts. Between him avoiding sleep so he didn’t have to be in the same room as Severus and everything with Draco over the last week, he’d gotten very little rest.
“Sit down,” Hermione said, brown eyes narrowed dangerously. Her tone was sharp and far harsher than she’d taken with him for years. Startled, he sat, catching Ron lowering himself into a chair off to the side. No one else was in the room, Severus having fled as soon as he could.
“I don’t know what is going on with you two, which is up to you to share or not, I get it, but Harry this has to stop. It’s making you both miserable and it’s affecting the Order” she finished, hands on her hips and a scowl on her face.
Harry glared at the floor, his thoughts just as tangled as they had been for weeks. Merlin, he hated this. He had hoped that things would start to make sense, that he would stop being so angry with Severus, but every time he saw him his anger welled up again like it had a life of its own. Like it had its own inertia, speeding along and breaking him apart.
“He was the one. He told Voldemort about the prophecy” Harry blurted out, his heart clenching in his chest. Months they had spent together, months fighting and talking and learning to love each other and he hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t bothered to tell Harry that his mother was Severus’ best friend, that the awful day in the pensieve was the day he lashed out and lost her forever. He hadn’t told him that he’d heard Trelawney speak the words that would kill his parents and damage Neville’s beyond repair.
“Oh, Harry” Hermione murmured, kneeling in front of him and brushing his hair back from his face. “He told you?”
Harry just nodded miserably. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t even know what to feel and he didn’t want to put this on Ron and Hermione because it seemed so trivial. Ron was worried his family might be captured and Hermione was holding herself together with sheer will and a great deal of tea, waiting to hear if the man she loved was ever coming back.
“Why?” Ron said, his voice loud in the quiet.
“Because he was a Death Eater Ron,” Harry said flatly.
“No, I mean why did he tell you? There’s no way you would have found out otherwise mate” Ron clarified.
Harry blinked, his mouth opening and closing for a moment before he remembered the first thing Severus had said to him the terrible night. He had lost the initial part of the conversation to his shock and rage.
“He said that he couldn’t let me fall in love with a lie. That I’d never want him if I knew and he didn’t want to trick me” Harry summarized.
“So he did the right thing?” Ron asked, falling back in his chair with a troubled look.
“Yeah, I guess so” Harry admitted, not liking the way it muddled his feelings.
“Harry?” Hermione asked, drawing his gaze back to her eyes “Do you still love him?”
Harry snorted, giving his best friend an incredulous look “Of course I still love him ‘Mione. I wouldn’t still be this bloody upset if I didn’t. Would have given up on him instead” he muttered. He dropped his face into his hands and rubbed his temples. “It would be so much easier if I could just hate him.”
“Do you want to? Hate him that is” Hermione asked, her hands resting gently on his knees.
Harry shook his head miserably. “No, I don’t want to hate him” he whispered.
A hard look dropped over the face of the small witch in front of him. “So, what you’re saying is that you still love him, he apologized and explained what he had done and yet you’re stomping around snapping at him?”
Harry jerked back like he’d been slapped. “What the hell ‘Mione? I’m allowed to be mad about this.”
“I’m not saying you shouldn’t be mad, it was a terrible thing he did. I’m saying that you’re not being constructively mad” she explained.
Harry shared a baffled look with Ron, so many nights around the common room fire trying to make sense of Hermione’s leaps of logic flashing through Harry’s head.
“Mione, you’re gonna need to explain that a little better,” Ron said tentatively.
Hermione sat back on her heels, the firelight bathing her in soft golds and sending red highlights through her dark curls. Her pale blue shirt had an ink stain on the hem and the dark jeans she had on were almost worn through the knees and Harry realised, as he did sometimes, that she was utterly beautiful. This woman who had fought at his side for so many years, who held him when his life went to shit and who pulled them all together even when she was falling apart, she was beautiful.
“You’re punishing him, Harry. You know you love him, you don’t sound like you’re planning on leaving him so this crap you’re doing, it’s just to punish him” she said, pushing her hair out of her eyes as she gazed into the dim flickers of the fire.
Harry felt like she’d gotten up and knocked the air out of him as he flashed through the stupid petty arguments he’d started, the way he’d left the room when Severus came in, the pile of pillows he had stuffed pointedly between them in the bed. She was right. He was so mad and some awful small part of him wanted Severus to hurt like he hurt, even if he didn’t, not really. Merlin, he was so stupid.
“Fuck,” he said, eloquently.
Hermione gave him a wobbly smile and patted his knee. “See, not constructively mad.”
“Mione, I need you to know that I love you and I always will, but I am so glad you chose Malfoy” Ron muttered, eyes wide.
“My choosing Draco doesn’t exclude you from getting lectured when you’re being an idiot Ronald Weasley” she answered primly.
“What the hell am I supposed to do? I can’t forgive him, I.. I’m just not ready to let that go” Harry said, his stomach tying itself into knots. He’d barely eaten the last few weeks, though he was doing better than Severus. The man had lost any weight Harry had managed to put on him and then some. Merlin, he was such an arse, he should have seen it sooner. He’d never meant to put Severus through what he had, he’d just been so hurt.
“Then tell him that Harry. Talk to him like an adult. Stop avoiding him and starting petty arguments. I know it’s a challenge for both of you, but one of you is going to have to be the adult this time and I don’t think he’s up for it.”
Harry sent a scowl her way, mainly on principle, but found himself nodding. They sat in silence as Hermione levered herself up onto the bench beside him and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze.
“Right. Nothing for it then” Harry said, levering himself up, his decision made.
He left the kitchen to calls of good luck, grabbing a half empty bottle of gin on his way by the liquor cabinet, a scantily dressed wizard waving a bundle of juniper berries at him from the label. Harry grimaced a bit at the lascivious wink he received as he climbed the stairs, heading for the attic.
Severus had been in one of three places the last few weeks, mostly his lab, but otherwise, he could be found in the dueling room or very rarely in their bedroom the few hours they slept. He’d been dosing himself with a sleeping potion the last couple of weeks, unable to fall asleep when Harry did otherwise.
Harry made it to the top of the staircase and paused on the short landing, the only door straight ahead of him. He could hear the cracks of spellwork from where he was and a tiny thrill of trepidation crept through him at the thought of opening the only thing that stood between him and an angry Severus Snape.
“Bloody hell” he whispered before he gathered the tattered remains of his courage and cracked his knuckles against the door in warning before he entered.
Severus stood in the middle of the room, sweat soaking his hair and covered neck to toe in his traditional black robes. He hadn’t left their room without being fully dressed, including robes, since their fight and Harry suddenly saw them for what they were, just another shield.
“Come to finish what you started Potter?” Snape taunted, snapping his wand into his holster and holding his arms out wide in a mocking surrender.
Harry’s face burned at the reminder, the moment when he’d shoved Severus against the wall and pressed the tip of his wand into his throat, screaming at him to take it back, to tell him he was lying. The most awful part was that Severus hadn’t raised a hand to defend himself. He’d simply let Harry point his wand and do what he would, just as he was now.
“I’m sorry about that. I should never have held my wand to you” Harry said quietly, all his anger draining away at the thinly veiled desperation in Severus’ eyes.
“What?” Severus stuttered out, his baffled expression making him look so much younger.
Harry just sighed and motioned him over to the long, low window that looked out over the back garden. He slid down and leaned against the wall under it, peaking his eyes over the edge of the sill and trying to make out any stars through the fog of London light.
A small huff announced Severus’ arrival, his long legs folding carefully under him as he warily watched Harry like he was some kind of wild animal that might attack him.
“I’m still mad at you” Harry started, thumping the bottle of gin down between them. Severus stiffened and started to push himself right back up.
“I hardly needed you to tell me that. If you’ll excuse me, I don’t know that I have it in me for another night of this.”
Harry’s hand snapped out, seeker quick, and grabbed Severus’ robes, tugging him gently back down. He resisted for only a second before he gave in, dark eyes fixed on the tip of Harry’s trainer. He flipped a graceful hand at Harry, motioning for him to start again.
“I’m still mad, but I’m also sorry for the way I’ve been acting. Mione pointed out that I was being an arse” Harry rubbed at the back of his neck, not willing to meet Severus’ eyes.
“Does she know what I did?” he asked very softly.
Harry nodded, meeting stunned black eyes. Merlin, he’d missed this, just being close to him. He’d been so mad that it had overwhelmed everything else, even this.
“I don’t understand,” he said, his eyes so vulnerable.
Harry locked his jaw and sank his fingertips into the folds of his jeans to stop himself from reaching out, from touching, because as soon as he did he wouldn’t be able to stop. It was like when he finally decided to get through his anger it just fell away, thinned out to let all the other emotions trapped under it swim free.
“I love you,” Harry said, needing to make that hint of fear, of uncertainty, vanish.
Severus jerked back like Harry had hit him, his eyes going hard and cold.
“This is low even for you Potter” he spat, pushing himself up as Harry scrambled after him, trying to figure out what the hell he’d done wrong this time.
“Damn it, Severus, stop!” Harry yelled at the retreating back.
The tall man spun on him, his robes flaring out around him like they had during their Hogwarts days “I will not be mocked, Potter. You can hate me for what I’ve done, hell you can even curse me for it, Merlin knows I deserve it, but you will not mock me.” His voice was tight as he finished, his hand shaking slightly where he pointed a long finger at Harry’s chest.
Harry swallowed, grief and guilt slamming through him. He should have seen, should have guessed that Severus would think the worst. He should have talked to Hermione sooner, should have done something sooner. Everything was just so confusing. He’d never been in love before and he didn’t know how to handle it on the good days, but this? Harry would rather face a blast ended skrewt in nothing but his pants than try to untangle the twisted feelings rushing through him.
He didn’t know how to fix this. He didn’t know how to even start to make this better, and Severus was turning away and it didn’t matter how mad he was he couldn’t lose this, he couldn’t, because Severus was something he never knew he needed, but he did need him. He needed him like he needed air; like he needed magic.
Before a plan had solidly formed Harry was striding the few steps between them and doing what he had wanted to since he saw Severus standing there in the middle of the room, so thin and so still, wearing all his shabby masks.
He wrapped his arms tightly around the slim waist and held on, burying his face in Severus’ neck and just breathing him in.
The older wizard went stiff, his whole body bowing away from the contact, his hands hovering over Harry’s shoulders. Harry just held on tighter.
Slowly, so slowly, thin hands fell onto his back and skimmed over his t-shirt, whipcord muscles pulling him carefully closer as if he would break if Severus held him too tightly; as if Harry would shatter apart if he wanted him too much.
Severus let out a tiny unwilling noise as all the tension drained from him and he fell around Harry like he was trying to envelop him.
Long hair fell around them both, Harry only realising then that he had been murmuring quiet reassurances into the soft skin of Severus’ neck. His hands were shaking as he ran them through Harry’s frazzled hair, his arms clutching so tightly that he was almost sure to have bruises.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I never meant for any of it, I never wanted any of it” Severus was whispering into his shoulder, his deep voice so desperate.
Harry pulled back reluctantly, meeting a gaze stripped of everything. Every single part of Severus showed, from his loose robes to his grasping hands, the slump of his shoulder and the pained set of his mouth. His eyes blazed with fear and hope and Harry had never seen him so naked.
He stretched up and carefully, so carefully, kissed him. Severus hesitated a brief second before he molded their mouths together, letting his tongue slip along Harry’s when the younger man urged him closer. Severus kissed him with the same kind of desperation he had on the top of the Astronomy tower like it was his only chance to show Harry how he felt before it was taken away forever.
Harry found himself pulled flush to the lanky frame, the first stirring of interest pressing into his stomach before Severus carefully shifted his hips away.
Harry broke away, panting, and let his fingers comb through the long hair they had tangled themselves in. “You’re an idiot if you think I stopped loving you,” Harry said, trying for and missing a tone of admonishment.
“I’m an idiot then” Severus answered agreeably, his forehead resting against Harry’s.
“I’m trying to forgive you, I’m just having a hard time with it and I think I’m gonna need some time” Harry explained into the silence, not liking that it was true but not willing to hide the truth from him either.
Severus pulled back, a troubled look on his face “Harry I never expected you to forgive me” he said.
Harry let go of him but motioned him back over to the abandoned bottled of gin, dropping down to the floor. Harry pulled the top off and took a small mouthful, only to sputter and immediately regret it.
“Idiot” Severus murmured fondly, summoning a bottle of firewhiskey from his cuff and holding it out to Harry. Harry frowned at the gin and after some consideration turned a small broken plant potter into a glass and froze a bit of water in the bottom before he poured the clear alcohol over it.
He gave Severus a smug look as he sipped his considerably more pleasant drink and watched the other man take a sip of whiskey from his own conjured glass.
“Did you know?” Harry asked finally, the question that had been beating against his brain that he hadn’t been able to bring himself to ask.
“Did I know she was pregnant you mean?” Severus asked.
“Of course I didn’t. If I had known there was any chance it could be Lily I would have killed Trelawney before she could finish speaking her prophecy.” The matter of fact way he admitted to potential murder made Harry pause.
“What would you have done to keep something like that a secret if Hermione was on the other end of it?” Severus asked, gaze intent.
Harry swallowed, not willing to admit that he would have done anything, everything, to keep what had happened to his mum and him from happening to Hermione and any child she might have later on.
He raised his glass and took a nervous sip, letting his silence speak for him. Severus gave him a knowing look but returned to his glass without further comment.
A considering sort of quiet fell over the room, the dueling dummies still spread out across the long attic, small fluffs of stuffing hanging from them where Severus had struck them in his practice. The warm wood floors glowed softly in the flickering candlelight, the scuffs and gouges already repairing themselves.
“I’m not even that mad at you about Mum” Harry broke the silence with the realisation he’d come to in the last week. “You’re not the one who betrayed them. It wouldn’t have mattered what you told Riddle if Peter hadn’t let him in.”
Harry held up his hand to forestall the protests he could see forming. “I’m mad at you because if it hadn’t been mum you wouldn’t have done anything. You might not have even changed sides. Sometimes I forget that you really were a Death Eater once and I guess this just kinda brought it all into perspective” Harry said.
Shame so intense it made Harry’s stomach hurt flashed across Severus’ face before he buried it.
“I’m just having trouble with it. I don’t know how to deal with what you did to Neville’s parents or all the people you hurt before that.” Harry drew in a deep breath, trying to get out what had been building up for the past few weeks. “But I will because that’s not who you are anymore. I’ll figure it out, I just need you to be patient with me.”
Severus nodded slowly, his eyes suspicious, disbelieving. “Does this mean you still want to try? With us, with whatever this is?” He motioned a bit awkwardly between the two of them.
Harry swallowed heavily but nodded, his gaze fixed on the rapid ripple of emotion that flashed over his face like memories on pensieve water, there and gone again.
“I don’t..” Severus sighed, long fingers curling around his glass tightly, “I can’t do this if you’re going to hold this over me” Severus got out, his voice soft. “It’s not fair of me to put that kind of restriction on you but if every time I do something wrong my past is brought up I would rather know now, before..” he trailed off, eyes fixed in the depths of his whiskey.
Harry shook his head vehemently “No, I wouldn’t do that to you. If I didn’t think I could get past this we wouldn’t be talking right now” he answered, scooting closer to Severus so he could tangle their legs together.
Severus nodded a bit too rapidly, sending his long hair spilling around gaunt cheeks. Harry grimaced as he looked at him for the first time in weeks.
“Not to be an arse but you could use a shower and something to eat,” he said, earning himself a scowl but no actual disagreement.
It took another glass of whiskey and a fair amount of coaxing before Harry got them heading downstairs again, Severus trailing behind him like a surly dementor. But as they stepped onto the landing long fingers wrapped hesitantly around his and Harry let some of the tension that had been riding him for weeks fall away.
They’d be alright. He’d make sure of it.
Hey everyone, sorry for the delay on this chapter. I have news! I have acquired beta readers! This chapter was beta'd by the lovely Tikka013- thanks for reading my things!
Saw murder in her eyes
The dark of a thousand crows
Cold thriller in disguise
Blue shadows stitched to her toes
-Black Crow, Angus And Julia Stone
It was less than a week until the new term started when they managed to gather most of the Order at Grimmauld, filling the kitchen near to bursting. The Weasley’s were mostly all present, with the exception of Charlie, who had been gone for most of the month in an attempt to relocate a nest of Welsh Greens to keep them from being captured and used by the Death Eaters.
Severus was seated at Harry’s side for the first time in weeks, his body tense even as he pressed his leg against Harry’s as if he needed proof that Harry wasn’t going to pull away. George had settled on Harry’s left, uncharacteristically silent, his hair limp and dark rings under his eyes. The shop had been doing well and was one of the few places that were still open in Diagon Alley, but the twins had been running themselves ragged trying to develop anything that could be disguised as a joke but used to help the students returning to Hogwarts.
From what they’d told Harry, every day they’d sold out of their instant darkness powder, their frost gems that would encase a person in ice for a few vital seconds to allow escape and their umbrellas that doubled as quick release shields. They had gotten both Bill and Fleur involved to try and turn out more products in an effort to meet the demands of the returning students but they were barely keeping up.
The call for an Order meeting had gone out earlier that morning via charmed galleons; Hermione had carried the idea over from the DA and everyone had latched onto it. The announcement in the Prophet of the new Hogwarts Headmaster and the additions to the staff had set off a chain reaction of rapid-fire messages, ending with all the Order members that could be spared arriving at Grimmauld after night had fallen.
Shacklebolt stood at the head of the table, his dark skin reflecting almost blue in the low light of the kitchen, the murmurs of conversation softening the room to something almost cozy. Molly bustled around with a tray of hot drinks floating along in her wake. Her previously plump frame was thinner and her robes hung loose but she’d lost none of the determination in her eyes. She paused by Harry and set mugs of tea with a splash of milk in front of him and Severus, brushing a kiss across the top of both of their heads before moving on. The look of offended confusion on Severus’ face made Harry snort with laughter.
“Alright, if we can get started?” Shacklebolt called everyone to attention just after Tonks and Remus slipped in, the new bands on their fingers glinting where they gripped their mugs. Harry sent a smile at them both from down the table and Tonks rewarded him with a lightning fast hair colour change, red and gold rippling in bright stripes as she grinned back.
Remus smiled tiredly and nodded to both Harry and Severus before leaning wearily against his wife. Harry had only seen them briefly since Bill’s wedding, both of them too busy trying to head off Riddle’s forces from opposite ends. They’d met just long enough the week after the wedding to scrap the plan for the locket since Tonks would most certainly be detained if she were to show up at the ministry. Remus had also rather shyly admitted that they had gotten married in a small ceremony a few days prior and apologized to everyone for not inviting any of them. The couple had gotten some good-natured complaints and promises of a real party when the war was over.
A shuffle at the front of the room drew everyone’s attention to Shacklebolt as he moved his chair and took up his position standing at the head of the table.
“As all of you have seen by now Merek Nott has been awarded the Headmaster position at Hogwarts, which we assume is his reward for his son finding a way to get Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Additionally, Minerva has informed us that the Carrow twins will be taking over the positions of Defense against the Dark Arts and Muggle Studies Professors.” Shacklebolt paused to eye the room, the undercurrent of disgust clear in his tone. “Minerva will be directing our efforts at the school, so please approach her with questions.”
Shacklebolt took his seat as Professor McGonagall stood, her back as straight as ever despite the same marks of stress they all wore carving lines in her face. Her thin shoulders were wrapped in a tartan shawl, despite the warmth of the late August night.
“We have several things that must be addressed, primarily the safety of the students,” she said, her lips pursed in unhappiness. “I fear that those who do not belong to pureblood families will be subject to treatment that has previously been unheard of at Hogwarts.”
People shifted uncomfortably as they whispered among themselves. No muggleborns would be attending this year, not after the muggleborn registration act had been announced last week. Harry had already heard some of the stories coming out of the ministry, about how they were taking people’s wands, saying that if they couldn’t prove they had a magical ancestor that they weren’t really a witch or wizard.
“We cannot close the school, the ministry will not allow it.” McGonagall shifted her eyes to the table, glaring so fiercely that Harry was a little surprised the wood wasn’t shrinking away.
A shuffle of feet came from behind Harry. “I reckon you’re going to need as many people on your side as you can get,” Ron spoke from his spot by the sink, his face uncharacteristically grim.
Molly made a soft noise of protest but didn’t argue as she turned to lean into Arthur. Ron gave her a small, apologetic smile and shrugged his shoulders.
“I’m one of the only ones that can go, Snape was right about that. I’ll be more useful where I can help protect the lower years.” Ron smiled a bit ruefully “Besides you all know I’m rubbish at figuring out puzzles.”
McGonagall nodded to him, her gaze softer. “Thank you, Mr. Weasley. I believe the students would do well to see those on our side still about.”
“The older students who can be trusted should be given maps with all hidden routes from the castle clearly marked, should they need to remove the lower years quickly” Severus added in.
McGonagall lifted her chin in agreement and pulled a scroll from her pocket, scratching out a few notes.
Ideas flew around for the next hour, everything from practical to outlandish until McGonagall raised her hands in surrender and stopped the flow. Her hand was smeared with ink and her normally neat bun had fallen a bit to the side but she looked calmer.
“Thank you, everyone, we look to have a start at least. I’ll share these with the rest of the staff that can be trusted and we will move forward where we can.” With that McGonagall took a seat on a low stool by the fire, her gaze already distant as she made small marks on the parchment.
Shacklebolt turned dark eyes to Harry, who swallowed a flutter of nerves and stood to take McGonagall’s place at the head of the table. The attention of everyone in the room slowly turned from each other and refocused on Harry, who was pulling anxiously at a thread on the bottom of his t-shirt and regretting not changing into something with fewer stains.
Severus raised an eyebrow at him, the slightly condescending look making him feel like he was back at Hogwarts and had just failed to answer a question to Snape’s satisfaction. The familiarity of it caused a pale twinge of annoyance but settled him enough to straighten up and turn to the crowd, the flutters in his stomach dying off.
“So I know some of you know that there are a few items that we’re looking for. We can’t tell you anything about why or even what they are because if Riddle finds out we’re looking for them it could cost us the war,” Harry said. His proclamation brought the room to silence and made him feel like he was being pierced by the laser focus of the group.
“What I can tell you is that Dolores Umbridge has one of the items and we need to get it, as soon as we can.” Harry glanced at Tonks, “We had a plan that should’ve worked but the Ministry falling has thrown that a bit off,” he muttered, rubbing his hand along the back of his neck.
“Since that’s not going to work we’re open to ideas,” he finished lamely.
“Going into the Ministry would be suicide,” Shacklebolt spoke up from his spot on the low bench, his teacup almost disappearing in his large hands. “I would recommend avoiding it if at all possible. Do you know if she keeps what you need to find in her office?”
“She wouldn’t.” The gruff answer came from the furthest corner, where Madeye had turned a chair so his back faced the corner, despite being able to see through his skull. “She’s arrogant but not stupid. Might have it at home or her Gringotts vault if it’s big. If it’s small she’ll have it on her if she thinks it’s valuable.”
Harry opened his mouth to respond but was stopped by Severus, who held up a pale hand.
“Have any of you seen or spoken to Umbridge recently?” he asked.
Shacklebolt leaned forward. “I have. I spoke with her briefly last week.”
A glint of excitement curled over Severus’ face. “Would you be willing to give me the memory of that encounter?”
Shacklebolt looked confused but nodded nonetheless. “Yes of course, if you think it would help, but it was just a moment about pulling more Aurors to guard the courtrooms.”
Severus pulled a small glass jar from his cuff and handed it to a perplexed Kingsley. The dark man swirled his wand and retrieved the memory willingly enough despite his obvious desire to question them.
Severus gave him a quick nod when Kingsley handed it over and twisted in his seat to offer the jar to Hermione. Hermione took it without hesitation and was out of the room before anyone could comment. Severus had unearthed a pensieve during their cleaning spree and after some small repairs had set it up in a small sitting room on the first floor. It wasn’t as large as Dumbledore’s and the memories would sometimes pause for a few seconds here and there, but it was better than nothing.
Harry just shrugged at the confused looks and returned to his seat. The room fell back into quiet conversations as they waited for Hermione to come back.
“So back to Hogwarts then? I never thought I’d see you trying to go to classes Ronikins,” George teased as he forced a smile.
Ron just pulled a face at his brother. “Yeah well, can’t let Ginny be the only Weasley there can I?” George gave him a rather shrewd look as Fred joined his younger brother against the counter.
“Come by the shop before you leave, alright?” Fred said, uncharacteristically serious. Ron swallowed heavily but nodded. They all knew that he would need everything he could get to help the other students and keep himself safe.
They were interrupted from further planning by Hermione coming back into the room, her eyes lit with fierce satisfaction. “We need to capture her,” was all she said, but it was enough of an explanation.
Harry shuddered at the idea that Umbridge must be wearing part of Voldemort’s soul around her neck.
“Right then,” Kingsley broke in, his face filled with curiosity as he pulled everyone’s attention to him. “Best way to get her will be outside the Ministry.”
Arthur stood, drawing everyone’s attention. He flushed and fiddled with the edge of his shirt before Molly laid a hand over his and stilled him. “She’s on a tear about the muggle registration act. She’s been overseeing almost all of the trials to take people’s wands from what I hear. Could we get her to come to us?”
Several heads nodded as the table fell silent, considering.
“She spent all that time in fifth year trying to make you shut up, didn’t she mate?” Ron said from behind Harry. Harry twisted around to nod at his best friend. The redhead was looking at the floor in front of him, clearly thinking.
“So what if we make her want to shut you up again?” Ron said, a smile blooming over his face. Harry couldn’t stop his answering grin, even though that particular smile led to things like flying cars into a whomping willow.
“You will not be using Harry for bait Mr. Weasley,” Severus said, his voice dangerously neutral.
Ron frowned and waved him away. “Of course I’m not, Harry’s the only one that ever uses Harry for bait.” Harry felt his face flush at that, but couldn’t argue. “We put out an article. We get a hold of Luna’s dad and see if he’ll print it. Then, when she wants to respond we get her to come out. Somewhere she’ll think is safe.”
Severus blinked a bit but nodded in agreement. It was a good plan. There was very little actual risk if she didn’t agree to a meeting and it wouldn’t tip her off either way.
Harry smiled again at Ron, a twinge going through his chest as he realised how much he would miss seeing him every day. He knew they would need to go their separate ways at some point but a little part of him didn’t think that would happen until well after school. Before everything had happened this year they’d all had plans to rent a flat together after graduation, none of them willing to be too far apart. Severus said they were worryingly co-dependent and Harry couldn’t disagree.
The table fell into planning and the start of the article was written before long. Arthur stuck his head through the floo and spoke with Mr. Lovegood, who agreed readily enough. Luna poked her head in just long enough to wave to the room before she disappeared again.
Harry felt his attention melting away long before the meeting was over and his eyes were drifting closed when people finally began to leave. Severus nudged him just enough to bring his attention around so he could say his goodbyes. They’d settled on the letter they planned on publishing in Harry’s name, with no real input from him. It called out the Ministry for their new policies and made specific mention of Umbridge and the harm she had done by suppressing news of Riddle’s return. There were also several scathing paragraphs dedicated to her current work with the muggleborn registration committee and how she was stealing the wands of fully trained witches and wizards. The only lie they added, that she was a muggleborn herself, was buried in so many truths that it was designed to make her angry enough to respond.
Bill was planning on dropping it by the Lovegood’s the next morning, in time for a Sunday edition printing before he headed back out to shell cottage and promised to update everyone as he waved his goodbyes. The last of the Order filed out, taking the floo or apparating, depending on their destinations, leaving only those staying at Grimmauld in the kitchen.
Harry found himself turning to Ron, who had taken a seat on the now empty bench across from him. “When are you leaving then?” he asked, knowing it would be soon.
Ron looked sad but determined at the reminder. “Suppose I should probably head back to the Burrow tomorrow. Need to pack and get a few things for the year. Don’t know what I’ll do without you around to help with assignments,” he said to Hermione with a rueful smile. The smile that she sent back didn’t reach the worry in her eyes.
“You’ll do fine Ron. I’m convinced I’ve been enabling the two of you for years.”
A small snort came from Severus but he snapped his mouth shut and looked pointedly down into his tea when Harry turned to glare at him.
“Alright, I’m for bed,” Hermione announced as she clambered out of her seat and stretched her back with a grimace. She leaned across the table to brush a kiss over Ron’s cheek before turning to do the same to Harry and Severus. Strangely enough, Severus seemed to have finally accepted his inclusion in her affections and simply tilted his head to receive the light brush of her lips while muttering a quiet good night.
Harry sighed and slumped a bit as he finished his tea. “Remind me to give you the map and the cloak before you leave tomorrow, you’ll need it more than we will,” Harry said to Ron as he scrubbed his hand over his tired eyes. Neither he or Severus had really caught up on sleep yet.
Ron looked a bit surprised but nodded before he pulled himself up and bid them good night. Harry and Severus followed behind, finishing their bedtime routine in a sleepy daze. Harry let himself tumble into their cool sheets and was nearly asleep by the time Severus dropped in to join him. The last thing he felt was their bracelets clicking together and the warmth of Severus’ hand curling around his.
Xenophilius published the article the following weekend and informed them of a pointed visit he had received from the Ministry later that day, asking him about his communication with Harry. Luckily he was able to truthfully state that he had not seen nor spoken to Potter since the Weasley wedding. The Ministry goons left with vague threats but had no true reason to bring him in for further questioning, having been given the original letter as evidence of a lack of interview.
They were almost a week into the term before they got word from Umbridge, requesting that Xenophilius come to her for an interview to clear up the ‘unfortunate misunderstanding’. If it had been anyone other than the owner of the Quibbler they would not have been able to refuse, but the entire wizarding world knew that Xenophilius was a strange but ultimately harmless man. So when Umbridge was sent a return owl, explaining that the Ministry was infested with Wrackspurts and Lovegood simply could not risk coming in contact with so many, it was met with annoyance but no suspicion.
It took nearly another full week before they settled on a midday meeting at the Leaky Cauldron, Umbridge’s need to control every facet coming out when she requested the pub be emptied for their use. Their meeting was set for Friday afternoon, the second week of September and after being scheduled gave the Order only two days to finalize their plans.
Friday morning came around with little warning and far too quickly. Severus had woken up groggy after a late night spent doggedly trying to mitigate possible problems and going over the plan with the Weasley twins ad nauseam. Harry and Severus would remain at Headquarters despite both of their initial protests and would be prepared to take charge of the locket. The largest part of the plan had fallen mostly to the twins, as they were expected to be near the pub given the proximity of their store and would be responsible for altering her memory and getting her set on her way.
Granger, Lupin and Tonks left just after breakfast to take up their posts. Granger and the wolf would be stationed in the attic above Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor, abandoned after Florean went missing. Tonks had one of the most difficult jobs as she was taking the form of Xenophilius Lovegood himself. The real Xenophilius would be subjected to a fairly unfortunate number of painful hexes before being dropped off at St. Mungo’s just before the interview was set to start. They had planned it without his knowledge in case he was given veratiserum. The last thing he needed was to be tied to the however brief abduction of a Ministry official.
By the time midday came, Harry was nearly vibrating with the need to do something and had taken to pacing in front of the door to the garden. They had already readied the small room in the basement and Severus had brought out the potion he had created specifically for use against Horcruxes. Just in case it was ineffective they had also fetched one of the few Basilisk fangs they had taken and had it ready.
Severus watched Harry make another tight loop in front of the doors, his gaze flicking out to the apparation point in the garden before going to the old muggle clock he’d found somewhere and stuck to the wall above the sink. The repetition was almost hypnotic. Pace, garden, clock, turn, repeat. The scuff of his trainers on the worn stones of the floor and the faint murmur of the wireless from the other room were the only noises, the house empty but for them.
Severus twisted his teacup around in his hand, his long fingers absently tracing the cartoon werewolf as it ran loops around the mug, chasing a slowly floating moon. The small drawing paused for a moment to rub itself along his thumb before it resumed its hunt, making Severus’ lip twitch. He might not like werewolves but even he could see why Harry had insisted on buying the mug for Lupin, only for it to join the amalgamation of mugs in the Grimmauld cupboards.
Severus’ attention was brought around when Harry deviated long enough to refill his own mug with coffee, his exhaustion long since replaced by caffeine and panic fueled agitation. The younger man resumed his route, drips of coffee following in his wake from the sloshing mug.
A completely ridiculous surge of fondness hit Severus as he watched Harry. Even like this, tense with stress and worry, running on too little sleep and far too much coffee, he was appealing. Had Severus ever indulged in imagining a partner for himself he would never have envisioned the tired, scruffy man in front of him. Harry was messy and had little patience for intellectual debate, despite his intelligence. He wore every bit of himself on his face, and Severus was fairly certain he actually lacked the ability to hide his emotions for longer than a few seconds. Harry loved the same way, out loud and without reservation, even when he had lost so many. He was categorically the opposite of Severus, but never in the ways that mattered.
The weight that Severus had been carrying for so many years, the awful secret that had grown heavier and heavier the longer he spent with Harry, it was finally gone. In its place was a raw scoured feeling, like he’d scraped something black and clinging away when he’d finally gotten the courage to tell Harry about his part in his parent’s deaths. He had been so sure that was the end. Severus had barely slept in the weeks after, trying desperately to find a way to separate them, not wanting to force Harry to be tied to a murderer any longer than absolutely necessary.
Severus was still half convinced that he’d died somewhere along the way, possibly over the previous summer, because there was no logical world in which Harry decided that he loved him enough to stay with him. To try and forgive him. Severus knew the kind of man he was. He knew he had good points, that he was clever and excelled in dangerous situations. Severus was the kind of man you wanted during a war or if you were dying of something particularly nasty but when he had served his purpose he was allowed to fade back into his solitude.
No one had ever wanted Severus for who he was, instead of what he could give them. Not even Lily had believed him worth enough to fight for in the end, not that he blamed her.
Severus had finally stopped questioning it and chose to believe that Harry was more than a little mad. He didn’t mind though, not if it was the sort of madness that made Harry love him.
He didn’t have anything else to hide. There were no more secrets. He no longer woke feeling like a dangerous potion was hanging over his head, just waiting for the right moment to blow up in his face. A whole new type of terror had set in recently. Now that he knew his past wouldn’t take Harry from him that left only the future. At least he couldn’t change his past and there had been a certain comfort in that, in knowing that there was nothing more he could do if Harry left him for it. If Harry left now it would be because of something the Severus had yet to do, some mistake he couldn’t see coming.
His somewhat maudlin thoughts were interrupted by the sharp crack of apparation, followed almost immediately by Granger bursting through the door that Harry had flung open for her. Her face was white and set in harsh lines as she held an exact replica of the locket they had retrieved from the cave at arm’s length in front of her.
Severus had his wand out and was levitating the locket away from Granger before she could take more than a few steps into the kitchen. Her hand spasmed as the chain was tugged loose, her fingers clutching at it for an instant before she forced herself to release it.
Severus turned his attention to navigating the stairs, locket floating in front of him. It was twisting in the grip of his magic as if it was trying to break free. The emeralds that decorated the tiny serpent flashed with a malevolent light and Severus could barely believe that they had thought the decoy locket was a Horcrux. The true one bled dark magic, the shadows of the basement seeming to reach for it as they passed through the doorway of the warded room, Harry on his heels.
Lupin was just behind him, having arrived just after Granger and swung the door shut, locking them in. Severus would have preferred the wolf not know what they were dealing with, but they might need another person and as good as Granger was she didn’t have the same level of experience Lupin did. Additionally, she was considerably less durable than a werewolf. What Harry lacked in practical experience he made up for in sheer brute strength.
The wards in the room activated with a soft hum and a flash of amber light. Severus placed the locket in the center of the inscribed circle and fetched the potion he had prepared. Harry and Lupin had taken up posts equal distance away from him and had shields already raised, both eyeing the now still necklace warily. Severus could feel the now familiar curl of Harry’s magic twisting around him, his first fumbling attempts in the room of requirement long passed.
A short nod from the other two and Severus was casting the first in what he was sure would be a complex series of spells to open the locket. They had agreed that the best chance they had to destroy it would be if they first forced it open. A sharp violet light left his wand and struck the necklace, only to fizzle out with a small spark. Severus followed it with a delicate amber tinged spell to probe at the edges of the clasp, but it too fell flat.
Four unlocking charms and six investigative spells later the locket remained oddly inert. Severus had expected it to lash out but it remained stubbornly closed and still in the center of the circle. Harry’s eyes were beginning to glaze as Severus took longer and longer between each spell to consider his approach.
“I do not know what protections Riddle placed on this. It is not reacting in the way I had expected,” Severus explained, his tone troubled.
Quite suddenly Harry let his shield drop and stepped up beside Severus. “I’ve had an idea. I’m going to try something. Cover me would you?”
Without any further explanation and before Severus could protest, Harry stepped into the circle and hunched over the locket. Severus extended his shield out to cover the other man and stepped closer, allowing the edges of his robes to brush Harry’s back.
The younger man stared intently down at the glinting emeralds, a colder and darker mirror to his eyes. Harry opened his mouth and a low sibilant hiss reached Severus an instant before the locket popped open with a soft click.
An enormous plume of smoky ash billowed up from the locket, making both Severus and Harry stumble back. Harry landed on his arse and scooted out of the circle with a strange crawling lunge, nearly taking Severus down in his hurry to get to the other side of the wards.
Glowing red eyes appeared in the center of the smoke just as it surged toward them, only to crash into an invisible wall at the edge of the inlaid brass circle. An enraged howl filled the room as the soul twisted around in its container, trying to find a way out.
Severus leaned over to retrieve his potion, ready to simply levitate it in and slop it over the whole center of the circle when he saw that Riddle soul had paused and was staring at Lupin.
“You’ll kill her. You’ll make a mistake like you always do and one morning you will wake to find your lovely wife torn to pieces around you.” The voice was lower and considerably more human, but still had a bit of the serpent hiss of Voldemort. Lupin was shaking his head, his eyes wide and face bleached of colour as he tried to deny the fear that the soul piece was dragging from his mind.
“Ignore it Lupin,” Severus ordered as he siphoned a fist sized ball of potion into the air above the bottle that held it. He began floating it toward the middle of the room and only let it jog slightly when he realised that Riddle had given up on Lupin to focus on him.
“He’ll leave you. You know he will. And once he has you won’t be near enough to save him. You will watch him fall and die under my wand.”
Severus tensed but ignored the voice, his spine straightening when he felt the warm press of Harry’s hand on his back. The red slitted eyes were turning to Harry just as Severus released the potion, letting it splash down on the last place he’d seen the locket, hidden now in the smoke of the Horcrux.
A strange sucking noise began a second before Riddle’s voice started screaming. High pitched shrieks cut through the air and rang around the room, making all three of them drop to the floor and cover their ears.
The rolling smoke twisted around inside the circle, spiraling rapidly down to a point on the floor. What was left of Riddle was sucked into the remains of the bubbling locket, leaving a resounding quiet behind.
Severus rose slowly, his ears still ringing. Everything seemed brighter like the walls had been hit with a particularly powerful scorgify. In the center of the inlaid circle lay a twisted piece of metal and glinting emeralds, specks of black sludge blown around it in an inky halo. Severus levitated it into a small warded box he had kept for the purpose, sealing it once the remains of the necklace were dropped in.
Lupin stumbled past and flung the door open, dragging gulps of air in like he’d been drowning. He doubled over, his hands gripping his knees as he hung his head.
“Was that what I think it was?” Remus choked out.
Severus stepped past him, letting the cooler air of the hallway dry the sweat on his brow. “That depends entirely on what you think it was, Lupin.”
Golden eyes, narrowed in frustration, peeked out from behind the folds of worn cloak that had fallen around the other man. “I think it was a piece of Voldemort’s soul,” Lupin hissed.
“Yep,” Harry answered as he stepped out, his face nearly as pale as Severus’.
Remus took another stilted breath before he forced himself upright. He eyed both Severus and Harry for a moment before he shook his head and started up the stairs. A softly muttered ‘wonderful’ floated back down to them.
Harry and Severus followed, only to be brought to a halt when Lupin stopped just outside of the basement door. “How many?”
Severus hesitated but could not find any good reason not to tell him. He knew enough that they already couldn’t afford to have him fall into the hands of the Death Eaters. “Three more.”
Lupin’s mouth pinched tight but he nodded slowly. “I’ll help where I can but if I go back to the packs I need you to take my memory first.”
Severus waved his hand in tired agreement, relieved that he wouldn’t need to convince Lupin. The werewolf ducked through the door and back into the kitchen, heading directly for his wife. Tonks looked no worse for wear, though her hair was still the pale blonde typical of the Lovegoods.
Granger slumped in relief when Harry gave her a small nod of confirmation, her bushy hair more mussed than usual and a tear in the shoulder of her t-shirt.
“The twins are at the shop and Umbridge believes she was robbed by men in masks,” Granger explained before they could ask. “She put up more of a fight than we were expecting.” She ruefully put her finger through the hole in her shirt.
“And Xenophilius?” Severus asked, his eyes falling on Bill.
“Safely at St. Mungo’s, well before the interview. He’s in the clear.”
Harry slumped down at the table, all of his frantic energy finally running out and leaving him quietly exhausted. “Well, only three more,” Harry said with false cheer.
Severus just sighed.
The sound of raised voices from the kitchen pulled Hermione’s attention from the book she had been only half reading. She hadn’t been able to concentrate well since the night the notebook had burned. She’d gotten too used to speaking with Draco, to knowing that he could reach her if he needed to and it was jarring to have their connection severed so suddenly.
The incident with the locket the previous week had unsettled her, leaving her awake at all hours of the night, wrapped in a blanket and curled into an old armchair. In the brief few minutes that she had held the locket, it had whispered to her, filling her with the complete certainty that Draco was dead, that she would never see him again, would never get a chance to see if what they had would have lasted in a world not steeped in fear.
The voices grew louder, Harry’s carrying clearly down the hall to her. She couldn’t make out the words but the anger in his speech was clear. She slipped a bookmark between the pages of the magical Genealogy she had been trying to make her way through and headed toward the kitchen. Her sock-clad feet made no noise on the polished wood of the floors and she was almost to the kitchen when she heard a name that froze her in place. Malfoy.
She was through the door and crashing into the back of Harry before she’d made a conscious choice to move, her wand already in her hand.
Kingsley stood on the far side of the room, framed by the fireplace, his long robes wrinkled and his face set into lines of anger and grief. Two men she’d never seen stood across from her, partially blocked by the wide shoulders of her best friend. Severus laid a slim hand on her shoulder to steady her when she rocked back, keeping her on her feet.
“Do they know something about Draco?” she asked, her brain making the connections faster than she could internalize.
The larger man focused on her, looking oddly uncomfortable. He rubbed his neck and shot a look at the taller man beside him as if hoping he would rescue him. “Well see we ran into him a few weeks back…” he trailed off, his eyes fixed on the kitchen table where a slim Hawthorn wand rested, a spot on the handle worn smooth and shining where Draco had run his thumb over it again and again.
She didn’t remember shoving Harry out of the way or how she had gotten to the top of the table. The splintering crack of the garden door shattering as the larger man was thrown through it echoed around her, her wand held in front of her like the weapon it was. She felt Harry’s shield snap around her an instant before a stunner would have hit her, sent by the other unknown man.
She leapt off the table and stalked out into the garden, splinters of wood and glass cutting into her feet. The pain was a distant bite, her whole mind focused on this man who had seen Draco, who had his wand, who looked so guilty.
He was just starting to scramble up when she hit him with a simple levitation spell but aimed it into the ground rather than up. The rattle of his breath being forced from his lungs as he was pressed into the hard earth made his eyes snap wide in panic. She could hear a scuffle behind her and the sound of Harry restraining the other man made her dismiss everything except getting the information she needed.
“Do you know where Draco Malfoy is?” She enunciated each word clearly, carefully. The man on the ground nodded frantically, his fingers scrabbling on the paving stones as he fought to get air into lungs that refused to expand. She released her spell and stared at him expectantly.
“We didn’t know, we didn’t know he was with the Order!” The man shouted as soon as he had enough air. He raised his hand to ward her off when she pointed her wand again. “Wait… just wait. He’s in the old Ainsworth Manor.”
She swallowed, the awful crushing certainty of what he would say next already settling on her. “Is he alive?”
The man’s eyes shifted to the side as he braced himself. “He was when I last saw him,” he hedged. He looked up and whatever he saw in her eyes made him flinch. “That was more than three weeks ago. He… ah… was in a room with dementors.” He whispered the last.
Hermione could feel a strange numbing cold creeping through her and only absently noticed that her knees must have given out because Harry was there and he was carrying her and had her held so tightly to his chest that she could barely breathe.
Then he was sitting with her on the couch, rocking her back and forth as Severus carefully peeled her socks off and healed the damage she’d done to herself, his hands shaking and his eyes filled with grief.
Suddenly it was too much, this careful comfort that Harry held her with and the pain etched across Severus’ face. He couldn’t be gone. He couldn’t leave her like that. He promised he would be there at the end.
She struggled out of Harry’s grip and fled up the stairs to her room. She threw on a pair of trainers, not bothering with socks, and stopped just long enough to tie her hair out of her way before she was back down the stairs, rushing past the confused faces of Harry and Severus.
Kingsley was still in the kitchen and moved rapidly out of her way when she threw the door open. Tonks and Remus had joined him at some point and stood off to the side, talking quietly. The shorter man that she’d half killed was sitting at the table with a dazed look on his face. Fear had him tensing when he saw her and he tried to struggle to his feet.
Hermione snatched Draco’s wand and dropped it into her cuff before lifting her pale wand to point it at the stranger. “Password for the Manor,” she demanded.
“Adversis Fortes,” he mumbled, brown eyes wide with alarm.
“He was in the ballroom. Middle of the house, has double doors,” the taller man spoke for the first time, something like regret in his eyes.
“Mione what are you doing?” Harry spoke from behind her, his voice painfully gentle. It grated on her, making her want to lash out at him.
“I’m going to get him, Harry. Whatever there still is of him, I’m not leaving him there.” Her voice shook but she took off around the table, heading for the remains of the door. There was a moment of hesitation before several sets of footsteps followed her, crunching over the broken glass and wood.
She paused in the apparation area, the realisation that she had no idea where she was going crashing down on her. Her breath caught and her nails dug into her palms as she tried to calm herself. She just needed to do this, just this last thing for him before she could fall apart. She needed to see with her own eyes that he wasn’t coming back.
A warm hand curled around hers and carefully pried her stiff fingers open. She blinked up at Severus, not sure where he had come from.
“I will lead Ms. Granger. I know where the Manor is.” His deep voice was careful as he gripped both her and Harry and took a deep breath before he pulled his magic around them and took them away.
They landed on the edge of the wards of a large Manor, the house clearly visible from the gate. It loomed, all brick and dark windows, ivy crawling over the facade, its bushes overgrown and pushing shiny leaves through gaps in the fencing.
The crack of their apparation was still echoing across the grounds when Hermione strode past him, her face set and wand clenched in her fist. She snapped out the password to drop the wards, the one the Jones had given her in a groggy voice, still confused and in pain from his trip through the back door.
The large metal gate swung wide, spitting them out onto the winding drive, loose gravel rolling under Harry’s boots. His wand was in his hand and his magic had already reached out to twist around Severus, something that had become almost second nature whenever he felt threatened. The crunch of their footsteps was the only noise, the oppressive darkness seemed to muffle everything as they walked past what had once been stately gardens.
Hermione moved at a near run, making Severus and Harry jog to keep up. Tonks and Lupin had both taken up the rear and kept pace while shooting guarded looks around the empty grounds. Hermione reached the front door steps ahead of Harry and ducked through the door before he could catch her, making him hiss a soft demand to slow down.
Severus lit his wand as he came in behind Harry, neither of them willing to light the candles throughout the house in case anyone was still there. They hurried through the halls as quietly as they could, heading for where Sig had told them the ballroom was. Harry let go of the faint irritation that Hermione running off had caused and very briefly promised himself that he would stop doing the same thing to everyone else.
Harry rounded a corner and drew to an abrupt halt, Severus cursing softly when he almost crashed into Harry. Hermione was standing completely still in front of a set of heavy double doors, frozen. Her wand was raised, the tip lighting up the grain of the wood and the warmth of the stain. There was a darker brown mark on the floor behind her, blood long since dried.
Harry stepped forward, not sure what to say but needing to do something, to help her in some way.
“Don’t,” her voice was rough as she shook her head. “I can’t. Not now. I need…” She trailed off and drew in a deep breath, her brown eyes cold as she flicked her wand and unlocked the doors.
Harry felt like they should have creaked as they opened, should have made some sort of ominous noise to give some indication of what hid behind them but they didn’t. They opened on well oiled hinges and revealed darkness, broken only by flickers of dementors as they crowded close to the barrier.
All five voices blended as they called their patronuses to them. The dementors fled, shrieking in their strange hollow voices as the glowing silver animals chased them back.
Harry stood still for a moment, letting his eyes adjust after the sharp white of his patronus left spots dancing in his vision. The great wings of his raven battered at the dementors and the huge beak tore slashes in their robes as it chased them to the height of the ceiling. He peered into the gloom left behind, trying to make out anything other than blobby shapes.
A body was in the middle of the floor, completely still and facing away from them. Hermione was through the barrier and on her knees beside it before Harry could blink. Her long hair had come loose sometime during her last argument with the two Aurors and it wreathed her, showing glimpses of the terror she felt. Her face flashed with relief as she glanced up and shook her head at Harry. The other one then, Jugson.
Harry knew he had to be dead, not just soulless. It had been weeks and his body couldn’t have survived without water. Severus silently leaned over and placed a portkey on his chest, activating it with a quiet word and sending the body to Grimmauld. They’d find an appropriate place to bury him.
Harry glanced around the room but couldn’t see anyone else, just a stack of chairs and tables along the back wall, almost blocking a door. Maybe Malfoy had gotten out through there?
Hermione was already moving toward it, her strides stiff as she shifted furniture out of her way with neat flicks of her wand.
Something reflected brightly for just an instant before a chair started to obscure it and without thinking, Harry brought his wand up to halt the movement. He squinted, trying to make out what was behind the stack of furniture in the far corner, away from the door.
His brain made sense of it an instant too late, just as a horrible broken sound came from across the room. Hermione was running, her wand forgotten as she clawed through the chairs to get to the head of white blonde hair that had caught the light from Harry’s wand.
“No no no no no no..” he could hear the plea in her breathless words as he followed behind her, her hands landing on the still body before he could pull her away. Harry reached forward to do something, to pull her back or wrap his arms around her, he didn’t know he just wanted her to stop making that awful noise. A sharp crack sounded as Harry’s hand came in contact with a shield, magic leaping out to snap across his knuckles like a whip of electricity.
Harry yanked his hand back, pushing Severus a step away as he did. He’d never seen Hermione lose control of her magic and it surprised him, it made everything more real.
Draco was curled on his side, facing away from them. His blonde hair was dirty and smeared with blood, his robes torn and stained. He had pulled his legs up tight to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, but his arm must have fallen loose after…
Harry pulled in a sharp breath, trying to get a hold of the grief that was threatening. He might not have liked Malfoy but the last year of working with him and getting to know him better had tempered their animosity. Hermione and Severus both caring for him had left Harry in the interesting position of trying to actually get along with him. Some part of Harry had always assumed that even if they all died during the war Malfoy would make it. He was too much of a git to die.
Hermione was stroking his hair and murmuring something he couldn’t hear. He didn’t want to. He didn’t know what he would do if it were Severus lying still and cold on the dirty floor of an abandoned Manor.
Harry turned to Severus, trying to give Hermione some kind of privacy, to find the other man’s face pulled tight with grief as he gazed at the still form of his godson. Harry shifted to wrap his arms tightly around him, hating that he couldn’t make this better, that he couldn’t make Draco stand up and snark some stupid quip at him.
The room fell silent until the only thing Harry could hear was Severus’ sharp painful breaths and the incomprehensible words that Hermione was whispering to what was left of the man she loved.
“Shit,” the sound came from behind them, Lupin’s voice harsh over the curse. Harry looked up in surprise, expecting to find the room filled with Death Eaters or dementors descending from where they were pinned to the ceiling. Instead, Remus stood very still, his eyes gone the sharp gold of his wolf as he stared at the still body on the floor.
Suddenly he was moving past them, his eyes raking the floor and his movements nearly frantic. Before Harry could ask him what was wrong he froze and slowly stooped to pick something up off the floor. He brought it to his nose and drew in a deep breath, his shoulders and the line of his back tight.
Harry turned to Severus in silent question, but he looked just as puzzled. The air in the room was warmer than it had been but musty and Harry could feel a sneeze tickling the back of his throat.
Remus spun toward them, his abrupt movement making Harry jump. His eyes were blown wide and reflected the lights from their wands in an eerie way that made Harry think of dark woods and flashing teeth. He had a nearly manic look on his face when he pushed past them to get to Hermione. As he passed he shoved what Harry could now see was an empty potions bottle into Severus’ hand. Severus gave him a baffled look but followed suit and brought it to his nose.
Severus froze, something like hope flying over his face before he locked his expression down. He followed Lupin and knelt down just outside of Hermione’s shield. She was paying no attention to any of them and had kept up her low murmur and gentle stroking, her fingers catching in the tangles of dried blood in his pale hair.
“Severus, what’s going on?” Harry asked quietly as he knelt with them on the floor. This close he could see the profile of Draco’s face and winced at the greyish pallor of his skin.
“He’s not dead. She needs to let go of him and let us get him to Grimmauld,” Severus answered, his tone distracted as he evaluated the situation in front of them.
“Severus… I don’t think…” Harry trailed off, not sure how to respond. He eyed the still form on the floor and couldn’t make out anything that resembled life. “Are you sure, love?” Harry finally asked, trying to keep the doubt from his tone.
That brought Severus fully around, his eyebrows arching high in surprise. “Yes,” he said, his confidence clear. He was still looking at Harry oddly but eventually turned back to try and speak with Hermione.
“Ms. Granger, you need to let go of him. We can help him, he’s not dead,” Severus was saying with a surprising amount of gentleness, something that he very rarely allowed anyone but Harry to see.
She didn’t seem to hear him, she was so lost in her own grief. Harry’s stomach tightened as he remembered how it had felt when Sirius had died. Nothing could reach him through his pain and rage.
“Right then,” Harry muttered before he reached forward and pulled Lupin back. Remus went without a fight, giving Harry a puzzled look but letting the younger man take his place beside Hermione.
Harry raised his wand and gritted his teeth before sending the awful flashing orange spell that Ron was so fond of through her shield. He tied a low powered stupify to it and winced when Hermione stiffened and fell over on top of Draco. Silence fell around the room as everyone stared at Harry.
“Did you just turn them orange?” Tonks sounded like she was trying to suppress hysterical laughter.
Harry glared through the gloom at her. “It’s not my fault that the only spell that we’ve found that can get through a shield is one that colours everything.”
“It can get through any shield? And you can tie things to it?” Remus sounded interested as he joined his wife, giving Severus room to levitate Hermione while Harry lifted Draco.
Harry grimaced. “So far we’ve only found a few things that we can work into it. Stupify is the most useful, and it won’t go through any shield. Only lower strength ones.”
Harry followed the group as they hurried out of the Manor, leaving the dementors to the now empty room. The stiffness of Severus’ stride was no longer one of fear but impatience. Something in Harry relaxed at that and he let himself feel the first stirrings of hope.
“Severus, how is he alive?” Harry asked softly as they descended the front steps and hurried toward the edge of the wards.
“Draught of Living Death,” Severus answered shortly. “It will take several days for me to brew the antidote.” For the first time since Remus had handed him the potion vial, he looked uncertain. “We can only hope that it worked.”
Harry swallowed, not understanding how that could have saved him from dementors but trusting that Severus knew what he was talking about.
Harry and Severus handed over Draco and Hermione to the other two, letting them side along one person each so no one would be forced to carry three. They disappeared in quick succession, until only Harry and Severus were left, the cooling September evening wrapping around them.
Severus took Harry’s arm, ready to apparate them home, but hesitated for a moment. He looked down at Harry, his expression oddly uncertain before he bent and gently pressed his mouth to Harry’s.
Harry allowed himself a moment of shock before he kissed him back. Severus never instigated and Harry hadn’t expected anything of the sort after the last few weeks. A warm hand lacing through the hair at the nape of his neck derailed his thoughts and he slid his arms around the taller man, for a moment letting go of all of the complicated shit that life had handed them and just let himself hold his partner.
He finally pulled back, giving Severus an uncertain look.
Severus looked terribly uncomfortable but drew himself up. “I know that we have much that is unsettled between us but I need you to know, in case…” he trailed off, the same haunted look on his face that had been there when he’d seen Draco.
Harry wanted to reassure him, to tell him that nothing was going to happen to either one of them and they would make it through the war and buy a cottage in the middle of nowhere and live the rest of their lives dodging the twin’s pranks and Molly’s pointed questions about grandchildren.
Instead, he simply nodded. He knew their chances weren’t good.
Severus pulled him closer and tilted his head back, his eyes fixed on the spread of glittering stars above them, as if even now, after everything they’d been through he could only tell his truths to the cold of the sky.
“I love you.” His deep voice was quiet in a way that Harry had never heard and it made something in his chest tie itself impossibly tight. Harry let his arms close on the thin waist and dropped his head to Severus’ chest, listening to the frantic beat of the other man’s heart.
Harry nodded against his chest, trying to keep the overwhelming feelings of love and panic from crawling across his skin. “We’re going to make it out of this,” he said instead, nearly chewing on his tongue to rein in his emotions.
He could feel Severus nod against his head but he didn’t relax. Harry pulled back and frowned at him. “We are. We’re both going to live and you’re going to spend the rest of your life growing things in our garden that try to eat me and blowing up our basement and I’m going to spend mine irritating you into eating and letting you put me back together after I fall off a broom or do something particularly stupid.”
Severus looked at him with something like shock before stroking a shaking hand through Harry’s hair, a desperate hunger filling his eyes. “I suppose that would be satisfactory,” he said, his voice shaking.
They stood in silence for a moment longer, something shifting around them. Harry knew that he would still have trouble with Severus’ past, but there was nothing that the other man could do about it. It was Harry’s problem, Severus was already doing everything he could to never be that person again. If Harry wanted him he had to accept all of him, even his mistakes. Merlin knew Harry had made enough of them, even if they weren’t at the caliber that Severus had managed. Besides, Harry had come to realise that no matter how unhappy he was with what Severus had done, it would never come close to how much Severus hated himself for it.
Harry gave him a small smile before grabbing him a little tighter and spinning them away.
I LIVE! I'm so sorry for the huge wait on this chapter. Life got very life like and then I caught the plague and it's taken me a bit to bounce back. I hope all of you are staying safe and healthy and inside! I hope this very delayed chapter can alleviate some of your boredom. As usual, thank you everyone for all your comments, I'll be catching up on them over the next few days.
So come on Love, draw your swords
Shoot me to the ground
You are mine, I am yours
Lets not fuck around
Cause you are, the only one
The only one
-Angus and Julia Stone, Draw Your Swords
She came awake slowly, her head muddled, and her body too warm under layers of blankets. The room was dark and stuffy, a thin sliver of golden light spilling under the door and dipping into the scuffs of the hardwood floors.
Hermione sat up, wincing at the sharp pain that shot through her chest. Her hand came up and tentatively prodded at the tender spot on her ribs. She frowned as her fingers traced the edges of the throbbing burn. It felt like she’d been hit with a stunner, but she couldn’t remember what had happened. She was in her room at Grimmauld, but she didn’t remember how she got there.
A thrill of dread twisted around her spine, making her skin shiver. Hermione turned to pick up the notebook that had spent months within easy reach, only for her hand to halt when she remembered it was gone.
She froze, staring blankly into the darkness of the room, the last few hours sinking back into her memory. If felt like the accident when she was seven. Sitting in the back seat of her dad’s old Vauxhall when the car behind them slammed into them. The sudden sharp jolt. The cut of the seat belt digging into her waist and pushing all the air out of her chest. The shocking pain . The fear.
He was gone. He had been so still. His face had barely looked real, void of animation and colour, it had more in common with a wax figure than the man she knew.
Hermione felt her stomach roll and swallowed, the burn of bile fighting to make it up her throat. She shut her eyes tight and tried to breathe.
Slowly, in and out. The smell of stale air and ever-present dust filled her nose.
It was so warm in her room. Her shirt stuck to her back, and her hair was a heavy mass weighing down on her neck, strands sticking to her face. She found herself wishing fiercely for the sharp chill of winter, the burn of icy air, and the silence. To be back there with him, watching the stars spin toward the horizon as he drew their shapes with graceful hands. To be anywhere with him.
Her throat burned as she gasped, trying to breathe around the pain. Trying to push back the tears that were tracing slow streams down her face. The taste of bitter pain and salt seeped over a crack at the corner of her mouth and burned, sharp and bright.
Hermione made her feet swing to the floor, made herself stand. She had promised that she would get him back. She needed to know that they had brought him home. She could do this. She could make sure he wasn’t still lying there in that cold room, surrounded by his murderers.
Someone had taken her shoes off. She didn’t bother trying to find them in the dark, letting the rough, thin carpet poke sharp holes into her socks and prickle her feet. Her jeans had twisted around her waist in her sleep and sat uncomfortably on her hips. Hermione let her mind focus on the discomfort, the bite of the metal button on her denims as it dug into her stomach, the pinch of the buckle on her cuff. Anything but that room. Anything but his silence.
She stumbled to the door, the brass knob slipping the first time she tried to twist it. She wiped her sweaty palm on the leg of her jeans before she tried again, swinging the heavy door open and stumbling into the hall. The light stabbed sharply into the dull ache in the back of her skull, making her squint and let out a small breath of pain.
A low murmur of voices came from down the hall. Harry kept several rooms made up for unexpected guests, and the door to the one that the twins typically used was propped open, spilling warm light across the floor.
She could hear the low murmur of Harry and Severus, so she made her way toward them, not able to think of a better destination. Everything felt strange and disconnected like her brain had a slight delay. The paintings watched her slow progress with cold eyes, the muted colours of aged canvas blending with the faded walls. Maybe one day, they would just disappear, become one with the bones of the house. The idea seemed a sight better than being forced to watch the world pass you by, locked forever in a flat existence.
Hermione blinked in slow surprise when she found herself in the doorway, looking at the back of Lupin’s scruffy shirt. There was a smear of what looked like dust low on his back, and his shoulders were tense. The grey streaks in his brown hair glittered in the low light of the room, reflecting slow flickers of flame from the few candles.
Hermione shifted a bit to the side, catching sight of Harry, his hair fluffy with static from tangling his fingers in it. He was turned mostly away from her, his gaze focused on the bed. His jaw was tight, and his left hand traced absently over his silver bracelet, chewed nails catching on the blackened symbols.
He was worried, her brain supplied. She couldn’t see Severus, but if Harry was there and upset, then Severus was nearby. She should go to him, see if she could help. Besides, she needed him. She needed to know if someone had brought Dra…
Hermione’s thoughts stuttered over the name, her breath leaving her in a gust like she’d been punched in the stomach.
The noise must have been enough to alert Remus because suddenly, wiry arms were around her, and her nose was filled with the scent of loam and cold fur.
“Hermione, you shouldn’t be up.” His soft voice was so gentle, so careful like it always was. Like he had to make up for the piece of himself that was brutality and rage.
“What happened?” Hermione could barely recognize her own voice, the scratchy whisper breaking painfully from her throat as she craned her head to see Harry.
Dark green eyes met hers. “I stunned you,” Harry answered baldly. His mouth was turned down with unhappiness, but his shoulders were straight, no hint of guilt dragging them down.
Before she could ask, he answered, seeing the question in her face. “You wouldn’t let go of him, and you had a shield up. We had to get you out of there.” Harry hesitated as she froze, those last awful moments coming back to her.
The icy floor, so cold it burned, even through her jeans. The mist of her breath falling in sharp stutters as her shaking fingers caught on the tangles of blood in silky soft hair. The way his skin was almost exactly as cold as the floor. The muffled voices all around her, garbled words that meant nothing.
A sharp shake brought her back to the warmth of the room, Harry’s fingers digging into the muscles of her upper arms.
“Mione, pay attention.” He looked nearly frantic, and she wondered briefly how long she’d been standing there and when he’d replaced Lupin. She nodded to let him know she was back with him.
“Mione, sweetheart, you have to listen. He’s not dead. He took a potion, and Severus is brewing the antidote.” Harry stared at her, trying to see if his words were making it through.
There was a strange feeling, almost like a rubber band snapping back into place. The room swayed around her before coming back into focus, sharp and painfully bright. Noise rushed back to her, making her realise she hadn’t been listening to anything around her.
Hermione blinked. Blinked again as her hands shot up and gripped painfully into Harry’s forearms.
“You’re saying that Draco is alive. That’s what you’re trying to tell me?” Her voice was flat, the emotion pushed out of it, because if she had misunderstood if she was wrong…
Harry nodded. “Draught of Living Death,” he answered before she could ask.
“Right. Right,” she mumbled as she stepped around him and saw the still figure on the bed. Someone had cleaned his hair and face and tucked him carefully under the blankets. Severus was standing over him casting spells she recognized from many rounds with Madam Pomfrey.
She very slowly crawled into the chair beside his bed and pulled the blanket Harry tucked around her closer. Eventually, the room emptied, leaving the light of a single small candle on the bedside table casting flickering shadows over Draco’s face. Hermione curled a little tighter around the tiny spark of warmth in her chest, guarding the smallest burning flame of hope.
The chill of the basement seeped through his thin shirt, his robes discarded on his bedroom floor after he had clawed them off. The dull stains of watered down blood on the sleeves from washing Draco’s hair and face were more than he could bear.
His thin fingers clutched the edge of his lab table, so new that it had no scratches or burns to trace, nothing to distract him. The surface was immaculate, the slow roll of wards and shields laced into the wood giving it a soft glow from the corner of his eye. The thick stones of the walls and ceiling blocked any sounds in the house. Not that there would be. They’d left Granger curled up with Draco, and everyone else had retreated to their rooms. Harry had taken one look at him before he pushed him gently toward the basement, understanding that he wouldn’t get any sleep until he started the potion.
The small cauldron of flat white potion steamed in the cold air, the last ingredient already painstakingly added. Severus had nothing to do but wait. It needed to sit, untouched, for two full nights before it would gain the swirling pearlescent sheen that indicated it could be used.
He let his breath hiss out from between teeth clenched so tightly his jaw ached, tamping down on his impatience.
The slight scuff of a shoe on stone alerted him to someone behind him an instant before warm arms slid around his waist. The dark brown cuff and silvery scars on the arms told him who it was just as the scent of cinnamon and sharp spice that was Harry made the muscles in his stomach relax.
“You alright, love?” Harry asked quietly, the heat of his breath spreading over Severus’ shoulder where he had pressed his mouth.
Severus let his hands tangle with Harry’s and slowly shook his head. A soft kiss was pressed into the back of his neck before Harry pulled him toward the stairs.
“Come on. There’s nothing else we can do right now, and we both need sleep.”
Severus silently followed the younger man through the dark house, the fires long banked for the night, and the portraits sleeping quietly. Harry slipped into their room, a single candle still burning.
Severus stepped out of his boots, his mind somewhere between the basement and the room at the end of the hall.
Harry stared at him searchingly when Severus stopped halfway across the room, feeling lost. He felt beaten down, desperate in a way he couldn’t remember being. If Draco hadn’t taken the potion in time, there would be no one there to wake up. Hell, it might not have worked either way. Severus didn’t know of anyone who had tried to cheat a dementor by toeing the line of death.
A low sigh brought his attention around in time to watch Harry slowly pull his t-shirt over his head and drop it to the floor. It took Severus a moment to understand that Harry wasn’t retreating to the bathroom to change into his pyjamas. He felt his brain skip when Harry flicked the button of his jeans and tugged down his flies.
A slump of cloth and Harry was stepping out of his trousers, tight blue briefs leaving very little to the imagination. Severus swallowed around his suddenly thick tongue, his pulse noisy and almost painful under his jaw as Harry walked to him.
Then callused fingers were on his chest, slipping the buttons of his shirt slowly apart, shaking just enough for Severus to notice. Severus didn’t say anything, standing still and staring stupidly at the man in front of him as Harry undressed him.
Harry pushed Severus’ shirt off his shoulders, warm palms smoothing over his upper arms as the fabric fell to the floor. A small tug and Severus lifted his arms, letting Harry pull his undershirt over his head. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from Harry’s. The younger man looked as nervous as Severus felt, but there was determination underneath the tremor in his hands and the stutter in his breathing.
The sound of his belt coming loose made Severus jerk and grab Harry’s wrist.
“What are we doing?” Severus asked very softly. He needed to know because the last thing he wanted was for anything he had with Harry to be used as a distraction.
“Just sleep,” Harry answered, just as quietly. “I just wanted to be closer.” The low light hid most of the flush in Harry’s cheeks but not the way he looked away and stepped back, suddenly less sure of himself.
Severus felt his shoulders relax, and before he lost his nerve, he slipped his trousers over his hips and tossed them in the chair. He pushed Harry toward the bed before either of them could realise they were standing in their room in nothing but their pants.
The sheets were cold and a biting contrast to the heat of Harry’s skin when he slid against him. A flick of his wrist and the room was plunged into darkness, the sound of breathing a touch too rapid filling the air.
Severus spent tense minutes with his side pressed lightly against Harry’s, trying not to think about the fact that only a small piece of cloth stood between him and being nude in bed with Harry. The whole situation suddenly seemed utterly surreal and nearly hilarious. Severus Snape, in bed in nothing but his pants with the Savior of the Wizarding World. A tiny huff of laughter escaped before he could stifle it.
Harry shifted toward him. “And what’s so funny then?” he asked, the lightness in his voice not wholly hiding the insecurity.
Severus felt a spike of panic tighten his chest. He didn't want Harry to think he was making light of the first serious overtures of physical affection he had shown. The longer he scrambled for an appropriate answer, the tenser he could feel Harry becoming.
“I’m in bed in nothing but my pants with Harry Bloody Potter,” he burst out, not finding a better explanation than the truth. Severus felt almost dizzy with how much blood rushed to his face. He waited for Harry to get out of bed, or perhaps let him know that if he found it funny, then it wouldn’t happen again, or any other number of fairly unpleasant outcomes.
A tiny snort was his only warning before Harry burst out into cackles of laughter. The younger man shoved his face into his pillow, muffling what Severus could only call giggles. Severus reached out and poked Harry in the side, concern warring with amusement.
The laughter slowly tapered off, leaving Harry breathless and relaxed beside him. “If it makes you feel any better, the night I figured out that I was in love with you, I had about the same reaction to cuddling with you on the couch.”
Severus snorted, smiling at the shadowy lump of his partner.
“It’s completely bloody bizarre, isn’t it?” Harry asked, calmer now.
“Very,” Severus answered, contentment replacing the panic of moments before. A small shuffle and Harry was considerably closer, tucking his head under Severus’ chin. Warm breath fluttered over his chest, and he could feel the slow rise and fall of Harry’s breathing. It was wonderfully comforting.
He couldn’t remember the last time he had so much bare skin pressed to anyone. It was a fair possibility that he’d never had this much exposed skin on anyone. Severus settled a little closer and brushed a small kiss over Harry’s head, finally letting himself fall toward sleep.
Harry woke up warm and content, his fingers brushing over tight lines of scars that covered Severus’ chest. Harry had a moment to realise that Severus was still asleep before he woke up enough to understand that he had really not thought through his actions the night before.
Harry was pressed flush to Severus’ back, nothing but two flimsy pieces of cloth between him and the other man. What had seemed like an adequate barrier the night before was now nothing more than a pitiful decoration. Somehow, in his moment of brilliance, Harry had forgotten that he was eighteen, and morning was not a time to be wearing very little clothing while in bed with a man he increasingly found himself wanting.
Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realised he’d been holding and dropped his head back to his pillow, trying to shift his hips back enough that he couldn’t be accused of assault when Severus woke.
Harry stared at the dark tangled waves of Severus’ hair, trying to pinpoint when his perception had changed so drastically. He remembered the conversation with Hermione, realising that he had fallen in love with Snape of all people and the panic that closed his throat. He’d never looked at another bloke that way before. It’s not that he had an issue with it, and honestly, he had welcomed another stark difference between the wizarding world and how his aunt and uncle spoke about ‘those people’, but he’d never thought about it pertaining to him.
Anytime Harry had considered his somewhat nebulous future, it always held some faceless woman and a warm house and children. A family like he saw on the telly when he was little. It was all he ever wanted, and a tiny part of him had mourned that childish idea when he finally let it go, knowing he likely wouldn't live that long, and even if he did nothing would ever be so idyllic.
Sometime in the last few months, whether he fancied blokes or not had stopped mattering because he fancied Severus. It had been slow, the way he would find his eyes drawn to the grace that Severus moved with, the way his dark eyes sparked with mirth. How in moments of inattention Harry had imagined running his fingers over the tilt at the corner of Severus’ mouth, tracing the sharp cut of his jaw. Somewhere along the way, Severus had moved from the man he loved to the man he loved, who he also would very much like to take the pants off of.
Which brought him rather abruptly back to his moment of blinding stupidity and his now deeply uncomfortable predicament. It wasn’t even possible for him to slip out of bed because he was tied to the bloody man.
It wasn’t like they hadn’t run into this exact problem before. Neither of them was old, and it wasn’t as if they had an outlet that didn’t involve a single participant and a lonely shower. However, most mornings involved several more layers that preserved at least the illusion of decency.
Harry’s musings were cut abruptly off as Severus woke and sleepily shifted back into him. Harry couldn’t stop the small pained noise from escaping, no matter how much he wanted to. Both of them froze, barely breathing. Severus’ shoulders were tense in the soft bluish light of morning, the line of his body almost uncomfortably hot against Harry.
Harry exhaled hard, breath shifting the loose strands of Severus’ hair across his shoulders as he pulled away. Their morning would have proceeded as usual, if with slightly less eye contact if Severus hadn’t made a tiny noise of protest low in his throat.
Before he could think it through and flee, Harry found himself pushing forward with a slightly stilted roll of his hips. Friction sucked the air from his lungs and dragged another small noise from Severus, who pushed back into him just enough to make the movement obvious.
They moved slowly, silent but for small gasps. Harry could see the flush of embarrassment staining Severus’ neck and didn’t stop himself from pressing slow kisses over it, the pale skin sleep warm. Severus’ breath stuttered out as he pushed back harder, making Harry choke.
“Shield,” Harry managed to get out, lifting his right hand. Severus understood and freed him, letting Harry’s hand fall to his slim hips. The tight grip on Severus let him steady himself, let him push more firmly against the man in front of him. His fingertips curled around the bone of Severus’ hip, pressing small indents into his skin. The friction between their clothing was nearly uncomfortable, but Harry was too far gone to think of a solution.
Through a haze of arousal and near hyperventilation, it occurred to Harry that he was seconds away from thoroughly embarrassing himself, and all in all, Severus could not be getting as much out of this situation as Harry was.
Before he let himself consider what he was doing, he slipped his hand down Severus’ stomach and just under the edge of his black pants. Some remains of higher brain function made him pause when Severus froze and ask with a shaky breath, “Yes?”
Severus made a sound like someone had kicked the air from his lungs and nodded sharply. Harry thought he might pass out, his heart was hammering so hard. He let his hand slip the rest of the way and wrap gently around the other man. They both paused, sucking air into heaving lungs before Harry started slowly moving again, his grip awkward but determined.
The next few minutes were nothing but shallow breaths and curses, muttered too low to hear properly. Harry was too focused on what he was doing, listening to the sharp shaking breaths of the older man, and so was entirely taken by surprise when he felt his own hips stutter and his breath catch. The world narrowed down to the tight line of Severus against him, the pressure on his cock, the slickness of sweat between them. Harry clenched his teeth against the feeling of near painful pleasure before going slack against Severus, sucking sharp breaths in.
He paused for only a second, panting against Severus’ neck, before turning his attention to the other man, who was making what sounded suspiciously like threats of bodily injury as he shifted desperately. Severus cut off with a small choked noise when Harry started moving his hand again. It took only a few more minutes before they were both slumped over and panting.
Severus managed to muster up enough willpower to find his wand and send a cleaning spell over them and the bed, making Harry shudder in appreciation and wrap himself around Severus.
Harry buried his face in the back of Severus’ neck, his cheeks burning as what he’d done crashed into him. Merlin, what was he thinking?
Harry squeezed his eyes closed and tried to force the rising panic down. It was fine. It’s not like he hadn’t thought about this part of their relationship. If he was honest, he’d thought about it a lot. Particularly after sneakily flipping through the book the twins had given him for his birthday, which had a surprising amount of instructional drawings. He’d almost banished the thing when Severus had walked in and nearly caught him with it. He was still convinced that Severus had at least guessed at what he had been doing, and his vocal concern about how flushed Harry looked was just him being an arse.
When neither of them said anything, Harry forced himself to relax. The knot of tension in his chest began to let go, and he breathed a little slower. It was fine. He wasn’t panicking, and Severus hadn’t fled the room, so it was fine.
Harry was just starting to drift off again, despite the low burning of worry in the pit of his stomach, when Severus turned over and slipped his arms around him.
“That was… unexpected,” he muttered, his voice deeper than usual. Harry made a small noise of agreement as he came fully awake and tried to keep his limbs loose. It took Harry longer than it should have to realise that Severus was a line of tension, lying stiffly against him.
“What’s wrong?” Harry asked, eyes still closed, trying to pretend that he wasn’t abruptly terrified. Severus wasn’t angry about it, surely? Harry knew how serious he had been about keeping everything as appropriate as possible while they were still at Hogwarts, but that had been months ago.
Silence greeted him, so he cracked an eye open to find Severus with a blank look on his face and terror in his eyes.
Harry felt his stomach flip for an instant before he reminded himself that this was Severus, and he should have expected as much. The man couldn’t walk through a room without finding something to feel guilty about. Some of the uncertainty dropped away from Harry. He’d been with Severus every day for almost a year, and he was starting to get the hang of handling the other man’s weirdly complex reactions to everything.
“Stop it,” Harry said, making Severus lose some of the tightness in his frame.
“Stop what, precisely?”
“Stop making this a thing you need to be weird about. We’re dating. We’ve been dating for months. It’s ok for us to do whatever we both want.” Harry tried to keep his voice casual and the flush from his face, knowing that he needed Severus to be alright with this.
Severus huffed but slowly relaxed, letting himself gather Harry a little closer. “Fine.” He sounded almost put out that he was being cut off from what was sure to have been a truly spectacular round of insecurity and self-doubt.
“I love you, go back to sleep,” Harry muttered, pleased with himself.
A small grumble was all he got in return, but he felt the slow smile Severus pressed into his shoulder.
The corridor outside the defense classroom was dark, torches flickering at the far end of the hall, and casting weak light over the statue of the mermaid Ron was stepping silently behind. A soft click, and he slid through the low door, being careful not to catch the edge of the invisibility cloak as he ducked into the narrow, dusty passage.
He lit his wand with a soft ‘ Lumos ’ as the door shut and hurried toward the dungeons. The marauders map crinkled as it brushed the edges of the cloak, but he refused to put it away. It was his night to patrol, and a small dot labeled Mindy Holton, a Hufflepuff second year, was sitting terribly still near the Slytherin common room. Ron had been on the sixth floor, looking for Peeves, when Nearly Headless Nick had surged out of the floor and told him that a second year had been cornered by the Carrows.
He’d asked Nick to find Peeves and send him toward the dungeons before sprinting off. Enlisting the poltergeist had been Luna’s idea, and when she’d brought it up during one of the first DA meetings, everyone had laughed it off, Ron included. She’d shown up to her next patrol with Peeves in tow and a small smile. Since then, he had been shockingly helpful, warning students and distracting the Death Eaters now swarming the halls. Despite his history, Peeves was loyal to the castle and so became a strange, though welcome staple among the self assigned DA patrols.
The canvas back of a tall portrait loomed in the dark ahead of him, making him put out his wand. He plunged into darkness before slowly slipping out from behind the painting.
“They’re down the hall. She was screaming.” The lilting voice of a young boy came from behind him. Ron turned to find a boy that looked to be seven or eight staring a bit to the right of where Ron was standing under the cloak, fear twisting his painted features.
Ron turned and hurried off without a word. The Carrows had been finding new and more horrible ways to punish students in the few weeks since term had started. The Professors were doing everything they could, but even McGonagall wasn’t able to defy the Headmaster, not if she wanted to stay.
A small whimper cut into Ron’s thoughts, and he slowed his steps down. He wasn’t nearly as silent as Harry could be, but he’d learned to walk quietly enough, years of sneaking around with Harry and ‘Mione having taught him a few things.
Just before he rounded the corner, a voice he vaguely recognized echoed down the hall.
“Hey! Yeah, you, the Kray twins! Leave her alone.”
Ron barreled around the corner to find both of the Carrows’ standing in front of a young girl with dirty blonde hair. She was pressed against the cold stone wall, and the arms of her robes were in tatters. Blood dripped on the floor around her in speckles and spots, leaking from the thin, deep cuts on her forearms. Tears were falling down her face, and she was huddled in on herself.
The siblings had turned away from her to face the student yelling at them. Standing just outside of a pool of dim light was the shape of an older student. He was at least as tall as Ron, with an athletic build. Ron couldn’t make out who it was, but he could see the wand clutched in his hand and the defensive stance he’d taken.
Alecto raised her wand, her face twisting in rage, and threw something that pulsed a sickly blue at the student standing in the shadows. Without thinking, Ron threw a shield between them, the jerk of his arm letting the cloak slide partway off before he could catch it.
“There’s another one!” Amycus yelled, pointing to where Ron’s arm and head had been briefly exposed.
The Gryffindor was already ducking down the hall, trying to loop around and reach the little girl still bleeding on the floor. Alecto narrowed her eyes and muttered something as she flicked her wand, twisting to sweep the spell through the width of the hall.
Small golden sparks flew from her wand and filled the air, glittering almost like fairy lights. They drifted through the air on a light gust, spilling through the hall and hanging suspended.
It took Ron a second too long to realise what she had done. The golden sparks reached him and caught on the cloak and stuck for an instant before vanishing. They stuck to the other student too, gathering on his robes and making him glow faintly. The cloak shed them, but as Amycus focused on Ron, he realised that it didn’t matter since a person shaped hole was as good as a person.
He dove out of the way as a spell shot toward him. It caught the edge of his trainer and snapped his legs around, throwing him into the far wall with a painful crack. He was vaguely aware that the girl was screaming, and the voice of the other student was closer. A fuzzy glimpse toward the Professors showed a shield around him, and the polished leather shoes of the other student planted near his head.
Ron pushed himself up the wall, letting the hood of the cloak fall as he added his own shield to the one already up. He felt panic building as he realised he was going to be lucky to get out of this at all, and he couldn’t see how he’d be able to get the other two out either. He swallowed heavily and ground his teeth together. It didn’t matter if he got out. This was why he’d come back after all. To help keep the other students safe, instead of staying at Grimmauld with everyone else.
Just as Ron was starting to feel the strain on his shields, and the Carrows were moving toward increasingly more dangerous spells, a flash of silver blue light crashed around the corner. An unholy shrieking filled the corridor as Peeves shot past, a metal bucket clutched to his transparent chest. He paused just long enough for Ron to see the gleeful smile on his face before he dumped the contents of the bucket over the two Professors.
The hall filled with the foul smell of bubotuber puss as the Carrows screamed. Peeves swept around them and grabbed the second year around her waist and heaved her toward Ron.
Ron scrambled up and grabbed her, noting that Peeves must have mixed some kind of sticking potion in with the puss because both Professors looked like they were attached to the floor and each other where they had grabbed arms for balance.
Ron nodded to the poltergeist in thanks as he tucked the girl under one arm and grabbed the still unnamed student and hauled them both toward the portrait. He didn’t stop until they got to the hospital wing, panting from their headlong sprint. He paused outside the large arched doors and finally turned toward the man whose arm he had been clutching, only to find himself looking at Blaise Zabini.
Ron stood there for a second, just blinking. His first thought was to back away and maybe send a curse or two at the Slytherin, but he stopped his hand as it twitched toward his wand. Hermione had told him it took forever for something to sink in, but eventually, even he had to admit that there was a fair amount of Slytherin’s that were a lot less evil than he’d been led to believe. If the Ferret and Snape could end up on their side, then Zabini, whose biggest crime had to be general apathy, shouldn’t be a stretch.
“You hurt?” he said instead of asking what the hell the snake had been doing.
Zabini shook his head, looking a bit sick. “No. You showed up right after I did.” He didn’t comment on the fact that Ron appeared to be a head floating in the air, or ask why a Gryffindor had been in the dungeons in the first place.
Ron scuffed his feet before muttering, “Thanks for the help. I gotta get her to Madam Pomfrey.” He motioned to the girl that was now clinging to his side, looking rather creepily like she was floating in the air.
Zabini nodded and turned to go, still looking a little shocked.
“Hey, Zabini,” Ron said to the other students back. The Slytherin turned around and raised a thin brow in question.
“Monday, Wednesday and Saturday nights, midnight at the room of requirement if you want to come,” Ron blurted out, not sure if he actually wanted to invite the Slytherin, but not liking the idea of just letting him wander off when he’d tried to do the right thing. Hell Harry and Hermione had their own Slytherins, he might as well get one too.
Ron’s face flushed at that thought. Oh, Merlin, not like that.
Zabini didn’t seem to notice Ron’s face turning to match his hair and simply nodded before disappearing down the hall. Ron cleared his throat and ducked into the hospital wing. Hopefully, he wouldn’t regret it.
The night before the potion was to be ready, Severus couldn’t sleep. He lay in bed, the sound of Harry’s soft breathing mingling with the creak of the house settling and a slow persistent drip from the bathroom faucet across the hall.
The silencing spells that helped to hide the house kept him from hearing the sound of tires on the road outside, but the flash of headlights tracing through the slit in the curtains and flashing across the ceiling let him know that no matter how late it was London was never genuinely asleep.
Harry had finally drifted off after trying to sit up and keep Severus company and had slumped over onto Severus’ chest. All Severus could see of his partner was a head of tousled black hair and a lump under the covers. There was something that felt suspiciously damp on his chest, and he shuddered a bit. He didn’t think he would ever get used to Harry’s habit of drooling on him in his sleep, no matter how long they were together.
Severus drifted and watched the light in the room change, bleeding to a soft hazy blue. The room looked the same as it had the other morning, and Severus found himself blushing at the thought. Not that it had been very far from his mind, despite everything. He swallowed heavily and tangled his fingers in Harry’s hair, pressing a soft kiss to the top of his head.
While Harry had been very open with his affections since they left Hogwarts, Severus had very resolutely not allowed himself to think of anything further. He’d not been sure what kind of relationship Harry had wanted, but he had been perfectly happy to let the younger man choose how much intimacy he was comfortable with.
Severus had had very few encounters in his life of that nature, and none of them had been particularly pleasant. All of them had been instances in which the Dark Lord had sent him someone as a reward, which left him feeling dirty and not very inclined to repeat the experience. Severus had finally managed to convince the Dark Lord that he was one of those who found no interest in sexual acts, which had spared him and those the Dark Lord had sent to him. Unfortunately, it also prevented him from seeking anyone on his own, since it would have been exceedingly painful had the Dark Lord believed Severus had lied to him.
Severus had been relatively content with it as his experiences hardly made him disposed to try again. All of that had come crashing down with Harry. He’d spent months very resolutely not acknowledging how attractive the younger man was and casting unpleasantly cold charms on himself in the mornings to avoid what he was sure would have been looks of disgust. All of that had changed when they left Hogwarts, but he’d not been comfortable pushing that aspect of their relationship, no matter how much he might have thought about it.
A shiver traced down his spine at the nearly visceral memory of Harry’s hands on him. It had taken the space of fifteen minutes with someone he loved to change his entire outlook on physical intimacy. Even if it had come later for him than some, he was grateful that he’d finally had a chance to experience what everyone seemed so preoccupied with.
A soft knock on the door brought his attention back, and he realised with a start that it was fully light out.
“Harry?” Hermione’s voice floated through the door, lacking the confidence that usually carried it.
Severus looked down and reassured himself that both he and Harry were dressed, and Harry hadn’t thrown his shirt or sleep pants off in the middle of the night before he waved a hand and unlocked their door.
A head of wild tangles poked around the jam and spotted them in the bed. Normally Severus wouldn’t have let anyone but Harry see him before he’d readied himself for the day and certainly not in bed. Still, Hermione was an exception to most of his rules, simply because she was the exception to all of Harry’s.
She shuffled over, dark rings under her eyes, and perched on the bed next to Harry. She reached out and shook him gently.
Harry snorted and twitched, clutching tight to Severus as he came awake before he looked around in confusion. He spotted Hermione and rolled toward her, absently disconnecting their bracelets. She gave him a trembling smile as her fingers worried silky sleep pants covered in tiny silver dragons.
Harry gave a few confused blinks to his best friend before he reached out and wordlessly pulled her under the covers with them. He wrapped his arms around her and cocooned her in heavy blankets despite her weak protests. Severus smiled a bit at the double lump before he noticed the wet spot in the middle of his t-shirt. He grimaced and sent a cleaning charm over his clothes before leaning over and pressing a kiss to the side of Harry’s head.
He left the two of them to murmur to each other under the quilts and took his clothes to the shower across the hall to get ready. By the time he made it to the kitchen, only Tonks was there, her hair it’s typical brilliant pink. Severus nodded to her as he started his coffee.
“The potions ready today, right?” the Auror asked, head tilted and slim fingers wrapped around Lupin’s werewolf mug.
Severus nodded wordlessly as he started breakfast for Harry. The sound of eggs frying nearly covered the soft tap of bitten nails on the handle of a mug. Severus turned to find Tonks staring at his back, her gaze far away. She blinked and focused when Severus cleared his throat, a faint tinge of pink staining her cheeks.
“Sorry, Severus, just lost in thought.”
Severus made a low noise of agreement before he turned back to the stove and tossed a piece of toast along with a few slices of bacon onto the plate at his elbow and placed a warming charm over all of it.
Tonks kept up the absentminded drumming as Severus joined her at the table and made his way through his first cup of coffee, trying to stretch it out. The potion wouldn’t be ready for a few more hours, and the clock seemed to be slowing down.
“Severus?” Severus jerked at the sound of his name, nearly sloshing coffee over himself. He gave the Auror a rather flat look, earning himself a sheepish smile.
Severus raised a brow at her when she only sat in silence, her gaze turning to the table.
“Was there something I could help you with, Nymphadora?” Severus asked, smirking when she winced at her full name.
“Yes,” she answered, only to fall silent again.
Severus finished his coffee and stood to refill it, his attention mostly on the increasingly uncomfortable woman at the table.
“Were you planning on telling me, or is this a guessing game?” he asked, a thread of irritation creeping into his voice.
Tonks heaved a sigh before spouting out a sentence all in one breath. “I’m pregnant, and I know I probably need potions for it, but I can’t go to St. Mungos because I don’t want anyone on You-Know-Who’s side finding out and I’m pretty sure they won’t treat me if they know my husband is a werewolf and I don’t know what to do.” She gazed at him imploringly as his sleep-addled brain tried to slow her speech down enough to piece together what was going on.
“I assume you’re bringing this to me in hopes I can supply what medicines might be needed in your particular situation?” he finally asked, keeping his face impassive.
“Yes,” she answered with a whisper.
“Very well. I’ll bring you a schedule with my recommendations and the first week of potions by tomorrow.” He frowned, thinking of what he might need to order soon if he was going to be making potions for a high-risk pregnancy. As normal as werewolves appeared outside of the full moon, there were enough differences for there to be complications if not handled carefully.
Lost in thought, Severus didn’t realise how close Tonks was until she was hugging him, muffled thanks coming from where she had buried her face in his shoulder. He tried to lean away, but she just followed him, clinging as if she were glued.
The scuff of a boot, followed by a low chuckle, announced Harry’s arrival.
“Should I be worried?” The younger wizard grinned at him as he fetched the plate Severus had left him and filled both their mugs with coffee before joining them at the table.
“Yep, we’re running away together,” Tonks answered cheerfully, tightening her hold on Severus. Harry glanced up from his plate and burst out laughing at the look of horror on Severus’ face.
“Well, good luck, he steals the whole bed, and he cheats at cards,” Harry said around a bite of eggs. Severus narrowed his eyes dangerously at the other man.
“I don’t cheat, you’re just terrible,” Severus grumped, prying himself free of Tonks.
Severus finished his coffee and stood to head down into the basement. He knew he needed to do something productive with the remaining time until they could try to wake Draco, and Tonks had handed him a convenient job. He leaned over to press a kiss against the side of Harry’s head and take the small blue packet of powdered donuts that he waived at Severus. He refused to admit it, but Severus loved the awful things, and he was suspicious that Harry had bought out a muggle store of them when he noticed how quickly Severus grabbed them.
Severus made his way to his lab and lost himself to planning.
Harry smiled at Hermione when she shuffled into the library, cup of tea clutched tightly between her hands and the glazed stare of the sleep deprived fixed on her face. She had made a small effort and put on jeans and one of Ron’s old jumpers, the sleeves rolled up to reveal her hands. Her hair had been pulled up and tied in a messy bun that was listing a bit to the side, and she hadn’t got around to putting on shoes, but she looked more put together than she had when she’d woken him that morning.
“Hey,” she said softly, settling next to him on the worn sofa and tucking her feet under his thigh. Harry lifted his leg obligingly, sandwiching her feet to the couch to keep her toes warm. They sat in comfortable silence, the ruffle of pages from Harry’s slow reading and the gentle tap of Hermione’s fingers on her cup filling the large room.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do if he doesn’t wake up,” Hermione said abruptly, her lips pressed into a thin line.
Harry carefully closed his book and set it on the low table next to him. The cold fire grate sat in front of them, ringed by their sofa and two uncomfortably hard chairs, seated atop a once lavish rug. The library still smelled of dust and cracked leather bindings, but had lost the disused scent of mildew that had pervaded it for so long. Harry frowned as he wrapped his hand around her ankle, wanting some small touch to anchor her with.
“You’ll keep fighting,” he said finally, quietly. A slow, pained breath escaped Hermione as the tension in her small frame fell away. They didn’t say anything else. There was nothing else that had to be said, and neither of them was naive enough to want false assurances.
They sat in a soft silence of suspended time, the stillness of the room, and the overcast day giving everything a surreal quality. The low thud of boots echoing down the hall brought their attention around in time to find Severus pushing open one of the sturdy double doors, worry pulling the skin around his dark eyes tight.
“It’s ready,” he said, his usually smooth voice catching.
Harry carefully pried the cold teacup out of Hermione’s hands and set it on the table before offering her his hand. She took it with a tiny grateful smile and followed him out of the library and up the stairs toward the room they had put Draco.
Unlike the last few days, the room was brightly lit. The harsh light revealed the greyish pallor of Draco’s skin and the way his closed eyes appeared to have sunken into his face. The dark quilt that someone had tucked around him made a shocking contrast against his already icy colour.
Hermione didn’t hesitate. She let go of Harry’s hand and crawled onto the bed to kneel by his shoulder, brushing Draco’s hair back and wrapping her hand around his limp fingers.
Severus stepped to the side of the bed, a small vial of pearlescent potion clutched in his hand. He took one slow, shaky breath before he pulled the stopper out and covered the open top with the end of his finger. He upended the vial, catching a small drop of potion on the tip of his finger. He leaned over his godson and carefully coated his eyelid with it. Severus repeated the process with Draco’s other eye before he pulled the younger man’s chin down and dripped six drops over his tongue.
Severus stepped back and recapped the potion, setting it on the bedside table alongside a small arsenal of others, all ready to treat anything that might be wrong with Draco.
Harry shifted and cleared his throat, ready to ask how long before they knew whether it had worked, when Draco gasped and coughed. His hands spasmed, clutching at Hermione and the heavy quilt over him as he struggled to pull in air. Wide, panicked grey eyes flitted around the room, trying to make sense of where he was.
Harry darted around a stunned Severus and grabbed the yellow calming draught, and yanked the stopper from it. He pushed past Severus and pulled Draco into a sitting position so he didn’t just drown him.
Severus seemed to come out of his shock and realise what Harry was trying to do. He took the potion from Harry and left it to him to keep Draco upright and restrained while he dosed him. Neither of them was willing to risk trying to transport it directly into his stomach, not with him panicking and the possibility of his magic fighting them.
It took two tries, and all four of them ended up wearing some of it, but eventually, Severus got most of the potion into Draco. His breathing stuttered and slowed as the wild look in his eyes faded to something more reasonable.
He glanced around the room, clearly trying to make sense of falling asleep to probable death and waking up surrounded by friends. His hand was still clutched around Hermione’s, and his struggle had sent his normally neat hair into a feathery halo. Colour was seeping back into his face, though he still had dark rings under his eyes, and his skin looked too thin.
“Hermione?” he asked, his voice a rough whisper.
She let out a tiny sob and nodded. The corner of Draco’s mouth crooked up, and he clumsily pushed a few stray hairs back from her face with his free hand. She leaned into his touch, letting her eyes slide shut as tears ran freely down her face.
Harry slipped an arm around Severus, only the faint tremor in the older man’s hands giving away his relief at his godson, not only waking but still in possession of his soul.
“Draco,” Severus said, drawing the attention of the two on the bed. “I need to look you over for a moment. please.”
Draco nodded, reluctantly letting go of Hermione and turning fully to face Severus. Hermione kept a hand resting on his upper back as if she couldn’t bring herself to pull away entirely. Harry couldn’t imagine that he would be able to let Severus out of his reach if their positions had been reversed.
Severus ran a quick diagnostic charm and nodded to himself. “You look to be in reasonable health, though you are dehydrated, and there are a few odd readings. How are your memories?”
Draco paused to consider but eventually nodded. “Alright, I think,” he said roughly, prompting Harry to bring him a glass of water. He got a flash of a grateful smile for his trouble.
“I remember everything that happened up to taking the draught of living death. Good to know it worked.” He said the last in a flippant tone, but the naked relief in his eyes gave him away.
“Good. How do you feel?” Severus asked, already sifting through his potions for the ones he wanted.
“Tired and sore. I feel like I’ve been sick,” he said with a ruffled air.
Hermione shifted around as they talked, moving her weight off her knees and settled more heavily on the bed. She brushed up against Draco’s leg when she did, making him jerk around to look at her with the beginnings of alarm.
“What? What’s wrong?” she asked, fear flashing over her face as she reached out for him again.
“My leg. I couldn’t feel when you bumped my leg, just that it moved.” Fresh panic was fighting with the calming draught in his system as he struggled to pull himself out of bed. Severus held his hands up, either to help or halt Harry wasn’t sure.
Draco swayed as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed and flexed his feet on the floor. Some of the fear was draining from him as he realised he could move his limbs freely, and he hadn’t lost the use of his leg.
“I can’t feel it at all. It’s like it’s asleep,” he frowned down at his right foot that looked perfectly healthy.
“And the other?” Severus asked.
“Normal. I can feel it just fine.”
Severus made a small noise of consideration. “I’ve never heard of the draught of living death having any side effects, but I’ve also never heard of it being used to hide from dementors.” Severus paced, clearly thinking. “I will look into it, but it may fade on its own.”
Draco nodded, calm again. Whether it was from the potion or the reassurances, Harry didn’t know, but he allowed Hermione to pull him back into bed and settle him against his pillows.
Severus had Draco down several potions before he called for Kreacher and asked for a small bit of broth and crackers to be brought up. By the time Harry was guiding Severus from the room, Draco’s eyes were drifting closed, his head resting against Hermione’s shoulder. Harry gave her a small smile and was rewarded with a look of utter relief as he closed the door.
Severus was still tense, his back a rigid line, and Harry gave him a gentle push toward their room. They had both slept poorly, and Severus had been a ball of anxiety and anger for days, so Harry wasn’t surprised when Severus stripped down to his trousers and undershirt before crawling into bed, despite it being late afternoon.
Harry pulled the curtains closed before he joined him, letting out a tiny huff of surprise when Severus pulled him closer and pressed his face to Harry’s chest. Harry slid his fingers through Severus’ hair, gently tugging the tangles out of it as the other man slowly relaxed for the first time in days.
“I didn’t think he was going to wake up.” Severus’ voice was muffled in Harry’s shirt but not enough to cover the despair in it.
“I know,” Harry responded softly. “But he did.”
Severus just nodded, his stubble prickling Harry through his shirt, and the last of the tension fell out of him. It took only a few minutes until a small snuffling noise that was almost a snore but somewhat more dignified came from the region of Harry’s chest, making him smile. Harry brushed a kiss over Severus’ head and let himself savour their small moment of luck. It was a good day.
Peoples, I have returned. I want to thank everyone for the comments, the concern and most of all the fact that I'm STILL getting friendly and concerned comments on my stories, and no angry ranting about my AWOL-ness. You all are freaking great.
This chapter fought me, I rewrote it SIX times, and I'm finally at the point where I'm at least happy with how it advances the plot. I took a long break because I decided I would much rather write when I feel like I can keep to the story that I want, rather than just putting things out. Thank you all for your patience with me, and for sticking around.
wither and bloom
like we all do, soon enough
cover me up with your love
scratches from the branches
we took our chances, sure enough
I am brambles
but I am tangled in your love
-Bullet Holes, Gregory Isakov
“Merlin, damn it!” Draco growled out as he stumbled and fell to one knee on the dim hallway’s worn carpet. Pale hair fell across his face, the strands too long and catching in tangles on his sweat damp brow. His too thin frame shook as he pulled himself up, his grip on a spindly side table making it tilt precariously. Hermione flicked her wand, sticking the legs to the floor but staying out of Draco’s way. She had learned in the fortnight since he had woken that trying to help him up would get her nothing but the sharp side of his tongue.
The feeling in his lower leg had improved somewhat over the first week, but the healing had eventually stalled, leaving him with little to no pressure input on his right side. It had turned his graceful glide into a jerking limp, and while he was getting better at moving with it, he still stumbled often. Frustration had carved hollows in his cheeks, and the corners of his eyes tightened with resentment more and more often, but he kept the worst of it to himself.
Hermione had barely left his side, trying to help without smothering, all while running herself ragged trying to find some kind of reference to his injury, something she could give him. She had never done well with something she couldn’t fix, and every time she had to watch him swallow his pride and reach for her, it felt like a blow. She knew what it was doing to him, knew that he would adapt, but every day would be a fight that would wear away at him.
Draco paused for a moment before she caught the sound of his teeth grinding and a sigh that spoke of weariness better than the stoop of his shoulders or the bruises under his eyes ever could.
When he started down the hall, moving once again toward the kitchen, he let the tips of his fingers trail over the wallpaper, the uneven surface of the wall underneath lifting his touch like braille. Hermione wondered, rather giddy from lack of sleep and stress, what it was that the house was trying to tell him. If he could read the broken bits of the halls as well as he was learning to read her.
The scent of baking bread lingered in the hall and mingled with the smell of rain and wet earth, flowing around them as they pushed through the swinging door of the kitchen, bringing her out of her disjointed thoughts.
Molly was humming something soft and offkey to herself as she moved around the kitchen, a stained apron tied loosely around her waist. The large french doors to the garden were propped open, letting in the clean air and splashes of rain that dripped from the slate grey sky. Something low in Hermione’s stomach relaxed, the peace in the warm kitchen letting her breathe a bit easier.
Draco lowered himself carefully into a chair just beside the always burning fire and stretched out his good leg, wincing and digging his knuckles into his thigh. His poor balance had forced him to put more weight on his left leg to compensate, and his muscles were still becoming accustomed to it. The haggard lines of his face fell into something less tense as a light breeze stirred his hair.
Hermione busied herself, making them both tea, sending a small smile Molly’s way when the older woman brushed a gentle hand over her cheek, concern in her warm eyes.
They both turned when they heard footsteps and the murmur of low voices coming up the stairs from the basement. The heavy door swung open a moment later, revealing Severus, who was twisted sideways to keep Harry in view while they argued about whatever had caught their fancy that afternoon.
Hermione couldn’t stop her slight smile at the light in Harry’s eyes or how Severus gestured, wide and open in a way he only was with Harry. Severus was in a pair of dark trousers that looked to have seen better days, and the bottom of his t-shirt had a brownish smear that looked suspiciously like a hastily put out flame. Harry was sporting a bandage wrapped around his arm and a delighted smile from whatever mayhem the two of them had been causing in the basement lab.
They both paused when they realised the kitchen was occupied and greeted everyone. Severus fished out two extra mugs and lined them up next to hers and Draco’s, a silent request for tea. She smiled and waved him off, sending him back to sit pressed up against Harry and fuss over his injury.
The slow drip of rain and the shifting logs in the fire, the murmur of Harry’s voice in the background, and the scent of tea all combined to remind Hermione of weekends in the Gryffindor tower so fiercely that just for an instant, the memory fell like a heavy curtain over the kitchen.
They should be there, sitting with their friends, working on homework, and listening to Ron complain while he took up the whole couch. Harry should be having small anxiety attacks about how Gryffindor was going to beat Slytherin in the next quidditch match, not talking frankly with Severus about time delayed truth serums. Dumbledore should have greeted them all with his usual slightly worrying nonsense, and none of them should be here, fighting for their lives, for everyone's lives. Hermione felt the sharp sting of tears behind her eyes and coughed to loosen her suddenly tight throat.
A warm hand landed on her lower back, jarring her out of her upset. The familiar weight of Draco’s arm slipped around her, and she let out a short, shaky breath.
“You alright?” he asked softly, waving his hand to levitate the freshly filled line of mugs. They bobbed their way across the room to float irritatingly in front of their owners; Harry’s nearly sloshing onto him. Without pausing his conversation or bothering to look, Harry made a rude gesture at Draco and snagged his tea before he ended up wearing it.
Hermione let out a tiny snort of amusement, no doubt one of Draco’s goals. Not that he would ever pass up a chance to bother Harry.
“Yes, I’m alright. Just thinking about how different everything is now.”
He hummed softly in agreement and tightened his grip on her for a moment before he let go and moved to settle back in his chair, his tea floating politely next to it.
The conversations slowly petered out, leaving just the hush of rain and the gentle sounds of Molly bustling about. Hermione could feel her eyelids drooping as she slumped a bit further down onto her bench seat. She’d spent so much time awake and hunting for some way to help or simply unable to sleep from dreams of waking to find him cold and still beside her that she had begun nodding off anytime she slowed long enough.
A sharp crack of apparition startled her upright, a small gust of chilled wind coming in the open doors seconds before Tonks skidded in out of the rain, the heavy leather jacket she wore when she wasn’t in her Auror robes swirling damply around her.
“Wotcher,” Tonks greeted, dropping an empty backpack onto a small table by the door and heading eagerly for the steaming teapot.
“How is she?” Draco asked immediately, just as he had the last two weeks when whoever was assigned to visit the cottage returned.
“She’s fine. She sent along a letter, give me a mo,” Tonks said, going back to shuffle through the bag she had dropped. She came out with a battered notebook and a neatly sealed scroll, balancing them in one hand as she tried not to spill her tea. The Auror handed the notebook to Hermione and dropped the scroll in Draco’s lap before returning to lean against the counter, missing Molly’s look of censure at the small puddle she was dripping onto the floor.
Hermione opened the notebook that she and her parents sent back and forth. No magic was involved. They simply filled in the next blank page in response to each other. Her dad's untidy scrawl preceded her mum's small, neat script. They had settled in reasonably well all in all, but she knew they missed their lives, even though they were keeping any complaints to themselves. Her dad especially seemed determined to treat this all as a long, strange holiday and had started trying to tend to the garden and catch up on reading.
Unfortunately for her dad, the plants in the wizarding garden were a bit more exciting than he was used to, and she’d sent him more than a few books Neville had recommended over the years.
A tiny huff of laughter came from Draco as he read through the letter his mother had sent.
He glanced up at her and smiled. “Your dad seems to be losing his fight against relocating the leaping toadstools, and Mother says she had to fish him out of the pond. Apparently, a grindylow has taken up residence and took offense to his trying to clean it.”
A shocked laugh escaped her at the mental image of Narcissa Malfoy, pulling her jumper clad father out of the grasp of an unhappy grindylow.
“Tell her I said thank you, would you? Merlin knows what else he’ll get himself into. Maybe I should send her something as a pre-emptive thank you for rescuing him from my garden.”
Quiet settled in again as they both read through the letters their parents had sent. To the shock of absolutely everyone, no one at the cottage had attempted homicide, and a small truce appeared to have sprung up among the inhabitants. At the very least, no medical intervention had been needed, and if there was fighting, they were keeping it to themselves. Familiarity breeds tolerance, if nothing else.
Draco sighed and sat back, trying to appear relaxed, but the small jiggle of his good leg gave him away. His long fingers idly tapped the scroll on the arm of his chair, and his pale brows were drawn down in thought. He glanced at her, the apprehension lurking in the silver of his eyes, sending a thrill of alarm through her.
“I need to go back,” he stated into the relaxed quiet of the room.
There was a beat of silence before Severus and Harry both voiced their objections, talking over each other.
“Alright, enough,” Draco snapped, glaring around at everyone. Hermione was frozen. She could feel his words echoing around in her head, bashing the inside of her skull with sharp corners.
“We all know we need someone on the inside, now more than ever. We have no idea what he’s doing,” Draco said, leaning forward and locking his gaze with his godfather.
“And we have no idea if Death Eaters saw you and reported you dead. We have no way to explain your recovery. How do you intend to go back? Simply waltz your way into the Manor and hope for the best?” Severus hissed, his potion stained hands white-knuckled where they curled around the bench.
“You’re an idiot if you think any of us would agree to you going back, Malfoy. You barely got out, and you’re still healing.” Harry ran his fingers through his hair in frustration, his green eyes narrowed and unhappy. Severus leaned into him absently, a nearly identical expression on his face.
“Merlin, you two are creepy,” Draco muttered under his breath. “It’s a damn good thing that I don’t need your permission then, isn’t it?” Draco said at a normal volume, crossing his arms and leaning back in his chair.
Molly shuffled forward; a dish towel twisted absently in her hands as she started to protest. “Draco, sweetie, you..”
The single, sharp word hung in the air where it had cut Molly off. Hermione could barely breathe past the fear clawing her chest, constricting her lungs and making her heartbeat echo in her ears.
“No,” she choked out again before she was up and moving, her body fleeing without her permission. She needed to get out, to get away from the words, away from the argument that she knew he would win. Away from the chance that he wouldn’t come back again.
“Well, that went well,” Severus said as Harry scrambled after Hermione, the thud of the kitchen door still reverberating in the air.
“Oh stuff it, you know I’m right,” Draco snarled, his face tight with worry as he stared at the door Hermione had fled through.
Severus leveled Draco with the look he had typically reserved for Longbottom when he was particularly dense. Draco’s lip curled in distaste, and he pointedly turned to stare into the fire.
“You have no way of knowing what will happen if you return. It could be nothing more than suspicion, or you could be killed as soon as you apparate in.” Severus scrubbed his hands over his face, only to remember too late that he had been handling essence of murtlap. His hands might be clean, but the smell lingered and was revolting.
Severus coughed, yanking his hands from his face, and tried to ignore the malicious amusement coming from Draco.
Draco sighed as the laughter drained from his face. “I know, but we need someone on the inside; you know that as well as I do. That’s why we did what was needed to place me there, and I’m not willing to lose that advantage until we know for sure it’s no longer viable.”
Severus let himself fall back to rest against the table, his eyes fixed on the fire. Molly had returned to the other side of the kitchen, rightfully guessing that nothing she could say would have as much of an impact as the quiet refusal from Hermione.
“You need to heal further, and I’m not willing to even consider this without you proving to me that you can still defend yourself.” Severus glanced up in time to see his godson force the anger from his eyes and concede with a slow nod.
“We need a way to find out what they know, what they suspect about you.”
Severus turned at the soft sound of someone clearing their throat. Tonks was sitting quietly on the far end of the table, having chosen to be a silent bystander.
“Since we don’t have anyone on the inside, we might as well just catch one for the information we need, right?” She asked with a raised brow.
Severus grunted in acknowledgment, brows furling. The idea had merit, but getting the information from someone trained to resist wouldn’t be simple. While Severus would have preferred to have left his previous life well behind him, he knew that there would be times he would need to revisit some of his old skills. Severus suspected that Harry would try to interfere in some misguided attempt at reasoning with whoever they caught if only to keep Severus from having to employ that particular expertise. Perhaps there was an easier way, but he’d need to consider it.
“We can discuss it further, but I’m not willing to make any plans without the rest of the Order. There are too many risks involved for everyone.” Severus narrowed his eyes at Draco. “That does not mean I’m agreeing to anything other than gathering more information.”
Draco huffed and waved him off, pulling himself to his feet with a grimace. Severus reached out to catch his arm as he limped past, no doubt on his way to find Granger.
“Give Harry a bit longer,” he said quietly.
Draco gave him an unhappy look in return but nodded. The door shut with a soft thud, and the three left in the room sat in silence as Draco’s uneven gait faded down the hall.
“Do you have anyone in mind?” Severus turned to Tonks as soon as he was sure his godson was out of hearing range.
Tonks hesitated, teeth set into her thumbnail as she considered her response. Her dark eyes were focused on the table, and a loose piece of vibrant pink hair fell over the scrunched lines on her forehead.
Finally, she nodded. “Yaxley,” she said decisively. “He’s in the inner circle, and he’s too attached to the bureaucracy to leave the Ministry, so his schedule is predictable.”
Severus grimaced but dipped his chin in acknowledgment. He hated Yaxley. The man was a coward, and a cruel one at that.
“You know his schedule?” It came out less of a question than he was aiming for, but Tonks nodded anyway.
“We’ll talk with the rest of the Order and choose from there. Everyone should be by at some point over the next week.” Severus sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He knew Draco was right, but he hated the idea of letting him return when they had such a convenient out for him.
He mumbled a quiet goodnight to Molly and Tonks before he retreated to his rooms, still deep in thought. It was early to retire for the day, but he had enough to think about, and he wasn’t feeling up for company tonight.
The room was dark, and the bed was empty when he arrived, unsurprising at the early hour. He sighed, resigned to researching alone. He had piles of books throughout the room that he and Harry had slowly brought in from the library or Spinners End and even a few that Minerva had smuggled out of Hogwarts. He settled himself in one of the well-worn armchairs and set to researching mentions of Ravenclaws Diadem.
Night fell quickly, and he stopped only long enough to eat a bag of crisps and two apples that appeared via decrepit house elf, along with fresh tea. Kreacher stood over him until Severus sighed and opened the bag of crisps, knowing that Harry would have asked the elf to stay and make sure Severus didn’t just put the food to the side.
Finally, his eyes begin to blur, and he put aside his notes. He stretched and decided against a last cup of tea before bed.
He finished his ablutions quickly and climbed under their heavy covers, shivering a bit at the chill. It had been unseasonably warm in the last few days, but a cold front had moved in just as the sun was setting, dropping the temperature with rain and crisp wind. Kreacher hadn’t bothered to put warming spells on their rooms, and Harry had left the window cracked open.
Severus waved his hand, shutting the window with a sharp snap before he burrowed down into what Harry fondly referred to as his fortress of pillows. He couldn’t help a tiny, petulant part of himself that considered sending his Patronus to get Harry. It had been a very long few weeks, and the more stress he was under, the more he found that he simply wanted the other man next to him.
Severus scowled at himself before he resolutely reached for the book sitting on his bedside table. He was not some lovesick teenager. He could entertain himself until Harry got done with what was undoubtedly an unhappy conversation with Hermione.
Severus had been reading for perhaps longer than he thought when the door was knocked open, admitting an exhausted wizard. Severus’ eyes snapped open from where they had been drooping without his permission and focused on the clothes Harry was throwing haphazardly throughout the room on his way to the bed. Severus swallowed a bit heavily, heat curling in his stomach as Harry shucked his jeans and fell face-first onto the bed in nothing but his pants.
A muffled groan came from the other man, making Severus raise his eyebrow and try to drag his mind away from considering Harry’s new bedtime dress code. Severus sucked in a sharp breath as blood filled his cheeks, and he looked away from the defined muscles of Harry’s back.
“Why did he have to go and say something that bloody stupid without even thinking of talking with Hermione about it first?” Harry wailed into the bunched up quilts he had shoved his face into.
“Because my godson is an idiot,” Severus responded mildly, feeling his blush fade as he focused on something other than Harry’s state of dress.
Harry grunted in agreement before flipping over to contemplate the ceiling, his fingers laced over his chest.
“He’s going back, isn’t he?” Harry asked softly, his eyes sliding over to meet Severus’.
Severus just nodded. “If it’s possible, most likely.”
“Hermione won’t be alright with it,” Harry responded, his mouth tight and unhappy.
Severus nodded again, his unhappiness leaching into his expression. Harry sighed again but climbed under the covers before waving the low light away and slipping his arm around Severus’ waist.
Severus slid his book back onto his nightstand blindly before he scooted down and curled around Harry, shuddering at the chill that lingered on his skin.
It took him longer than he would have liked to fall asleep, but eventually, he drifted off to the sounds of the house settling and the whisper of the rain.
It was dark when Severus woke, jerking upright and reaching for his wand before he was completely aware. HIs left arm jerked sharply, letting him know what had woken him, as Harry muttered something into the darkness of their room.
“Harry,” Severus said as he shook their joined arms. He got a slightly louder mumble for his efforts and felt the last of his alarm sliding away into irritation. Severus stuffed his wand back under his pillow and shifted over to the edge of the bed where Harry had migrated.
“Potter, wake the hell up,” Severus snapped, too tired to coddle anyone.
Harry flipped over to stare blearily at him through the dark, confusion clear even in the low light filtering through the window.
“What?” he said, a bit stupidly.
“You were dreaming and decided to act out some part of it. Since I have no desire to be a participant, kindly try to refrain from flailing about,” Severus answered as he waved their joined wrists for emphasis, his words coming out with more bite than he’d intended.
“Right,” Harry muttered, stuffing his head back under the covers and groping blindly for Severus. He managed to get an arm slung awkwardly over Severus’ hips before he went still again, the sound of his even breathing muffled by the pile of quilts.
Severus was just starting to drift off when his left arm was yanked as Harry jolted upright.
“Severus, he’s still trying to find it!” Harry said, far too loudly.
Severus blinked and stared at the ceiling for a moment and found himself idly wondering how angry Harry would be in the morning if Severus stunned him.
Very. He’d be very angry.
With that thought, Severus sat up and resigned himself to a midnight conversation. “What are you talking about?”
“He’s after a wand. Or at least that’s what it looked like,” Harry answered, his explanation in no way helpful. He waved on a dim light that Severus squinted pathetically at and jiggled the bed as he flopped over to look at Severus with more enthusiasm than anyone should have at that hour.
He paused. “Harry, please, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Severus mumbled, his eyes still adjusting.
The light abruptly dimmed and took on a softer golden tone as he felt Harry’s fingers brush long strands of hair away from his face.
“Sorry, love,” Harry said quietly. “I had another dream, but this one was strange, almost like a pensieve memory but more… separate?” His voice was confused, but he kept running his hand through Severus’ hair, absently tugging the tangles out.
“You think it was from Riddle?” Severus asked, letting his eyes stay mostly shut. His irritation was fading at Harry’s gentle hands and the odd clues he was collecting in his dreams.
Harry hummed in agreement. “Yeah, but it didn’t have Riddle in it. It had an older man, I think?” Harry responded, confusion thick in his voice. “There was a younger man too, he had a wand in his hand, and he was climbing out of the window. I don’t know how, but I knew he’d stolen it.”
“Wandmakers and now wands,” Severus said, feeling his brain come reluctantly online. “Did you see what the wand looked like? Or the thief?”
“The wand, no. The thief looked like he was only a few years older than me. Golden hair, handsome, and his clothes were weird. They looked more like the style of some of the old dress robes I saw during the dance in 4th year.”
Severus wrinkled his forehead in thought, letting himself sink onto his pillows as he considered what that could mean. A dream that wasn’t a dream and a memory that wasn’t a memory.
“When you have these dreams, are you watching Riddle, or are you in his head, seeing through his eyes?” Severus asked, shifting subtly so that Harry could reach more of his head.
Harry smiled a bit and obligingly pressed his fingers into the tense muscles of Severus’ neck, earning himself a soft rumble of pleasure. “I see through his eyes.”
“Could you have seen what he was seeing in a pensieve?” the older man asked, thinking of the few times he had caught glimpses of secondhand memories during legilimency.
Harry dropped his hand away and sat straight up, eyes wide. “Yes, that’s exactly what it felt like!” He leaned down and gave Severus an overly exuberant kiss, making him sputter and shove Harry over to his side of the bed.
“Why are you like this?” Severus asked plaintively.
“Why are all Slytherins so dramatic?” Harry shot back, still smiling happily.
Severus huffed, “If that’s all, I think we can wait until morning for further discussion. Perhaps we can identify the thief.”
Harry nodded and abruptly yawned, his face scrunching as his whole body slumped, like he’d just realised exactly how early it was.
Severus waved the lights off and sunk under the covers, letting himself melt into the mattress. Just as he was drifting off, Harry’s soft voice jerked him awake.
“Harry, I swear to Merlin I will stun you.”
A long silence greeted him before Harry answered, his voice laced with mirth.
“I love you.”
“Bloody hell. I love you too. Go to sleep.”
“I give up!” Harry shouted, lightly tossing the book he’d spent the entire morning sifting through onto the table after finding the note near the end that read ‘enhanced by the author’s imagination’ confirming that it did not, in fact, contain any real clues to the diadem.
Everyone in the sitting room glanced up from their piles of books and scrolls with mild interest. Harry wasn’t the first person that day to make a declaration and leave in a huff. Severus had retreated to his lab hours before, muttering something about Ravenclaws making everyone’s life harder by trying to be clever as he stormed out.
When it didn’t look like there would be any property destruction to accompany his outburst, everyone turned back to their projects. Harry huffed a bit before striding out of the library and wandering off toward the kitchen, his worn trainers squeaking on the hardwood, trying to clear the last few hours of information from his mind.
When he arrived, he noted that no one had any tea going, so he set about putting it together if only to give his hands something to do. And really, the basement was right there. It only made sense to make an extra cup and pile a few pieces of fruit and some biscuits on a plate to take down to Severus. He wasn’t avoiding the horrifying pile of books, simply checking in on their resident potions master.
With his excuse firmly in mind, Harry hurried down the recently scoured stairs, tea and plate bobbing along agreeably behind him. The chill of the basement pimpled gooseflesh up along where his arms were left bare by his worn t-shirt, the soft clatter of Severus working echoing along the stone of the staircase.
Harry turned into the doorway of the lab, only to jerk to a halt, his eyes locked and staring. A teacup bumped into his shoulder and dropped a bit of hot liquid down his back, but he barely noticed, his attention caught by his distracted partner.
“Love, why is your hair green?” he asked tentatively.
Severus whipped around, lovely forest green locks twirling with him and fluffing around his shoulders. Half his face was covered by what Harry could only assume were muggle safety goggles, and there was a hole in his shirt, letting Harry see the pale skin of his stomach and a soft scattering of ink dark hair.
They stared at each other, Severus wide-eyed, a slightly manic glint about him, and Harry trying to engrain the image so deeply in his mind that no amount of memory spells could make him forget.
“My hair is green?” Severus asked, pulling a lock forward to look at it with interest. “What could have caused that?” he muttered, turning back to make a note in his lab journal, oddly coloured hair disregarded.
“Severus, tea,” Harry finally managed, breaking loose from the frozen stupor. He didn’t know if he would ever get used to seeing this side of him. Severus had always been so put together in classes, seeming to never make mistakes, allowing not even a wrinkle in his robes. It had taken months before Harry got to see the side of him that truly loved potions, the side that was driven to discover. And nothing, muggle or magic, could be created without a bit of mess and madness.
It took Harry two more summons before Severus sighed, washed his hands, and wandered over to the small side table Harry had insisted on installing. He dropped down with a huff before gently squeezing Harry’s hand in silent gratitude.
“So, what are you working on?” Harry asked, trying to keep his smile to a minimum at the goggle marks on Severus’ face, the eyewear now balanced atop his head.
“A resonating potion,” Severus answered, staring at the half-eaten biscuit in his hand like it might hold the answers to something if he just glared at it hard enough. The action had never worked on any of his students, but perhaps biscuits were more susceptible.
Harry leaned back and took a sip of his tea, waiting patiently for a more detailed answer. Severus would come back to him in a moment if he was quiet enough.
“I think I may be able to find at least the general area of the Horcruxes if I can get this to work right.”
Harry sat forward at that, his eyebrows rising in clear question. “A resonating potion?” he asked, prompting Severus to explain.
“That’s right, it’s a seventh year potion. You wouldn’t have seen it. Here, come look,” Severus finished off the last piece of fruit and rewashed his hands before he hurried over to his lab bench, littered with ingredients and six different steaming cauldrons. Harry had spent enough time in Severus’ lab to recognize his method of potion creation. Each cauldron would have one different variable, allowing him to test what changes occurred if any.
“This is your standard resonating potion. Only somewhat difficult to brew, as it’s very temperature sensitive, and can do unexpected things if it heats or cools too quickly.” Severus was pointing to a small pewter cauldron filled with a rust-red liquid. Harry couldn’t stop his eyes from flicking up to glance at Severus’ hair. Unexpected indeed.
Severus caught the look and snorted at him, waving his hands dismissively.
“A resonating potion does exactly that. It resonates with whatever is most closely related to what you drop into it. For example.” Severus picked up a small leaf from a pile of similar leaves and put it into a tiny dish before he dropped a few drops of the red potion over it.
It sizzled a bit and let off a smell oddly reminiscent of clean laundry before the pile of small leaves began glowing.
“Now, this is fairly useless on its own, but paired with a locating spell, it can be very useful for objects that are nearby.” Severus had turned back to Harry, and his whole face lit up with excitement.
“So I was considering it...”
“Because you wanted to pile up all the books and light fire to them rather than keep reading,” Harry broke in.
Severus narrowed his eyes at Harry. “I see you’ve elected to join me,” he pointed out. “Either way, I was considering how it might be adapted for distance, and if it could be applied to a map rather than just the distance of eyesight.”
Harry paused to consider both how helpful and how dangerous that could be. Could you find a person that was hiding? Just drop in a hair, and instead of polyjuice, you end up with a safe house compromised?
Severus seemed to read some of what Harry was thinking.
“Yes, I believe that I could adapt it to find someone, but I’m doubtful it could get through anything more than basic wards. Location confusing spells, like the fidelius charm, would confound it easily. If you weren’t trying to hide someone or something, though, it should give at least the general area. Possibly. If I can get the formula right.”
“Need any help?” Harry asked after a moment of consideration.
Severus shot him the exuberant grin that he only ever wore in his lab, the one that Harry loved nearly above all others, and tossed a spare pair of goggles to him.
Harry snapped them on and grinned back.
Draco woke with a sharp gasp, the feeling of icy cold fingers ghosting over his jaw before fading away in the grey morning light. He fixed his eyes on the rain running over the wavy glass of the windows as his heart slowed from its angry gallop. A soft sigh escaped him as the dark, cold room in his dream faded away, leaving him shaky and covered in a thin sheen of sweat.
A warm arm was draped over his ribs, and soft, curly hair tickled his neck and chest where Hermione slept. She hadn’t even twitched when he jerked, and a familiar swell of guilt made him clench his jaw. Draco knew she had barely been sleeping, trying to find something to help him, and even when he did convince her to lie down, she would stay awake, staring at the ceiling with worry etched into her face.
He hated that he was doing this to her, hated that the war was draining her away, that she might never forgive him for going back. Draco desperately wanted to get better, if only to give her one less thing to worry about. He didn’t want to go back. Back to the cold Manor, filled with Death Eaters and haunted by the silent specter that was Lucius Malfoy. Back to fear and pain and disgust, back to lying with his whole self. But if he didn’t, it might cost them something that could turn the tide of the war.
If he didn’t go back, it might cost him something he wasn’t willing to lose.
Draco let his hand run over Hermione’s bare shoulder and the thin strap of the tank top she had worn to bed and made himself relax. She needed more sleep, but he knew she would wake if he tried to slip out of bed, so he settled in and tucked the blanket more closely around her.
It had been nearly a week since he had suggested returning to the Manor, and nearly all of the Order had rotated through to check-in, and with very few exceptions, they had all agreed that it would be worth the risk of capturing Yaxley on the off chance that Draco could take his position back.
Severus had spent any spare time either of them had dragging him up to the attic to duel, trying to get him to adjust to his lack of balance, with little success.
Hermione had fluctuated between angry and resigned all week, though resignation seemed to be slowly taking over. Draco knew that she would eventually agree because she was first and foremost motivated by logic, and she wouldn’t trade the lives of hundreds on the off chance it would keep him safe, no matter how much she wanted to.
With that in mind, Draco settled in to start planning.
The thick smell of rotting vegetation and damp wood permeated the old building, a low wind bringing the distinct smell of the Thames in past the warped wood of the window frames and doors. Draco shifted uncomfortably on his pile of thin blankets on the floor and leaned a little more heavily into the wall at his back.
He’d only been in the abandoned warehouse for a little over an hour, and he was already miserable. He shifted again, trying to find a more comfortable position and glaring briefly at the empty office overlooking the factory floor, where he knew that Tonks and Hermione were much better off with warming charms.
Just as he was about to give up and join them for a few minutes, the sharp crack of apparition came from the other side of the dented loading bay doors. Cursing filled the air as the door was slammed open, screaming on rusted rails, and Draco took a deep breath before slumping weakly over and clutching his filthy blankets. He wrinkled his nose at the sour, musty smell of his robes, torn and bloodied from his actual capture, and reluctantly returned to him.
Feet scuffled over the cold concrete as the group approached him, the yelling given over in favor of trying to escape.
“Stop your wiggling, or do you want me to stun you?” Jones said, making a small but very real shudder go through Draco at the sound of one of his previous captors.
A moment later, a body landed heavily next to him, and he looked up in time to see Sig yank the loose bag off of Yaxley’s head, revealing a thin, angry face.
“The Dark Lord will hear of this. Do not think you will survive his attentions,” the older Death Eater hissed.
“Since he hasn’t shown up to rescue his little pet, I find myself less worried than I might be by that threat,” Sig said, his voice more cultured but colder than Jones.
Yaxley looked confused for an instant before casting around and seeing Draco huddled a few feet from him. His dark eyes went wide, and terror flashed over his face.
“Malfoy! We thought you were dead!” he said, shock widening his eyes before he tamped his reaction down and went back to glaring at the Aurors. He shifted very subtly, putting himself between the Aurors and the younger wizard.
Jones sneered at them before waving his wand and raising the barriers that he had dropped when they dumped Yaxley next to him.
“We’ll let you boys have a nice little chat. You can tell him how things work here, Malfoy.” Jones waved for Sig to follow him as they retreated to the warmth of the office to act as back up in case Yaxley knew more than they hoped he did. A tiny flicker of relief curled in his chest, knowing that the group in the office would be listening and ready to come help him should it turn ugly.
Draco let himself shrink down into his thin blankets, making himself look weaker than he was. Yaxley sat, his back a rigid line as he stared up at the elevated office, muddy brown eyes narrowed. When it became obvious that the two Aurors weren’t coming back, the older Death Eater spun on Malfoy, raking his eyes over the pitiful sight he made.
“What happened? You’ve been missing for months,” Yaxley hissed. Suspicion glinted in the tight turn of his mouth and the way he leaned away from Draco. However, the awful smell of dried blood couldn’t be helping.
“I want to pick up potions ingredients, and those two jumped me,” Draco responded, letting his voice go raspy and harsh. “Has it truly been months?”
Yaxley nodded, his posture losing none of its stiffness. “The Dark Lord presumed you dead, after what we found in the Manor.”
A tiny thrill of terror shot through Draco. This was what they had feared that the Death Eaters had seen his body in the room of dementors, and he would have no good way to explain who had saved him.
Draco turned his gaze to the threadbare hem of his robes, his thin fingers picking listlessly at the fraying edge. “They kept Jugson and me in the basement. Someone broke in, and they tossed Jugson in a room with dementors, but I managed to get loose long enough to get down the hall before they stunned me.”
Draco glanced up, watching the suspicion drain out of the older man. He barely held in his huff of relief. They must have seen Jugson but not bothered to clear the room and go deeper to find him.
“I woke up here. They’ve spent however long I’ve been here trying to get information from me, but the last few weeks, they seem to just enjoy tormenting me.” He let a tiny sliver of defeat sneak into his voice, slumping back against the concrete pillar behind him.
“The Dark Lord sent some of us to the Manor. They found Jugson and traces of your magical signature in the basement. It was assumed that they had killed you as well.” Yaxley moved slightly closer, turning his attention outward again, seemingly reassured by the collaborating stories.
“We need to get out of here. I’ll be missed soon, if not already. It was stupid of them to grab me.”
“They’re not very bright, so I’m hardly surprised,” Draco said, suppressing the smile that wanted to bloom at the knowledge that everyone in the office was listening in. He still hadn’t forgiven them for trying to kill him in the worst possible way. Hermione hadn’t either, and when Harry had suggested using them in their set up, Draco thought she might murder them before they got the chance. Jones had skirted around her like a spooked horse, and Draco had privately laughed himself sick when he finally convinced Severus to tell him what she had done. Merlin, he loved her.
“They’ll be in for a shock shortly,” Yaxley whispered, his eyes sly. “They didn’t notice that I dropped a button with a locator spell outside the warehouse.”
Draco stiffened before forcing himself to relax and plastered a hopeful look on his face, internally screaming for Hermione to get out, his heart thundering against his ribs and making him suck in air sharply through his teeth.
“How soon can we expect them?” he asked, hoping that Yaxley would mistake the shake in his voice for excitement.
“As soon as they realise I’m missing. A few hours at most, Dolohov has the link to my locator and will know to come for me as soon as he sees I’ve activated it.” Yaxley gave him a proud smile, and Draco wanted to curse him.
“That’s quite good, then,” Draco responded instead, his gut clenching at the mention of Dolohov, the feel of the scar that roped around Hermione’s side ghosting under his fingertips.
The sick feeling pulled at his ribs and made his jaw ache where he had his teeth clenched. He wasn’t going to have the chance to say goodbye to her.
He had his wrist cuff, which luckily held a replacement for the notebook that had burned, but she had his wand. It was likely for the best, though. If it was in his cuff, he would have been too tempted to use it, and there was no way to explain why he had it on him.
Draco shifted, hoping to somehow find a way to subtly suggest that they come and stun Yaxley so that a hasty plan could be outlined, only to be interrupted by the distinctive crack of apparation outside. No time, no time left.
Draco dragged in a sharp breath as Jones and Sig came thundering down the stairs, their crashing covering any sounds of Hermione and Tonks leaving. He could only hope they had left and not done something stupid.
Draco threw himself flat as spells burst around him, the loading dock door blasted inward and jagged metal framing a small group of Death Eaters. Jones and Sig gave ground quickly, turning to flee when it became clear they were overwhelmed.
Dolohov motioned for two of the younger Death Eaters to give chase as he ambled over to the prisoners, his neatly groomed eyebrows raised. He waved his wand in a lazy arc, dropping the barrier that held them in the small space.
“I see I’m getting a two for one special,” he sneered. “The Dark Lord will be most pleased that we’ve found you, Mr. Malfoy.”
Draco gave him a sharp smile in return. “While I will be grateful to rejoin my Lord, I admit I’m also very anxious for a proper bath.”
A small but genuine smile tugged the edge of Dolohov’s mouth, his posture relaxing when Yaxley nodded at his questioning look.
“Well then, let’s get you both back,” Dolohov said, reaching out to grab hold of him. A second later, the warehouse started to slip away with the sharp crack of displacement, and Draco risked a quick glance behind him.
There was only an empty room.
“Everyone quiet down!” Ron shouted from his position balanced precariously on a large armchair near the door of the room of requirement.
Voices trailed off as the slowly growing group found cushions and chairs to settle into. Ron glanced around, seeing most of the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff upper years, as well as a fair showing of Ravenclaws and the odd Slytherin, dotted around. His eyes locked for an instant on Blaise, who gave him a small nod. It had been several weeks since their run-in with the Carrows, and Blaise had quietly shown up to every DA meeting since, bringing a few of his housemates with him. As it turned out, if you weren’t a pureblood, you weren’t guaranteed safety even in Slytherin.
Neville and Ginny wandered up to join him at the front of the room, his sister giving him a tired smile.
“Alright, before we start, does anyone have anything they want to bring up?” Ron asked, getting only headshakes in return as the room went silent.
“Ok, so the biggest problem right now is we’ve heard that the Carrows are having the upper years use unforgivables as punishment on some of the other students.” Ron started, watching faces pale, and students shift closer to each other.
Ginny squeezed Neville’s arm when he made a tiny, punched out sound, his face turning a sallow grey.
Ron stumbled over his words, still a bit uncertain about how to explain it, and did his best to channel Hermione. “ Unforgivables don’t work unless you really really want them to, right?” he asked, getting tentative nods from around the room. He remembered Malfoy trying to compare the feeling of getting hit with an unforgivable from Voldemort and how it was so much worse than getting it from Harry because Harry didn’t truly want to hurt him. That probably wasn’t the best thing to bring up.
“So most of the time, it shouldn’t be a problem, but just in case we want a stock of nerve restorative potions.” Ron nodded to Neville, “Neville can get us the ingredients we need, but we need someone to brew it. Anyone here good enough at potions to manage?”
Silence greeted him as everyone shuffled to look at the rest of the room. Just as Ron was getting ready to try and convince Ginny to take a chance at it, a small hand went up near the back of the room.
Ron motioned eagerly, and a quiet fifth year with short brown hair, and a somewhat ample frame rose shakily to her feet. The green and silver colours of Slytherin decorated her robes, and her eyes were fixed on the floor in front of her. If he remembered right, she was one of the first to come along with Blaise.
“I know how to make it,” she said very softly, her voice barely making it to him.
“Great!” Ron said, a bit too much enthusiasm in his voice as the girl flinched and dropped back to her cushion. Ron gratefully motioned to Neville to take over and dropped into the chair he had been using as a stage.
Neville went through plans for dueling practice for the week and the group system they had worked out early on. No one traveled outside of their dorms without company, not even to the bathrooms. The house elves and the ghosts did what they could to help, but the Carrows only seemed to be deterred by large groups of students, not yet confident enough when outnumbered.
Ron let the soft drone of voices wash over him as he sank into the chair and found himself once again wandering how Harry and Hermione were getting on. McGonagall hadn’t been able to sneak away, Nott had been keeping too close an eye on her, and all of their mail was being either monitored or just taken before they actually got it, so they could only hope the Order was doing better than everyone in the castle.
Ron blinked as the room started to shuffle around, and students either drifted out or paired up to spend some time going over defensive spells. Blaise made his way through the cushions and settled on a low stool next to Ron, sitting quietly.
“Alright then?” Ron asked, curious. Blaise had been joining them for weeks and even swore the oaths that the DA demanded to keep their secrets without a complaint, but he hadn’t approached Ron, spending his time watching from the edges of the room.
“I heard a few of my housemates talking in the common room last night. They mentioned that they thought you were looking for something, maybe an old spell. I don’t know if you are, but I thought you might want to know; people are watching and keeping track of what you research.” Blaise kept his eyes fixed on a group across the room as he spoke, voice low.
Ron twitched but otherwise kept the unpleasant shock to himself. He’d have to start doing more of his research after hours, even if it was more dangerous.
“Are you looking for something then?” A gentle voice broke in from behind them, making Ron nearly fall out of his chair as his heart tried to climb his throat. Blaise choked a bit and turned wide eyes to Luna as she slipped around to join them, seemingly unaware of the mild chaos she caused.
“Uuhh,” Ron said intelligently.
Luna narrowed her eyes at him. “Are you alright? You haven’t been woolgathering, have you? That attracts wrackspurts, you know.”
Ron just shook his head and tried to suppress hysterical laughter. Without thinking, he blurted out, “Do you think the wrackspurts could tell me where Ravenclaw’s diadem is?”
His stomach twisted as soon as the words escaped, realising what he had just said, within the hearing of dozens of students. He scrambled to try and find an explanation that wasn’t suspicious.
“I mean, I thought maybe it could help us. It would be great to have something that could give us an advantage, right?” Ron got out, his voice staying mostly level as his face burned from the thin look Blaise was giving him.
“Well, wrackspurts won’t help at all,” Luna said seriously. “Why don’t you ask the Grey Lady?”
Ron frowned, his attention caught. “The Ravenclaw ghost? You think she would know?”
Luna blinked large eyes at him and smiled, “Oh, maybe,” she said cheerfully before drifting off, her wand flicking out and sending the bright red slash of a stunner toward Neville, who barely dodged.
“What the bloody hell?” Blaise whispered softly, staring after the retreating woman.
Ron just shook his head and started planning how to find a reclusive ghost.
“Shit!” Severus yelled, his anger shaking the neglected cups of tea that littered the coffee table in the front room. Harry sat back against the worn sofa with a soft huff of breath and watched the other wizard pace.
Hermione wasn’t much better, but worry seemed to have overtaken anger for now. Her and Tonks had arrived back without Draco and had to explain that they had to let the Death Eaters take Draco with them, that it was the best way for him to return.
They had hoped to orchestrate an escape after several days, letting them flee together, but Yaxley had apparently been more clever than they had given him credit for and moved their timeline up considerably.
“I had potions to give him things that could have helped. Please tell me he at least had the notebook on him?” Severus asked, spinning to face a grim Hermione.
She nodded, her eyes never leaving the carpet at her feet.
Severus grimaced a bit but relaxed slightly. He scrubbed his hands over his face and sighed, finally dropping down next to Harry.
“It’ll be alright, Mione,” Harry said into the tense silence of the room. She made a small noise of disbelief but didn’t argue. “As much as I hate to admit it, he’s not an idiot, and I know he has a portkey if he needs it.”
Hermione nodded again, her arms wrapped tight around her torso. “I think I’m going to…” She trailed off and motioned vaguely toward the ceiling before retreating, her feet whisper quiet.
“Fuck,” Severus said softly before he took to his feet and left, turning the opposite way down the hall from Hermione. Harry sighed but didn’t follow. He would do better on his own for a bit, and when Harry needed him, he knew he could find him in the lab.
“We didn’t have much of a choice,” Tonks said softly, her fingers twisted around a fraying napkin, her tea forgotten at her elbow.
Harry waved her off. “I know you did what you needed to. It was the best choice in a not great situation.” He let his head fall back against the backrest, thunking softly on the thin cushion, more wood than fabric. “Just give them a bit, yeah?”
Tonks nodded and got up, retreating quietly upstairs and leaving Harry to his own devices.
The sudden silence made his hands twitch, the anxiety he had been trying to hide since Hermione had burst in, distraught, coming back full force.
With a sour look at the empty room, Harry left, making his way to the top of the house. The dueling room was dark and quiet, the shadows of the dummies against the walls making a tiny shudder of unease crawl over his shoulders.
He’d hated mannequins when he was little, their blank faces had unnerved him, and he could remember trying to hide behind his Aunt Petunia when they went shopping, only to have her push him away. He would never admit it, but when he first saw the dueling dummies, he had been horrified. Harry had more than a few nightmares of mannequins coming to life and attacking him, only to find that it was an actual, valid fear.
Sometimes the wizarding world was less glamorous magic and more fuel for new night terrors.
Harry shifted, bringing his wand out and rolling his shoulders to loosen them. He summoned the floating targets rather than any of the dummies and started his warm-up routines.
Severus had drilled a series of standard defensive and offensive spells into his brain, making him run through them until they were so ingrained he could cast them wordlessly, and a few wandlessly. He’d fallen into the habit of running through the drills the same way he used to run through his quidditch practice paces, letting his mind settle.
After half an hour, sweat was dripping down his chest as he moved faster and faster, trying to beat his previous times. Harry finally finished with a sharp crack of blue spell light that cut a neat, smoking hole in the center of the target. A wave of his wand set the training area to rights and triggered the extension spells he had put into the walls.
The outer edges of the room raced away from him, leaving a path a few meters wide that he made his way to. After a quick transfiguration into something more exercise-friendly than jeans, he took off at a slow jog, his track pants making a soft shush with each stride and mixing with his even breathing.
Severus had made an awful face at him when he had first created the track but had eventually conceded that the idea had merit when Harry pointed out exactly how often he ended up running for his life. Harry had simply continued the normal exercise routine he had for quidditch, just keeping his run indoors rather than around the Black Lake.
Harry let his mind drift as he ran, his thoughts settling again on the Horcruxes. The feeling of time slipping away from him made him put on a burst of speed as if he could run fast enough to catch up to Voldemort, to get ahead of him.
They had little to no leads on any of them. They weren’t even certain that they were founders items, though it was a good bet that the cup was one. Harry hated that they might very well be chasing an empty lead with the diadem, but it was too likely to disregard. They needed to find it and either destroy it or confirm that it wasn’t what they were looking for.
Harry forced his thoughts back to the cup, the most likely item, and once again, doggedly went through what he knew.
No one had seen it since Tom had taken it, along with the locket. It wasn’t likely at Hogwarts since he was no longer a student by the time he took it. He only had so many places that Harry knew he was attached to, and of those places, Hogwarts was the only one where they had yet to find a Horcrux, as no one was counting the diary, given the Malfoy had sent it there.
Harry let out a huff of frustration as he slowed to start his cool down. The caves near the orphanage and the home he grew up in had both held a Horcrux, and it was not at all likely that Tom had put more than one in a single location.
They had been over it so many times that Harry felt like the path was worn into his brain. Everyone agreed that it was possible he had given the cup to a trusted follower like he had the diary, but that opened so many possibilities that no one wanted to consider it.
Harry stopped and summoned a towel from the side of the room, letting the room shrink down to its normal proportions as he wiped the sweat from himself and pushed the circular arguments out of his head. He would take a quick shower, then go find Severus. If he was lucky, the other man might have made progress with the resonating potion that did not involve oddly coloured hair or small fires.
Perhaps they would get a break soon.