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A Plan of Deepest Subtlety and Cunning

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Draco gapes as Potter strides out from beneath the Sorting Hat, heading straight for the Slytherin bench. Did the Sorting Hat really say that Potter would do well in their House?

It must have, because no one else is acting like they think Potter should be heading for the Gryffindor table. Acting like they’ve been hit over the head, yes, but Draco feels that way himself. Potter shouldn’t be in Slytherin. He shouldn’t have the cunning or the ambition for it! All his ambition should be concentrated in playing pranks and making Gryffindors proud of him.

“So are you regretting associating with the wrong sort yet, Potter?” Draco asks under his breath as he watches Potter’s eyes follow and linger on the Weasley boy. He’s Sorted into Gryffindor, of course.

“Shut up, Malfoy,” Potter says tersely. “I can still tell the wrong sort for myself, and Ron is always going to be my best friend.”

Draco draws back. Potter can’t have meant it, part of him says, the part that has always known his own worth since his parents taught it to him. Draco’s a Malfoy. He could make Potter’s life in Slytherin miserable, and Potter ought to be smart enough to know that if he’s a candidate for their House.

Unless…

Draco thinks it over as Blaise Zabini is Sorted into their House, and when the applause finishes, and when the food comes out, and when people sing the horrible school song, and when Potter jumps up the second the song finishes and heads straight for Weasley. By the time that they’re all headed down to the common room under the guidance of the prefects, Potter trailing behind, Draco has it figured out.

Potter must have known he would be Sorted into Slytherin, but he must also have known that people would distrust him for that. At the same time, he must have read up on history and known that Slytherins would be cautious around him for defeating the Dark Lord, So, to keep from being distrusted and an outcast in the school, which no one sensible would want to be, he arranged to befriend Weasley. He’ll cling to that friendship at all costs because it’s the only guarantee he has that people outside Slytherin might see him as “good,” and Weasley will be a staunch ally against the people inside Slytherin who can’t control their hatred of Potter.

It’s so brilliant that it actually takes Draco’s breath away, and he stares in admiration at Potter until Professor Snape comes in and Draco has to snap his attention back to him.

By the time they’re in their bedroom for the night and Potter is asleep in the bed next to Draco’s with the curtains firmly drawn, Draco has made up his mind.

Someone who has such good political instincts is someone worth following. Someday, Potter will no doubt reveal that brilliance firsthand, and it’ll reflect on those who stand closest to him.

Draco is determined that no Weasley will be the sole recipient of that glory.

*

Theodore Nott stands silently in the hospital wing next to Harry Potter’s bed, where he’s asleep. It’s actually not that unusual for him to be in the hospital wing, not since he became Slytherin’s Seeker this year and all the other Houses wanted him to lose or fall off his broom or disgrace himself in practice, but this is different.

Theodore shifts his balance and glances towards Madam Pomfrey’s office, but it remains dark. She does sometimes check on her patients at night, but not usually at three in the morning.

You disbelieved him, and look what happened.

Theodore sits down on the bed next to Harry’s. Harry is fast asleep, his head turned so that Theodore can see him in profile. He breathes hard, but with the level of magical exhaustion he must have experienced, that makes sense.

Harry was right about Professor Quirrell being the one who wanted to steal the Philosopher’s Stone after all.

Theodore huffs. He’s ashamed to admit that the main reason he disbelieved Harry was not that the story was so wild, but because that Muggleborn girl he saved from the troll with Weasley came up with the idea first. Theodore discounted it because of her blood. Sure, she’s intelligent, but she can’t know more than a pureblood, right?

Yes, she could.

Theodore runs his hand through his hair. He eavesdropped outside the hospital wing door when Professor Dumbledore brought Harry up from the area under the school where the traps were. He heard Dumbledore tell Madam Pomfrey that the spirit of the Dark Lord was possessing Quirrell, and that Harry drove it off with his magic.

Theodore knows his father would be horrified to hear that. So would some of the older Slytherins.

But Theodore isn’t. He’s had all year to observe Harry Potter, and he has to admit that Draco’s mad idea, about Harry having a plan to cover himself with glory someday, was right, too.

I need to be slower about jumping to conclusions.

Theodore differs from Draco in one respect, though. Draco thinks that Harry is positioning himself to be a lieutenant to the Dark Lord when he comes back. He must, after all, since he wasn’t Sorted into Gryffindor and he learns curses with the best of them, so he’s not the innocent the rest of the school thought the Boy-Who-Lived would be.

But Theodore thinks Harry is starting a third side. He doesn’t yield to the Slytherins who want him to abandon his friendships with Weasley and Granger, but on the other hand, he doesn’t let Weasley make fun of Slytherins, either. He took up the position of Slytherin Seeker instead of refusing it. He might roll his eyes when Theodore and the others come to sit at the library table with him, but he teaches them curses, too.

Harry wants to be the next Lord. A Lord in the middle, maybe, following neither Dumbledore nor the Dark Lord.

And Theodore finds it much more appealing to follow a Lord who welcomes his followers as friends instead of marking them as slaves.

He’s going to follow Harry, so he can share the power. And also, so he can be there the day Harry reveals the real plan, to dropped jaws and incredulous eyes.

*

Millicent Bulstrode is overlooked, but that doesn’t mean she’s stupid.

“I’m not the Heir of Slytherin!”

Potter says that in the middle of the common room with his mouth open wide and his eyes blazing. Millicent was in the Great Hall along with everyone else when Potter spoke Parseltongue, though. That means he is the Heir of Slytherin. Everyone knows that Slytherin was a Parselmouth, and someone who descends from him would have to be.

It’s so simple Millicent wants to shake her head.

And it fits in with Potter’s plan that Nott and Malfoy were whispering about last year. Of course Potter would deny that he was the Heir of Slytherin when someone confronted him with it, which means they shouldn’t have confronted him with it. They should have pretended to accept that he was telling the truth, and looked out for ways to help him later.

Millicent follows Potter when he leaves the common room. He stalks through a corridor before he spins around and frowns at her. “What are you going to do? Tell me I’m lying, too?”

Millicent scoffs. “Please. Like you’d risk Petrifying Muggleborns when one of your best friends is a Muggleborn.” In reality, of course, Millicent knows that Potter would Petrify people he doesn’t like. So far it’s Mrs. Norris—and who could like her?—and the Gryffindor ghost who keeps talking to Potter about why he’s in Slytherin and that little Gryffindor boy who was always trying to take Potter’s picture. All Potter has to do is keep the beast, whatever it is, away from Granger, and he has plausible deniability.

Potter calms down and studies her. Millicent stares back. She knows that he has to have a gleam of hidden knowledge in his eyes. She can’t see it, though.

And she’s looking for it, which impresses her, and makes Potter subtle enough to follow.

“Well,” Potter says after a second. “I could use someone in my own House who believes in me.”

Millicent smiles. That sounds like an invitation to be in the inner circle if she ever heard one. “Fine, Potter. Let’s go to the library and stay away from the unintelligent ones for a little while.”

“Call me Harry.”

“Millicent, then.”

Millicent is happy as she walks next to him. Someday, he’ll wink and turn to her and confirm what she knew all along, and she’ll get to lord it over the others that she was smart enough to keep her suspicions quiet, while they weren’t.

*

Pansy Parkinson huddles in her bed that night and stares at the ceiling and tries to understand how she came to be swept along in the expedition to save Harry’s godfather.

Who is apparently innocent, and Peter Pettigrew, the man he supposedly killed, was the real traitor. Pansy might still not believe that—her grandmother was a Black, and Father always talks about how good at lying she was—but she saw the transformation and heard the confession herself.

Pansy squeezes her eyes shut and bites her lip. It’s strange to her that she can hear the fire crackling and the soft breathing of the other third-year girls around her. It should be louder than that, if only to match the chaos in her head.

She was there when Granger and Weasley came running up with some story about Weasley’s rat, and she insisted on accompanying Harry. The last time Harry did something with Gryffindors alone, it turned out to be an ambush from half the Gryffindor Quidditch team to try to injure him so he couldn’t participate in the match against Hufflepuff.

Harry gave her an exasperated look, but he let her. And so Pansy found herself hiding behind a tree, and running under a tree after a dog who captured a rat, and then listening to that incredible confession. She was the one who insisted that they take Pettigrew back to the castle, after Harry convinced Black not to kill him right away.

Except Remus Lupin was with them, too, and he ended up transforming into a werewolf the moment the rays of the moon hit him. Black distracted him, luckily, by turning into a dog again, and then there was noise and confusion that let Pettigrew escape. And because the Minister is an idiot, he believed his own propaganda, and was going to have Black Kissed by a Dementor.

(Pansy is telling her father never to vote for Fudge again. It doesn’t matter how easy he is to control, the trade-off in intelligence isn’t worth it).

Both Weasley and Granger had been injured by the confrontations—Weasley getting his leg broken when he tried to protect his wretched rat, Granger getting her arm broken when Black tossed her out of the way trying to attack Pettigrew—and so Pansy was the only one available to go with Harry back in time to protect his godfather from Dementors and ride a hippogriff…

If Pansy listens, she can still hear the roar of wind around them as they climbed rapidly to that window and offered the hippogriff to Black. Black barely spared her a glance, other than a dubious one for her Slytherin robes, before he grabbed Harry and made a promise about coming back someday for him.

Harry watched him fly away with big, wet eyes that Pansy politely pretended not to notice, and then turned to her with a hard expression when he was done. “You can’t tell anyone about this, Pansy.”

“You think they’d believe me?”

“You still can’t.”

And Pansy nodded, because there are ways to drop subtle hints about what she knows without confirming it outright, and she’s going to use all those ways and means in the next few days to position herself in a stronger position in Slytherin House.

She’s Harry Potter’s confidant. She’s seen for herself the confidence that he exhibited in a dangerous situation, and the cleverness, and the power that he mustered to defeat a hundred Dementors, even though he had such a problem with them earlier in the year.

Oh, yes, keeping one secret quiet is no problem when someday she’ll get to see people realize they’ve overlooked what a true Slytherin Harry Potter is.

*

Gregory Goyle doesn’t know a lot, but what he knows, he knows.

And he knows that the boy asleep in the bed behind the infirmary door is stronger than the Dark Lord.

He listened, because all of them have invested in eavesdropping spells since they started to know Harry Potter, and he heard the story. How the Dark Lord had Harry helpless, but he wanted to duel him. And Harry got away. And he didn’t die. And he refused the Imperius Curse.

There’s lots of power there. The Dark Lord was resurrected, but he didn’t get what he wanted. From the earliest time of his childhood, Gregory has learned. Power is getting what you want. If you don’t get that, it doesn’t matter how many people follow you or how many friends you have. You’re not powerful.

Potter wanted to survive and escape, and he did that. And even if he was wounded, he’s still the strongest person Gregory knows.

So he stands there, and he ignores it when Professor Snape comes and asks him what he’s doing. Professor Snape hates Potter for some reason. Gregory thinks it’s a stupid reason, that he’s showing it so openly and against someone who could be leading all of them into a new future for Slytherin House.

“I asked you, Mr. Goyle, what you are doing?”

“Guarding Potter’s sleep.”

Snape takes a step back. “And did Mr. Malfoy order you to do that?” He looks around, as though he thinks Draco is hiding in the shadows.

“No. I decided on my own.” Gregory folds his arms and answers when he can see the next question forming on Snape’s tongue, because if he doesn’t answer, Snape will never go away, and Potter will never get some sleep. “He’s strong.”

“He is a brat,” Snape says, but very quietly. His hand moves to his left arm, which tells Gregory everything he needs to know.

Gregory shrugs. “Maybe to you, sir.” Then he goes back to peering down the corridor. He thought he heard a click or something in that direction. On the other hand, the giant black dog that showed up earlier was allowed into the hospital wing, so maybe this is another authorized visitor.

“You are not to guard his sleep, Mr. Goyle.”

“Yes, I’m going to.”

“Then you will have detention with me tomorrow morning.”

Gregory stares blankly at Snape. “All right, sir.” Snape’s detentions are never hard for the Slytherins, just lines or something. Gregory always as an example to copy from so he won’t mess up the spelling, too.

Snape firms his mouth as he stares down at him. Then he turns around and whips in the other direction.

“You didn’t need to do that.”

Gregory turns around when he hears the door of the hospital wing open, because he thinks it’s the big black dog coming back out at first, but then he remembers dogs can’t talk. He frowns at Potter. “You’re supposed to be getting some sleep.”

“But you didn’t need to stand up to Snape for me.” Potter runs a hand through his hair, which Gregory doesn’t understand the point of. It just stands up wilder than ever. “I didn’t ask you to do that. Now you have detention.”

“I did it because I want to follow you. You’re strong. I’d rather follow you than the Dark Lord.”

Potter gives him a very strange look. “You realize that I don’t want to be a Dark Lord myself?”

“Good. Then you won’t mark my arm.” Gregory never wants to go through that after having watched his father’s memory of his Marking. It looked like it really hurt.

Potter pauses, but doesn’t whip away in a different direction like Snape did. Instead, he smiles like he’s embarrassed and pats Gregory’s shoulder. “Thanks, then, Goyle.”

He goes back into the hospital wing, and Gregory hopes he gets some sleep. He faces back into the darkness and peers into the corridor again.

He might not know a lot of things, but he’s a pretty good guard.

*

Blaise makes his move on an early afternoon when Harry has been assigned detention with Umbridge for the fifth time. He knows he has to act now, or Harry is going to do something—probably blow up—and that will cost him a lot of the support he’s received from Slytherin House. There are lots of people already on the verge of abandoning him because they don’t like being associated with someone who’s being called a liar.

Blaise can somewhat understand that, but not completely. His Housemates are the ones who have more reason than anyone to know Harry is telling the truth.

But more than that, if Harry loses his mind and control of his magic in public, he might go to Azkaban with the mood the Ministry’s currently in. Blaise doesn’t want to see that happen to his future leader, thank you very much, especially when he’s already spent three years cultivating him.

So Blaise waits until he’s certain that no students are lingering in Umbridge’s Defense classroom to ask her questions—not that many would—or coming down the staircase in the direction of the Great Hall and dinner. Then he crouches and casts a careful spell on the nearest step, and takes a step back and Disillusions himself. Harry’s already taught Blaise and some other people that spell in the private Defense group they have, because Umbridge is bloody useless.

Umbridge comes out of her office soon enough, clutching a large armful of parchment as is her habit and the way Blaise hoped she would be. She starts to trot down the main staircase.

Her foot hits Blaise’s Invisible Ice Hex.

And she falls.

The Invisible Ice Hex disappears the moment she does so, the reason Blaise chose it for this. He takes a step back and dismisses the Disillusionment Charm and lets his mouth hang open with the true astonishment he feels.

Then, when he’s sure that she’s lying at the bottom of the stairs with her neck twisted at too sharp an angle to be alive, he runs down the stairs himself, shouting, “Professor Umbridge fell! Someone get Madam Pomfrey!”

In some ways, he’s not surprised that Harry is the first one on the scene, because he was the last one to leave Umbridge’s office after she held him back and assigned him detention, but it’s a little uncomfortable. Then Harry kneels beside Umbridge and studies her, and glances at her feet, and sits back to give Blaise a wordless, narrow-eyed stare.

Then it gets a lot uncomfortable.

But Harry doesn’t say anything as other professors pour towards them, and then Madam Pomfrey, or as Umbridge is floated towards the hospital wing, or as the members of Umbridge’s Inquisitorial Squad—all Slytherins and Ravenclaws from the years above them—start accusing him. It’s only when Blaise says that he saw Umbridge fall and Harry was nowhere around that they get to leave, and then they’ll probably only get a few moments by themselves until McGonagall or someone from the Ministry wants to question Harry.

“Blaise.”

Blaise tilts his head towards Harry, his mouth quirking a little at the hard look in his eyes. And then he realizes that hard look isn’t just for show. Blaise swallows, and what comes out of his mouth is a question, as much as he tries not make it that way.

“I appreciate, in some ways, what you did.” Harry’s voice has a slow cadence, and he reaches out a hand that Blaise is just glad isn’t going for his throat. Harry squeezes his shoulder hard, and Blaise winces a little at the pressure behind that touch. “But don’t do it again.”

Then Harry is gone, up the corridor, towards where McGonagall is calling his name in an imperative tone.

Blaise swallows and keeps walking back to the common room. They can come there if they want to bloody talk to him. He jerks his shirt back and stares at the place Harry squeezed once he’s in the bathroom.

The mirror shows a clear ridge of a bruise, which is going to hurt like hell later.

Blaise puts his shirt back down. He got lucky, he realizes. Harry won’t tell anyone, but he won’t regard this lightly if he happens again.

But on the other hand, that’s the reason Blaise chose to follow Harry in the first place. People might see his friendships with Gryffindors and his resolve to stand up against the Dark Lord and think that he’s weak, but that’s exactly what he isn’t.

Blaise will remember.

*

“It seems like everyone else is going on a date to Hogsmeade this weekend.”

“Yeah. I have better things to worry about.”

Daphne stands in front of Harry with her head tilted down a little, so that she can look at him under her eyelashes. She’s been told she looks beautiful like that. Harry doesn’t meet her eyes, though. He continues studying the book in front of him, an odd Potions book that he found somewhere. Daphne doesn’t see what’s so fascinating about it. So it has some old notes in the margins, so what?

“Why is dating something only for other people?” she asks softly. “Don’t you think you should get a holiday from studying, too, Harry?”

Harry blinks for a second and glances up at her. Daphne finds herself stumbling back without meaning to. There’s a hollow, cold void in his eyes that stares directly at her in a way she never wanted to be stared at, even last year when she was trying hard to attract the attention of Roger Davies, definitely the handsomest boy in Ravenclaw.

“I’ll have a holiday when Voldemort is dead,” Harry says.

Daphne winces from the name. That’s a change Harry’s tried to make in Slytherin that no one’s taken to. They just call him the Dark Lord, and the name is too sacred to say. “Harry,” Daphne tries to murmur, but his name catches in her throat, too.

“And I’m sort of surprised that you would want to go to Hogsmeade with me.” Harry lounges back on the couch for a moment, his eyes flicking up and down her. Daphne feels seen, but not in the way she hoped for. “Given that last year, you were talking about what you would do if the Dark Lord won, and where my head might be mounted.”

Daphne’s throat dries out so fast that she chokes. She looks away from him and promises herself that she won’t say the words, but they come trembling out anyway. “How did you—”

“I have more spies in more places than you might think.”

He must, Daphne decides, numb. That was an entirely private conversation.

And she remembers how many Slytherins follow Harry, and how he supposedly has some private plan to either become the lieutenant of the Dark Lord, or a Lord on his own. She turns away, shoulders a little hunched.

“Will you hurt me?” she can’t help asking, because now she knows that her concern has to be saving her skin, not seducing Harry Potter.

“Not as long as you stay out of my way.”

Daphne shudders and runs up to the bedroom she shares with Pansy and Millicent, who both give her disapproving looks in a way that makes it seem as if they know what she was saying in private, but must just be related to running around the room as behavior unbecoming of a Slytherin. Daphne can’t bring herself to care. She goes into the bathroom and sits on the loo for a while, her hands over her face.

The burning void of Harry’s eyes is in front of her whenever she tries to turn her mind away.

But in the end, she decides to hold on to those words Harry spoke. He doesn’t generally lie. He doesn’t need to. He just has to hint and keep his counsel the way he did about being the Heir of Slytherin and his ultimate goals.

Daphne will stay out of his way, and so will Astoria and the rest of her family. She’ll make sure of it.

*

“I don’t believe you have a plan. Not really.”

Potter turns to face him, and Vincent Crabbe smiles. They’re in a room full of rubbish, and Weasley and the Mudblood and Pansy and Millicent are standing behind Potter, and Theodore and Blaise are probably lurking somewhere nearby, knowing them. But it doesn’t matter. There was never any plan. Vincent knows it.

And he knows he’s unbeatable, with the Dark Mark on his arm.

“Really.” Potter’s eyes are hard and cold as he watches Vincent, but the Dark Lord’s eyes were harder and colder. Vincent is unbeatable. His Lord is unbeatable.

“No, you don’t.” Vincent edges closer and watches as Millicent and Pansy raise their wands. He has to be careful of them. Potter is too Gryffindor to know curses, though. “You just made up a bunch of bollocks and people went along with you because they couldn’t believe the Sorting Hat would have made a mistake. But it did. Everything and everyone makes mistakes, except the Dark Lord.”

“I have something that belongs to him.”

Vincent’s eyes narrow. “Give it to me.”

Potter holds up a silver diadem, hanging off the edge of his finger. For some reason, he’s wearing gloves. But maybe he just doesn’t want to get his dirty filthy Mudblood hands on the diadem, which would sear him with its darkness. “This is Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem. But you can’t break the enchantment I have on it.”

Potter’s smile is goading. Vincent flourishes his wand. “Yes, I can!”

The Mudblood behind Potter tries to say something. Potter shakes his head a little, and she falls silent. Vincent knows he should sneer, but he can’t. The one thing he admires is the control that Potter has over his minions.

“I don’t think so,” Potter says, and smirks at him. “It requires exquisite control over fire. Fiendfyre, to be exact. A more powerful Dark curse than you’ll ever be able to cast, you near-Squib.”

The taunt enrages Vincent. It was the thing he heard his parents whispering about in the years before he was accepted to Hogwarts, the thing that has always been his secret fear. And then it turned out Goyle, who he thought was his friend, his equal, always intended to follow Potter and was getting secret lessons.

He can’t stand it.

“Let’s see!” he barks, and lifts his wand, the incantation to call Fiendfyre already on his tongue.

Potter tosses the diadem abruptly into the air. Vincent just readjusts the angle of his wand, and lets the fire shoot out and grip the diadem and start leaping around with it, knowing he can break the enchantment. And anyway, something like Ravenclaw’s diadem is so old and so well-protected that he doesn’t have to worry about melting something that belongs to the Dark Lord—

Then he sees it melting, and he gasps and tries to turn his wand back on Potter.

Potter, who is hovering on a broom that Vincent didn’t even see. The Mudblood is mounted behind him, and Weasley is on another broom with Pansy. Millicent is on hers, the one she always carries around.

She catches Vincent’s eye and spits at him.

Vincent turns around, looking wildly for Draco, who he thought was going to follow him in here. Or Gregory, who shouldn’t be far away and should save him for old friendship’s sake. Or Blaise and Theodore. At the moment, he would take their help and their cutting comments.

But he can see no one else, only flames.

“Good-bye, Crabbe,” Potter says, and the brooms sail away, while the diadem melts down to the last bits of silver.

Vincent works furiously to control the fire. He has the power to be able to call up the Fiendfyre, that means he should be able to control it! That’s the way things work.

But the flames close in, and no one comes to save him. In the end, he raises his wand to his own temple, knowing that the death that awaits at the end of it is less agonizing than the one that will come at the claws of the fire-lions stalking him.

Avada Kedavra,” he breathes, and in the moments before the curse hits him, realizes that Potter did have a plan, and it never included saving him.

*

“Welcome back, sir.”

It takes long moments for Severus to realize that he knows the voice. It’s flat and cold, but he does know it. He blinks sharply and turns his head, his hand clenching for a second in the blankets on the bed around him, the same blankets that he would expect to see in the hospital wing. He never expected an afterlife, not for someone like him, but far less did he expect it to look so much like Hogwarts.

Potter is sitting in a chair beside his bed, his eyes no more alive than a shark’s as he watches Severus.

Severus tries to speak, but his throat aches so much that he can’t manage it. He coughs, painfully, while Potter watches and doesn’t try to soothe it. But enough of Severus’s memory has returned to let him remember Nagini biting him, so perhaps he shouldn’t be surprised that Potter would lack the strength to help him.

“What are you doing here, Potter?” Severus rasps, when the coughs finally leave him and he can look at the boy.

There’s a very specific reason Potter shouldn’t be here, unless he has turned and joined the Dark Lord as part of Severus always expected he would. He should have died in the Forbidden Forest, sacrificing himself to defeat the bit of tattered soul in his head.

“I lost the Horcrux when I was much younger.”

Severus stares at Potter with eyes that he hates having be that wide. “What?”

“When I destroyed the diary in my second year.” Potter leans back in the chair, the faint smile on his face that concealed his darkness from the Headmaster bubbling out for a minute. “I got bitten by the basilisk, and the venom slashed through me and destroyed the Horcrux in me. I lied about being healed by the phoenix tears. I was never in danger, not when the venom actually preferred to destroy something like the Horcrux. It would have made better prey for the basilisk. More delicate prey.”

“But—how did you know what it was called? Or what it did?”

“When the shade of Tom Riddle saw that I wasn’t dying, he broke,” Potter says, and his voice is soft and vicious. The voice of the boy Severus always knew was there, not that the Headmaster would ever believe him. “He already knew what I was, apparently, from the feel of me when I touched the diary. He told me about Horcruxes and that I was one, and that he was, too. There was no one reason why we couldn’t ally, he said. Two smaller pieces of one greater being.”

“And then what happened?” Severus is caught up in the story despite himself. He never heard what happened in the Chamber first-hand, only from Albus’s report. He wonders, now, if Potter dodged around a subject he would have normally been expected to tell his Head of House about deliberately.

Not that Potter has ever really acted as if he sees Severus as his Head of House.

Not that Potter has ever seemed like a mere student to Severus.

Potter smiles. “I stabbed the basilisk fang through the diary anyway, and watched as Tom Riddle was destroyed, the way he always should have been.”

“But you retained Parseltongue,” Severus says, his eyes wandering despite themselves to the distinct scar on Potter’s forehead. Had it seemed less distinct after second year? He can’t remember. At the very least, it looks now as he remembers.

Potter shrugs. “The Headmaster had a theory that I got it from the Horcrux, but that was just a theory. It turns out to have always been in me. With how common the hatred for Parseltongue is, maybe a lot of my ancestors were Parselmouths and just hid it.”

“As if a Potter would be that intelligent.”

“More intelligent than you would believe,” Potter says, with a calm coldness in his voice that chills Severus. “I used snakes a lot, you know. Real ones, carved ones, painted ones. I knew all about your plot with the Headmaster to make me walk to my death. Neither of you noticed that a snake had replaced Dippet in one of those portraits in his office and was listening to you.”

Severus stares at him. “You—you had a connection to the Dark Lord. Or why would he be able to send visions through it to you?”

“That was the hole left by the Horcrux, not the Horcrux itself. It didn’t close until I killed him.”

“How did you kill him?”

Severus knows his voice is a whisper, but at the moment, he doesn’t have enough will to make it otherwise. He survived, but he managed to miss that battle. That is more than annoying.

Potter lifts one shoulder and lets it fall. “I destroyed his last Horcrux in front of him. The cup. Hermione and Ron fetched a basilisk fang from the Chamber, and I got Draco to behead his snake. He was the only one who could get close enough.”

“Draco Malfoy is a Marked Death Eater.”

Potter smiles at him, a very small uplift of his lips. “Oh, dear. And you still doubt my Parseltongue? That a powerful Parselmouth couldn’t convince the snake in his Mark to work for me instead of the master who brought it into being in blood and pain? He’s been mine since first year, through his own decision that I was up to something, and once he realized that his father intended to brand him and sell him as a slave, he was even more mine.”

The casual power revealed there makes Severus hunch down in his bed. But there are still things Potter has not told him. “You were telling me how you killed the Dark Lord.”

“Yes, I was.” Potter stares past him for a moment. “He went mad, essentially, when he realized he was mortal. Well, madder. He tried to flee. But I’d already used binding spells around the battlefield to make sure he couldn’t—”

“How did you learn those?” Severus demands, so harshly that he starts coughing again. But he had to say it. Binding spells are the ancient precursors of anti-Apparition spells. They make sure that one particular target, or kind of person, isn’t able to leave an area no matter what. They were banned as Dark centuries ago.

“Pansy,” Potter says, with a little flick of his shoulders. “Her father’s library. Then Gregory and Millicent fought for me against the Death Eaters, and Blaise launched a spell that wounded Voldemort.” Severus clutches at his arm, but there’s no agony from the name, for the first time in twenty years. “I don’t even want to know where he got it. Theodore distracted the bastard by taunting him and reminding him that he hadn’t followed his father’s footsteps into the Death Eaters while I crept up behind him and stabbed him in the back with a curse that liquefied his organs.”

Severus stares in silence. “That is not the way I expected you to fight,” he says at last, when Potter shifts and shows signs of standing up and leaving.

Potter wheels towards him, and under the lambent glow of his eyes—glow, yes, his magic is striking up behind them in that eerie way that only the most powerful wizards get, that the Dark Lord showed often—Severus shrinks back.

“You were intending to have me march to my death,” Potter says harshly. “You made my life hell every day in Potions because of your grudge against a dead man I can’t even remember, while you refused to take my part against any Slytherin who tried to hurt me because ‘Slytherins stick together.’ Not something you remembered when I was the Slytherin in question, of course. I studied defensive spells on my own because our Defense professors were bloody useless, and you wouldn’t let me even cast in class when it was your turn. I put up with Dumbledore making constant little comments about how I couldn’t trust Draco, or Millicent, or Pansy, or any of them, and acting like my friendships with Ron and Hermione were corrupting them. I lost Sirius, and everyone except my friends told me it was my fault, even though Dumbledore was the one who believed Bellatrix Lestrange when she came to him and pretended to have repented. Every adult I knew sent me back to a hell every summer. I was on my own, and every one of them thought I wasn’t a real Gryffindor or a real Slytherin.”

He cuts himself off, breathing as harshly as Severus. Severus finds himself holding still, the way he would in the presence of a Death Eater higher up the hierarchy when he was still a teenager.

Potter glances away after a second, nostrils flaring, voice going back to the flat tone it’s maintained throughout most of the conversation. “I won anyway. Despite you. Despite Dumbledore. Despite Bellatrix.” A smile flows across his face that Severus frankly never wants to see again. “Whom I beheaded on the battlefield. That felt bloody good.”

Severus touches the wound in his neck. He’s not sure that he wants to know, but he has to ask. “How did I survive?”

“I found you in time, and healed Nagini’s bite.” Potter snorts when Severus stares at him. “The spells I learned on my own, and you think I never learned ones that could heal a snakebite? Being a Parselmouth helped as well, of course.”

“Why?” Severus breathes. “Why did you save me, if you hate me?”

Potter takes a step towards him. His head is bowed and his eyes are glowing again.

“Partially for my friends,” he says. “There are still some Slytherins you were a good Head of House for, and you turned some of them from the Death Eaters’ path. I reckon you can go on doing that in the future, standing up for them against the common bigotry and leading them away from the temptation of Dark Arts. And they didn’t need the grief of your death, little as they would have had to grieve for if they really knew you.”

“Partially—that. And partially what?”

Potter smiles, dark as a pit.

“My father saved your life, and that meant you owed me a debt by inheritance,” he said. “But you paid that back by saving my life in first year when I might have died after I burned Quirrell. Now you owe me a debt.

“I want you to live a very long, long time, Snape. And know that you breathe by my grace. Every day.”

Potter pivots and stalks out of the hospital wing. Severus closes his eyes.

He laughed at the idea that Potter had some sort of plan when he heard Nott and Draco discussing it in their first year. He laughed at the idea that Bulstrode and Goyle would guard him for any reason but power. He shook his head when Parkinson spoke of lending him books from her father’s library, and rolled his eyes over his own suspicions that Blaise Zabini caused Umbridge’s death.

He supposes he is properly punished.

Potter will never let him pay the debt back, and that knowledge lies on his skin like a wound that will not close. But worse is the fact that he could have curbed this if he had acted like a Head of House to all Slytherins.

What Potter is, Severus will bear the burden of knowing he helped create.

The End.