“Sir. Sir. Professor Salvare!”
Harry stirs and sits up on the library couch, surprised beyond measure that he fell asleep there. Then again, he’s been reading books on prophecy and ways of locating magical artifacts almost non-stop this summer, and he’s not young in body anymore. Sooner or later, he has to accept the advancing effects of age.
But not right now, he decides as he sees how frantic Regulus is, shouting at him from the door of the library.
“Sirius is in the Floo! He says he has to talk to you right now!”
Harry stands up and hurries, ignoring the protesting creaks from his knees and back. It seems odd that Sirius would be contacting him when he was supposedly safe at the Potters’ house, but then again, maybe the Blacks are trying some ploy to regain custody of him.
Or even attacked the Potters’? Harry really hopes that’s not the case.
But when he gets to the Floo, he realizes that Sirius’s eyes are wide and bulging, and that there’s someone else behind him, someone who hangs back and seems to keep his face deliberately out of the field of the flames. Harry narrows his eyes, but decides that he’ll ask later who that is and why Regulus gave Sirius the Floo connection to the Decoy House without telling Harry.
“Mr. Black.” Harry kneels down and does his best to look calm and unruffled, because that’s how he’ll do better work here than if he runs around screaming. “Are you well?”
Sirius stares at him, his eyes still bulging, and whispers, “Not really, sir.”
Harry nods, accepting that. “Are you physically injured? If you grant me access through the Potters’ Floo, I can fetch you. Or is it an attack?”
“No, no…neither of those.” Sirius hesitates. “Maybe I shouldn’t have had my brother get you, Professor Salvare. It’s not that serious.”
“Unlike your name,” Harry says, and makes Sirius smile a little despite himself. Merlin, he’s shaking. Harry hopes that Sirius tells him what happened soon so he doesn’t have to go over there and shake it out of him. “What is it?”
“I got an owl from Professor Dumbledore.” Sirius is clutching his hands together.
That’s about the last name Harry expected to come out of his mouth. He blinks, and then curses himself for mixing up the timelines again. Sure, Sirius is a Gryffindor no matter what the history and thus a little more inclined to the Headmaster, but he also isn’t the man Harry knew who’d been loyal to him for decades. “Did he say something disturbing, Mr. Black?”
“He said that I couldn’t trust you and I shouldn’t take Defense.”
Again, about the last thing Harry suspects. He sits back on his heels, some of his urgency dimming. “Well, that’s not true, Mr. Black. But I’m not sure that you’ll believe me on the strength of my own denial. I have sworn some of the young Slytherins to my service, that’s true, but only because they begged for it.”
“I have to take Defense!” Sirius bursts out. “There’s a bloody war coming! And you’re the only competent Professor we’ve ever had!”
“Language, Mr. Black,” Harry says a little weakly. “Well, I can promise you that as long as you got an Acceptable or higher, I’ll be accepting you into my Defense class.”
Sirius stares at him with his eyes burning. “I got an Outstanding.”
“That’s great!” Harry says, trying to maintain his enthusiasm in the face of his uncertainty. “Then I don’t see why—”
Sirius leans towards him. “Professor Salvare, what do you think of Professor Dumbledore?”
Great. Harry sighs. “I think he’s a good man trying to do a difficult job in an impossible time.”
“Cut the diplomatic load of bollocks, Professor Salvare.” The shadow that’s been moving around behind Sirius resolves and drops down beside him, and it’s James Potter. Harry tries not to self-consciously touch his own hair. He does know he’s altered enough that no one has commented on his resemblance to James despite the two of them sharing the same classroom for months. “We want to know what you really think.”
Harry raises an eyebrow, a little more in control of the situation. “I think you should watch your language as well, Mr. Potter.”
“But what?” James demands, bringing down his hands hard enough that Sirius yelps and flinches back, presumably from sparks on his side of the fire. “Professor Dumbledore sent me the same message! And Remus and Peter, too. And a few of our other classmates we’ve talked to. But not to any of our Slytherin or Ravenclaw classmates. Why?”
Harry sighs. He still doesn’t want to destroy Dumbledore’s reputation in their eyes; he honestly doesn’t. That won’t serve anybody, and will just make people more suspicious of each other who should be on the same side. But it seems he won’t be allowed to get out of this one with gentle evasions.
“I suspect that he’s worried about something he had a talk with me about at the end of the term. He’s worried that I’m recruiting students into an army. He knows that some of your Slytherin yearmates, and a few in the year below, swore to follow me. We exchanged oaths of mutual defense and protection. He probably assumes that the Slytherins will ignore him if he warns them away from me. The Ravenclaws, I don’t understand,” Harry adds, and it’s the truth. “The only thing I can think of is that many of them have Slytherin siblings, so perhaps he’ll assume that I’ve similarly influenced them.”
Sirius and James exchange glances. Harry watches them, waiting for their conclusions. He looks over his shoulder and sees that Regulus is at least less frantic now.
“What are you recruiting them for, if not for an army?” Sirius finally asks.
“To keep them safe,” Harry says in a slow drawl. “Many of them have parents who would try to force them into servitude to Voldemort, Mr. Black. And while I don’t wish to say anything against the Headmaster, his disdain for Slytherin House hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people in it.”
Nor his lack of care for the students in it. Harry barely holds himself back from an exasperated shake of his head. So Albus was so concerned about Harry that he felt the need to warn students over the summer—but only Gryffindors, of course.
Only the people who might join the Order of the Phoenix.
Harry sits back when Sirius and James remain silent. Sirius finally clears his throat. “You know that I left my parents’ house to come here, sir?”
“Yes, I know, Mr. Black.”
“And—my mother confronted you in Diagon Alley and accused you of making me run away.”
“Don’t worry, I took care of that,” Harry says, a little satisfied as he remembers his interaction with Walburga Black. It won’t be anything she can brag about. “You shouldn’t be troubled by anything your mother says, Mr. Black.”
“What if what she said was true?”
“That I encouraged you to find someplace else to live might be true. That I told you to go specifically to the Potters’ house? You already had that plan in mind, Mr. Black.”
“I mean,” Sirius says, twisting something on his finger that Harry can’t see properly through the flames, “if you encouraged me to be a better person.”
“I would hope that’s true,” Harry says quietly. He remembers the ethics lessons with Sirius, and how he did start paying attention. But at the same time, he doesn’t know how much influence he can have, whether time will try to twist things back so that Sirius plays the prank on Severus or goes to Azkaban, whether he’ll even see Sirius again once he finishes his seventh year. He has to keep vigilant, not assume lasting influence. “But I don’t understand what you’re getting at, Mr. Black.”
“There was another part of the letter Headmaster Dumbledore sent us,” James interjects, leaning forwards so that he almost falls into the fire. “He wants us to join the Order of the Phoenix.”
Harry holds back an exasperated sigh. He actually doesn’t have any idea for sure of when James and Lily and Sirius and Remus and Peter joined the Order fully in the first timeline, only reports and rumors. It must have been in private conversations and maybe correspondence that was burned afterwards, and no trace of his research could uncover it. It would have been even harder to detect if the students were essentially inactive members until they finished their NEWTS. “That has to be your choice, Mr. Potter.”
“But you have opinions on it.”
“I have opinions on the color of the shirt you’re wearing now,” Harry says dryly, and is amused to see James’s hand rise to touch his shirt collar in response. “That doesn’t mean you have to listen to them.”
James and Sirius exchange glances. Then Sirius mouths something that looks, as far as Harry can see through the wavering flames, “Ask him outright,” and James nods and turns around with a determined look.
“No,” Harry says.
“You didn’t know what we were going to ask, sir.”
“You were going to ask if you could join my sworn followers. The answer is no.”
“Why? Because we’re not Slytherins?” Sirius looks ready to lay back his ears and growl in human form.
“No. Because I don’t trust you to work well with the people who are already sworn to me. Mr. Black, you were planning to play a prank a few months ago that could have cost one of them his life. Mr. Potter, I know that you were disappointed about not getting to play pranks after I intervened in that nonsense, and kept pushing your friends to do it. Why should I trust that you’ve changed?”
James’s mouth falls open a little. “You’d choose Snivellus over us?”
“And I think you’ve just proved the point,” Harry says lightly. “You should make your own decisions on joining the Order of the Phoenix, Mr. Potter, Mr. Black. I can’t advise you.” He reaches out to close the Floo connection and ask Regulus what he was thinking to open an unregulated one from the Potters’ house.
Harry pauses with his eyebrow lifted. “Yes?”
“Um, James didn’t mean it,” Sirius says, while nudging James furiously in the ribs with his elbow. James folds his arms and stares at the ceiling and scowls, but finally nods. “We really do want your protection.”
“I can see why you might, Mr. Black, but Mr. Potter’s parents are good ones, to my knowledge. Why does he need more than them?”
“I know there’s a war coming.” James looks sober now, not like the stupid teenage boy he resembled only a moment ago. “I’m smart enough to know that, at least. And I also know that my parents are old enough they probably won’t be able to participate much, or protect me from a raid.” He swallows and wipes his mouth with one hand. “I need allies. I need to know how to protect myself and my family better. One year of decent Defense education won’t change that. Not that you’re not really good, Professor Salvare,” he adds hastily. “Please?”
Harry considers it. He doesn’t want to just have Slytherins as sworn followers, that’s true. But bringing in someone who’s dedicated to causing trouble for other specific people he’s sworn an oath to protect is stupid.
“I need to see an improvement in your behavior for a month after the school year begins, Mr. Potter,” he says at last. “That will include no name-calling of other students, no prank-playing, and a commitment to your Defense studies.”
From the way James grins, he’s actually getting away with less of a burden than he thought he would. Harry resists the urge to cluck his tongue. That would have a bad effect right now.
“Thank you, Professor Salvare!” And James gets up and vanishes from the fire.
“What about me?” Sirius looks anxious, leaning forwards on his hands in a way that makes Harry wonder how others haven’t caught on that he’s an illegal Animagus yet. Then again, most professors have a propensity to ignore their students in a way Harry despairs of.
“Same burden of proof.”
“But I took ethics lessons with you!”
“And you were planning a prank that could have killed someone, Mr. Black, and still didn’t want to apologize on your own. I take that seriously.”
After a moment, Sirius nods reluctantly. “But you would really permit me and James a place among your followers?”
“Yes, if you follow the rules I’ve laid down. Remember, the oaths are mutual. You can’t just get protection from me and do nothing in return. For me or the other students you’ll be working with.”
“I know that. I—I would have considered joining the Order of the Phoenix because James is right. We need the protection.” Sirius looks down for a second. “Thank you, Professor Salvare.”
“You’re welcome,” Harry says, and waits until Sirius’s face disappears from the Floo. Then he reaches out and touches a knot on the mantel that will make it impossible for anyone to Floo from the Potter residence without his prior permission.
He turns and stares at Regulus, who goes from grinning to shuffling his feet in a second.
“Was I wrong?” he asks. “Sirius asked to talk to you, and, I mean, I know he needs this.”
Harry nods, because he privately agrees. “The problem, Regulus, is that you let someone make a Floo call from the Potter residence without asking me if that was a good idea. It’s one thing to open your Floo first, and another to let someone else do it. An intruder could have come through from that side before I could do anything about it, and it would be a lot harder to defeat them and keep you safe once they were here.”
Regulus blinks in what looks like genuine surprise. “You think one of the Potters would do that?”
“There’s such a thing as the Imperius Curse,” Harry says wearily. “Look, Mr. Black, I’m not permanently angry at you. I just can’t have people creating weaknesses within the wards, no matter who they want to see, without speaking to me about it.”
“Of course, Professor Salvare. I’m sorry.”
Harry relaxes, both because of the apology and because Regulus doesn’t seem subdued in the way he would be if he thought Harry was furious with him. “Apology accepted. Now we’ll see if your brother and Potter can keep to their promises.”
This time, when the chime from the walls cuts through Regulus’s answer, Harry doesn’t even bother rolling his eyes.
His position is still that Time can go fuck itself. But he’s not going to bother contradicting it.
“Are you sure you’ll win?”
“But why are you sure, though?”
Of all the people he swore to follow him, Harry wouldn’t have thought that Andromeda Tonks would be the one who fussed over him before he went to a duel with Voldemort. She’s older than most of his followers, after all, and that means she has a better idea about what someone with Harry’s training can do. He grins at her in the mirror as he adjusts the battle robes of toughened dragonhide around himself.
“It’s a reasonable question.” Andromeda comes up to check the hang of the battle robes. “It’s too bad that you couldn’t get basilisk hide.”
“Why would I be able to get that?”
“I think you could do anything you put your mind to, Professor Salvare.”
Even Andromeda calls him that, who’s not his student. Well, she feels pretty abandoned by her family, too, so Harry supposes she might latch on to him as a mentor. Harry shrugs a little and answers her original question. “I’m sure because it’s not going to be a fair fight.”
Andromeda bites her lip. “That’s why so many of us are worried, though, sir. About what he’ll do to make sure he can win, and how much stronger he is than anyone else.”
“I mean I’m not going to fight fair.”
Andromeda’s mouth falls open a little and she takes a step back from him as if he might start practicing on her. “What?”
“Oh, dear.” Harry grins at her and rolls his shoulders one more time, making sure that both the robes and all the little surprises tucked in his pockets are in the right places. “Did you have this picture of me as someone who would never do that sort of thing? Is it me, or the scent of hero-worship a bit strong in here?”
Andromeda blushes. “I just—Professor Salvare, it’s just—”
“I know how it can feel to want someone to be a perfect hero,” Harry says quietly. “But I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t work that way. And I will let anyone who thinks they can’t tolerate that go free from their oath.”
Andromeda stands up a little straighter at that, her eyes fierce. “No, sir, of course I don’t want that! I only—I heard about the ethics lessons that you offered my cousins.”
“I thought someone who emphasized doing the right thing so much wouldn’t be able to tolerate cheating.”
Harry shakes his head. “We’re never just one thing. And at the moment, I’m Voldemort’s worst nightmare along with being the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, and your leader, and a duelist.”
Andromeda watches him with deep thoughtfulness as Harry walks out of the dressing room—there are so many rooms in the Decoy House that he might as well use one of them that way—and towards the door he’ll leave through before he Apparates to the destination. Challenging Voldemort was easy. All he had to do was place an ad in the Daily Prophet saying that Voldemort was scared to face him and that meant he wasn’t a Dark Lord at all, and Voldemort issued a challenge to a duel held in a field that used to belong to the Malfoys.
Harry rejected the first invitation, to Malfoy Manor, on the grounds that the public couldn’t view it and Voldemort was being a coward. Insult him and he flies into a rage, and that means he can’t think rationally. He sent the proposal of the field without a second thought, and Harry accepted.
Regulus and Severus and Evan and Tiberius Wilkes and several of his other followers are waiting in the kitchen. Harry smiles at them and claps several of them on the shoulder, then shakes the hands of others.
“Will you come back?”
Regulus asks that question beneath his breath as Harry shakes his hand. Harry stares him in the eye and says, “I promise.”
Regulus is the only one who looks totally happy as he steps back.
“Wish me luck,” Harry says, and winks at them before he walks out. He knows that they’ll be among the crowd at the field; he can’t forbid them that.
But they’ll be among the crowd behind the protective wards that Harry has tied to his own magical core. He can’t forbid them that, either.
“The challenged, Professor Henry Salvare.”
This kind of formal duel requires someone called a Herald who will announce the participants in the duel, and announce, as well, the wounds and the spells given so that those at a distance can understand the “publicly-owed” clash of two powerful wizards. Their particular Herald stands on the edge of the circle that was formed the minute Harry stepped close to Voldemort, zapped into the ground by the wards that Harry is carrying around with him.
Harry doesn’t know if it was Time or Voldemort that’s responsible for their Herald being Lucius Malfoy, but part of him finds it hilarious.
The rest of him is focused very hard on the still figure of Voldemort, standing across from him. His hands are clasping his yew wand. He hasn’t moved since Harry drew the circle with the wards. His eyes have, though, aiming off to the sides as if to gauge the strength of the wards.
He can do that if he wants. He won’t find anything that Harry hasn’t prepared for.
And if he thinks that he can destroy the wards when he kills Harry and then tear into the crowd, that only shows how delusional he is, thinking that he can kill Harry or that Harry would have brought people he’s responsible for into a situation he considered dangerous.
(Not that Harry is entirely happy with the crowd. But he does need to make Voldemort look like a fool in public, and so he took the necessary precautions).
“You may begin your duel at any time,” Lucius says, and bows his head and tries not to look like he’s almost fleeing from the edges of the circle in the grass.
Voldemort doesn’t strike right away, surprisingly. Then again, he had the sense to move his Horcrux. Perhaps he has the sense to realize that someone standing calmly in front of him could be a dangerous opponent.
Harry raises an eyebrow. “In your own time, Tom.”
Voldemort snarls at that, and casts a spell that makes a crackling dark lightning bolt of energy surge up around his hands. Lucius announces in a shaky voice, “The Dark Lord has cast the Wand-Breaker Curse—”
Voldemort hurls it.
Harry shifts one of the wards that make up the circle around him in front of the spell. It’s visible in movement only as a line of burned grass sizzling its way along. But it catches and dissipates the Wand-Breaker, spreading darkness out into the air for a moment and then fizzling it out.
“And Professor Salvare blocks it.”
Lucius’s voice is loud with disbelief, and so are the shouts and cheers of the people in the crowd who apparently believe they’re watching a gladiatorial contest. Harry knows why. The Wand-Breaker Curse supposedly has no counter.
And if you’re not an Unspeakable, that’s probably even true.
But people spent too much time looking for blocks to the Wand-Breaker Curse among countercurses, when they could have just studied wards.
Harry calmly meets Voldemort’s gaze. It’s burning now, as intense as it was when Harry rescued Severus from him, and Voldemort lifts his wand and draws a long line down the middle of the air.
“The Dark Lord summons nightmare-cats.” At least Lucius’s voice has steadied and he no longer sounds like he’s going to faint.
The line in the air swings open like a door, and the beasts hop through. They’re squat, small animals, only a little larger but far more solid than a housecat, a dense black with grey stripes. Their claws create burning slashes in the grass as they prowl slowly towards Harry.
Where their eyes should be, they each have a spongy cluster of eight eyes, resembling a spider’s.
Harry nods in admiration of Voldemort’s cunning. Most people don’t become as skilled as Harry without suffering from nightmares, if only because they probably think of duels they lost, people they couldn’t save, those they had to kill. And nightmare-cats are excellent at pulling those memories forth from a head to feed on them, while at the same time making the victim relive the nightmare.
There’s shouting from the crowd now, in some voices that sound like those of his followers. Harry hopes they’re not stressing themselves too badly about this.
“Well, Salvare? What do you say now?”
Harry ignores the Parseltongue. He doesn’t want to reveal that he understands that yet. He braces his foot behind him as the first nightmare-cat crouches to spring at him. He thinks, idly, that the creatures look rather like what Umbridge might resemble, if she’d ever been Transfigured into a cat.
The first one comes flying at him. Voldemort is cackling. There’s no way to avoid a nightmare-cat’s strike if you let them get that close.
Then again, Voldemort should have learned from his experience with the Wand-Breaker Curse.
Harry casts the crystal orb that was resting against his left flank at the springing cat. It shatters the moment it impacts with that ghastly face, of course, and the nightmare-cat yowls. The sound makes more than one person in the crowd cringe.
But as it crashes to the ground and flails frantically at its face with its paws, Voldemort is the one who screams.
“What is this? They have no counter!”
Harry raises an unimpressed eyebrow, and gestures back at the nightmare-cat, which is thrashing, seizing. “Sure, Tom.”
Before Voldemort can answer, ghostly silver light surrounds the cat and swirls in a frantic dance. Then it fades away. What’s left is a silvery kitten that sits up and mews.
The other nightmare-cats charge Harry. Harry hits every single one of them with a crystal orb, even the ones who try to dodge. He barely needs to aim. They’re so desperate to kill him that they can’t get out of the way.
“Professor Salvare has hit the nightmare-cats with—” Lucius breaks off, and then his voice is indignant, almost a wail, as he speaks again. “How am I supposed to announce it if I don’t know what it is?”
“A variant of the Patronus Charm,” Harry says gently, as the first nightmare-cat he hit rises and the silvery kitten grows wings that billow out around its body like sheets. “That’s all. Announce that.”
“A variant of the Patronus Charm,” Lucius says faintly, despite the Sonorus Charm that he’s cast on himself. He’s occupied, like most of the audience who can see, in watching the silver kitten fly away on its translucent wings, joined in order by all the others as they evolve into their new form.
“There is no variant of the Patronus Charm that does that!”
Harry turns and faces Voldemort again. He wondered why the bastard didn’t launch a spell when people were distracted, but it’s clear now, from the way that his eyes follow the kittens. He’s as distracted as they are, and enraged, and afraid of being made to look like a fool. “Not that you know of, Tom.”
And there it is. Voldemort’s wand moves in a jagged spiral, and he screams, “Stop calling me Tom!”
What comes after that is the barrage of curses that Harry expected, and which he suspects Voldemort was only holding back on before because he wanted to give a proper show, relevant to the public nature of their duel. It doesn’t much matter to Harry. He makes his way closer and closer to Voldemort, using his shields and wards to splinter the curses. Voldemort seems more furious about all his spells failing to land a hit—other than a few that scrape shallow lines of blood along Harry’s arms and face—than he is about Harry coming that close.
But, in the meantime, Harry is getting his final trick ready. His hand dips into his pocket, and feels the reassuring bite of the surprise. When he takes it out, palming it, Voldemort isn’t aware of it. It’s been powerfully Disillusioned.
Lucius yells himself hoarse naming all the spells, but it’s notable that he almost never says Harry’s name. Voldemort is the one launching all the magic. That will make him look more powerful and offensive to some of the audience, Harry knows.
But there’s nothing wrong with defensive magic. And it’s the last blow that matters, not the first.
Harry is at last less than a meter from Voldemort, and he smiles at him. “Getting tired, Tom?”
“I have what it takes to defeat an upstart professor,” Voldemort barks, but for the first time, he’s looking a bit uncertain. Perhaps he’s realizing that most people wouldn’t have been able to go toe-to-toe with him like this, even if they were only defending.
Harry cups his left hand low at his side, tracing his wand in a lazy circle so that Voldemort focuses on it. “Want to know a secret, Tom?”
“Stop saying that name.” This time, Voldemort’s voice has descended into Parseltongue, which is so perfect that Harry couldn’t have planned it.
“You’re not the only one that knows that language,” Harry answers, and Voldemort’s eyes widen and his guard slips, the way Harry has always planned on doing. Voldemort’s thought himself alone as a Parselmouth for too long.
And in that moment of surprise that Voldemort can’t feign and can’t compensate for, Harry stabs the Disillusioned knife into Voldemort’s liver as hard as he can.
The knife’s edge, enchanted to do so, penetrates Voldemort’s personal shields and battle robes like they’re water. The effect only lasts five seconds, but that’s enough. Harry perforates Voldemort’s liver, and, more to the point, draws the knife free with blood on the blade.
Voldemort screams. Then he Apparates.
“Pr-Professor Henry Salvare st-stabs the Dark Lord and wins the duel,” Lucius stutters. Harry glances at him, but can’t tell whether he heard the Parseltongue. Lucius’s face is so naturally pale that he might have, or he might not.
The crowd explodes with cheers. Harry glances at the circle of wards when they tremble, but they hold. He nods. Good. He doesn’t want anyone getting injured in the trampling that might result if they didn’t.
He stretches, cleans the slight wounds on his arms and face with another flick of his wand, and alters the wards so that his followers can enter the circle, but no one else. Evan is bright-eyed, but silent. He wrings Harry’s hand and says nothing. Severus is clasping his arms behind his back with relief, just nodding to Harry, probably afraid that they’ll visibly tremble if he tries to shake hands. Regulus whoops and clasps Harry’s shoulder the way Harry did his wrist when he left the house.
Andromeda is standing behind them, entirely silent. Harry catches her eye and winks. “Told you,” he mouths. “Cheating.”
And she laughs.
And Time is silent.
“Regulus told me that you had offered Black—I mean, his brother—and Potter a place in our ranks.”
Harry nods and hands Severus a cup of tea. Severus is still too skinny, but although he doubtless recognizes the taste of the nutrient potions Harry has been slipping into his tea, he never mentions it, and just drinks. “Yes. But I made it clear that they would not be calling you names or playing pranks—on you or anyone else. And they’ll need a month of good behavior before I even consider them.”
Severus is pale as he turns the cup around and around in his hands. Harry waits patiently for him to say what’s bothering him.
“What if they don’t keep that promise?” Severus finally asks, voice almost inaudible.
“Then they’re out,” Harry says shortly. “I have no patience at all for people who can’t keep their promises. It means they would backtrack on their oaths, too.”
Severus jumps, but Harry doesn’t know why—it’s not like Severus has shown a sign of breaking his oaths—until he raises wondering eyes to Harry’s face. “Then you have no plans to discard me for them,” he breathes.
“Holy Merlin,” Harry blurts. “Of course not.” But then he pauses and considers it from Severus’s point-of-view. Slughorn wasn’t terrible to Severus, but neither did he do anything to protect him against people as well-connected as the Blacks and Potters are. And neither did Minerva. And neither did Dumbledore.
Severus is used to adults abandoning him in favor of the Marauders.
“Is that just your oath?” Severus asks then.
Harry leans back in his chair. “No,” he says slowly. “I admire you, you know. You’ve stood your ground against a lot of people trying to change you.”
Severus flushes and ducks his head. “I didn’t know you knew about my Housemates approaching me to follow the Dark Lord, sir.”
“Not only that, but people trying to force you away from your Gryffindor best friend,” Harry says firmly. “And people telling you that you weren’t worth the status you’ve managed to accumulate because you were a half-blood. No, I can’t know all the pressures that you’ve faced as well as you do, and I know that having Black and Potter as part of my sworn following, if they make it, won’t be easy for you. But I think you can face the challenge with the strength you’ve shown so far.”
It might be the longest speech of praise that anyone has given Severus in his life, for all Harry knows. He wouldn’t be surprised.
What he does know is that it lights the kind of flare at the bottom of Severus’s soul that Harry can nourish and make sure doesn’t go out again, and Severus talks comfortably for the rest of breakfast about potions, the consequences he’ll heap on Black if he breaks his word, potions, the consequences he’ll heap on Potter if he steps out of line, and potions.
It’s a start, anyway.
Harry stretches and eyes the vial of Voldemort’s blood in front of him, which he’s held in magical stasis since the evening of the duel when he scraped it from his knife. So far, he hasn’t managed to use it in the kind of tracking spell he wants to yet. Voldemort has cast charms that prevent people from taking advantage of the most straightforward magical applications of the blood, and Harry doesn’t know that one can track the Horcruxes, or Albus probably would have done it the first time around.
But that doesn’t stop him from trying.
A knock on the door of his office startles him at first, but then he smiles. It’s been a month since the beginning of the school term, a time that’s flown by with teaching, contending with the largest NEWT Defense class that Hogwarts has seen in a generation, helping some of his followers out with personal crises, research on Voldemort’s blood, and marking.
And watching Sirius and James learn more about the meaning of ethics and self-control than he’d thought they could at their ages.
Maybe more than I did, Harry thinks idly, shaking his head over the memory of his own sixth year before he calls out, “Come in.”
Instead of the immediately opening door that he expected, there’s a chaos of arguing voices. Harry frowns and draws his wand. Has someone come down to intercept Sirius and James and try to talk them out of their oaths? He doesn’t feel the power that would mean Albus is there, but it could be some Slytherin or Gryffindor students.
Followers of mine or not, Harry thinks to himself as he stalks over to the door, I’ll redden their faces for them.
He flings open the door—
All the people in the corridor shut up at once. There’s Severus, and Sirius, and James, but none of them have wands drawn, so Harry doesn’t think they’re the source of the problem. He glances over at Regulus, and narrows his eyes at the tall, cloaked figure at his side.
“Regulus?” he asks calmly.
Regulus smiles at him. It’s a tremulous smile, which immediately concerns Harry, but he is standing strong, with his fists clenched at his sides. “I brought someone to see you who wants to make his own oath, Professor Salvare.”
“This evening is for your brother and Mr. Potter.” Harry tries to gentle his tone, because Regulus always does take it so to heart when Harry gets angry, but he’s disturbed. Regulus already breached the necessary protective measures once by inviting Sirius to Floo the Decoy House from the Potters’. Harry hopes this isn’t something else that will mean danger for his students. “I don’t—”
At that point, the man standing beside Regulus apparently decides the corridor isn’t chaotic enough, and lets his hood fall.
It’s Lucius Bloody Malfoy.
Harry massages his forehead carefully, hoping that he gives off an air of exasperation instead of weakness despite the immediate headache that’s struck him.
“Explain yourself, Mr. Black.”
Regulus shifts and glances at Lucius. Lucius nods. “I should do it,” he says.
“Yes, you should.” Sirius is shedding sparks from his wand, he’s so angry, as he stands there with his arms folded and his foot kicking the ground in a way that makes it seem as if his Animagus form is a bull instead of a dog. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He whips a glance at Regulus. “And you?”
“I know what I’m doing,” Regulus says.
“Mr. Malfoy cannot swear to me,” Harry says. “He has the Dark Mark, which compels him to follow the Dark Lord first.”
“The Mark exerts control,” Lucius says carefully. “But not deadly control. There are precautions one can take to make sure that he—steps around the edges, as it were. I can swear oaths to you that privilege you without punishing me.”
Time sings from the walls like a crystal goblet someone’s running a finger around the rim of.
And then Harry understands the chime that happened when he saw Lucius in the Floo. He didn’t understand it then, because the chimes only sound when Time’s swinging history back to the original course, or thinks it’s found a way to, and Lucius Malfoy being a Death Eater and loyal to Voldemort was the original history. Something Harry never intended to change.
“Fuck,” he mutters under his breath.
Harry holds up a hand, making them wait a minute while he deals with this—this fucking thing.
Time has brought him a spy bearing the Dark Mark to replace Severus Snape.
The chimes alter, and Harry glances over at the wall that they seem to be originating from. The wall that’s directly behind Sirius and James. The mocking flicker of tone sounds in Harry’s ears, and he grits his teeth.
Sirius and James are going to make oaths to someone and fight for a cause they believe in.
Just as they did in the original timeline.
Time doesn’t just want Harry to replace Voldemort as the leader of the young Slytherins, it wants Harry to replace Dumbledore.
Harry massages his forehead one more time. It doesn’t help with his headache, but it makes him feel better in a different way. Then he gives a sharp shake of his head and turns back to face Lucius.
“How’s your Occlumency, Mr. Malfoy?”
Lucius’s face glows with a brilliance that makes Harry want to bang his head against the chiming wall. Why can no one just take his lessons and think for themselves?
“Excellent, sir. My father insisted on it, years ago, before I was inducted into the Dark Lord’s service.”
“Fine,” Harry says, in a tone that he’s sure none of them understand. “And I’m sure you’ll insist that your oath take place tonight, yes?”
Lucius licks his lips. “It was rather hard to sneak away from both my father and the Dark Lord, sir. I might not be able to do it again until the last day of next month.”
Which will be Halloween. Harry doesn’t even want to know what kind of trap Time has lying in wait for that day.
“Very well,” he says. “Sirius and James, you first. Mr. Malfoy, we’re going to have to work stringently on the wording of your oaths.” He fixes Lucius with a bleak gaze that Lucius takes a step back. “Betrayal of me wouldn’t bear the same painful costs that it will if Voldemort finds out that you’re a traitor, but you can be assured that I take it seriously.”
And then it’s time for the mutual oaths, and the way Sirius and James look at him with adoring eyes makes Harry aware that he’s probably their inspiration and not just their teacher (help), and Lucius looks at him the way Evan Rosier does, which means that Harry is going to send him a book on the formal requirements of declaring oneself a Lord in Britain. Even if Lucius already knows them.
Especially if he already knows them. Because, with Harry’s luck, Lucius probably thinks that his duel with Voldemort counts as his public declaration of power. There were certainly more than a hundred people in that field.
Harry shakes his head as he watches them go back down the corridor. Severus, who hasn’t spoken but has watched everything with keen eyes, follows after a second.
Regulus lingers behind.
“See? I know what I’m doing.”
Harry opens his mouth, then says, “Mr. Black, I truly cannot deal with you right now.”
Regulus, because he knows it’ll irritate Harry, bows before he strides back down the corridor to where Lucius is waiting.
Harry slams the door—with a Muffling Charm so that none of them think it’s directed at them—and flops down in the chair behind his desk. He stares at the ceiling himself for a minute.
Then he Summons a large decanter of Firewhisky, and conjures a glass.
Time goes on singing at him until Harry casts Muffliato on his own ears.
Bloody forces of the universe. Bloody people who think they need a leader. Bloody Dark Lord.