The Last Battlefield
Chapter 9 - Where It Hurts
"What the fuck happened to you?"
Severus narrowed his eyes at Black. "What does it look like?"
"I'd say werewolf attack, but it's the wrong time of month for that."
"You'd like that, wouldn't you? Finally finish the job?" Severus hunched in the doorframe, arms tight around his chest. Harry was having a morning bath, this one to wash away the bloodstains. Most of the blood was Severus'; its evidence remained in stinging paths from his face to his navel.
For a moment, Black actually looked hurt. It faded to a mask of annoyance. "Do you want me to find Poppy?"
"I don't think Poppy needs to be bothered for anything so trivial. I'm sure Emily's got some of Grandpa Claudius' Useless Cack about."
"Are you sure?" Black grabbed Severus' chin and moved his head from side to side, much to Severus' outrage, looking at the scabbed scratches. "What in Merlin's name happened?"
"Rough sex," Severus growled.
Black shuddered and let go. "Thank you."
Once the afterglow had faded and Harry had fallen asleep snuggled against Severus' chest, reality had reared up from his nightmare world. He'd woken screaming around two. Before Severus could stop him, he'd raked both hands across Severus' face and proceeded to try to eviscerate him from the neck down. Curls of skin had gone with his nails, and then his teeth as Harry sank them into Severus' cheek. Severus had thrust him back just before he could lose a chunk of his face and very possibly an eye. The bite mark still stood in his skin, red and swollen and bristling with hard, crusty scabs. Harry, confused, had gone straight back to sleep with blood glistening on his lips.
Severus re-awoke at half six to another round of shrieks, only to find Harry backing into the bathroom wall, shaking and staring into the mirror at the dried blood covering his mouth. A fresh trail dripped down his chin from where he'd bit his lip. He'd hit the wall and crumpled, never looking away from the mirror until Severus called his name. When he saw the swathes cut across Severus' face, the ring of teeth marks encircling the point of his cheekbone, he'd broken down in sobs. It had taken twenty minutes to make him stop.
Now, facing perhaps the last person he wanted to see whilst in such a state, Severus decided the morning could, indeed, get worse. "Did you have an actual reason to bother me, or are you only here to gloat over the number of biscuits Rolanda can fit in her mouth?"
"Thought you might want to see this," Sirius said, shoving a Sunday Prophet at Severus.
Severus caught it. His eyebrows lifted as his eyes dropped to the page. "If I'd wanted the comics, I'd have read them over break--"
"What in the name...?" He unrolled the rest of the scroll.
Yesterday, 30 October, following the Quidditch match between the Chudley Cannons and the Wigtown Wanderers, tragedy struck an upstanding member of the journalistic community. Bobolus Zokoriasen ('Bozo' to friends and colleagues), a freelance photographer renowned for his groundbreaking pictures worth more than a thousand words, was killed yesterday after a brutal potion attack. The potion, Immolatus Compound, was one of the most lethal pieces of the Dark Lord's chemical arsenal. Its use has been documented, as of yesterday, fifty-eight successful times across Britain and Continental Europe, and very nearly claimed a fifty-ninth victim in Cannons Seeker Harry Potter. The last previous recorded instance of its use came in 1980.
This reporter has since discovered that the potion in question was created and developed by none other than Severus Snape, who came into the public eye last month after the death of his cousin, convicted Death Eater Lucius Malfoy. Snape, erstwhile Potions master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, was present at the scene of the murder. The letter carrying the deadly compound was addressed to Snape and his legal husband, Harry Potter.
Snape made a point of never touching the letter or the envelope in which it arrived. After telling a Cannons member, "I shall make you wish you'd died at the hands of Lord Voldemort when you had the chance," he destroyed all evidence at the scene.
Rumours have begun to circulate that he deliberately tried to assassinate his husband, perhaps in revenge for the death of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. While Potter stated last month that Snape had been a spy rather than a true Death Eater, if this is the case then why would he have engineered such a deadly substance?
Snape was taken into Ministry custody after the incident but released to Hogwarts several hours later under the dubious authority of Arthur Weasley, Head of Muggle Relations, a division completely unrelated to the issue at hand. It should also be noted that Snape was sacked as Potions master after he brutally attacked a Muggle-born student during a lesson earlier this year, a damningly suspicious action from someone with his background.
This reporter asks, why is it that this man has never seen the walls of Azkaban? While little is certain, what is known is that Severus Snape, potentially the most dangerous wizard in Britain, today walks a free man.
The parchment slipped from Severus' trembling hands. His eyes burned from reading without his glasses; a throb built in his skull. He wrapped his arms around himself and turned to sit down in one of the anteroom chairs. Black snatched the paper from the floor and slipped in, kicking the door shut behind him. He paced back and forth, resembling all too much the enormous black dog that shed with cruel glee all over Severus' rugs. His eyes darted back and forth as he crushed the parchment in his hand.
"This is libel," Black growled.
Severus lifted his head to sneer. "How, precisely, is it libel?"
"She said you did it!"
"I recall no such thing. She stated that rumours exist that I did it. Can you prove they don't?"
"They certainly do now." Black hunched. He looked like he would bare his teeth and start snarling at any moment. "Hermione's article's on page three, if you want to read it. Reckon the truth doesn't sell as many papers as what Skeeter writes."
"Black, would you please stop pacing like a fucking wolf? It's not helping, I assure you. Or is that your intent?"
Black grumbled an apology. He fell into the other chair, the parchment still gripped in his fist. "I'm not going to stand for this. That bitch is going to pay if it's the last thing she does."
"I'll be fine without your excuse for help. Merlin knows I can't fight this."
"Why in Hell not?"
"Because I've seen enough of Ministerial holding cells to last me the rest of my life, and I'm not keen on Azkaban either." Severus slumped in his chair, hugging himself. His stomach threatened to turn inside out. He swallowed hard against a sudden, painful swelling sensation in his sinuses. "What about Harry?"
"I don't know. He'll have to read it."
Severus closed his eyes. "I know."
"You don't want him to, do you?"
"I'm not hiding anything from him, if that's what you're inferring. I simply don't want to upset him."
Black hunched, elbows on his knees. "He'll see it sooner or later, you know."
"I know that! There's no need to state the obvious. I'm perfectly capable of seeing it myself." Severus looked at the door. "Well? Are you going to fetch him?"
Black grunted. The sound of a crushed scroll hitting the stones was followed by heavy footsteps. Several seconds later, Severus heard a distant knock, and Black's, "Harry? Would you come out? You need to look at something."
There was a pause, and Black added, "No, he's... It's not about that. Only hurry. It's important, okay?"
When Black had returned to the anteroom and his pacing, Severus gave him the barest of nods. Black glanced at him; his mouth twitched at the corners in a bitter, aborted smile. The cur snorted. "A Death Eater, an escaped convict, and a werewolf. I don't think this is what James and Lily had in mind, you know."
"Quite." Severus rested his chin on his clasped hands. His elbows dug into the arms of the chair.
"You look terrified."
"Your powers of observation are truly unsurpassed," Severus muttered.
"I'm only saying--"
"I understand what you're saying, and, as I've already said, there's no need to state the obvious." He paused. "I don't believe this turn of events shall be good for my heart."
"Do you need to--?"
"Are you sure?" Black inched towards the door.
"I've seen the inside of the hospital wing more than enough times to last me the rest of my life."
"Well." Black shifted from foot to foot. "Only if you're sure."
"Positive." Severus heard the bathroom door swing open, and the pitter-patter of size nine feet. Harry peeked around the edge of the doorjamb.
"Um, what's wrong?" he asked in a shaking voice. His wet hair quivered.
Black motioned to the other chair with his head. "Sit down, there's an article in the Prophet you need to read."
Harry padded in. His bare feet made a low plopping sound on the stones. "Hermione's article?"
"Not precisely," Severus murmured. He waved a hand at the scroll on the floor before hugging himself again.
Brow furrowed and mouth set, Harry picked it up and un-crumpled it. He read in silence. As he did his mouth set harder, nostrils flaring and face turning a vicious red as clear, silent tears welled and slid down his cheeks. They dripped onto the paper, onto his robe. A minute later the scroll was crushed between his hands.
"I have to talk to Hermione," he said.
"This isn't about that, Sirius." Harry pushed himself to his feet, stormed into the bedroom, and slammed the door so hard a picture of Emily's parents fell off the wall. The frame crunched and shards of broken glass skittered across the floor.
"Should I go in there?" Black asked. He gave the door a wary look, fished out his wand and repaired the picture.
Severus shook his head. He said nothing.
They sat in silence until the door opened nearly half an hour later. Harry's eyes were red, but he looked little worse for wear. Emily's tin of Grandpa Claudius' Salve was tucked into the crook of one elbow. He perched on the arm of Severus' chair. "Sorry about that," he muttered as he pried the lid from the tin.
"Hmm." Severus allowed the sludge to be rubbed into his face and throat more as a show of trust than out of any faith in the product. He'd been brewing better since he was seven, but Emily had neither the necessary ingredients nor a cauldron not being used to hold sweets. Severus had never touched any of the sweeties she kept in there, and didn't know of anyone else who had, either, Emily included.
"Did you get things sorted?" Black asked.
Harry shrugged. "Maybe. She's going to do some checking. I need to go to the library today if I can."
"Still trying to force your wrath upon the Herbology stacks, Potter?" Severus asked.
Harry gave him a tired look. "Not right now, Sev, please."
Severus sniffed and tried to look haughty, but it faded to a neutral mask of building fear. Harry's gentle fingers worked a bit more salve into the bite mark beneath his eye. The gentleness was an unsettling contrast to the grim determination narrowing his eyes.
In a soft voice, Severus asked, "Dare I ask what you plan to do in the library all day?"
Black snorted. "Oh, no, nobody here who'd know anything about that."
Harry's eyes flickered. "I need technical information."
"Articles and heading numbers, that sort of thing." Harry continued to stroke Severus' cheek despite the fact the salve had long since been absorbed.
Black folded his arms arched an eyebrow. "Declaration of Animagus Restrictions, revised September, nineteen eighty-eight. Section four, subheading B, paragraph twelve. 'Any and all individuals found using the Animagus transformation for misdemeanour crimes of possession, i.e. theft, shall be liable to a fine of fifty Galleons, plus no less than the value of the item or items in question as determined by official inquiry and/or appraisal. In the case of felony, see section four, subheading A, paragraph nine.'" He lifted his eyebrows at Harry, apparently rather pleased with himself beneath his cool stare.
Harry said nothing for several moments. Finally, he glanced sidelong at his godfather. "What've you got on illegal Animagi?"
"Are you implying that that damnable Skeeter woman is an Animagus?" Severus asked.
Black snorted. He started to open his mouth. Severus cocked an eyebrow at him, turned it to Harry. "Go on."
Harry shook his head and gave a lopsided shrug. "S'how she wrote all those articles about me in fourth year. She's a beetle. Hermione figured it out."
"Uh, Harry, I hate to tell you this, but Skeeter's on the list of registered Animagi." Black's lip curled and he shrugged. "Sorry."
"Oh." Harry slumped.
"Unless you've got concrete proof that she had an Animagus form before," he paused, clicking his canines, "May of 'ninety-seven, I think, then there's nothing you can do."
"We've got witnesses."
"Witnesses don't mean as much as you'd think." Under his breath, he muttered, "Thank Merlin." A bit louder, he asked, "Have any documented proof? Photos, maybe?"
"'Course not, I didn't have a camera then." Harry got to his feet with an irritable little shake of his head. He settled in the empty chair again, arms wrapped tight around his chest. "Don't know if Hermione's got anything, either. Fuck." He clutched his head. Haphazard chunks of black hair stuck out from between his whitened knuckles. "I only ever saw Skeeter when Hermione had her in a jar on the train."
Severus snorted at the mental image of Rita Skeeter stuffed bodily into a jar like some twisted potions ingredient. Harry looked at him, hurt in his wide eyes. "It's not funny, Sev."
"On the contrary, it would have been quite amusing had she reverted form in an unbreakable jar."
Harry gave him a weak, strained smile. He dropped his head. "God." He furrowed his brow. "Wait. I think Colin was snapping pictures all over the train that day. I know he took about a dozen of me. She might have turned up in the background."
Severus sneered. "Creevey."
"The same Creevey whom, as Skeeter put it, I 'brutally attacked'."
Harry shrugged. "Yeah." There was a distinct note of hopelessness in his voice.
Severus leaned his mouth against his clasped hands, elbows planted on the arms of his chair. "So what you are saying is that you intend to out one of the most infamous, ruthless journalists in the wizarding world as an illegal Animagus, wherein your only dubious proof lies in the hands of someone who would more than likely be perfectly happy to see me dragged through the muck."
Harry said nothing.
Severus frowned. He leaned over and touched Harry's shoulder. "While your logic is faulty, I appreciate the intent."
Harry shrugged and shifted away from the touch. "Wonder if Hermione'd be able to get something in the Evening Prophet?"
"Like a statement?" Black asked.
Harry nodded. "Reckon my word's as good as anyone else's."
Harry turned weary eyes up at Black. "Don't remind me." He frowned. "Reckon either of you could teach me how to do an Audiare Charm?"
Black's hand flew to his left ear. He scratched at it with an innocent look. "Oh. Those. That's right, they're not on the curriculum anymore, are they?"
Severus snorted. "So, Black, what did happen to that lovely sapphire stud you always wore?"
Black's eyes narrowed at him. "Why? Thinking of sprucing up?"
"No. You're the one who dressed like a pooftah."
"Give it up, both of you," Harry snapped. "This is serious." He fished the crumpled Prophet from his pocket and started flipping through. He stopped with a small jump. "Holy fucking Hell!"
"What?" Black was at his side, hovering, faster than a grown man ought to be able to move.
"Did you read the Letters to the Editor?"
"No, I pretty much read the front page and found Hermione's article and came over here." Black squinted at the parchment. A slow grin teased one side of his mouth. "Better than I'd thought we'd get," he said under his breath.
Severus held out a hand. Harry stuck the paper in it. Severus groped in his pocket until he found his glasses and stuck them on his nose (shooting Black a challenging look as he did). He skimmed the page.
The headline for the day was, "Hogwarts Enraged Over Treatment Of Former Professor". Skimming the list of names, he found Headmistress Minerva McGonagall, Professors Remus J. Lupin, Sirius Black, and Emily Hortense Vector (which surprised him, given that Emily's hatred of her middle name nearly rivaled his own), Madams Rolanda Q. Hooch and Poppy Pomfrey, and letters from Molly and Arthur Weasley, Ellen Doyle, Serena Simon, and Sid Naipul. By the time he'd finished reading the letters, a lump of nausea had grown in his gut.
"I think it's time to have a talk with Minerva," he muttered.
"Why?" Harry leaned over and grabbed the paper back. His eyes ran over it for a moment before he clapped a hand over his mouth. His cheeks turned red, and his entire body shook with squeaking giggles. Out loud, he read, "'Had I not witnessed his Sorting with my own eyes, I'd have thought he was a Gryffindor.'"
This, of course, set Black sniggering as well. "'Least we know now why Harry made you get those red robes," he said with a wicked grin.
"Hmph. Those robes are never seeing the light of day. Speaking of which, Harry, our werewolf is going to the house today. Would you like him to fetch your green one? I know how keen on it you are."
Harry shrugged. "Suits me. Wouldn't be the first Slytherin thing I've had all over me." The corner of his eye twitched.
Black made a wheezing sound. "For god's sake, Harry, you don't have to say it," he muttered.
"Too late." Harry smirked.
"Oh, god." Black dragged a wide hand down his face. "I'm going to find Moony and see if he's ready to check the house. You two," his eye twitched, "behave yourselves."
"Um, actually, I wouldn't mind something to eat," Harry said. His smirk was gone. "Can I come with?" His eyes darted towards Severus and dropped.
Black blinked. He frowned a moment, but said, "Well, I suppose it'll keep you out of trouble."
Harry flashed him a tired smile and padded into the bedroom, presumably in search of his shoes. Black waited until he was gone, then hunkered down next to Severus.
Severus shuddered. "What do you want?"
"You weren't joking about that 'rough sex' thing, were you?" Black whispered.
"Why should you care?"
"Because I want to see my godson happy. What happened? Did he have an attack in the middle of it?"
Every cell of Severus' skin felt like it flared red. "That," he hissed, "is none of your fucking business." He fixed Black with a look that had even made Aurors take their filthy hands off of him (for a moment, anyway).
Black flinched. "Well, uh, if you two ever... yeah. Uh, actually, Moony might be a little more help here." He pointed a finger in Severus' face. "But don't say I didn't offer."
He straightened up and fidgeted by the door until Harry returned, wearing his ragged green trainers and carrying Severus' shoes. "Thought you might want something, too," Harry said as he dropped them on the floor.
"Ah, yes, breakfast," Severus said as he stuffed his socked feet into the things. "That's cold porridge and burned toast, isn't it? Or are you letting somebody else do the work today?"
Harry flipped him a rude gesture. "Shut up."
Black stuffed the Prophet in his pocket before they left. Harry kept a respectful distance between himself and Severus all the way to Lupin's room. (Black insisted on seeing if he was hungry as well.) They passed Professor Corbin on the way; Corbin nodded, flashing Black and Harry a smile, and Severus something more like a grimace. Severus' stomach clenched. He glanced back over his shoulder as the plump little man scurried away.
At one of the doors on the first floor, Black stopped. He tried the knob, which refused to budge. When an "Alohomora!" failed as well, he pounded a few times. "Moony!"
From inside, they heard a groan, and a thump, and a yawning, "Fuckin' Hell, Sirius, it's not even--oh. Be right there." It still was the best part of a minute before the door cracked open. Lupin's hair stuck in every direction, strands plastered to his forehead in short curls. His one visible, furry shoulder was bare. He blinked, squinting against the light. "What?"
"I was going to see if you were ready to eat something and go. Were you up all night or something?"
Another yawn. "Maybe."
"Trivial Pursuit run late, Lupin?" Severus asked, smirking.
"Eh?" The bleary eyes fixed on him. "No. Couldn't sleep."
"Why was the door locked, mate?" Black asked. "You usually at least set it so I can get in."
"I'd show you, but Severus has seen enough of me to last the rest of his life."
Severus shuddered. Harry took a step backwards. "Sorry," he whispered.
"It's all right. Only, I don't think Min--" He yawned yet again, showing off his tonsils. "--Erva'd be too keen on me flashing the corridors." Lupin smacked his mouth, leaning his disheveled head against the doorframe. His eyes drooped.
Black ruffled his hair with a rough hand. "Does ickle Mooniekins need to go back to beddie-bye?"
"Ickle Mooniekins is going to beat the living shit out of you if you call him that one more time." Lupin didn't even bother to open his eyes.
Black laughed. "Go and get dressed, I'll wait for you in the kitchen."
"You'll be a while." Lupin muttered something about the lack of showers in teachers' suites and closed the door.
Black sighed. "All right, food."
He marched towards the Great Hall. Harry followed. Severus lingered a second, listening. He heard nothing. With a little frown, he followed his damnable godfather-in-law towards breakfast.
"I'm sorry, Severus, but you're not going back there."
Severus snarled. Lupin folded his arms and raised his eyebrows in challenge.
"A few owls aren't going to keep me away from my own home," Severus snapped.
"And what about the fact that nearly every single one tested positive for potions?"
"I think I can handle myself around a potion, thank you very much."
"What about Harry?"
Severus growled and shifted deeper into his chair. Lupin's expectant gaze stayed on him. The gold flecks in his eyes caught the staff room torches and reflected them a hundred different ways. "Well?" Lupin asked.
Severus said nothing. He gave Remus a tight-lipped glare.
"I thought so." Remus wrapped his arms around himself and paced. Emily watched him, her drab grey eyes round as marbles. Black hovered by the window, and Harry had sequestered himself in a corner. Lupin gave an irritated shake of his head. "Have you got any idea who might have sent that letter?"
"Do you want the possible choices or the likely ones?"
Severus sighed. He glanced over at Harry, who'd bunched his legs up underneath himself in a heavy leather armchair. Harry had barely said ten words since Black, Lupin, and Emily returned from the house and informed them that a portion of the roof had already caved in from potions damage; the entire building would have to be inspected and repaired before they could go back. Severus had argued until his throat burned that a few spells could take the place of a roof until the real patch went in, but Lupin was proving to be just as stubborn.
Rubbing his eyes, Severus said, "Igor Karkaroff, who couldn't boil water without melting his cauldron, or any number of Aurors with the right keys and too much free time. End of list."
"Want me to talk to Dad?" Emily asked.
"I hardly think that shall be helpful."
She shrugged. "It might. Sure nobody else knows the formula?"
She gave him a very odd look. "How?"
"Because, as I explained to you ten minutes ago, had anyone else even staggered across something remotely similar I would have been dragged away by my ankles before now. Not that they could stagger across it, even if they tried."
"And how do you know they've got it if they've never used it before this?" She leaned across the small, round table on which she'd perched her elbows, giving him a cool stare.
"They'd have had to experiment on someone to know they'd gotten it right."
"And? Ever heard of guinea pigs?"
Harry looked over. His eyes showed a thin sliver of white below the green, and his mouth was jerked down in a frown. Before Emily could notice, he snapped his attention back to the wall.
Black glanced at him. The mongrel's hands were clasped behind his back. Even after he'd turned back to the window he kept stealing protective looks. His hair had gotten shaggy again, pulled back in a pathetic knob of a ponytail, and he'd neglected to shave. He turned to glance at Harry once more, then craned his neck to send Severus a mournful frown. Before Severus could slip and return it, Black went back to staring out the window.
"Yes, Emily, I've heard of guinea pigs," Severus said without the edge of sarcasm he'd intended. He refused to look at Harry.
She blinked at him, but only said, "Then you see what I mean."
"I still say the formula is too complex to create accidentally and impossible to reverse engineer. That was intentional, mind."
"Well, why don't you ask someone else who'd know?"
He snorted. "Who? Corbin? The man's barely passable as it is!"
"Actually, he's quite good," she said. "He's managed Wolfsbane Potion."
Severus glanced between her and Lupin. Lupin showed no signs of noticing; he paced, one hand behind his back, a finger of the other crooked against his mouth. Emily only looked expectant.
"Wolfsbane Potion is the work of a first year compared to Immolatus Compound," Severus said. "I might have difficulty with it now, it's been so long since I've worked with it." He cleared his throat, refusing to meet anyone's eye.
"Sheng," Lupin said.
"Eh?" Severus scowled at him.
"Sheng's been working with potions nearly as long as you have, and he's got credentials in three separate countries. He ought to be able to give you some sort of insight on it if you showed him the formula. At the very least, he could tell you if he's seen anything like it before."
"I have no desire to show anyone that formula."
"Well, someone's seen it. Sheng's about as trustworthy a person as I can think of."
"Sheng is an arrogant twat who wouldn't know a cauldron if it collided with his thick skull."
Lupin froze. His gentle eyes narrowed, honing on Severus. He stalked forward, silent and staring. His fingers curled to claws, his shoulders pulling with each step like those of the beast he harboured. Severus shrank in his chair; images of the Shrieking Shack flashed in his mind, monster trying to insinuate itself in place of man. Lupin stopped just in front of Severus, fingers clenching at nothing. The full moon was a week gone, but Severus could have sworn his gold-flecked eyes had turned yellow.
"Severus, who do you think made my Wolfsbane Potion when you saw to it that I no longer had a steady supply?" Lupin asked barely louder than the flames whispering in the hearth.
Severus sneered back. "Black. Who else?"
"Oh? What about when he was on the run? That's a full year I shouldn't have had access to it, but I got it." Lupin leaned forward, gripping the arms of Severus' chair. Their faces were close enough for Severus to feel warm, moist breath brush across his mouth. He tried to shrink further into his seat.
"I can hear you perfectly well from a respectable distance, Lupin," he snapped.
"Yes, but if I'm this close, you might actually listen."
"Shut up, Paddy. Severus, I'm telling you, you're taking that formula to Sheng, and you're getting his opinion on the matter. Or would you rather be accused of conspiracy and murder and sent to Azkaban for the rest of your life?"
Harry whimpered. Black and Emily cringed. Emily said softly, "Remus, back off. You're not helping."
"She's right, Moony. You need to--"
Lupin pointed a sharp finger at Black. "Sirius, I am going to say this whether you want me to or not! I'd have thought that you'd be a little more helpful here. This is Azkaban we're talking about. Or is it only that bad when it's you in there?" For a moment, he stared as though he couldn't quite accept what he'd just said. Black looked as though he'd been slapped. Lupin hunched into himself. Eyes dropped, he murmured, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
"Uh-huh. " Black's spine was rigid, his brow creased in shock and anger.
"Settle down, both of you," Emily said. She glanced back and forth between them, brows drawn together. "If you're just going to get into a row over this, then you need to go and fight it out somewhere else."
"We're not getting into a row," Black said. His eyes had narrowed, his fists pulsing as the fingers clenched. "We're discussing the issue like rational adults."
"Paddy, I'm sorry. I'm upset." Lupin wrapped his arms around his chest and scurried to the fire. He let his forearm come to rest against the hearth, propped his chin on it. "Happy Dumpling isn't open today," he muttered.
"So your clever little idea is useless, then," Snape said.
Lupin shook his head. "No, only, I'm not sure what he'd say about a full-fledged invasion on his day off."
"Can you talk to him?" Harry asked. His voice was so low Severus wasn't sure for a moment that he'd spoken.
"Don't worry, I'm definitely doing that. Not giving in on this that easily."
Severus grunted. "Lupin, I think I preferred it when you hated me. At least you didn't go about telling me what to do with formulae I'd rather didn't exist in the first place."
"I never hated you." Lupin thrust his hand into a tin on the mantel, dragging out a handful of glittering Floo powder. "Could all of you bugger off for a minute? I need to try and have a word with him."
"I'm not buggering off." Shifting deeper into his chair, Severus folded his arms and glowered sidelong at Lupin. Thin trails of Floo powder trickled from between Lupin's fingers, scattering on the bricks and causing miniscule green flashes where particles splashed into the fire.
"Severus, please. Unless you can think of anyone better qualified--"
"Arsenius Jigger. Acacia Slug."
Lupin frowned. "Do you want to show them the formula?"
"I don't want to show anyone the formula!" He gripped the arms of his chair. For god's sake, man, haven't you got any idea what could happen to me if anyone else tried to use it? He shook the thought away. "I'm not even certain I remember it."
Harry snorted. Severus arched an eyebrow at him. "Yes?"
"You remember, Sev. Only, you don't want to admit it."
"And how, precisely, can you be certain of this?"
Harry's tired eyes fixed on him. "You nearly remembered how to make something you'd only ever read about, even when you couldn't remember what spell you'd used to lock your office. You haven't forgotten something you invented."
Harry stared for a moment more, his mouth a grim line, before turning back to face the wall.
"Doesn't mean I want to brag about it."
Harry shrugged. He said nothing.
"Sheng won't show it to anyone if you ask him not to," Lupin said. "But if you'd rather take it to someone else--"
"I'd rather Obliviate myself and pretend it had never existed."
"Well, I'm talking to Sheng anyway. Up to you if you show it to him. Of course, if you can't remember it I suppose it'll just be time to admit he's better at potions than you are."
"Nothing. Could the lot of you give me a few minutes?"
"Lupin, if you dare even suggest to that lunatic--"
"Come on, Snape." Black took Severus' upper arm and dragged him out of the chair. "Not polite to eavesdrop."
"So you'll be staying in here then? Take your bloody hands off of me, you flea-bitten mongrel!"
"Do I have to carry him?" Emily asked from behind Black. Severus shot her the most alkaline glare he could muster.
"No, I've got it," Sirius said.
"Black, don't you--"
Severus found himself hoisted into the air and thrown over Black's shoulder. He screeched. "PUT ME DOWN THIS INSTANT, YOU DERANGED INFIDEL!"
"I told you, Snape, you're my godson now. I get to do anything I want." Black ignored Severus' rightful bellows, and the hands and feet smacking him in the torso, and carried Severus towards the door. Emily followed; she looked like she was about to bite through her own lip, her face red and squashed as she fought the sniggers and snorts building in her long nose. Harry's jaw had dropped and he looked torn between shouting for Sirius to stop and asking why the cur hadn't done it sooner. Lupin looked blissfully serene.
"I'll get you when I've talked to him," he called.
"Okay," Black answered, jerking open the door.
"I forbid you to disgrace me like this for all the school to see!" Severus hissed.
"Are you going to bolt the moment I put you down?"
"No, I'm going to break your nose!"
Black laughed. "As if you could!" He dropped Severus behind the green curtain hiding the staff room door from the Great Hall.
Severus straightened, growling low in his throat. He balled his fist...
Black glared sidelong. He held a charmed icepack to his face. Severus sat in a plain black chair, hands folded in his lap and a smug smirk on his lips. He ignored the looks he received from his husband and his godfather-in-law, instead focusing on a small array of cauldrons sitting on the hearth. Only a few looked like good, traditional British cauldrons. (One of the more unusual ones seemed to have been carved out of stone.) However, there was no doubt they were cauldrons, a fact over which Sheng would no doubt try to gloat.
"You're sleeping on the couch tonight," Harry growled.
"Only returning a favour," Severus said, pinching a speck of dust from his robe.
"Yeah, and I'd have made him sleep on the couch, too, if I could have." Harry glanced around the room. It was painted white, with black trim. A thick black carpet covered the floor. Severus had long since noted that all the furniture, from the simple chairs to the Victorian couch (on which Lupin sat with his hands in his lap and a somewhat stunned look on his face) to the low tables sitting parallel in the middle of the room, matched. Emily, having stayed behind to appease Minerva over the screams that had echoed through the Great Hall, was not among the décor.
Severus' first comment had been on the lack of resourcefulness involved in buying a set; it was countered with Sheng's slight on his organisational skills and mutterings about the sheer rudeness of making Black bleed all over the carpet. Severus responded that it wasn't his fault the mutt couldn't keep his blood to himself and that if he ought not bleed he shouldn't do things to deserve it.
A diminutive woman with steel-streaked hair pulled back in a tight knot stepped into the room. "He's almost got it ready," she said to Sirius in her soft, accented voice. "Are you sure you wouldn't like something for the pain?"
Black nodded without letting his face tip forward. "Thanks, though," he said. His words were muffled by the swelling in his nose.
"I'm sorry about this, Li," Lupin said. "I didn't expect them to start a brawl. If there's anything--"
"No, no, it's fine." Li glanced at Severus. "At least he's getting his strength back." She gave him one more sidelong look, inclined her head to them, and backed politely out of the room.
Almost the moment she did, Severus heard the front door squeak as it opened. Li said something in rapid Chinese, only to be answered in turn by a young man. He sounded as though he hadn't slept all night. Li shouted something after him as footsteps pounded up the stairs.
"Hmm. Sounds like Xien's in trouble," Lupin mused under his breath. "Sheng was telling me he's got a girlfriend or something, spends all his time with her when he should be at home."
"Sounds sensible to me," Black said. "I'd rather spend time with R--my girlfriend than my dad. If I had one."
"You liar. Your dad's brilliant, only person I know who could drink all of Hogsmeade under the table."
"Believe me, there are better things than out-drinking Hogsmeade."
"Any and all canids in this room who've had sex in the last month raise your hand." Black lifted his left, still clutching the ice pack with his right. He smirked; it faded as Lupin lifted his hand with a smug look. "You're..."
"Gotcha." Lupin grinned. He wriggled in his seat, putting his hands behind his head. "I think I'm just going to wait until I settle down, actually. Not really interested in anything casual anymore."
"Oh, now I know you're lying. You'd shag the first thing that stayed still long enough."
Lupin blinked at him. His grin grew wicked. He wiggled his eyebrows at Black.
Black narrowed his eyes. "Moony, don't even think it."
"Why not? It worked for Harry."
"Oi!" Harry stabbed a finger at Severus. "He's sleeping on the couch, you know. I'm not exactly getting any tonight either."
Severus arched an incredulous eyebrow at Harry. "And you shan't for a very long time, I daresay!"
Black snorted. It turned into a yelp. "Ow," he moaned as a fresh trickle of blood slipped past the ice pack. "I'm going to make sure you never get any again, Snape!"
"Get any what?" Sheng stuck his head in the living room.
"Sex," Black said without the aid of his nose.
"Ah," Sheng said in a bored voice. He waddled over to Sirius, plucked away the ice pack, and pulled a small vial from his pocket. "Tilt your head back."
"It is back."
Black growled but did as he was told. "This had better work."
"It will. I made it." Sheng shot Severus a look as he stuck a laden dropper into each of the mongrel's swollen nostrils.
"Whether it works or not is moot. Nature would work on its own and probably faster." Severus returned the look and added an eyebrow.
"Faster than yours? Probably." Sheng dropped the vial back in his pocket and pulled out another one. "Open your mouth, and be careful. If you choke, there'll be more than blood on the rug."
"Yes, hopefully a body," Severus growled. Harry smacked him in the arm.
"Oh, god." Harry buried his face in his hand. "You sound like Dudley."
Severus frowned. "Dud--ah. Your cousin. Since you're being so disagreeable, I think I'll simply track him down and see if he'd fancy a housemate."
"You'd get lonely."
"Who ever said you'd be his housemate?"
A wide grin crossed Harry's face; he snorted. "I'd pay to see that. He wouldn't last five minutes."
"If it's only going to make you happy, I'll stay on the couch." Severus folded his hands in his lap. He made another mental note to track down the Dursleys wherever they were hiding and show them what a proper wizard could do.
"If you had any sense, Harry, you'd put him out with the cat," Sheng said. Black's eyes were watering, and the empty vial had vanished into Sheng's pocket again. "It's a bit spicy."
Black gulped. "I noticed," he said in a strangled voice. Two scarlet spots appeared on his pallid cheeks; drops of sweat broke out on his forehead. "Could I have a bit of water, please?"
"Nothing for ten minutes." Sheng ignored his whimper and stalked over to stand in front of Severus. He shoved his fists into his pudgy hips. "Saw the paper this morning."
Harry turned ashen. Severus arched a calm eyebrow; it did nothing to disperse the hard lump that formed in his chest. "And?"
Sheng stared. His beady eyes narrowed, barely visible behind fat cheeks. His wide belly rose and fell as he breathed. Severus tried to draw air into his own lungs; it kept getting stuck halfway down his throat.
After a long, silent moment, Sheng snorted. "You still can't cook."
He turned on his heel. "All you lot, come with me. Remus said this was important." He trotted out, Black close behind.
The lump in Severus' chest dissolved. A rush of air fled his lungs in sheer relief. Harry glanced at him, brow furrowed. "All right?" he asked.
"Perfectly." Severus pushed himself to his feet. His legs were weak, and the arm Harry slipped around his waist found itself with somewhat more burden than it had likely expected.
"Are you sure? It's not--"
"My heart is fine. It's been a long day, and I shall be glad to see it end."
"Yeah, me too." Harry urged him along. Lupin paused and opened his mouth, but Severus shot him a glare. The werewolf hung back anyway, a few steps behind the two of them.
Sheng led them to a large, white room at the far end of the house. Neat rows of jars, bottles, vials, phials, cauldrons, books, stirring rods, everything a potions workroom needed stood on long shelves. Not a speck of dust touched any surface, and vivid yellow sunlight streamed through a set of plain linen curtains. Severus sneered at the window. "D'you call this your laboratory?"
"No, I call it wo de shi yian shi," Sheng snapped, pulling a notebook from a long row. He picked up a quill. "What's this formula Remus is telling me about?"
"None of your business," Severus said at the same time Harry replied, "Immolatus Compound."
Severus glared at him. "Stay out of this."
Sheng's quill quivered on the page. He stared at Severus, turned his eyes to Lupin. "This why you wouldn't tell me?"
Lupin shrugged. "I thought it would be better to mention it in private. I mean, after the Prophet, no telling who'd want to see it. Anyway, that's when Sirius started screaming."
"I was not screaming! That greasy-haired son of a--"
"Quiet." Sheng marched over to Severus, shoved the notebook in his hands, and folded his arms. "Go on, write it down."
"Yes. You're not ruining my Sunday just so you can glare at me like you always do, you pompous git." Sheng blinked. A nasty smile grew across his face. "You don't remember it, do you? Or you've never made it to begin with."
Severus stiffened. "Oh, I most certainly do, and I most certainly have, but I don't intend to share this formula with a lunatic like you."
Sheng smirked. "I win then." He flashed a smile at Remus and trotted to his worktable. "Day's not a complete loss after all."
"Excuse me?" Severus said in a silken tone.
"You've just said you capitulate. I win." Sheng plopped his wide behind on a stool and pulled out a book. He flipped through, running a finger over vertical lines of pictograms.
Severus stared. His eye twitched. Mouth pursed, he hissed, "I refuse to give you one of the most dangerous, lethal, monstrous concoctions known to the wizarding world, and so you declare yourself the god of all potions."
Severus took a deep, shuddering breath. Swallowing hard, wishing he could spit venom instead of words, he dropped the notebook on the floor. "Very well. You win."
He turned on his heel and marched out of the room.
Behind him came a moment of stunned silence, then the pounding of feet. Harry's small hand wrapped around his elbow. "Sev!"
"I'm not giving that formula to anyone. I would rather give that waddling lunatic the misguided pleasure of claiming his false victory than ever, ever reveal that potion to another living soul."
"Do you want to go to Azkaban?" Harry jerked him to a halt. Severus tried not to look down at his pained eyes, his strained mouth, the grey pallor creeping over his cheeks. "Well?"
"I don't see how showing him how to make a potion would keep me out of prison."
"There are going to be a lot of questions coming up. You've got to have someone who knows potions to say that it wasn't just someone figuring it out."
"Leaving the obvious conclusion that I aided whoever made it." Severus pulled his arm free. "Your concern is noted, but I can damn myself, thank you very much."
"That formula could not have been reverse engineered, Harry. I saw to that. I might have acted the idiot in my youth, but that doesn't mean I was one."
Harry shifted from foot to foot. "So what would have happened if someone tried?"
"They'd have reached a certain point, triggered a latent spell nested in the potion itself, and died on the spot. Or burst into flames on the spot at the very least. They needn't have died there."
For the first time since a frightened, desperate seventeen-year-old had appeared in his office, Severus saw true fear - of him and everything he was - in his maritus' eyes. Harry blinked and didn't seem to notice that he'd taken half a step back. "How d'you know?" he asked, far too calmly to be calm.
"How do you think?"
Harry shuddered. "Oh," he whispered. "I thought you said they were mainly Muggles."
"Yes. Mainly Muggles."
Harry said nothing.
Severus placed hesitant fingertips on Harry's shoulder. "I'm not proud of what I've done. You of all people ought to know that."
"I do," Harry said. He wouldn't look Severus in the eye. "So," he said, licking his lips, "had to be someone who'd already got it, then?"
"Why'd they want to do something that'd send you straight to Azkaban?"
"I'd thought that was obvious."
"But why now? Voldemort's dead. Everyone knows you weren't on his side when it counted--"
"Sounds like a conspiracy to me," came Black's muffled voice. He gave Severus a cool look. His short, blunt nose was swollen to the size and colour of a plum.
Severus snarled. "How dare you eavesdrop on a private conversation--"
"I only came out here to see how Harry was getting on. Not my fault you can't keep your voice down."
"Oh, I can keep my voice down," Severus said in his silkiest tone. He took a predatory step towards Black, hand reaching for his wand.
Black held up his hands. "Whoa, back off. I'm getting too old to have more than one major injury a day."
"Sev, settle down." Harry put a hand over his, blocking the wand pocket. Fear still hung in his eyes, but it had been overshadowed by a protective glint. Severus growled but allowed his right hand to be drawn away from his wand. Harry's thumbs slid up and down the back of his hand in long strokes.
"I hardly think some Auror having a laugh at my significant expense constitutes a conspiracy, Black," Severus snapped.
"Come off it, Snape. I don't like them any more than you do--"
"I find this most difficult to believe."
"--But I'm not just going to pin the whole mess on them without any proof. There are plenty of people in the Ministry who could have gotten hold of that formula."
"Talk to Arthur. See what he says."
Severus glowered down on Black. "Does it hurt?"
"Like a son of a bitch, yeah, if you're talking about my nose. If you're asking about my mental processes, no more than it does you."
"Ah. So you admit that at best you're mistaken for the recipient of a neurotoxin." Severus fixed him with a haughty look.
"Shut up, Severus," Black muttered. "I'm being serious. It sounds as though someone's trying to frame you. You need to talk to Arthur. Hell, even Percy."
"Oh. Yes. Thank you. I never would have imagined, somebody trying to 'frame' a former Death Eater. Not many who'd want to do that, now are there?"
"Sev, shut up." Harry nudged him with a shoulder. His brow was furrowed, his spine curved in a slouch. "I don't want to go back to the house for a while."
"So you'd prefer to run away with your tail between your legs?"
"Yeah. Almost lost you enough times as it stands. I don't really want to push the issue any more."
Severus arched an eyebrow at him. He placed a long, sharp finger beneath Harry's chin, lifting the brat's head to face him. "And where, pray tell, are you planning to live? Hogwarts?"
Harry shrugged. "No."
Harry mumbled something.
"I only said," Harry's eyes slid to the side, "you've got two other houses. No reason we couldn't make some use of them."
Severus' fingers contracted. He pulled himself straight, the muscle in his left temple twitching. "You may. I'll take my chances."
"You can't rather die than go to a house." Harry still refused to look at him. Severus felt Black's eyes boring into his flesh, shot him a sidelong glare. Black didn't even flinch, only stared, his jaw set at an angle.
"You already know perfectly well I would rather die than be forced to depend on anything of my family's."
"So you're willing to prove it then," Black said.
"Eh?" Severus narrowed his eyes at the mongrel. "This isn't your discussion."
"I think it is. You know," Black scratched his nose and winced, "I've sat back and watched you do some disreputable things, Snape - I mean, shagging one of your students? What's that all about?"
Severus started to open his mouth. Black held up a hand. "Let me finish."
"This had bloody well better be good."
"You won't know unless you let me talk, will you? Anyway, I've seen you do some things I thought were even beyond you, but this is... Harry, what do you think of this?"
"So you don't have any sort of opinion whatsoever that he's going to take all the times you sat up in the hospital wing or Saint Mungo's or anywhere else and just throw them away for the sake of his own pride."
Harry said nothing. Only a glassy flicker in his eyes, the weak respiratory tremble in his chest gave any indication that he'd even heard.
"I'll take it that means you're not happy with it either."
"Why should I be?" Harry muttered. "His choice, though."
Black folded his arms and gave Severus a haughty look. "That eager to hurt him? You've gone off on me enough times about doing it. Who'd ever guess Severus Snape could be such a hypocrite?"
The twitch in Severus' temple redoubled upon itself. He snarled, turned on his heel, and stormed down the hall towards the living room and the Floo. From behind came footsteps, angry and staccato. A rough hand yanked him back by the shoulder.
"You are not going to treat my godson like shit," Black hissed in his ear. "After everything he's done for you, it's time you showed him a little bit of respect."
"If he wishes to go, I shan't stop him."
"He wouldn't have mentioned it if he wasn't scared out of his wits that you're going to be killed. He knows about anything that happened in those houses just as well as you do, and he's not afraid to go." Black jerked him so he and Severus stared at each other, eyeball to eyeball. "'Least we know why you weren't put in Gryffindor."
"Are you calling me a coward?"
Severus bared his teeth. He shoved a rough shoulder into Black's chest and wrenched free. "How dare you? I have gone into situations far more lethal than a simple house and never flinched."
"That's not what makes you a coward, Snape. You're too afraid of your own past to face it."
"Bollocks." Severus twisted the sitting room doorknob and stalked in. "And I don't see how this is any of your business."
"You're my godsons! Harry anyway, but you might as well be. I'm supposed to look out for you two. I am not going to stand by while you take everything he's ever done for you and declare it shit. You're too wrapped up in your own pride to see anything for what it is."
"I never asked you to be my knight in shining armour."
"Well, too fucking bad."
"I don't need you to tell me what to do."
"Yes, you do. If that includes telling you to grow up, then I'm going to tell you to grow up."
"More grown up than you, Black."
Black shook his head. "You're not, Severus. You're really not. You act like a spoiled brat."
"I don't agree."
"Because you're too wrapped up in your fucking pride! Sit down."
"I shall sit down once I'm back home." Severus started peeking into the cauldrons lining the mantel.
"No, sit down, now!" A hand grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and yanked. The stone cauldron Severus had hooked his fingers into fell to the hearthstones and shattered.
"Brilliant, Black! Yet again you prove your lack of respect for anyone else! And you're calling me immature?"
"Shut up." Black pulled his wand from his pocket and flicked it at the cauldron. It slid back together. He hefted it back in place. "It's been, what, twenty-five years since your brother laid a finger on you?"
"Why should you care?"
"Because you're being as bloody-minded as I've ever seen you, and it's going to get you killed. And I don't think you'd go to the Malfoy house since everyone and his dog knows where it is."
"How do you know my father's house is in any livable condition? At least, I assume that's where you're trying to send us."
"I don't, but it's got to be safer than either of the others. You might as well paint targets on the roofs. Believe me, I'm no happier about that than you. Put a lot of blood and sweat and tears into that place and now, thanks to that Skeeter bitch, it's..." He threw up his hands before shoving them deep in his pockets.
"Your concern is truly touching. I'd thought you'd be more worried about Harry than your precious house."
"Snape, shut up. You're not going back there, and that's final. I'll tear it down myself before I let you. It's too dangerous, and as much as I don't understand why, Harry loves you. If you go back there and something happens to you, I'll never forgive you. Or myself."
"Promise?" Severus fidgeted, glancing around the black and white room without really seeing it.
"Yeah. I promise. It'd be the end of both my godsons and that's more than I'm willing to tolerate. You're not so worried about yourself, but I think you'd be a little bit upset if something happened to Harry."
Severus paused. A chill settled in his belly. He licked his lips with a dry tongue. "I'd like to speak with Harry about this before I come to any final decision."
"So you'll consider it, at least."
"I didn't say that. I still have no great desire to ever see my family's home again. Much the same way, I would warrant, you have no great desire to ever see Azkaban again."
Black set his mouth but didn't flinch. "I know. This is Harry we're talking about, though. I'd go back to Azkaban in a heartbeat if it meant he'd be safe."
He turned and stormed out of the room, leaving Severus alone with the Floo powder and his thoughts.
Return to Archive | next | previous